Wednesday, June 13, 2018

February 20, 1944: Poor Finland

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Allies Should Consider How Finland Got In Present Mess

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

Finland's position is more difficult and more peculiar than that of Poland as a diplomatic and military football that is being tossed around between Germany and the Allies. Before judging her too harshly, and before expecting from her an attitude which may turn out to be a suicidal one, the Allied world should consider how Finland got into the mess in which she finds herself at the present.

Finland was one of the first European countries that felt and fight the sting of unprovoked aggression. At that time, Russia was in the same boat as Germany, and for that reason the entire Allied world encouraged Finland in her heroic struggle. When Germany suddenly betrayed her former good friend, Russia, Russia suddenly became an ally of England, and the Finnish war was looked upon with a different set of glasses.

Finland, in order to get rid of Russian occupation, joined up with the Nazis and succeeded in driving the Russians out. The Nazis were surprisingly careful in their treatment of the Finns in order to keep the good will of their newly-won partner, and there had been absolutely no desire on the part of any major group of Finns to throw off the Nazi yoke in favor of a Russian one.

Only recently, when the Russians came closer again toward the Finnish borders, and when the Nazis showed their determination to resist the Russians in Finland to the last Finn, did the feeling change.

New Peace Movement

At the present, there exists a very strong group of Finns, mainly from the Social-democratic party. Finland's largest party, which openly calls for peace with Russia, which would mean a break with the Nazis.

Voionmaa, one of Finland's most prominent statesmen, and Paasikivi, former foreign minister of Finland, are the leading figures in the new peace movement. Both these men were present at the peace conferences between Russia and Finland early in 1940. For the first tie since the Russo-German war, a Finnish paper has broken the censorship ban and got by with it: the "Sotslalidemokrati" published on the first page, a call for peace with Russia. The Helsinki radio broadcast Cordell Hull's warning to the Finns to quit the war, and the Finnish population listened to Moscow's radio giving them the warning that unless Finland makes peace now, "the vipers who are crawling on their bellies before Hitler, saying they wish to defend Finland as far east as Petrozavodsk, may find the Red Army defending the Soviet Union as far west as Helsinki."

Through Sweden, the Finns received the terms for peace with Russia. They include: (1) Restoration of the 1940 frontiers, ie, the frontiers which remained after the Russian invasion of 1939-40. (2) Russian occupation of Finland until the end of the Russo-German war. (3) Demobilization of the Finnish Army. (4) Reorganization of the Finnish government to eliminate Ryti, Tanner, etc. (5) Russian guarantee of Finland's survival after the war. (The Russians remain silent as to whether Finland should survive as an independent state, or as a Soviet Republic.)

Can't Fulfill Peace Terms

These terms are extremely lenient in comparison with the unconditional surrender which is demanded from other Axis nations. There is no question that Finland could not expect the Nazis to give her terms that even approach these in consideration and leniency. The great drawback, however, is that Finland may not be in a position to accept these terms. Nazi troops are in Finland and show no inclination whatsoever to leave voluntarily. The Nazis threaten to give to the Finns a sample of Gestapo rule, if Peace with Russia should be negotiated, and to change Finland into a bloody battlefield in case of Russian invasion. The Finns haven't any more power to fulfill Russia's peace terms than Badoglio's government had to deliver Rome to the Allies.

What the Allies are working for at the present may not be so much a real peace treaty between a Finnish government and Russia, as the assurance that the Finnish population, in case of a Russian advance into Finland, will be pro-Allied and that they will accept the Russian terms as soon as they are free to do so.

Well now it's poor Finland. They have no good choices in front of them. To fight off the Russian occupation, they joined the Nazis after the Russians flipped sides. They got the Russians out, but now they have the Nazis. It was the lesser of the two evils at that point. They thought. Now they get to decide which really is the lesser of two evils. The Nazis are losing the war (which I'm guessing the Finnish aren't really invested in, other than their own security). The US is sending propaganda encouraging them to join the Allied efforts (which is compelling, since they're the current winning side), the Russians are giving more violent images for them to ponder if they don't cooperate, and the Nazis have their own threats to add to the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" decision pot. 

My guess is that Finland really just wants everyone to leave them alone. They played sides to gain their own security, and their hand ended up not taking the pot. I think it is interesting that Russia's "deal" is supposed to be so delicious wit the argument that Finland can't ask for much since they were allied with the Germans. Um. So were the Soviets? And Italy? And a number of other places that seem to be able to flip sides without too much penance. Finland is at a disadvantage because they have something people want, and very little power to fight off any oppressor. So everyone gets to make big demands with the idea that Finland doesn't really have any good choices. 

