Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Day 5: The Shit Pyramids of Pharaoh Sneferu

If Ancient Egypt is famous for one thing, it's its Pyramids. There are around 40 pyramids in Egypt, all in various states of completion. Most famous of these have to be the Legendary Pyramids of the Giza Pyramid Complex: the three Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure that tower over Cairo, the only of the "7 Wonders of the Ancient World" that still stand. However, before these 3 towering colossi were built, several other Pharaohs had attempted to build their own Pyramids. Most of these were failures: either they collapsed, or the Pharaoh's died before their Pyramids could be completed. Most famous of these failed attempts are those of the Pharaoh Sneferu, the founder of the 4th dynasty of the Old Kingdom, who reigned from around 2613 B.C. to around 2589 B.C. Today, on Swords and Socialism, we will be discussing Sneferu's not one, not two, but three attempts to build a pyramid to stand the test of time.

Part 1: Background 

Pre-Dynastic Period Mastaba, often used before the advent of the Pyramids 
Before we discuss Sneferu's several failed Pyramid attempts, we should briefly cover the history of the Burial practices of Ancient Egypt. Before the the construction of the Pyramids, Pharaohs, as well as other members of the Egyptian Elite (Court Advisors, Generals. Bureaucrats, etc.) were buried in rectangular above-ground tombs  known as Mastabas. Mastabas were flat-roofed and rectangular with outward sloping sides, constructed out of either mud-bricks from the Nile River or, for more wealthy subjects, stone. Mastabas were usually built with a north-south orientation, as the Ancient Egyptians believed this orientation was essential for access to the afterlife. Mastabas were seperated into above-ground and underground sections. The above-ground structure had space for a small offering chapel equipped with a false door for priests and family members to bring food and other offerings for the soul, or ba, of the deceased. This was because Egyptians believed that the soul had to be maintained in order to continue to exist in the afterlife. For the underground sections, a burial chamber was dug into the ground and lined with stone or mud bricks. These burial chambers were cut deep, until they passed the bedrock, and were lined with wood. A second hidden chamber, called a "serdab," was used to store things that were considered essential for the comfort of the deceased in the afterlife, such as beer, cereal, grain, clothes, and precious items. The Mastaba housed a statue of the deceased that was hidden within the masonry for its protection. High up the walls of the serdab were small openings that would allow the ba to leave and return to the body (represented by the statue).

The Step Pyramid at Saqqara, built by the famous Architect Imhotep for the Pharaoh Djoser during the 27th Century B.C.  
Mastabas continued to be used as the preferred burial housing for Pharaohs up until the ascension of Djoser, Pharaoh of the 3rd dynasty of the Old Kingdom, who reigned for about 28 years starting at about 2670 B.C. Djoser was a powerful and glory-hungry ruler who wished to cement his reign in the eyes of future generations. Besides building several large monuments and structures to himself in major Egyptian cities such as Heliopolis and Gebelein (this is assumed, as they do not stand today, and much of the information about Djoser's reign has been lost to time), he also planned to build himself a tomb that would tower over the tombs of both his previous Pharaohs and Successors alike. So, with the help of his Court Vizier and Architect Imhotep, Djoser had Constructed the Famous Step Pyramid at Saqqara. This was the First Pyramid ever, and, more importantly, one of the first structures ever built completely built out of cut stone. It was constructed out of 6 Mastabas, gradually decreasing in size, being stacked on top of each other. When it was completed, the Pyramid was cased in polished white limestone, and stood 62 metres (203 ft) tall, with a base of 109 m × 125 m (358 ft × 410 ft). The Burial section of the Pyramid was constructed much the same as the Mastabas that preceded it, with Burial Chambers and passages dug into the ground below the Pyramid. This structure, whilst modest by the standards of even a few hundred years later, was revolutionary in its design, and it set the precedent for Egyptian funerary construction for centuries to come. Djoser's successors tried to emulate him and build their own step pyramids, but none were successful: Sekhemkhet's and Khaba's Pyramids were never finished, Sanakht either never existed or, if he did, he did not reign long enough to even begin construction of one, and Huni's attempt will be covered shortly. 
The Ruins of the Step Pyramid of Khaba
So, for about a hundred years, the Pharaohs of the Old Kingdom failed to top Djoser's mighty construction. That is until the Pharaoh Sneferu took the throne around 2613 B.C. Dogged and determined not to fail where his predecessors had, Sneferu immediately set to work on the construction of a Pyramid that would outshine Djoser's. And that's where the trouble began.

Part 2: Sneferu's Pyramids.

Diagram of what the Pyramid at Medium should have looked like.
The first of Sneferu's attempt to build a Pyramid doesn't even start with him, but with his father, Huni. Huni's Pyramid was being constructed as a typical step Pyramid at Medium, about 100km (62 Miles) south of Cairo, with the base size of 147 square meters and a height of 94 square meters (This is the pyramid you see at the top of this post). However, Huni died before this Pyramid could be completed, and the job of finishing it was passed on to Sneferu. Sneferu went on to make several changes to the structure: He enlarged the Pyramid from 7 steps to 8, and later, attempted to encase the whole pyramid in limestone to create smooth, sloping sides, creating what was probably the first "stereotypical" Egyptian Pyramid. Unfortunately, this failed catastrophically. If you look at the photo here, you can see the three remaining steps of the pyramid sitting on top of what looks like an earthen hill. In reality, that "hill" isn't actually a hill: it's a pile of Limestone and sandstone rubble. Why? Well, the Medium pyramid had two major structural flaws. Firstly, instead of being built on solid bedrock, the Pyramid was built on sand, which was not able to bear the vast weight of the Stone colossus. Secondly, the Pyramid itself was never designed to be cased with limestone in that sloping fashion. These fatal errors resulted in  the outer limestone casing of the pyramid literally sliding off of the core step pyramid sometime either during or right after its construction. The ruins were abandoned shortly after, which is why there is no temple or funerary complex at the site. Because of this, combined with its weird shape and appearance, it is known in modern Egyptian Arabic as "el-heram el-kaddaab" - Literally "The Sort-of Pyramid."

