Once again and again and even again, the term “Munich appeasement” is being used by people who should know better, using the phrase as a vulgar tool to attack any American effort to achieve an agreement with Iran on its nuclear enrichment program. Unfortunately, much of the popular understanding of Munich Agreement is entirely mistaken. “Munich appeasement” is a merely label plastered on a bottle that had in most cases never been opened much less tasted.
In the late 1930s, Germany had clearly rearmed, its intentions were clearly aggressive, and clearly, the British, like the French, had not. Their countries had no heart for rearmament. But before the meeting with Hitler, Prime Minister Chamberlin in fact had set in motion a secret policy to confront Hitler, the object of which was to “inject resisting power” into those states neighboring Germany that Hitler clearly wanted to turn into “vassals.”
Chamberlin’s design was to increase financial and economic aid into possible “vassal states” that would make them less dependent on Germany aims. Its goal was to “ensure that Germany’s style was “cramped in every way possible, with a minimum of any provocation” that might be a cause for war. This secret intent to increase anti-German resistance would be buttressed by the public declaration that the French and British were united in resisting Hitler’s designs.
This of course was false posturing. The French generals were muddled ad confused and wanted to avoid war at all costs, and the British were basically unarmed.
The secret British policy was to secretly play for time. It is to Chamberlin’s credit that he did this. Why then all this footwork? At his meeting with Hitler on Sept. 29, Chamberlin permitted the German reoccupation of the Sudetenland, and the agreement enabled Chamberlin to return to London and announce he had secured “peace in our time.”
But the reality was far different. Chamberlin had secured peace for 12 months, just in time for the British Air Ministry to introduce the fast, eight-gun Spitfire fighter into squadron service. A biographer of British intelligence said, “That stay of war proved to be decisive in the defense of the United Kingdom –the Battle of Britain which took place in the summer of 1940 and which resulted not only in victory but ended Hitler’s plan for an invasion.
The lesson of course, was to stall in the face of military weakness until you had gained some position of strength. John Kennedy took that lesson to heart – that without military strength you could do little in foreign policy.
Last year I read a biography of Lincoln by his law partner, William Hearndon, and I would say without hesitation that Hearndon’s book is a work of startling genius. It is a masterpiece of American English.
Hearndon makes clear that Lincoln was an odd and melancholy man. He radiated warmth and kindliness, yet his great reactor was cool at its core. Life approached him through his brain, his principles, and his calm exact and cold perceptions, not his feelings.
It must said that Herndon, who is certainly the most acute of Lincoln’s admiring a biographers, saw his partner clearly and observed that while Lincoln could be tender and considerate, yes, he was not warmhearted. Hearndon said that if a warmhearted man was one who “goes out of himself and reaches for others spontaneously, seeking to correct some abuse to mankind because of his deep love of humanity, and he does what he does for love’s sake, then Lincoln was a cold man.”
He adds that Lincoln acted consistently from his head, not his heart. He was gentle, but he hardly ever used terms of endearment. Hearndon also remarks that while Lincoln saw himself as the emancipator of the black man, when Lincoln “freed the slaves, there was no heart in his act.” Hearndon added that while Lincoln could be tender and gentle, he acted chiefly from principled calculation. “In general terms, his life was cold – at least characterized by what many persons would deem great indifference.”
Hearndon then adds, “He gave the keynote to his own character when he said, ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all. In proportion to his want of deep, intense love, (Lincoln) had not hate and bore no malice.”
It is Hearndon who recounts how Lincoln wrote a paper about Jesus and Christianity, and gave it to a friend to read. Knowing that Lincoln desired a political career, the man read it and then shoved the work into a stove.
Not sure how the section on Lincoln’s religion relates to your first point… But I liked your original point. Basically are you saying that “appeasement” was really a case of diplomacy being about saying “nice doggie” while you look for a bigger stick?
I believe there was a strong possibility that Beck, Canaris, Witzleben, Hoepner, Stuelpnagel and other plotters might’ve succeeded in overthrowing and/or killing Hitler had the Munich Crisis not been defused.
The analogy with Munich is invoked because of its presumed emotional content.
It is meant by its proponents in order to initiate a winnable – in their minds – war against Iran.
It was never invoked – to my knowledge – when US was negotiating arms control as well other security agreements with USSR.
Perhaps because USSR was a nuclear-armed state.
The folks who blather appeasement all day have no inkling about what made the people of the late 1930s pursue appeasement.
They had the experience of a devastating war behind them. Many a leader in France or Britain had lost a son or two in the last war. For example junior officer losses in the British army were iirc somewhere near 19%, at a time when it was an honour for the social elite to serve as an officer. Western France was left devastated. That again?
Naturally, for someone for whom 1989 is ancient history all that matters little. And there are but a very few of the warmongers in DC whose children serve.
The people who today enthuse over bombing Iran already are, in the absence of such sobering experiences, completely unrestrained, and buoyed by a trust in the superiority of US and Israeli technology and arms see no risk in a war. It’ll be another cakewalk!
After all, the US have demonstrated that they can kill safely from afar, and Israelis also haven’t suffered any serious casualties ever since 1973 and have grown used to operating with impunity.
One may develop an invincibility complex that way and fancy reckless policies that one sees come at little personal cost.
The Iranians had to bury a lot of people during the Iraq-Iran war and they can bee counted on to not have forgotten. Apparently that has a moderating effect. It is an irony that appeasement of implacable enemies in the West is probably what Iranian hard-liners accuse Rohani of.
Here is the video of Rohani’s speech at the council of foreign relations:
“The analogy with Munich is invoked because of its presumed emotional content.”
I agree, and the presumed emotional content lies in the implied equation “whoever” = Hitler, and then war and holocaust.
It’s utter nonsense of course.
And so was Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact that kept USSR out of WWII for 2 years.
The Munich analogy was invoked during the Korean War as well as the run-up and the early years of the Vietnam War. The misperception of monolithic communism made it easy to call upon it time and time again. Remember that the overriding concern of the US and British political leadership in 1950 was whether Korea was the opening gambit of the Soviet Union. And the neocons invoked Munich back in the 1970s.
Eastern France, of course.
Very interesting insights into Chamberlin’s thinking, Mr Sale. Thank you for sharing.
First, my profound apologies for not responding to questions you raised about issues to do with ‘appeasement’ some months ago. This was partly because a lot of other business had to be attended to, but also because questions to do with ‘appeasement’ are both very complex and somewhat neuralgic for people like myself for whom they are an intimate, and painful, part of our family history.
Unfortunately, perceptions of ‘appeasement’ in the United States are still in thrall to Churchill’s accounts. And although he was a great man, he was not someone who, in giving an account of the events in which he had been involved, was primarily concerned to do justice to the views of his opponents. Sometimes he did justice, sometimes he was wildly unfair.
A few observations:
It is simply wrong that, confronted by the emergence of Hitler, Britain did not rearm. From 1934 onwards, ‘appeasement’ proceeded in conjunction with rearmament. But British rearmament was:
1. constrained by the need to balance with other priorities, so that it did not, as Hitler’s did, disregard considerations of economic sustainability and maintaining political consensus, on the basis that one could wage wars of plunder which would render such concerns irrelevant;
2. premised – also in sharp contrast to Hitler’s rearmament – on the view that another major global conflict was likely to last a long time, so that the development of the relevant military-industrial capabilities was critical; and
3. based upon a quite rational anticipation that if such a war was to come, it was unlikely to come in the immediate future, but would in all probability happen some years along the line.
The assumption behind the crucial development of the air force was all along that the most sensible date for which to plan was 1939. As a result, rather than a precipitate rearmament which would have squandered vast sums of money on biplanes which would have been shot out of the sky, Dowding and Keith Park were able in 1940 to deploy what turned out to be an adequate force of Spitfires – and also, crucially, Hurricanes.
Whether the command and control systems which were devised by Dowding and enabled Park – the former New Zealand ‘lance bombardier’ who was the old Wykehamist Dowding’s choice as his key subordinate – to fight the tactical battle over South-East England in 1940 successfully were in place by 1938 is not clear to me.
A problem which confronted the British Government at the end of the Thirties was how to deal with two regimes which were based on different forms of populist demagogy – that of Hitler and that of Stalin. In both cases, the relationship between rhetoric and reality was opaque at the time, and still to a considerable extent remains so today.
In relation to Hitler, there were multiple problems. One is directly analogous to the problem with Netanyahu which we have discussed extensively here on SST – are we dealing with someone who is ‘crazy like a fox’, or an authentic fruitcake?
In the case of Hitler, among those in the best position to judge were figures in the German military – in particular military intelligence, where Hans Oster had a crucial role – and also in the German Foreign Office. As a result, these emerged as among the most committed opponents of ‘appeasement’. (Whether something similar has emerged with the relationship of sober figures in Israeli intelligence to Netanyahu is also not clear to me, yet at least.)