Finland does ultimately kick the Germans out (at a price: they didn't leave nicely) and make nice with the Russians. It's not a win for them, but it's better than a total loss. They were able to keep their country with some modified borders, and ended up owing Russia reparations. 

Finland could easily have played this same game with different results, it just didn't work out for them.

Before you get upset about Finland playing with the Nazis, remember that they were fighting for survival. At the time the Nazis were their obnoxious neighbors who were ridiculous and dangerous- but maybe didn't have the infamy (yet) that Russia had. I'm not sure, maybe they knew full well it was a deal with the devil, but like I said before, war makes for weird negotiating.

I feel bad for Finland, they were the cheered underdogs when they first resisted Russia, and they ended up owing Russia reparations at the end. 

My Grandmother used to have a phrase that annoyed and amused my family: "Poor Ron." She would express pity for my Dad, but the irony was that it almost always was some circumstance where he was inconvenienced, but everyone else was paying a higher price. Like when my Dad had to go on business trips and my Mom was home taking care of three children. Poor Ron. In that same vein: Poor Finland.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

February 14, 1944: Psychology of War

Article by Opa for Manhattan, Kansas newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Allies Gain Knowledge About Nazi- Invasion Tactics

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

For a few days it looked as though the coast of Anzio, south of Rome, might witness another Allied Dunkirk. The danger is not quite over yet, but has definitely passed its climax.

The outlook was very rosy after the first few days of Allied landings in that sector, and it still remains a mystery just why and how the Allies were forced into the defensive. Counter offensives by the Germans had been anticipated, but what the Allied leaders did not foresee was the great importance which the Germans attributed to the fighting in this new sector. German troops were withdrawn from the Gustav line and from Southern France, as well as from the Rome defenses themselves, to fight an all-out attack against the new beachheads. The situation was grave because the German communication lines were shorter, and the Allies had to play for time.

Just why did the Germans put up such a terrific and costly struggle? One reason was that the success or failure of this new Allied blow would largely determine the immediate fate of Rome. Rome, even though militarily not of outstanding importance, is politically, as well as in its effect on morale, a factor of far-reaching consequences.

Another reason was that the German people had not read about any major (or even minor, if they got the truth) victory on any front for a terribly long time. The news of another Dunkerque, even though only on the Italian front, would have been worth a million to the German propagandists, and Hitler was determined to achieve this even at the expense of defeat farther south.

The immediate objective of the Allies when they established their new beachhead was twofold. In the first place, it was expected that the fight over Cassino and west of Cassino would come to an end at approximately the same time, so that a union between the 5th army and the new invasion troops might be established. This union would have outflanked the Gustav line and thus submitted that line to the same fate as the Maginot line in 1940. There still is a chance that this goal may be accomplished. It all depends on whether the offensive can be taken away from the Germans fast enough to permit a southward push before the German defense line can be readjusted.

Surprise Attack Failed

The other objective of the beachhead was to launch a surprise attack on Rome by attacking between Rome and its outer defense circle. In this respect, the landings were a complete failure. The attack was stopped too far away from Rome, and the Nazis already had time to build new defensive positions around Rome.

No matter what the fate of this new invasion force will be, one thing is certain. The Allies have gained a tremendous amount of information concerning new German anti-invasion tactics, information which will be very valuable in future operations. Among the things which were learned was the fact that the criterion of such an operation does not occur at the time of landings, but days afterwards, at a time when beachheads may be soundly established. 

It is being argued that the partial failure of the Anzio beachhead operation will delay the Allied invasion of Europe by as much as several months. If the Allies are driven back into the sea, it may. The danger for that seems to be past, though, and there is no reason why the experiences gained in this operation may not have provided the Allies with facts which will give them more confidence in launching the big invasion.

Opa had reported in this article from January 30, '44, a full-scale "Hoorah!" to the victory of the Allied offensive move in Italy. I mention in the blog from that article that he spoke a little too soon or at least simplified the victory. Here it seems he gets the news himself in real time. The victory of this battle was ultimately the Allies, but it was definitely harder than they expected. Opa doesn't mention the geographic (topographic?) reasons why that battle might have been as hard as it was. I remember reading in my research that the Germans had a better handle on the terrain and used it to their advantage. Also, as Opa mentions, the Germans are also not so far from home, supplies, and communication. 

