Published on Jan 28, 2017
Before she became Catherine the Great, legendary empress of Russia, she was a smart but lonely girl named Sophia. Her mother ignored her until family connections proposed a marriage between Sophia and the presumptive heir to the Russian throne – and suddenly she was thrown from her quiet life in a backwoods mansion to the center of a cutthroat political world.
February 23, 2017
February 17, 2017
David Warren remembers when the government tampered with the free market to “save an industry” in Kingston:
Once upon a time, many years ago, I scrapped into one of these “no-brainer” political deals. The remains of the locomotive manufacturing business in Kingston, Ontario — whose century-old products I had glimpsed, still on the rails in India — were now on the block. A monster German corporation was offering to buy them, for the very purpose of competing, in Canada, with a (hugely subsidized, monopolist) Canadian corporation. The government stepped in, to “save” a Canadian industry, retroactively change the ground rules, and kick in more subsidies so that the Canadian monopolists, based in Montreal, could take over instead. This was accompanied by nationalist rhetoric, and Kingston was thrilled. Critics like me were unofficially deflected with bigoted anti-German blather held over from the last World War.
But I knew exactly what was going to happen. The local works, which would have been expanded by the foreign owner, were soon closed by the new Canadian owner, after studies had been commissioned to “prove” it was uneconomic. The latter’s last possible domestic competitor was thus snuffed out. The locals, whose lives had been for generations part of a proud Kingston enterprise, had been suckered. The politicians had told them it was little Canada versus big Germany. In reality, it was pretty little Kingston versus big ugly Montreal.
That is how the world works, with politics, so that whenever I hear of a big new national no-brainer scheme, my first thought is, which innocents are getting mooshed today?
Published on 16 Feb 2017
After breaking off diplomatic relations, the tensions between the US and Germany are still strong. This week the so called Yarrowdale prisoners become pawns in the power play between the great powers. At the same time, the Russian air force is bombing targets all over the north Eastern Front and little skirmishes happen on the overall quiet Western Front.
Published on 9 Feb 2015
In the run up to the 100 yr anniversary of the end of the First World War Michael Portillo travels across France and Belgium to find out the history of raiways of the past and present….
February 14, 2017
Colby Cosh points out that the historical Christian equivalents to modern day ISIS fanatics are not the Puritans, but the so-weird-it-must-be-fiction Anabaptist Kingdom of Münster in 1534-5:
One thing about this sculpture group [the International Monument to the Reformation] is: the foursome is terrifying. The depiction would not be so accurate and meaningful if it weren’t. Knox, in particular, has the face of a killer. The four men wear clerical robes and have long beards. They wield holy books as if they were weapons, which, in their hands, they were. The Reformed Protestant faith is a faith of the book; it sought to displace traditions, hierarchies, customs, culture, and authorities, and to replace them with the Word of God.
In its extreme manifestations, the Protestant Reformation was an annihilating tidal force of literal iconoclasm—the destruction of religious images and relics. There is still a visible scar across the face of northern Europe resulting from the preaching of Calvin, Zwingli, and Knox: in a belt from Scotland to Switzerland, you can find damaged antiquities, desecrated church reliefs, physically insulted Madonnas.
The attacks on religious art are easy to date: they spread outward from Zurich in much the same manner as the epidemic European political revolutions of 1848. Holland is where the iconoclastic rioting was most intense, and it arguably still influences the Dutch aesthetic character. They have a taste for minimalism and abstraction you can detect in Mondrian or M.C. Escher or the mathematician-artist Piet Hein. (Kenneth Clark made this connection in passing in his television series Civilisation, linking Mondrian to Pieter Saenredam’s 17th-century paintings of spare, whitewashed Calvinist church interiors.)
The Protestant Reformation had many personalities. One of them, ejected from the mainstream of European history in Darwinian fashion, was “crazy as all hell.” (Read about the Kingdom of Münster and tell me that, even correcting the record implicitly for propaganda and prejudice, this wasn’t just 16th-century ISIL.) When commentators talk of an “Islamic Reformation” they are looking back at reformers of tolerant, generous spirit, scholars like Erasmus and Melanchthon who infused the word “humanist” with the positive connotations it still has.
The Kingdom of Münster was founded by fanatic Anabaptists after throwing out the existing Lutheran local council and driving away the Bishop and his troops in 1534:
So in 1534, with most non-Anabaptist men leaving and large number of Anabaptists immigrating into the city to be part of the upcoming “big show”, the city council (to this point solidly Lutheran) was taken over legally by the Anabaptists, and the ruling Bishop of the city was driven out of the town. But the Bishop and his soldiers (they had such things then) did not go far. Unhappy with the treatment they received, they laid siege to the city and blocked any supplies from entering and leaving the city.
