Monday, May 11, 2015

The Taboos of World War II

The Taboos of World War II
Hitler did not play so badly his last letter huh? Christer Bergström surprises with its review of the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive on the Western Front, which is the 70th anniversary. The battle of the bulge, or protrusion, fought in excruciating conditions in the winter of 1944-45 for almost seven weeks, was one of the great clashes of the Second World War and the last great offensive of the German army on the Western Front . The images of the Tiger and Panther tanks moving on the snow hastily, American soldiers digging trenches in the frozen ground and relentless fighting in forests, villages and crossroads are part of the most iconic of the contest, as well as They are among the emblematic names of Malmedy, Bastogne, the air operation Bodenplatte, Kampfgruppe Peiper and Skorzeny commands which caused great confusion with infiltrating enemy uniform. Hitler gave the best he had, 300,000 soldiers (many ghostly in white), 1,800 tanks and tank destroyers, 2,400 aircraft, in a desperate attempt to change the course of the war. 

The attack, which began on December 16, caught the Allies, who, six months after the landing in Normandy, gave the war finished almost completely unprepared. After a promising start, struggles tremendous brutality and a tenacious defense of the famous US troops' is the reply of General McAuliffe of the 101st Airborne by requiring the surrender of Bastogne: "Nuts!" (And an egg! in free version) - the Germans were forced to stop their advance without getting the new Dunkirk that sought his Führer. Numerous books and movies have recreated the fight, among the latter, the most famous Battle of the Bulge (1965) with its famous scene of the very young German car crews chanting filled the Panzerlied- esprit de corps, Fire in the snow (1949) and In the Line of Attack (1992), not forgetting the two relevant chapters of the TV series Band of Brothers (probably the best).

On the 70th anniversary of the battle, and waiting for the imminent release of the new and awaited book by Antony Beevor on her, she has appeared in Spain Ardennes battle (Past & Present), a monumental and detailed testing of the Swedish military historian Christer Bergström that in addition to an unusual perspective offers a stunning reinterpretation of that shock, stressing that any veteran who has interviewed consider any kind anecdote and just terrible things. "Clearly it was one of the most horrific wartime experiences of these men," he says. Some images from the book are stored in memory, as the German regiment advancing the race yelling "Yankee bastards!", US troops discovered on January 13 that frozen prisoners executed by the SS in cadavers Malmedy road in December still lying on the spot where the shot down, the Panther that mingles and gets into a column of Sherman tanks or fighting with grenades in a house of Thirimont in which each side occupying one floor.

Bergström, author of 22 books on World War II, started his very detailed account of the battle of more than seven hundred pages from the point of view of one of the armored units launched into the Meuse with an eye to the port of Antwerp: all a declaration of principles because one of the things the book that surprises the reader, accustomed to the Anglo-Saxon versions, is that very often the narrative of events is offered from the perspective of the German side. But there is more: Bergström considered that the Germans were better prepared than it is generally considered that his morale was high, excellent material, its very good commanders and Hitler did not walk so far off as people think in their plans. The operation was not absolutely doomed to failure and in some aspects it was even "master".

"The offense was not doomed," says the Swedish historian
First things first, the situation of the German army was not so bad at the end of 1944? "In November-December at all," says the author, who was with veterans in Bastogne in December to mark the anniversary of the battle. "The fact that the Germans had managed to stop the Western Allies on the border of his country, the victory of Arnhem, the promise of new wonder weapons (reactors, rockets, electric submarines, etc.) and, not least, the Morgenthau plan of the British and Americans more or less established industrial destruction of Germany had raised the morale of fighting so that in many cases even exceeded the level usual in the early stages of the war. " As for the military, the Swedish historian is very clear: "The Germans were absolutely superior in major fields, actually for the first time in the war. Königstiger or heavy tank Tiger II surpassed anything the Allies had -in January 1945, two of them wiped out an entire company of tanks Sherman, without suffering rasguño-, and no medium tank could compete with Panther. They had the first assault rifle in the world, Sturmgewehr 44, and the jet Me-262 and Ar 234 were totally superior in the air. "


