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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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The Eagle And The Lion - AAR Only (No comments)

This AAR has been awarded:
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THE EAGLE AND THE LION
History of the German Empire in the Revolutionary Wars

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INDEX
Prologue
Introduction – The Legacy of the Great War
Prelude - The Advisors
Book I - The Great War, 1914-1917
CHAPTER I - The Western Front
CHAPTER II - The Eastern Front in 1914
CHAPTER III - The Eastern Front in 1915-1916
CHAPTER IV - The War on the seas and in the colonies
CHAPTER V - Armistice and Revolution, end of the Great War
Book II - Aftermath of the Great War
CHAPTER I - New States in Eastern Europe
CHAPTER II - The October Revolution and the Russian Civil War
CHAPTER III - The French Revolution
Book III - The Post war World
Chapter I – Economic consequences of the Great War
Chapter II – The Great Powers in the 1920s
Chapter III – Thorez and the French re-armament
Chapter IV - The Great Powers in the 1930s
Book IV - The Austro-Hungarian Revolutions
Chapter I - A meeting in the Carphatians
Chapter II - A Kaiser on the phone
Chapter III - Revolution in the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Chapter IV – The Empire Strikes Back
Chapter V – A map room conference
Chapter VI - Moscow reacts
Chapter VII – Turn of the tide
Chapter VIII – Where Panzers dare
Intermezzo (by Vincent Julien)
Chapter IX – The better part of valour
Sick No Longer: The Ottoman Empire and the Great War Part I (by Faelin)
Sick No Longer: The Ottoman Empire and the Great War Part II (by Faelin)
Chapter X – Operation Wallenstein
Chapter XI - Panzers in the snow
Chapter XII – The ordnance expert
Chapter XIII – A night out in Berlin
Chapter XIV - I believe in Yesterday

The legacy of the Great War


Few points in recorded history have been as favoured by alternate historians of our days looking for potential points of divergence from the factual to the counter-factual as the opening days of the Great War. This is readily understandable – in August of 1914 the future of Europe and the world revolved around the decisions of a few men, whose wisdom or folly could cause endless disaster.

What if… Germany had not supported their Austrian brothers in arms? Would Austria had backed down and the war been avoided altogether?

What if… Czar Nicholas II had heeded the plea from the Kaiser not to support Serbia? Had the Great War been replaced by short, one-sided Austro-Serbian war?

What if… Kaiser Wilhelm II had not shouted down his Chief of Staff, von Moltke, who insisted on an implementation of the Schlieffen plan? Had Germany then marched west, violating the neutrality of Belgium, thus bringing the British Empire into the war? Clearly, with German imports strangled by the Franco-British fleets, the British and Belgian armies backing up the French, and with the Russians free to attack in the East, it would have become a whole other war. Could Germany have landed the intended knock-out blow against France and won the war in a short few weeks, instead of three years? Or would she have bogged down, only to be gradually bled white in an endless battle of attrition, the horrors of the Alsatian trench war magnified tenfold across Flanders and Picardie? Could the result of the war actually have been reversed?

And Turkey, threatened in the Levant by forces from Egypt and in Mesopotamia by the British bases at Kuwait and Bahrain? Could the arthritic old Ottoman Empire have pushed deep into the Caucasus, reversed three hundred years of decay and thrived? Or would the Ottomans have replaced the Romanovs on the refuse-heap of history? Or joined them, perhaps?

Would Russia have avoided her catastrophic defeats and mutilation? Would the Schlieffen plan have spared her the horrors of the Bolshevik revolution? Or would Germany, strange as it might seem today, maybe even have helped usher it in, if cornered between France, Britain and Russia? It’s important to remember that the then leader of the Bolshevik party, Vladimir Ilich Ulianov, known in party circles as Lenin, was stuck in Switzerland for the duration of the conflict. Italy and France were allied to Russia and would not have let him pass. Only the Central powers could have had an interest in adding to the revolutionary woes of their Russian foe – but with Russia soundly beaten and in full retreat, what use could their have been in inciting its soon to be occupied population to revolution? As the endless Makhnoshchina guerrilla war in the Ukraine later showed, the Russian peasants were unruly enough as subjects, even when allowed their puppet states.

Would Lenin, had he been allowed to join his party brothers in Russia, have proved as effective a leader as Leon Trotsky, the Red Napoleon? Could he have won the civil war, beaten Denikin, Wrangel and Koltchak, ridden out the storm of the Anglo-German intervention? Would Lenin have known how to profit from the deep demoralization of France after its defeat in 1917 and bring about the third French revolution, as Trotsky did? Or would he have held true to his maxim of “Revolution in one country first”?

Would Italy have fallen to the Black-Shirt thugs of Benito Mussolini had it been among the victors? Bitterness over its defeat and fear of Communism were instrumental in massing Italy behind the Fascist take over. Without those factors, it’s not unreasonable to think that lovely, civilized Italy could have been spared its grim fate.

And finally, might the Austro-Hungarian Empire have survived a defeat at the hands of the Entente, or might it have come apart twenty years before its time? To be sure, the victory in the Great War, although costly, did to some extent restore its peeling façade, leaving it in place for Trotsky and the Comintern to spread their sedition. Would Communism have found such fertile ground in the many subjugated nationalities of the Habsburg Empire if it had not come hand in hand with pan Slavic nationalism?

Interesting as these counter-factual speculations might be, we’ll never know the answers to these questions, nor if the world would have been a better place to live in today, had things turned out differently. For better or for worse, the Kaiser did bend von Moltke to his will, Germany marched against Russia first, Britain, not having to fulfil its obligations to Belgium stayed out of the war, the flower of the French Army spent itself in endless mass attacks against the German trenches and bunkers in Alsace and were finally, in their weakened and utterly demoralized state, swept aside by Crown Prince Wilhelm’s victorious legions returning from the East. Even his tragic death in the last week of the war didn’t save France. The Russian Empire and the French Republic, mortally wounded by defeat, did succumb to Communist Revolution, setting the stage for the further spread of Revolution into the Balkans, Central Europe and Iberia. And this is the world we have to live with.


ENCYCLOPEDIA - EUROPE, AFRICA and EAST ASIA in 1936
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Prelude – The Advisors

Prague, January 1st, 1936


hradcany.jpg

In their imagination, the entire towering mass of Hradcany Castle shuddered ever so slightly with each and every one detonation of the Red Army artillery, even though it was still only pounding the outskirts of the city, where the battered 7. Infanteriedivision of the Austrian Army had dug in. As for the Imperial Austro-Hungarian Army and the Royal Hungarian Army, they had all but dissolved along ethnic lines during the last few months, leaving the Austrian Army the last loyal element out of the chaotic but charmingly quaint hodgepodge of armed formations that had been the armed forces of the Habsburg Emperors in Vienna. Never since the days of Napoleon had their Empire been in such dire straits.

The two men were walking through the stately corridors of the castle at a brisk pace, with the measured and self-assured step of professional high-ranking officers. They wore the new Feldgrau uniforms of the Imperial army, with visored caps instead of the venerable old pickelhaube and gold trim rank insignia which indicated they were a Generalmajor and an Oberst of the Imperial General Staff, the OHL (Oberste Heeresleitung). They were both in their mid- to late forties, although few would have guessed that the Generalmajor was actually the younger, by three years. They hurried on, unmindful of the distant shelling, because they had been summoned by the Kaiser. Not their Kaiser, to be sure, but a Kaiser nonetheless, and one they had been ordered to advise to the best of their abilities.

He was waiting for them in the map room – a stuffy place filled with polished oak shelves and dark wall panels. Austrian general-officers in garish uniforms, tabbed and sleeved in the most varied colours, were forming a circle around the map table. White-jacketed lackeys, looking for the entire world like waiters, circulated like satellites around the group, offering refreshments and taking away the empty glasses. To the Germans, they were as out of place in a war room as a ballet troupe. But the Austrians did things differently.

The Kaiser, in a white-and-gold Field Marshall’s uniform stood hunched over the large scale map of his Empire (or rather, what had been his Empire), his whole demeanour indicating weariness, sadness, if not outright despair. He was twenty-six. Seeing the officers sent by his Hohenzollern ally, the Kaiser rose, calling for attention.

‘Gentlemen!’ Otto I shouted, commanding the silence of his mob of walrus-moustached and grizzled old warriors. ‘Let me introduce Major-General Erwin Rommel and his aide, Colonel Heinz Guderian of the German Imperial General Staff! They have been sent by our old friend, Kaiser Wilhelm, to assist us in any way they can – I’m sure all of you have heard of General Rommel’s heroics at Caporetto back in 1917, and I’m assured Colonel Guderian is a very gifted operational thinker. Welcome, Gentlemen, and please take your place at our table!’

There were not many friendly stares as the circle of glittering uniforms parted to make room for the grey Germans. Would these juniors presume to advice the Generals and Field Marshals of the Empire of Austria?

They would. Rommel studied the map for a few moments, then spoke to the Kaiser.

‘Your Highness, your situation is very difficult indeed. What is the state of these divisions?’

‘Battered, battle-weary, hungry and exhausted!’ exploded one particularly fierce-looking old boar of a General. ‘Any thing else you need to know?’

The Emperor made a placating gesture. ‘General, please… Our divisions have been in constant action for the last three months, against a foe three or four times stronger. They have been pushed back across the Empire, most of them have had to fight their way out of encirclement on more than one occasion because elements of the Imperial Army went over to the enemy. Most are down around 30% from establishment strength and running low on provisions.’

‘They’re experienced then.’ Guderian said with a nod of apparent satisfaction.

‘I guess you could say that,’ Rommel conceded. ’30% is not bad, considering the adverse circumstances. And are they holding?’

Otto I nodded. ‘For the moment yes. Our retreat has led us to areas that are either still loyal to the Empire – like Austria proper, the Sudeten or the Budapest area, or are easily defendable because of rivers, mountains and other natural obstacles. And the enemy has advanced so quickly his supply system is in complete disarray, so for the moment we have a respite.’

Rommel nodded. ‘I see. And when the respite is over, can you hold?’

There was generalized murmur across the table. The young Kaiser ferried the question over to the Chief of his General Staff. ‘Well, Field Marshall von Zweienstamm, can we hold?’

The balding Field Marshall considered the question for a bare instant before answering. ‘No, Highness, we can not. Our troops are spread to thin – there is no cohesion to our line. We have one division Corps holding entire provinces, and the enemy is just too numerous. When they resume the offensive, we will be cut to pieces and crushed piecemeal.’

The Emperor looked at the German advisors with a sad smile on his lips. ‘Well, there you have it. What advice can you offer in a situation like this?’

Guderian seemed to fail to grasp the rhetoric nature of the question. ‘Well, you’d think that would be obvious? If you really are too weak to defend…’

‘We are!’ the Kaiser exclaimed with just a hint of irritation. At some level, he suspected the Germans got a kick out of his plight.

‘…well, in that case, Highness, you must attack. It’s simple logic; at this point in time you’re not being slaughtered, at some point in the near future you will almost certainly be, so clearly your situation grows gradually worse for each moment of delay. Also, only by choosing the time and place for battle can you, at least locally, reverse your numerical handicap. Attack I say, the sooner the better!’

There was an explosion of laughter from the assembled Austrian officers. ‘Is this the wisdom of the German General Staff? When too weak to defend, ATTACK! What a joke!’

Rommel smiled. ‘Colonel Guderian is quite serious, Gentlemen, and he is also absolutely right. Your only hope at this point lies with swift offensive action.’

‘Outrageous!’

Rommel nodded. ‘No, it’s not. When he talks Panzers, then Colonel Guderian easily gets outrageous, but –thankfully- we’re dealing with infantry here and this is common sense. If a continued defence means certain defeat, then offence is the only viable option.’​
 
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The Great War, 1914-1917


Chapter I – The Western Front

In August of 1914, despite the misgivings of General von Moltke and the OHL, Germany began an all-out offensive against Russia, employing six sevenths of her Army, while standing on the defensive in Alsace-Lorraine with the remainder. The plan had been dutifully prepared at the OHL at the insistence of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who above all things did not want his hands tied. A great deal of risk was accepted in its execution; it was for example assumed that Belgium would maintain its neutrality and not join the Entente. Next to no forces were deployed along that border. Britain, seeing its protégée Belgium safe from the Germans, saw no reason to intervene, especially after a personal letter from the Kaiser to his cousin King George V assuring that Germany was fighting only defensively against France and would demand no territorial concessions in return for peace. Russia, the traditional counterpart to the British Empire in the “Great Game” of the previous century, commanded little sympathy in Britain and neutrality seemed an attractive and viable option.

The German forces in the west dug in, and dug in deep; soon a system of trenches - double, triple, even quadruple in places - covered by machine guns and cleverly positioned artillery batteries (including most of the available heavy artillery, which was considered too cumbersome for the war of manoeuvre expected in the east) extended from the Belgian to the Swiss border. Within a year the trenches would also be complemented by a sprinkling of reinforced concrete bunkers.

The French immediately and furiously attacked in support of their Russian allies, but the narrowness of the front prevented them from exploiting their great numerical advantage. The French Army paid a terrible price for learning the basics of trench warfare – the advancing infantry was mowed down in their tens of thousands by machine gun fire and pre-planned artillery barrages. Gained ground could be counted in metres, rather than kilometres.

verdun.jpg

The initial French offensive made little progress against German trenches

Severely shaken, the “poilus” settled in to dig trenches of their own. These helped to dramatically lessen casualties from German artillery, but were otherwise of no great use, since the Germans refused to go over the top. The western front ossified. For the reminder of the war, long periods of relative peace, with only some sniping and trench raiding going on, were broken by French offensives of increasing strength. The first real crisis came in 1915.

The French, employing fantastic amounts of artillery, pulverized a five km sector of the German trench lines in front of Metz in a month-long saturation bombardment. When the smoke cleared and the French launched their massive spring offensive, little but the concrete bunkers and strong-points remained of the German lines. Casualties were otherwise next to total. These machine-gun emplacements exacted a heavy toll from the attackers and delayed their advance for a few hours before being overrun. As the jubilant French finally broke through, they soon found that while their artillery preparation was going on a new trench line, flimsy compared to the original but still impervious to unsupported infantry assault, had been built cordoning off the bombarded sector. Once more, the French columns were raked with machine-gun fire and artillery. Concentrated in the salient, they suffered horribly and could do nothing but dig in. They had advanced a total of six kilometres on a five kilometre front. Metz was never in danger.

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French artillery efficiently paved the way for the 1915 offensive against Metz

Next year, the French opted for a new weapon to break the stalemate – tracks. To prevent the enemy from cordoning off a breakthrough like previous year, the 1916 offensive was launched on a broad front, including most of German Lorraine. Again, the target was Metz. The ship-like 23 ton “Char d’Assaut St Chamond” (based on the American Holt agricultural tractor) had been rushed into service and built in great numbers – 400 units would take part in the 1916 offensive.

stchamondd0im.jpg

The Char d’Assaut St Chamond was the first track to see any action

Armed with a 75mm field piece and four machine guns, they allowed the French to overrun the first German trench line with ease, but most of the armoured beasts would go no further. Many had been knocked out by German field artillery firing over open sights, but the vast majority simply floundered as they tried to negotiate the cratered and muddy ground. Once mired, there was no easy way to get the St Chamonds going again, since no tracked recovery vehicle had been designed and the combat tracks themselves had insufficient engine power to tow a disabled comrade.

As a result, the second trench line was pierced in places were French tracks were present, but as they too became stuck, the offensive petered out. Still, the 1916 offensive had been a great success compared to those of 1914 and 1915. The French had advanced 3-4 km on a broad front, taking almost the totality of the original German trench system in Lorraine. And while losses had been extremely heavy, the Germans had suffered too. The OHL was shaken, and transferred ten divisions from the Eastern Front. For this meagre result, the French had lost a million men since the outbreak of the war, and morale began to show cracks. Total German casualties were half of that, but at least they had bought great victories in the east. The French Army had little to show for its appalling losses.

During the second half of 1915, scout planes had started to come under attack by dedicated fighter planes. The Germans pioneered this development, but the French soon responded in kind. By late 1916, one Ace pilot outshone all competition on both sides of the Western Front – Manfred von Richthofen, known as the “Red Baron” because of his partially red-painted Albatross biplane (a challenge to the French pilots). On New Years Eve of 1916, he shot down his 40th opponent and was awarded with the “Pour la mérite” medal. The other pilots of his unit, Jagdstaffel 2, started to imitate their leader, painting portions of their planes bright red, and this in turn prompted von Richthofen to paint his all-red in order to continue to stand out. Although this colourful aerial war had marginal effect on ground operations, it captured the imagination of the world. The names of von Richthofen, Immelman and Guynemer became household words even in neutral countries like Britain and the USA.

The final year of the war saw the French High Command prepare with growing desperation for their final attempt to force the issue on the western front. Russia was collapsing like a house of cards, and there could be little doubt that the German armies in action on the Eastern Front would soon be transferred west. Before that happened, the French would try one last time. They had learnt from the failure of the St Chamond tracks and had replaced them with the new light track Renault FT-16, which had much better cross country ability and lower weight - only 6,6 ton. Where the St Chamond had had a nine man crew, the FT-16 had two. It carried only one MG or a short 37mm gun, but the weapon was mounted in a 360 degree traversing turret, allowing it a better field of fire than the heavily armed St Chamond. Being smaller and lighter, it was also cheaper, and more than a thousand were in place for the 1917 spring offensive.

renaultft17d9gf.jpg

The light FT-16 had excellent cross country capability and was by far the best track of the Great War

This time, the attackers made good progress in their three pronged advance against Metz, Strassburg and Mülhouse. The Germans had developed special anti-track ammunition for their light field pieces, and these knocked out many FT-16, but the great number of French tracks allowed them to push past the German trenches, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. The Germans counterattacked furiously, and after a month of savage battle fought the French to a standstill at the very gates of Strassburg. Having suffered another half a million casualties in their latest offensive alone, French morale plummeted. Now, with their enemies exhausted, disheartened and weakly entrenched, the Germans struck back. Even before the final surrender of Russia in June, Crown Prince Wilhelm’s Army group, one third of the forces present in the East, was transferred to the Western front, where it went into strategic reserve. In late July, as the French were still settling in in their new positions, these rested and experienced troops spearheaded the first German offensive on the Western Front. They were armed with the German answer to the St Chamond track, some 500 Sturmpanzerwagen A7V. This boxy 34-ton monstrosity was even bigger and more cumbersome than the St Chamond, with a crew of 18 and an armament of a 57mm cannon and six machine guns.

a7v_1.jpg

Two A7V Sturmpanzerwagen advance through a French village during the final days of the Great War

Like the enemy track that inspired its construction, most Sturmpanzers did not get far past the French trenches – but in this case, that was enough. Already demoralized, the French units began to waver under the powerful German blows. Not even their secret weapon, the tracks, were enough to turn the tide of battle, since the Germans had tracks of their own. The Germans reached the main French line, from where the 1917 attack had begun, but their foes had given up – as the line was crossed with minimal casualties and the Germans crossed into French territory for the first time of the war, the French retreat turned into a rout. Guynemer, the French Ace of Aces was shot down and killed (probably by Lothar von Richthofen, Manfred’s younger brother) as he was strafing an advancing German column west of Reims. The Germans seemed unstoppable, and at the urging of London, the French asked for terms.

Even as the French Government was discussing an armistice, Crown Prince Wilhelm’s luck ran out. He was killed by a stray artillery shell, probably fired by a German gun, in August of 1917. The war had begun three years earlier on the day, and had only a week left to go.​
 
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The Great War, 1914-1917


Chapter II – The Eastern Front in 1914

Not unexpectedly, the Central Powers intended their great 1914 offensive against Russia to open with a double pincer operation against Poland, or at least this was what the OHL had in mind. The Austrians, on the other hand and in particular their Commander-in-Chief Conrad von Hötzendorf, were driven by a burning hate for Serbia and intended to settle the score with them at the first opportunity. As a result, strong Austro-Hungarian forces were deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and not present in Galizia (Austrian Poland) for the joint offensive. This fatally combined with the Russian war plan, which intended to smash the Austrians first and the fact that the Russian Imperial Army unexpectedly won the mobilisation race, to completely disrupt the Austro-German war plan and hand the initiative to the Entente.

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Conrad von Hötzendorf, the Austrian Commander in Chief

The Austrians and Germans had not been at war for decades, and so could not conceive of operations beginning before mobilisation had been completed and all the pieces were in place. The Russians on the other hand had recent experience from their catastrophic war with Japan a decade earlier – they were ready to improvise and got combat-ready first.

Conrad had strengthened his left wing in western Galizia, aiming for an envelopment of the Russian armies south of Warsaw. His right wing was anchored on the fortresses of Lemberg (Lvov) and Przemysl. The Russians, on the other hand, were planning a double pincer operation, and they had a substantial advantage in numbers, fifty-three infantry and eighteen cavalry divisions to the Austrian thirty-seven infantry and ten cavalry. The Russian advantage was compounded by the fact that their formations were larger than the Austro-Hungarian ones.