With everything falling into place, the people of the city began to refer to themselves as “Israelites” and the city as “New Jerusalem”. Jan Matthys now introduced the idea of a community of goods and all property of all citizens who left (sorry ladies, there’s a new sheriff in town) was confiscated and all food was made public. People could keep what they had, but they were required to leave their houses unlocked at all times. The use of money was eliminated, and all resourced were now pooled for the common good. No longer was there any idea of private property, everything was owned by the public.
One day, convinced and prophesying that God would protect him, Matthys rode out to meet some of the Bishops troops who were laying siege to the city. Charging right into a group of opposing soldiers, Jan Matthys proved a poor prophet and was made quick work of by the soldiers. The soldiers placed his head on a pole for the entire town to see, and did other really, really bad things to his body.
And the story may have ended there (sound familiar), but on of the people Matthys had baptized earlier was a charismatic young man named Jan van Leyden. The story goes that after Matthys’ death, van Leyden is said to have run through the streets naked, foaming at the mouth, and speaking incoherently before collapsing and remaining unresponsive for 3 days. Van Leyden claimed that God revealed many things to him during these three days, and things in Strasberg were going to change. Oh were they ever.
After a few victories over the bishop’s armies, van Leyden had himself anointed “King of Righteousness” and the “King of Zion” – the absolute prophet and ruler of the city whose word was equivalent to God’s. Any resistance to his rule was ruthlessly suppressed.
Van Leyden then instituted polygamy in the city. He used the Old Testament to justify it (like all great nut jobs), but it was well known that van Leyden had a desire for Matthys’ young widow. But aside from lust (van Leyden had 16 wives!!!), polygamy did serve a practical purpose in the city. It helped deal with a ratio of women to men in the city being about 3 to 1, and also was seen as a way to increase the population of the city to 144,000 (required for the beginning of the end).
At this point, a few people became a little unhappy with the “direction” the city is moving. Van Leyden, a master of persuasion, had all resisters are executed (men) or imprisoned (women). One of these “unhappy” people was one of van Leyden’s 16 wives. In a “women belong it the kitchen” moment, van Leyden publicly beheaded her himself and trampled on her body.
February 11, 2017
… most nations of Central and Eastern Europe were occupied by or allied with Germany during this period. The Nazis made it clear that deporting their Jews to the concentration camps in Nazi territory was a condition for continued good relations; a serious threat, when bad relations could turn a protectorate-type situation into an outright invasion and occupation.
Pride of place goes to Denmark and Bulgaria, both of which resisted all Nazi demands despite the Germans having almost complete power over them. Most people have heard the legend of how, when the Germans ordered that all Jews must wear gold stars, the King of Denmark said he would wear one too. These kinds of actions weren’t just symbolic; without cooperation from the Gentile population and common knowledge of who was or wasn’t Jewish, the Nazis had no good way to round people up for concentration camps. Nothing happened until 1943, when Himmler became so annoyed that he sent his personal agent Rolf Gunther to clean things up. Gunther tried hard but found the going impossible. Danish police refused to go door-to-door rounding up Jews, and when Gunther imported police from Germany, the Danes told them that they couldn’t break into apartments or else they would arrest them for breaking and entering. Then the Danish police tipped off Danish Jews not to open their doors to knocks since those might be German police. When it became clear that the Nazis weren’t going to accept any more delays, Danish fishermen offered to ferry Jews to neutral Sweden for free. In the end the Nazis only got a few hundred Danish Jews, and the Danish government made such a “fuss” (Arendt’s word) about them that the Nazis agreed to send them all to Theresienstadt, their less-murderous-than-usual camp, and let Red Cross observers in to make sure they were treated well. In the end, only 48 Danish Jews died in the entire Holocaust.
Bulgaria’s resistance was less immediately heroic, and looked less like the king proudly proclaiming his identity with oppressed people everywhere than with the whole government just dragging their feet so long that nothing got done. Eichmann sent an agent named Theodor Dannecker to get them moving, but as per Arendt:
not until about six months later did they take the first step in the direction of “radical” measures – the introduction of the Jewish badge. For the Nazis, even this turned out to be a great disappointment. In the first place, as they dutifully reported, the badge was only a “very little star”; second, most Jews simply did not wear it; and, third, those who did wear it received “so many manifestations of sympathy from the misled population that they actually are proud of their sign” – as Walter Schellenberg, Chief of Counterintelligence in the R.S.H.A., wrote in an S.D. report transmitted to the Foreign Office in November, 1942. Whereupon the Bulgarian government revoked the decree. Under great German pressure, the Bulgarian government finally decided to expel all Jews from Sofia to rural areas, but this measure was definitely not what the Germans demanded, since it dispersed the Jews instead of concentrating them.