This article he references the battle of Dunkirk, in saying that he hopes this doesn't end up like that. There is now a major motion picture about this battle, which happened in 1940 when the Nazis successfully invaded France and the Netherlands. Allied soldiers were backed up to the ocean, and a tremendous effort by military and civilian alike, allowed the soldiers to be evacuated from the shore. 

Opa makes the obvious note that just because you land on the shore, doesn't mean the battle is over, you have to be able to hold on to that beach-head and further in to be successful. 

The final victory in Italy in this particular battle is referred to as the "Stalingrad" of Italy. I mentioned in the last blog about this battle that this was a victorious battle by the Allies (mainly Russians) that was hard-won with much loss, but was a turning point in the war. 

I think it is interesting how other battles are used as markers for comparison. It makes perfect sense, and I wonder if there was a part of the memory of those battles that encouraged the soldiers to either continue with tradition or change it. This is completely a terrible analogy, but as an Auburn graduate, I know that football fans do this with major games. If you've won many years in a row against your rival, you use that as a confidence booster that you'll keep the record going. If you lost in the last year, you are more determined to change the story. 

I'm realizing how much the psychology of a war is just as important as the weapons and resources. Of course it's all connected, and some things must be in place, no matter how motivated an army is. However, the whole propaganda piece is a big deal. And I may have said this before, but propaganda isn't in itself a dirty word. I've always thought so- and in some ways it kind of is... but the objective of it is really to encourage people. That encouragement might be for nefarious means, or it might be a pep rally speech. Propaganda is telling a story with animation, to keep people connected and committed to the cause. Propaganda is PR. Every country does it. The problem begins when propaganda replaces facts, and manipulates people to do things that are not in their best interest (or the best interest of the country at large). 

Nearly every propaganda effort is done with conviction that it is for the best result. It just might be the best result for a despot.

Opa's optimism of turning the difficult battle into an opportunity for learning is endearing, and typical. He's also right, the Allies will have some lessons learned from this exercise in humility, which might give them a better chance at this great invasion Opa keeps predicting. Back to the terrible football analogy: if you go into a game thinking there is no way you'll lose, that is a sure-fire way of giving the other team a chance to beat you. There is a thin line between confidence and cockiness; and it is an important one. This hard win might have been the psychological sharpening that the Allies needed to realize that they hadn't quite won the war yet, and there was plenty of work left to do.

Monday, June 11, 2018

February 6, 1944: Argentina - Ally?

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


Big Stick Wielded Towards Argentina Makes New Ally

Editor's Note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theatre carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

Last week, the Nazis lost their last foothold in the Western hemisphere; Argentina broke diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. It had baffled many people for a long time just why Argentina did not take this step when the other South American countries did, but there were reasons. 

Economically, Argentina had strong and ancient ties with Europe. In the last year before Pearl Harbor, 74 per cent of her exports went to Europe, while only 13 per cent came to this country. Argentina's trade houses and ship lines were controlled or at least strongly influenced by European stockholders.

Politically, Argentina has been rivaling with Brazil concerning the supremacy in South America, and, until just recently, Argentina had the upper hand in this struggle. When the war started; however, Lend Lease aid was given to Brazil, while it was refused to Argentina. This changed the situation considerably, and Argentina lost her prestige in South America. She was still strong enough, however, to maintain her pro-Axis position because of the aid she received from Germany.

Center of German Activities

Germany's interest in Argentina is obvious. As long as Germany could break through the blockade, much badly needed material and food was bought from her South American "good neighbor," and Argentina was made to prosper by that trade. The center of German intelligence activities for the entire Western hemisphere was believed to be located in Argentina, and the vast number of arrests made by the Argentine police during the last few days seems to confirm this. Argentina also was an excellent listening post for things going on in the Pacific area. Germany was willing to pay as high a price for her Argentine foothold in the Western Hemisphere as she could possibly afford.

It was mainly due to an excellent sample of Big Stick Policy that the United States finally succeeded in eliminating this Axis stronghold. To accomplish this, it was necessary to offer to Argentina more than she received from Germany, and also to indicate by convincing measures, that Argentina had no chance of holding on to her Nazi-born prosperity.

Allies Take Risk

The Allies took a great risk in their policy toward Argentina. They decided on an ultimatum which would leave complete economic blockade as the only alternative to playing ball on their side. The import from Argentina is very vital to the United Nations, and it was only hoped that a stop in the flow of goods from Argentina to the outside world would hurt Argentina more than the Allies.