German prisoners walk past a Sherman and a Willys jeep during the Battle of the Bulge.
The book shows that the German Ardennes offensive was not a desperate but had real chances of success attempt. "In fact, from the perspective of Hitler, it was the smartest thing you could do while waiting for the next Russian offensive on the Vistula. It was carefully planned and prepared and failed mainly by two factors that could not have occurred: first, because the lines of German supplies were cut by the Allied aircraft when the weather improved the eighth day of the offensive, and second, because the SS, less competent than the regular army, the Wehrmacht, they were instead the responsibility of achieving the most important goals. But these two factors, as I say, could have varied. If the Germans had repositioned its aviation elite deployed on the eastern front, in the West, the Allied aviation probably would not have been able to cut German supply lines. Then, the Germans would have had a 50% chance to reach Antwerp, cut into two Allied forces and surround the group of armies of Montgomery. "The best German aircraft was in the East?" Exactly. 

There was a huge difference between the pilots of both fronts. While most airmen in the West were in 1944 rookies inadequately trained, an important part of the Germans in Eastern pilots were what Americans standards describe as aces. There you had guys like Erich Hartmann and Gerhard Barkhorn with 300 victories each, or ground attack pilots like Hans-Ulrich Rudel experienced 2,000 combat missions. The German pilots experienced 500 combat sorties or more were not uncommon in the East in late 1944. Allied pilots in the West did not have that experience. "

In clear and football terms: the best German in the field were Americans? "Yes, their commanders were better, their tactics were better, many of his troops were more motivated (with the exception of US airborne troops) and their armament was better, except artillery also US". Bergström is even more controversial when asked if he should rethink the (in) ability to Hitler as a military commander. "I think we should. Although Hitler had no high military education, he had tried to have an intuition of the possibilities in the field. The attacks in the West in 1940 and 1944 are good examples. However, this intuition failed him several times at the end of the war, most notably perhaps in Falaise on August 44. But the idea to attack in the Ardennes in order to then catch the armies of Montgomery was brilliant. "

The Taboos of World War II
The Germans had better tanks and morale was high. Returning to the SS, the book emphasizes again and again that the Wehrmacht fought better in the Ardennes SS against the topic of the Waffen SS were higher. "Without a doubt it was. Many testimonies, control of the Wehrmacht and the US testify to the fact that the SS rather sloppily fought as amateurs, during the Battle of the Bulge. That was the rule, though with notable exceptions for rookie SS troops on its first deployment on the battlefield throughout the Second World War. "

What about Americans fought what was his worst battle of the war, and low intensity? "By all accounts airborne troops did well as other units such as the 30th and 84th Infantry Divisions. But overall I have to say that considering its growing numerical advantage one would have expected that the US Army will behave better in a number of cases during the battle. Patton's counteroffensive, which actually was a big failure when compared with their objectives, is a case in which one can see that the Germans have enjoyed the same advantages, would probably have been much more successful. "

"The SS troops fought in a rather sloppy"
Sweden seems to be bring a different perspective, perhaps more objective, more neutral to the history of World War II. "I think it's just natural that you're influenced by the prospect of the society in which they live, which in many cases is your own country. Moreover, when it comes to military history much of what you think is influenced by the war propaganda of the time. That necessarily have a major influence on the way you learn history. So being a neutral country is a great advantage if your desire is to provide a neutral and objective description of a battle like this. " One of the most surprising conclusions of Bergström is that the battle was a victory for ... the Soviets. "Absolutely. The Ardennes offensive weakened the Western Allies; particularly materially and psychologically I had a detrimental impact on their own offensive plans, and became extremely cautious. Thanks to that, the Soviet Union succeeded in capturing Berlin credit. " The story has, according to the historian, a shocking corollary: a German victory in the Ardennes could have guessed that two German cities were victims of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead. "If Hitler had managed to surround and annihilate the army may Montgomery, maybe it would have been able to hold out until the summer of 1945. In that case, the atomic bombs would probably have launched against Germany, as was the original plan. As it happened, the Germans surrendered before the atomic bombs were available ".