The battle was thus joined in late August, before the Germans had managed to get going. The Austro-Hungarian left wing, including ethnic Germans from Austria (among them the famed Hoch- und Deutschmeister regiment) and the Sudetenland, Poles, Slovaks and Hungarians collided head on with the Russian right wing and sent it reeling after three days of furious battle, comprehensively defeated. But the Russian left wing, in eastern Galizia, encountered only weak Austro-Hungarian forces composed of ethnic Romanians, Slovenes, Italians and Ruthenes (Ukrainians) with a stiffening of a few Tyrolean Kaiserjäger regiments. The Russians easily routed their opponents, of which only the Tyroleans were able to put up any strong resistance.

chargingrussians6mp.jpg

Russian troops attacking in Galizia

For the Austrian High Command, however, this was a minor setback. Conrad though he was winning, and that by retreating in eastern Galizia, he could lure the Russian left wing into a trap and envelop it with his own victorious left. The Russians thought along the same lines, mirroring the Austrian plan, but their mobilization was progressing faster and their forces growing more quickly than the Austrians. In the end, the Austro-Hungarian left wing found itself in a narrow salient of its own making, surrounded on three sides by the Russians who now also threatened to cut of its base. Conrad had little choice but to call a general retreat, which soon turned into a rout. Losses were massive, a staggering 400.000 (three quarters of which in prisoners), Lemberg was lost and the fortress city of Przemysl surrounded with 150.000 men inside.

As the Austrians shattered and ran, the Russian High Command was faced with the choice of either pressing home their attack by crossing the Carpathians and threatening Budapest, or to counterattack the advancing Germans. They chose the latter, giving the Austro-Hungarians time to regroup and reform a solid front behind the Carpathians.

In Serbia, the Austro-Hungarians had no greater success than in Galizia. Their offensive from Bosnia-Herzegovina stalled after a short initial advance and was soon pushed back across the border. With the disaster in the north, substantial forces had to be withdrawn from the Serbian theatre, allowing instead the Serbians to advance into Bosnia, although they too were soon repulsed with heavy losses. Nevertheless, it was becoming clear that the Austro-Hungarians had badly underestimated their foe.

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Serbian infantry ready to repel the Austrian invaders

When the German offensive finally got under way, although too late to influence events in Galizia, it benefited from the fact that the Russians were elsewhere engaged. According to plan, von Moltke’s divisions pushed south from Prussia towards Warsaw, but the Russians had foreseen their intentions and deployed for an in-depth defence north of Warsaw, so the advance was slow and costly. Also, very few Russian troops were in Western Poland to be surrounded should the German offensive meet with success, so the whole enterprise was essentially a failure before even beginning, at least in its stated intention to encircle and destroy the Russian forces in Poland. The offensive from Eastern Prussia (carried out by the Army Group of Crown Prince Wilhelm) along the Baltic Coast and into Lithuania made good progress however and after defeating them in a head on collision of offensives, sent the Russian Armies of Generals Samsonov and Rennenkampf reeling back in disarray.


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The Russian Generals Alexander Samsonov and Pavel Rennenkampf. They loathed each other
and proved unable to cooperate effectively against the energetic Crown Prince Wilhelm

In late September, the German advance due east from Eastern Prussia and the continued stubborn Russian defence north of Warsaw had created a severely stretched right wing for the Army Group of Crown Prince Wilhelm. Although his task was originally envisaged as a diversion from the main attack in Poland, he had all but smashed two Russian armies, overrun Lithuania, Latvia up to Riga and threatened Minsk in Belarus. The Czar intended to put a stop to this. He entrusted the task to General Brusilov, one of the most energetic of the Russian commanders and gave him the forces freed from Galizia to do it.

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Russian General Alexei Brusilov, one of Russia’s finest commanders

In the battle of Baranovich, Brusilov’s offensive lanced the thin southern front of Army Group Crown Prince and swept aside the expected counterattack by the Army Group reserve. The German forces in the area were outnumbered 10:1. Franticly, the Crown Prince recalled troops from the front and begged the OHL for reinforcements. Von Moltke was not happy, but agreed to call off the offensive in Poland for the time being and send the freed forces to stem the Russian advance. He also sent a staff asset – General Paul von Hindenburg was appointed as the Crown Prince’s chief of staff. Although initially reluctant to “wet-nurse” the Prince, the two got along well and would form an unbeatable team, on the Eastern Front and later in the West.

After an extended battle of manoeuvre in southern Byelorussia, the Russians were finally halted by arriving reinforcements and the onset of the muddy season. For the reminder of the year, the Eastern Front would be mostly idle as both sides licked their wounds and prepared for the next round.
 
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The Great War, 1914-1917


Chapter III – The Eastern Front in 1915-1916

On the main Eastern Front the 1915 campaign season opened in late May with a great German offensive of which the first step was pushing Brusilov’s Army group back into the Pripjat Marshes and secure the German right flank. The Crown Prince and von Hindenburg had more men, more guns and most importantly, more ammunition than General Brusilov, and also the skill to capitalize on these advantages.

All parties in the war had noticed that ammunition consumption, especially of artillery shells, far exceeded the expected and that war production fell very short of daily usage. This was especially true for Russia, which was only beginning its industrialization. After the intense fighting of the last autumn, stocks were all but depleted and in their frantic attempts to hold back the German colossus, Brusilov’s troops soon expended what had been accumulated during the winter. Later, dramatic increases in ammunition production would alleviate this problem considerably for all participants, but never eliminate it.

Thus Brusilov’s brave armies were gradually pressed into the marshes, were logistics and communications precluded any attempts at conventional warfare. Some troops would remain in hiding here to harass the German rear, but most were brought north, to help stem the continued German advance.

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Spring 1915 – the German advance in the East seems unstoppable

With the flank secure, the German offensive entered its second phase, capturing Minsk and Riga and advancing on a broad front along the Baltic coast with the capital of the Russian Empire, St Petersburg, as its beaconing final objective. The Russian High Command ordered several counter-attacks, but these were easily broken up and scattered. Russian losses soared, and while the manpower to replace them certainly was plentiful, there was a lack of everything else – competent officers, uniforms, field artillery, even rifles. The Russian armies gradually began to acquire the semblance of a partially armed mob. The onset of the muddy season, would see the Germans in possession of Riga, Minsk, Tallinn and Pskov. Further south, they stood at the gates of Vitebsk. In this serious situation, Tsar Nicholas II assumed personal command of the Russian armed forces, deposing Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolayevich. This was a risky move – while it gave a much needed boost to the moral of the troops to know that their Emperor was now leading them in person, any failure would now cast a shadow not on the High Command or any particular General, but on the head of state himself. The Tsar needed a victory badly.

In the central sector of the front, the German advance in the north prompted a general Russian withdrawal from Poland and western Galizia to a line anchored on the Pripjat in the north and the Romanian border in the south. The German army immediately occupied Russian Poland. The Russians had shortened their front in order to free up forces, but this also applied to the Germans. As a result, of the Russian withdrawal many of the German forces in Poland could be withdrawn into strategic reserve. They would come in handy that same autumn.

The Russians still held on to Lemberg but Przemysl was relieved as they lifted the siege. This was very good news to the hard-pressed Austrians, who now also had to deal with a new enemy: Italy had declared war on Austria in May of 1915 after lavish Franco-Russian promises of territorial gains from Austria and Turkey, and although bloodily repulsed in their first offensive, Austria now had to fight not on two but three separate fronts. Needless to say, Serbia remained undefeated under these circumstances, and actually attacked again into Bosnia, with limited success.

The Entente was not alone to grow in 1915, the Central Powers gained new members too. After extended hesitation, brought about by the Austrian defeats in Galicia and the German troubles in the Battle of Baranovichi, the Ottoman Empire had joined the Central powers in January of 1915, opening up a new front in southern Caucasus. The area was hardly undefended, as the Russians had little trust for their southern neighbour, but the massed Armies of the “Sick man of Europe” were still able to push across the border into Georgia and Russian Armenia. Rough ground and bad weather slowed them down to a crawl although they did tie up sizeable Russian forces and added to the logistical strain of the Russian Imperial Army.

Bulgaria joined Austria and Germany in September (officially October) in the attack on Serbia, in exchange for being promised Serbian Macedonia. In the event of war with Romania and Greece, Bulgaria would also receive Greek Macedonia and Dobruja.

The promise of entry of Bulgaria into the war offered a possibility to deal with Serbia once and for all. To Conrad von Hötzendorf’s complete joy, his German colleague offered to employ 2/3rds of the reserves created after the Russian withdrawal from Poland in destroying Serbia. This, in the Austrians mind was not only a military necessity but also long overdue – a desire to punish Serbia was what made the Habsburg Empire go to war in the first place.

In late September, all pieces were in place: the Austrian troops already in theatre had been reinforced by two German Armies under overall command of General von Falkenhayn and the Royal Bulgarian Army had completed its mobilization. The position of Serbia was hopeless, and her complete destruction swift, with just a few scattered elements of the army (including the King) seeking refuge in neutral Greece. Bulgaria took Macedonia while Austria-Hungary annexed the rest of the Kingdom.

With this, Austria-Hungary had essentially achieved its war aims, and would now gladly have had peace with her remaining foes. This was not to be though, and the battered state of the Austrian military would tempt one more potential scavenger before the war was over.

The year 1916 proved decisive in the east. Russia, although coming into its second breath industrially, was breaking morally because of its horrendous losses, which on January 1st were approaching 1.5 million men. The faith in the Tsar and his leadership was wavering too, not the least because of the perceived detrimental influence of the peasant monk Rasputin over the monarch, which he wielded through the Tsaritsa. Weather true or not, the place for the Russian spring offensive of 1916 was wildly rumoured to have been decided by one of Rasputin’s dreams. The hard facts of the military situation in Russia in the spring of 1916 gave little cause to expect a positive outcome, however. While large-scale sales of small arms from Britain and the United States had allowed the Russian army to field more divisions than ever, they were green as spring leaves, poorly trained, poorly led and lacking in all kinds of heavy equipment. The ammunition situation was much improved, although in part because of the decline in the number of available pieces. Morale was still holding, but that would change.

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German troops await the beginning of the Tsar offensive

In contrast, the German Imperial Army, although having transferred some forces west and to Serbia, still had nearly 3/4s of its effectives deployed on the Eastern Front, which were infinitely stronger in equipment, training, leadership and experience than the Russians. Outnumbered 3/2, it was still clearly the stronger side by far. Given that these facts were widely known and understood in Russia, the rumour might just have been a way to pre-rationalise the expected defeat.

The Tsar-offensives were aiming at driving the German invaders away from St-Petersburg by breaking through their front between Vitebsk and Pskov and then drive to Riga, thus cutting of the German spearheads in Estonia and prevent them from assaulting the capital. While this plan might have looked good on paper, it was wildly unrealistic in its expectations – so far, all Russian attacks on the German front had been beaten back, bloodied and battered. The Tsar-offensives proved to be no exception. Lightly entrenched, the German divisions stood up unflinchingly to repeated assaults, mowing down wave after wave of assaulting Russian infantry with machine-guns, artillery and a murderous massed rifle fire. A few infantry companies had also been equipped with a weapon that had been developed for trench warfare – the mortar. With this “pocket-artillery”, company commanders suddenly had an artillery asset of their own, allowing for faster response time and greater flexibility.

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The mortar made its combat debut in spring of 1916

The Russians gave all they had, fought, bled and died for the house of Romanov far beyond anything any western soldier would have endured – but even the gritty determination of the Russian peasant soldier had limits, and these were reached and surpassed by the disastrous Tsar offensive. When the first failed series of attacks was followed by a second and a third, morale collapsed. In some units, officers were shot and replaced by soldier Soviets; Communist and Anarchist ideas had apparently affected many. The Tsar was loosing control of his armed forces and a revolution seemed a very real possibility, but ironically, the Empire was saved for a few more months by the Austro-Germans, who, having defeated the Russian attack, now launched a massive offensive of their own from the Baltic to the river San in Galizia.

The extreme gravity of the situation made the soldiers reconsider, the Soviets were disbanded and men rushed to take their place in the divisions, crumbling under the massive Germanic onslaught. This time, the tide could not be stopped. St Petersburg was captured in July. The Russian Baltic Fleet had still not recovered from the disaster at Tsushima a decade before, but what remained or had been rebuilt had to rebase to Karlsborg in Finland. They wouldn’t be safe there for long, as Finland rose in arms against its ancient foe. German infantry divisions fought alongside the Finnish, led by an ethnic Finnish renegade officer of the Russian Imperial Army, one General Mannerheim.

As all available reinforcements and war materials were fed into the desperate battle to defend the Russian heartland, the Ottoman Army, advised by German General Liman von Sanders, finally crushed the ever weakening Russian armies opposing them and crossed the Caucasus range. Georgia was taken, as was Azerbaijan. A triumphant General Mustafa Kemal Pasha rode into Baku in August, with Liman von Sanders at his side. The Russian forces retreated north and tried to establish a new line of defence.

Italy also attacked again in 1916, with more effect than either France or Russia. In a series of attacks, they gradually pushed back the Austrian lines, causing (and taking) very heavy casualties. The strain on the Austrian army began to feel overwhelming.

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Italian infantry digging in on the Isonzo front

Strangely enough, given the magnitude of their defeats, Russian troops would finish 1916 still fighting on foreign soil in two places – in Austrian Galicia and in Romania. This country had rather foolishly cast its lot with the Entente in early spring 1916, when the Russian, French and Italian spring offensives were still being prepared. Romanian observers had been convinced that the Entente would triumph, or at least make large gains that year. Certainly, the long rows of St Chaumond tracks or the Russian Order of Battle prior to the Tsar-Offensives must have looked very impressive.

In any case, the Romanians coordinated their initial offensive with Italy, since it was thought that these two would have the best chance to overwhelm the faltering Austrians. Unfortunately for them, Austria’s long border with Romania was easily defended due to the mountainous terrain. The Romanians held the Carpathian passes but that only allowed them to attack on a narrow front. The Austrians held, as they did in the Timisoara region where units moved up from occupied Serbia were able to hold the line awaiting German and Bulgarian reinforcements. After the failure of the Tsar-offensives, von Falkenhayn’s and Mackensen's armies were taken out of reserve for the job. In late July, Mackensen's Army was deployed Bulgaria and Falkenhayn's (including the German Alpenkorps, with one Captain Erwin Rommel in the ranks of the Würtembergian Mountain Battalion) in Transylvania.

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Romanian infantry would have to stand up to very long odds

Attacked from all sides, the Romanians fought back tenaciously, but despite Russian reinforcements, were pushed back gradually until in October, only the region of Bessarabia, held with Russian help, was still in their hands.

For the remainder of the year, the Central Powers would gradually edge forward on the northern half of the Eastern Front. In the south, the hard-pressed Austrians had managed to turn back the second series of Italian offensives at Isonzo, and once reinforced by troops freed from the Romanian front in November, counterattacked, pushing back the enemy to his starting lines of 1916.

Thus ended 1916, a year of unmitigated disaster for the Entente on all fronts. Still, much worse things were in store for them before the war would end the following year.​
 
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The Great War, 1914-1917


Chapter IV – The War on the Seas and in the Colonies

One of the more paradoxical facts about the Great War is that naval operations revolved around a power that never participated in it – Great Britain. Naval considerations were also responsible for almost bringing her into the conflict and ultimately for keeping her out.

During the last days of July of 1914, as Paris bombarded London with requests to clarify its stance, the Liberal Government of Herbert Asquith was leaning towards, if not neutrality, then non-belligerence. All members of cabinet did not share this view – the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill and the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Lord Edward Grey among them. As tensions rose and the majority of the Government still leaned for neutrality, it threatened to break apart – the hawks would resign over neutrality and the doves over war. As news of the German declaration of war on Russia reached London, Asquith tried to placate the hawks (Churchill in particular) by mobilizing the Navy but the Government remained divided. The absence of a German declaration of war against France was noted with relief however.

It was at this point that the King summoned his Prime Minister to discuss the letter he had received from Kaiser Wilhelm II, in which the German monarch promised to respect Belgian neutrality and stand on the defensive in the west, as well as offered a status quo peace to France. This, in the Prime Ministers eyes reinforced his view that since France was in no immediate danger, England would not need to be involved in the ‘Armageddon’ that was brewing on the continent. The die-hard warmongers were now in a minority small enough that their resignation would not necessitate the fall of the Government.

How different would not their reaction have been that day (August 3rd) if instead of a conciliatory letter, they had received the news that Germany had sent Belgium and ultimatum demanding right of passage for 34 divisions (roughly 400.000 men) as envisaged by the Schlieffen plan! That piece of news could hardly have failed to convince Asquith’s doves that England would need to go to war to uphold its guarantee of Belgian independence, and more importantly, to keep the Kaiser’s legions away from the Channel ports. As a last resort, Churchill demanded that the Navy should at least effectuate a blockade of the German High Seas Fleet, in order to provide France with a measure of support, but the Prime Minister was not slow to realize that such a measure would be nothing short of an unprovoked act of war, which would hardly be left unanswered. Since he wanted to avoid war, if it was at all compatible with British honour and British obligations to do so, Asquith only agreed to uphold the spirit of the 1912 agreement with France: to protect the French channel coast from German naval attack. In the end, the British Government issued a declaration of non-belligerence, along with a proclamation that the Channel should be considered off-limits for German warships. The Germans mostly complied with this, although there can be little doubt that their submarines would often sneak through the channel to attack targets in the Bay of Biscaye.

The French were outraged over Britain’s refusal to participate, but appreciated the advantages given to them by the closed Channel. The High Seas Fleet would not be able to force an engagement by threatening the bases of the French fleet, and her raider ships would have to take a detour around the British Isles before being able to interdict French shipping. Trade with Britain and her Empire would also continue unmolested.

As a result, the naval dimension of the Great War was, with a notable exception, limited to commerce raiding and a few cruiser engagements early on.​


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Admiral von Spee’s flagship, the “Scharnhorst”.

Admiral von Spee’s Far East Squadron, based at Tsingtao in China exchanged shots with five French Cruisers on their way home from a naval visit at Vladivostok, but the engagement was short and inconclusive. In September, von Spee’s ship’s ambushed the French cruisers “Montcalm” and “Duplex” as they had left the British colony of Penang, sinking both. Next, the obsolete French Cruiser “Fronde” was shot to pieces at its mooring in Saigon. After that the German Far East Squadron had pretty much free run of the waters around French Indochina, and rubber exports were all but stopped. For the rest of the war, there was little action, and when the French dispatched a strong cruiser force in 1915, the Germans were happy with keeping their distance and pick the occasional French or Russian merchant far from port. In this activity the Far East squadron was reinforced with the old Austro-Hungarian Cruiser “Kaiserin Elizabeth” which had sought refuge at Tsingtao at the beginning of the war, and by the S-90 , the single German submarine at Tsingtao. It sunk many French merchants off Haiphong and Saigon, and in 1916 Russian minelayer near Vladivostok.

Britain’s non-belligerence also had indirect consequences. As an ally of Britain, Japan would probably have gone to war against Germany too, had Britain chosen to do so. There can be little doubt that the powerful Japanese fleet would then have made short work of Germany’s Pacific Empire, preventing Tsingtao from acting as an effective naval base for the duration of the conflict.

In Africa, Germany had but one gunboat, the “Ebe”, at Windhoek and the cruiser “Königsberg” at Dar Es Salaam. “Ebe” was sunk by French warships shelling the settlement “en passant” and the Königsberg would spend the war chasing Entente merchants in the Indian Ocean.

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The German cruiser “Königsberg”

In the Mediterranean and the Baltic, the Austro-Hungarians and Russians respectively contented themselves with playing “Fleet in being”, and in a sense, so did the High Seas Fleet itself, since its presence at Wilhelmshafen prevented the French Navy from deploying many of its most powerful ships away from the Atlantic. The Russians enjoyed an early success when they captured the German light cruiser “Magdeburg” after it ran aground, but in October one of the Russian ships involved in that action, the cruiser “Pallada” was in turn torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boot. In November, the coastal defence cruiser “Friedrich Carl” hit a mine and sank. The Russians, knowing themselves outgunned and outnumbered resorted to offensive mine-laying that would claim more victims in the High Seas Fleet as the war progressed.

Aside from an indecisive action in the Gulf of Riga in 1915, where two German Dreadnoughts failed to sink the Russian battleship “Slava”, there were no major fleet actions during the war. After the fall of St Petersburg and the rebellion of Finland, the Russian Admiralty considered trying to let the Baltic Fleet run the gauntlet past the German coast, through the Baelts and Skagerak to reach safety in France. In the end it was decided that this would lead to nothing but a glorious death ride and the Baltic Fleet was ordered to seek internment in Sweden, the reasoning being that the ships would be returned after the cessation of hostilities, rather than lost. Sweden, in the event, refused to hand over the ships to the fledgling USSR and so was gifted with a respectable, if obsolescent navy for a country of its size.