On January 26, Argentina had given in. Buenos Aries announced the breaking of diplomatic relations with Germany and Japan.

Aside from the fact the one partner has been forced into the pact, the Western Hemisphere collaboration is now complete as far as the war goes. Argentina will receive Lend Lease instead of dollars for her meat and wheat, and Nazis are out of the continent. The Big Stick has worked again, and Mr. Hull has lost one of his biggest headaches. 

I couldn't help but sing "Don't Cry for me Argentinaaaa" while reading this article. 

My first reaction to this article is that Argentina is acting super shady, and seems to actually have the upper hand in this political game. Everyone wants to have a friend in Argentina, and she is happy to let them pay for her allegiance. Here's the thing though, this makes Argentina like a mercenary- they'll go with the highest bidder. Or they'll play for both sides. The insurance policy for the Allies is the ability to cut off trade with Argentina. 

Clearly, Argentina makes a fiscal judgement here. The Nazis are losing (slowly but surely) and the Allies are quick to point out that the Germans might not be able to be a high bidder for much longer. The Lend-Lease Act (read about it here you history nerds!) was basically a "put it on my tab" for any country who was willing to use the money for the Allied cause. The US did a ton of lending, but they also did some leasing too. For the US, this was in her best interest in terms of security and returning the world order to one amenable to the US. It was a very risky move (I think) and a big bill to pay, but it ultimately seems to have been the right move. 

This Big Stick policy Opa refers to is one named after Roosevelt's foreign policy habits, based on his famous quote "Speak softly, carry a big stick." Essentially, the phrase is about a morally justified bullying of a country or group to do what you want them to do. The US had some power to wield a Big Stick, and they needed Argentina to just stop being a thorn in their side. So- with the threats of a blockade, and promise of entry into this Lend-Lease contract- Argentina decides to cash in. 

Here is where I learn (am still learning) as a newly minted history nerd that moral absolutes do not have much of a place in political maneuvering. Is Argentina wholly "good" and does every citizen pledge allegiance to a free world under the example of the United States and other Allies? Not so much. They have not had a change of heart about who are the "good guys." They have a change of heart about which friend will benefit them the most. Winning a war, and getting ahead in any negotiations, often means just that: negotiating. Deals are made to make everyone happy, or at least to make the needs met. Argentina needed to have an economy- who cares who provides it. The US needed Argentina to close off the Western Hemisphere to Europe and Asia, who cares whether their intentions are pure. Maybe this is why people see politicians as so wishy-washy and sketchy: a lot of what they do behind the scenes involves bending and compromising to make things work. 

I like how the Argentine police force makes some arrests of Nazis after they officially join the Allied cause. I am fairly certain this was more a publicity stunt and less a real desire to rid their country of Nazis. In fact, I have read articles talking about Nazis being found in Argentina years later, and brought out of hiding in order to be prosecuted for their crimes. Argentina was a nest for Nazi activity, and that likely didn't completely go away even after they joined the Allies. This seems like a big risk for the Allies to give supplies and cooperation to a country who had been a headquarters for  Nazi spies essentially. I'm reminded that there is always a LOT more going on underneath the surface, and I'm sure that there were eyes and ears everywhere. The Allies must have felt confident they could keep the Nazi spies/collaborators under their thumb.

Argentina, you are an interesting country! I know embarrassingly little about South America and the history and politics of that continent. I'll have to do some more searching. 

In the meantime, my biggest take-away is that compromise can sometimes mean shaking hands while holding your nose. And sometimes that might be the best you can do.

Friday, June 8, 2018

January, 1944: Engineer- Buck Rogers

Article by Opa in the Engineer Magazine of Kansas State College


engineering Digest

By Tom Doeppner, E.E. '44

Weapon Improvements

The Army of the U.S. is the greatest military machine in the world because of the men that are a part of it and the men that make their fighting equipment. To maintain our position at the top the Ordinance Dept. is constantly working on methods of improving the Weapons that we now have.

One recent improvement has been on the Bazooka, see Engineering Digest for November. The new model, officially known as Rocket Launcher M1, A1 is equipped with a conical wire screen which protects the gunner from the muzzle blast. A new type of sight has been added which makes for a more rapid lining up of the target. Also, a circuit tester for the firing system is now a part of every weapon.

The new weapons are not the only target for improvements. One of the oldest weapons, the bayonet, is also in for some improvements and modifications. The new type now in use s shorter than the old 15 1/2 inch model and is therefore much more versatile and convenient. The shortening of the blade has also saved some 362 tons of high carbon steel this year. A new method of manufacture, they are now made as stampings, has greatly reduced the number of man hours required.

