Flames Across the World: Trollheart's Comprehensive History of World War II - Music Banter Music Banter

Go Back   Music Banter > The MB Reader > Members Journal
Register Blogging Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read
Welcome to Music Banter Forum! Make sure to register - it's free and very quick! You have to register before you can post and participate in our discussions with over 70,000 other registered members. After you create your free account, you will be able to customize many options, you will have the full access to over 1,100,000 posts.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-17-2021, 12:01 PM   #11 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

When the List Regiment were ordered to the slaughterhouse that was The Somme on October 2 1916, Hitler found the terrain far different to any he had encountered in other battles, such as Fromelles a few months before. He still had to jump from shell-crater to shell-crater in order to make his way, but the muck here was unlike anything he had experienced up to that. Indeed, back at Fromelles and Fournes the weather had made battle impossible, as each side dug in and awaited the departure of the rain and for the ground to be traversable. But the Somme was a constant, perpetual, almost living thing, the battle never stopping, never pausing, men being cut down on every side, artillery firing, rain slanting down and soaking to the skin, mud sucking like quicksand as the feet tried to move, dead left where they fell. There was no pause, no let-up, and again to use the old English cricket term, rain did not stop play. Orders were given, countermanded, conflicted, confused, and things got so dangerous that as many as six runners would be sent out with the same message, in the hope that at least one would get through.

Even the war-mad and fanatical Hitler must have lost some of his enthusiasm in this atmosphere of despair, death and debacle. No hot food for a week, dysentery running rampant through the trenches, his regiment shrinking day by day as more men were killed, it was his comrade Brandmayer who put it into words: “The arena in the west no longer concerned the waging of war, but the inhuman extermination of a young generation. After a week we already imagined ourselves to be living in the burning and bottomless pit of hell.” Worse was to come.

A massive offensive by the English took place on October 7, involving some of the worst and most desperate fighting of the battle. Hitler, however, would miss it, to his great chagrin. His legendary luck finally running out on October 5, he was wounded when a shell landed in the crater he had jumped into and, over his protestations, was evacuated to Berlin. Though he was delighted to be back in his Fatherland, this joy soon faded as he took in the general atmosphere around Berlin and Munich, blaming the mood of depression and defeatism, as he would everything for the rest of his miserable life, on the Jews.

“Clearly there was dire misery everywhere. The big city was suffering from hunger. Discontent was great. In various soldiers’ homes the tone was like that in the hospital. It gave you the impression that these scoundrels were intentionally frequenting such places in order to spread their views. But much, much worse were conditions in Munich itself! The offices were filled with Jews. Nearly every clerk was a Jew and nearly every Jew was a clerk. I was amazed at this plethora of warriors of the chosen people and could not help but compare them with their rare representatives at the Front. As regards economic life, things were even worse. Here the Jewish people had become really ‘indispensable.’ The spider was slowly beginning to suck the blood out of the peoples’ pores”

On his return to his regiment (having been originally assigned to a different one but pleading or demanding to be sent back to the List) Hitler was not slow to denounce the traitors and slackers, the Jews and the Communists promoting munitions strikes back home, and so leaving him and his comrades without the necessary weapons to defend themselves. This time his speeches and rhetoric struck home, and people listened, and Hitler no doubt learned a valuable lesson about the timing of political speeches; at a time when people are hungry, railing against striking bakers or the unfair price of bread will be received with much more enthusiasm than it will when bellies are full, so to speak.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 must have been a strange dichotomy for Hitler. On the one hand, he would have been enraged to see the monarchy subverted and replaced by a rabble of Communist Reds, proving his claim that Russia would soon be overwhelmed by Communism (as it was). On the other hand, the troubles at home weakened the Russian fighting forces and soon they would be impelled to leave the war altogether, thus surely heralding good news for Germany. The entrance of the United States into the war was a setback for Germany, but in reality didn’t change the outcome, as they joined the fight too late to make much impact. What did make an impact, undoubtedly, was the appearance for the first time ever of armoured vehicles, huge machines of steel that could crawl over terrain men could not hope to negotiate, that were mostly impervious to small-arms fire and which surely struck terror into the hearts of those who saw them for the first time, including Hitler, who quickly also recognised the important part they would play, not only in this war, but in the one he would start and prosecute twenty years later.

“Our first orders for the production of tanks were issued in 1917. If we’d had 400 tanks in the summer of 1918 we’d have won the world war. It was our misfortune that the leadership at that time did not correctly recognize the significance of technical weapons . . . That the need for tanks and defences against them was not recognized by us was the ground of our downfall.”

Tanks were of course the mainstay of the lightning war, or Blitzkrieg, which won Hitler so much ground so early and allowed him to have most of Europe under his heel by 1940, a mere twelve months after declaring war. Nobody had anticipated the speed of the German attack in 1939, Hitler’s Panzers faster and more agile than the lumbering English tanks, able to drive through forest and across fields virtually unopposed, and it was the Panzers too, though phantom ones, that der Fuhrer would believe were to come to his eleventh hour rescue as Berlin fell.

In August 1918 the List Regiment moved to Alsace, which was a period of relaxation for the troops, though it was here that an unscrupulous person (whom he would no doubt later claim was a Jew, though no records of such seem to exist), after trying to buy Hitler’s dog and being rebuffed - “He offered me two hundred marks. I told him it could be two hundred thousand and you wouldn’t get him!” - abducted Foxl, causing the future leader of the Third Reich much anguish and also much anger. After they were moved to Laon, Hitler, having taken a dispatch to headquarters, came back raging against the disparity there, where men had plenty to eat and drink and lived in comfort; he snarled that they should all be thrown into the trenches. Hardly tallies with his own lifestyle as commander-in-chief later, when he would consume pastries and tea in comfort while his men fought and died in the snow of the Eastern Front. Apparently the lesson learned here was not that all men should be equal, but that as soon as possible he should join the ones who considered themselves the elite, and rise above the ordinary soldier.

In July of 1918, as the war began to enter its final months and German forces were steadily pushed back, Hitler and the List Regiment experienced bombardment from the air for the first time. Although dogfights had been duelled out between German and Allied pilots ever since aircraft entered the theatre of the war, to the men on the ground they had been at best spotters directing the artillery, at worst an annoyance, making noise as they buzzed overhead. But now they were strafing the German positions, taking down barrage balloons and dropping bombs - literally: one man holding a bomb in his hand over the side of the plane while the pilot flew, and dropping it where it could do most damage - and the enemy aircraft were suddenly a new threat the Germans had to face. I don’t know if the German fighters were doing this too, but one can only expect they would copy such a tactic, unless they believed it “ungentlemanly conduct” perhaps.

Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross First Class on August 4 1918, though the circumstances under which this happened have become so lost in rumour, Nazi folklore and propaganda and confusion that it is impossible to say why he earned the medal, except that he had, according to all reports, displayed exceptional bravery and a heedless disregard for his own life while delivering important messages. Perhaps it was a way of bolstering what must have been flagging German morale at the time. In any event, Hitler’s biographers and propagandists - most notably, of course, Goebbels - made as much of the incident as they could, recounting unlikely and increasingly bizarre and hard to believe stories relating to Hitler capturing a whole French troop by himself. Uh, yeah.

Again his guardian angel (or more likely devil) deserted him when on October 13 he was one of the victims of a mustard gas attack, went partially blind and had to be evacuated to a field hospital in Stettin, where his eyes slowly recovered and sight returned. As he lamented his faith, he had a sudden attack of self-recrimination, and there and then, having learned of Germany’s defeat and the armistice, he decided to enter politics after the war.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-04-2021, 08:14 PM   #12 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default



Hermann Goering (1893 - 1946)

“Hermann will be either a great man or a great criminal” - Fanny Goering

I: King of the Castle

In much the same way as we tend to see King Henry VIII as a fat, corpulent, sullen figure in paintings while he was, in his prime, a fine figure of a man (well let’s be honest: even an ugly king is going to be doing very well to have eight separate wives, isn’t he?) our picture of Hermann Goring tends to be coloured by the fat, smirking and preening aristocratic officer World War II made him, and he often represents some of the worst excesses of the Reich, not in terms of genocide (though he surely had a hand in that too) but in terms of I suppose you might say decadence. On the face of it, Goring seems an unlikely fit for the Nazis, who had fooled themselves into believing they were the best of mankind, despite many physical and mental shortcomings. He was, for a start, the son of an aristocrat. Hitler hated the nobility from the beginning, seeing them as part of a corrupt and morally bankrupt system of class superiority that kept the working man down. He himself had no high breeding to speak of, nor indeed had his other henchmen, but Goring’s ancestry can be traced back to a hated tax collector appointed by the Prussian King in the seventeenth century, a reviled functionary of the monarchy whom Hitler would surely have despised as much as any Jew (or whom he may have inferred was of that hated race).