The Colonial War was also very clearly a sideshow to the titanic land battles in Europe. French Colonial troops quickly overran Togo and largely ignored German West Africa, rightly considering it worthless. The French attempt to invade German Cameroon ran into unexpectedly hard resistance though. The German Schützkorps counted 1.000 Germans and 3.000 Africans, and they managed to delay the invading 18.000 French Colonial troops for thirty long months, finally surrendering at Mora in August of 1916.​

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Prussian organization paired with native ferocity made the Askaris superb colonial troops

The French attempt to capture German East Africa in November of 1914 was half-hearted at best and ended in disaster. A Moroccan brigade was landed in a swamp outside Dar Es Salaam, and despite outnumbering the German Schützkorps of Colonel von Lettow-Voerbeck two to one, it was ambushed as it moved out of the swamp into the city and defeated in detail. The plentiful booty of small arms, ammunition and even light artillery allowed the German commander to increase the size of his forces by recruiting more Askaris. When resistance in Cameroon finally ended in 1916, this force looked formidable enough that the French High Command decided not to waste more troops trying to take German East Africa, but concentrate all resources on breaking through the German front in Lorraine. The fate of the German colonies would in any case ultimately be decided in the battlefields of Europe.​
 
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The Great War, 1914-1917


Chapter V – Armistice and Revolution – End of the Great War

In Early 1917, the situation of the Entente was altogether desperate: the capital of Russia, along with much of the country was occupied by the enemy, half of the Navy interned in Sweden, its armies in a state of moral, organizational and political disintegration. Only the war industry of Russia was in far better state than it had been in 1914, but the armies it was supposed to feed were on their last legs. There was also a real threat of famine. France, although everywhere standing in enemy land was growing ever more frantic in its attempts to punch through the German western front before Russia sued for peace, and the massive losses had sapped the morale of the troops to a dangerous point. There was muttering among the ranks of the “Poilus” about their Commander in Chief, General Nivelle, being an incompetent ass and the war being lost. Leaflets produced by the Communist Party and Anarchist organizations of France circulated among the soldiers, inciting them to desertion and rebellion. The seeds thus planted would bloom after the armistice, but for the time being, despite everything, the French Army still had one more good fight in it. As for Italy, the third of the major members of the Entente, it was in the best shape of the three, perhaps owning to the fact that it had fought only the Austrians, not their more formidable German allies. As for Romania, it was by this time reduced to Bessarabia and only held with the help of the Russians, who themselves were not exactly full of fight.

In February, the political situation in Russia had deteriorated rapidly with strikes and riots in the major cities. In the army, soldier Soviets were again being formed, and this time many junior officers were joining them, understandably reluctant to be shot as a preliminary to their formation, as had happened in 1916. Plans for a last ditch counterattack in spring had to be abandoned in order not to provoke an open army Rebellion. When troops were ordered to move into the cities to quell the riots, they flatly refused. Already deeply depressed over the loss of his beloved capital, the contempt and insubordination of the troops became too much for Tsar Nicholas II who abdicated in early March of 1917. On the following day, Grand Duke Michael, the Tsar’s brother, refused the throne and the history of the Russian Empire was at an end.

When the authority of the tsar's government began to fail in February 1917, two rival institutions, the Liberal-dominated Duma and the Socialist Moscow Soviet, competed for governmental power. As a compromise, a provisional government led by the liberal aristocrat Prince Georgy Lvov was formed that was to lead the country to elections for a constituent assembly. The provisional government might formally have ruled Russia, but its power was effectively limited by the growing authority of the Moscow Soviet, who commanded at least some obedience from the Soldier and Worker Soviets that had controlled the Army. In this situation, the position of Prince Lvov quickly became untenable and he resigned to be replaced by the Socialist Revolutionary Party leader Aleksandr Kerensky.

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Prime Minister Kerensky sending off a unit of Kossacks to the front

Kerensky had a next to impossible task in front of him – Russia wanted peace, needed peace, but all things indicated that the German terms would be extremely harsh. He also felt obligated by Russia’s previous promises to France and Italy. The anxious ambassadors of the Allied Powers were promised that Russia would continue the fight. As a way to increase the public acceptance of the war, the Provisional Government decided to re-activate the plans for a spring counter-attack. Grudgingly, with the help of the Moscow Soviet, the army was prodded into action. The plan was aimed at driving the enemy back towards St Petersburg and recapture the city – an altogether unrealistic objective given the state of the forces involved. In order to forestall the expected German offensive against Moscow, the Russians began their own attack in May, before the mud season was over and the ground fully dry.

One fantastic new weapon was used – with the help of French advisors, Imperial Russia had started the fabrication of a bizarre track-equivalent, although since it was actually NOT tracked but wheeled, it should perhaps be classified as a super-heavy armoured car.
In any case the “Nevski” (originally to be named “Tsar”) was an enormous combat vehicle provided with colossal spoked wheels, reminiscent of those of a bicycle or those of a Russian peasant cart, a “Panje”. Like the Panje, it was hoped that the wheels would sink through the mud to rest on solid ground below, allowing the “Nevski” to advance in the most adverse ground conditions and thereby surprise the Germans.

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The “Nevski”, the most bizarre of the Great War Tracks

Not very many of the “Nevski’s” had been produced, only 50 or 60, and since they were clearly too few to influence events on such a vast front, it was decided to concentrate them into a single regiment, spearheading the attack against St Petersburg. Against all reasonable expectations, the plan was originally a great success. The German “Landsers” must have thought they were having hallucinations or perhaps being attacked by Martians as in HG Wells popular novel “The War of the Worlds” when the ungainly “Nevski” tracks approached their lines near Novgorod in April of 1917. The Germans were machine-gunned from above, their field pieces had trouble elevating enough to hit the enemy machines at close range and an entire regiment was soon completely routed, creating a hole in the thin German front.

Soon, more prosaic realities prevailed, however. The Russian infantry was unable to support the tracks in their advance, or hold back the inevitable German counter-attacks on the shoulders of the Russian salient. On the second day, the offensive was already faltering and on the third, the Russians collapsed entirely. The “Nevski’s”, those very few that had not been destroyed by German artillery or broken down, were abandoned by their crews and blown up. A handful were captured by the Germans more or less intact.

The Austro-German spring offensive began on schedule in late May 1917. Crown Prince Wilhelm and Field Marshall von Hindenburg had been sent west with a third of the German forces, but what remained was more than enough to crush all residual resistance. Almost immediately, Romania surrendered on terms that were surprisingly generous (owning to the fact that Germany intended to promote the Hohenzollern King of Romania to an autocratic puppet of Germany). Given the hopeless situation, the Provisional Government asked for terms, and were dismayed to learn that the Central Powers demanded Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Byelorussia, Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia and Azerbaijan as well as recognition of the independence of Finland and the payment of huge reparations in raw materials. While at first reluctant to accept these unbearably harsh terms, the all but unopposed enemy advance soon convinced Kerensky that he had no choice. The peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk put an end to the Russian participation in the Great War, but although peace was what most Russians craved above all else, it would serve the Provisional Regime little. Instead, it became the object of sharp criticism by the radical Bolshevik (or minority) faction of the Socialist party. Kerensky and the Mensheviks were presented as traitors to Russia and the Revolution.

Meanwhile, the war was coming to an end on other fronts as well. A combined German-Austrian offensive against the Italians completely broke the back of the Italian Army. In the battle of Caporetto, nearly half of the Italian army was destroyed or captured due to a complete failure of leadership leading to a moral collapse of the first order.

cap_pow1.jpg

Italy lost 320.000 men in the battle of Caporetto, mostly in POWs

Had other members of the Entente been doing any better, Italy might have fought on, but in the light of the surrender of Russia just a few days after the conclusion of the battle, the Government decided to ask the Central Powers for terms. These were surprisingly lenient, since Austria had no real desire to incorporate new masses of Italians into their already heterogeneous citizenry. All Italy was forced to give up in the peace of Venice was the Dodecanese islands and Rhodes to Turkey, as well as officially renounce all claims to any Austrian lands. They were also obliged to pay large war reparations to Austria, temporarily reduce the Army to 75.000 men and surrender all major warships of the fleet to Austria. These terms, especially when compared to the high hopes with which Italy had entered the war, caused tremendous bitterness and would become an important factor behind the success of the Fascist black-shirts in the 1920s (the black colour symbolizing mourning over the Venice peace).

Thus only France remained of the Entente, and after its last ditch offensive had been repulsed in mid July, the Germans counterattacked and broke through. As the French army disintegrated through desertion and headlong retreat, Army Group Crown Prince advanced swiftly straight against Paris.

Under these circumstances, Britain decided that things had gone far enough. A German domination of France was seen as unacceptable, and the British Government urged French Prime Minister Clemenceau to seek terms, offering to mediate.

The Germans now had the delicate problem of how to consider the Kaiser’s promises of 1914 of a status quo peace. Clearly France could no longer expect such benevolent terms after the long years of bitter fighting leading to complete defeat, but there were the sensibilities of Britain to consider. Thus, of Metropolitan France, only a thin strip of land west of Metz* was demanded, something Her Majesty’s Government did not find unreasonable. Instead, Germany would make her main territorial gains in the colonies, demanding Morocco and the Jewel of the French Imperial Crown; Indochina, the only French colony with any great economic value. Germany also demanded crushing war reparations, destruction of the border fortifications and a reduction of the French army to 100.000 men. France was forbidden to own, build or develop tracks and military air planes. On the insistence of Britain, France would keep her Navy intact though, although its size was limited to present strength.

Faced with a crumbling army and German forces advancing on Paris, the French Government had little choice and signed a preliminary armistice on August 12th, 1917, which was later formalized in the peace of Versailles on September 30th. After three years and millions of dead, the Great War was finally over.

*(Auth. Note: Making the real border correspond with the HOI 2 border)
 
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Aftermath of the Great War

CHAPTER I – New States in Eastern Europe

While the territorial changes in Western Europe had been slight, in Eastern Europe they were monumental. Many new states emerged from the ruins of the Russian Empire as a result of the German policy of establishing buffer puppet states (known as Mitteleuropa) from the conquests in Russia.

Strikingly, after such a long and costly war, the areas actually annexed to the Reich were minor – Luxemburg was taken without comment or explanation in the final days of the offensive in the West and annexed outright together with the remaining strip of French Lorraine. Also, some areas of western and northern Poland were incorporated, but the greater portion of the country was set up as a puppet Kingdom within weeks of being liberated from Russia. In its territory, the Polish language was instated as the only official one and all the institutions banned in the Russian Congress Poland were recreated, among them the Sejm, the Polish Parliament.

pl-16.gif

National flag of the Kingdom of Poland

By granting the Poles formal independence, the Germans hoped to avoid incurring the hate the Poles had so far reserved for their Russian masters. A Polish Army (named Polnische Wehrmacht) was set up under Josef Pilsudski, and was armed and trained by Germany. The Kingdom lacked a King though, and a regency council of Polish Aristocrats was appointed by the German Government to choose one. It is unknown in what way, if any, council was influenced by Germany, but after long deliberation it decided to name Wilhelm of Hohenzollern, Kaiser Wilhelm II King of Poland thus creating a personal union between the German Empire and the Kingdom of Poland. This choice was not popular among the Poles, not the least because the Kaiser was a protestant, and the Poles were among Europe’s most fervent Catholics, but on the whole their situation had improved so dramatically as compared to that of Congress Poland that the Poles were, if not enthusiastic about their new condition, at least well pleased. This contentment was of course a perishable commodity – it wouldn’t be long before nationalists would demand an enlarged Poland free of German influence. But all that was still decades away in 1917.

lt_1939.gif

Flag of the Kingdom of Lithuania

Further east, Lithuania was formed as a formally independent Kingdom with Wilhelm Karl, Duke of Urach, Count of Württemberg as King, reigning under the Lithuanian name of King Mindove II of Lithuania. By contrast, in Latvia and Estonia, the Baltic German aristocracy, not the indigenous nationalist movements were in charge. A General Provincial Assembly (of German aristocrats) first asked to form a Duchy (the so called United Baltic Duchy) to be incorporated into the Reich with Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, brother of Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands as Duke. But following the peace of Brest-Litovsk, the Assembly became worried about talk in Germany about increased civil liberties and rights after the war, something entirely incompatible with their continued dominance over the Baltic population and decided instead to petition the Kaiser to be allowed to form a separate Kingdom, albeit as a protectorate of Germany. This was agreed to by the Kaiser and the new state adopted the name of Baltic Kingdom (a preliminary proposal based on the earlier Ducal name, United Baltic Kingdom, was rejected for sounding “artificial”). The old banner of the Teutonic Knights, the Black Cross on White was chosen for flag, a clear indication of the Germanic nature of the new state. The Latvian and Estonian populace were, needless to say, deeply unhappy with this state of affairs.

bal_duke.gif

Flag of the Baltic Kingdom

In contrast to the other protectorates, Finland had declared its independence from Russia during the war, and there was no question about the country becoming a puppet state. It did however willingly receive a German Prince on its newly established throne, namely Prince Friedrich Karl von Hessen-Kassel who was crowned under the name of King Väinö I of Finland. Although closely allied to the German Empire, Finland was in fact, and not only pro forma, an independent state.

fi-st18b.gif

Flag of the Kingdom of Finland

Further south the Republic of Belarus and the Hetmanate of the Ukraine were formed. Both states were in all but name provinces of the German and Austrian Empires. The Republic of Belarus had indigenous leaders, but the administration and the army were dominated by Germans. This state enjoyed a short existence as Germany tried to set it up as a nucleus of a White Russia, leading to its capture by the Red Army as the Whites were defeated and the intervention called off.

ua_1918.gif

Flag of the Hetmanate of Ukraine

In Ukraine, a former Lt General of the Tsar’s Household Guard, the Cossack Pavlo Skoropadsky ruled as absolute Monarch under the title of Hetman. Skoropadsky was a skilled military commander who had fought as a cavalryman in both of Russia’s recent wars and been decorated with the Cross of St George. He had later created the first Ukrainian military unit by ethnically cleansing his command, the 34th Army Corps of the Russian Army. His regime was fatally handicapped by a double dependency; his bureaucracy, although fairly competent, was almost exclusively ethnic Russian and had little sympathies for the Government they served and for security, the Hetman depended on the armed forces stationed in Ukraine by the Central Powers. His reign would be characterised by the constant struggle against the Anarcho-Communist Insurgent Army of the Ukraine led by the “Ukrainian Zapata” Nestor Makhno, also known after its leader as the Makhnovschina (movement of Makhno). This struggle will be discussed further in the chapter regarding the Russian Civil War.

makhno_seul.jpg

Nestor Makhno, leader of the anarchist Ukrainian Insurgent Army

The last of the new nations was located in the Caucasus, where the Ottoman Empire released Georgia as a puppet state, governed by a tribal leader. The Empire maintained direct control over Azerbaijan and Armenia, of which the latter would, despite extremely harsh repression, remain a rebellious region for decades to come.

One more country to fall under the category of puppet states was post-war Romania. Germany tried to impose an authoritarian Monarchy on the defeated country, since the King was a Hohenzollern and presumed pro-German. Although the King did play along, this made him widely seen by his subject as a traitor and errand-boy for the enemy, something which would contribute greatly to the eventual success of the Romanian Revolution. The above mentioned Nestor Makhno also had much to do with it.​
 
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Aftermath of the Great War

Chapter II – The October Revolution and the Russian Civil War

Following the end of the war, the Liberal-Socialist coalition Government of Alexander Kerensky was in increasingly dire straits. The Bolshevik-dominated Petrograd Soviet (formerly known as the St Petersburg Soviet and restyled Moscow Soviet during the German occupation of the city) was calmly forming a parallel administration, bringing ever more of the soldier- worker and peasant Soviets under its control. The support for the Government had plummeted after the humiliating peace of Brest-Litovsk. Poverty and hunger were everywhere and the impotent Government could do nothing. As a result, Kerensky’s own party, the Socialist-Revolutionaries split in a left and right faction, the left allying with the Bolsheviks in demanding the overthrow of the Government. Together, the two factions had an overwhelming majority in the Congress of Soviets.

The stage was thus set for another revolution, one that would finally sweep away the bourgeois liberals and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks were organised and ready, and lacked only one thing: a charismatic leader to lead the fight, incense the masses and inspire the party members. The Bolshevik’s own leader, Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov “Lenin” was still stuck in Switzerland, and without his demonic drive and death-defying political daring, the Bolsheviks dared not move.

There was however one charismatic leader available that had returned from his American exile after the February Revolution, one that commanded the respect of next to every member of importance of the former Social Democratic Labour Party, Bolshevik or Menshevik(the majority faction of the party that the Bolsheviks had once split off from), alike; Leon Trotsky. While he was not a Bolshevik, but a Menshevik, he was politically close to the Bolsheviks and above all, craved revolution as much or more than they did.

The Bolshevik leadership knew that time was not working for them. The longer time passed since the humiliating peace, more and more of the people would stop raging about it and worry instead about hunger, unemployment and poverty. If left unchallenged, one could not discard the possibility that Kerensky and his Government would manage at least to some extent improve the lot of ordinary people, thus gaining in legitimacy. Also, he elections to the Constituent Assembly were fast approaching (they were scheduled for October 25th) and if power had not been sized before then, a political body far more representative and legitimate than the Soviets would be established, specifically tasked with creating a constitution. This could not be permitted – thus October 25th became somewhat of a deadline for the increasingly desperate Bolsheviks. And in the meantime, Lenin had to stay where he was.

The Mensheviks on the other hand were a party in deep crisis. It had already split twice over participation in the war, first in 1914 when a very vocal right wing minority supported Russian entry into the war for reasons of “national defence”, while a vast majority of the Mensheviks were strongly against war. This led to a second split after the February Revolution when a centre-right majority (led by among others George Plekhanov, Fedor Dan and Irakli Tsereteli) supported the continuation of the war as “defence of the revolution” and even went so far as to join Kerensky’s coalition after the fall of Prince Lvov’s Government. The left wing of the party (known as the Internationalist faction) under the old party leader Julius Martov was completely opposed to both and some Menshevik leaders, such as Alexandra Kollontai, even to the point of walking out and joining the Bolsheviks who remained steadfastly anti-war.

These splits undermined the party in the Soviets, and the peace of Brest-Litovsk made matters much worse. Given that they had demanded an end to the war, the Mensheviks now had to assume their share of politic responsibility for the harsh peace at Brest-Litovsk. Helplessly, the Menshevik left argued that they had been against the war from the beginning and that its disastrous result could therefore not be blamed on them, but on the Tsar – but these protestations went largely unheard. Between the split and the peace , the Mensheviks were dwarfed in the Soviets and in the Congress of Soviets by their Bolshevik rivals. When the Bolshevik leaders offered an alliance together with the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, Trotsky was quick to realize his importance; the Bolsheviks needed him, but unless he took his party with him, he would become politically isolated among them. Trotsky didn’t intend to become a Bolshevik tool; he responded the invitation with an ultimatum: re-unification of the two ex-Social Democrat Labour Party factions into one Communist Party under his leadership. To his own, he alleged that Martov was too controversial among the Bolsheviks to become a joint leader, as was Lenin among the Mensheviks and he wasn’t there anyway. But he, Leon Trotsky, would be acceptable to both factions and could work to heal the rift.

Many members of both factions were appalled, among the Bolsheviks not the least for fearing what Lenin’s reaction to his marginalisation might be. But Lenin was not present, the elections were drawing closer and a decision had to be made. Both factions split; the Menshevik centre-right, nearly half of the party, walked out and re-created a new Menshevik party from those aligned with the Provisional Government. Some Bolsheviks, such as Ioseb Jughashvili stayed loyal to Lenin and walked out too, but most, inkluding Pravda editor Lev Kamenev who was married to Trotsky’s sister Olga accepted the merger with open arms. Thus Leon Davidovich Trotsky became undisputed master of the Communist Party of Russia and could launch his coup d’état.

Since the fall of St Petersburg to the Germans in 1916, the seat of Government had been Moscow. Consequently, it was the Moscow Soviet (which held most of the notables of the former St Petersburg Soviet) which sent armed men into the streets to capture strategic buildings and arrest members of the Provisional Government. Kerensky’s appeals to the Army to restore order went unheard – the Soldier Soviets now dominating the army were loyal primarily to the Congress of Soviets.

Kerensky and the Government fled to St Petersburg, where the German occupation (ended after the peace) had brutally prevented the formation of or suppressed any existent strong revolutionary movement. In that traditionally liberal city the Provisional Government started to raise loyal troops with some material help from Britian and Germany. Thus began the Russian Civil War. In its first phase, Trotsky’s Communist Red Army (which he himself commanded with considerable skill) fought with the militias raised by the St Petersburg government. This struggle ended in March of 1918 with the capture of St Petersburg and the flight of Kerensky and his cabinet.

Among the first thing Trotsky ordered once in complete control of Moscow was the execution of captive Tsar Nicholas and all his family. The reason for this was twofold: to frighten all opposition into submission, showing that the Communists would stop at nothing to destroy all opposition, and second, to forestall any attempts at restoration by eliminating not only the former Tsar but also all his direct heirs. In the event, the measure proved counter-productive. The murder of the Imperial family horrified Europe and most horrified were the monarchies. It has been said that few things contributed to patching up the cool relations between Germany and Great Britain as much as the shared outrage of both countries monarchs over the grim fate of their relatives. They immediately resolved to put Grand Duke Kiril on the throne by means of supporting anti-revolutionary forces inside Russia and by direct intervention, where convenient. Austria and the Ottoman Empire, at this time faced with severe internal unrest in the aftermath of victory declined to take part in the intervention, but Japan and the United States were willing.