The Bent Pyramid - Sneferu's 2nd attempt.
Undaunted by this failure, Sneferu soldiered on, moving the site some 60km (37 miles) north to Dahshur, on the West Bank of the Nile. Sneferu was even more determined this time outlining plans for an even bigger and even steeper Pyramid. Unfortunately, he let hubris get the better of him, and once again his grandiose plans led him to disaster. Although this time the builders had wisely chosen to begin construction on bedrock, said bedrock proved to be too weak and unstable to hold up a structure of that size. The result of this was that, before the Pyramid was over halfway finished, large amounts of shifting and cracking were already occurring withing the structure. Attempts to prop up and reinforce the structure with "temporary" wooden beams (Many of which are still there to this day) slowed the process down, but failed to stop it. Desperate and scared of a repeat of what happened at Medium, the builders decided to decrease the angle of ascent from 54 to 43 degrees midway through construction. This sudden decrease in angle is what gives this pyramid its "hunched" appearance.

On an unrelated, but still interesting, note, this pyramid is unique not only for it's odd appearance, but also because (comparatively) much of its original Limestone casing remains intact. Almost all of the Pyramids had most of their limestone stripped during the middle ages (much of medieval Cairo is constructed out of Limestone taken directly from the Great Pyramids at Giza), but, for some reason, this one remained relatively untouched. Personally, i'd assume that local scavengers believed that stripping the limestone would cause the whole sodding structure to collapse on top of them.
The Red Pyramid - Sneferu's 3rd (and Final) attempt.
By this time, Sneferu was getting angry and desperate. Sneferu was getting on in years, his numerous projects were bleeding his treasury dry, and, most importantly, reliable supplies of sandstone and limestone were beginning to run dry. Desperate for one final success, Sneferu through all his efforts into one final attempt to construct a pyramid that would outshine his predecessors. And you know what? It worked.

Sort of.

This third and final Pyramid is what's known as either The "Red" Pyramid or the "Bat" pyramid. Built only about 1km north of the Bent Pyramid (probably to constantly remind the builders of their previous failures), the Red Pyramid is actually quite safe and conservative, as far as pyramids go. Rising to 105m (344ft), it is built at the same shallow 43 degree angle as the upper section of the previous Bent Pyramid, which gives it a noticeably squat appearance compared to other Egyptian pyramids of comparable scale (the Great Pyramid at Giza, in comparison, stands at 51 degrees). Linked to this, the Red Pyramid has a far wider base, proportionally, compared to other Pyramids (the base of the red pyramid is only 10 meters, or 30 feet, less wide than the Giza Pyramid). Construction is believed to have begun during the thirtieth year of Sneferu's reign, but  Egyptologists disagree on the length of time it took to construct. Based on quarry marks found at various phases of construction, it is assumed that construction took between 10 and 17 years.

At this point. Sneferu must have been satisfied with this Pyramid, because he was buried in it after his death. Either that, or he just died before he could start his 4th attempt and they buried him in that one because it was the nicest of the three.

Nevertheless, these three failed attempts serve as a massively important part in the history of Pyramid construction. When Sneferu's son Khufu ascended the throne, he too wanted to construct his own Pyramid, grander than anything his father had built. Because of the constant failures and fuck-ups made in the past 3 attempts, the Court Builders had honed themselves into a mean, lean, efficient machine, able to avoid mistakes of the past and, by the end of Khufu's reign, build a Pyramid so sound and so technically advanced that we think Aliens fucking built it. That, my good readers, is the definition of the oft-quoted saying "Practice makes Perfect."


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Friday, March 4, 2016

Day 4: Debunking the Myth of the "Clean Wehrmacht."


If you are at all familiar with the vast community of World War II enthusiasts and amateur historians, both on the internet and in real life, you have no doubt at some point encountered individuals who commonly spout what commonly known as the "Clean Wehrmacht" myth: the legend that the Wehrmacht was a simply professional fighting force that fought for the honor and glory of Germany and stayed within the laws of war set out by the Geneva convention, and that horrific, disgusting atrocities committed against Jews, Communists, Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc., were solely the actions of the Schutzstaffel (S.S), and, to a lesser extent, the Sturmabteilung (S.A). Its a myth commonly spouted not only by Nazi sympathizers and Right-Wing Militarists, but also regular people who only have a casual interest in history. Often times it will be accompanied by statements like "The Allies committed just as many war crimes" or "The victors write the history books." At one time, I was no different: I was (and, to a lesser extent, still am) very much interested in the World War II-era German Military, and oftentimes found myself defending the Wehrmacht from what I believed, at the time, to be "Baseless" accusations. I look back on my opinions during those days with disgust. I hate this myth: it's baseless, it's objectively incorrect, and, worst of all, it is a whitewashing of the horrific actions committed by one of the worst regimes in history. So, today, on Swords and Socialism, I'm going to spend some time going over the Origin and MANY problems with the myth of the "Clean" Wehrmacht.

Part 1: Origins

          Generalfeldmarschall Erich von Manstein, famous Wehrmacht commander and early proponent of the "Clean Wehrmacht" myth
So, before we debunk the Myth, let us first delve a little bit into the origins of the Clean Wehrmacht legend. In spite of it's increased attention and growing popularity since the beginning of the internet age, thy myth actually dates back all the way back to the end of the war. Imagine yourself as a Wehrmacht General in early 1945. Germany is losing the war: her armies are in retreat all across Europe, the Armies of Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union are at your borders, and now, the Allied Powers have discovered the Concentration Camps, and news of the atrocities carried out by German troops are being spread across the globe. If you had a head on your shoulders (which, if you're a general, you really should), you would do everything you could to distance yourself from Hitler and the Nazi Regime that, only 4 years ago, you unquestioningly served. This is exactly what happened: While the SS and people like Heinrich Himmler were forced into full blown coverups and engaged in vain attempts to liquidate all the camps to prevent them being found, the Wehrmacht took the “we didn't know” approach and feigned ignorance of the camps and the various orders from Hitler to kill Jews, Communists, and other such "Undesirables." Soon after the end of the war, many Wehrmacht officers, like Erich von Manstein (pictured above), Heinz Guderian, and Franz Halder rushed to publish their own memoirs of their service during World War II and the Third Reich. The overwhelming majority of these memoirs placed heavy emphasis on the distinction between the “Criminal” SS and the “Clean, Efficient” Wehrmacht, and the subject of the holocaust and the Wehrmacht's culpability in the various war crimes committed by the Germans were often glossed over or outright ignored (Franz Halder's memoirs went so far as to push the idea that the war was “Hitler's War”, as in the Wehrmacht was opposed to the idea of war and was pushed into it by Hitler). This narrative of history, that of the honorable, apolitical German Wehrmacht soldier simply fighting for his country who didn't know of the atrocities being committed behind the front lines was very popular in postwar Germany because it shifted much of the blame for the Holocaust off of their shoulders of the average German and onto an abstract "SS" monolith. It also had overt racial undertones: by the end of the war, the overwhelming majority of formations of the Waffen SS (some estimate upwards of 80%) were made up of non-German recruits and conscripts from occupied territories: Ukrainians, Balts, Scandinavians, Slavs, Bosnians, etc., while the Wehrmacht, for the most part, remained a generally all-German force. Shifting all the blame on the SS allowed the German populace to subvertly place the majority of the blame on non-Germans, absolving them (in their minds) of guilt or concupiscence in the atrocities committed in their name.