A difficult these very clear sighted and brave Germans faced was to do with the particularly configuration of political forces in their country. On the one hand, it was absolutely clear that the German population as a whole did not want re-run of 1914-18 – for the reasons which CP gives. However, there was a cult of Hitler, which was based upon a combination of his successes both in domestic and foreign policy, and also on the appeal of a populist demagogue in an increasingly ‘democratic’ culture: using that word in Tocqueville’s sense.
This led to a belief that he would always go on producing, as it were, ‘rabbits out of hats’, and each new confrontation with the Western powers would end in another ‘kitsch’ triumph. Such confidence was not shared by people like Oster and his collaborators in the Auswärtiges Amt, such as the brothers Erich and Theo Kordt, who had a good understanding of the outside world, and could see that Hitler really was the authentic fruitcake, but it was not easy for them to counter.
Accordingly, when they approached the British Government, the emissaries of what became the ‘Widerstand’ were not claiming that confronting Hitler’s demands in relation to Czechoslovakia would prevent war. Rather, they were suggesting that doing so might serve to make their fellow-countrymen realise that Hitler’s brinkmanship was going to lead them over the brink, and in so doing create conditions in which a military coup would be possible. They were asking the British to collaborate in an attempt to wake sleepwalkers out of their dream.
There were, however, a number of problems with this strategy. Certainly a commando led by Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz, who had a background in far right nationalist politics not dissimilar to that of the Nazi leadership, was waiting to seize Hitler and put a bullet through him if the British and French stood firm over Hitler’s demands. But there was no guarantee that Heinz would succeed. If he failed, then the result might be the kind of all-out war which the ‘appeasers’ correctly perceived could only have disastrous outcomes. (These were in large measure the outcomes which followed, as a result of the Second World War.)
Even if the attempt to out Hitler succeeded, moreover, it was a moot point whether the anti-Nazi generals could establish control over the country subsequently. After all, in large measure they came from traditional elites who had lost credibility. A civil war, which could destroy what was widely perceived as the only bulwark against communism, seemed a real possibility. And, of course, there was the fear that if German nationalism was destroyed, the communists might win out.
To understand why the Chamberlain government made the decisions it did, it is important to grasp that, as CP brings out, it was difficult for people of that generation in Britain and France to contemplate the possibility of a re-run of the catastrophe of 1914-18. Likewise, it was difficult for them to imagine how Hitler, who had four years front-line service behind him, could be eager for a re-run.
These are matters which, doubtless, some American Southerners can understand. In general, Americans seem to me to find any comprehension of the strategic dilemmas faced both by the British ruling elite and the British people in the late Thirties impossible.
The other side of the picture, of course, has to do with the related misreadings of the nature both of Hitler’s objectives and Stalin’s by the British ‘appeasers’. These are of some relevance in relation to the evolution of post-war American strategy, given that its supposed principal architect, George Kennan, was an ‘appeaser’ who made Chamberlain look positively Churchillian.
There were however people in the American Moscow Embassy of the Thirties who took a very different view to that of Kennan and his associates – in particular the military attaché, Philip Faymonville. As I see it, Faymonville had a quite rational view that the imperative need for the United States to make contingency plans to confront Japan necessitated that one should keep bridges open to the Soviet Union – rather than indulging in Presbyterian moralising, as Kennan did.
I used to believe that it was impossible, in the hysterically zenophobic climate of Russia in the mid-Thirties, for officials in Western Embassies to cultivate Soviet contacts. This turns out to be complete nonsense – Faymonville cultivated such contacts, as did his counterparts in the German Moscow Embassy, who included some of the best analysts of the international situation in the Thirties anywhere: honest and brave men who went to great lengths to prevent their country committing suicide.
In recompense for Faymonville’s efforts, his ‘comrades’ in the U.S. Army engaged in all all-out attempt to find evidence to prove that he was gay. Fortunately, they failed.
Fascinating comments, David.
Are there any books (or articles on the net) you would recommend that deal with these American and German diplomatic efforts in Russia?
Dear Mr. Habakkuk:
“But there was no guarantee that Heinz would succeed. If he failed, then the result might be the kind of all-out war which the ‘appeasers’ correctly perceived could only have disastrous outcomes.”
If this had been their calculation at the time of the Sudetenland Crisis, then why did Britain authorize the mission in Venlo in September 1939?
“Even if the attempt to out Hitler succeeded, moreover, it was a moot point whether the anti-Nazi generals could establish control over the country subsequently. After all, in large measure they came from traditional elites who had lost credibility. A civil war, which could destroy what was widely perceived as the only bulwark against communism, seemed a real possibility. And, of course, there was the fear that if German nationalism was destroyed, the communists might win out.”
I’m not sure if the threat of civil war would’ve been as acute as it had been in the Ebert years or in 1944. In 1938, the SS was no more than the Leibstandarte plus replacement pool. Hoepner had commanded the XVI Panzerkorps and was ready to put them down. Witzleben had also commanded Wehrkreis III (Berlin). Halder and Stuelpnagel headed the General Staff. The Heer had become a completely transformed force by 1938. As I noted some years ago, the SS was nothing more than a small band of thugs and murderers who lacked even minimum tactical competence at that point in history. The Reichsheer had put down a number of putsches when they’d been effectively disarmed after the Versailles Treaty
The English wanted Germany as a counter-weight to USSR.
That is why they made sure Litvinov’s mission failed – through deliberate neglect.
I also think that almost all Germans – excepting communists and socialists – desired Hitler – he was their Black Messiah. They were all NAZIs to the core.
C G Jung once observed that he did not see WWI coming but he was sure of World War II since he could see Wotan in every German.
Even with an Entente consisting of France, UK, and USSR the war might have come – since Germans desired it.
But it could probably have been terminated more quickly.
In my opinion.
“The English wanted Germany as a counter-weight to USSR.”
I agree but these German officers weren’t “liberal democrats.” They tended to be monarchists (or at minimum preferred an authoritarian regime) who also happened to be ardent anti-Communists. It seems to me they would be a lot more acceptable to British desire to use Germany as a bulwark against communism. In fact if the fear of a potential German civil war had been one of primary factors, then why would the British intelligence try to make contact with German generals in Venlo? (It was a setup by the SD) It seems to me this was an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.
“I also think that almost all Germans – excepting communists and socialists – desired Hitler – he was their Black Messiah. They were all NAZIs to the core.”
I disagree. The mood in Germany in 1938 was the opposite of the prevailing one in August 1914. That is the reason why these generals had seriously prepared to depose Hitler. They had expected a repeat of the First World War. Remember that the French army was considered the strongest in Europe at the time. Until February 1940, Hitler had not adopted Manstein’s plan for Case Yellow. That’s why the conspirators were still planning a coup as late as November 1939. Simply the General Staff had no faith in the Heer’s ability to achieve a breakthrough against the French army. And as Karl Heinz-Frieser and others have shown Halder and other senior officers had very low expectation of success as their first two proposals were modifications of the Schlieffen Plan. Blitzkrieg as a doctrine was a myth created by Goebbels. The Breda variant or the Dyle Plan might not have been adopted had the Belgians not recovered Case Yellow documents in Mechelen in January 1940. Defeating Poland had been expected, but France was a completely different nut to crack as far as the OKH had been concerned.
I remember reading somewhere in Orwell’s collected Letters, Essays, and Reviews a little essay he wrote about the imminent defeat of France. In it he wrote (and I paraphrase), ” you just know Hitler will take the Signing of the Armistice railcar out of its museum and use it to humiliate the French officials by having them sign their surrender in it. So why doesn’t someone fill that railcar with hidden explosives and detonate it when Hitler and all his principals are inside? But you just know that nobody will do that.”
How did the USA factor into Hitler and Stalin’s thinking between September 1939 and December 1941?
At what point did the various Great Powers armed forces become fully mechanized post WWI?
Has the rule of the tank in ground warfare largely ended?
The German army was 1939 in a quite bad shape when we used as reference 1914. The situation was even worse in 1938, therefore, the appeasement backfired IMHO.
In 1938, the relevant counterweight in respect to ground forces was the French army and the situation was much more favourable then compared to 1939/40.
According to Frieser (Blitzkrieglegende) the large scale training program of the German army in winter 1939/40 made the difference.
In retrospective the appeasement was a mistake, in the contemporary framework it was considered to be an acceptable solution.
“I also think that almost all Germans – excepting communists and socialists – desired Hitler – he was their Black Messiah. They were all NAZIs to the core.”
You judge by results. The picture is more complex than you put it.
Only because they couldn’t prevent what also happened that still doesn’t mean that all Germans were Nazis. Lines went right through families.
There is a reason why the Nazis kept secret things like Aktion T4. Because they were quite aware that there would have been opposition to that. And they were right in that assumption, since it was public dissent that stopped it.