During early 1918, several armed groups were forming across the former Russian Empire; The Red Army was the tool of Trotsky and the Communist Party, and under their direction it quickly grew into a formidable fighting force. The Black Army was the nickname for the anarchist groups, the strongest of which was Makhno’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army but there were small bands everywhere. The White Army was a unitary name for several private armies headed by ex-Imperial officers of which the two most important ones were Admiral Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in the Ukraine (which despite its official status as a sovereign state under Austrian protection was walked over freely by most factions of the civil war at some time or another). In Belarus, the Germans set up a third major White army under Grand Prince Nicholas Romanov and the area was declared part of the Russian Empire, the thought being that the Grand Prince would gain more acceptance if he had a power base on Russian soil, rather than crossing the border like an invading army. Also, given the national trauma caused by the Great War, Germany wasn’t eager to enter into another open conflict, and allowing a rebel army to cross the border would certainly be cassus belli enough for any one. By moving the border, rather than the rebel army, that legal problem was solved. Once the Bolsheviks had been defeated, the Russians could always be ordered to give up the area again. All White forces fought for a restoration of Monarchy in some form and represented the most conservative strata of Russian society.

The Green Army, finally, was a common name for the diverse nationalist groups who stood ready to fight Reds, Blacks and Whites alike for the sake of national independence. There were several such groups in the Caucasus, in Belarus and in the Ukraine where the Green forces where led by one Symon Petlyura in their fight against the Hetmanate and its Austro-German masters, the Makhnovschina and the Red Army.

Very briefly, the course of the Civil war went as follows: During the summer and autumn of 1918, the White armies of Generals Denikin and Grand Prince Nicholas advanced from their bases in the Crimea and Belarus respectively while Admiral Kolchak moved west along the Trans-Siberian railroad from Siberia. German troops, under the guise of volunteer “Legions” fought under the banners of Grand Prince Nicholas and the Ukrainian Hetmanate. British troops landed in force at Archangelsk and in the Crimea, where they helped to arm and train the armies of General Denikin. The Far East was held by Red Army units which soon had to contend with intervention forces from the Empire of Japan, reinforced by some 10.000 US soldiers. The American presence was motivated equally by an honest desire to fight Communism as by the need to keep close watch over the Japanese activities in the Russian Far East. While fighting revolutionaries was all well and good, Washington had no intention of allowing Japan to seize any Russian lands. The interventionists succeeded in clearing the Far East of Red Army units but then stopped, unwilling to move deep into the Siberian interior.

The White Armies first had to contend with the Black and Green Armies before they could confront the Red. Byelorussian Green Army partisans nipped at Great Prince Nicholas columns from the depths of the Pripjat marshes and Denikin’s forces, advancing from Crimea had to cross the heartland of the Makhnovschina in South-eastern Ukraine. Despite some help from Skoropadsky’s I. Ukrainian Army Corps and the Austro-German occupation forces, the Anarchists caused the Whites serious casualties and won several hard fought-engagements. It was only after Trotsky had ceased the deliveries of ammunition to the Insurgent Army (a dirty trick which would prove to be a favourite Trotsky’s) that the Whites (temporarily allied with Petlyura’s Green Army troops) were able to crush its main body and move on towards Moscow. The anarchists were by no means wiped out though, and when deliveries resumed, it allowed them to launch a campaign of harassment against Denikin’s supply lines – all the while fighting with Hetmanate, Austro-German and Green Army troops. The Ukraine was thus in a state of complete chaos. Of the White warlords, only Kolchak could advance against pure Red Army resistance, despite being the weakest of the three. All three left a trail of bloody retribution and political terror in their wake, summarily shooting suspected communists, anarchists and nationalists as “traitors”.

whitearmypropagandaposteroftro.jpg

A White propaganda poster portrays Trotsky as a devil

The Red Army was thus strategically encircled at Moscow and Petrograd (as St Petersburg had been renamed) and in a very difficult position. Trotsky decided to concentrate against Kolchak first, hoping to fight a delaying action in the west. By November 1918, the self-styled Admiral had been checked, and following a bold attempt by the White commander to regain the initiative and capture Moscow, a Red counterattack broke his forces in the mid-winter battle of Kazan. In spring of the following year, Kolchak’s forces were in full retreat and Trotsky redeployed to face Denikin and the Grand Prince.

The German-backed army of Grand Prince Nicholas Romanov had advanced from Minsk along the borders of Lithuania and German-occupied Latvia and Estonia (which were still in the process of forming the United Baltic Duchy at this time) until reaching Petrograd. In this way, his supply lines remained short and safe, and his conquest of the former capital of Russia in October of 1918 could not be prevented. From then on, however, he had to advance deep into Russia on his way to Moscow. Red Army guerrilla detachments kept blowing up the Moscow-Petrograd railroad behind the Grand Prince’s front and logistical problems and the onset of winter stopped his advance after securing a bridgehead east of the Volkhov River, north of Novgorod. Meanwhile Denikin had pushed as far as Orel before halting for the same reasons. Come spring, these two armies would march on Moscow and crush the Red Army between them. This is what forced Trotsky to risk a winter offensive in Siberia in order to defeat Kolchak first.

In May 1919, the Grand Prince and Denikin resumed their offensive, but Trotsky was ready for them. In the battle of Tver, Grand Prince Nicholas was attacked in the flank by a slightly smaller Red Army force. After some fierce action, the Whites broke first and began a headlong retreat to Petrograd. Trotsky didn’t follow up this victory by completely smashing his opponent’s forces. Instead, he redeployed once more, south this time and arrived in Kaluga in July of 1919, just in time to shore up the faltering defence line built there to hold back Denikin and his Cossacks.

It was at this time that a London newspaper, perhaps trying to instil confidence in the eventual defeat of the Communists compared Trotsky’s operations in defence of Moscow with those of Napoleon during the 1814 campaign in France – constantly moving back and forth along inner lines of communication, beating one foe at a time but never following up on his victories to completely destroy his foes. All the paper achieved was to create a new sobriquet for Trotsky, one which the new dictator of all the Russians would bear with pride: The Red Napoleon.

TrotskyAtThePolishFront-1919.jpg

Trotsky, the “Red Napoleon”, at the Kaluga front, 1919

The battle of Kaluga was only a defensive Red victory, but while it left Denikin’s army undefeated, it decided the outcome of the war. The Russian people were solidly behind the Communists and recruits flocked to their banners while the Whites had enormous difficulty in replacing their losses. They were generally seen as henchmen to Russia’s external enemies, and this fatally handicapped them in the propaganda field. As Soviet War Economy found its stride and the number of divisions increased steadily, the Whites lacked not only manpower – their foreign suppliers were beginning to loose faith in them, finding the cost of the war too high to bear for their ever more stressed post-war economies. Contributions dwindled.

Soon, new Red offensives pushed the White armies back, into the Ukraine, Siberia and Petrograd. After a long siege, in January of 1921 Grand Prince Nicholas would embark on the German super-dreadnaught Nassau with most of his remaining men accompanying him into exile. His supposed power base in Minsk was taken in the spring of that year after a stunning surprise attack out of the Pripjat marshes. In the summer of 1920, successive waves of Red Army attacks gradually forced Denikin away from Moscow, crossing back into the Ukraine in November. They were just in time for another round of confused four-way fighting between Reds, Greens, Blacks and the Austro-Germans and their Ukrainian clients. Working in cooperation with the forces of the Hetmanate and the Central Powers, Denikin helped drive the Red Army out of Ukraine once more by March 1921, but was then so weakened that he considered further attacks pointless. He resigned and turned over command to General Wrangel, who tried to coordinate with Kolchak to launch one last desperate offensive in the spring of 1922.

trotskypropaganda4xv.jpg

Trotsky – slayer of the White Dragon. Red propaganda poster, ca 1919

Once more, Trotsky destroyed his enemies piecemeal, beginning with Kolchak, whose force had been completely scattered by early July 1922 when the Red Army marched into Irkutsk. The Admiral himself had resigned, but then been betrayed by his successor and summarily shot by local Soviet fighters. The further march of the Red Army to Vladivostok was a military promenade. Upon arriving there they found that the Japanese and Americans had already evacuated.

In the meantime, Trotsky had allowed Wrangel’s small army to advance deep into Red-held territory towards Moscow. Now he was attacked from all sides, far from the relative safety of the Ukraine. It’s a testament to his skill that Wrangel was able to rally the remnants around him and march them back to safety in a fighting retreat. Back in Kiev, the remnants of Denikin’s once proud army were recruited en masse into Hetman Skoropadsky’s armed forces. He needed them badly, because Makhno was on the rampage again. This time, the Red Army stopped at the Ukrainian border. Trotsky might have believed in a world revolution, but that didn’t mean he was blind to military realities – if the Central Powers were willing to fight tooth and nail to keep the Ukraine, he wasn’t going to take it from them. Instead, he kept funding and arming the “Makhnovschina”. While he considered them ideological enemies, it was also true that no Communist agitator had roused the Ukrainian peasantry as Makhno had, and since the Ukraine was not going to fall into his hands, Anarchism would not threaten to infect Communist Russia. Although fighting would continue in the Ukraine, in Belarus and in the Baltic Kingdom for some time to come, by autumn of 1922 the Russian Civil War was over, and Trotsky and the Red Army had won it.

The western powers were at this time seriously distracted by other problems – the worldwide post war recession was deepening, Britain had a full blown rebellion going on in Ireland and Austria and Germany had both committed strong military forces to preserve their domain over the Ukraine and the Baltic Kingdom. But most importantly, France had fallen to a revolution of her own.​
 
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Aftermath of the Great War

Chapter III – The French Revolution


The French Socialist Party, led by Jean Jaurès, had been strongly opposed to war with Germany in July of 1914. Because of this, a fanatic nationalist assassinated Jaurés on July 31st, creating a powerful martyr for the left-wing and anti-war cause. All other parties, including the social-liberal Radicals who had so far championed improved relations with Germany, united in a coalition Government named “l’Union Sacrée” (the Holy Union).

After the failure of the French 1916 offensive and the Entente defeats in Russia and Serbia, the Prime Minister, former socialist Aristide Briand, proposed making peace overtures to Germany to bring an end to the war. He was however violently opposed by Georges Clemenceau, who argued that with Russia defeated, France could never hope to regain Alsace and Lorraine, and would be at the mercy of a strengthened Germany. It was now or never, if the lost lands were to be regained. A bitter political feud ensued, where Briand, supported by the Socialists was opposed by the Conservative with the Army (represented by the Generals, the opinion of the ordinary Poilu was markedly different from theirs) in support. The Radical party was deeply divided on the issue along its left-right axis. In the end the Union Sacrée (Coalition Government) could not be preserved, and Georges Clemenceau formed a new Conservative-dominated Government bent on carrying on the war. As a last ditch attempt to prevent this, a General strike called by the Socialist Unions was broken up by military force.

When the final French offensive had failed by the end of June, a new Government crisis was in the making, but the German counter-offensive and break-through instead caused the re-formation of the coalition government. Given the military disaster and looming defeat, the Socialists seemed vindicated in their anti-war stance. On July 31st of 1917 (a ten-day before the end of the war), the anniversary of the murder of Jean Jaurès was wildly celebrated by out of control soldiers who blamed Clemenceau’s government for the lost and senseless war. The Army was already disintegrating, with officers being shot in improvised mutinies, but before this state of anarchy could degenerate into open revolution, the Government accepted the inevitable and signed the preliminary armistice of August 11.

A sense of anti-climax reigned as a profoundly demoralised nation awaited the result of the peace negotiations at Versailles. There was much resentment directed against Britain for “abandoning” her allies, but also much regret among the ordinary people – if only France had not declared war! One and a half million dead, economical ruin, defeat… it could all have been avoided!

When the news of the October Revolution reached France, radical elements in the Socialist Party began to consider how to bring about a similar situation in France, but the time was still not ripe. Just a few weeks later, the Peace of Versailles was signed, its harsh conditions sparking a wave of riots, strikes and protests. As if to pour oil on the flames, the Government of Clemenceau announced dramatic tax raises in order to begin to pay the huge war reparations to Germany. Suddenly Socialism and Patriotism seemed to find common ground – striking was seen as a way to deny the German enemy their loot. Demobilized soldiers refused to hand over their weapons, instead forming Soldier Soviets after the Russian fashion to guard the factories and support the striking workers. It wasn’t long before regions of France were taken over by Red Guards, proclaiming diverse “Communes”, in the tradition of the Paris Commune of 1871 in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux… the post-Versailles remnants of the Army were soon trading shots with these paramilitary communists in the streets. Realising the country was on the verge of Revolution, Clemenceau stepped down, calling for elections in the hope that the new Government would have the legitimacy to reinstate order.

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Communist militia, southern France, late 1918

Whatever doubts could have remained about the outcome of the elections were dissipated when the alleged assassin of Jean Jaurès, young ultranationalist Raoul Villain, was acquitted of the charges of murder in March of 1918. This perceived (and probably actual) perversion of justice led to an unparalleled mobilization of the political left with more riots, marches and strikes. The General Assembly elections of spring 1918 were thus held in an atmosphere of fear and disorder and led to an overwhelming majority for the Socialist Party, which in its ranks encompassed from moderate Social Democrats to outright revolutionaries of the Bolshevik kind. The new Government, with Socialist leader Léon Blum as Prime Minister, was however dominated by the more moderate elements and it began a policy of nationalising industries, purportedly to be better able to pay the reparations without bleeding the taxpayers white. In order cover the expenses of wages to the millions of new state employees, Blum wasn’t shy about letting the bill printing presses work.

The nationalisation program backfired badly. The Socialists voters wanted better wages, working conditions and power over their place of work. Instead they found that they now had a single immensely powerful employer, were working long shifts for savagely taxed and nominally frozen wages that were being eaten up by inflation. As monthly payments on the war reparations succeeded each other through 1918, the economical and political situation deteriorated steadily. Comintern agents were everywhere, infiltrating trade unions and army barracks. Also, more openly challenging the power of the Blum Government were the anarchists, with several foreign notables aiding their cause, such as Nestor Makhno, Errico Malatesta and the Grand Old Man himself, Prince Kropotkin.

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Prince Peter Kropotkin

While the latter could speak anywhere, openly inciting the masses to revolution thanks to his enormous prestige, Makhno and Malatesta were organizing anarchist militias. Wise from his experiences after the October revolution, Makhno prepared his French followers to be ready to fight Bourgeoisie and Communist Party alike.

In September of 1919, order had broken down completely. In metropolitan France, the Army had all but disintegrated into diverse militias who helped themselves to the materiel stored in the military depots (far more, by the way, than allowed for by the Versailles treaty). The Police was powerless against the far better armed militias, of which the strongest one, inevitably, was the Communist, labelled Armée Populaire et Revolutionaire de Liberation (APRL) or Red Guards for short.

The anarchists were the direct cause of the implosion of the III Republic. Emboldened by the weakness of the hated state, their ALAC militias (Armée de Libération Anarcho-Communiste) began seizing farms, shops, factories, every kind of medium and small enterprise from their legal owners, often topping of theft with murder of the dispossessed (for being class enemies). Desperate to restore order, Blum accepted the Communist offer to use their Red Guard militias in the service of the Government. He must have known the offer would come with strings attached, other than naming Communist ministers of Defence and Police, but he had little choice. Even some junior parts of the traditionally right wing officer corps were joining the Red Guards, preferring Red order and discipline to Black anarchy. The army itself existed only on paper, the Navy was in the hands of Red sailors organised by Communist commissars and the Police remained impotent for the time being.

Just as Makhno had feared, when fighting erupted it was between the ALAC and the Red Guards. Savage street battles raged in every major city of France, but the Communists held all the aces. They had effectively infiltrated the army and the state, and could command its vast usurped resources while the anarchists had steered as far as possible from any involvement in the state they despised so. Thus it was in the name of maintaining law and order that the highly organized and disciplined cohorts of the Red Guards bloodily crushed the Anarchist uprising during the autumn and winter of 1919. By January 1920, the Anarchist leaders had abandoned all hope and fled the country – Kropotkin and Malatesta to London and Makhno back to the continued fighting in the Ukraine, where Fyodor Schtuss had commanded in his absence.

By that time, the Government had gradually become wholly Communist, with Leon Blum as a powerless figurehead. With order re-established and the tools of power firmly in their hands, the Communist Party of France (formed after the formal secession of the left wing of the Socialist Party in early 1919) outlawed all other parties, redrafted the constitution and established the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, all in a perfectly legal fashion, given that they had almost complete control of the General Assembly.

During the crisis and fighting, France had ceased to pay its war reparations. As a result, Germany seized more of her colonies, with the tacit approval of the more traditionally minded colonial officers who were aghast of developments in the motherland. Not wanting to be outdone, Britain acted in the same fashion, capturing even more French colonial lands. Paris protested loudly, but could do nothing. Tunisia and Algeria were however garrisoned by regular French Army troops which remained loyal to the Government (not the least because their soldiers had served in the trench war and had been radicalised as well) and by 1922 they lingered as the sole remnants of the French colonial Empire.​
 
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The Post war World


Chapter IX – Economic consequences of the Great War


The Great War was not only chillingly costly in blood – it also carried with it a tremendous cost in economical terms that had to be paid somehow. The different ways in which the participants financed the cost of war would impact in various ways on the post-war economy. In all belligerent nations, the millions of young men in productive age that were drafted into the army spent three years of war in the trenches and battlefields instead of working, earning and spending, reducing demand for consumer goods. On the other hand, the states purse for war costs seemed bottomless, which caused a war hausse for every business related to war needs – steel, machine- and chemical industry, textiles (for uniforms) etc.

In France and Italy, the State paid for its war spending mainly by raising taxes (although some loans were taken from Britain and the United States). This kept inflation at a reasonable rate, but since it reduced consumer income, domestic demand for consumer goods decreased sharply, compounding the problem with the non-spending draftees. At war’s end, France had a swollen heavy industry with large overcapacity and superfluous workforce, and a light (consumer goods) industry that had a hard time selling to a tax-impoverished population. The deep recession in post war France surely helped foster the revolution or in the case of Italy, made a revolution likely enough to scare the middle class into embracing the black-shirts for protection against it.

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The Fascist March on Rome, 1922

In Germany and Austria, in contrast, the State financed the war mostly by loans from the rich, particularly Jewish banks and Financial Institutes. At the end of the war, the State in both countries was deeply indebted but consumer demand had remained steady, decreasing the shrinkage of the light industry sector to manageable levels. Post war, the tax rates would go up here too, but at least the ensuing recession began from a less wretched war-time state. Also, war reparations from France and to a lesser extent, Italy, helped Berlin and Vienna pay back much of their debt without having to resort to excessive tax increases. Loan-financing of the war effort did however lead to significant inflation and as world trade resumed after the war, to a severe depreciation of the Reich mark – in 1918 it was worth about half of what it had in 1914. All the warring nations had had to abandon the gold standard during the war, and the delicate matter now at hand was at what exchange rate it should be re-introduced. Strong voices in Germany advocated going back to the 1914 parity, in order to “restore the honour and prestige of the Reich mark”. This would have doubtlessly caused a deflationary spiral with potentially disastrous consequences, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. As the dominant power in Europe, The German Empire needed not be touchy about prestige issues, and the new gold exchange rate merely confirmed the depreciation of the Mark. For a time, this also gave German goods a price edge in competition with British and American goods. Debt however demanded a reduction in military spending. With Germany master of a Continental Empire, a vast fleet had become even more of a luxury than before the war, and one that brought with it the enmity of Britain. A tacit agreement was made with London in 1921 that Germany would replace only half of her present naval strength with new modern ships. In return, the Royal Navy would help protect German shipping on the high seas in case of a conflict with a third power. This agreement, coming soon after the adoption of the new German constitution which made the Reichstag equal in power to the Bundesrat (Federal Senate), did much to improve relations between Britain and the German Reich. These had become strained after the scramble for the French colonies in which Germany seized Djibouti.

In the Ottoman Empire, the reforms of the Young Turks had set of a modest but steady economic development by the mid 1920s. German corporations were the main investors, and after the Romanian revolution put an end to German exploitation of the Ploesti fields, they would develop the already significant oil extraction facilities at Baku. Income from oil exports to the other Central Powers would provide the Turkish Government with a reliable and growing source of revenue throughout the 1920’s and 30’s.

The less that is said regarding Russia in this context, the better. War Communism, the ruthless harnessing by the State of all production capacity, succeeded in arming, clothing and feeding the Red Army through the Civil War, but not much anything else. At the end of the Civil War, Russia was not in recession or even depression – it was in famine. The loss of the Ukraine, with its huge grain produce could not be made good through importations in an economy that produced no surpluses of any kind. Trotsky, convinced that the Revolution could not survive in the long run if it didn’t spread to the rest of the capitalist world, embarked on a ruthless industrialisation program in order to give him the tools to defend the revolution long enough for this to happen.