The old Springfield 1903 rifle is in for some work in this war. The rifle has been fitted with a launcher-adaptor and is now used as a grenade thrower. The grenade is propelled by expanding gases from a special shell fired in the chamber. The weapon will throw a grenade faster than the usual method but is lighter and easier to handle than a mortar. It is superior to the Japanese knee mortar.

The M-3 Machine Gun

The new M-3 submachine gun first came off the production line in April 1943 four months after the first tests were made and eight months after the need for such a gun was foreseen. The gun resembles a 25th century "Buck Rogers" weapon. Its outstanding features are: Endurance under adverse conditions, reliability, accuracy, low rate of fire and portability. The weapon is as simple as it could possibly be made. No tools are needed to take the gun down or in assembling. When disassembled there are only 23 component parts and only 73 individual pieces. It is all metal, most of the parts being stampings in order to speed production. The magazine holds 30 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition. The slow role of fire makes it possible to keep better control of the gun ad to be more accurate with it and also makes it possible to fire only one shot at a time if so desired. The gun as an eight inch barrel, removable stock and weighs less than eight lbs. All working parts are enclosed fully to protect them from dirt, dust, mud, and water. There are no projecting moving parts to endanger the operator.

The infantry reported that in comparison with standard weapons the new submachine gun was more accurate, easier to control, has less recoil, and a slower rate of fire which made each shot more effective. The Armored Force reported that even under conditions of excessive dust incident to tank operations in the desert it could be depended on to delver accurate, deadly fire.

So overwhelming was the superiority of the new submachine gun that it would not be possible to supply American soldiers with any other submachine gun. Furthermore, with a unit cost of less than $20, a 50 percent reduction in man-hours, and a 25 percent reduction in machine-tool requirements for the new submachine gun you have a combination which means manpower to the Army, and trouble to the Axis.

Air Planes Tested by Wind Tunnels

Dr. Thatcher, co-ordinator of civilian pilot training at Union College, Schenectady, has the following comments to make regarding the wind tunnel:

"A wind tunnel is a tunnel, big enough to hold an airplane, in which a powerful wind is generated by propellers. It is used for testing the flying characteristics of airplane and models of planes. One of the new installations of the N.A.C.A. has a wind tunnel that goes up to more than 500 miles an hour."

"The flow of air in a wind tunnel can be charted with smoke and photography. There are many types of wind tunnels of different sizes. Some are vertical for testing miniature planes in spins, for example."

"A wind tunnel is entirely enclosed. You might say that the passage of air in a wind tunnel is a closed circuit. After air has passed by the plane being tested, it is guided back and blown through again. That is the best way to build up a tremendous wind blast and control it."

"Turbulent air currents are different from normal air currents, and often have a different effect on an airplane. But great progress has been made in recent years in smoothing out the air flow in wind tunnels. Then, too, there is the factor of air density." 

"For example, if a half-size airplane is being tested, it would not be subject to the same type of air flow as a full-sized airplane in the same air. Engineers solve the problem of compressing the air to twice normal density if they are testing a half-size model. In this way, they can duplicate full-scale effects by changing the density of the air according to the size of the model."

"To test the behavior of a full-size ship flying in a high altitude, the air in the tunnel can be 'thinned-out' by creating a partial vacuum. Workers in these extra-dense or extra-thin atmospheres have to go through decompression chambers just like sandhogs in tunnel construction."

"There are smaller wind tunnels for special purposes, such as high velocity tunnels for studying propellers. The new super-sonic tunnels have a speed of more than 1000 miles an hour. And then, there are vertical tunnels for testing the spinning characteristics of small models."

"This wind tunnel is not only important," Dr. Thatcher asserted, "it is vital in securing the most efficient aircraft for the Air Fares and well worth the cost and trouble. Now that we are at war - and long before, for that matter - the main emphasis has been on fighting aircraft for the Army and Navy."

My favorite advertisement is definitely the one that simply says:

Johns' Candy Kitchen

I mean, what more do you need to know - it's a kitchen full of candy. Ha!

Ok- the article. I'm a little bit laughing at Opa's skill in quoting Dr. Thatcher for close to a half of his entire article. I imagine he took one look at Dr. Thatcher's words and thought: "I can't really improve on this, I'll just let him talk about it." Dr. Thatcher had lots to say and I started thinking of that teacher in Charlie Brown "wah-wah-wah wah". It is interesting information, but quite a dry delivery. But it's efficient, as well as Opa's method of quoting it verbatim.