Heinrich Goering, his father, was the son of a judge, and had been the Reich Minister of Namibia, then called German West Africa, though his mother, Heinrich’s second wife, at least was a peasant, believed variously to have been a barmaid from Munich or a Bavarian peasant girl, twenty years younger than her husband. Hermann was her fourth child, second son, and he was born a large child at twelve pounds, but also a lonely one. Left in the care of his relatives while his mother went to join his father and the rest of their children in his new posting at Haiti, he became solitary and sullen, and fought when his mother returned after some years to take him from what he believed was, or had come to regard as his rightful and natural home. He developed an early interest in the military, and 'His childhood play was devoted almost exclusively to waging war, leading his small army of youngsters and toy cannons against imaginary enemies of Kaiser und Vaterland [Emperor and Fatherland]. If there was any question about his leadership ... he would bash their heads together and let them know" damn quick" who was boss. For, if his beautiful uniforms and his father's position of authority were not enough to establish [Hermann's] right of dominance over his companions, his ready use of force settled any doubts on that score”.

To his delight, his godfather (and lover to his mother) the family friend Dr. Hermann Epenstein (for whom it is speculated, though not confirmed, Goering was named) purchased an old German castle, Burg Veldenstein, and invited the Goerings to come live with him in a purpose-built house there, allowing young Hermann to live out the fantasy of being some baron or duke, and giving him the undeserved air of being an aristocrat. A lack of any sort of discipline in his formative years, from a mother who probably was more interested in carrying on with her lover and hoping not to be found out and a father whose health was deteriorating after so long spent in Africa and just wanted peace and quiet led to Hermann becoming a bully and full of himself. Sure he could do anything without any fear of reprisal, this must have prepared him well for the lavish lifestyle he would later lead while second-in-command to Hitler, and given him an overconfidence in his own abilities that nobody - then, or later - was willing or brave enough to dispute.

From an early age Hermann was indoctrinated with the hatred of Jews, even though Dr. Epensein, his godfather and quite possibly his actual father, was of Jewish descent. His time at public school was when this anti-semitism burgeoned and festered within him, to the point that he trained his dog to bark at anyone suspected of being Jewish. There was also a link in his own family tree, going back to the fifteenth century, which showed one of his ancestors had come from a Jewish family, a Swiss moneylender called Eberling, who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. The truth about his genealogy was brought home bitterly to him when he wrote an essay about someone he admired - Epenstein - and his headmaster took him to task angrily telling him no German boy should write favourably about a Jew! Whether Hermann had at that time any inkling as to the possibility of the doctor being his father is unknown, but the rebuke must have been a crushing blow to his almost hero-worship of, as it were, the man in the high castle. Worse was to come, when his faux pas was disseminated through the school and he had to wear a sign saying “My godfather is a Jew” for the day, getting beaten up by the older boys. It was the last day he spent at the school.

Unable to control him, unsure what to do with him, Hermann’s parents decided to enrol him in the Prussian Cadet Academy. As the boy had expressed a desire to be “a soldier, and nothing else” this seemed a satisfactory and equitable solution. In 1904 Hermann began his training, and took to the uniforms, drills, rigid unquestioning discipline and camaraderie like a duck to water. He did so well that five years later he was able to graduate to the senior academy with a commendation from his teachers, and totally immersed himself in military life, all but eschewing his own family for his new one, somewhat as the man who would one day be his glorious leader would do in the trenches of Flanders ten years later. For both men, the army (or in Hermann’s case, so far anyway the academy and later the air force) became their home, and neither wished for any other. Graduating among the top students, he was tipped for success in a military career, and his father, delighted at the change in the boy and in his achievements, sent him off to Italy on holiday, where he began his love affair with art, viewing all the Old Masters and taking in museums and galleries as he gloried in his new status.

On his return he found that things had soured between his father and their nominal landlord, Epenstein angered at Heinrich Goering’s accusations (all true, so it would seem) of his infidelity with his wife. Having already moved on to a twenty-something new mistress and no longer bothered with Fanny (or perhaps we should waggishly say, bothered with another fanny!) the doctor left Veldenstein and, without his financial support, the Goerings were unable to stay there, and moved into an apartment in Munich. In 1913 Heinrich died and a year later, just as Adolf Hitler was enlisting as a dispatch runner, World War I about to break over Europe, Hermann signed up for the infantry.

Here he met a man who was to become his lifelong friend and help inspire an interest in flying which would stay with him for the rest of his life. Bruno Loerzer had been accepted into the flying corps and whether it was revisionist history or wishful thinking, Goering mentions the circumstances of his friend’s attraction to and induction into the flying corps as similar to his own; in fact, he may have been using this to mythologise himself later on, as Hitler and his biographers would. When the war began, Goering was still in the infantry and acquitted himself well, emulating his future fuhrer and earning himself the distinction of being awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. However, less than two months into the war he was stricken with a severe bout of rheumatoid arthritis and had to be invalided out.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-04-2021, 08:32 PM   #13 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

II: One Day to Fly…

Goering’s aviation career began in probably a way he would have not considered optimum, but it did present a solution to the problem of his arthritis. Visiting him in hospital, Loezer offered him the chance to be his observer, which would mean he could keep the wrappings on his feet and would not need to use his legs to pilot the aircraft. This suited Goering perfectly, and he trained at the flight training school with his friend. However when it came time for him to join the flying corps his commanding officer refused to give permission (unsure why) so Goering went there anyway. He could have faced court-martial for this flagrant breach of orders, but as ever, Dr. Epenstein stepped in to speak for him, declaring him unfit for trench warfare and recommending his enrolment in the Darmstadt aviation facility.

Being a pilot - even one in training - must have appealed to Goering, as traditionally aviators were seen as a cut above the common foot-soldier, the “knights of the sky”, and Goering had from an early age believed himself superior to his fellows. However life was not all roses in the Darmstadt, as Goering had to learn to photograph and also calculate distances and angles, the main role of a pilot at the onset of World War I being as an observer to direct artillery fire. Nevertheless, at the end of August he was ready for the front lines, and reported for duty with Loezer. When the Crown Prince Wilhelm became interested in aircraft, he regularly spoke and invited to the palace the young fliers, and in effect became a sort of patron for them throughout the war, further bolstering Goering’s overinflated image of his own importance. Not that in some ways he could not be said to have deserved it, being awarded an Iron Cross First Class (three years before Hitler attained his own) for a daring bombing raid conducted over Verdun, which destroyed an important gun turret.

It’s interesting, as a side note, to read about the infancy of fighter aircraft, which were generally looked on as a kind of novelty in the First World War by the derisive army. Used initially, as explained above, as reconnaissance and spotter planes to help artillery zero in, and as patrols, they graduated to being bombers, but there was no sophistication involved; the bombs were dropped by hand over the side of the aircraft. There was no targeting mechanism, nothing like radar, and it would be pure luck if one hit anything. Men would also fire guns from the aircraft, but these would not be mounted on the plane. Such technology was nowhere near ready to even be thought of yet. The propeller of the aircraft would always pose a problem so firing had to be carried out to the rear and sides by the observer. One enterprising lieutenant did try to affix a machine gun to his plane, but to his dismay it was far too heavy for his light nimble aircraft.

Kudos must then be given to the pilots and observers in these flimsy little flying machines, going up to face enemy fire (from the ground - the Allies were as handicapped as regards armament as the Germans were) with nothing more than a pistol or a rifle, or a hand-dropped bomb, took extreme courage and nerves of steel. Of course, later in the war the problem of fixed machine guns would be solved and the world would have its first proper fighter aircraft - on both sides - but in the initial stages, it really was almost a farce. You can imagine (though I highly doubt this happened) two pilots, each trying to hold the aircraft steady while the observers fired at each other! Hardly the duelling knights of the air, eh?

The breakthrough came in 1915, and probably somewhat to Goering’s chagrin was not the result of German but Dutch ingenuity. Anthony Fokker had worked out how to use an interrupter gear to prevent the machine-gun firing whenever the propeller blades were directly in front of it. Due to this innovation, the pilot himself could now fire a mounted machine-gun and the need for observers began to decline as the German Air Force took delivery of more and more single-seat aircraft. Anxious of course to be an actual pilot, and recognising that his former role was disappearing quickly, Goering applied to train as a pilot and excelled at it. It would be several months however before he could chalk up his first confirmed kill, as 1915 drew to a close.

During the Battle of Verdun Goering flew first fighters and then bombers, gaining not only experience but praise as a highly skilled pilot. He ferried officers to their destinations, made reconnaissance and observation flights, and also engaged with the enemy, scoring his first few kills, though some of these may have been doubtful as no actual impact of the enemy fighter was ever recorded. Again, the weather would intrude though, as just as Hitler and the List Regiment were unable (as were their adversaries) to fight in the muck of Flanders during winter, rain kept Goering’s squadron grounded; aircraft were of course at that time open, which is to say, there was no covering on the cockpit, and any pilot trying to fly in bad weather would risk his life, possibly blinded by the freezing wind, battered by the rain or even perhaps plucked from the cockpit if the wind was strong enough. Suffice to say, that until cockpits were enclosed there was no flying in bad weather.