Albert Schenz, a former Wehrmacht Colonel 
who went on to become Inspector 
of the West German Army, in his West German 
Lieutenant-General's Uniform, 1967
So, as you can see, the myth of the Clean Wehrmacht was born in  the ruble of the defeated Nazi Germany in the early post-war years (1946-55). And it should have died there, as well, had it not been for the Cold War. You see, as the Cold War started to get seriously underway, the Western and Eastern Block countries both realized that, in the (at the time) probable event that war would break out, Germany would be the First battleground: Germany had been divided into East and West Germany at the end of the war (East Germany falling under the Soviet Block, West Germany under the American Block), and Germany was where the Western and Eastern world met. So both countries began pouring money into the two German states to develop armies: West Germany was first in 1955 with the foundation of the Bundeswehr, with East Germany following suit with the formation of the Nationale Volksarmee in 1956. Both of these forces needed militarily-trained individuals to form their respective officer corps, and, as you guessed, they turned to former Wehrmacht soldiers. Both sides recruited vast amounts of Wehrmacht veterans (Up to 27% of the Officers in both the Bundeswehr and Nationale Volksarmee were ex-Wehrmacht). Notable examples include Reinhard Gehlen, Adolf Heusinger, Johanness Stienhoff, and our old friend Erich von Manstein for West Germany, and Vincez Muller, Rudolf Bamler, Wilhelm Adam, and Arno von Lenski for East Germany. Because of this, both blocks usually did not bring Wehrmacht atrocities to light, and were content enough to lay all blame on the SS. In addition to this, because Soviet Archives were closed to the western world until the fall of the USSR, the only accounts of the Eastern front (where an overwhelming majority of German Atrocities were committed) were from generals like Manstein and Guderian, who lied through their teeth and denied that they even knew about the atrocities being committed WHEN THEY OBVIOUSLY DID AND CONDONED THEM. And so, this narrative, of the Brave Wehrmacht Volunteer, who was simply fighting for "The Fatherland," who was free from Anti-Semitism, free from Political Influence, and never did anything that could be even considered immoral persisted. And it's complete, utter horseshit. Here's Why:

Part 2: Debunking the Myth.

Wehrmacht Officers executing a Soviet POW, 1941

So, where do I begin?

Well, the best place to start (as if there's a "Best" place to start when discussing war crimes) would probably be where the war started itself: Poland. The Wehrmacht's behavior in Poland not only set the tone for how the Wehrmacht would act in the Soviet Union, but it also foreshadowed just how brutal the entire war would be. At Mogilno, in Central Poland, German forces, incited by members of the Mogilno German minority killed 40 Poles. In the village of Wawer, near Warsaw a drunk Polish farmer got into a fight with a German soldier, the Pole produced a knife and managed to wound the German soldier. The reprisal was savage. The local German unit carried out mass killings in the village, and ended up slaughtering 122 people. But that wasn't enough, they proceeded to stop a commercial train heading for Warsaw, the Germans pulled random people off of the train and executed them as well. Their corpses were left hanging in the train station as a warning. There is an account of a German soldier who's unit was attacked by a Polish sniper. They burned the village to the ground and his account of the event is chilling, and shows the inhumanity that the Wehrmacht cultivated:
"Burning houses, weeping women, screaming children, A picture of misery. But the Polish people didn't want it any better. In one of the primitive peasant houses we even surprised a woman servicing a machine gun. The house was turned over and set alight. After a short while the woman was surrounded by flames and tried to get out. But we stopped her, as hard as it was. Soldiers can;t be treated differently just because they're in skirts. Her screaming rang in my ears long after. By the time the military administration of Poland ended in late October, the Germans had killed over 16,000 Poles and burned over 500 villages."
There is another case where a German colonel, angered by the loss of some his men in a gun battle near Ciepielow, had nearly 300 Polish POWs lined up against a wall and shot. This incident was not uncommon: the Wehrmacht often committed atrocities upon the Polish troops they captured. The prisoners of the POW camp in Żyrardów, captured after the Battle of the Bzura, were denied any food and starved for ten days. In many cases Polish POWs were burned alive. Units of the Polish 7th Infantry Division were massacred after being captured in several individual acts of revenge for their resistance in combat. On September 11, Wehrmacht soldiers threw hand grenades into a school building where they kept Polish POWs. The German army also collaborated with local militias to round up Poles and Jews and execute them. The conduct of the Wehrmacht in Poland during the 1939 campaign was so atrocious, that even Reinhard Heydrich, the "Blond Beast" who organized the FINAL SOLUTION said:
"...compared to the crimes, robberies and excesses committed by the army [part of the Wehrmacht], the SS and the police don't look all that bad".
The examples given are just a small smattering, a taste of the horror the Wehrmacht wrought on innocent Polish People: In total, the Wehrmacht murdered some 35,000 Poles and Jews during the Polish Campaign. But this was only the start of the crimes that the Wehrmacht would carry out.