When I look at my mother’s family from the Rhineland, I was told of an uncle who left the house on the evenings of 9–10 November 1938 with a briefcase and a hatchet.
My grandmother herself was landlady for a Jewish couple and one day her employers disappeared. She asked the police about their whereabouts, and was told, as friendly advice, that, having children, and with that curly black hair of hers, she ought to know better than to cause trouble for herself.
My other grandmother, father’s side, was from rural East Prussia and a hardcore Catholic, from a Catholic enclave in an otherwise Protestant country. Her husband was in favour of the Nazis. When teachers tried to get my father, a good pupil, into a NAPOLA, it was her adamant refusal that made sure that didn’t happen, because that was a godless school.
When she told me about the Kristallnacht, she condemned it on grounds that it was wrong to destroy houses of God.
She also told about when the local Nazi party had the idea to bust her parish’s Corpus Christi procession. They trucked in SA guys from the next big city to block and harass the procession. They were beaten up by the local farmers. I recall my grandmother’s smirk when she said: “Everybody beat them up, even the party members.”
All NAZIS, to the core?
you may be interested in: “The German Army and the Defence of the Reich – Military Doctrine and the Conduct of the Defensive Battle 1918 – 1939” by Matthias Strohn, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-19199-9
NR and the Germans will have more to say. None of the armies of the major powers were anything like mechanized or even motorized before WW2. The Wehrmacht invaded France and the USSR while largely a marching force dependent on horses for transport, artillery units, etc. the Germans had a horse cavalry division in Operation Barbarossa. The panzer and panzer grenadier divisions were always a minority of the force. If you look at film of the France campaign of 1944, you will see lots of dead German Army horses killed by allied air. The same thing was true of the US Army. Most US infantry divisions had little organic motorized transport right up to the end of the war. There were trucks used as prime movers for the divisions’ artillery and logistics trains vehicles but that was pretty much “it.” Outside the armored force most motorized transport was held in pools and assigned as needed. pl
“I also think that almost all Germans – excepting communists and socialists – desired Hitler – he was their Black Messiah. They were all NAZIs to the core.
C G Jung once observed that he did not see WWI coming but he was sure of World War II since he could see Wotan in every German”
kitsch triumph, classic, isn’t that what we have now?
The last paragraph about Lincoln is why I love history so much.
Given PL’s analysis above that confirms my understanding also, why do most WWII histories almost ignore the “boots on the ground” and focus almost completely on armor and air? How really decisive were armor and air in that conflict and given discussion of “appeasement” previously was there some instinctive judgement in the major powers as to their inherent limitations,fuel consumption among the many limitations?
Is not the real limitation in modern warfare the demise of “seize and hold” as decisive?
In regards to Germany, I stand by my comments.
I have heard it from an occupation force: “If we wanted to imprison the NAZIs we would have had to imprison the entire country.”
And then there was the case of the ordinary Germans and the Shoah – there is even a book by that title.
And you can check the chapter titled “Black Messiah” in Thomas Wolf’s “You can’t Go Home Again.”
Or check the book “SS, Alibi of a nation”.
I stand by what I have written – and my critiques forgot “Die Wise Rose”.
Your question as to the changing nature of war should be the basis of a considerable discussion. I leave it to others to begin that discussion. pl
“At what point did the various Great Powers armed forces become fully mechanized post WWI?”
Full mechanization didn’t take place until after the Korean War. For the Soviet Union it took even longer as their category 3 divisions were low on priority. As Col. Lang noted even the US infantry divisions in Europe lacked large organic motor transport. (Organic artillery, towed anti-tank companies and cavalry troops would be the exceptions.) As I mentioned earlier independent tank and tank destroyer BNs (GHQ) would be attached to divisions as needed according to our doctrine. However in practice corps and armies would try to keep those attached to infantry divisions on semi-permanent basis in order to retain accrued learning in coordination.
The tip of the spear in the German army was motorized (the Panzerwaffe) but everyone else pretty much walked. Also there’s a difference between motorized (trucks) and mechanized (half-tracks and even fully tracked vehicles as in British/CAN units who had converted M7 and early M4 variants). Battle taxis (half-tracks) could sort of keep up with tanks while it was very difficult for trucks to do so on approach march. The Germans took chances with casualties in Poland and France. However French infantry units lacked effective anti-tank weapons and the shock effect was prevalent especially among lower grade formations along the Ardennes and Sedan in 1940. Their best formations were up north. Even at the height of the Panzerwaffe (after the 1941 reorganization) only one out of four Panzergrenadier battalions had half-tracks while the rest were truck borne. Remember that economic factors will play a role in force composition and doctrines. The Soviet Army didn’t fully equip its mechanized infantry with BMPs even in the GSFG. They used BTRs to transport the majority of infantry.
“Has the rule of the tank in ground warfare largely ended?”
Probably. However cavalry still served a function for hundreds of years after Crecy and Agincourt. Wiser exponents of armored warfare (practitioners really) like Guderian, Patton and Rommel always saw the tank as a part of combined arms warfare. Theorists (Fuller, Liddell-Hart, and even Lesley McNair from an anti-tank point of view) had trouble adjusting quickly to the realities of ground combat. In both the US Army and the Heer, men simply discarded what didn’t work and made do with what worked.
Your knowledge of German armies is by many orders of magnitude greater than mine.
However, I was relying on the 1992 study ‘German Resistance to Hitler, The Search for Allies Abroad’, by Klemens von Klemperer. He was the child of a ‘haut bourgeois’ Berlin family, ethnically Jewish but Protestant in religion. Having been an anti-Nazi activist in Vienna through until after the Anschluss, he then emigrated to the United States and – after service as an intelligence officer at SHAEF – became a scholar. Relatives died in Auschwitz.
If anyone had personal motives to look for moments when catastrophe might have been averted it was von Klemperer. Moreover, his study is patently informed by a deep sympathy with the ‘Widerstand’ – in particular, with the Christian outlook of key members. However, he argues that the belief that Halder and his associates presented the British with a workable plan is simply wrong.
As he notes, it has sometimes beenclaimed that Halder lacked the necessary resolve for action. According to von Klemperer, Halder himself later explained his caution with his fear of unleashing a civil war.
His thinking may be illuminated by an account given by a less cautious conspirator, Hans-Bernd Gisevius at the Nuremburg trials of a conversation with Halder in September 1939:
‘First Halder assured me that, in contrast to many other generals, he had no doubt that Hitler wanted war. Halder described Hitler to me as being bloodthirsty and referred to the blood bath of 30 June. However, Halder told me that it was, unfortunately, terribly difficult to explain Hitler’s real intentions to the generals, particularly to the junior officers corps, because the saying which was influencing the officers corps was ostensibly that it was all just a colossal bluff, that the Army could be absolutely certain that Hitler did not want to start a war, but rather that he was merely preparing a diplomatic maneuver of blackmail on a large scale.
‘For that reason, Halder believed that it was absolutely necessary to prove, even to the last captain, that Hitler was not bluffing at all but had actually given the order for war. Halder therefore decided at the time that for the sake of informing the German nation and the officers he would even risk the outbreak of war. But even then Halder feared the Hitler myth; and he therefore suggested to me that the day after the outbreak of war Hitler should be killed by means of a bomb; and the German people should be made to believe, as far as possible, that Hitler had been killed by an enemy bombing attack on the Fuehrer’s train.’
From an account by Gisevius of a conversation also involving Schacht several weeks later:
‘Halder once again declared his firm intention of effecting a revolt; but again he wished to wait until the German nation had received proof of Hitler’s warlike intentions by means of a definite order for war. Schacht pointed out to Halder the tremendous danger of such an experiment. He made it clear to Halder that a war could not be started simply to destroy the Hitler legend in the eyes of the German people.
‘In a detailed and very excited conversation Halder then declared that he was prepared to start the revolt, not after the official outbreak of the war, but at the very moment that Hitler gave the army the final order to march.’
(See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/04-25-46.asp )
A central problem was that the objective of bringing ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland into a Greater German Reich was one which was shared by the vast majority of Germans, and also the conspirators themselves. If one took that objective in isolation, moreover, it certainly was not worthwhile for the British to risk a re-run of 1914-18 to prevent it.
What Halder well understood was that in the wake of another ‘kitsch’ success Hitler would get go further, and finally cause Germany to self-destruct. However, the strategy required more than a decision to invade Czechoslovakia – it required a declaration of war by the Western powers in response, to eliminate any confidence that there would be a short successful conflict.
So Chamberlain was being asked to discount not simply the possibility that the coup might fail, leading to a war between Britain and Germany, but also the possibility that it might succeed, in whole or in part, but that the success in destroying the ‘Hitler legend’ would be only partial, leading to a split in the army and a German civil war.