In addition to medals like the Iron Cross and Knight’s Cross, Goering also earned the Ehrenbecker, or Goblet of Honour, which was something I think akin to an Academy Award, presented to pilots for bravery and accomplishment. As 1915 gave way to 1916 his friend and comrade Loezer was wounded and invalided out; surely not, but at the same time you would wonder if Goering didn’t take a tiny bit of selfish pleasure or revenge in this, as Loezer had been assigned to the Fokker monoplane, which both he and Goering greatly admired and which was far more nimble and manoeuvrable than their own more clunky Albatrosses, seven months before Goering was, and has as a result managed to rack up two more enemy kills. Once again, it seems the devil stepped in to save one of the men who would so plague the world in later life, when he and his co-pilot were saved from death even though an artillery shell blew the engine - including the propeller - right off the aircraft!

While recuperating on leave, Goering was invited to his godfather’s castle, Mautendorf, where he was reunited with his mother - with him Epenstein’s new young wife who wished to make peace - and also found love when he met Marianne Mauser. He asked for her hand in marriage, but due to his lack of lands Goering was not the sort of prospect her father was looking for in a suitor, though he grudgingly agreed to a secret engagement. His hope and belief was that the kind of work Goering was engaged in was dangerous enough that the war would probably take him, and so he would never get to marry his daughter.

Goering, however, would not only survive the war but come out of it a flying ace and a legendary folk hero, which would have fit in well with his ambitions and his rock-solid belief in himself, bordering often on arrogance. In May 1917 he was appointed squadron leader, having claimed at this point seven enemy kills, however by then British flight engineers had superceded their German counterparts, and the new aircraft rolling off the assembly lines - famous names like Sopwith Pup, SE5 and Spad - were far superior to the ageing Albatrosses flown by the German Air Force. That was, however, about to change.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-04-2021, 08:34 PM   #14 (permalink)
Zum Henker Defätist!!
 
The Batlord's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Beating GNR at DDR and keying Axl's new car
Posts: 46,485
Default

Wasn't his father also involved in the genocide in Namibia?
__________________
Quote:
Originally Posted by J.R.R. Tolkien
There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power-stations; I hope that, encouraged now as ‘patriotism’, may remain a habit! But it won’t do any good, if it is not universal.
The Batlord is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 08-05-2021, 05:15 AM   #15 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

Quite probably, though the book I read didn't specifically mention that. Like father like son, huh?
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2021, 04:24 AM   #16 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

It’s always a little hard to take anything anyone says about themselves in a positive light at face value, and you’d have to wonder at the almost superhero-like account Goering gives here of one of his squadron’s hardest (and in real terms, least believable) dogfights, but if nothing else it’s entertaining, so here it is reproduced in full from Peter Kilduff’s fine Herman Goering - Fighter Ace: The World War I Career of Germany’s Most Infamous Airman:

'Again it is a clear June day in the year 1917, not even a small cloud in the heavens. In the early morning hours, I gathered my officers and pilots about me and impressed on them all of the regulations about flying and fighting as a formation. Then I assigned each one his place in the formation and gave the final orders. I believed the new Staffel to have been sufficiently trained and I firmly decided to lead them into battle this day and .. . let them show proof of it. 'Soon after take-off the formation was assembled and we set out in the direction of the frontlines. In order to fly and fight in a more mobile way, I had the Staffel separated into two flights of five units each. I led the lower one and the upper one had to stay closely above us and follow. In the sector from Lens to Lille a relative calmness prevailed. From time to time a lone artillery spotter aeroplane moved about with great effort far behind its own lines. We flew on and on northward towarj our chief objective, the Wytschaete Salient. 'When we arrived at Ypres, we were at 5,000 metres altitude. A marvellous view of Flanders was spread out below us.

In the distant background gleamed the coast of France, stretched along the sea; we could clearly recognise Dunkerque and Boulogne; we knew that in the pale mist at the end of the horizon were the chalk cliffs of the British Isles. Below us lay Ypres and the enemy positions, which were situated around the heavily shelled city in a salient opening to the west. To the north the Flanders coast stretched on from Ostende to the mouth of the Schelde river. The Schelde itself glistened in the sunshine on to Holland. From 5,000 metres the eye took in a view of this piece of the earth, above which arched the sky in light blue. 'But danger also lurked here and we had to ... examine everything carefully. A sudden flash in the sun could betray us or the enemy. Despite having dark-green lenses in our goggles it was difficult to make out objects in the blinding flood of sunlight ... Just then I recognized that six enemy fighter aircraft were above us and ... flying with us. Blue-white-red cockades clearly shone on their silver-grey wings. Yet they did not attack us, as we were too many for them; they simply followed at an ominously close distance. For the present, we .. . could do nothing other than be careful.

Then I sighted more opponents. A formation of enemy Spad single-seaters approached from the rear left, another of [Sopwith] Triplanes from ahead on the left, both still some kilometres away, but heading towards us. At this moment, coming from in front of us, there suddenly appeared a squadron of British Sopwith [Pup biplane] single-seat fighters. Now they had to be dealt with. If I were to attack them, I would immediately have the six Nieuports soaring over us and down on our necks and a few minutes later both of the other enemy formations would be rushing toward us, as well . If I were to avoid them, then I must abandon the frontlines altogether, and the airspace would be free for the Englishman; he could do whatever he wanted over our lines. 'I decided to attack immediately, no matter what the cost. Now everyone had to show what he could do and what he was good for. There was no longer any thought of retreat; we had started a fight against a force four times greater than ours, now we battled desperately for our survival. This is how I wished to put the Staffel to the test. The aerial battle was upon us.

I gave the signal to attack - nosed over steeply with my machine - and charged into the Sopwiths. Immediately, they dispersed and the field of combat went downwards. There was wild firing all around me. From all sides you could see smoke trails of one's own and enemy incendiary bullets; tracer ammunition flew past me. Machines turned wildly, reared up, dived down, and looped. The enemy had now thrown himself into the battle in full strength; we duelled against thirty to forty enemy single-seaters. The greatest danger was [that we would] ram into each other. I sat behind a Sopwith that tried to elude my field of fire by desperately twisting and turning. I pushed him down ever lower as we came ever closer to enemy territory. I believed I would surely shoot him down, as he had taken some hard hits, when a furious hail of machine-gun fire opened up behind me. As I looked around, I saw only cockades; three opponents were on my neck, firing everything they had at me. Once again, with a short thrust, I tried to finish off the badly shot-up opponent ahead of me. It was too late. Smack after smack the shots from behil1ct. hit my machine. Metal fragments flew all around, the radiator was shot through; from a hole as big as a fist I was sprayed in the face by a heavy stream of hot water. Despite all that, I pulled the machine about and upwards and fired off a stream of bullets at the first fellow I saw. Surprised, he went into a spin. I caught up with the next opponent and went at him desperately, for I had to fight my way back across the lines. He also ceased fighting. It was a decisive moment. My engine, which was no longer receiving water from the radiator, quit and with that any further fighting by me was over. 'In a glide I passed over the lines and our positions. Close behind them I had to make a forced landing in a meadow.

The landing proved to be a smooth one, and the machine stayed upright. Now I sawall of the damage. My worthy bird had received twenty hits, some of them very close to my body. I looked around me apprehensively; what had happened to my Staffel? There was a noise above me and shortly thereafter one of my pilots landed in the same meadow. His machine looked pretty bad too; various parts were shot to pieces. Another two pilots also had to make forced landings with shot-up machines. But the pilots were safe and sound. The Staffel had prevailed in the toughest battle. Despite its numerical superiority, the enemy had quit the field of battle. Everything had been observed from down below and we reaped our rewards of recognition. Far more important for me, however, was the feeling that I could depend on my Staffel. During this violent Flanders battle the Staffel had delivered on what it had promised on one fine June day - to fight and to be victorious.

Right. Sounds fanciful at best. An enemy force FOUR TIMES the size of Goering’s and they not only beat them off, shot some of them down, but ALL survived? Pull the other one, kamerad, it’s got bells on! Still, there seems to be a general consensus that, despite what he became, Goering was feted as a pilot in the First World War, and, like Hitler, acquitted himself well in the conflict, however much we might wish to think differently. It was the job of the Nazis to rewrite history; it certainly is not mine, and grudgingly though I may give it, I’ll afford credit where it is due, even to men who later became monsters.

I must however remark on the huge difference in attitudes between the two wars, at least among airmen. Goering speaks of an English (actually Australian, but flying for the Royal Flying Corps) pilot he duelled with, eventually overcame and forced down. When the Englishman (sic) was taken prisoner, Goering spoke to him and they conversed about their dogfight, each congratulating the other on his skill. Knights of the air, indeed! By the time Hitler came to power such “gentlemanly conduct”, such “sporting behaviour” was long gone, even if the speed and power of the aircraft now made it far more likely that the loser was going to die in a ball of flame rather than just be forced down. World War I may have been, in essence, more brutal and savage than its later cousin, but in terms of air warfare and the conduct attending same, it could be said to have been the last “civilised war”. Hitler and the Nazis were not interested in recognising the valour of the opponent; to them, they were an inferior enemy, worthy of nothing more than death or capture. Airmen taken prisoner in World War I were treated well, and officers afforded much honour; in World War II everyone was treated the same.

