Saturday, 14 November 2009

WW2 and me..

I'm fascinated by the history of the second world war. I was thinking about this recently while watching another WW2 documentary on the History Channel, something about the convoy war in the Atlantic in 1941 or thereabouts, about Admiral Karl Doenitz and his U-Boat submarine 'wolf packs'; the Enigma machine, the battleship Bismarck, said to be the most powerful battleship in the world at the time, and the surprising way she destroyed HMS Hood, a battleship that was until then the pride of Britain's Royal Navy; Churchill's "sink the Bismarck" order and the amazing sea battle that ensued afterwards; the way the Bismarck became crippled after her rudder was damaged by an outdated Swordfish torpedo dive-bomber from the WW1 era, leading to the sinking of the now limping German battleship after she was hit by more than 300 British shells fired from a flotilla of chasing British warships.

When I turn on the television, the first thing I do is to flick through all of the documentary channels, searching for something about the war. Fortunately for me the British, who seem to be especially proud of their exploits during this war, have ensured that at all times, one or another of the TV channels is screening one or other documentary film about this war. So there is no shortage of stories about the war...and I just looove it.

For me, where this fascination began I think must be when I used to read and collect Commando comic books as a youngster. My brother and I collectively must have had no less that 1,000 of those comics in our collection. I grew up believing that the Germans were the bad guys, since the history of the war that we read was that which had been written by the victorious Allies. But as I grew older and became able to analyse the facts more dispassionately, I have come to respect many of the Germans, especially the military professionals. By this I mean those military officers who did the actual planning and fighting. I believe that Germany may have fared so badly in this war not only because the Allies were superior in military power, but more particularly because Hitler and his Nazi functionaries usurped the authority of direct military command, much to the frustration of the leadership of the Wehrmacht.

Men like Admiral Gunther Lutjens, U-Boat Commanders like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien can only be admired for their dedication and their immense skill. General Erich von Manstein was an excellent and very highly regarded military strategist. The origins of Blitzkreig (lightening war) the tactic with which the Germans subdued much of continental Europe and Scandinavia can be traced to this General. Other German Generals too numerous to mention, have records that are impressive. And this is not even mentioning the fact that in terms of technological advancement, the Germans were miles ahead of the Allies, although I will concede that in the battle of Britain and the war of the Atlantic, the British in particular gained a technical advantage with their invention and development of radar and sonar technology..


c'est moi said...

Ok Anengiyefa i hope you are not trying to say or suggest here that the Germans were not the bad guys???...because erm,i think,Hitler and his guys definitely were...and the Allies and the rest of the world (thank God!) stopped this madman and his misguided military officers and soldiers dead in their heinous tracks!!!!

Anengiyefa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anengiyefa said...

No C'est moi, I'm not for one second insinuating that the Nazis were not the bad guys, because they truly were. But note the distinction between 'Nazis' and 'Germans'...Not all Germans were Nazis, although the National Socialists (the Nazis) were a popular political party (movement) at the time of Hitler's accession to the Chancellorship in the early 1930s.

What I'm saying is that we ought to be able to separate Hitler and his henchmen from decent ordinary hardworking Germans.

In the post I was talking about military officers, many of who were not fans of Hitler or the Nazi party, but who because of their sense of duty performed excellently in battle as proud, honourable military men.

Important military decisions were taken by a crazed Hitler whose military expertise did not go beyond that of the Corporal that he was in WW1; decisions leading to calamitous consequences, e.g., Hitler's refusal to tactically withdraw from Stalingrad despite the fervent pleas of the then General Von Paulus, leader of the German forces in Stalingrad at the time.

General (later Field Marshall) Von Paulus was concerned more about the safety of his men and their ability to live and fight another day. He, as most Generals do, also understood that there comes a time when the tactical thing to do is to withdraw, regroup, reinforce etc..What happened instead in Stalingrad because of Hitler's obstinate "fight until the last man" order, is trite. We all know how the German Army was decimated not only by the extreme cold of the Russion winter, but by a ferocious Soviet counter-attack fronted by the Soviet General Georghi Zhukov; an attack that went on and culminated after the huge tank battle at Kursk, in the forced retreat of the German armed forces on the eastern front and their eventual collapse. At the same time there was the concurrent advance of the Soviet forces sweeping right across eastern Europe, crushing bewildered, poorly supplied and battle-worn German troops, pushing them back and and eventually into Germany itself.

German military officers were stripped of their independence and poorly thought-out orders were passed on to oftentimes incredulous officers...causing a decline in morale in the regular soldiers, the Wehrmacht, and an unhealthy reliance on the more fanatical Nazi SS troops. Hence the atrocities towards the end of the war, eg, massacres of captured American prisoners of war, etc..