Where however Chamberlain and his associates were deluded was in failing to realise, as Halder and his co-conspirators did, that another ‘kitsch’ success would further embolden Hitler, and that he would pursue objectives going beyond bringing ethnic Germans into the Reich. The event which changed everything was the invasion of the unambiguously non-German rump of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.
The collapse of the fundamental premise of Chamberlain’s policy produced the unilateral guarantee to Poland, and the outbreak of war. Although both Hitler and Stalin underestimated the British commitment to combat Hitler at this time, in the ‘Twilight War’ there were intensive efforts, Scandinavian, Dutch and Belgian as well as Italian, to look for a compromise peace – which Whitehall attempted to follow up.
It was in the context of such efforts that the British displayed an interest in the possibility of dissent among German generals that they had not done earlier. That was, as I understand it, the background to the Venlo disaster. They might have displayed an interest in the overtures from Canaris after Hugh Trevor-Roper and Stuart Hampshire established that these were not an attempt at a new Venlo in November 1942. But Churchill would not hear of it.
As I have previously mentioned, my friend and mentor Colonel Robert Sawyer when a captain was head of the security detail who guarded and imprisoned Halder after the war. They grew to be quite close. Your description of Halder and his thinking closely resembles what Bob Sawyer would say of him. pl
Lovely. I served in the 2nd Brigade of the Fifth Mechanised Division at Ft. Devens in the early sixties. The brigade had a tank battalion and four walking infantry battalions. the rest of the division was at Fort Carson, Colorado. In the infantry battalions, headquarters was motorized as were the 4.2 inch mortar platoon and the recon platoon. In the three rifle companies in each battalion, co. headquarters, and the weapons platoon (81 mm. mortar and 106 mm recoilless) were motorized. Everyone else normally walked unless someone decided to provide us some trucks from god knows where. As a result we walked a great deal. In those days I could “suck up” 3,000 calories/day of mess hall food (which I loved) and never gain weight. Not a bad life. pl
Thanks NR! And PL again!
Having had some experience with care and feeding of tracked vehicles [Pershing I and I-A erector launchers] they have extensive needs!
Since typically located with FRG troops I was fascinated with how much more effort the Bundeswerhr put into maintenance and recovery and replacement of tracked vehicles than the USA! And their wreckers were far superior to US equivilants.
Tanks bailed out Israeli formations a number of times! Would that be the same today?
PL! In Basic at Ft. Leonard Wood fall 1967 where food was excellent and you could eat all you wanted, I was interested in who lost weight in my company and who gained weight [muscle?]!
I lost weight! In OCS at Ft. Sill almost no food and no time to eat what was available! Run! Run! Run!
I think the US Army is wise to maintain its principal reliance on mobile armored forces. The Israelis certainly do. The COIN baloney is ending once again, having failed as usual. I asked Rumsfeld a while back when he was still pharaoh what he would do if he built a light forces army and then we ran into someone with a lot of heavy equipment. He said that Bob Scales had told him not to worry about it. We already have a light forces army in the USMC. I never spent time around the Bundeswehr but I doubt that their maintenance is better than ours. pl
The key phrase in your quotation was “Hitler Myth” – i.e. the Black Messiah of the German people.
Thank you David Habakuk, PL, NR and WRC for your excellent analysis and pertinent comment. I am travelling and can’t contribute usefully without library and computer rather than iPad.
I would only add that there is a excellent study of Chamberline and Churchill and the battle for control of the Conservative party (name escapes me for the moment) which makes Two points, that Chamberline was totally in control of the party leadership and faced no coherent internal opposition during the relevant times, and once war was declared, was unflinching of its prosecution and later supported Churchill until his death.
The man may have been misguided, but any suggestion that he or his Government was craven is unhelpful.
Exact dates are available for Spitfire design and procurement decisions, as they are for the development and implementation of the British air defence system. The bulk of the Battle of Britain fell to the Hurricane squadrons if I remember correctly.
Also from memory the work “Hitler and Stalin- a study in tyranny makes the point that each power in the trilateral European contest – Britain/France, Germany and the USSR, wanted the other Two to fight each other.
BM, re the white rose and internal opposition to Hitler, you perceptions need revising I suggest.
And about the same time didn’t the United Kingdom start setting up its National Radar Grid for air defense ? Moreover some of the Jewish refugees from Germany came to Great Britain helped further defense research – for example Einstein . The Lend Lease program was also in the same time period when President Roosevelt made his famous comments about getting your hose to your neighbors house who was on fire ‘ .
More, simplistic, racist, nonsense.
“Given PL’s analysis above that confirms my understanding also, why do most WWII histories almost ignore the “boots on the ground” and focus almost completely on armor and air? How really decisive were armor and air in that conflict and given discussion of “appeasement” previously was there some instinctive judgement in the major powers as to their inherent limitations,fuel consumption among the many limitations?”
The scope of these questions are just too broad for me to answer quickly. However, without air superiority (if not supremacy or dominance) daylight movement of large armored formations was extremely difficult. Obviously after 1990 that extended to night movements as well. In France and all the way through Kursk the Luftwaffe had enjoyed air supremacy. It was only at Kursk the Red Air Force had fought to a draw more or less. Yet Prokhorovka was the final decisive battle before Hitler was forced to end Citadel as he had to divert German panzer reserves after the Allied landing on Sicily.
In France, German armored thrusts trapped the best formations of the French army as well as the BEF (they were even better equipped in terms of motorization than their French counterparts). That was not only an operational triumph but also had profound strategic implications as Germany knocked out France. Time is often said to be the most precious commodity in warfare. The problems were 1) Gamelin had done no operational planning for a pivot south in counterattack, 2) their daylight movements of armored and motorized formations became very restricted and 3) the Methodical Battle was a failure as a doctrine. Col. Boyd cited the Battle of France as a prime example in discussing the OODA Loop. Many don’t realize that the Germans suffered higher casualty rates *after* they had completed the dash to the channel coast and completed the first sickel. Despite losing most of their first tier formations, the French army had fought much better after Weygand took over. As men often do in combat, the survivors adjusted and the French army tried to fight as best as they could under impossible conditions. And this adjustment took place in a matter of days after the French army had wasted months they could’ve used to prepare (during the Sitzkrieg) and adjust for the next fight as the German army had done after Poland.
As for the eastern front, the Soviets had the luxury of giving up territory to buy time. Even an ardent Nazi like Reichenau had opposed the invasion of the Soviet Union as he’d trained in Kazan in the 1920s. Yet the early months of Barbarossa and even Case Blue in 1942 were dominated by armored warfare (and obviously air if weather permitted operations). Although the Red Army infantry fixed the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, their armored forces trapped it. Terrain dictated how each army used armor. On the eastern front the steppes were ideal tank country which was why the Red Army would use tank-heavy if not tank-pure formations. That wasn’t the case on the western front beginning with Sicily, Italy and the Bocage. Other than British armored divisions impaling themselves in mad cavalry charges, the two biggest tank engagements were Arracourt and Celles (2AD mauled the 2nd Panzer in the Bulge). These were very small compared to engagements on the eastern front.
The Germans had to adjust their tactics after D-Day because if their armored formations were caught in the open they’d have been destroyed. Due to the collapse of the western front, Hitler had to divert independent panzer brigades (tank heavy) that were earmarked for the eastern front to launch a counterattack against the Third Army. And favorable weather conditions led to tank v. tank engagements at Arracourt. However the broad front strategy and logistical difficulties associated with it meant that armor was primarily used for infantry support with a few chances for exploitation. The war could’ve ended much sooner had western Allies trapped the cadre from the German mobile reserves in France (They would be used to reconstitue the lost panzer divisions before the Bulge), but Allied senior generals chose not to take the chance. Remember that the Red Army had destroyed the Army Group Center with Bagration.
Dear Col. Lang:
I didn’t realize CONUS units were still “legs” even in mechanized divisions in the early 60s. Did the brigade ever train with M59s? With the exception of the Vietnam War, the Army had always prioritized units in West Germany. V and VII Corps received M2s and M3s before anyone else. In the ’70s and ’80s, 2ACR, 11 ACR and 3AD received M60A3s and M1s first.
“Having had some experience with care and feeding of tracked vehicles [Pershing I and I-A erector launchers] they have extensive needs! Since typically located with FRG troops I was fascinated with how much more effort the Bundeswerhr put into maintenance and recovery and replacement of tracked vehicles than the USA! And their wreckers were far superior to US equivilants.”