A pair of photos taken by the Polish Underground showing the Wehrmacht rounding up Polish Civilians in Palmiry, Near Warsaw, 1940. These Civilians were murdered shortly after this photo was taken.
The next campaigns in France and Belgium were (Comparatively) murder-free, although there was a notable incident at Vinkt, in Belgium, where the Wehrmacht used Belgian civilians were used as Human Shields, and. in response to continued resistance by Belgian troops in the area, murdered 86 civilians (upward of 600 Belgian Civilians were murdered by Wehrmacht forces in Belgium). In general, the Wehrmacht's conduct in the West was not as terrible as its conduct in the east: while individual examples of rape, murder, and looting occurred, the systematic, regular mass killings that characterized the eastern front were generally less common (though they still happened), and were usually carried out by either the SS or Collaborators rather than the Wehrmacht. HOWEVER, the Wehrmacht's hands in the west WERE NOT CLEAN. Far from it. Some notable examples of Wehrmacht crimes in the western front include:
  • the massacre of 1500 black French POWs of West African origin after the fall of France in 1940.
  • The razing of many Greek Towns and murder of their inhabitants in response to Partisan Operations. Examples are: Kondomari, Distomo, Mousiotitsa, Kommeno, Drakeia and Kalavryta, Kandanos, Viannos and Kedros.  
  • The sack of the Dutch town of Putten, and the deportation of its population (602 people) to concentration camps
  • The murder of nearly 30,000 hostages over the course of the war, in reaction to western Partisan Activity
  • Famously, The execution of 15 uniformed American Officers at La Spezia in Italy, on the order of General Anton Dossler, in 1944.
  • The mass execution of Italian soldiers and POW's after the Italian armistice in 1943. Of particular note is the Cephalonia massacre, on the Island of Cephalonia, Greece, where 5,155 POW's of the Italian 33rd Acqui division by forces of the Wehrmacht 1st Mountain Division (this unit would become famous after the war for the numerous war crimes it committed)
That sounds like a lot, and it is. It is much more than can be excused. These atrocities are enough, in my eyes, to completely condemn the German Wehrmacht and dispel the careful lie their General's weaved in post-war Germany. But it is only the beginning. Oh boy, is it only the beginning.

Memorial to Belgian Civilians murdered by Wehrmacht troops at Vinkt in 1940
Ok. At this point I want to say something: I know I said it at the start of this post, but I will say it again: if the previous paragraphs have made it clear that this post is not for you, for any reason, you should probably stop reading now, as it will only get worse from here. 

Alright. The Eastern Front. Oh God, the Eastern front. I'm going to say this right off the bat: the conduct of the Wehrmacht in the East, when it comes to the treatment of the civilian population, was nothing short of horrifically brutal.

So, in order to dispel the idea that German atrocities in the East were scattered instances and not pre-planned, let's start with on of the more famous examples of German political and racial thought being put in action: the Commissar Order. Issued on June 6, 1941, just days before the Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union, the order was as follows:
Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars:
In the battle against Bolshevism, the adherence of the enemy to the principles of humanity or international law is not to be counted upon. In particular it can be expected that those of us who are taken prisoner will be treated with hatred, cruelty and inhumanity by political commissars of every kind.
The troops must be aware that: 
1. In this battle mercy or considerations of international law is false. They are a danger to our own safety and to the rapid pacification of the conquered territories. 
2. The originators of barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare are the political commissars. So immediate and unhesitatingly severe measures must be undertaken against them. They are therefore, when captured in battle, as a matter of routine to be dispatched by firearms. 
The following provisions also apply: 
3. ...Political commissars as agents of the enemy troops are recognizable from their special badge—a red star with a golden woven hammer and sickle on the sleeves.... They are to be separated from the prisoners of war immediately, i.e. already on the battlefield. This is necessary, in order to remove from them any possibility of influencing the captured soldiers. These commissars are not to be recognized as soldiers; the protection due to prisoners of war under international law does not apply to them. When they have been separated, they are to be finished off. 
4. Political commissars who have not made themselves guilty of any enemy action nor are suspected of such should be left unmolested for the time being. It will only be possible after further penetration of the country to decide whether remaining functionaries may be left in place or are to be handed over to the Sonderkommandos. The aim should be for the latter to carry out the assessment.
In judging the question "guilty or not guilty", the personal impression of the attitude and bearing of the commissar should as a matter of principle count for more than the facts of the case which it may not be possible to prove.
In basic terms, this meant that all Soviet POWs considered to be commissars or active politically within the Soviet Union, together with all Jewish POWs were to handed over to the Einsatzgruppen to be shot. The result of this was that, between July and October 1941, 580,000–600,000 POWs in Wehrmacht custody were turned over to the SS to be killed. Officers and Generals in the Wehrmacht fully knew that this order was breaking international law under the Geneva Convention: In September 1941, both General Helmuth James von Moltke and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris wrote memos pointing out to Supreme Command that the order of July 17, 1941 was illegal under international law. These concerns were disregarded, with Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel writing in response:
"These scruples accord with the soldierly concepts of a chivalrous war! Here we are concerned with the extermination of an ideology. That is why I approve and defend this measure!"
It should come as no surprise, by the way, that Keitel was executed at Nuremberg after the war for war crimes.
In addition to the more famous "Commissar Order," the Wehrmacht also issued the less famous but decidedly more insidious "Barbarossa Decree" in May of 1941. The full text can be found HERE, but in a nutshell, the main points of the decree are:
  • "The partisans are to be ruthlessly eliminated in battle or during attempts to escape", and all attacks by the civilian population against Wehrmacht soldiers are to be "suppressed by the army on the spot by using extreme measures, till [the] annihilation of the attackers;
  • Every officer in the German occupation in the East of the future will be entitled to perform execution(s) without trial, without any formalities, on any person suspected of having a hostile attitude towards the Germans", (the same applied to prisoners of war);
  • "If you have not managed to identify and punish the perpetrators of anti-German acts, you are allowed to apply the principle of collective responsibility. 'Collective measures' against residents of the area where the attack occurred can then be applied after approval by the battalion commander or higher level of command";
  • German soldiers who commit crimes against humanity, the USSR and prisoners of war are to be exempted from criminal responsibility, even if they commit acts punishable according to German law.
This order, among many other things, is what enabled the Wehrmacht to carry out the massive volume of violent crimes on the Slavic Populace that it did during the war. There really isn't much else to say about this order. It's disgusting nature stands on its own, without any need for explanation. It is a clear, obvious proof of the way Nazi Racial permeated throughout the Wehrmacht. And we haven't even gotten to the crimes committed yet. Jesus, this is gonna be a long one.

