The Worst Kind of Cynical Exploitation of Youth

Langemark

Monument to the German dead

at Langemark Cemetery. 44,000 men are buried here including at least 3,000 students. German dead from all the battles in WW One which took place in the Ypres Salient were eventually placed in this cemetery. 

Kindermord bei Ypern

or the Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres

This phrase describes a small portion of the First Battle of Ypres during October 1914 in World War One.  After war broke out, casualties were such that the Germans had to immediately form reserve divisions in order to make up for their losses in men already killed or wounded or projected to be.  The Prussian Army formed the 4th Reserve Army and filled out 20% to 25% of each division with  student volunteers who were exempt from the draft. In the mythology of the war, it said that all six reserve divisions which made up 4th Army were 100% comprised of students but that is apparently not true.

Still, is a sad tale because there were tens of thousands of students in the reserve divisions. They knew little of life, nothing of war, and could not have imagined the cynicism of the High Command which later sent them into battle with less than eight weeks of training. The older men had served years ago and were not up to date with procedures and the officers and NCOs were not trained for the new way of war. About the best they knew how to do was march shoulder to shoulder at the enemy.

These young men who volunteered, were exempt from the draft since they were students but the mass hysteria of the time in the form of ultra-nationalism had seized them like a fever. Most of the students were from well-off families, mostly conservative and nationalist with a deep and romantic belief in German destiny. When called on, they flocked to the colors and left their school books behind. For Germany to concentrate her best and the brightest in a handful of formations wasn’t so intelligent.

Their naivete is best described by their opposite number on the English side, poet and soldier Rupert Brooke. These four lines from his sonnet “Peace” tell us everything about the mind set of so many young men of the era who knew nothing of impersonal, industrial war.

Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping…

Brooke himself died from blood poisoning on April 23, 1915.

In a battle which came to symbolize their valor, the reserve divisions were hurled against British lines again and again at a village known as Langemarck close by the Belgium city of around Ypres. While the German students knew very little, they faced long service British Army regulars who knew a lot. One of the crucial things the British regulars knew was how to fire fifteen aimed rounds a minute from their Lee-Enfield rifles. Germans thought they were being machine gunned. Imagine, a thousand men, more or less a full strength battalion in the British Army, could fire 15,000 rounds each minute.

Over and over again the student volunteers were sent shoulder to shoulder against the British and over and over again these young men met the massed fire of thousands of British rifles. It was too much. The Germans finally broke off the attack but not until 41,000 men had been killed. Of these 25,000 were students.

It is the old who manipulate the emotions of the young and send them to war. It is a weighty responsibility which so many leaders in our country seem to disregard.

The German Blitz on London, 1940—1941

rescued from collapsed building

This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid. (AP Photo)

Nazi Germany’s air force conducted a massive terror bombing campaign against London in what as know as “the Blitz.” 

Beginning on 7 September 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed London fifty-seven nights in a row. By the time the Blitz ended in May of 1941, London had been bombed seventy-one times. German bombs destroyed or damaged more than a million homes in Metropolitan London and killed more than 20,000 Londoners.

 

s_w21_00725131

A shopkeeper in London displays famous British stiff upper lip by chalking “business as usual” on a piece of what appears to be corrugated paper or tin on the front of his shop. The windows have been blown out by a concussion wave from a bomb blast nearby. The two men in helmets are from the Air Raid Precaution (ARP), a largely voluntary group of Air Raid wardens. They would have been a familiar sight to Londoners during the war. (photo courtesy of AP)

Determined to show the world they would not succumb to Hitler, Londoners carried on in spite of all the destruction. Photographs such as the one above show their spirit of defiance which won them sympathy throughout the free world. And while many Londoners did carry on no matter what the Luftwaffe did, a goodly portion of those with the financial means decamped to hotels in provincial cities to get away from the bombing.

Those who stayed suffered from a loss of sleep, of energy. People displayed nervous symptoms of various sorts, drank a lot and were very scared. Yet there was a feeling during the Blitz that “we are all in this together” which united Londoners of all classes. That feeling did not outlast the Blitz.