I assume you’re talking about the early ’70s. And are you comparing armored units? I would find it very surprising if you thought maintenance and recovery standards were slipshod unless you’re referring to the time when prepositioned stocks and men were being drained during Vietnam. In 1974 among the first mottos I was taught at AOBC was “Horses first, men second, officers last.” I wouldn’t speak for USAEUR units in that period, but I did my first year with 1/72AR. And maintenance and recovery standards were very high even with 30 percent personnel turnover rate every three months. Gunnery (we’d fired over 250 rounds which was double what my friends did for gunnery in CONUS), force-on-force maneuvers and QRF rotations meant that there would have been hell to pay if a PL overlooked maintenance. And unlike West Germany there were some very memorable recovery actions such as the time when one of the tracks in my company nearly went over the side of a cliff right in front of what used to be called the Chinaman Tunnel during a night road march.
I was attached to Panzerbrigade.15 as a liason in 1983. I didn’t see anything that impressed me as far as maintenance standards were concerned. They certainly didn’t do well FOF against 1BDE/3AD even though their S2 tried to shift the blame on 3ACR who had flank security. By 1987 the 7th Army units were winning both the Canadian Army Trophy and the Boeselager Cup. The very first nickname of M1 Abrams was “Whispering Death” which was given by the Canadian 4th Mechanized Bde after a 3AD task force embarrassed them.
“I lost weight! In OCS at Ft. Sill almost no food and no time to eat what was available! Run! Run! Run!”
Speaking of a branch being overlooked in WW2 history books, Patton said “I do not have to tell you who won the war. You know the artillery did.”
Very interesting conversation on this period in European history which has been very unkind to Chamberlain. The appeasement label is too casually thrown around and it appears fair to say the one year period from November 1938 to September 1939 was a critical time within which the RAF managed to achieve a strategic depth that won the day post-May 1940.
Perhaps history will be far kinder to Chamberlain as this becomes more widely known. But comparing Nazi Germany to the Islamic Republic is clearly unsupported by the record.
It would have been M113s. We didn’t have any. I think it had more to do with the size of the reservation at Ft. Devens than anything else. the place was tiny. That was fine. we didn’t have to do maintenance on them. pl
I can vouch for the size of the training areas at Ft. Devens. When I was there, the only combat outfit on post was 10th SFGA. The firing and demo ranges were enough for us, but the maneuver area was only suitable for small unit patrolling. Again, that was OK for us. We spent most of our training time elsewhere, such as the White Mountains and the Adirondacks. I don’t know how an armored or mechanized unit would train there.
As far as there still being leg infantry, I know the 25th ID was about as light as you can get from 76 to 80 when I was there. There were three Sheridans in the entire division in the one armored cav troop in 3/4 Cav. The other troops were air cavalry. In addition to a lot of air assault training, we seemed to concentrate on strongpoint defense, withdrawal under pressure and breakout from encirclement. At least we realized our limitations.
In 76 I went through a light infantry OBC at Benning. We were derided as anachronisms by most who believe the entire Army would be mechanized before long. While our brethren in the mech OBC were loading their coolers and duffel bags full of food in the 113s, we sat on our rucksacks prepared to be chased around by tanks and tracks for a couple of weeks.
I am beige and thus by definition cannot be racist.
I became curious about these matters as a result of coming across a chance remark in the first volume of George Kennan’s memoirs, to the effect that the analyses of the German Moscow Embassy of the Thirties were ‘at all times excellent’. The only people who picked this up, as far as I could see, were a number of writers who were interested in the exploitation by the post-war United States and United Kingdom of Germans and German collaborators who had been involved in the war in the East in 1941-5.
Such studies focused upon the friendships which developed in the Thirties between George Kennan and Charles Bohlen, who would become the two leading State Department Soviet experts in the immediate post-war period, and their colleagues in the German Moscow Embassy. The studies were not wrong in raising the question of the influence of these German contacts on the development of American strategy. But their assumption that the German Moscow Embassy diplomats shared Hitler’s aims and goals turned out to be nonsense.
The 1953 memoir ‘Incompatible Allies’, which the long-serving German Moscow Embassy ‘Legionsrat’ Gustav Hilger wrote in collaboration with the Jewish refugee Alfred Gustav Meyer, and the 1981 memoir ‘Against Two Evils’ by his colleague Hans von Herwarth – a Junker with a Jewish grandmother – are both fascinating. The essentials of the story they tell, if not all the details, mesh with the account given in ‘Grand Delusion’, the study of the events leading up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union by the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky.
To simplify a complex story, the view of the so-called German ‘Ostlers’, of whom the most significant was Werner von der Schulenberg, the ambassador to Moscow in the period leading up to ‘Barbarossa’, represented a development of a traditional ‘Prussian’ strand of thinking. The First World War, and the disasters it unleashed, were they believed in substantial measure the result of the abandonment of Bismarck’s emphasis on avoiding war with Russia. However, contrary to what Lenin had believed, national solidarities turned out to trump international – as was reflected both in Hitler’s defeat of the German Communists, and the increasingly ‘national socialist’, if not indeed fascist, nature of the Stalinist regime.
Putting the matter rather differently, they agreed with Trotsky that Stalin had ‘betrayed the Revolution’, and thought that a strong and united Germany could pursue a strategy of ‘appeasement’ which would encourage him to betray it some more.
Their assessments were also based upon an – in my view – realistic scepticism both about the view that Stalin would be able to ‘catch up and overtake’ Western nations in economic and technological power, which was his declared objective, and about the view that the Soviet regime was so weak that it would collapse rapidly if attacked.
The German diplomats knew firsthand that following Hitler’s consolidation of power Stalin had made overtures proposing a continuation of the collaborative relationship of the Weimar years – Hilger provides a vivid picture of these. In their view, in the wake of Hitler’s failure to respond intense fear of Germany had become the driving force behind both Stalin’s internal and his external policies. Rather than push the Soviets towards seeking allies in the West, in Schulenberg’s assessment, the appropriate course for Germany was to respond to the increasingly ‘fascist’ nature of the Soviet Union by incorporating it in the Anti-Comintern Pact, so that Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union would form a ‘continental bloc’.
As with Chamberlain’s strategy of ‘appeasement’, this strategy made sense if you thought that Hitler was ‘crazy like a fox’. However, Herwarth was closely involved with the ‘anti-appeasement’ group in Auswärtiges Amt – Halder’s collaborators – who had seen the Führer at close quarters and knew that he was simply crazy. Accordingly Herwarth realised that the fatal flaw in Schulenberg’s strategy was failure to grasp that in the wake of a pact with the Soviets Hitler would become involved in a war against the Western powers.
As a result, Herwarth began leaking details of the negotiations to other Western diplomats in Moscow, including Bohlen, in a desperate attempt to make the Western powers realise that they had to come to terms with Stalin before Hitler did. It would have helped if the USG had passed the information on to London in time for it to be of use.
It is the fact that the possibility of something like the Nazi-Soviet Pact was always lurking in the background that provides, in my view, a good reason for thinking that Colonel Philip Faymonville’s approach to the Soviets had a lot to be said for it. A reasonably workmanlike recent thesis available on the web provides an introduction to the controversies surrounding his role.
(See https://digital.library.txstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10877/4183/THOMPSON-THESIS.pdf?sequence=1 )
A few days ago, browsing in a bookshop, I came across a volume entitled ‘My Dear Mr. Stalin’, which contains the complete Roosevelt-Stalin correspondence. Apparently a freelance writer called Susan Butler stumbled upon this when researching another subject in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Library. Unfortunately, I haven’t at the moment got time to read it, but the introduction is clearly an apologia for the approach of Roosevelt – and also Faymonville.
, which I came across in a bookstore recently but have not yet had time to read, provides a defence of Faymonville, as also of Roosevelt’s controversial ambassador to Moscow, Joseph Davies.
A few days ago, browsing in a bookshop, I came across My sympathies in these arguments are conditioned by the view I have come to hold that confronting Hitler at the time of Munich was not a viable option for the British. A corollary however is that to respond to the takeover of the rump of Czechoslovakia by offering a unilateral guarantee to Poland was a catastrophic error, which was inherently likely to increase the chances of the kind of rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin which the British – and Americans – had every reason to avoid. The more one thinks that the kind of ‘fascist consolidation’ Schulenberg envisaged was a real possibility, obviously, the more one is going to be inclined to sympathise with Faymonville’s approach to the Soviet Union as against, say, that of Kennan.
Dear Mr. Habakkuk:
Thank you for an extensive clarification. I have to admit it’s been years since I had last examined the possibility of coup in 1938-39. Your description of Halder reminded me of Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord’s quote on officer classification:
“I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.”
Perhaps someone “clever and lazy” (Hammerstein supposedly thought of himself as such) as the C-in-C rather than Brauchitsch might’ve been necessary for a coup attempt in that period. I suppose Hammerstein would have considered Halder as clever and diligent. When I read Peter Hoffmann’s tome on the German Resistance I was struck by how extensive the planning had been in 1938-39 when compared to the July 20 plot. It wasn’t simply a matter of issuing orders and hoping unit commanders would comply. Rather the conspirators had commanding officers of specific units (IIRC the 23rd Infantry or the Potsdam Division and XVI Panzerkorps as well as army group leaders with the help of Abwehr). Also as I recall the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair had seriously damaged Hitler’s relationship with the Heer officer corps. I suppose the earlier conspiracy required people like Stauffenberg, Tresckow and Olbricht who made their decisions knowing the likely consequences for themselves as well as their families. As for “stupid and diligent” the first person who came to mind was Keitel when I read the quote.