Mass Hanging of Soviet Civilians in the Soviet Union,
Carried out by Wehrmacht Forces, 1943.
In May of 1941, a month before the start of Operation Barbarossa, General Erich Hoepner, commander of the 4th Panzer Group, issued this directive to his men about the upcoming war in Russia:
"The war against Russia is an important chapter in the German nation's struggle for existence. It is the old battle of the Germanic against the Slavic people, of the defence of European culture against Muscovite-Asiatic inundation and of the repulse of Jewish Bolshevism. The objective of this battle must be the demolition of present-day Russia and must therefore be conducted with unprecedented severity. Every military action must be guided in planning and execution by an iron resolution to exterminate the enemy remorselessly and totally. In particular, no adherents of the contemporary Russian Bolshevik system are to be spared."
This attitude would set the stage for the way the Wehrmacht behaved itself on the Eastern Front.

When the Wehrmacht entered the Soviet Union in June of 1941, thew swept across the Russian Landscape like a horde of locusts. Germany was determined to take advantage of the material wealth of the Soviet Union, as such units were ordered to live off the land. This meant that the Wehrmacht had full clearance to loot Soviet villages and to take whatever materials they felt were necessary to keep themselves alive. These requisitions came at the expense of the local population. In the span of one month, the 12th Infantry Division took over forty tons of meat, 112 tons of oat, 760 tons of hay, 32 heads of cattle, 65 sheep, 94 pigs, 2 tons of potatoes, 770 pounds of butter, 2000 eggs, and over 2000 litres of milk. I will remind the readers that this was the requisition numbers of only one division, and that there were over 150 divisions involved. This result of this mass looting of Soviet land was that the civilian population of the areas under German control had no food, and due to the German policy of burning villages suspected of harboring partisans, had no shelter. The Germans introduced a ration system for civilians, but the Army only gave rations to those who could work in the fields, meaning that pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the sick were left to starve. On the retreat, the Wehrmacht behaved even worse: in attempts to slow the Soviet advance, the Wehrmacht created what were called “Desert Zones” which were areas where all the villages had been burned, and all the local wells poisoned, meaning that no life could be sustained in these areas. The Civilian population in these areas suffered tremendously: all the local males would be conscripted for building duty or sent back to Germany as slave labor. The women and children would be left for dead, or, sometimes, forced at gunpoint into Wehrmacht-Run Brothels (We'll get to those in a minute).

We briefly mentioned the Wehrmacht's policy of burning villages suspected of harboring partisans earlier. This was a sickeningly common occurrence: the aforementioned Barbarossa decree gave German troops permission to do whatever they deemed "necessary" to suppress "partisan operations," and boy did they. As Partisan activity increased behind German lines, the Wehrmacht stepped up the brutality of their reprisals: entire villages were liquidated on the mere suspicion that they were harbouring soldiers. In one case, in Belorussia, a Wehrmacht commander claimed that he had taken 10,940 “partisans” hostage (in fact they were most likely unarmed civilians) and then went on to have 10,400 of them shot. In one year from 1941 to 1942, security units of the Army had killed 80,000 Partisans and “Suspected Partisans,” many of whom were innocent men, women, children, and the elderly. This treatment of "Partisans" would set the standard for what would come next: the systemic targeting of what the Germans viewed as "Lesser Peoples" that characterized the war on the eastern front.
German Forces burning a village in western Russia, 1941