I actually have some experience with wind tunnels, sort of. My Dad worked as a helicopter test pilot for the Air Force and then as a civilian before retiring a few years ago. One of the few times I got to witness his work was when he and his crew used the climactic chamber in the panhandle of Florida. It was a wind tunnel, but with the added benefit of snow. The chamber was able to mock winter weather, and in the summer in Florida when I visited- it was kind of a wild experience. Testing a helicopter in pretend snow while chained to the ground is a much more efficient and safe way to work out some of the kinks in the engineering. So- I agree with Dr. Thatcher- wind tunnels are a big deal. And pretty impressive to see.

Opa's article was actually disturbing me before I got distracted by the long quote on wind tunnels. It is a laundry list of killing machines, with a sterile observation of the ease and efficiency with which it killed. All of these fancy new weapons have only one goal: kill people. I know, I know, they protect people, "just war" and all that, I know. It still stinks. War is still terrible, and the nonchalant way of talking about killing people more efficiently just chilled me. 

A nice break in the killing talk was when Opa referenced 25th Century Buck Rogers. I thought- what the heck is that?! Oh readers- what a weird and hilarious rabbit hole I went down to find the answer. First, if you google 25th Century Buck Rogers- you will be taken to mentions of a super campy sci-fi tv show/movie. These aired in the late 70s, early 80s- but weren't the first film adaptation. 25th Century Buck Rogers was a comic strip about a man who was frozen in time after the first world war (the man and how he was frozen changes a bit with different variations)- but he wakes up in the 25th century to a futuristic world. So a reference to 25th Century Buck Rogers means that the weapon in question is very futuristic looking. I don't usually recommend Wikipedia, but for a brief and entertaining overview that might not be perfectly accurate, go here.

It's January, 1944. Opa is talking about new weapons and no one has a clue that one of the most horrific and destructive new weapons, the atomic bomb, is on the horizon. Shortening a bayonet to save steel may seem clever, but an explosion that decimates a city? Unheard of. It shows what happens with the weapons race if we keep going. Ultimately we all have the power and ability to kill all life on earth. Can we stop now, please? 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

January 30, 1944: It's Complicated

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper: The Mercury Chronicle


New Allied Landings Are Strategic Masterpieces

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He s a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theatre carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretations of the war in Europe.

Thomas W. Doeppner

The fighting in Italy is coming to a climax. After nearly half a year of essential stalemate, resulting in a suicidal, inefficient war of position, the Allies have taken the initiative again at exactly the right time. The Germans have spent much time and effort as well as badly needed manpower to build their new defense line in Italy, the so-called Adolf Hitler line.

Just when this line was nearing completion, the Germans moved one of their coastal defense divisions south for the reinforcement of their new inland defenses.

At that time, with perfect surprise, the Allies struck. Beach-heads were established south and southwest of Rome, and before the Germans were able to obtain an accurate official picture of the new invasions, the invasion troops were several miles inland.

Cut Axis In Two

The significance of these landings is far greater than that of previous landings in many military and non-military respects. Militarily, they may accomplish what Salerno failed to accomplish: to split the Axis forces in Italy in two. The fact that the landings occurred north of the new Adolf Hitler line makes this line completely ineffective. The occupation of Rome as been brought closer by possibly as much as several months.

Joseph Goebbels will have one of his toughest nuts to crack. It was less than two weeks before these landings that he boasted before a nation-wide audience about the care and efficiency with which Europe has been prepared for and protected against an invasion. According to him, there was not a foot of coastline in Europe where the Germans were not ready to fight the invader instantly.

How devastating the reports of new Allied landings in Italy must have been on the morale of the German people in the face of these Goebbels promises can be gathered from the fact that the German Propaganda Ministry waited almost 48 hours before breaking the news to the German public. No reports have been received yet about German public reaction to the landings from Swedish or Swiss newsmen, which indicates that the Germans have tightened their censoring belts.

Eisenhower's Hope

A strategic reason for the Allied new landings has to do with the upcoming invasion. Eisenhower definitely is interested in having the Italian battle over with before the major spring invasion will be launched. The Italian operations will probably have to go on until the Allies have reached a line in Northern Italy, close to the Alps, where it will be assured that German Mediterranean strength will be reduced to their Pyrennean holdings. If this has been accomplished, it might be possible to take the British Eight and possibly part of the American Fifth Army out of Italy and use them at a place where they will be more effective.