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Trotsky ruthlessly forced the USSR to industrialise

Thus, the factories of the Soviet Union produced mostly construction elements and heavy machinery – in essence, more factories. The loss of the Baku fields and the Ukrainian Don bass region meant that large investments had to be made in coal mining, which further reduced what was left for non industrial purposes although at least it did provide a job and a very modest income to the miners and their families. The oil supply situation would improve after the Romanian revolution in 1924, when the Hohenzollern Austro-German puppet King was deposed by anarchist-inspired popular uprising (in which the inevitable Makhno played a significant role) supported by a Communist-led military putsch. Both had been bankrolled by the NKVD, but only the Communists would retain that support once the revolution had been successful and guaranteed by an alliance with the Soviet Union. Needless to say, within two years the Communist Party was in complete control and large scale oil exports to the USSR in place. Anarchist militants were not persecuted until they voiced open opposition, after which they either fled the country or were imprisoned.

From 1921 to 1936, three 5-year plans would dramatically increase the Russian industrial output, but they would do little to improve the lot of the workers and peasants whose well-being was the raison-d’être of the USSR. Russia’s manpower losses in the Great War were dwarfed by the death toll claimed by famine and disease (Russia was the one place were the 1918 influenza epidemic would become really severe. One shudders to think what might have happened if it had struck the freezing, starving armies in the cold and muddy trenches one year earlier) and the ruthless collectivisation of what arable land there was didn’t exactly help. It is no coincidence that the early 1920s were the formative period of Felix Dzerzhinsky’s feared Cheka – All in all, life in the 1920’s USSR was no picnic.

Something similar eventually happened in France, but only after a decade had passed. Initially, the French Communist party, worried by lingering anarchist influence went to great pains to win the hearts of the people, thus light industry and consumer goods were the first order of business. This helped France quickly reclaim a position in the world economy, exporting its traditional luxury foodstuffs, perfumes and even haute couture – the Party tried hard to show that Communism and traditional French glamour where in no way incompatible. Paris remained a Mecca for the artistically inclined, of which most were left-wing radicals anyway. The derisive term “state capitalism” was coined by orthodox Marxists (particularly Russian ones) to describe French Communism: in essence a huge consortium of profitable industries, producing for the consumer market and for export. If a historical precedent was to be found, Ptolemaic Egypt would have been it.

Since the French Revolution had been fostered and launched out of a hate for war it would have been hard for the new regime to appear overly belligerent and war-mongering. In consequence, France scrupulously upheld the terms of the Versailles peace and even went beyond it, scrapping or selling all but the most modern warships of the fleet (which was in any case a useless luxury now that the colonial Empire was gone). Thus Communist France appeared peaceful to the point of Pacifism, moderately prosperous and, obviously in sharp contrast to the brutal Soviet regime, deeply appealing to the working classes of the Capitalist countries. The nightly arrest and elimination of “enemies of the people” by the new “Surété” were not as widely published as the latest songs of Edith Piaf or paintings by Picasso and did not disturb the idyllic image. Gradually, more and more of investment was made in heavy industry, but during the first 10 years only at a moderate pace. In gloomy Moscow, Trotsky was positively fuming.

Most would agree that he had grown tired of his Comintern partner’s détente with World Capitalism. He angrily went on record claiming that the French Communists had been infected with Leninism, and were trying to build socialism in one country only, leaving the workers and peasants of the world to their fate. He wanted an ally that made less Roquefort cheese and more tracks amd bombers; one which could field a large and powerful army in the inevitable struggle with German Imperialism. After a decade of subterfuge, he managed to put his man at the helm. Thus, it was not until 1930 when a young Maurice Thorez rose to rank of Secretary General of the Communist Party that France began to follow the road to socialism insisted on by the Soviet Union.

The big capitalist powers that had stayed clear of the war – Britain and the USA – were in a happy state as war ended. London remained the financial centre of the world, and the pound sterling its reserve currency, even after Germany had overtaken Britain as the leading industrial power of Europe. The post-war recession was mild in Britain, and hardly noticeable in the United States, caused mainly by the loss of war material orders that had caused a peak of economic activity in 1917. The following good times were however shared in full by both countries.

As economic life picked up again in late 1922 and 1923 there was a real sense among ordinary people that the world had lived through Hell, and that some fun and games were in order. Economy was booming, people had “plenty money” and a sense of relief and optimism induced a relaxation of the strict Victorian, Evangelic or Prussian morals upheld in each of the Capitalist Great Powers. There was drinking (at least until prohibition was introduced in the United States, and in truth almost as much afterwards) dancing and general rejoicing. The “Roaring Twenties” were times of fashionable decadence, when boring, Prussian Berlin became the scene of a hectic nightlife and a rival of Paris for those practicing a Bohemian lifestyle. With perfect timing, America delivered just what was missing for the perfect party – a new kind of music. Ragtime, Blues and later Swing was frowned upon by the old as “Hottentot’s music” but embraced with gusto by the young and wealthy. Cultural life declined steadily, (albeit from a very high level) in revolutionary Paris since it seems that great artists need to be in opposition to society to thrive, but flourished in Berlin and to a lesser extent, London.

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Berlin ca 1928 – a bustling world metropolis

These good times lasted unchallenged until 1928. By that time, there were many signs that a new recession was on its way. Since 1922, demand for consumer goods had risen steadily, leading to ever larger investments by companies in new machines, new factories and new lines of products in order to satisfy that demand. This boom in capital goods employed a great may people who earned big salaries, thus adding to the demand for consumer goods. In a manner of speaking, the market was lifting itself by the hair. When, inevitably, demand peaked and no need for further increases in production capacity existed in the consumer goods sector, the bottom fell out of the capital goods market, which in turn, when its employees began to loose their jobs, reduced overall demand for consumer goods, albeit only slightly at first.

By this time, expectations were however so high on the development of the stock market that people continued to buy, and this influx of fresh capital held many companies floating that would otherwise have gone bust. The situation could not last – in 1929, the Good Times came to an abrupt end with the crash of the Wall Street stock market.

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Panic at Wall Street

As it was realised that many banks would go bankrupt due to having lent money for share speculation without proper security, panicked savers tried to cancel their accounts. The banking system began to fail, and soon the London and Berlin stock exchanges followed suit. As confidence in the markets waned, the capitalist world was in plunged into deep depression. The Socialist states were largely unaffected by this downfall – Russia, in fact, was finally emerging from the black post-revolutionary decade with a minimum of prosperity, and since it had very limited trade with the west, the Depression was hardly felt at all. France lost a lot of exports as Bourgeoisie everywhere shifted their spending from perfume and champagne to more essential goods, but this was soon compensated by Thorez industrial expansion program, the New 5-Year plan. In the end it would be his re-armament and the responses it triggered that would end the depression in Europe, while in America, a whole New Deal would be required.​
 
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Chapter X – The Great Powers in the post-war world


History had certainly not come to an end with the Great War, and if there was some wistful talk in France about this being “the war to end all wars”, its outcome quickly dispersed any such naïve notions. The first confrontation between the remaining Great Powers (among whose numbers the Soviet Union would not be counted until the late 1920s) came in 1919, during the French Revolution when Germany seized several French colonies in lieu of cancelled payments on the French war reparations. Most of these seizures, London could gladly have ignored – the French or German ownership of the French Congo or Dahomey was a matter august indifference to Whitehall. But there was one German advance that brought an irate reaction – the acquisition of the tiny French territory of Djibouti, wedged between Italian Eritrea, British Somaliland and the Empire of Ethiopia. The territory in itself was worthless – but from the great naval base the Germans immediately began building there, the Hochseeflotte would sit astride the shipping lanes coming from the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal. Suddenly, British Naval strategists saw a worrying scheme revealed in the German colonial expansion; from Casablanca, the route through the Gibraltar straits could be severed. From German South-West Africa, the shipping lanes going south of the Cape were vulnerable. From German East Africa, the Indian Ocean could be interdicted, and now from Djibouti, the Suez Canal could be neutralized. In the Far East, finally, the great new German naval base at Cam Rahn Bay threatened shipping through the straits of Malacca. To British eyes, the entire German colonial Empire seemed a weapon tailored to disrupt the shipping lanes between Britain, India and the Far East that were the very life-blood of the Empire. Britain protested loudly, and then responded by seizing most of the remaining French colonies (1920-21), with the justification that they could not be allowed to be seized by Germany should France continue not to pay in accordance with the stipulations of the Versailles treaty. France protested stridently, but its disaffected colonial Army made no attempt to put up any resistance. In truth, they were just as happy to avoid coming under the “Red yoke”. Most French administrators would continue in the service of the new masters, while the troops were recruited wholesale into their Colonial armies – thus the German Schütztruppe at Libreville would for the first decade or so be composed mainly of Frenchmen, which were gradually phased out as native soldiers could be trained, as was the German custom.

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In 1921, Britain announced the Improved Queen Elizabeth class of Super-Dreadnoughts

The renewed Anglo-German tension lasted for nearly a year. Britain announced the commissioning of several new super-dreadnoughts to compensate for the loss of the aid of the French fleet. It was with a sinking feeling that the debt-ridden Imperial Government began to wonder if it was out of its depth, since a costly naval arms race was the last thing the German Empire needed. The tension would not be eased until the Kaiser returned to the helm of German diplomacy once more in 1921, now as a very different man.

The death of his eldest son affected Wilhelm II in an unexpected and profound way. Until that time, had been belligerent, brash and somewhat choleric (qualities which, it has to be admitted, served him well when he brought the OHL to heel over the German war plans in 1914), and throughout the war he had dismissed the mounting casualty figures as “acceptable losses”. The death of his firstborn not only caused the profound sorrow one would expect from such a tragic loss – it also suddenly made the Kaiser regard the one million young men Germany had lost in the Great War in a new light, an sparked a new understanding for the plight of their families. Crushed by grief and guilt amid the celebrations of victory, the Kaiser retreated from public life in early 1918 and stayed in seclusion for the better part of three years, leaving the daily ruling of his Empire to his new Imperial Chancellor, Field Marshall Mackensen. In 1921, however, growing tension with Britain caused Wilhelm II to emerge from retirement once more. He now regarded it as his personal and sacred duty to spare the German people the horror of another war at almost any cost. The foremost Warlord of Germany had transmogrified into, if not a pacifist, then at least a peacemaker.

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Field Marshall August von Mackensen, post-war Reich Chancellor

It was the Kaiser that had once initiated the naval race with Britain, and in 1921, he terminated it by proposing to Britain an informal deal – a gradual halving of the Hochseeflotte in exchange for British guarantees of the safety of German shipping. In one bold stroke, Wilhelm II had removed the decisive cause of conflict with Britain and laid the groundwork for the long standing strategic partnership between the two Empires. Both were strengthened for it. In the coming years, Kaiser Wilhelm II would remain a voice of reason and moderation in an unstable Europe, many times holding back his rash soldiers from rushing headlong into battle. For example, it was the Kaiser who prevented an Austro-German invasion of Romania after the revolution there, in order to avoid an all out war with the USSR. He also was instrumental in the creation of the League of Nations in 1922 and (together with US President Harding) the Washington Naval treaty of that same year ( which affected Germany little, since it was already informally committed to reducing the size of its Navy, but limited the armaments of Germany’s potential foes). In truth, initially he had little domestic support for this dovish line, and only his enormous prestige as victor in the Great War and the sympathy the death of Crown Prince Wilhelm afforded him, allowed him to impose his will – but as the 20s dragged on, a richer, happier and less militant German people, having had its fill of victory, began to appreciate their Emperors efforts for peace. In 1927 the Kaiser was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in recognition of his untiring efforts for peace and dialogue between nations.

It was the misfortune of this former warmonger turned peacemaker to lead his country in a time when a man more ruthless and hell-bent on war than he had ever been ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist, and it was the misfortune of Germany to have this true Christian gentleman still on the throne when a man of the very opposite qualities to the Kaiser’s rose to power in France. The old Kaiser, the warlord, would have served his country better in the dark times to come.​
 
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Chapter XI – Thorez and the French re-armament


Thorez rose to post of Secretary General of the Communist Party of France in an extraordinary party congress in early 1930. For some time, fierce debate had raged within the party regarding the role of France in world Communism. Were the French not shunning their responsibilities to the working classes of the world by so shamelessly co-habiting with the Capitalist and Imperialist Powers? This was the (stridently) stated opinion of the young and fierce members of the Trotskyite fraction (“Les Internationaux”) who had the full support of the Communist International, and its Secretary General, Leon Trotsky.

Or would it rather be folly to engage in aggressive foreign policy, when France was clearly not in any danger from its neighbours? The peaceful fraction (“Les Colómbes”) of the Party had its root in the anti-war movement that had brought the Communist Party to power in 1919. It argued that after all, France had been more or less at the mercy of Germany and Britain since 1919 and had, excepting the taking of the colonies (which were ideologically problematic anyway) not been subjected to any military force since. Would it be wise to risk provoking France’s Imperialist neighbours to counter-revolutionary war when France stood like a shining beacon of hope to the oppressed masses of the world, showing that there was another way to socialism than the misery and deprivations of the Bolshevik revolution?

This last point was especially infuriating to Trotsky, who began to consider the French Communist party not merely as a useless ally, but as an enemy – and the enemies within the socialist community were always the most dangerous ones in Trotsky’s eyes. Following his instructions, the NKVD stepped up its activities in France in the late 1920s, organizing and rallying young party members into a strong orthodox fraction. The 1930 extraordinary congress thus came about to settle the issue once and for all, to avoid a rift which could jeopardize the very control of the party over the state. Already, anarchists, liberals and even monarchists were beginning to stir at the perceived weakening of the Communist Party. Thus delegates from all Soviets of France assembled at the Fontainebleau palace in February of 1930 to talk, consider and ultimately vote.

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The Palace of Fontainebleau was chosen as a site for the extraordinary party congress of 1930

The debate raged for hours, with neither phalanx being able to sway the hardcore members of the other, while a large group of uncommitted delegates hesitated between the two opposing poles – Peace for France, or struggle for Communism.

It was not until Maurice Thorez, the self-appointed guardian of orthodoxy, spoke that there was any decision. Controversially in internationalist Marxist circles, he made his case for re-armament on nationalist grounds – the constricting terms of the Versailles treaty were a humiliation for the paradise of the peasants and workers that could be borne no more. France had to rearm, for Communism certainly, but above all for France, for the honour of France! Only by standing at the forefront in the struggle against Capitalism and Imperialism could France clean the stain of defeat. No one else but Thorez, the foremost defender of Orthodox Communism could have dared utter such heresy – but he dared, and more.

Apparently he had struck a nerve. Feelings of national pride and chauvinism had not disappeared under Communist rule, just been repressed. When the “Internationaux” leader publicly made them his own, he not only usurped the “national interest” argument from the “Colómbes” – he also opened a can of worms. Thunderous applause reverberated through the Congress Hall (a former ballroom of the palace) and there were shouts of “Vive la France!”

The secretariat, all from the “Colómbes” faction were aghast – unless Thorez could be discredited, they would be voted out of power. Some also had a genuine fear of where the “Internationaux” path would lead their people. The next secretariat speaker issued the accusation of “Bonapartism”. Thorez was, claimed the sitting Secretary General, no revolutionary, no communist, no socialist – he was nothing but a nationalist.

There was a hush as Thorez mounted the podium once more. He remained defiantly unorthodox:

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”Monsieur Secretary General, honoured delegates of the Soviets, above all, I’m a Communist and a socialist – But I choose to be a National Socialist, if you will! I have been accused of ‘Bonapartism’, well so be it! In the context of what we debate here today, I fully embrace the legacy of a man, who before the time of Socialism didn’t sit idly at home enjoying the fruits of Revolution, but instead led the revolutionary armies of France against Feudalism, Privilege and Inequity. And now that the inexorable process of dialectics have advanced history from the “Bourgeoisie Revolution” of Napoleons days to the true Revolution of the People, a new Napoleon has risen in Russia to lead the struggle against Capitalism – a Red Napoleon, Leon Trotsky! Will France, home of Napoleon Bonaparte, revolutionary hero of the 19th century, stand idly by while Russia fights the great battle of the 20th in our stead!?”

The tremendous applause and cheering that followed this statement made the following vote almost superfluous. With a massive backing, Maurice Thorez was elected Secretary General of the Communist Party of France. In his inaugural speech, he further laid forth the tenets of his new “National Socialism”; France had to reclaim its traditional Great Power status by building a formidable armed force, based on the scientific pursuit of warfare. In order to do this, the Versailles treaty had to be violated, discreetly at first but as soon as the nation was safe in its strength, then openly:

”We shall build tracks, tracks, TRACKS! Planes, planes, PLANES! Submarines, Submarines, SUBMARINES!”

He also proposed uniting all Frenchmen in one country, by “re-claiming” Wallonia, Alsace and Lorraine. Beginning in 1930, a five year plan was launched that would dramatically increase the military and industrial power of the French Union of Soviets, re-introduce conscription and rescind the Versailles treaty.

How could Thorez so suddenly and completely reverse the course of a decade of (at least externally) pacific socialism? First of all, his timing was impeccable. The Great Depression had caused Capitalism to appear to be on the verge of breakdown, promising easy victories for Revolutionary France. Also, enough time had passed that the trauma of the last defeat had healed somewhat, and a younger generation had grown up that had known the war only as children. The French People’s Army, inheritor of the traditions and junior officers of the old French Army was spoiling for growth, influence and revanche. By 1936, the French Revolutionary Peoples Army had grown to about two thirds of the size of the German Heer. Together with the Red Army, the Comintern forces had an advantage of more than 2:1 over Germany, although Austrian-, puppet and allied formations made up some of the difference.

In foreign policy, Thorez did not act as radically as he had spoken. The Versailles treaty was rescinded in 1934, when conscription was reinstated and an Air Force and an Armoured Arm were established. Nothing however came of the talk of annexing Wallonia and reclaim Alsace and Lorraine, at least not by 1936.

Despite the unorthodoxy of Thorez’s National Socialism, Trotsky was well pleased with his pawn – he now had a formidable ally in the west, which could easily prove decisive when the final showdown with the Capitalist world would begin.​
 
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Chapter XII – The Great Powers in the 1930s


The first serious blow to the post-war balance of power was the end of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1922. The termination was decided by Japan, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the treaty stipulated an obligation to lend military aid only in case of Britain or Japan being at war with TWO or more other powers, and otherwise only neutrality. To Japan, coming under attack by two enemy powers seemed extremely unlikely in 1922, since Germany and the USSR were as unlikely to team up against Japan as the United States and the USSR. A Chino-Russian combination was of course a possibility, but not one Japan (perhaps somewhat overconfidently) feared: Russia was in shambles and China a wreck. Britain, on the other hand, had multiple enemies in almost all feasible scenarios and would always suck Japan into the fray with them. There was also a great Japanese frustration over what was perceived as Britain blocking her expansion – by remaining neutral in 1914, Japan had been robbed of the chance to expand on Germany’s expense, and when the scramble after French colonies was on, Japan was left without any of the spoils. The German East Asian and Pacific Empire, together with the Dutch colonies, began to be regarded by Japan as their most likely area of expansion – but after the Anglo-German rapprochement in 1921, Japan could not expect any help from Britain against either Dutch or German, quite the contrary. It was also (probably correctly) perceived that Britain would not take kindly to any expansion on the expense of China. And yet China offered the softest picking of any of Japan’s neighbours; The Chinese republic formed in 1912 was in dire straits by 1936 – warlords controlled much of the old Empire and what was left was in the hands of a corrupt nationalist movement known as the Kuomintang, which itself was under constant attack from Moscow-backed communist guerrillas.

Thus Japan opted for neutrality in order to keep its options open. If Germany and/or Holland ever became drawn into conflict with the Communist Powers, Japan fully intended to profit from their troubles – but these intentions, Japan kept carefully hidden. As if to signal a balancing between Japans relations with Britain and Germany, Japan was able to purchase the north Marianas from the debt-ridden German Government in 1922. For nine years Japan then nurtured its frustrated ambitions, until the Mukden Incident signalled the beginning of Japanese expansion in China with the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and walking out from the League of Nations. These actions brought relations with Britain and Germany (both of which regarded the League of Nations as cornerstones of their foreign policy) to an all time low.

America had grown in strength in the prosperous and peaceful years after the Great War. Its booming economy (alone accounting for between 35-40% of manufactured goods in the world) almost demanded a more prominent role on the international scene, and yet America was reluctant to step forward. Indeed, it had little reason to do so – it’s borders were not threatened anywhere except perhaps in the Pacific, its strategic situation was excellent with friendly relations to most of the Great Powers and if there was any dependency on imports, these could easily be procured from the Latin American economic sphere of interest. US armaments were thus reduced to the Naval sphere, and by 1936 the US Navy was a match for any other in the world –with 15 battleships to Britain’s 12 and 3 battle cruisers, it was the equal of the Royal Navy in every respect except carriers (where the Royal Navy had 6 to the US 3, although the American ones were larger) and light cruisers (30 British to 10 American). The third place was contested between Germany and Japan; the latter had 6 battleships, 4 battle cruisers and 4 large fleet carriers. Germany had more capital ship than Japan; 6 battleships (of which the two of the Bismarck class where the most modern and powerful in the world) and no less than 7 battle cruisers (three of them of the modern Scharnhorst-class while the balance was made up of the old Mackensen-class ), but no carriers. In medium and small combatants, however, the Japanese Imperial Navy was vastly stronger, with 14 heavy and 21 light cruisers to the German 3 heavy (which however were however brand new Hipper-class) and 13 light cruisers.