Even during the bombing, however, class barriers remained strong. While shelters were theoretically open to anyone, that was not the case in actual practice. So, as you might imagine, there was a great difference in spending nights in the bomb shelters of the Savoy or the Dorchester, than spending them on cement platforms in tube stations–which often smelt like latrines.

s_w19_00909175

Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids. (AP Photo)

Third Reich Humor

 

wehrmacht210

“so, did you hear the latest one about the Fuhrer?”

The following is from Berlin Embassy by William Russell. The author was studying German in the Third Reich when he was hired by the American Embassy as a visa clerk. This memoir, which I like a lot and have reviewed before, gives a discerning look at everyday life in the Third Reich before and for several months after, the breakout of World War Two. Russell had a good ear and caught a lot of interesting things people said.

In his memoir, which he wrote in 1940, immediately upon returning to the US, he writes:

 

“The following joke was popular in Germany for many months just before the outbreak of the war.

Adolf Hitler and Dr. Goebbels were out riding, when they accidently ran over a dog and killed him.

“Well,” said Goebbels, “think I should find the owner of the dog, and apologize.”

“Go on, then,” Hitler growled, “but see that you come right back.”

One hour later, Dr. Goebbels appeared at the car, much the worse for alcohol.

Seeing that Hitler was extremely angry, Goebbels hastened to explain his absence and his condition. “It was like this,” he said. “I found the house where the owner of the dog lived. I knocked at his door, and when he opened it, I simply said, ‘Heil Hitler; the dog is dead.’

 “Thank God,” the stranger said immediately, “let’s celebrate.”

 

About nine months ago, I received a letter from a fascinating woman in Texas who had lived in Berlin for several years as a young girl during the time Russell was there because her father was running the German division of an American company. She remembered William Russell quite well and said he was a nice young man who often gave candy to American children. She had googled him to discover if he were still alive (he isn’t) and came across a blog post I had written about him and his book. So she wrote me and told me the story of how she had met him and remembered him. I have had subsequent email conversations with her and she is most interesting.

You can find my original post on Berlin Embassy and William Russell here:

http://charlesmccain.com/2011/03/berlin-embassy-by-william-russell/

 

 

 

Allied Bombing Campaign Continues in Germany

 

Fliegerbombe versetzt Muenchens Kneipenviertel in Ausnahmezustand

 

An aerial bomb in Munich had to be detonated on site on Aug. 28, deemed too dangerous Because it what to defuse. Bomb experts warn did examined cases are likely to increase enlarge Because dud bombs are becoming more unstable over time.

 

No, the Allies are not still dropping bombs on Germany but lots of bombs dropped in World War Two did not detonate when they hit the ground. Der Spiegel cites German government figures which claim more than 300,000 unexploded bombs still litter Germany. More than 5,000 unexploded bombs are found and disposed of each year. Since the bombs have grown unstable after all these decades, moving them will often cause them to explode, killing the bomb disposal experts. (In fact, German experts believe many bombs are so unstable they will explode on their own since the slighest movement will set them off).

Hence, the bombs are often detonated in place which often requires evacuating tens of thousands of people from high density population centers. Berms are built around the bomb and other measures taken to try and contain some of the explosion. But the pressure wave is hard to contain and usually shatters windows for blocks around.

In 2011 reports Der Speigel, a 1.8 ton British bomb (UXB in Allied parlance: unexploded bomb) was discovered in Koblenz when water levels in the Rhine fell during a drought. German authorities brought in a floating crane to construct a sort of dam with sandbags around the bomb so excess water could be pumped out from around the bomb so disposal experts could do their work. This did not involve deativating the bomb but detonating it in place.

This is unfortunate but the tactic of indiscriminately bombing cities was initiated by the German Luftwaffe at the very beginning of World War Two during the unprovoked German assault on Poland. This attack which kicked-off on 3 September 1939 officially began World War Two. (Payback is a bitch as we say in the USA).

As German forces crossed the frontier in Poland Luftwaffe dive bombers preceded them and bombed the hell out of everything: towns, cities, railroads, troop formations, industrial plants. Next up, the Germans bombed Warsaw without regard for civilian casualties since the Nazis believed the Poles to be “sub-humans.”

The world we live in was shaped by World War Two, the largest event in human history and the remnants of war continue to remind us of this.