TTG and NR
Yes. On South Post there was exactly one hill mass big enough for a rifle company sized attack. I have attacked that hill from every conceivable direction. As a result we and the armor traveled all over North America to train, mountains, desert, etc. I don’t know why this brigade was stationed in the NE, politics maybe? pl
I was under the impression that it was Bonaparte who classified officers that way. pl
“As far as there still being leg infantry, I know the 25th ID was about as light as you can get from 76 to 80 when I was there. There were three Sheridans in the entire division in the one armored cav troop in 3/4 Cav. The other troops were air cavalry. In addition to a lot of air assault training, we seemed to concentrate on strongpoint defense, withdrawal under pressure and breakout from encirclement. At least we realized our limitations.”
The 25ID was part of the early follow-on force if the balloon had gone up in Korea. They used to take part in Team Spirit exercises before they were cancelled. Along with Marine reinforcements out of Okinawa and the third brigade who would pick up prepositioned stocks, the 25ID would presumably arrive before the heavy force reinforcements from CONUS.
“In76 I went through a light infantry OBC at Benning. We were derided as anachronisms by most who believe the entire Army would be mechanized before long. While our brethren in the mech OBC were loading their coolers and duffel bags full of food in the 113s, we sat on our rucksacks prepared to be chased around by tanks and tracks for a couple of weeks.”
What goes around comes around. Now the bulk of the heavy force will be NG.
But you still can be inane.
Dear Col. Lang:
It probably was Napoleon who did it first as people have been shamelessly stealing from him for centuries (including myself in discussing time factor in warfare earlier without proper attribution to Bonaparte).
If they can find enough training time by semi-professionalizing the Guard I think that might be a good thing. pl
Dear Col. Lang:
I agree and at this point I just don’t see any other alternatives given the looming cuts. IMO the first five years or so will be fine for tank units as crew stability is an asset especially for those who’d be made available after RIF. My concern is of course the training aspect of the conversion. How long will it take for NG mechanized infantry units to get ready before deployment? I thought one possible solution could be to have light infantry units in the active force to increase their training load with NG armor and artillery units.
BTW perhaps the Army should revisit the Key West Agreement before the Air Force mothballs A-10s. I just cannot believe that the Air Force would risk F-35s in CAS given their price tag and small inventory.
You are certainly right about the A-10s. the USAF never really wanted them anyway. In any event, more training time would have to be found for NG heavy units. This may require legislation to make sure Guardsmen don’t lose their civilian jobs. pl
I was pleased to learn that my reading of Halder, based upon very superficial knowledge, ‘meshed’ with what Colonel Sawyer said about him, as he would have been in as good a position to know as anyone.
Certainly it is the case that the preparations for a coup were seriously and professionally made. As I understand it, there were still some doubts among his fellow conspirators as to whether, when push came to shove, Halder would act. But although as you note he was not the ideal leader for a coup, he might well have gone through with it, as he clearly had no illusions whatsoever about Hitler. As to what would have happened then, as Churchill said in another context, ‘the terrible ifs accumulate’.
My main concern was to argue that Chamberlain had perfectly cogent reasons for not falling in with the conspirators’ strategy. That said, the British Government would have been wise to grasp that the difficulties Halder et al had in formulating a coherent strategy did not mean that the analysis of Hitler underlying it was flawed.
Time may not be as critical in diplomacy as it is in military planning. But had Chamberlain spent the months after Munich reflecting on the possibility that he might have bought valuable time, but at the expense of making Hitler more reckless and the exploitation of internal opposition to him much more difficult, he might not have been caught unawares by the occupation of Prague.
And had he not been caught unawares by the occupation of Prague, he might have thought through the implications of the unilateral guarantee to Poland before making it. That has long seemed to me the single most egregious error committed by the ‘appeasers’.
NR! I was stationed in the FRG 1968, 1969, and 1970! EUCOM still on heightened alert status from Soviet invasion of Prague before before I arrived.
N.B. M-113 were never adequate to protection against RPG attacks from inception.
The aluminum “armor” on an M113 would not stop a rifle bullet. pl
NR and DH
Yes, Bob Sawyer knew him extremely well. He was Halder’s guardian for over a year. Oddly enough, they resembled each other physically quite a bit. Bob was a former NG man from Massachusetts. A descendant of the early English settlers, he was a very bright and humble man who had been commissioned from the ranks in Normandy for valor and leadership and allowed to command the company in the YD (26th ID) in which he had been first sergeant. Half the company was killed and wounded in an action in eastern France but he did not seem to hold that against the Germans. He described the action to me once complete with hand drawn charts. After a while he stopped and sat looking at the drawings. I all to well understood the feeling that he had. there are maps that I cannot look at. His wife, Ellie finally came and took the papers away and told us to behave or be sent to our rooms. Halder took to giving him career counsel which Sawyer passed on to me. In Korea Sawyer was an outstanding commander of mechanized reconnaissance troops and a historian who wrote the army history of the MAAG in Korea. He became head of Defense clandestine HUMINT, a job in which I succeeded him long after his departure. After he retired he attended the University of New Hampshire near his home at Bow Lake and received a Ph.D in literature. “A perfect, gentle, knight.” pl
During WWII only a small percentage (<20%) of the German or Soviet divisions was motorized. This led to the very high losses of the unmotorized divisions when the enemy had the initiative and could achieve a operational success.
The German Bundeswehr was fully motorized in the 1960s. The composition of a modern brigade was tested in a Lehrübung ("instruction field excercise") in 1958 and became later NATO standard. IIRC the expected usage of tactical nukes was a driving force for high number of AFVs and tanks. During WWII the German generals were often quite happy with more infantry heavy tank divisions/corps.
Weren’t the M113 conceived as little more than NBC and splinter protected battlefield taxis in the first place?
The Israelis iirc used the M113 as an APC and quickly uparmored them for lack of anything better, and then they replaced them with MBT derivativs as APCs, which weigh in at 40 tons plus. Of course, they can not be airlifted except in a C17 or C5.
The Russians also went for MBT derivatives as APC after their Chechnya experience. These vehivles also weigh in at 40 ton plus.
Germany’s Puma also weighs in at 40 ton plus.
It appears that, when push comes to shove, there still is no surrogate for armor when you have an interest in having the infantry arrive in full strength at the place you want to have them fight.
Thank you David. Far more than I’d hoped for (or earned). I think I’ll make a start with the thesis you linked to.
One small question. You noted that the “offering [of] a unilateral guarantee to Poland was a catastrophic error, which was inherently likely to increase the chances of the kind of rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin . . . “. Am I right in assuming the “increased likelihood” was because Britain’s hasty guarantee was militarily an empty one and (on top of the earlier fumbles) effectively precluded it as a serious “partner”?
I recalled your account of a mentor describing to you how his unit was lured into a German trap, and killed half his company and many of his high school class mates – and in particular your remark that he ‘did not hate them for that.’ So I looked back and found your obit of Colonel Sawyer. The lack of hatred seems one of the most admirable features of a very remarkable man.
Your account of a mentor describing to you how one of your Army mentors described how his unit was lured into a German trap, and killed half his company and many of his high school class mates had stuck in the mind – and in particular your remark that he ‘did not hate them for that.’ So I looked back and found your obit of Colonel Sawyer. The lack of hatred seems one of the most admirable features of a very remarkable man.
“NR! I was stationed in the FRG 1968, 1969, and 1970! EUCOM still on heightened alert status from Soviet invasion of Prague before before I arrived.”
That makes more sense as USAEUR was supposedly being gutted at the time.
“N.B. M-113 were never adequate to protection against RPG attacks from inception.”
In 2003 when 2BCT/3ID made its two thunder runs into Baghdad, the brigade staff, engineers and medics rode 113s. (The first one was reconnaissance-in-force by TF 1-64AR. The entire brigade made the decisive push two days later after Dave Perkins and Gen. Blount overcame corps and theater objections) Perkins had to use his carbine and sidearm against Iraqi infantry and Fedayeen with RPGs who got pretty close to his track.
It was Sawyer’s own company that was half destroyed by what was left of the 17th Panzer Division and it was he who described the action to me. pl
Dear Col. Lang:
“The aluminum “armor” on an M113 would not stop a rifle bullet.”