France and the Soviet Union were not considered naval Great Powers, but both had submarine fleets of unsurpassed strength by 1936. Both navies counted some 100 units, of which the French were all of late design and of the Soviet about half. Despite its first rank naval power, the United States role on the world scene in the 1920s or early 30s was limited to a few anti-insurgency interventions in Latin America and some token presence in China, protecting its citizens as the Republic came apart. With Britain, France and Germany, America had a concession in Shanghai, and spoke out strongly against Japan in the League of Nations in 1931, but otherwise acted more like a regional than a Great Power.

Growing American naval strength was rivalled by its growing financial importance. With Berlin, New York competed with London for the rank as financial centre of the world, but while Berlin lagged behind from the start because of the instabilities caused by the costs of war, New York advanced steadily, and would probably have overtaken London in volume of trade in the mid-30s. The 1929 crash however was perceived (probably unjustly so) to be a result of American imbalances and policy, and this greatly damaged New York’s reputation. Furthermore, Roosevelt’s New Deal Policies in the early 30s were seen as a flirt with Socialism by the always conservative investors and speculators, and as a result London remained the steady, safe and serious centre of international monetary trade for the time being.

In Europe, geopolitics remained frozen since the early 20s, and in lieu of naval competition, from 1930 on the European powers were engaged in a land arms race. Although increasingly outnumbered by French and Russian forces, the German army was still considered the strongest in the world in matters of training and equipment. In truth, the Communist Powers were unable to duplicate the German system of low-level initiative and objective-oriented command which made the Landsers the best regular infantry in the world. They were also lavishly equipped with up-to date artillery of all kinds, with superb light machineguns and light mortars. Wise from the experiences of the Great War, Germany had also spent considerable sums developing and producing tracks which were vastly better than the crude Sturmpanzers of 1917.

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Sturmpanzerwagen II was developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig in 1923

Incorporating the best features of the FT-16 and the heavier St Chaumonds and A7V, the German Sturmpanzerwagen II by Rheinmetall-Borsig, in general service since the mid 1920s, was a big twin-turreted track with thick armour and armed with no less than four MG-34s and a short-barrelled 75mm cannon. Maximum road speed was around 35 km/h and considerably less in terrain. By 1936, every German Infantry Corps had a brigade of 150 of these powerful vehicles attached and their crews (which were considered a part of the infantry arm) were well trained in supporting the Landsers in both attack and defence. Thus Germany operated nearly 3200 Sturmpanzerwagen IIs by 1936, a number only exceeded by the USSR. Given that a much smaller number of the vastly inferior Sturmpanzerwagen A7V tracks had allowed the German army to break through the French lines in 1917, the German High Command was confident that in any future war, its attacks would not bog down into trench warfare. In contrast to the track forces, German air power was given and independent arm status in 1922 when the Kaiserliche Luftwaffe was formed. At first commanded by army Generals, by the late 1920s pilots had risen through the ranks to the top positions in the new arm. In 1930, Manfred Frieherr von Richthofen (better known as the Red Baron, a Great War Ace of renown) was promoted to be the first officer with the rank of General der Fliegertruppen and appointed Commander of the Luftwaffe. Not surprisingly, von Richthofen completely rejected Douhet’s theories on the primacy of strategic bombing and built an air force centred on the necessity of gaining control of the skies and then supporting the army with medium bombers (and later, dive-bombers). By 1936, the Luftwaffe was widely considered as the best air force in the world, due to the exceptional quality of its machines and the skill of its pilots. In numbers, it was narrowly relegated to a second place by the Soviet Air Force.

France and Russia had drawn very different conclusions than Germany of the 1917 battles. Like the Germans, the French realized the importance of the track to break through fortified lines, but they also recognized the fact that what had really limited its success was speed and mobility. Foremost among French armoured thinkers was Major General Charles de Gaulle, who had served as a liaison with the Russian Army from soon before the February Revolution until the Armistice, and got a taste for the mobile and fluid operations typical of the Eastern Front of the Great War. He then took part in the final French offensive in 1917 and was wounded and captured by German infantry in the final counter-attack. Re-joining the Army after the political situation had stabilized in France after the Revolution (he was reportedly a conservative at heart and stayed clear of politics as far humanly possible. He never became a Party member), he became a chief proponent of tracks operating in a semi-independent role. He proposed that tracks should be organized in independent divisions, which should be concentrated to break through the enemy line, punch through, roll up the front and allow infantry to advance through the gap. According to de Gaulle, the track divisions should be track-heavy, with only enough motorized or mounted infantry and light artillery to temporarily hold captured ground until regular infantry could be brought up. While rejected during the 1920s because it would have required breaking the Versailles treaty, the de Gaulle doctrine suited Thorez’s concept of “scientific warfare” perfectly, and was officially adopted in 1930. The new French tracks were therefore conceived with mobility in primary focus. To make sure that mobility remained a central issue, France assigned its armoured forces to the Cavalry Arm of the Army, which would otherwise have been relegated to a secondary role.

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The Hotchkiss and the Panhard, the twin workhorses of the French Armoured Cavalry

The main French track in 1936 was the Hotchkiss H-35 light track, armed with a long 37mm tank gun and a co-axial 7.5mm machine gun. Road speed was similar to the Sturmpanzerwagen II (36 km/h), but crossroad performance was much better. It was accompanied in the establishment of the new Divisions Cuirassés by the excellent Panhard armoured car, which was intended for a scouting and raiding role.

In the USSR, Trotsky had retained the title of supreme Commander of the armed forces and building on the Russian cavalry tradition, he began the construction of a formidable armoured force in the 1920s. By 1936, the Red Army had more tracks than any other nation, and instead of choosing either the German or the French approach to track warfare, it followed both. Thus the Soviet infantry was supported by such multi-turreted behemoths as the T-28 with large calibre low-velocity guns while the track divisions of the Red Army sported light, fast and heavily armed tracks such as the BT-5 and T-26 with high-velocity 45mm guns. Armoured cars such as the BA-10 were also built in great numbers. The Soviet approach to track tactics was also fashioned on traditional Russian lines – massive amounts of tracks working in cooperation with fantastic amounts of infantry and artillery were to be used in a steamroller of all arms that would grind all resistance into the ground as it advanced.​


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The T-26 track and the BA-10 armoured car – mainstays of the Red Army armoured forces

Britain, finally, had little in the way of army and even less of a tracked force. What little there was was organized and equipped along German lines. Britain did however possess two dissenting armoured warfare thinkers – Captain Basil Liddell Hart (retired) and Colonel John Fuller. Fuller was the more radical of the two, advocating nothing less than a fully armoured and motorized army, with only a small conventional element to hold the enemy in place. In their tactical approach, both reasoned as de Gaulle, in that the tracks had to concentrate in order to break through – but while de Gaulle had limited his scope to the battlefield, where the tracks would be used to roll up the enemy front and surround the enemy forces, the British theorists proposed that once the tank had broken through, it should advance in depth to win not the battle, but the war. They had an avid follower at the German General Staff, where Colonel Heinz Guderian reasoned along much the same lines, but assigning an important role to air power in his doctrinal proposals. The three men corresponded extensively, and even met a few times when off duty, especially Fuller (who was a shameless Germanophile) and Guderian became close friends. The British officer would travel to Germany many times during the 30s to spend a few days with Guderian and his family. This “track trio” (as they were jokingly referred to by British colleagues to Fuller and Liddell Hart) was however almost entirely ignored by their fellow officers.

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The “track trio” – Fuller, Liddell Hart and Guderian

In Italy, the new Fascist leader (styled “Duce”) Benito Mussolini would talk militantly about rebuilding the Roman Empire, but the country remained placid in practice, never daring to challenge the Central Powers over the former Italian claims to Tyrol and Dalmatia. Italy did maintain a powerful Navy, but its army was not formidable. Armour was mainly made up of trackettes for colonial use and most of the equipment was Great War vintage. Italy was in awkward position, opposed to the traditional Monarchist-Conservative Powers of Britain, Germany and Austria by virtue of its unvoiced claims and Fascist Ideology and to the Communist Powers by claims of Corsica, Tunisia and by ideology. Mussolini therefore strove to make friends with other Mediterranean nations also left out of the existing system of alliances. The first and obvious candidate was Spain. In the 1920s, King Alfonso XIII had appointed an authoritarian Government with General Primo De Rivera as Dictator. This right-wing monarchic dictatorship had all the makings of a good Italian ally and relations were warm – but before any formal agreement could be reached, Primo De Rivera had to step down, Alfonso XIII was forced to abdicate and a Spanish Republic was instituted which would move rapidly towards ever more left-wing Governments from its liberal beginnings. Liberal or left-wing, the Spanish Republic was hardly a natural friend of Fascist Italy. Portugal remained right-wing authoritarian and a close friend of Italy, but the link was of little practical or strategic value except against Republican Spain. Although the Spanish-Italian affaire was to have another chapter in the second half of the 1930s, for the time being Italy was as politically isolated as ever. It wouldn’t be until 1935 that Mussolini found a friend, when the Greek Republic was substituted by a Monarchy with authoritarian trappings. The Italian-Greek Axis had little time to solidify however before Europe descended once more into a crisis that would push the continent to the very brink of another Great War.

It began in Transylvania.​
 
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The Austro-Hungarian Revolutions


Chapter XIII – A meeting in the Carpathians

September, 1935


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Nestor Makhno watched the fluttering red banner of the Hungarian Union of Soviets as it unfurled in the evening breeze. Finding their way down through the dark clouds and even darker pine branches, a few crimson rays from the setting sun bathed the Red Army camp it flew over in a lurid glow. The dying hours of the day, in the dying days of the Empire, Makhno thought with a mixture of sadness and satisfaction.

The camp was on a heavily wooded Carpathian hillside, where the prying eyes of Imperial observation airships weren’t likely to spot it. The men marching about in grey-green squares were unmistakeably soldiers – how different from how an anarchist outfit would have looked, at least in the old days. Back then, uniforms were anathema, the attribute of the oppressors; military, police, the tools of the state. These days, the Platform Anarchism Makhno had postulated and promoted, despite fierce criticism, had militias in uniform. They didn’t have officers though. Three straight defeats (Russia, France, and Romania) against Communist bureaucracy hadn’t been enough to make them cross THAT line. His long thick hair might have been greying, his wrinkled face might have told the story of a life of fighting for an impossible dream, having to face disappointment and bitter defeat time and again – but in the depths of those narrow dark eyes, the old fire still flamed as hot as ever. He could still fight. Men still jumped at his commands. Yet even as a military leader in time of war, he was wearing a mismatched assortment of military clothes, less flamboyant than old Schtuss but still completely unmistakable for a uniform. At least he hadn’t had to make THAT compromise for himself.

‘Privilege of rank, I guess’, he thought and smiled at himself for the incongruence. With a frown, he adjusted the Steyr submachine gun hanging from his shoulder and his trademark cavalry sabre. He was here to meet an allied leader – he wanted to look impressive. One of the Hungarian Red Army soldiers – an ethnic Romanian, like most of them – came closer, marching through the snow with a step that would have made a Prussian drill sergeant proud. A soldier of the people, indeed, Makhno thought with an inner sneer as the man saluted him, military fashion. The Ukrainian Zapata just nodded in response.

‘Comrade Makhno, Field Marshal Kun will see you now!’

‘Field Marshal is it? Tell me, is this the same Bela Kun who was Secretary General of the Communist Party last week? His must be the fastest military career in history!'

The soldier pursed his lips. ‘The Secretary General also serves as our Commander in Chief. It is only logical that he should have supreme rank.'

Makhno nodded. ‘I guess so. Just like Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky, heh?’

Soon Makhno stood inside the largest of the tents in the camp. The place was dark, smelling faintly of wet earth, rotting leaves and mould. Probably a leftover from the Great War, rotting away in some Romanian warehouse until it was brought out for the latest glorious revolution planned by Leon Trotsky.

Bela Kun looked as out of place in the tent as the ornate Field Marshall’s uniform did on him. He would have been most fitting behind the desk in a store, or in an office. No, that was not right – as he approached his guest, Makhno got a good look at his eyes. Hatred, anger, thirst for power, these things shone as hotly in Bela Kun’s eyes as the thirst for freedom flamed in his own. He would have scared any customer right out of his shop.

‘Comrade Makhno! So good of you to grace us with your presence! Your trip was uneventful, I take it?’

The falseness of the welcome was obvious, and yet Makhno forced himself to shake the little bastard’s hand. ‘I wouldn’t say uneventful. I had to dodge Imperial border patrols to get here, but I’m very good at that kind of thing. Now, I’m assuming from the look of things that you’re ready to launch the revolution now?’

‘We are! As soon as your people rise in rebellion against the Imperialist oppressors, the divisions of the Revolutionary Peoples armies of Soviet Hungary, the North Slavic Peoples Republic and the South Slavic Peoples Republic stand ready to descend from the mountains and chase out the Austrians!’

‘By “Peoples Armies”, you refer to all those Romanians you have marching around in fancy uniforms?’ Makhno said softly.

‘So they are ethnic Romanians – so what?’ Bela Kun exclaimed with a theatrical opening of the arms. ‘There are plenty of Romanians on the Imperial side of the border… just have a look at this map!’​


ahethnic0xa.jpg


Makhno looked. ‘Uh-hu. Let me guess – the South Slavic Peoples Army is composed of Serbian exiles. Don’t you people know how to make a REVOLUTION any more, rather than a camouflaged invasion?’

The Hungarian shrugged. ‘Well, the North Slavic Peoples Army only has a minority of Russian volunteers, I’m told. Mostly bona fide Poles, Czech’s and Slovaks, but really what difference does it make? Aren't your people mainly Ruthenians - sorry, Ukrainians? Besides, I thought making the populace rise was your job?’

Makhno sighed. ‘Well, I guess I do have a flair for that – and never fear, we anarchists have done our job well. When your invasion begins, you’ll find libertarian fighters greeting your troops as they arrive. I doubt you’ll catch an Austrian soldier before Budapest. These people were so fed up with their corrupt Monarchy that a little bit of education was all that was needed to make them rise.’

He briefly wondered why the Communists had spent so little time educating and politicising the people. This time he would have ten anarchist rebels for each Communist soldier – he almost anticipated their inevitable attempt to push the anarchists aside. This time, they would encounter a well organized anarchist militia, ready to defend the true revolution of the people.

First of course, there was the little matter of defeating an Empire that had stood, in one form or another, for the last thousand years or so. But that should be the easy part, the fun part. The real decisive fight, as always, would begin once revolution had triumphed.

Makhno stroked the handle of his sabre in anticipation.​
 
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Chapter XIV – A Kaiser on the phone

October, 1935


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Wilhelm II von Hohenzollern, Kaiser of the II German Reich and King of Prussia, muttered angrily to himself as the closing credits and final score of “Mutiny on the Bounty” rolled by and the lights came on in his private cinema in the Stadtschloß, the Royal Palace of the Hohenzollerns in Berlin. He had liked most of the movie, finding especially Charles Laughton’s performance as the tyrannical Bligh impressive, and while he felt slightly uneasy about a picture glorifying a mutiny, it was only what one could expect from those undisciplined Americans. In any case, a good movie SHOULD make you think about your values and ingrained ideas, so he had no real problem with the provocative subject matter. But then Hollywood had gone and ruined it all at the end, with an ahistorical happy end – in reality, Bligh had not been snubbed and demoted at the trial!

As always when he thought about America, little Louie sprang to his mind. Wilhelm shook his head as if annoyed, but smiled fondly. The second of his grandchildren, who was now quite adult, had an irrepressible bourgeois streak in him. In his late teens he had insisted on going to America where he had scandalized German society by working as manager at Ford Motor Company and had apparently been planning for a future there. Since the death of their father, Wilhelm had never been able to deny his grandchildren anything and little Louie less so than any of the others so he had grumbled and muttered and made sure that at least part of the appanage Louis Ferdinand refused to accept had found its way to him via his salary. Henry Ford had been most understanding.

Poor Louie! He was now the Crown Prince of the German Empire, and whatever ordinary future he had planned for himself was now lost. Two years before, his older brother Wilhelm, the very archetype of a Hohenzollern, a Prussian soldier in every inch and a Colonel of the Imperial Guards, had married a lovely girl but clearly below his station. With a heavy heart, the Kaiser had had to accept his renunciation of all rights to succession, which put Louis Ferdinand next in line for the thrones of Prussia and Germany. He hadn’t been very happy about that, but had done his duty, and even accepted an arranged marriage with Grand Duchess Kira, daughter of Prince Kiril, the pretender to the throne of Russia. Luckily, that had turned out well and the young couple were apparently very happy.

In truth Wilhelm was well pleased with the change in succession. Prince Wilhelm was an old style Hohenzollern that would have made his martial father proud, but times had changed much and would change more. Probably, Kaiser Wilhelm thought, young Prince Louis Ferdinand would become just the kind of modern Kaiser Germany would need in the 40s and beyond – a Kaiser the ordinary German could relate to like they never had to Wilhelm II.

As he walked out of the lavishly gilded and satin-draped projection room with his personal manservant in tow, a towering young lad in the black uniform of the Guards Hussars came running down the broad corridor, his boots smattering against the shiny marble floor and his death-head emblazoned fur hat bobbing about in a most undignified fashion.

‘Your Highness!’ he exclaimed, coming to attention before his Emperor, panting.

‘What the matter, soldier?’ asked Wilhelm, arching a white eyebrow. ‘Is the Palace on fire?’

‘No, Highness. The Austrian Kaiser is on the telephone, demanding to speak to you. Apparently, it’s some sort of emergency.’

‘That boy! Well, let’s go then, we must not let the Kaiser of Austria wait, now? Lead the way!’

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When Wilhelm picked up the receiver in one of the smaller rooms that he used for smoking, reading and listening to the radio, he quickly realized that Otto von Habsburg was near panic.

‘Otto, my lad, calm down! Calm down I say! Remember, the first thing about being Kaiser is to be in control, of your self to begin with. Now, what seems to be the problem?’

‘A rebellion, Uncle Willie! A revolution!’ Although they were not related (at least not any more so than all European Royalty) Otto von Habsburg had taken to calling Wilhelm II “Uncle” since childhood. After the early death of his father, the very young Kaiser of Austria had relied on the advice and support of the old friend of his grandfather and father far more than his court would have liked. But Wilhelm II had been true to the Habsburgs for more than forty years now. Otto trusted him implicitly.

‘Revolution?’ Wilhelm’s throat went dry, images of his cousin Nicholas II and all his children butchered by Trotsky’s brutal thugs going through his mind. ‘How serious is it?’

Otto had calmed down now that he was speaking to his trusted uncle. He would set things right, as he always did. ‘Very. The whole east is up in arms; Presov, Transylvania, the whole Carpathian region, Timisoara, Serbia. It’s not just a rebellion; it’s more like a carefully planned coup. Some units of the army have surrendered or been overrun, others have joined the rebels and there seem to be organized, uniformed military units in the rebellion as well. They fly red banners, uncle.’

‘Trotsky! That stinking, murderous, treacherous… little vermin! He’s behind this!’ roared Wilhelm. ‘Otto, this is not just a rebellion; you’re being invaded! I will mobilize the army at once, you just wait, my boy. I’ll have thirty divisions to back you up within a couple of weeks, at most!’

‘Uncle! No!’ Otto protested. ‘My advisors warned me about that, and I think they might be right; if I seem to depend on the German army to put down a rebellion, I’m done for – I’ll never regain the respect of my people. Austria has to deal with this situation herself –although I would be very grateful for any other support you could give – weapons, ammunition, perhaps advisers…’

‘You shall have them. And let me know at once if you change your mind about the troops. Respect can be regained, it’s a whole lot harder with thrones, you know.’

‘Perhaps… some expeditionary force? If it comes to that, Germans in Austrian uniform?’

‘Fine, any way you want it. I’ll speak with General von Lettow-Voerbeck – his Gebirgsjägers are mostly Bavarian, they could pass for Austrians if needs be. Anything else?’

‘Not right now, uncle. Thank you for your support.’

‘No thanks are needed. I would be a fool to let the Reds establish themselves on my southern border, all other considerations aside. Courage, my boy. We’ll best this evil yet, you’ll see!’

‘I hope so. Good bye, Uncle!’

Wilhelm hung up and swore loudly. A Red revolution in Austria? Not while he had any say in the matter! Calling his manservant, he shouted:

‘Gustav! I want the Government assembled, a full crisis meeting! The Reds are moving against Austria!’​
 
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Chapter XV – Revolution in the Austro-Hungarian Empire


Comintern preparations – harnessing national dissent
Ever since the revolution in Romania, Trotsky had known that his next target would be the decaying Austro-Hungarian Empire. Of all the ethnic groups of the Empire, only the dominant Austrians and Magyars were more or less happy with their situation, and even among the Hungarians there was substantial nationalist dissent. After careful planning, actual preparations began in early 1934 when at the urgings of the Soviet Ambassador in Bucharest, the Romanian Red Army began preparing the bases and facilities where the future Red Armies were to be trained and equipped. At the same time, Comintern agents infiltrated the Empire to organize existing Communist cells for the clandestine recruitment of new followers and plan for the uprising.