The Bulgarians continued their policy of vaguely agreeing in principle to Nazi demands and then doing nothing, all the way until the Russians invaded and the time of danger was over. The result was that not a single Bulgarian Jew died in the Holocaust.
Scott Alexander, “Book review: Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-01-30.
February 7, 2017
Published on 6 Feb 2017
1916, the Year of Battles, had strained Germany’s resources everywhere but especially on the Western Front they needed to defend their captured territory against an ever growing number of Entente Forces. Erich Ludendorff decided to shorten the front line where possible and built a new “Defence In Depth” line: The Siegfried Line. This defensive network was supposed to grind the Entente forces down while freeing up more German resources.
February 6, 2017
There were a lot of generals involved in the campaign in northern France and Flanders that began on June 14, 1815, and culminated in the memorable Battle of Waterloo on June 18th. Altogether there were 240 of them, to command nearly 360,000 troops. And since the troops came from a lot of different armies — British, French, Prussian, Netherlands, Hanover, Brunswick, and a few others, telling the generals apart can be a bit confusing.
Note that the rank structure is not really comparable to that prevailing today in the U.S. Army. The functional equivalent of a British major general or a French general de brigade or marechal de camp would actually be brigadier general based on their commands. The French rank system was actually much more complicated than may appear from the table. To begin with, the highest actual rank in the army was general de division. Marechal de l’Empire was technically a distinction, not a rank. Now it gets really complicated. A corps commander who was officially a general de division might by courtesy be designated a general de corps d’armee. However, a general de division might also sometimes be referred to as a lieutenant-general, particularly if he was functioning in a staff position. Meanwhile, the chief-of-staff of the army was designated major general. In addition, an officer commanding a brigade was more likely to be designated a marechal de camp (i.e., “field marshal”) rather than general de brigade, which was reserved for officers with special duties, such as the commanders of the regiments of the Garde Imperial. This complexity had developed as a result of the Revolution, which favored functional titles for military officers, chef de battailon for example, rather than major. Unfortunately, staff personnel often required rank, so the old Royal hierarchical titles of rank survived for a long time alongside the functional Revolutionary ones.
Further complicating matters was the fact that in all the armies an officer’s social rank was often used rather than his military rank. Thus, although Wellington was a Field Marshal he was usually referred to as “His Grace, the Duke” without his military rank. In Wellington’s case this could become quite complicated, as he was a duke thrice over, the Portuguese and Spanish having created him such even before the British, and he was also a Prince of the Netherlands. As each of these gave him a different title, references to him in Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch works can easily become obscure. For example, to the Portuguese he was the Duque de Douro, and one Portuguese language history of the Peninsular War nowhere uses any other name for him. Then there is the problem of multiple ranks. Wellington, for example, was a field marshal in the British, Prussian, Netherlands, and Portuguese armies, as well as being a Capitan General in the Spanish Army. Although none of the other officers in the campaign had so many different ranks, several held more than one. For example, the Prince of Orange was a Dutch field marshal and a general in the British Army, while the Duke of Brunswick, who commanded his division in his capacity as duke, was also a lieutenant-general in the British Army.
Al Nofi, “Al Nofi’s CIC”, Strategy Page, 2000-02-01.
February 3, 2017
Published on 2 Feb 2017
This week 100 years ago, Germany goes all in and resumes unrestricted submarine warfare, their goal is to starve Britain out of the war before Germany cannot continue the war. All doubts are brushed aside and all shipping around the British Isles will be sunk without warning. At the same time, the economic situation in Russia gets worse and worse and winter prevents any major action.
January 27, 2017
Published on 26 Jan 2017
Germany is about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare again which might draw the United States into the conflict – but the Germans are not worried. The German Kaiser is instigating with his sister in Greece and Nivelle has big plans for a decisive battle in spring.
January 22, 2017
Published on 20 Jan 2017
Indy sits in the chair of wisdom again to answer your questions about the First World War. This time we talk about the German Jäger Corps, the Pickelhaube and compare the Russian Army of WW1 to the Soviet Army of WW2.