US soldiers traveling in the front during the Battle of the Bulge
Christer Bergström agrees that now is the time to make a good modern film about the battle. "That's right, the battle of the bulge has everything it takes to make a war movie success: the drama of combat, the miracle when the skies cleared at the last minute permirtiendo air forces US save their ground troops, the unexpected return of the Germans in January 1945, the infighting among Allied generals (particularly Patton and Montgomery), and the two female angels who worked as nurses and saved many lives in the besieged Bastogne. " The historian remembers well the scene of German tank crewmen Panzerlied singing in films of 1965. "That scene was the brainchild of General Meinrad von Lauchert, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, Knight's Cross with oak leaves, which commanded a the German spearheads during the offensive, and was an adviser to the film. " The last film about World War II, Fury, with Brad Pitt, says he recently talked with several veterans of the armored forces estadouniodenses who served in the Battle of the Bulge and all agree that Fury is one of war films more realistic they have never seen. Obviously, I have to share that view. "

The battle that shocked Europe, the Battle of Poltava, Peter Englund, the beauty and pain of battle, the same author, and its own Ardennes seem to show a rise of Swedish military history. "The first book that mentions Englund paved the way for a new interest in military history in Sweden. The books of history, particularly military history and especially on World War II are very popular in Sweden. The Swedish edition of my book Ardennes sold 3,000 copies in six months and has become a second edition, which is not bad in a country of 9 million inhabitants. "

Editorial fight for a battle
German officials at a meeting during the Battle of the Bulge. Bergström's book of 780 pages, has come to the Spanish bookstores before that of Antony Beevor, 570, on the same subject. So, somehow, Gonzalo Pontoon, the editor of Past & Present, has gotten a head start in the battle of the bulge paper on this 70th anniversary of the confrontation. The fact that Beevor Pontoon was editor in Critical and then, out of that editorial and create the new, British historian he published his book The Second World War (2012) is given. But now Beevor, the name current reference of military history, has returned to where published Ardennes Review 1944, which goes on sale on May 19 (the Spanish translation occurs at about the same time as the original English, as published these days). Bergström you had the feeling of having won a battle? "I actually did not know that Beevor planned to write a book about the Ardennes when I wrote mine, which dates from 2013," says the Swedish historian. "My goal was to finish my book for the 70th anniversary. I never thought in a competition between Beevor and if that's what it suggests. I do not know how he analyzes the battle, but it will be interesting to see. I am sure that both he and I have things to learn from the battle of the bulge of each other ".

In a quick comparison of urgency, an analysis of Beevor's more classic: the British historian adheres to the canonical version of the German offensive, which greatly despised fighting ability of US troops, he had no future and Hitler was wrong to throw sacrificing men and material had been more profitable in the East. The British again underlines its literary quality, its clarity, its amenities, its irony, its capacity for human story (alcoholism Von Rundstedt, the suggestion that Monty suffered from Asperger syndrome, farmers hands that leverage remains armored and other military vehicles for agricultural and personal use, including installing a Kübelwagen armchairs in the living room), and intelligence to capture some views taken into account, as the suffering of Belgian civilians or atrocity of phosphorous bombs.

Surprised to see the little space Bergström far more focused on the more technical aspects Beevor- military dedicated to the infamous massacre of 84 American prisoners at Malmedy (Baugnez strictly speaking). The Swedish view that has already talked enough about it; while British explains in depth, including the detail of snow in the empty sockets of the bodies: pure Beevor. In any case both stress that this slaughter, which quickly spread among combatants contributed to brutalize the war and, as emphasized put Beevor revenge "on the agenda" moving "the horrific brutality of the Eastern Front to the West". Both also agree that it really took slice of the battle were the Soviets. Beevor adds that the British were defeated morally against the US for its little role.

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