If the writing is his, and not embellished by later biographers and Nazi revisionists, I must compliment Goering on his prose. It’s quite elegant, as you can see from any of the extracts published above, almost more like poetry or literature than mere reports or accounts. Some very descriptive passages whcih would not be out of place in a novel. However we must not forget that he was not only a Nazi, but one of those in high command, a confidante and friend of Hitler, and like all at least high-ranking Nazis, a rabid anti-semite. This is shown by his slur against one of his own officers in 1917, Lt. Willy Rosenstein, necessitating that officer’s demand he rescind the slur, and on Goering’s refusal to do so, Rosenstein’s request, which was granted, to be transferred. The thing is, reading about his air combat stories you can’t avoid a little grudging respect for the man, but always lurking behind Goering the World War One fighter ace, the hero of many dogfights, is the shadow of Goering the Nazi, Goering the cruel, anti-semite, the luster after power, the trampler on the careers, feelings, property and even lives of others, and Goering who, in the end, proved Goering the coward, taking his own life rather than face the hangman’s noose.

Further evidence not only of the man’s duplicity, but of the typical entitled officer’s attitude to money is seen when he attempted to claim back expenses incurred on his trip back to Mauterndorf in January. He erroneously - falsely, a blatant lie - described the fortress home of his uncle as a health resort, when it was no such thing, and surely had more than enough funds of his own for the trip, not to mention that his uncle was hardly likely to charge him for staying there. Just mean and greedy, two traits which would become apparent as part of his psychological makeup as he grew older and, becoming more powerful and in more authority, more dangerous. There exists, interestingly, no record of his receiving reimbursements, so it doesn’t look as if his little ploy worked.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018

Last edited by Trollheart; 08-12-2021 at 04:31 AM.
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 08-12-2021, 04:42 AM   #17 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

In February Goering’s squadron moved to Marcke in Belgium, establishing its headquarters at the seized castle of Baron Jean de Bethune and Goering, in command, was once again lord of the manor, though this time it was not someone else’s. Well, it was, but he did not have to share it with anyone, as he had done in Mauterndorf with his uncle and his mother. Goering did not have everything his own way though. Having tried everything he could to secure Germany’s highest military honour, the Pour le Merite, he was pipped by Loerzer, who was awarded it a day after he, Goering, had had a Knight’s Cross of the Military Karl Friedrich Merit Order pinned on his chest. Twenty kills were required for the Pour le Merite and Goering was lagging behind his friend (and rival) by three, then fate intervened and he contracted severe tonsillar abscess, so severe that he was at one point in danger of dying as the abscess cut off his breathing, but once again the Devil was on the case and he survived to return to his squadron. It’s believed that this may have been the first time he was given morphine, something he would end up with an addiction to in later life.

A few days after returning he had to give up the comforts of Castle Marckebecke and move with his squadron to an airfield outside of Douai, not far from where another WWI ace, Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, was stationed with his squadron. He would not be there for long, as he would be shot down and killed within a month, no doubt souring the morale of a German Air Force whose military was already losing the war, the end clearly in sight. At the end of May, Goering was finally awarded the coveted Pour le Merite, which he had yearned for over the last year or more, though it was now three months later than Loerzer had achieved the honour. Nonetheless, as Goering had yet, at this point, to rack up twenty kills - he was stuck on eighteen - some backhand bureaucracy must have been taking place, with his friends in high places speaking for him. It would in fact be another month before Goering reached the requisite number of victories.

Goering’s personal prestige was further swollen (and no doubt again due to backroom deals) when he replaced Wilhelm Reinhard, Richthofen’s successor, as leader of the Red Baron’s squadron. He soon had competition though, in the shape of the late Red Baron’s brother, Lothar, who, when Goering took leave, assumed command of the squadron his famous sibling had founded and led. Back at Mauterndorf, Goering spent more time with Epenstein than with his fiancee, as her father could see how the war was going to end, and believing his daughter’s prospects poor if she married a defeated fighter ace, laid plans to end the relationship between Marianne and Goering. When he returned to retake command of his squadron - Richthofen having been injured and invalided out - he too could see that the end was in sight.

And yet, for all that, the famous stories of the “knights of the air”, the unspoken chivalry and gentlemanly conduct between enemy fliers do seem to have some basis in truth, as this account from a Danish pilot, Niels Paulli Krause, who was flying with a French squadron and who tangled with Goering reveals:

'One day I was alone on a long mission with my machine and I had taken some photographs when in the distance I could make out a German aeroplane returning from the French lines. As we had to cross paths, I was eager to know who this lone wolf might be. My opponent had also seen me and was heading toward me. We probed a little, circling each another at a great distance. I really had little desire for this circular angling while I was on the way home, but my opponent abruptly began the fight and forced me to respond. We flew around one another, coming ever closer, without finding a clear target. Then suddenly the German machine made a tight turn, almost into a loop, and in an instant its machine gun was trained on me. 'It all happened so suddenly that I was totally unable to respond. All that ran through my head was that [the pilot] must be some great opponent. Then once again the enemy aeroplane made such an incredible and for that time almost impossible manoeuvre that I knew my opponent was ... Goring. 'Every great flyer has ... special tactics. Thus, only Goring could fly like that.

As for me, I fought like I had never fought before ... And yet I clearly recognised that my opponent was better than I. This was no mere cat-and-mouse game, but a battle with a flying genius against whom it was impossible for me to prevail. I do not know how long we circled each other and strained our bracing wires. Linen tatters in my wings showed that I had been hit many times. But the decisive shot had not yet struck. 'Then, in the midst of " . [my gaining the advantage j, my machine gun jammed. I pounded with my fists against the red-hot gun breech, to no avail. I tugged at the ammunition belt, to no avail. My only thought was: "It is all over!" My opponent seemed perplexed that, suddenly, I was no longer shooting at him. He circled around me, noticed me hammering away at the machine gun and understood that I was no longer able to fight. Then suddenly .. . he flew quite close to me, put his hand to his flying helmet in a military salute, and turned toward the German lines .. . '


Were this an account given by Goering we could take it with probably a tablespoonful of salt, as he was, as we have learned already, given to embellishment, especially if it helped him to shine. Although whether an action such as this - letting an enemy pilot escape when he had him right where he wanted him - would be lauded or frowned upon is another matter. But this is not the account of the victor but the vanquished, and there is no percentage for the man to have recounted how he ended up at Goering’s mercy, and the only reason he survived was because the German ace allowed him to. So we must take it at face value, and allow that Goering did in fact at times respect his enemy, if that enemy had earned that respect.

Though perhaps it was expected of the pilots, a sort of gentleman’s code. Conrad Hoster, a retired wartime pilot, explained the agreed procedure: 'In order to make the expression "force down [an aeroplane]" understandable one must mention that aerial combats on the ,t\Testem Front were settled with a certain Ritterlichkeit [chivalry]. The vanquished or wounded adversary was spared the moment he gave up all resistance and sought his salvation in an involuntary landing. Such a moment always occurred when ... totally unexpected, the German pilot made a deft manoeuvre that put him right on his opponent's neck and he had the enemy aeroplane directly in his machine gun's stream of fire. In this situation the opponent knew that the German had only to press the firing button on his guns and in a few seconds his own crate would be fired on and at least his fuel tank would be set on fire or he would be hit. In this circumstance, therefore, the opponent gave up resistance and acquiesced to the victor that he would have to land, i.e., to be "forced down" to the ground at a minimum behind [the victor's] lines”

That, however, is not what Krause maintains happened in his encounter with Goering, which has to lead us to believe that Goering again did as he liked, what he thought was appropriate for the situation, and made his own rules. Again, though Hoster casts doubt on the veracity of the story, he does admit there is no reason for the Dane to have either embellished the story or even told it and had it published, as he was already a decorated war hero and in 1930, when the report was printed, the Nazis were on the rise, with war less than a decade away. Perhaps, having fought through the Great War, he was unwilling to see the world fall into the same trap again, and was trying to show, hoped, that the Germans were trustworthy, not barbarians, not the kind of people who would force another global conflict. On all fronts, of course, he was wrong there, but it may go some way towards explaining his motives. This is, of course, only my opinion, and quite likely wrong.

In October, as Goering was again in Berlin checking out the newest fighter aircraft, the war was already winding down, dragging painfully towards its inevitable conclusion, defeat for Germany and ignominy and humiliating surrender waiting in the wings. This did not stop him partying, but his flying days were drawing to a close. On November 19 1918 he disbanded the squadron, thanking the men for their service and promising their exploits would go down in German history. A short time later he was forced to call off his engagement to Marianne Mauser. His last words, given in December 1918 at a meeting of new officers association, held a dark warning and prediction for the future:

'For four long years, we officers did our duty on the ground, at sea and in the air, and risked our lives for our Fatherland. Now we come home and what do some people do to us? They spit on us and want to take our honour away from us. And I will tell you this: the real [German] people are not responsible for this [conduct]. Each and every one of them was a comrade, irrespective of social standing, for f(;lUr long, difficult years of war. It is not the real people who are to blame; rather, it is the ones who incited them, who stabbed our glorious army in the back and who wanted nothing more than to enrich themselves at the expense of the real people. And for that reason I urge everyone here today to [nurture] the deepest and most abiding hatred against these criminals [who are] against the German people. The day will come - that I know and I ask that you believe it - when these gentlemen are finished and driven out of our Germany. Prepare yourselves, arm yourselves and work toward that day ..