January 16, 2017
From the Facebook page of The Great War:
On this day 100 years ago, a coded telegram was sent by German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann to German Ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. In this telegram, Zimmermann instructed von Eckardt to offer Mexico a military alliance and financial support against the United States should they not remain neutral. This was a possibility since Germany was about to unleash unrestricted submarine warfare by February 1, 1917.
To understand this telegram, it is important to understand that talks about military cooperation and even a military alliance between Mexico and the German Empire had been going on since 1915 already.
The telegram was sent via the American undersea cable since the German cable was interrupted by the British when the war broke out. US President Woodrow Wilson had offered the Germans to use their cable for diplomatic correspondence. What neither Wilson nor the Germans knew: The cable was monitored by the British intelligence at a relay station in England. Furthermore, the British codebreakers of Room 40 had already cracked the German encryption.
The biggest challenge for the British now was to reveal the content of this telegram without admitting that they were monitoring the cable while ensuring it had the desired impact.
January 15, 2017
Published on 14 Jan 2017
It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again where Indy sits to answer all of your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the 1916 presidential elections in the US, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V and the relations between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
January 5, 2017
Drone footage of a collapsed wind turbine in Germany from last month:
H/T to Donna Laframboise, who said:
And on December 27, in neighbouring Germany, a third turbine collapsed completely. After one of its blades failed, the nearly 100-meter (330-foot) structure buckled about 15 meters up. At roughly the height of a 30-storey apartment building, it came crashing to the ground with such force that its gear box was embedded nearly 2 meters (6 feet) deep.
Robert Tunna has uploaded a stunning YouTube video of the spectacular mess (taken with a camera-equipped drone).
We’re told that a June maintenance check on this particular turbine found no issues. Which means that National Geographic’s claim of “nearly zero” operational costs is mistaken. Wind turbines, like other expensive machinery, require ongoing maintenance. Without regular cleaning, dust accumulates and poses a fire hazard. Minus adequate lubrication, mechanical systems overheat, posing a different kind of fire hazard.
Since wind turbines are usually erected in sparsely populated areas, large amounts of fossil-fueled driving from one installation to the next is part of the maintenance picture. Repairs sometimes involve the rental of expensive cranes. In Germany alone, 26,000 individual turbines now require routine servicing. Hauling away tons of unwieldy wreckage isn’t free, either. The economic damage of last week’s incident in Germany is estimated to be half a million euros.
January 3, 2017
I actually just finished a book that will be out in May next year called Armored Champion which is a general look at tank warfare in World War 2 that puts it into a broader context. One of the things I did in the new book Armored Champion is try to distinguish between what I call “tankers choice” and “commanders choice.” And what I mean by that is the tankers choice is what the tanker wants, the individual tank crew wants. The individual tank crew obviously wants a tank that is extremely powerful, very well armored, had a very powerful gun. So if you compare a Tiger or a Panther or a Sherman, the tanker is going to want the most powerful tank available. The commanders choice is very different, because the commander wants combat power. And combat power doesn’t necessarily come from the best technology because in many cases the best technology has issues.
So the Tiger during World War 2 cost the Germans something in the neighborhood of 300,000 Reich marks. You can buy a Stug III assault gun for about 70,000 Reich marks or a Panzer IV tank for about 100,000 Reich marks. So in other words you can get three Panzer IV tanks for every Tiger that you buy. And on top of it, the Tiger, because it was so big it was extremely unreliable. Things like the Stug III and Panzer IV had about double the reliability of Tiger. So if you’re a German senior commander, it’s an open question whether you want a force built up entirely of Tigers because they are unreliable and expensive so you are not going to get a lot of them. You’re going to get a lot more Panzer IV or Stug III vehicles for your Reich marks. So in that book I’m trying to compare those type of issues. And you know, that comes up with the Sherman. One reason there is 11,000 US tanks and tank destroyers In Germany in April 1945 is because the US decided to concentrate on a tank that was extremely reliable and relatively economical to build. And I don’t think anyone would claim that the Sherman was the best tank from the perspective of the tank crew, it didn’t have the best armor, it didn’t have the best gun, but from commanders perspective it was an excellent weapon. There were just lots and lots of them, so they gave the commander a lot of battlefield power. That can’t be said for a lot of the better German tanks because they simply were too expensive to be built in large numbers and they weren’t reliable enough, you couldn’t count on them. So it depends on the perspective that you are looking at it from.
“Interview with Steven Zaloga”, Tank and AFV News, 2015-01-27.