And now, we come to the most famous of the crimes of Nazi Germany: the systemic murder of "undesirables." In the spring of 1941, Reinhard Heydrich and the First quartermaster of the German Army, General Eduard Wagner successfully completed negotiations for co-operation between the Einsatzgruppen and the German Army to allow the implementation of "special tasks." The Einsaztgruppen were mobile squadrons of Waffen SS military and police forces, responsible for the "cleansing" of "Racial and Political enemies of Germany" behind German lines, particuarly on the eastern front (it is estimated that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen and related auxiliary troops killed more than two million people, including 1.3 million Jews). Following the Heydrich-Wagner agreement on April 28, 1941, Feldmarshal Walther von Brauchitsch ordered when Operation Barbarossa began that all German Army commanders were to identify and register all Jews in the occupied areas in the Soviet Union at once and to co-operate fully with the Einsatzgruppen." But it didn't stop there. Oh no. In addition to playing a central role in rounding up Jews and aiding the Einsatzgruppen, the Wehrmacht themselves were involved heavily in the massacres of Jews in the Eastern Front, most famously at Babi Yar, where they were responsible for rounding up the Jews in Kiev, and guarding the area while the Einsatzgruppen carried out the executions of some 33,000 people. The Wehrmacht also played a vital role in supplying and aiding the various Nazi-Allied militias that sprang up in areas like Lithuania and Ukraine, such as the Ukrainian Insurgent Army under Stephan Bandera, who carried out a war of extermination against the Polish Population of Ukraine, and the Ypatingasis būrys in Lithuania, partially responsible for the wholesale destruction of the Jews of Lithuania, a country which went from having the Highest Jewish population in Europe to losing 95% of that population overnight. The instances of Wehrmacht forces being taught, instructed, and carrying out assaults and attacks on the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe are numerous and well documented. Here are a few choice examples of Wehrmacht orders, directives, or actions that showed the nature of their crimes:
  • After Anti-Jewish operations carried out by units of the SS Cavalry Brigade that killed nearly 2,000 Soviet solders and Partisans and over 14,000 Jews in August 1941, General Max von Schenckendorff, who commanded the rear areas of Army Group Centre ordered on August 10, 1941 that all Wehrmacht security divisions when on anti-partisan duty were to emulate the Brigades' Example
  • Between September 24 and 26, 1941 in Mogilev, again on the orders of General Von Sckenckendorff, a joint SS-Wehrmacht seminar was organized on how best to murder Jews. The seminar ended with the 7th Company of Police Battalion 322 shooting 32 Jews at a village called Knjashizy before the assembled officers as an example of how to "screen" the population for partisans.
  • During November of 1941, 707th Infantry division carried out an "anti-partisan" sweep that saw the division shoot 10,431 people out of the 19,940 it had detained. The 707th would later go down infamously as carrying out the most war crimes of any Wehrmacht unit in the east.
  • At Mirgorod, the 62nd Infantry Division executed "the entire Jewish population (168 people) for associating with partisans
  • At Novomoskovsk, the 444th Security Division reported that they had killed "305 bandits, 6 women with rifles (Flintenweiber), 39 prisoners-of-war and 136 Jews"
  • In revenge for a partisan attack that had killed one German soldier, the Ersatz-Brigade 202 "as an act of retaliation shot 20 Jews from the villages of Bobosjanka and Gornostajewka and burnt down 5 Jew-houses".
  • On October 10, 1941 General Walther von Reichenau drafted an order to be read to the troops under his command stating that: "the soldier must achieve full understanding of the necessity for a harsh but just vengeance against Jewish subhumanity."[64] Upon hearing of Reichenau's Severity Order, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of Army Group South announced his "complete agreement" with it, and sent out a circular to all of the Army generals under his command urging them to send out their own versions of the Severity Order, which would impress upon the troops the need to exterminate Jews.
  • On November 20th, 1941, Erich von Manstein (yes, him again), issued an order in which he stated: "Jewry is the middleman between the enemy at our rear and the still fighting remnants of the Red Army and the Red leadership; more than in Europe, it [Jewry] occupies all key posts of the political leadership and administration, of trade and crafts and forms the nucleus for all disquiet and possible revolts. The Jewish-Bolshevist system must be exterminated once and for all."
  • The Holocaust in Serbia stands out as a particularity huge example of the Wehrmacht's participation in the Holocaust. At Šabac, "Central European Jewish refugees, mostly Austrians, were shot by troops of predominantly Austrian origin in retaliation for casualties inflicted by Serbian partisans on the German Army". The orders issued by Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel in September 1941 called for the German Army to shoot 100 Serbs for every German soldier killed by the Serb guerrillas and did not call for Jews to be singled out. But because of rampant anti-Semitism in the German officer corps, it was more or less automatically assumed that the Serbian Jewish community were behind all of the partisan attacks, hence the targeting of Jews in the mass shootings carried out in retaliation for guerrilla attacks. To day, it is thought that the Wehrmacht in Serbia was responsible for the majority of the killings of Jews, not the SS.
Executed Soviet Prisoners of war, 1942
When it comes to the treatment of Prisoners of war, The Wehrmacht continued it's trend of brutality. Whilst Camps for Western POWs (French, British, US, etc.) were usually up to humanitarian standards, their camps for Soviet POWs were woefully and purposefully inadequate. By December 1941, the German army had taken nearly 2.4 million Soviet Soldiers prisoner. These men suffered from malnutrition and diseases such as typhus that resulted from the Wehrmacht's purposeful denial sufficient food, shelter, proper sanitation and medical care. Prisoners were regularly subject to torture, beatings and humiliation. And then there were the purposeful killings: All Jews, commissars, "intellectuals" and Muslims serving in the Red Army were either executed by the Wehrmacht or handed over to the SS to be shot. The Muslim POWs were shot because they were circumcised, and therefore might be Jewish; it was felt to be safer to simply shoot all circumcised POWs rather run the risk that a Jewish POW might escape execution by claiming to be a Muslim. . A grand total of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner during the war, of whom at least 3.3 million (58 percent of the total) died in captivity.
German soldiers entering a Soldatenbordell in Brest, France (1940). The building is a former Synagogue.
I'm going to end this Rant (because i can't stomach it anymore) with coverage of the Wehrmacht Brothel System. Army brothels, known as Soldatenbordell in Germany, were set up by the 3rd Reich throughout both Germany and the territories that the conquered. By 1942, there were upwards of 500 German Soldatenbordell set up throughout Europe. Similar to the Japanese "Comfort Women" system (There will be a separate article discussing the crimes of the Japanese army), these brothels were staffed by upwards of 35,000 women from about 15-35, mostly from Poland and the Soviet Union, who had been kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery. The Polish Government in Exile issued a document on May 3, 1941, describing the mass kidnapping raids, known as łapanka or rafle, conducted in Polish cities with the aim of capturing young women for sexual slavery at brothels run by the German military. At the same time, Polish girls as young as 15, classified as suitable for slave labor and shipped to Germany, were sexually exploited by German men at their place of destination. The Swiss Red Cross mission driver Franz Mawick wrote this passage in 1942 about the rampant rape he saw committed by German Soldiers in Warsaw:

 "Uniformed Germans [...] gaze fixedly at women and girls between the ages of 15 and 25. One of the soldiers pulls out a pocket flashlight and shines it on one of the women, straight into her eyes. The two women turn their pale faces to us, expressing weariness and resignation. The first one is about 30 years old. "What is this old whore looking for around here?" – one of the three soldiers laughs. "Bread, sir" – asks the woman. "A kick in the ass you get, not bread" – answers the soldier. The Owner of the flashlight directs the light again on the faces and bodies of girls. [...] The youngest is maybe 15 years old. They open her coat and start groping her with their lustfull paws. "This one is ideal for bed" – he says."

In the Soviet Union women were kidnapped by German forces for prostitution as well; one report by International Military Tribunal writes: "in the city of Smolensk the German Command opened a brothel for officers in one of the hotels into which hundreds of women and girls were driven; they were mercilessly dragged down the street by their arms and hair."

I will stop the description of the crimes of the Wehrmacht here, as I cannot stomach writing about them any more. If you are still interested in learning more about this subject, I suggest Roland Binet's excellent article on the subject found HERE

The myth of the Clean Wehrmacht, born out of the lies of the people who carried out these actions, and prolonged by Cold-War militarism, has lasted far longer than it ever should have. 17 million men served in the Wehrmacht: far too numerous among them were those mindless men who supported Hitler to the bitter end, passively or actively, morally, politically, lethargically, or even by working hard, in an effective manner, within that gigantic hate and killing machine. And now, as the population of those who saw and experienced such brutality at the hands of the Wehrmacht is decreasing rapidly, it is our duty to maintain this horrific memory. To make the oft-quoted words "Never again" actually MEAN something. This myth has lived on long enough. Let's destroy it now.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Day 3: The Browning Automatic Rifle and World War 2 Suppressing Fire Tactics.