That day, to the world’s sorrow, would not be long in coming.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018

Last edited by Trollheart; 08-12-2021 at 05:06 AM.
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-12-2021, 07:58 PM   #18 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default



While war is full of uncertainty, one thing is clear: it is never black and white. No matter how just and right the cause may be, no matter how noble the fight may appear, there's no such thing as the naive concept of good guys and bad guys. Very often, in order to achieve their objectives, those on what is seen as the “right side” or “the side of good” are forced to make hard decisions, take actions they would rather not, wrestle with their conscience and sacrifice for the greater good. Nobody ever won a war easily, not even a small one like the Falklands, or that time Cork declared its independence from Ireland (we crushed them, but a lot of brave Dublin lads gave their lives for the cause of liberty) – war by its very nature is a struggle, and even in the most one-sided conflict, or one that seems so, both sides will suffer, if only later in the court of public opinion and historical documentation. The British may have outnumbered and outmatched the Zulus, but these days it's the latter we remember mostly with sympathy and an understanding of their cause. Xerxes suffered massive losses at Thermopylae, but it's the brave defenders we remember.

History is of course also written by the winners, and they are naturally going to paint themselves in the best light possible. It's always important, when reading about any particular war, to try to get an account or accounts written by a disinterested party, or even by the losers. A chronicle of World War I written by a German author is going to read far different to that related by a British or French one, and what, I wonder, would an account of the Iraq War look like from an insider there? I'm always reluctant to trust the writings of the winning side – although sometimes, they are the only ones available – and usually try to check my sources and ensure that, like a good Ken Burns documentary, both sides of the story are told, in so far as can be achieved. I haven't found many books about World War II by German authors, probably because it's not a subject Germans are particularly keen to revisit or remind people of, and with Wikipedia there's no way to know who wrote what, though in general I tend to trust most of what I read there.

But biographies are almost always written in two ways: gushing, congratulatory prose by people who knew or know the person, or are connected with him, or scathing, biting attacks on the person by someone who has an axe to grind. Hard to find unbiased sources there. However when talking about this man, you'll do well to find a biographer who will slander or even cast doubt on his legend, so we're left with the accounts which would have to be considered “friendly”. But through a combination of research outside these books and articles on Wiki, I hope to get somewhere close to the truth. I'm not looking to canonise the man, but neither am I looking to vilify him. I just want to write a reasonably accurate and unembellished account. After all, it would hardly be fair, would it, to rail at Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels and Stalin, and present their adversaries as pure souls, untouched by scandal or even ill-advised plans?

So if anyone out there is a Churchill devotee, don't take offence at anything written here. I'm not trying to tear the man down: I realise what an icon he is, how important, even indispensable he was to the war effort, indeed to winning the war, and I agree he deserves the place he occupies in history. But sometimes idols can stand a little kicking, to see if those feet are made of the same tough substance as the rest, and what we find may surprise us. I already know there are skeletons lurking in the Prime Minister's closet – skeletons not exactly hidden, to be fair, but ones which cannot be ignored – and they'll get a good airing. It's only in looking at all sides of a man that you can get a proper picture of him, and we would in fact I believe be doing Churchill a great disservice by pretending he was untouchable, unimpeachable, without blemish. I'm sure even he wouldn't want that.

I: Born in a Palace – The Best Laid Plans

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on November 30 1874 in his family's ancestral home, Blenheim Palace. If he can be compared to anyone, in terms of upbringing and lineage, it is probably Herman Goring, which is to say he was born into an aristocratic family, and was certainly no working class boy done good. Winston would never have to struggle for the basic necessities of life, and so in many ways would perhaps be seen as disingenuous when he assured the British people during the war that he understood how they felt. Of course he did not. He never went without food or drink, or hot water, or his famous cigars. But to some extent, you can't help what you're born into, and it's the measure of a man how he responds to that birthright. Does he coast on through life, living on stipends and allowances, exploiting his position in class society, or does he get down and dirty with the people his class traditionally look down upon? Churchill has certainly been called all but the archetypal man of the people, but does he deserve that title? We'll find out, but not here probably, as this account, like the others I've written and those yet to come, are only intended to cover the early years of each figure and their rise, if any, to power prior to the onset of World War II.

It was a bitingly cold Tuesday in November, 1874, when only months earlier, half a world away, the Great Chicago Fire had levelled that proud city, and further south, the Texas-Indian Wars were drawing to a close, while closer to home Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh had married the only daughter of Tsar Nicholas III of Russia. Meanwhile, 160 miles to the north, Alfred Cellier's comic opera The Sultan of Mocha had premiered only days before in the Prince's Theatre in Manchester, while luckless emigrants fleeing poverty and discrimination in England and heading for a new life in far-off New Zealand were destined never to reach that promised land, as the ship carrying them foundered and sunk with all hands.

None of this concerned the young woman, newly-wed, as she walked in a party of shooters in the grounds of Blenheim Palace that morning, November 30, trying to keep warm and probably quite bored. Jennie Jerome was the daughter of an American financier, and had been born in Brooklyn, spending her youth in Paris. She was a socialite who had edited magazines and probably did not understand nor care for the class system in Britain, where everyone was expected to conform to certain behaviours deemed “proper” for their status. In the USA, things were much freer and more lax, but here in the heart of the British Empire, and in her new married position, she had to conform, and she more than likely resented it. She may also have resented carrying the soon-to-be-born child of her husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, though she probably did not realise how soon that event was to occur.

As a girl, Jennie had been quite a talented pianist, tutored by no less a personage that Stephen Heller, a close friend of Chopin, and believed by him to be capable of rising to concert level. She therefore, it can be assumed, would have been discontented in the role she now played, very much second to her husband, with no real life of her own, subservient to his wishes and trapped in the snares of his class. She had been, for the past hundred days or so, Lady Churchill, but may have considered herself as a bird in a gilded cage. And a heavily pregnant bird, at that. Married at twenty years of age she was already carrying her first child and due to deliver in a matter of months. She had met her future husband at a regatta on the Isle of Wight, introduced to Lord Randolph by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VI, and three days later they were engaged. Family bickering over arrangements delayed the marriage, which did not take place until April 15 1874.

To nobody's surprise, the idea of his son marrying a liberated, opinionated American woman did not sit well with Randolph's father, who had then final say in the marriage of his son. He did not in fact have so much against Jennie as against her father, Leonard, who, though he had involvement in newspapers (he once part-owned the New York Times) had made his money in horses, in racing, and while horse racing was seen in England as “the sport of kings”, that was watching and betting on it, not financing it or owning any part of it, which was seen as common and vulgar. However, whatever else he might be, or said to be, Leonard Jerome was rich, and if there's one thing that will placate even the deepest disapproval it's hard cash, and so, after some new world ideas about women owning property met old world ones which said everything was the right of the husband, and some considerable money crossing hands, differences were settled and the marriage was allowed to proceed.

Whether Jennie could shoot, or had any interest in doing so, or was just bored and tagging along, I'm not aware, though in general I think women shooting was frowned upon in nineteenth-century England (though her being an American, it's quite possible she did shoot). Whatever the case, an accident occurred which was to have long-ranging implications for her. She had a fall and was then placed in a pony carriage, the resultant jostling and bumping in which resulted in her going into labour the following Saturday night. No doctor being available, it was left to the county physician to deliver the baby. This was not how it was supposed to have been.

Lord Randolph had rented a fashionable house in Charles Street, Mayfair, from which his first progeny was intended to glimpse the world and in which his birthing cries would be heard, but the house was not ready, and so Lord Randolph and his pregnant wife moved into the family ancestral home at Blenheim for the autumn. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, but when Jennie went into labour there it became the site of Winston's birth, and the friends and social butterflies and powerful magnates and nobles Lord Randolph had no doubt planned to be in attendance were conspicuous by their absence. The room, in fact, which saw the emergence of the future Prime Minister of Great Britain pop out his head was a small, dark, cheerless one, and I suppose in some ways you could say its austerity and bleakness might have been seen as a metaphor for what was to await the little baby in his long and illustrious life.

He would also be, like most children of the time, deprived of the love and attention of his mother. This was simply how it was done in England at that time. A nanny took care of the child and the father and mother seldom saw them until perhaps they were grown, and so it was with young Winston. Elizabeth Everest, a spinster nurse, was engaged to look after the baby a mere month after his birth, and would become in every sense but reality his mother. He looked up to her, loved her dearly, referring to her as “woomany”, and shared all his problems, thoughts and dreams with her. He would, when he grew old enough, write regularly to his mother, but would seldom receive a reply, much less a visit.