The question of infantry protection for IFVs and APCs is one of unanswered questions. IMHO every potential adversary thinks about how to inflict maximum American casualties to test our will as almost no one could match us in standoff fight. (E.g., Chuikov had instructed his 62nd Army to “hug” the German at Stalingrad) Given their sensitivity to this question, the IDF has been converting old tanks (captured T-55s, early Merkavas etc) into heavy APCs as the weight savings from the elimination of a turret could be transferred to better protection or power to weight ratio gain. I think that’s something the Army has to consider at some point. The Marines with their AAVs suffered higher rate of casualties in 2003, but their operational priority will always be amphibious capability. M2 IFVs have performed much better, but sooner or later they’d reach the limits of modular upgrades in protection.
Incidentally Pierre Sprey always criticized the IFV concept as he had believed in heavier protection for APCs in exchange for IFV main armaments back in the 1970s. During the development of M1 tank, the Army was seriously considering the adaption of coaxial 25mm to deal with BMPs but the Bushmaster didn’t become available in time.
What is the history of “mobile armor” in Afghanistan, if any?
And Field Artillery?
I had realised that, but evidently was not clear. What I meant to convey was that the story Colonel Sawyer told you about the destruction of his company, and in particular your remark about his lack of hatred, had stuck in the mind — but not the name of the man who told it. When you mentioned the incident in describing what he told you about Halder I put ‘Bob Sawyer Sic Semper Tyrannis’ in Google, and of course your tribute to him immediately appeared, with the fuller description of the destruction of his company.
Instruction by Halder in the military art must have been an experience rich in fascination.
What also appeared was your recollection of Colonel Sawyer telling your mother-in-law how lucky you were to have attended VMI.
“It appears that, when push comes to shove, there still is no surrogate for armor when you have an interest in having the infantry arrive in full strength at the place you want to have them fight.”
Exactly. As you might recall for much of the ’70s and ’80s, Pzgrdr battalions had 2/1 ratio for Marders and 113s. The Soviet MRDs had 1/3 to sometimes 1/5 BMP to BTR depending on readiness classification. Bradleys were an interim solution to match BMPs in the GSFG. And the addition of TOW was to help MBTs in dealing with Soviet MBTs which became critical as NATO units started to convert to 120mm (less ammo storage). It was probably ok for Bundeswehr’s reliance on their 113 inventory as battle taxis as they were expected to fight in prepared positions and towns (Dismounts could be used as pivot for counterattacks by Marder battalion KGs and tanks). However, in offensive missions it would’ve been difficult for infantry to close the gap after contact while mounted in 113s. And obviously you couldn’t use the tracks as base of fire as well as one would with Marders, M2s or Warriors.
Perhaps I did not express myself well. My widowed mother in law lived with us for ten years. Bob and Ellie visited us at Monterrey, California while we were at the Defense language school (DLI). After listening to the way the mother in law talked to me at the dinner table he told her she was lucky that I had gone to VMI. BTW, he first became platoon leader of his old platoon after he was commissioned and then took over the company just before disaster befell them. He must have been a second lieutenant. He was always pleased that I had been a NG sergeant before I went to VMI. pl
I find “The Lorraine Campaign” by Hugh M. Cole of great help in looking at the 26ID’s skirmishes in
October/November 1944 which is I believe the the time Colonel Sawyer was discussing.
A lot comes down to one’s reading of Stalin’s policy, a matter which is still hotly contested among scholars. With a figure as devious as he was it is often difficult to be confident. But for what little it is worth, I think that the German Moscow Embassy diplomats were right in thinking that after his olive branches to Hitler failed, both Stalin’s foreign and internal policies were decisively shaped by fear of a German Drang nach Osten.
Many of the ‘appeasers’ – Kennan being an example – had locked themselves into the assumption that it was self-evident that Hitler’s agendas, being essentially nationalist, could not threaten the Soviet Union. This had two corollaries, both vividly apparent in Kennan’s writings.
One was that the ‘appeasers’ tended to believe that Stalin was attempting to exploit groundless fears of Germany to inveigle the Western powers into a disastrous war with that country. The other was that they failed to contemplate the possibility that Stalin might assume that the British Government was well aware that Hitler might attack the Soviet Union – in which case ‘appeasement’ could very easily be interpreted as a strategy whose covert objective was to get Hitler to destroy the Soviet Union for them.
It is against this background that one has to see the effects of the unilateral guarantee to Poland 31 March 1939. An immediate effect was that Hitler sought to circumvent the guarantee by making overtures to the Russians. If Gorodetsky is right, Stalin then found himself in a dilemma. Given his reading of British policy, he not surprisingly feared that the guarantee would not be honoured – which provided a reason negotiate a partition of Eastern Europe with Germany on the most favourable terms possible.
It has often been suggested that Stalin all along preferred the German option – either because it offered him territorial gains that the British could not offer, or as part of his supposed plan to finesse opponents into destroying each other – and that negotiations with the British and French were simply used to enable him to get better terms from Hitler.
If Gorodetsky is to be believed, this is wrong. A fear that if Hitler invaded Poland he might simply continue east, capitalising on the Soviet military weakness which the purges had done so much to create, meant that even after the guarantee to that country Stalin was still interested in an agreement with the Western powers. However, the only possible agreement had to be a binding military alliance, including an unequivocal definition of the military measures each side would take in the event of war.
There would, in any case, have been massive difficulties with this. One was that Soviet troops would have needed to transit through Poland if they were to fight Germany – a prospect that the Poles were understandably reluctant to contemplate, particularly in the light of ‘revisionist’ Soviet claims on their territory. It may be that the problems of creating an anti-German front including both Poland and the Soviet Union were insurmountable. However, unconditional guarantees tend to reduce leverage on those guaranteed.
Also relevant was the fact that Anglo-French contingency planning involved staying on the defensive at the outset of a war, which obviously created problems in reassuring the Soviets that they would not have to bear the brunt of fighting the Germans.
That said, the same thinking that had made Chamberlain seek to build a structure of ‘deterrence’ in Eastern Europe around Poland, marginalising the Soviet Union, meant that he made no serious attempts to understand, let alone accommodate, Stalin’s concerns. Blithely ignorant of the pressures pushing Stalin towards an accommodation with Hitler, the British made no attempt whatsoever to make counter-offers that might have avoided such an accommodation appearing the least worst option.
In the event, the Nazi-Soviet Pact left Hitler even less convinced than he would otherwise have been that invading Poland would precipitate serious resistance from the British and French. It left these confronting precisely the nightmare which the ‘appeasers’ had been trying to avoid, that of a war between Germany and the Western powers in which Stalin sat on the sidelines, so that the French Army was exposed to the full strength of the Wehrmacht, and the effectiveness of the crucial British weapon of blockade was severely compromised.
This is off topic but perhaps germane to the more general discussion of where and with whom our military might be engaged in the foreseeable future. Reuters is reporting that two B52’s overflew the Senkaku / Daioyu islands . Are we not obligated by treaty to help Japan -should the PRC decide to take control of these contested islands? The Chinese navy has an refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier that has been sent to the South China Sea -is this routine deployment of forces by both the US & PRC ?
I’ve now read the thesis on Faymonville. Remarkable fellow: not only to have arrived at such strong geopolitical views so early, but to have acted on them throughout much of his life. His reticence is intriguing too: “I never debate publicly any Peglerian interpretation of history.”
Thanks for that gem of exposition on Stalin’s strategic choices. I only wish I could be a better interlocutor for you on this topic. Regrettably, despite a lifelong casual interest in the period, my knowledge is desultory compared with yours (and others here). At any rate, all you suggest seems eminently reasonable. I’d imagine as well as having doubts about whether the British guarantee would be honoured, Stalin probably also very much doubted it could be.
The whole conversation has opened up for me the complexity surrounding “appeasement”. I’ve been inclined to favour the Churchillian take (and in many ways still am, at least in my heart) but the strategic dilemma they all faced was clearly diabolical.
“As you might recall for much of the ’70s and ’80s, Pzgrdr battalions had 2/1 ratio for Marders and 113s.”
This was due to budget restrictions, later the M113 were replaced with Marder in most PzGren bats.
The basic unsolved problem was the low percentage of organic infantry in German brigades after WWII.
“And the addition of TOW was to help MBTs in dealing with Soviet MBTs which became critical as NATO units started to convert to 120mm (less ammo storage).”
Here IIRC the reasoning in the German army was different: The 120 gun led to a quite unbalanced situation between firepower and protection and no tanker really expected to use many rounds befor get killed. In the 1980 a tank was considered daed when detected and aimed at. BTW:
Leo 1 55 105mm rounds
Leo 2 42 120mm rounds
Only 15 rounds were in the turret of the Leo 2 and nobody really complainted. 🙂
As tank destroyer -I did my mandatory military service 1985/86 in Munster, basic training as loader/gunner TOW- we were told that our job was to force the attacking tank units to fan out an provide targets for our tanks. Even in quite open northern Germany the number of TOW that could be fired was limited due to terrain.