By the outbreak of World War 2 on September 1st, 1939, the Armies of the world had fully realized the destructive power of Machine Guns. Their Colossal fire power, suppression capabilities, and capability for annihilation were all dully noted by the Army Brass, and the horrific slaughter they caused in the Great war some 25 years earlier was still fresh in the mind's of the Generals of Europe and Asia, many of whom had fought in the war and experienced the power of the Machine Gun first hand. In the years leading up to the Second World War, new advances in Machine Gun Technology began to radically change Machine Gun tactics: Developments such as advanced Air-Cooling systems and interchangeable barrels allowed for the increased lightening of so-called "Heavy: machine guns, the development of Light Machine Guns such as the Bren Gun and DP-28, and the slow removal of heavy, bulky, water-cooled machine guns from front line service. However, despite the rapid advancements in Machine Gun Technology, the United States lagged behind. Today, on Swords and Socialism, we will discuss the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), the United States' main Light Machine Gun in both World Wars, World War 2 suppressing fire tactics, and why the US lagged so far behind.


Part 1: The BAR - A History

Diagram of a M1918A2 BAR
When the United states entered World War 1 in April 1917, they found themselves with a woefully insufficient and antiquated hodgepodge of machine guns: the Army, in total, only had about 1100 machine guns, and these were a mixture of old Colt M1895's, Maxim M1904's, and M1909 Benét–Mercié's. Realizing quickly that this situation was untennable in the context of a looming war involving millions of soldiers, the Army began to make provisions for the development and adoption of a new Standard machine gun for the Military (until that time, US troops would be issued with surplus British and French Equipment.)

Enter John Moses Browning, the legendary and prolific Gunsmith, who, to this day, is America's most famous and most copied firearms designer. Browning was already well known by the United States Military: he was the brainchild behind the Colt M1911, which had been adopted as the Army's official sidearm, and his commercial arms, such as the Winchester 1894 Lever Action Rifle, Winchester 1897 Pump Shotgun, and Colt M1903 Pocket Pistol, were well known as effective and reliable weapons, and sold millions of models throughout the world.
Browning Demonstrating his "Browning Automatic Rifle" at the Winchester Plant, 1917
In February 1917, (before the United State's entrance into World War 1), Browning personally brought two prototype machine guns to Washington DC for demonstration in an attempt to win a government contract. One was a water-cooled heavy machine gun (which would later be adopted as the Browning M1917, and will be covered at a later date), and the other was a prototype of what would soon become the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).
The BAR as it was adopted in 1918

At the time, the BAR was a radical and revolutionary design. It was an air-cooled, selective-fire automatic rifle that used a gas-operated, long-stroke gas piston rod, moved by propellant gases bled through a vent in the barrel. Firing from an open bolt (when the rifle is ready to fire, the bolt is held back or "open." When the trigger is pulled, the bolt slams forward, chambering a round and firing it). It's sights went out to 1,500 yards, although hitting anything intentionally at that range was more of a fantasy than anything else. It was chambered in .30-06, the US Army's standard cartridge at the time, and was fed through a 20 round box magazine. It fired either in semi-automatic or fully automatic at a rate of around 600 rounds a minute. Weighing in at around 16 pounds, the weapon seems heavy until you realize that standard heavy machine guns of the time, such as the British Vickers or German MG--08 could weigh upwards of 150 POUNDS. Even so-called "Light" Machine guns of the time, such as the British Lewis gun or French Chauchat weighed in at around 30 pounds, making the BAR look like a feather in comparison. Overall, the BAR was an effective, efficient, and revolutionary design in 1917.
Browning demonstrating the BAR to US Army field testers, 1917
On 23 February, 1917, Browning, in front of an assembled host of nearly 300 people (including military brass, congressmen, senators, ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, and the press), conducted a live-fire demonstration with both of his prototypes. It was a complete and total success: Browning was immediately awarded a contract for the weapon and the BAR was hastily adopted into service. Further testing conducted in May 1917 supported that decision, and the BAR was officially adopted as the Rifle, Caliber .30, Automatic, Browning, M1918, or better known as the M1918 BAR, and an order was placed for 12,000 units, to be fulfilled by the Winchester Company. However, despite the need for machine guns, production of BAR's did not begin to enter production until February 1918. The BAR's first began to enter France with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in July 1918, but were kept in reserve until 13 September 1918, when they were put into the hands of American Troops during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and were later used extensively during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in October-November. Overall, for the short time the BAR was in use in American hands, the BAR performed admirably for its time.
An Illustration of the M1918A1 BAR, the first major modification to the BAR done by the US Army
During the Interwar years, the BAR underwent two major "upgrades." The first was the M1918A1, adopted in June of 1937. The M1918A1 added a light bipod to the gas cylinder shroud and a hinged steel butplate. The intent of these changes was to increase the BAR's accuracy when firing short bursts. However, few M1918's were ever converted to the M1918A1 configuration, making it one of the rarest forms of the BAR. It was also around this time that the Colt Company, who now had production rights over the BAR, began to export the rifle, and it was adopted by several countries, in particular, Belgium, Poland, and Sweden. Each of these countries made their own variations to the original BAR design (but we'll cover that Later).

The Browning M1918A2, as used by US Forces in the Second World War

In April of 1938, the US Military deemed the limited improvements of the M1918A1 to be insufficient to modernize the BAR, and began work on a new set of upgrades. This new model was officially adopted as the M1918A2 BAR in June of 1938. The new M1918A2 model added a new rate-reducer mechanism designed by Springfield Armory, and housed in the buttstock. The rate reducer also provided two selectable rates of fully automatic fire only, activated by engaging the selector toggle. The bipod on the Gas Piston shroud was replaced by one attached at the muzzle,   magazine guides were added to the front of the trigger guard, the hand guard was shortened, a heat shield was added to help the cooling process, a small separate stock rest (monopod) was included for attachment to the butt, the buttstock itself was lengthened by one inch, and the weapon's role was changed to that of a squad light machine gun. Because of all these additions, the M1918A2 weighed in at 20 pounds, 4 pound heavier than the M1918. This was the main Light Machine Gun that the US Infantry entered World War 2 with. Unfortunately, the decision to keep tweaking the now vastly-outdated BAR instead of adopting a whole new light machine gun would prove disastrous in the long run.