In 1876, when Winston was two years old, Lord Randolph's brother, John Spencer-Churchill, had an altercation with the Prince of Wales over a woman, and was as a result sent to Ireland to serve as Viceroy. This was clearly punishment, as no Englishman, never mind a nobleman, wished to serve in Ireland, which was mostly still seen as “that barbarous country”, as Queen Elizabeth had described it in the sixteenth century, and was bitterly opposed to English rule. During the Churchills' time there they would witness the unspeakable horrors of the Great Famine, brought about mostly by greedy and thoughtless English landowners who treated Irish farmers and peasants as little more than slaves, and allowed them to starve in the fields or die on coffin ships.

Although the quarrel had nothing to do with him, Randolph was John's secretary and so was constrained to accompany him to Dublin, along with his new family. Three months before their return to England Winston's brother Jack was born, another entrusted to the care of Mrs. Everest (although she had never married, spinsters were traditionally called Mrs), who was summarily and, many say, rudely and unfairly dismissed in 1893. Although no longer in her care, it must have been an emotional wrench to Winston to see the woman whom had more or less filled the role of his mother being so cruelly and thanklessly treated, but he of course had no say in the matter. Elizabeth would die two years later, and Winston paid for her tombstone and for her grave to be perpetually upkept by the cemetery.

Another thing parents did with their children back then was send them off to boarding school as soon as it was possible. You'd imagine they must have had very little feeling towards their offspring, and often this was correct: while the father wanted an heir (and so a male child) to take over from him, he would be generally – not always of course, but it seems in the majority of cases – uninterested in the boy's babyhood, childhood and adolescence, and perhaps only even meet him again once he had grown to be the man his father had impatiently awaited him to become. Girls were, I think, mostly kept at home – fathers had little to no interest in them, as a rule, as they could not inherit anything from them – and probably got more of the mother's love (if there was any to give) than her son would have. In Jennie's case certainly, evidence seems to indicate that though Winston loved his mother (“at a distance”, according to himself) she never quite returned the kind of affection he craved, possibly seeing him as an unnecessary distraction to her career as a socialite.

Seven years was the age at which Winston was packed off to boarding school, the first being St. George's in Ascot, Berkshire, where he hated every moment. The school – now a girls' one – had a reputation for brutal, uncompromising discipline, and for a boy of seven years who had, while not having the love and affection due to him from his parents, never received any such punishment at home, and had only had devotion and kindness from Mrs. Everest, his “woomanny”, this must have come as a terrible shock. Whether such treatment toughened him up for the life he was to follow or not is open to debate, but when many of the teachers in boarding schools were known at the time to be both sadists who relished their power over the young boys and men of at best limited education themselves, it seems doubtful that it served any useful purpose. Certainly, his lack of progress academically while there, and his transfer to Brunswick School in Hove, a mere two years later, does not point towards his having advanced in any way under the tutelage of the masters at St. George's.

Indeed, his health had begun to deteriorate (whether due to the beatings or not I don't know, but you can speculate; they certainly wouldn't have helped) by the time the decision was made to enrol him in Brunswick, and here he found a completely different world. Punishment and discipline were not used in this school, the teachers far more friendly and relaxed in comparison, yet this was attended by a general lack of incentive to learn. While I personally would never advocate the corporal punishment of children, especially to gratify personal tastes, and while it's clear that the application of same did nothing to help Winston (or, presumably, the other students) learn anything, the lack of discipline at Brunswick may have had the very same effect, leaving no impetus for improvement. It would not be until he was finally moved to the famous Harrow, in 1888, that any sort of real education would begin for the future Prime Minister.

Historians, particularly British ones, would love to say that Winston Churchill sailed through the entrance exam, excelled in his studies once he had “found” the right school, and that Harrow had only been waiting for him, to open and impart its centuries of knowledge to his eager young mind. Unfortunately, that was nowhere near the case. He barely scraped through the exam, narrowly missing being turned down, and was never a good student; which is to say, or clarify, that he did not easily take to the accepted important subjects of the time, Greek, Latin and mathematics, for which he had little or no time. He was, however, deeply interested in English and history, and expended all his learning energies on these subjects. Despite private tuition offered by one of his teachers in the Classics, he did not seem interested, though one of his other teachers, Robert Somervell, was impressed by his grasp and usage of English and sought to bring this latent talent to flower, for which Churchill later wrote he was very grateful: "Mr. Somervell - a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great - was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing - namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it As I remained in the Third Fourth [a very disregarded form] three times as long as anyone else, I had three times as much of it. I learned it thoroughly. Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence - which is a noble thing.”
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-13-2021, 09:41 AM   #19 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default

Winston's father, determined that his son should pursue a military career, had him enrolled in the army form in Harrow, and for the next three years he trained as a soldier, finally managing to gain admission to the prestigious military academy at Sandhurst as a cavalry officer. It should be noted though that this was no natural conclusion either; in order to make it, Winston had to secure the services of what was known as a “cram master”, someone who would tutor him and advise him on his subject, and this was on his second attempt, therefore it was on his third that he finally made it into Sandhurst.

Once in, though, he finally started to show the promise and aptitude that some of his teachers had seen dormant in him, and by the time he left in 1894 he was already on his way to a commission as a second lieutenant in the Hussars. Unfortunately, a month after leaving Sandhurst his father died, an early age even for that time, passing away in January of 1895 at the age of forty-six. What should have been a traumatic and painful time for the young Winston (now 20) was probably lessened by the lack of contact he had had with Lord Randolph, his father almost a stranger to him. A few months later he took up his commission in the 4th Hussars.

While I don't wish to draw too close a comparison between him and his contemporaries on the other side, a military man is a military man, and like Hitler and Goring (more Goring really, as Hitler never went to any military academy but simply signed up for the army), Winston Churchill only really began to shine once he entered the army. Here, he could forget the hated Latin and Greek: a soldier had no need for such classical knowledge, and the only use he had for mathematics would be to establish whether the opposing force was bigger than his, or whether he had enough ammunition. However, no man ever entered Sandhurst or any other military college without at least a grounding in maths, and indeed Churchill had been forced to cram figures and equations into his mind in order to pass the entrance examination, though he later shrugged that the knowledge, once it had served its purpose (i.e., got him into the academy) “passed away like the phantasmagoria of a fevered dream”. Maybe it was as well he forgot it, considering the kind of almost insurmountable odds Britain, under his leadership, would face in the summer and autumn of 1940 as it strove to survive the Nazi onslaught. A man with a better grasp of figures (and thus, reality) might have been more amenable to a compromise than he.

A year after his promotion to second lieutenant, he and his regiment were shipped almost five thousand miles southeast, to begin a whole new chapter in the life of the man who would one day be voted as the greatest of Britons.

II: Churchill in India – Empire and Empowerment

It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire, and this had two meanings: one, a sort of metaphor for the supposed immortality of the empire, that it would never fall, but also a literal one. As Britain had colonies all over the globe, when it was night in England you could be assured that in some other corner of her far-flung empire it was day, so that at its height, Britain could indeed boast that the sun, in a very real way, never set on her dominions. And it was here, in the country deemed the jewel in Queen Victoria's crown, where she was known (to British if not Indian subjects) as the Empress of India, that life finally began to open up for Winston Churchill.

He arrived in Bombay (now known as Mumbai) in October 1896, four weeks before his twenty-second birthday, and at the height of British power in the colony. The Queen was about to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, having reigned for sixty-five years, making her by far the longest reigning monarch England had ever had (and only beaten today by the current Queen), and while there had been the “unfortunate unpleasantness” of the Indian Revolt of 1857, all of that had been sorted out now and the Indians were once again good and obedient subjects of the Crown. A posting to India was generally seen as a cushy job – the working day lasted three whole hours, and the rest of the day, from 10:30 onwards, was the soldiers' own to do as they pleased, to say nothing of having their every need pandered to by a flotilla of Indian servants – but Churchill didn't do cushy, and he wasn't about to relax here for the next few years.

In fact, he spent only nineteen months in India, while his regiment remained there for eight and a half years. In that time, he visited England twice, for three months at a time, Calcutta three times and even went as far as Hyderabad, over three hundred and fifty miles north, to take part in a polo contest, polo being the one sport he was ever interested in. Added to this, he undertook his own expedition to the northwest frontier, where he catalogued his travels. It was in Bangalore, where his regiment had moved three days after arriving in Bombay, and where they were to be stationed for the duration, that Churchill began to feel (again, and with apologies to any English readers, like Hitler) that he had a destiny to fulfill. He knew serving in India for eight years was not part of that, and he began to rue his failure to learn Latin and Greek, wishing to read more of the classics and improve his, up to then, quite basic education. He still couldn't face learning these dead languages, he just wished he already understood and could read them. He considered leaving the army and going to Oxford, but it was a little late in his life for that. He would have had an awful lot of catching up to do, and as we have already seen, he wasn't the kind of student who could expect to manage that.