How did MUNICH factor into Stalin’s thinking? FDR’s?
Was British hard power over or under estimated by Hitler, Stalin, and FDR?
A key component of radar technology was transferred by the UK to the US at the COSMOS Club in DC [there is a plaque on the wall at the club] for exploitation by the US! Was radar a larger secret than ULTRA?
NR! The Soviets were allowed to operate openly in Frankfort Airport during my time in FRG! They took pictures of all arriving US Officers and NCOs who were required to travel in Class A’s! Also departing!
Did you know that the KGB operatives in the Washington DC Embassy purchased a copy of all US high school yearbooks as part of their eventual tracking of American officers and NCO’s. Purchases direct from the publishers!
“The basic unsolved problem was the low percentage of organic infantry in German brigades after WWII.”
Yes and they went from 7 to 5 and then back to 7 again in squad size in the early ’80s which was the smallest among NATO armies at the time. They had a different philosophy regarding mounted infantry which is a legacy of their experience in WW2.
“Here IIRC the reasoning in the German army was different: The 120 gun led to a quite unbalanced situation between firepower and protection and no tanker really expected to use many rounds befor get killed. In the 1980 a tank was considered daed when detected and aimed at.”
Ammo loadout is a mix of sabot and HEAT (or HESH). Even for 11ACR it wouldn’t have exceeded 3 to 1. Going from 63 to 42 it meant a company/troop CO had to worry about rearm/refuel a lot sooner while the estimate of latest Soviet MBTs was increasing each year. As for a tank being considered dead after being ranged by the Soviets, well M60A1s and A3 TTS were better protected than Leo 1s. However, if anyone believed that in 1980 he had no business being a tanker. The use of terrain and cover is the first thing you learn in any armor school around the world. And remember that this was before the days of laze and blaze. Given what we had known about the compound and reactive armor upgrades on T64s and T72s at the time, there was no guarantee that the first shot would penetrate them. We only got the general confirmation in 1991 that 105 APFSDS was indeed effective when USMC tank battalions used them in Kuwait.
NATO obviously had superior fire control systems and much better crews, but a lot of units were still relying on “range cards” at their battle positions during REFORGER exercises in 1980. The IDF expended 2.8 rounds per kill on Golan in 1973. And their gunnery had been outstanding not to mention the Syrians armor units displayed utter lack of tactical sophistication which wouldn’t have been the case for a Soviet OMG.
“As tank destroyer -I did my mandatory military service 1985/86 in Munster, basic training as loader/gunner TOW- we were told that our job was to force the attacking tank units to fan out an provide targets for our tanks. Even in quite open northern Germany the number of TOW that could be fired was limited due to terrain.”
Well as I mentioned above there were still questions about whether TOW 1s could penetrate T-64s and T-72s at the time given their armor upgrades. The IDF had success against export T-72s in Lebanon, but we weren’t completely sure of their effectiveness against GSFG MBTs. Still they would’ve been effective against 62s. The tandem charge didn’t become available until TOW2s. The Jagdpanzer concept is also a legacy from WW2. We had our own with M901 ITV before Bradleys. The problem was survivability (as was the case with the US Army’s experience with tank destroyers in WW2). LOS guidance meant that you had to stay out in the open longer for the enemy to acquire and range you even in defilade positions. As I wrote above, one can use infantry corsetted with ATGMs in built-up areas as pivot point in counterattack as the Heer had intended under Active Defense.
“Are we not obligated by treaty to help Japan -should the PRC decide to take control of these contested islands?”
“The Chinese navy has an refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier that has been sent to the South China Sea -is this routine deployment of forces by both the US & PRC ? ”
Routine might be subject to interpretation. Was the PLAN deployment of the Liaoning group planned? I believe so as the PRC leadership had to assume there would be strong reactions to the expansion of their ADIZ. Although I’d defer to others on whether PACOM knew about it, I assume there probably were indicators during their sortie preparation.
As for the expansion of ADIZ, the US, ROK, Japan and other countries would still need clarification on what the PLAN and PLAAF intend to do about enforcement. Freedom of navigation and overflight are still core issues for the United States. The George Washington group could’ve redeployed from the PI, but B-52s were easier to use and easier for the Chinese to acquire their signature. After 1996 I don’t think anybody in PACOM would advise sending two carrier groups as that would be an incredibly unnecessary escalation. Mind you the Chinese could easily point to Japan and the US during the Cold War as far as justification for the expansion of ADIZ. Interception of Soviet Air Force aircrafts was routine. If this is just another Chinese attempt to set precedents and go after the low hanging fruit, then cooler heads will likely prevail. However, if this is in preparation for expected domestic problems in light of significant economic reforms, well then the United States will have a lot more to worry about stability in East Asia. Domestic imperialism is always a concern when a middle-income country is trying to adjust given the absolute size of the Chinese economy.
Timing of their decision to do this is still very unclear to me at this point. The ROK-Japan relations had been at its lowest in years.
“Yes and they went from 7 to 5 and then back to 7 again in squad size in the early ’80s which was the smallest among NATO armies at the time. They had a different philosophy regarding mounted infantry which is a legacy of their experience in WW2.”
It was expexted that the Heimatschutzbrigaden (Territorial Defense Brigades) would provide some real infantry. However, this would have been different from the WWII approach.
The concept of fighting from AVF (WWII concept) was discarded IIRC.
“The Jagdpanzer concept is also a legacy from WW2.”
Yes, however, the solution of the missile problem may have been the re-introduction of a real Jagdpaner/Sturmgeschütz with 120 mm gun as part of the heavy company in PzGren bats. The German tactics of Stug/PzJg were quite efficient in WWII and there is no real argument why this would not have worked in the 1990s.
“It was expexted that the Heimatschutzbrigaden (Territorial Defense Brigades) would provide some real infantry. However, this would have been different from the WWII approach.”
The real problem was the German refusal to discard their adherence to forward defense. That’s why they were the last among major NATO states to accept the existence of OMG in the Soviet doctrine (and they’d fought tooth and nail over it until the mid 1980s). If all you’re looking for in infantry is to shape the battle space and use the armored units to counterattack in active defense, it’s fine and that is pretty much what was done on the eastern front in WW2. However, if one has to prepare for deep attack or operational maneuver, you’d have found out rather quickly that attrition would render Pzgrdr battalions combat ineffective early.
“The concept of fighting from AVF (WWII concept) was discarded IIRC.”
Well they’d held on to it pretty long as I remember older people from Heer telling me how they used to train with SPz 12-3s in the ’60s. And remember they had added gun ports on Marders. And we copied it rather stupidly despite the results of field validation. During the doctrinal evolution after the Vietnam war, the Heer had supported the US Army when Gen. DePuy and TRADOC developed Active Defense. However men like Starry, Wass de Czege and others became very dissatisfied with it. When the US Army (and later BAOR) made the transition to AirLand there was opposition from Bonn. That as I understood at the time was for political reasons. Different operational requirements forced the transition.
“Yes, however, the solution of the missile problem may have been the re-introduction of a real Jagdpaner/Sturmgeschütz with 120 mm gun as part of the heavy company in PzGren bats. The German tactics of Stug/PzJg were quite efficient in WWII and there is no real argument why this would not have worked in the 1990s.”
This was considered by all NATO armies throughout the Cold War. Sweden was the only one who’d adopted Strv 103. I think you’re right to the extent that there could’ve been a place if both sides were preparing to fight with hundreds of divisions. However, there was a real limit on manpower ceiling in NATO. We were committed to smaller size with qualitative superiority in training. A Sturmgeschutz could’ve been useful in defensive operations even with slower rate of fire. However, it would’ve had limited utility in offensive operations. There was a reason why the US Army has always prioritized slew rate in MBT development since WW2.
Its my non expert opinion given the muddled messaging coming out of Beijing the last day or so regarding exactly what the mission and scope of the new ADIZ might be is that the some of the Central Party leadership would like to walk this whole deal back . Particularly since its being reported that the ROK, and Japan have both sortied P-3 (and other assets perhaps) into the declared ADIZ around the disputed islands . But I agree with you it sure seems like this could be problematic for us & our Pacific allies if the PRC should really start throwing its weight around the neighborhood to distract from the ongoing hard times in the Chinese economic slow down. From a perusal of open source media it does look like ASEAN is becoming more concerned with the PRC’s strategic goals then previous. Finally one might wonder just how far the Chinese military does lag behind the US military in high tech capabilities. Especially when one also considers that the PRC has quite an active space program to include a functioning space station . I trust the USA and others are keeping a wary eye on Lop Nor and elsewhere in China .
Finally your reference to 1996 and the two carrier groups – was that when President Clinton those two CVN’s to the Taiwan Straits ?