The core of the future Red Army units would be Union and Socialist Party Cadres in the big industrial cities. The Communist agitators were not shy about using anti-German innuendo in their propaganda, especially once the full extent to which the working classes of the Slavic and Romanian minorities of the Empire responded to it became clear to them. But while Romanian resentment was still smouldering since the Great War, the Slavic grievances with the German invader were millennial; Drang nach Osten had always been (or at least been perceived as being) at somebody’s expense. The fact that Germans generally saw this conquest as a civilising, rather than imperialist mission only added insult to injury. In short, the Slavs of the Empire were tired of playing the barbarian to be ennobled by the civilised German. The idea of identifying with a radically different society, proud, powerful and secure in the knowledge of its inherent superiority over the Germanic Empires had a deep appeal to the subjugated Slavic peoples of Austria-Hungary – thus they accepted in one bundle radical socialism, Panslavism (the idea of a united Slavic race, in this particular instance under the aegis of the Soviet Union) and revolution. In Serbia, all these factors were added to the thirst for revenge and national liberation of a defeated and conquered country, only twenty years since in the Imperial fold, making the Serbian revolutionaries particularly virulent.

Hungary, together with Galizia and Austria proper soon turned out the be the biggest headache for Trotsky and his agents; as an officially equal partner to Austria, the Hungarians didn’t have the same inferiority complex as the Slavic nations and to a much greater extent were ready to live with the current state of affairs. The knowledge that national liberation for Slavs and Romanians would inevitably lead to the mutilation of Hungary also helped foster a sense of Hungarian solidarity with the Imperial cause. As a result, if nationalism helped revolution on in other parts of the Empire, it hindered it in Hungary and only ideologically committed socialists would consider bringing it about. Something similar was the case with ethnic German areas such as Austria proper, the Sudeten or the various ethnic German towns and cities in diverse parts of the Empire. As for Galizia, at least the ethnic Polish parts had their national ambitions channelled into joining the Polish Kingdom, and this together with a strong catholic faith made the poles all but impervious to Communist/Anarchist overtures. As for the so called Galizians themselves, who were nothing but ethnic Ukrainians, joining the Hetmanate, an inambigous puppet seemed less desirable to the promises of Land and Freedom of the Makhnovschina to many, if not a majority. Few were really happy with being subjects of Vienna.

To make up for the shortage of Hungarian revolutionary enthusiasm, it was decided that since all ethnic Romanian areas were within the Kingdom of Hungary, the Romanian element of the Red Army would fight under the banners of the Soviet Republic of Hungary, and once the revolution was successful, this new state would duly secede the Romanian areas to its neighbour. Since the Communist Government of Romania had decided to contribute several divisions of the their best regular troops to the cause of Austro-Hungarian revolution, and ethnic Romanians were (together with Serbians) by far the most numerous exiles training in Romania, the end result was that the leader of the Hungarian Communist party, the notoriously ruthless Bela Kun gained a pre-eminence among the revolutionary leaders out of all proportion to his actual numbers of followers. In fact, to the extent that the Austro-Hungarian revolution had such a thing as a supreme leader, his name would have been Bela Kun.

During the spring and early summer of 1935, there was a constant trickle of recruits going east over the Carpathians and in the other direction, as they completed their training, an ongoing, slow but very deliberate infiltration by regular Red Army units. The Comintern was in a hurry; they knew that the anarchists were close to launching their own coup, and if it succeeded, the Comintern would be left with the choice of either invading a workers state or standing by and let an anarchist state challenge Communist leadership of International Socialism.

Competing anarchist activities
From the start, there was competition and dissent among the would-be revolutionaries. With their connections in the Comintern (where many still secretly harboured sympathies with the Anarcho-Communist cause of the Makhnoschina) the anarchist movement was not slow in realising where the next revolution would take place. They had for a long time been working the countryside of the Empire, and now they stepped up their efforts, sending in their most prominent personalities, including the famed “Ukranian Zapata” himself, Nestor Makhno.

As in many other countries were the seed of revolution had been planted, the Communists might have been dominant in the cities, among industrial workers, but in the countryside, the peasants were more attracted to anarchism. This is natural: for the industrial worker, state ownership of the factory he’s working in might seem like the best way to job security, fair treatment and reasonable wages, while part ownership of the business could mean loosing his livelihood if the business goes badly.

But the farmer has always had a deep attachment to the soil he works – to loose the ownership of that land is intolerable to him, even if he might well reconcile himself to sharing ownership of all the village lands with his neighbours, the people he knows since childhood. And the anarchists proposed nothing else. Thus, Austria-Hungary still being the traditional and charmingly rural state it was, anarchist peasant proselytes largely outnumbered their worker Communist counterparts. The anarchists organized themselves in militias along regional lines; the Freedom Army Jan Huss (FAJH) in Bohemia, the Slovak Popular Liberation Militia (SPLM) in Slovakia, the Magyar Land and Freedom Militias (MLFM) in Hungary and finally, the Libertarian Legions of Bosnia, Crotia and Serbia respectively. Of these last three, only the Bosnian had any great following: the Serbians, much more than other Slavs were united behind the Communist Party of Serbia and in Croatia, national dissent was already channelled through the fiercely conservative and nationalistic Ustashe. The equivalent movement in Serbia, the monarchist so-called Cetniks didn’t have any great following – there was widespread disillusion with the Karajordevic monarchy, which, it was perceived, had squandered the national freedom so bloodily won from the Turks.

Geographic distribution of the uprising
Thus, the revolutionary outbreak, or rather outbreaks that shook the Eastern marches of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the fall of 1935 were undoubtedly fuelled by nationalism more than a socialist agenda – thus it was mainly (from north to south) in Moravia, Slovakia, Eastern Hungary (which was Romanian-inhabited) and in the former Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro that the revolutionary banner was hoisted. Some ethnically separate areas, however, had national aspirations that were incompatible with a Left-wing revolution, such as Austrian Galicia. The Poles there yearned for incorporation into the Kingdom of Poland, and the Ruthenians (ethnic Ukrainians) wished to be united with the Ukrainian Hetmanate. Since both these states owned their independence to the Central Powers, and in the case of the Ukraine especially, depended entirely on their continued support to remain independent, Polish-Galician and Ruthenian nationalism was not especially belligerent or anti-Germanic. The general feeling in these areas was that a peaceful border revision was possible and therefore desirable.

Croatia was a different issue. There was already in place a strong and well organized nationalist movement which demanded independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Croatia was considered a part of the Kingdom of Hungary), and which had no compunction about using violence to reach these goals. The problem, from the Comintern point of view, was that this movement, the Ustasha, was an extreme right movement under the dictatorial control of a rabid extremist leader, Dr Ante Pavelic. The Ustasha got its weapon and training from fascist Italy, which hoped that it would be able to fulfil its irredentist claims on the south Tyrol and Fiume once Austria was weakened by internal rebellion. Furthermore, the Ustasha claimed all of Bosnia-Herzegovina as Croatian land, something which would have upset not only the Muslim Bosnians, but also the many Serbs living there. When the revolutions began, the Ustasha at first fought side by side with the Imperial Army to defeat the “Godless Bolsheviks”. Their long-term allegiance could however not be relied on by any stretch of good faith.

The most traditionally Kaisertreu areas of the Empire were hardly touched by the uprising, even when there was a significant Socialist (albeit more often than not Social Democrat) presence, as in Austria proper. Areas were ethnic Germans lived as a minority among a Slavic populace, such as the Sudetenland, in Transylvania or the big cities of Prague were next to unanimously loyal to the Kaiser. In Transylvania that loyalty cost the Germans dearly as their lands were almost immediately overrun by the Revolutionaries, who made little difference between ethnic Germans and enemies of the people. Thousands were summarily shot, hanged or murdered in other even more barbaric ways. Tens of thousands were driven from their homes as fugitives.

The Magyars, as one of the privileged nationalities of the Empire also remained mostly loyal, even though a minority did rebel out of purely Communist or Anarchist sympathies. They were however not able to overcome the resistance of the Royal Hungarian army. As the Red Armies pressed closer, many would surface as local party leaders, administrators of Bela Kun’s reign of Red terror.

Of the areas of the Empire that did rebel, Romanian Hungary has already been mentioned. Here, Romanian agitators had for years been able to work their sedition without standing out as a foreigner would have, with language and culture as a barrier. Strangely enough, it was Romanians expatriate anarchists who had gained by far the most converts, rather than their Comintern compatriots. Many of them had not contented themselves with preaching to their countrymen, but had brought the libertarian gospel to Hungarians, Slovaks and Czechs. Proper Makhnovschina members from southeast Ukraine had worked the towns and villages of Ruthenia, but without much effect. The inhabitants were too thoroughly “mystified” by nationalist delusions.

Serbia, on the other hand, after less than twenty years under the Austrian yoke still had the feel of a conquered country. Pan Slavic sentiment of brotherhood with the Russians, added to the smouldering resentment and thirst for revenge of a defeated nation made Serbia the main supporter of Moscow-style Communism in the Empire. When the rebellion began, the Red Army of the South Slavic Peoples Republic would quickly become the strongest of the revolutionary armies, as volunteers jammed every recruitment office in Red-held Belgrade.


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Serbian recruits have received their rifles

Outbreak
The revolution began in earnest on October 1st, 1935 when armed anarchist militias suddenly appeared on the streets of cities and villages to seize weapons- and ammunition depots, radio stations, newspapers and government buildings. Fierce street battles were fought with police and those few army units that had had time to sending out any forces from their barracks. Many had been overrun in the first rush as surprised soldiers were kicked out of their beds and rounded up by the Anarchist Militiamen.

While surviving army units fought desperately to regroup and break out of the sieges their barracks were subjected to, the conventional forces of the Revolution, clandestinely deployed to the forested and broken border areas with Romania, rolled into action – south of Presov, it was the North Slavic Peoples Army, in Transylvania the Red Army of Liberation of Hungary and North of Belgrade, the South Slavic People’s Army, each one numbering ten divisions. All three insurgent armies also had many cadre formations, complete with stored equipment, officers and even NCO’s in order to quickly absorb the expected flow of recruits into new divisions.

On October 1st, several divisions of regular Red Army of Liberation of Hungary troops (almost wholly ethnic Romanian) swept down from their hidden bases in the Carphatians to attack the mountain passes from behind. The meagre Austrio-Hungarian garrisons holding the fortifications there were completely surprised by an attack from behind and wiped out. As soon as the passes were taken, they started to disgorge a stream of insurgent divisions, all “voluntaries” crossing the border “illegally” and “without the knowledge or consent of the Government of the Peoples Republic of Romania”. These protestations of innocence of course fooled no one except the most gullible – they were a joke even among appreciative Red Army troops.

Reactions of the League of Nations
It was more than obvious that such a well armed and organized force was hardly the result of a spontaneous uprising, and Austria and Germany immediately protested to the League of Nations, accusing Romania and the USSR of a covert invasion. Trotsky had long since decided that the Communist Countries would not take part in the “Bourgeoisie diplomatic charade”, but he did send a representative to the emergency meeting of the League of Nations held in London on October 6th. With a completely straight face, the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maksim Litvinov, denied all knowledge of “these scandalous allegations” and yet had the temerity to proclaim the unconditional support of the USSR, France and Romania for the “Worker and Peasant States” of the North- and South Slavic Peoples Republic and the Hungarian Union of Soviets against foreign intervention. Maurice Thorez had not been consulted about this guarantee and was understandably outraged, since French re-armament was far from complete. He did not speak out to deny it, however.

As a result of this, after a full day of debate and discussion, the League of Nations could not agree to anything more than a ban on arms sales to the rebel forces and to Romania, an entire symbolic measure since no member country except Republican Spain had so far ever sold any Arms to a Comintern country. Kaiser Wilhelm II had asked for a full joint intervention in support of Austria-Hungary (hoping that a common response of the World Community would be less damaging to the prestige of Kaiser Otto than a purely German one) but neither Great Britain nor the United States felt any desire to be drawn into conflict with the USSR and France. Japan was not a member of the League of Nations since 1931, and Italy was torn between the fear of having the Red Beast on its doorstep and the hope of gaining an Ustasha-led Croatia as area of influence in the dismembering Empire.

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Rough-looking troopers of the South Slavic Peoples Army in Bosnia

High tide of the revolution - Imperial military reaction
On the ground, the Red Advance continued. Under the ruthless command of Serbian Communist leader Milan Gorkic, Serbia was liberated within weeks and the South Slavic Peoples Army pushed on into Bosnia with a continually swelling number of formations. In the north, the Reds quickly overran most of Slovakia, except the capital Bratislava and continued into Moravia, completely ignoring undefended Galicia for the time being. In the centre, finally, Bela Kun’s forces rolled forward on a broad front, only being held in December at the very gates of Budapest, on the shores of the Danube.

The Imperial Government reacted sluggishly, but it did react. The Austrian Army was the only one of the three separate Armies of the Empire to retain any cohesion, partly because in the German ethnic areas (and in central-western Hungary), anarchism wasn’t strong enough to interfere effectively with mobilisation.. The Imperial Army and the Hungarian Royal Army with their many Slovaks, Romanians and Serbs, broke up almost entirely as every division lost a sizeable portion of its soldiers through desertions and mutiny; the anarchist agitators had done their job well. The remaining loyal Hungarian forces were reformed as replacement companies and battalions in depleted Austrian Army divisions, and this helped the Imperial forces slow down the enemy advance to a considerable degree, at least in the central portion of the front. In Bosnia, however, the Austrian forces were so badly outnumbered that a complete rout would have taken place without the aid of the Ustasha Militia. That this aid came with strings attached was obvious to the Kaiser, and yet he could hardly refuse it. Thanks to the hard resistance put up by the troops of the “Poglavnic” Pavelic, the Red Serbian advance could finally be checked in December in central Croatia.

As the front slowly solidified in Hungary and Croatia, in Moravia the rebels won a stunning victory in late November, when aided by two battalions of Soviet-made T-26 tracks they broke through the Imperial front, smashing two divisions and advancing in depth to the very gates of Prague, where they had to stop only because of the complete inadequacy of their supply system, shortly before New Years Eve of 1935.​
 
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Chapter XVI – The Empire Strikes Back

January 4th, 1936


Heinz Guderian was smiling like a schoolboy who had gotten away with something forbidden. He was standing in the turret of a Sturmpanzerwagen II, one in nearly three hundred that were piled up along a five kilometre section of the Moravian front, just north of Bratislava. He was dressed in an Austrian field uniform complete with a feldgrau greatcoat and thick lambskin gloves to fend of the cold, which made his breath form little puffs. Neither his running red nose or his uncomfortably high and stiff collar, adorned with the single silver star on gold lace of a Major-General (rather than the three gold stars on silver lace of a Colonel) could bring down his mood on this hallmark day. He was going into combat again, for the first time in nearly twenty years, and he was doing it at the head of his very own division; and in more than one sense.

The Panzer-Division “Radetzky” was his own brainchild from start to finish, one that Kaiser Otto I had been kind enough to allow him to put together after listening to his unconventional ideas. He had even given him an Austrian rank of Major-General to go with his divisional command. As a core, the Kaiser had agreed to give him three dragoon regiments, the 3rd, 4th, and 11th. Lacking motorised infantry, Heinz considered Dragoons, or mounted infantry, as the next best thing. He also had two of the Austrian Army’s three Panzer Brigades, which after a refit with German equipment in the last month (they had lost almost all their vehicles during the long retreat) numbered some 300 Sturmpanzerwagen II. Add to this some horse-drawn divisional artillery, and Heinz thought he had a decently mobile force. Had he had proper panzers to work with, like the ones the Russians or the French made instead of these bi-turreted leviathans, cavalry could never have kept up with the Panzers, but at least he was faster than leg infantry. On the down side, the “Division” lacked cohesion, and Heinz knew it. A few weeks of training together had not been anywhere near enough to make it much more than the sum of its parts. He would have to run a very tight ship, allowing a minimum of discretion to subordinate commanders that hadn’t got the proper training to be able to exercise it, but this was his Great Chance. If he could win victories with this mongrel unit, built along lines dismissed by the General Staff, then maybe they would re-examine his theories on force concentration in armoured warfare – the Schwerpunkt Doctrine. Not even single-handedly winning the war could have pushed his more controversial doctrinal ideas, what he lovingly referred to as the Blitzkrieg doctrine, through the dim skulls of the dinosaurs holding the General and Field Marshal ranks of the German Imperial Army, but one thing at the time.

He looked at his wristwatch – 5:59 AM. In about one minute his divisional artillery commander, Colonel Freiherr von Söller, would give the order to fire – that is, if he had bothered to synchronise his watch properly. Just in case he hadn’t, Guderian had decided to order his frontline units to attack once artillery had opened up, rather than order an advance at a given hour. He REALLY didn’t want his men slaughtered by friendly fire, or by an unsuppressed foe. Austrian Schlamperei grated on Heinz’s Prussian nerves more than any other of their national traits, but he had learned to accept it as just another obstacle to plan around. The Austrian officers did, and got things done, somehow. Heinz wasn’t sure if they could do something on time if they really wanted to. For a while, he had had his doubts, like when he called a meeting of his subordinate officers the day he took command and threatened to sack anyone showing up late on that reason alone. They must have realized he was bluffing. Either that or they were simply unable to keep an appointment with more exactitude than give or take five minutes, even if their careers were riding on it.

The Panzer Division was not the only one whose guns would open up at 6:00 AM. As a part of the generalised counteroffensive planned on the basis of his and General Rommel’s advice, all Austrian units north and south of Brno would begin a concerted offensive against the Moravian city at that time. In Croatia, a twin counterattack was in the making as well, at least if the Ustasha troops could be made to obey orders from the Imperial General Staff, which remained to be seen.

It was time. Heinz looked over his shoulder, and after a few seconds, the entire horizon seemed to light up, as hundreds of tubes began to vomit shells over the enemy lines. Schlamperei or not, the Austrian artillery officers were doing their job with split-second precision. Heinz waved his hand forward, and all around him, Sturmpanzer IIs started up their engines, belching black diesel smoke. When the sound of the massive barrage, resembling the low-pitch rumble of rolling thunder reached Heinz’s Panzer, it was already rolling forward. A few hundred metres behind, thousands of horsemen in uniforms that still retained far too much colour prodded their mounts into a trot and then a canter to keep up with the tracks. The attack was on.

***​

‘Gunner, AT-gun, eleven o’clock, 500 meters! Driver, all stop!’

The commanders voice, carried trough the auriculars of the headpiece cut through the deafening engine noise inside the Sturmpanzer. Even before the noise subsided and the track slowly came to a halt, Kurt was frantically turning the traverse wheel and peering through his Zeiss sights. There it was all right, a Soviet made 45mm PstK sloppily camouflaged by snow walls – a nasty little anti-track piece which could send a 1,4 kg projectile flying their way at 760m/sec. Kurt wasn’t about to let it do that. Quickly he adjusted the sight for range and placed the cross hairs over the enemy gun.

‘Loaded HE, target acquired’

‘Fire!’

Kurt pressed the trigger, all the sixteen tons of the Sturmpanzerwagen II trembled slightly as the gun recoiled. An acrid cordite fume invaded the fighting compartment. It took the shell the better part of a second to reach its mark, but it fell short – an orange flash, and a fountain of black dirt and smoke obscured the Red gun.

‘Miss, loading HE!

Kurt was already reaching for a new 6,8 kg HE shell from the shelves surrounding him on all sides. Once he realized he’d be riding into battle encased in high explosives, he had become much less cavalier about the safety provided by a few centimetres of steel. When he enlisted, trackers had seemed an invulnerable lot compared to the poor foot infantry, the proverbial cannon fodder. It was only after having commenced training that he heard the saying going “trackers are buried in groups of 18”. That, of course, applied to the old Sturmpanzer A7U that had been in German service in the years after the Great War and soldiered on in Austria into the early 30s. Nowadays, the saying spoke about groups of six; commander, gunner/loader, driver, front machine-gunner, mechanic/wireless operator and rear machine-gunner, but it was still a sobering thing to remember for cocky young Panzer crews who forgot that their main task in combat was to draw fire from the infantry.

Kurt, fine-limbed and intelligent from a well to-do Viennese family, was not the ideal gunner, since he lacked the brute strength for easily hauling the heavy shells when loading the gun. Since enlisting three months ago, he had grown considerably more muscular, but it had been at the price of pain and more pain. Not surprisingly, he considered it an idiotic design decision to have the gunner also serve as loader of the main weapon. The turret should have had place for a dedicated loader, who would only need strength to qualify for the job. As it was, gunners were a hard lot to find, since the combination of strength and accuracy was rare.

He pushed the heavy white-nosed HE shell into the breech of his gun and slammed it shut. Then the Red AT-gun returned fire. A glancing hit ricocheted off the turret, making the sound of a giant hammer hitting the steel. Everyone in the crew winced, but since they hadn’t died, continued what they were doing.

‘Loaded HE!’ Kurt yelled, correcting his aim slightly. There was no answer. Maybe the shot had disabled the intercom? He went ahead and fired anyway, certain that the Commander would approve of not giving the enemy gun an opportunity to fire again. This time he scored a hit, or near enough not to matter. The PstK gun was thrown sideways by the force of the blast, the crew faring considerable worse.

‘Hit!’ Still no answer from the commander. Kurt turned in his chair to look at Leutenant Maier, and immediately realised why there had been no reply. As it ricocheted of the turret, the enemy AT shell had torn Maier’s head clean off his shoulder. Mesmerized, the young gunner stared at the film of blood drenching the front of the dead commander’s uniform.