A letter to his mother offered him no encouragement in return – again, Winston's love and regard for Jennie didn't quite, but almost did, vary inversely with that of his mother for him. She just was not interested, and left her son to sort out his own problems. With her husband dead, she was happy to take a string of lovers, and he was possibly an unwelcome reminder that she had once settled for a stuffy old English aristocrat who was not worthy of her. She was having fun, still young, still beautiful, and she didn't need her son from another marriage spoiling it for her. She would marry twice more before her death, the first to take place at the very turn of the century, only a few years away. But meanwhile she was becoming the darling of society, and in particular the Prince of Wales (who, you might recall, had originally introduced her to her late husband), freed from the bonds of matrimonial responsibility.

We could, I suppose, castigate Jennie for this seemingly unbecoming behaviour, with her husband only a year dead, but then we should remember two, or perhaps even three things: one, she was young and beautiful, two she was American, and three, her marriage to Lord Randolph had quickly soured, and she was said to have had lovers even during the time they were together, so perhaps it's not such a surprise to read that she took to her freedom like an imprisoned butterfly suddenly loosed from a jar, and spread her wings, courting all comers. None of this helped her son, of course, who decided his best course was to self-educate, and asked her to send him various books, which, to her credit at least she did. He then made himself familiar with the classics, history and most especially politics, which he had started to take a keen interest in. Perhaps this had to do with his father having been an MP (if not a very successful one) or perhaps it had no bearing on his interest at all. What it would do was prepare him for the life he was to lead, the position he was to occupy, and secure forever for him one of the highest and most exalted places in history.

One point on which his mother did correspond with her son, and very angrily too, was the subject of his spending. She wrote in one letter that if he could not live within his means he would have to resign his commission and come home. She made it clear she was not going to continue to support him on her own if he would not rein in his reckless spending. Nevertheless, he used his mother's considerable political connections, not to avoid postings to the front, but to obtain them. A young man lounging in the heat of India looking for a fight, he sought conflict everywhere and wherever there was a battle, an engagement, a civil war or some sort of action, he wanted to be there. The spirit of adventure was hot in his blood, and he wanted to make a name for himself. He was also eager to do this through the means of politics, and to that end was aided by an American Representative and failed candidate for president, Bourke Cockran, who took him under his wing when he visited New York on his way to fight rebels in Cuba, and taught him much about politics.

Time spent with Cockran imbued in the young Winston an abiding fascination with and love for America, which would carry over of course into his relationship with President Roosevelt, and perhaps lay the foundation for the close ties between both countries over the following centuries. He was thrilled with New York, where he stayed and was entertained at Cockran's Fifth Avenue apartment, and at how eager everyone was to make his stay as comfortable as possible. But comfort was never Churchill's game, and when, on leave home in England, word came to him of an uprising on the border between India and Afghanistan, he cut short his holiday to rush to be there, pressing his friend, Major-General Bindon Blood, to approve his Hussars being posted there. It took him over a month of travel, and even then Blood's reply to his request was non-committal at best: 'Very difficult; no vacancies; come up as a correspondent; will try to fit you in. B.B”. But he continued on in high spirits, sure he would see action and champing at the bit to be there, no doubt worried it would all be over by the time he arrived.

It was not an easy, not a short journey from Bangalore (he had to return to his headquarters first to ask permission of his commanding officer to go on the expedition) and most men would have written their account of it as a complaint, or a testament to their misery, but for Winston there was a sense of adventure and even joy when he wrote “I had the curiosity to ask how far it was. The polite Indian [booking clerk] consulted a railway time table and impassively answered, 2,028 miles. . . . This meant a five days' journey in the worst of the heat. I was alone; but with plenty of books, the time passed not unpleasantly. Those large leather-lined Indian railway carriages, deeply shuttered and blinded from the blistering sun and kept fairly cool by a circular wheel of wet straw which one turned from time to time, were well adapted to the local conditions. I spent five days in a dark padded moving cell, reading mostly by lamplight or by some jealously admitted ray of glare.”

Of course, with this being, as mentioned, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, he was probably more anxious than ever to make a good impression and have something to boast of, and accounts of his valour to be read in the newspapers. One thing which would become very clear about Winston Churchill from the beginning of his career (and again, we have to acknowledge that this was the case with his two main Nazi counterparts, and is, in fairness, most likely true about most famous men) was that he was one of his own best promoters, never missing a chance to be in an action and then ensure it was written about, using his wit and his (later) reading to make comments, quips and indeed speeches that have lasted the test of time and are used to point to the man's incredible grasp of and manipulation of the English language, and to build up his own legend. This legend was reinforced – or, if you prefer, first began to show itself – in his amazing work ethic and endurance. Having spent six weeks at the front with Blood, he then returned to Bangalore to work on an account of the battle which ended up running for 85,000 words, while also writing his first and only novel. Although Lady Randolph had his account, The Story of the Malakand Field Force, published without delay, it was riddled with punctuation errors and other things which should have been caught by any competent proof-reader, and Churchill was disappointed with the many mistakes which had been left in it.

Nevertheless his writing became widely admired, mostly due to the patronage of the Prince of Wales: when His Highness remarks on how splendid a book is, it's almost incumbent on anyone and everyone who wishes to get on to make sure they read it too, and have an opinion about it that supports the future king of England. Interestingly, a few months later the roles were reversed between Churchill and his mother, with she requesting (a cross, in her case, between a demand and an entreaty which surely stuck in her throat after having taken him to task about money) a loan, to be secured against his trust fund, which he grudgingly, but it has to be supposed with a certain sense of satisfaction and triumph, agreed to. Although they had never been as close as Winston would have wished – not close at all, in fact – the issue of money, and in particular the swift and somewhat brutal removal of the moral high ground from beneath her very feet, as she had to go, proudly and arrogantly but still symbolically cap in hand to her son for money, soured their relationship, on both sides.

Winston, though he had more or less precipitated the rift, was the first and the most eager to close it, asking her to resume the correspondence she had cut him off from, but she remained obdurate, most likely smarting from his rebuke in the way no parent can take a dressing-down from their own child. Despite this, she was still ready to do what she could to advance his political ambitions, and arranged many meetings, luncheons and teas with powerful and influential figures of her acquaintance, out of which came precisely nothing. Nevertheless, due to what to him were fortuitous circumstances, he was in Cairo by early August 1898 and almost immediately joining his regiment on a 1,400-mile trek north to Luxor, in order to take part in the engagement at Atbara. After the successful campaign, in which it is said he both distinguished himself and was miraculously untouched, he decided his future did not after all lie in the army, and resigned his commission, to go instead into politics.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 11-14-2021, 08:02 PM   #20 (permalink)
Born to be mild
 
Trollheart's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Posts: 24,789
Default


III: Churchill in Parliament – The Legend Begins

Returning to England that autumn, he began cultivating friends, supporters and alllies in the Tory Party to support his application for a seat in the House of Commons. In December he made his final visit to India, mostly for polo tournaments, and to visit with the then Viceroy of Calcutta, with whom he was most taken. Interestingly, or perhaps even ironically, given that money was so tight, he nevertheless spent a week in the famous Savoy Hotel in Cairo on his way home (“very comfortable though I fear rather expensive”) but once back in England it was pell-mell for the Commons as he wined and dined future Prime Ministers and spoke at Conservative meetings in Cardiff and Paddington, but it was not a good time to be a Tory and though he stood for the seat in Oldham, he and the party lost, and he transferred his energies temporarily back into journalism, as he headed for Cape Town to cover the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. Bouncing back to his military days, while on the steam liner headed for South Africa, he secured from the Colonel of the Lancashire Hussars, travelling on the same ship, a commission in his regiment, so that in addition to covering the war he could also take part in it.

In the event though, it turned out to be Churchill's first and only term as a prisoner of war, he and his whole company taken when the huge artillery gun they were transporting by rail was stranded and they had no choice but to yield. He then spent a month in prison but his somewhat ambiguous, not to say duplicitous nature was coming to fruition, as he both tried to claim he had been a non-combatant at the capture of the train (not true; had he his pistol, which he had dropped, he would have been happy to have killed for the Empire), a mere journalist, a war correspondent, and therefore not subject to imprisonment – a civilian, basically; but when rumours came through of a prisoner exchange in the wind he changed his tune and demanded to be classified as a soldier, in order to avail of the opportunity to be considered as one of the prisoners to be swapped. He even went so far as to promise the Boers that, were he released, he would neither fight against them nor report on their situation.

The Boer commander, though, was not fooled, and had had word from his officers of Churchill's crucial part in the derailed train incident, in which the young Winston had managed to persuade the nervous engine driver to bash at the tracks constantly until he managed to roll the locomotive back onto them and so escaped with some of the wounded. By the time the Boer general had begun to rethink his position in the light of Churchill's promise though, the future Prime Minister of England had had it away on his toes, escaping from the prison – which was only a repurposed school building – and legging it across an unfamiliar country with no knowledge of it or grasp of its languages. Nevertheless, with the help of an English miner whom he happened to run into, and some uncomfortable time spent hiding in his mine (along with some rats) he eventually managed to get out of South Africa and on board a ship back to Durban.