Part 2: Suppressing Fire Tactics in World War Two.

A British Machine Gun team training near Bou Arada, Tunisia, 1943
Before we go any further, it is important to cover what suppressing fire is, and the different theories and strategies of fire suppression that existed around the start of World War Two.

Firstly, what exactly is suppressing fire? Well, dear reader, in a battlefield context, suppressing fire is gunfire who's job is to keep the enemy from carrying out it's objectives. This is usually done by covering the battlefield with large volumes of fire, mainly provided by Machine Guns, with sub machine guns, rifles, and other small arms providing a supporting role. The point of suppressing fire is not necessarily to kill the enemy: it is simply fire layed out to keep the enemy's head down and not firing at you so that your own troops could advance.
British Bren Gunner's in action, early 1940's

Now, with that out of the, the way, at the start of World War 2, there were 3 major schools of suppressing fire "theory," so to speak. The first was the light machine gun school, pioneered by the French and developed by the British. Its adherents included most of Europe, including countries such as Britain, France, Japan, Romania, Sweden, USSR, Belgium, Italy and many others. These countries equipped their infantry squad with bolt-action rifles and a magazine-fed light machine gun on bipod with a quickly interchangable barrel (Guns like the Bren, DP-28, FN 24/29, etc.) . The intention was to have a weapon that was capable of the supressing fire heavy machine guns (mounted on tripods) were but quick to set up and light enough to not hinder advancing troops. Nations of this school retained heavy machine guns in specialized units, often at as a machine-gun company attached to a regiment of infantry to provide the World War 1 levels of suppressing planned fire.
German Machine Gun Crew manning an MG-34, 1940's
      The second school was that of the general purpose machine gun.  Germany was the only real adherent of this school before World War 2, and their MG-34 and MG-42 are primary examples of this: Instead of using magazine-fed light machine guns, the General Purpose Machine Gun school made the World War 1 machine gun lighter - adding an advanced air cooling systems (and thus removing the heavy water cooling systems of World War 1 Era Machine Guns), rapidly interchangeable barrels, bipod (but the same gun could be mounted on a tripod if needed) and pistol grip. These were belt-fed weapons and heavy compared to the light machine guns used by other nations (Bren Mk III - 8,68kg empty, MG 34 - 12,1kg empty), but they provided a much higher rate of fire than their lighter counterparts, who could not fire as fast and had far smaller magazine capacities.

US GI's in action, 1940's
      The third and final school of suppressing fire was the rifle firepower school. While, before World War 1, the British and French had been adherents to this school, the only adherent before World War 2 were the Americans. The Americans believed that if each soldier was equipped with a semi-automatic rifle, they would be able to provide their own covering fire. Heavy Machine guns would still be retained, much like in the Light Machine Gun School, but mostly for defensive purposes instead. Because of this, in the minds of the US Army Brass, there was no real need to adopt a new Light Machine gun, and therefore, the BAR was sufficient to provide support while much of the suppressing fire came from the increased firepower from each individual rifleman. It is telling to note that the United States was the only adherent to this school before World War 2, and this system was dropped not long after the end of the war.

Part 3: Problems with the BAR and American Suppressing Fire Doctrine in General.

US Marine Gunner Using His BAR on Okinawa, 1945
So what was the big issue with the BAR? Well, to put it simply, while it was a innovative and advanced design when it was introduced in 1917, by 1945, it was an outdated design that had been updated to address either non-issues or the wrong issues, and forced to fulfill a role it was not designed to fill: that of the Light Support Machine Gun.  It is important to note that other countries who adopted the BAR as their Squad Support Machine Gun (In particular Poland, Sweden, and Belgium), they added several necessary updates such as advanced air cooling systems, and better bipods, which allowed the BAR to satisfactorily fill the role of Squad Light Machine Gun. The American Military, on the other hand, Ignored this changes entirely, and making updates that werer generally unnecessary to fix problems that did not exist. Because of this, the American BAR lacked several key components that would allow it to function in a light machine gun capacity: the major one being that it lacked any sort of advanced air cooling system or easily replaceable barrel, meaning that delivering prolonged, sustained supressive fire with it was impossible. As it turned out, when US troops first entered action, they realized that their individual semiautomatic M1 Garands, while giving American Soldiers an important increase of firepower on an individual level, on a squad level, their rate of fire was far slower than that of a comparable German, Japanese, or even Italian squad. This meant that the BAR was pressed into service to serve as a weapon comparable to a light machine gun, something it was never designed to do. To make matters worse, the Americans shunned the sub-machine gun - while other nations equipped their NCOs and eventually both squad leader and squad leader assistant with an sub-machine gun, the American army equipped them either with an M1 Garand or the ligher M1 Carbine (which also fired semi-automatically). Sub-machine guns were used for rear area troops in the American army, except for among the paratroopers (which also used M1919A6 bipod-mounted belt-fed general purpose machine guns). The Soviets went so far that they equipped a sub-machine gun company in every infantry regiment with only light machine guns and sub-machine guns, and the Germans did similarly, as well as developing the first ever assault rifle (the Stg-44), thus increasing the average firepower of a German Squad even more. This, in the end, left the average American Unit with far less firepower than their opponents, in spite of their advanced Semi-automatic Rifles.

Part 4: Epilogue

Polish Partisan Wielding a Polish Improved BAR, 1944
In the end, as much as I have ragged on the BAR, it is important to note that the BAR was not a bad gun; it simply was a weapon that was kept in service for far longer than it should have had. It was certainly a hell of a gun in 1917, but, in the configuration it was in when the US entered war in 1941, it had aged long past it's prime. During the war, the doctrine that gave the US troops the M1 Garand rifle also gave them no sub-machine guns and very few machine guns (and all of them heavy tripod-mounted) and an inadequate light machine gun. While the M1 Garand was an excellent rifle, experience was that it could not compensate for the lack of firepower of the American infantry. In the end, despite the advanced rifle technology of the United States Military in World War 2, It was the absolutely superb American artillery, and how superbly it was integrated with the infantry, that made the American infantry division the fearsome and effective formation it was. But that is a post for another time.

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