‘The Commander is dead!’ shouted Kurt over the intercom.

Szaba, the rear gunner, swore loudly in his native Hungarian, before stating quite calmly; ‘Well, Corporal Waldheim, I believe you’re the ranking soldier in the vehicle. What are your orders?’

Kurt’s mouth hanged open in a most undignified manner. Him, commander of a Panzer?

‘Kurt, the Hauptman is screaming at us to get going again!’ the radio operator reported.

The imperatives of the situation overrode his indecision. ‘All right, I’m taking command of the Panzer. Szaba, get up here and take over the cannon, and bring your headpiece! Jörg… sorry, I mean Radio, answer Hauptman Fromm, inform them about the death of Leutenant Maier. Driver, half speed forward!’

He unplugged his headpiece and climbed to crouch in front of the commander’s chair. Carefully, Kurt removed the limp body of his commanding officer and laid it to rest on the floor of the turret fighting compartment. Climbing into that blood-spattered chair seemed like the worst idea of his short life, but he had little choice – within seconds, his head was sticking out of the turret hatch, the gelid January winds hitting his face like a slap. Outside, the roar of the engine mixed with the constant thunder of artillery and sharp clatter of machineguns to form an almost overwhelming curtain of sound. Yellow tracer rounds were flying with apparent slowness over the white fields of Moravia, and far ahead, a burning Brno was painting the led-grey clouds blood red. Kurt took it all in a stride, and started to look for threats. All around him were the ponderous machines of Panzer Division Radetzky, motoring fast over the open fields – the front had been shattered and they were now driving into a void. It was terrifying, and yet exhilarating. Kurt Waldheim, Panzer Commander. He liked how that sounded.​
 
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Chapter XVII – A map room conference

Berlin Statschloß, January 4th, 1936


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Meine Herren! All stand for His Imperial and Royal Majesty, Wilhelm II, Kaiser of Germany, King of Prussia, Commander in Chief of the armed forces!’ Gustav, Wilhelm’s black-and-gold-liveried man-servant, could have rolled of half a dozen more titles without breaking a sweat, but his King and Kaiser had made clear he wanted to keep things as informal as possible, so he had chosen only the most relevant ones for the occasion.

In the map room of the Statschloß, five men jumped to attention as the Wilhelm, wrinkled, white-bearded and sharp-faced walked through the door. The room was small, with most of the floor space being taken up by a giant map table. Shelves of dark polished oak containing hundreds of rolled up maps covered the walls. There was place left only for a few chairs in one corner, but these had been left empty by the five men already in the room. Some of them had sat on the edge of the table or slouched against the shelves, intensely engaged in conversation about the situation in Austria, but all now stood in attention, saluting their supreme commander.

Foremost among them was the Head of the Oberste HeeresLeitung, Generalfeldmarschall Erich Ludendorff, an acerbic old warhorse who had been a prominent member of Crown Prince Wilhelm’s staff during the Great War. He had replaced his old commanding officer Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg when the old man retired a few years back. Hindenburg had been the man behind Germany’s present national army, uniting the traditionally separate armed forces of the Empire’s constituent states of which the Prussian and Bavarian had been the most important, into a single organization: the Reichsheer. That process had been lengthy and not fully completed until 1928.

Ludendorff had improved on that legacy; under his capable leadership the Army had not only maintained a high standard of training and preparedness. He had recently managed a complete overhaul of the infantry arm, including re-organization, re-equipment and doctrine, which had been completely implemented in the Reichsheer the previous autumn. Of the German army, only the native infantry divisions of the Kolonienheer were still made up along the old Great War lines. The new infantry division, named Infanterie-Division 36, had more firepower but above all more mobility than the old kind, something entirely in line with Ludendorff’s belief in an elastic rather than static defence. He had also pushed for an increase in the number of Panzer brigades with the aim of getting 1 per Korps.

Second to Ludendorff in the room, both in terms of rank and political weight were the supreme commanders of the Kaiserliche Luftwaffe and Kaiserliche Kriegsmarine who were also present. The more famous of the two was General der Fliegertruppen Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, the well known Great War ace the “Red Baron”. His Luftwaffe was an object of German pride, the foremost aerial combat force ever assembled, with top-notch machines and superbly trained pilots. Von Richthofen had made it a prestige issue to learn to fly the most advanced fighter in the Luftwaffe arsenal and use it for personal travel. The current incarnation of the Red Baron’s wings was a Bf-109E, painted all bright red like its famous predecessors and still carrying the old style Malteserkreutz instead of the modern straight Balkenkreuz adopted as symbol of the armed forces in 1933. It did wear the Luftwaffe’s own symbol, the Swastika, on the tail rudder though.

Kriegsmarine Admiral Alfred Saalwächter commanded an Arm of the armed forces much reduced in power and prestige since the Great War, but he had made the most of what he had. An old U-boot captain, he had been chosen to oversee the gradual transition of the Kriegsmarine from a High Seas Fleet, designed for contesting Britain’s naval supremacy to a commerce raider and coastal defence fleet and had done so with his characteristic energy, determination and daring. Recent increases in Russian and French naval strength had caused a partial shift in naval focus, but Saalwächter had still managed to get priority for building battle cruisers, which could better act as commerce raiders, rather than battleships.

The two last men were Oberst Fritz Bayerlein, Head of the Kaiserliches Wehrmachtsleitung (KWL), the new Staff that had been created to support the Kaiser in his role as supreme commander of all three arms of the armed forces, and the armaments minister Julius Curtius.

The Kaiser nodded briefly and walked to the map table. ‘Generalfeldmarschall Ludendorff… what can you tell us of the situation in Austria? I understand the Austrians have initiated a counterattack?

Ludendorff nodded. ‘Yes, Your Majesty. Our attaché has provided us with a rough outline of the Austrian plan. If you look here…

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Operation Wallenstein – the Imperial Counterattack, January 1936

Wilhelm donned a pair of small reading spectacles and studied the map. ‘Yes, take Brno and cut off these 6 divisions outside Prague, maybe some of those in Moravia as well… Straightforward, and simple, yet deadly if it works. But wouldn’t the Red’s be expecting this very move? It seems kind of obvious.’

Ludendorff shrugged. ‘We would, but apparently the ‘Osties’ have been running so fast for so long that the Red’s simply thought there was no more fight left in them. Only goes to show the importance of not underestimating the enemy, Majesty. Not even the Austrians.’

‘That is hardly fair, Herr Generalfeldmarschall. ’ Although a mere Colonel, von Bayerlein, safe in his role as the Kaiser’s own Chief of Staff, had dared voice an objection to the seemingly omni-potent Field Marshall. ‘The Austrians have had little choice but to retreat up to this point. In fact, it is the very speed of the retreat that has allowed them to strike back now, at an overextended enemy.’

Ludendorff made a noise like a snorting bull, but said nothing.

‘What about this unit?’ the Kaiser asked, peering closely at a small tin track fitted with a small paper banner bearing the legend “Radetzky”. ‘Is it a Panzer Brigade?’

The Chief of the Army suddenly looked embarrassed. ‘That, Majesty, is the work of one of our officers who has gone renegade… and insane. Colonel Guderian has exceeded his authority and accepted a commission as Major General in the Austrian Army. In accordance with his own absurd ideas about Panzer warfare, he has, heaven alone knows why, been allowed to set up an experimental unit, a Panzer Division. The OHL dismissed his proposal about this years ago. When he returns, I’ll have him sacked.’

‘Not so fast, my dear Generalfeldmarschall. Let’s se how our boy does first, shall we? By the way, how is he doing?’

Ludendorff looked like if he was choking on a bone. ‘Well… Majesty… from the initial reports, this “Radetzky” division has broken through the Red lines north of Bratislava, and with complete disregard for its flanks, has abandoned neighbouring units and advanced on its own on Brno. The fool will get himself cut-off and annihilated, and what’s worse, bring shame on the OHL! I thought General Rommel would keep that maniac in check…’

‘General Rommel has returned to his command, the 3rd Gebirgsjäger-Division in General von Lettow-Voerbeck’s expeditionary force.’ Von Bayerlein explained.

‘Which is where, exactly?’ wondered Wilhelm.

‘Right about… here.’ Ludendorff leaned over the table, pointing with his gloved hand. ‘The Gebirgskorps is on its way through Croatia, to join the offensive against the Serbian Reds.’

‘Very well.’ The Kaiser turned to von Richthofen. ‘General von Richthofen, what can you tell us of the aerial side of the war?’

The young General, still in his early forties smiled slightly, although his eyes remained hard and cold as the ice from which they drew their colour. From the greying stubble of his short-cropped hair, to the simplicity of his dark blue uniform, everything about von Richthofen radiated hardness, leanness, pitiless and deadly efficiency. He ruled his Luftwaffe with an iron fist, inspiring in his subordinates terror and adoration in equal measure. Not even Ludendorff felt completely at ease around the Air General.

‘Your Majesty, the Red air force is concentrated in the hands of Bela Kun and his Red Hungarian renegades. It’s even more pitiful than the Austrian one. As far as I know, they have not even tried to contest Imperial air superiority, which is wise of them. I’ve trained some of the Austrian pilots myself, and they are good, even if their planes are somewhat dated, to put it mercifully. Consequently, the Austrian bombers have been able to lend rather unhindered support to the Brno offensive. Nothing decisive, but it has surely contributed to their breakthrough.’

‘Very well, I’m happy to hear that. So all in all, our Austrian friends are doing all right for the time being. What we need to discuss now is the overall situation of Germany. Gentlemen, I believe the Fatherland is in danger.’

There was a complete hush in the map room, every man hanging on the Kaisers next word.

‘Since this thing began, I have been wondering one thing. If we assume that Trotsky means what he says about destroying the Capitalist world - and I think it would be the utmost folly not to take him seriously - then, why hasn’t he attacked already? The Central Powers have never been as weak as we are now – Austria is effectively eliminated as an opponent, the Ukraine is isolated and teeming with anarchist rebels… And France has rearmed enough that it now presents a credible threat again. Once more, we’re threatened with a two-front war. So why hasn’t it begun yet?’

Without waiting for an answer, the Kaiser continued his monologue. ‘The Russians are a people of Chess players, and Trotsky more so than most. I believe he hasn’t attacked yet, because he thinks that however favourable the situation is for him now, it will be even more to his advantage if he waits. I assume this is because he expects these Red rebels to overthrow Kaiser Otto. Once that has happened, we will have not a two-front war on our hands, but a three front one. Thus I conclude that as soon Trotsky believes that the Revolutionaries will loose, he will unleash his attack upon us, in cooperation with Thorez, that French caveman. From that point on, his position will deteriorate rather than strengthen, and he will see no reason to wait any more. Gentlemen, Germany must prepare for this onslaught!’

Everyone in the room nodded, either physically or mentally. The Kaiser’s logic, if one assumed Trotsky was just waiting for an opportunity to wipe out Imperial Germany, was inescapable.

‘Majesty, I agree wholeheartedly!’ exclaimed von Ludendorff. ‘As it happens, the OHL has prepared a plan of expansion for the Army…’

‘The OHL ALWAYS has a plan to expand the Army, Generalfeldmarschall Ludendorff’, the Kaiser interrupted with a smile and an arched eyebrow. ‘It is one of the few certainties of life, along with death and taxes. But as it happens, I have seen it and do not find it ambitious enough, so I have had Oberst von Bayerlein draft a new one. Fritz, if you please…’

Bayerlein produced a large folded sheet from his leather folder and laid it out on the table. It turned out to be an expansion schedule for the Army:

planprodarmy13jx.jpg


Ludendorff’s eyes shone like beacons as he examined the schedule. ’Thirty divisions, ten Panzer Brigades…ten new Armeekorps in less than a year! Majesty, this is fantastic, my one worry is if we’ll be able to train that many men that quickly. But if we use existing units and split them for cadres, we should be able to do it.’

‘Excellent. As for the air force, what do you need, General?’

The Red Baron didn’t hesitate. ‘For now, escort fighters, Majesty. Escort fighters and more Heinkel bombers. We have enough interceptors, I believe, to protect the air space over the Fatherland, but we do not have enough offensive capability to affect the land battle.’

Without a word, Bayerlein placed another production schedule over the first:

planprodairforce19pw.jpg


Von Richthofen nodded with satisfaction. ‘This will be adequate, I believe. Thank you, your Majesty.’

Admiral Saalwächter flashed a sad smile. ‘How about the Kriegsmarine, your Majesty? Will we get anything this time?’

Bayerlein’s inevitable schedule appeared on the table. Saalwächter eyed it greedily.

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‘Well, lets see… ah, 32 new destroyer flotillas over the next two years! Thank you, your Majesty. This is most welcome, we were becoming very worried about the French and Russian submarine fleets – and so were our British friends. If the Royal Navy worries, we should be worried too. But no new capital ships? No more U-boots, beyond those already in production?’

Wilhelm II shook his head. ‘What for? We already have enough capital ships to shoot the surviving Russian rust-buckets out of the water many times over – enough, actually, to make our British friends grumble, and we can’t have that, not now. And U-boots are of little use to us, we’re fighting the Red’s, not the British. No, Admiral, we will complete the “Lützow” of course, but it will be the last major surface ship we build for quite some time.’

Now Saalwächter looked less pleased. ‘Majesty, I have recently tasked the Kriegsmarineverft with preparing a blueprint for a more modern class of Aircraft Carrier. I had reserved some funds in my long-term budget for building two or three of these vessels in the near future.’

The Kaiser nodded benevolently. ‘Very well, Saalwächter, they can continue to draw the ships, but I doubt there will be budgetary room for it in the next two years.’

‘H-hmmmm.’

In the general Christmas-like euphoria of the military men and their Imperial Santa Claus, nobody seemed to pay attention to the desperate attempts of the mouse-like Minister of Armaments, Julius Curtius, to call attention to himself.

‘H-HMMMMMM!’

‘Minister Curtius, do you have a sore throat?’ Bayerlein asked innocently, taking pity on the poor civilian.

The mild-mannered Curtius, dressed in a striped business suit, looked as if he would have been more at home in an office than in a war room, and it would not have been an erroneous impression. And yet this hard-core civilian’s brief in Meissner’s Liberal- Conservative coalition government was Armaments. He had never shown the slightest interest in the capabilities and data of the machines of destruction his department ordered constructed, leaving that entirely to the Armaments Office of the Armed Forces – Curtius interest lay exclusively with production costs, manufacturing capability and raw materials consumption.

‘The question, Your Majesty and Meine Herren you all seem to be forgetting is how the Kaiser hopes to push a defence package of these proportions through the Reichstag and Bundesrat. Reich Chancellor Meissner would rather fall on his sword, if he had one, than trying to convince the Liberal members of the coalition to vote through such an enormous increase in the War Department budget. Frankly, I don’t see that it is possible at all. The deficit…’

‘I will invoke emergency powers and rule by decree if I have to!’ the Kaiser shouted, reminding Ludendorff of his old, pre-Great War self. ‘But I WILL see this package adopted, one way or the other.’​
 
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The Yogi

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Chapter XVIII – Moscow reacts

THE KREMLIN, MOSCOW, January 7th, 1936


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The study was barren, cold and impersonal. No decorations of any kind, white-grey and pale yellow walls, white-painted bookshelves and a floor of white and black square tiles. Leon Trotsky, in a simple khaki uniform without any rank insignia, calmly removed his large round spectacles from his nose and carefully polished them with a clean white rag, before even beginning to read the documents laid on his table, never even looking at the Commander of the Fourth Department of the Red Army (Military Intelligence), Colonel Yan Berzov who stood in attention before him.

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Berzov squirmed mentally. The documents were bad news, Trotsky knew it before even reading them and Berzov knew that he knew. The reaction of the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, also Generalissimo of the Red Army, also Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leon Trotsky was as predictable as it would be unpleasant to the hapless Berzov. Both of them knew that too, and Trotsky made a great show of prolonging his subordinate’s discomfort.

‘So, Brno has fallen and six divisions are cut off in Kutna Hora. Comrade Colonel Berzov...?’

‘Yes, Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky?’

‘Why was I not informed that the revolutionary armies had deficient supply organisations?’

‘Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky, were informed by the local Soviet leaders that they had everything they needed in overabundance.’

‘You trusted the uniformed opinion of civilian politicos?’ Trotsky asked with dangerously level voice.

Berzov almost whined. Trotsky was now playing the veteran soldier, emphasising his military experience, flaunting his supreme rank and oozing contempt for “civilian” revolutionaries. Yet Berzov knew how quickly Trotsky the Soldier could be replaced by Trotsky the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, who would strike down on the slightest show of defiance by military men against the primacy of the political leadership. The metamorphosis could be fast enough to make a man’s head spin.

‘Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky, we… were gratified and surprised by the speed of the Imperialist collapse. We expected to have more time to build up the logistic organization in the liberated areas. We never counted on the anarchists swaying so many to their cause, they more or less paved the way for our armies all the way to Budapest, Bratislava and Prague.’

‘I see,’ Trotsky said, pursing his lips and crossing his hands on the table. ‘The anarchists…’

Like a drowning man being thrown a life buoy, Berzov clinged pathetically to this chance of putting someone else, ANYONE, between himself and the wrath of Leon Trotsky. ‘Yes, Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky, the anarchists. They have been a pain and a nuisance since this campaign began. Maybe we should be better off… without them?’

Trotsky looked up suddenly, like a man interrupted in some reverie. ‘A nuisance? Better off WITHOUT THEM!?’ He rose from the table, making the livid Berzov unconsciously recoil a step. ‘You buffoon!’ he shouted, ‘We could never have pulled this off without their help! THEY still have drive! THEY still have revolutionary spirit! THEY still have brave, dedicated and above all ABLE men, who can set a revolutionary fire into the hearts of men, while we only have bumbling fools and bureaucrats!’

Regaining control of himself, Trotsky sighed deeply and sat down, before continuing in a dejected voice: ‘So we prey on them, our deluded betters, because for all their merits, they do not understand the necessities of Scientific Socialism! And so, it is time once more… for the revolution to eat its own children.’

‘A full crackdown then, Comrade Generalissimo Trotsky?’ Berzov asked, grinning despite himself in anticipation.

Trotsky shook his head like an annoyed lion. ‘Can you not even count?’ he wondered in a disgusted voice. ‘They still outnumber the Communist forces by a large margin. No, we have to be subtler than that. Here’s what I want you to do: send down however many army logistical support units it may take to remedy the situation. I don’t care if it leaves the Red Army stranded like a beached whale, this has top priority. And tell the Romanians to do the same. Only, because of the continued difficult supply situation due to the anarchist lack of proper organisation, Communist units will have priority. That is to say, not a bullet for the anarchists – unless they accede to join our units, under our command. Understood?’

‘Perfectly, Comrade Generalissimo.’

‘And since the Austrians are playing around with tracks, send our Communist comrades tracks, hundreds of tracks!’ Trotsky added. ‘Let’s see how those Sturmpanzers fare against our T-26s and T-28s!’

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***

Wilhelmshafen

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Amid cheering and shivering on this cold but sunny winter morning, the champagne bottle, wielded with decision by Princess Kira, shattered against the grey steel hull of the SMS “Lützow”, the fourth and last addition to the powerful “Hipper” class of heavy cruisers. Crown Prince Louis Ferdinand, looking slightly uncomfortable in the Admiral’s uniform he wore for the day held the compulsory speech to greet the latest addition to his fathers fleet – it was bland and conventional, but nobody in the crowd watching the christening ceremony cared about that in the slightest, and they dutifully, nay, happily cheered in all the right places. The Crown Prince couple were immensely popular, he for his bohemian-looking curls, boyish visage and relaxed attitude so atypical for a Prussian Prince of the blood, she for her stunning Slavic beauty and elegance, her kind heart and the obvious love she professed for the Crown Prince. They were the darlings of the nation.

One man standing on the platform next to the Crown Prince and Princess among other notables and higher-ups of the navy cared less than most about Prince Louis Ferdinand’s speech. He hardly heard a word of it, so excited was he, for this was the crowning day of his career, today all his dreams would be fulfilled and the last twelve years of hard work, humiliations and deprivations would pay off – today he would assume command of a heavy cruiser of the Kriegsmarine, his first very own command. Tears of joy blurred his vision as he followed the “Lützow’s” every line, from the proud bow over the powerful 203mm guns in the four twin turrets, the bridge... she was his, and he coveted her more than the most ardent lover his woman.

He leaned closer to his mentor, who stood next to him and whispered, not to disturb the Crown Prince’s speech. ‘I owe this to you, Admiral. Thank you so much, thank you!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, my boy!’ Admiral Canaris answered also in a whisper. ‘You have earned the “Lützow” fair and square. I just hope you won’t regret this later. I still believe you have real potential in naval intelligence… ah, never mind, I can see that I’m wasting my time talking about that today. She is a beauty – any sailor would be proud to command her.’

Freshly promoted Kapitän zur See Reinhardt Heydrich smiled, and let his loving eyes return to his ship. HIS ship. He couldn’t wait to set foot on her for the first time. If only he would get a chance to command her in battle… what feats they would perform together, Captain Heydrich and the Großkreuzer SMS “Lützow”!​
 
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