Naturally, the Allies are still a far way from having obtained their goals in Italy. The occupation of Rome will mean nothing strategically; its effect will be only in a propagandistic way. For this reason, it might be possible that the Allies will outflank Rome for the time being in favor of their northward march. Before doing this, however, they will test the defenses of Rome in order to find out what the possibilities are to take this town in the Stalingrad way.

The importance of the Italian campaign has lately been underestimated in favor of the Russian gains. It should not be forgotten, however, that Italy gives a preview of the spring and summer fighting in Europe. Methods are being tried out and improved on this fighting front, and it seems probable that a great number of the men who fought at Salerno and ?? will be among the first ones to fight in France, Belgium, and Holland.

I feel like I need to mention this caveat every handful of articles by Opa: that introduction is full of things we cannot prove. The best guess is that they are hyperbole of real events, or at the very least the editor's attempt to validate a young German writing editorials about the war. We know that Opa escaped Germany and spent time with his Dad at the paper in Amsterdam. We don't know what his time looked like, if he was in fact interned in a camp, and how extensive his "travel" around the continent really was as a high schooler. 

Now to his article, this episode in military history was quite unknown to me, and as Opa pointed out, it seems that many people weren't super attentive to the Italian front.

So of course, I did a little research. And as I should always say- when I do "a little" research, it usually means that I've gone online to some reputable source to dig a little deeper. What it doesn't mean is that I've exhausted all my sources. There is a good amount of research in this blog that is very thorough- but when I'm checking into battle data, I take the wide-scope approach and hope that if I have bad data, someone will call me out on it. I do try to make sure I'm looking at reputable sources. Sorry- that was another long caveat. 

The battle or "surprise" Allied advance that Opa speaks so cavalierly of appears to be the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. What I've learned is that Opa over-simplified a bit, and also called the game before it was over. He alludes to a tough "war of position" that created a sort of stalemate on the Italian front. He was right about that, and upon closer investigation I realized just how much of a struggle it was. The irony is that the reason it was so difficult was because the Germans were doing a good job of holding their defensive line. Opa underplays that by making it sound like the troops were just playing a dangerous and chaotic game of tag where no one wins. But the Germans were holding their ground. 

Then Opa compliments the Allies and writes that at just the perfect time, the Allies strike and surprise the weak link of the German defensive line. Well, sort of. The Allies do take advantage of a weaker defensive line (troops were moved inland), but it wasn't easy. Which leads me to believe that the Germans knew what they were doing, that they believed they had the ability to hold the line and spare some troops to go elsewhere. And they kind of did, at least for a bit. 

The battle that ensued was later called the "Stalingrad of Italy." For reference, the battle of Stalingrad is regarded as the turning point in the war when the Allies gained the upper hand. Also, the casualties are unfathomable: 800,000 on the Axis side, over 1,140,00 on the Allied side (Russian soldiers and civilians). It was not an easy fight. So in Italy, the surprise offensive move by the Allies into Germany's super tough defensive line- was not easy or painless. The mortality rate was high on both sides, as of the writing of this article, the Allies had a fragile upper-hand. Later there would be a second battle of Monte Cassino, where the Germans would almost win. 

Something else I found fascinating in reading about these battles was the absolute diversity on the Allied side. There were troops from the US (specifically a Texas division), Australia, England, Morocco, France, Nepal, India, Algeria, New Zealand, and I'm sure places I missed. In the second phase of the battle there is special mention of the Ghurkas. I had never heard of them, but apparently they are part of a super elite military fighter that still exist today. If you google them, you'll find they are assigned to guard some of the most important political meet-ups (like say, the upcoming meeting that might happen between the US and N. Korea).

The sheer coordination of all these moving parts astounds me. I can see why they call it the war "theatre." The folks calling the shots are playing a wicked game of "choose your own adventure" with human lives as moving pawns on the world's stage. The smartest one gets the best story, and hopes that there are as few surprises as possible. But in any adventure, people definitely die. 

Opa teases the Germans in this article about how they must be walking around with their tails between their legs about this breaking of the defensive line. We know because of the gift of hindsight that he speaks a little too soon, even though in the battle the eventual victory was still ours. 