Not wishing to keep comparing him to the man who would become his implacable enemy, but while this story is mostly true it does have the kind of ring of embellishment and self-congratulation about it that attends Hitler's supposed taking of a French gun crew single-handedly. There were, let's just say, other aspects of Churchill's miraculous escape from captivity that he left out, obscured or perhaps even lied about, including leaving two of his colleagues back in the prison when they had been supposed to have broken out together, and bribes exchanged on his behalf along the way by a local merchant, but whatever the truth at its heart, Churchill was received back in Durban as a hero, and his fame began to grow and spread, which could do his later political ambitions no harm. Tales of bravery and derring-do always played well with the folks back home, and nobody better placed than himself to relate that tale to an avid, gasping and congratulatory English public who would hang on every word of his gripping story.

All of this, and his later taking part in engagements in the Boer War, was of course in direct contravention of his promise to the Boer commander should he be released, but then, he had not been released; he had escaped, and so to his mind (and probably correctly) the bargain had never been struck. If one side of it had not been kept (his release) then why should be keep the other side of it? Whether he would have considered doing so had he secured his release through those channels is something we will never know. As the new century turned, Lady Randolph, aboard the hospital ship Maine, of which she was in all but name in command, arrived in Durban and mother and son were reunited, as were brother and brother, as Jack came too. Winston's relationship with her, the cracks papered over for now, would suffer further damage when a few months later she married a man almost as young as her son, George Cornwallis-Smith, a union on which society very firmly frowned.

While his mother's star was slowly descending, his was on the rise. He had made a name for himself in Africa and was a well-known personality by the time he got home at the end of July 1900. He stood again for the seat in Oldham and this time won it, though it must be said not comfortably or by anything like a landslide. Still, he was in, and once in, like a limpet on the hull of a ship, he would be difficult, even impossible to dislodge. Even so, he didn't hang around and booked passage to New York in December. The thing was, back then MPs did not draw a salary, so Churchill would have to support himself, as he was doing, through his journalism and his other writings, and famous as he was now, he saw celebrity lecture tours of the USA as his biggest earner, and, having made a tour of England and Ireland already, that was where he went. The coming victory in the Boer War was guaranteed to keep the Conservatives in power for a while, so he had no worries about losing the seat he had just won.

His expectations were thoroughly dampened when he arrived in the Big Apple though. He was aghast not to find the same sense of empire and triumph and victory in America that pervaded Britain at the time like the celebrations following Waterloo. The Americans were cooler towards Britain's treatment of the Boers, remembering their own hard-fought War of Independence just over a century earlier, and Churchill was not the figure in demand he had hoped to be. Worse, though invited to the New York State Capital by then Vice-President Theodore Roosevelt, he seems to have made a poor impression on the future president, who later said of him “I have never liked Winston Churchill” and “I have refused to meet Winston Churchill.”

Neither men ever gave any clue as to where the hostility came from, whether it was anything to do with that dinner, whether Roosevelt never liked Churchill or whether he said or did something, or was told he said or did something that rankled with him, but the two men were cool to each other for all of their lives, the only attempted concession by the American president made in 1914 when he grudgingly passed on his congratulations to Churchill after his handling of the naval fleet. Perhaps, as Roosevelt's daughter once opined, it was because the two men were so alike.

Fed-up and disillusioned with the tour – though he was received better when he went across the border to Canada – Churchill returned home in February and prepared to take his seat in the House. He arrived in a changed England. The long, long reign of Queen Victoria was over. She had died while he had been out of the country, and been succeeded by her son, the Prince of Wales, now Edward VI, and so the long nineteenth century Victorian age came to an end, very appropriately, if obviously coincidentally, as the twentieth began, ushering in the Edwardian period. Whether he had had personal knowledge of or relation to Her Majesty I don't know, but he certainly was known to the new young king, who, as the Prince of Wales, had enthused over his account of the war. Four days after taking his seat, the newest MP made his first speech, which went down in a pretty average way. It was hardly the precursor to the stirring declamations he would give when he sat in the Prime Minister's seat and thundered about Hitler and an Axis of Evil. But it was a start.

It wouldn't have made the papers today – no speech ever does, unless the content is impossible to ignore, or some racist, sexist or other less desirable sentiment is expressed, intentionally or not (or unless something happens like the speaker's trousers fall down, or he suffers a heart attack) – but back then people were mad for news of the goings-on in Parliament, perhaps because the radio and television had yet to be invented, and the only real source of entertainment was the newspapers. And without perhaps enough to fill them happening in the world at the time, the editors filled them up with reports from the House of Commons. I suppose people were probably interested in seeing what the men they had put into power – or voted against – were doing with that power. At any rate, Churchill's speech seemed to go down well in the papers, with some careful caveats, as evidenced by H.W. Massingham's report in the Liberal Daily news the next day:

“Mr Winston Churchill's reply was in very striking contrast to the speech [Lloyd George's] to which it was indeed only nominally an answer. The personal contrast was as striking as that of treatment and method. Mr George has many natural advantages; Mr Churchill has many disadvantages. In his closing sentences he spoke gracefully of the splendid memory of his father. Mr Churchill does not inherit his father's voice - save for the slight lisp - or his father's manner. Address, accent, appearance do not help him. But he has one quality - intellect.

He has an eye - and he can judge and think for himself. Parts of the speech were faulty enough - there was claptrap with the wisdom and insight. But such remarks ['more squires than peasants', 'an honourable peace', etc.] showed that this young man has kept his critical faculty through the glamour of association with our arms. . . . then Mr [Joseph] Chamberlain rose. His speech was an able piece of debating - clear, rasping, coarse in tone, full of points aimed - and successfully aimed - at the average party spirit of his following. . . . But the speech was utterly without elevation - and in insight and breadth of treatment it was far inferior to Mr Churchill's.”

Less supportive was the Glasgow Herald, whose reporter shook his head and noted

“Occasionally there were tones and inflections of voice which forcibly recalled his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, but the hon. Gentleman did not show much trace of his parent's brilliancy in debate. . . . Readiness he had in abundance and he may develop well, but to those who remember the electrical effect of the father's maiden speech, the son's first plunge into debate was nowhere near so high a flight.”

It seemed people were determined to continue to compare him to his late father, but that would not last. However if he thought that he was about to burst like a comet and scream across the face of parliamentary politics, he was to be disappointed, and the three years of his Conservative tenure were marked by little other than questions which were dismissed out of hand. He went back on the lecture circuit, capitalising on his fame still, and had some successes in parliament, one fiery piece of rhetoric in support of the independence of the army earning him the comment from the then-Secretary of State for War that “you will never make a better speech than you made tonight.” Shortly afterwards he made clear his preference for the navy over the army, despite having fought in the latter.

“The only weapon with which we can expect to cope with great nations is the Navy. . . . And surely to adopt the double policy of equal effort both on Army and Navy, spending thirty millions on each, is to combine the disadvantages and dangers of all courses without the advantages or security of any, and to run the risk of crashing to the ground between two stools, with a Navy uselessly weak and an Army uselessly strong.”

His disenchantment with the Conservative Party grew, as the Prime Minister pushed the country towards a more isolationist, protectionist course, and he, Churchill, did not believe this was the way to go, snarling that it would surely lead to the “Americanisation of British politics.” In November 1904 he delivered one of his most damning speeches, and made no bones about his dissatisfaction with his party: "No one seems to care anything but about money today. Nothing is held of account except the bank accounts. Quality, education, civic distinction, public virtue seem each year to be valued less and less. Riches unadorned seem each year to be valued more and more. We have in London an important section of people who go about preaching the gospel of Mammon, advocating the 10% commandments, who raise each day the inspiring prayer 'Give cash in our time, O Lord'."

Losing the support of his colleagues, ostracised by them and even mocked harshly when, in the middle of a speech, he lost his place and forgot what came next, you might say Churchill was forced out of the party but he took it upon himself to “cross the floor” in 1905 and joined the opposition, the Liberals. Here he believed his ideas would be more readily accepted and received, and though only a junior MP he was still a scalp for the opposition, and not an unknown one thanks to his exploits. Gaining Winston Churchill to their side was a pretty major coup for the Liberal Party,who came to power when Lord Balfour resigned and they were swept into government, winning a landslide victory in 1906. This was not, it should be stressed, due at all or in any way to Churchill's defection; people were just simply fed up with the Conservatives and wanted a change, and they looked to the Liberal Party for that change.

The voice of the people was loud and unequivocal, and in Churchill's new constituency, Manchester Northwest, the Conservatives lost all their seats while the Liberals gained seven to their previous single seat. The tide was definitely turning. But in other ways, too, and in a decade and a half Churchill – along with the rest of the world – would find himself with his biggest challenge ever, one that he would prove unequal to.
__________________
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
Trollheart is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Similar Threads



© 2003-2022 Advameg, Inc.