However, I'm starting to taste some Allied propaganda in his articles, and though I understand the purpose of optimism and bragging in a war, I'm a teensy bit disappointed. I'm not exactly sure why. I guess because I feel like he is buying into the whole "us and them" war rah rah rah narrative. Even though he was a "them"- and knows that Germans are not all Nazis. His friends are likely dying on the warfront in Nazi uniform, with no choice to do otherwise. He may have found a way out, but he was incredibly lucky. Just a few years ago he was struggling with Quaker ideals, telling the US government he would never serve in the military. I know people change (and are certainly allowed to) but part of me misses the softer Opa. War doesn't allow us to stay soft, does it? 

Opa's article simplifies a complicated battle in a complicated war. I hope Opa does not over-simplify his own nuanced and complicated self in the meantime. The narrative of winners and losers helps during the game, but afterward we're all in the same world and we have to figure out a way to be together. It's complicated.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

January 23, 1944: Poor Poland

Article by Opa for the Manhattan, Kansas Newspaper "The Mercury Chronicle"


Compromise of Polish Controversy Possible

Editor’s Note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee and his Interpretation of developments in the European war theater carry the weight of his internment camp experience in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury-Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe. 

By Thomas W. Doeppner

From “reliable Greek and Yugoslav sources”, Moscow had heard that a meeting had taken place between two officials of the British foreign office and Joachim von Ribbentrop, German foreign minister, to discuss the conditions for a separate peace between Britain and Germany. 

Naturally, this is one of the most doubtful stories yet to come out of war propaganda. Regardless of whether or not there is any truth to the story, the fact remains that Pravda printed it, which means that the Kremlin wanted it printed. Washington was careful to refrain from any official comment, London was outraged and issued a flat and immediate denial. Moscow was not very apologetic. There was a definite amount of tension between the Russians and the British last week, which could not be overlooked by any realistic observer. 

One reason for this was that the Polish controversy had not been solved yet: Eden did his best to get the Poles to give in to Russian demands, the Poles tried to save what could be saved, while Moscow was peeved at Allied attempts at interference, saying that the Russo-Polish border question was Russia’s exclusive business. 

Boundaries by Acts of War

It has been said the “old” Polish line which the Russians now are crossing was established by Polish invasion of Russian territory, and some people seem to believe that this is enough justification for the Russians to retake a part of Poland. It should be remembered, however, that there is hardly a mile of border line in Europe outside of natural borders, which has not been created in the course of centuries by repeated acts of war, thus so-called invasions.

Will Russia sign?

During this war, for the first time, however, there has been advanced a document like the Atlantic Charter, one point of which tends to do away with these old boundary troubles: those undersigned pledged themselves not to seek any territorial aggrandizement. Russia has not signed this document and from all appearances has no intentions to.

It is necessary to realize that Russia is not a democratic nation in the way in which we apply this term and also that she is working for her own interests just as much as we are working and fighting for ours. Those who do not realize this important item in Russo-American and Russo-British relations may be very much disappointed one day to find an Europe under Russian and non-democratic influence. 

This does by no means imply that there is any danger or even a probability of trouble between Russia and the other Allies. Russia is fighting the war against Germany on our side, is doing the best and most effective job of it and no words can express the gratitude we owe to the Russians for the job. What it does mean is that the Russian problem has not been solved by Teheran or other conferences, and, in spite of all pacts and conferences, the immediate cause of the beginning of this war was the violation of the integrity of the Polish border.

Satisfactory Compromise

Fortunately, the events of last week have shown that a satisfactory compromise on the Polish controversy is possible and probable. It should not be forgotten, however, that this compromise which will have to be endorsed by the British, will be in conflict with the principles of the Atlantic Charter. 

Oh Poland. You knew, they knew, everyone knew. But you hoped. It sounds like Russia doesn't care what anybody thinks about what they should do. And that's pretty much what everyone expected. Opa makes a good point, the Allies are grateful for Russia's help (a huge help) in winning the war against the Germans. The unfortunate part is that after being a help, they'll turn back into that communist country that no one really trusts. 

Opa even says: remember, they aren't a democracy like we are, and when they have control of half of Europe, it's going to make us uncomfortable. But it seems everyone at this point is shrugging their shoulders about the whole Poland thing. Oh well, it breaks the Atlantic Charter. We'll let Russia draw their borders where it wants. I love when Opa points out just how arbitrary borders really are. When Russia makes the argument that the borders they want to create are the REAL original borders, Opa just jabs at the fallacy of the argument.

I think that the Anglo-American side of the Allies are hoping a truce in the Poland bit will get them some diplomatic leverage in other areas. 

In the meantime, Russia simply does not care about your organized diplomacy. If WW2 Russia were a fictional character in a movie, he'd be the villain you love to hate... and hate that you kinda admire.