Monthly Archives: October 2021

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (3)

About a year ago I bought a collection, on DVD, of what were,  supposedly,  some 12,000+  images of World War  2 . I was very surprised, and pleased, to see that most of them were not British or American but were in fact either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of them have great photographic merits as well as capturing a split second in history.

It is quite difficult to find a coherent story which will link together 12,000+ images, but I will give it a go. I’m going to start with the Red Army. Here are 11 Soviet soldiers, all well equipped for winter conditions:

The next few photographs will show some of the methods they used. First of all, they knew the conditions and were used to fighting in snow, especially the fierce Siberian troops:

They obviously had a few armoured trains left over from the Civil War and made use of them, although I would struggle to say exactly where:

The Soviet way was to make things that were tough and would stand up to use. They  were also not ashamed to use simple means of transport as opposed to complex tracked vehicles that might freeze up. Horses are tough and, if need be, you can eat them:

Machine guns were easily transported on special little trolleys:

There were huge problems, of course, especially in the early days. Members of the KGB would be positioned at the back of any Red Army advance  and would shoot down the men who ran away. This seems quite extraordinary but many engagements in the Civil War had been lost because the Soviet forces just took to their heels and fled. On more than one occasion the British forces had the benefit of this sudden loss of nerve.

The White Russians had to try extremely hard to lose that war, but they managed it!

Here recruits are trained to shoot straight. Note the unusual fastening for the bayonet onto the rifle barrel:

The troops’ confidence would grow enormously when these newly invented rocket weapons were used. They were known as “Stalin’s Organ” and made use of fourteen Katyusha rockets with a range of up to four miles:

The biggest difference between the Soviets and the other combatants was probably the use of women, not only in non-combat roles but as, for example, fighter pilots and snipers. Women made excellent snipers, apparently. They found it much easier to kill in cold blood than men did, and felt little or no guilt when they did so.

Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko had a record 309 kills:

I think that this cheery young lady is also a sniper, judging by the telescopic sights on her rifle:

Some women, of course, worked at what were, by Western standards, more usual wartime occupations:

And, finally, waving the Red hordes on to Berlin. Notice the road sign on the right. It reads “Берлин” :

 

 

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (2)

Last time I wrote about “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. This is a book about the appalling attitudes and shocking behaviour of, primarily, the German armed forces during World War II. What makes the book so interesting though, is that the two authors range relatively far and wide in their search for an explanation for the Germans’ extreme violence:

“At Princeton University in 1973, a remarkable experiment was carried out. Forty Theology students were told to write a short essay about the Good Samaritan and then it would be recorded for radio at another building.”

Here’s a view of that beautiful university:

The students completed their essays about the Good Samaritan and waited for the word to leave. Eventually an obvious authority figure arrived and told them loudly:

“Come on!!! You’re all going to be late !!! Come on!!! GO !!  GO !!   GO !! “

When the Theology students got close to the building where they would record their essays for radio, they found a man lying on the pavement, eyes closed, coughing and moaning. It was impossible to miss him. He was clearly in a bad way:

Of the forty students, 24 ignored him completely and only 16 stopped to help. A number of the 24 lied that they had not seen him, which was completely impossible.  “Soldaten” argues that this proves, and it is rather difficult to contradict them, that:

“There is a vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.

Take that sliding scale to its logical end and we are faced with “Autotelic violence”. This is violence for its own sake, violence carried out because you like it, you enjoy it. My best example would be the German pilot over London who machine gunned the civilians as they walked peacefully along Downham Way and then bombed the seven and eight year old children waving to him in the playground of a school in Catford. You can read this appalling story here and, if you are still in any doubt, here.

If you have followed the links and read the two accounts, then let’s take a quick look at some of those transcripts made by British Intelligence. This is Lieutenant Pohl who flew a light bomber in the early part of the war when Germany invaded Poland:

“On the second day, I had to bomb a station at Posen. Eight of the bombs fell among houses. I did not like that.

On the third day I did not care a hoot and on the fourth day I was enjoying it. I chased single soldiers over the fields with machine gun fire, and people in the street… I was sorry for the horses.”

One valuable piece of advice from the two authors is that

“If we cease to define violence as an aberration, we learn more about our society and how it functions than if we persist in comfortable illusions about our own basically nonviolent nature. If we reclassify violence as part of the inventory of possible social actions among communities, we will see that such groups are always potential communities of annihilation.“

In other words, we are deluding ourselves if we think we have overcome our willingness to be violent. Our apparently civilised world is no different from anybody else’s world.

This is emphasised by the book’s detailed examination of the events lived through by Michael Bernhardt, which suggest very strongly that the behaviour of the group reinforces the behaviour of the individual. This idea we have already seen, to some extent, when discussing “inhumanity with impunity” in a previous post. Michael said:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Despite his name, Michael Bernhardt was not German but American. He served in Vietnam and, when the time came, he refused to take part in the My Lai massacre of 400-500 old men, women and children. You can read about these terrible events here, and here:

For this refusal to participate in a war crime, Michael Bernhardt was ostracised by every single one of his fellow soldiers, even though back in the USA he was to receive the New York Society for Ethical Culture’s 1970 Ethical Humanist Award.

In other words, in the world of Bernhardt’s fellow soldiers, “what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Can everybody use that excuse though? Even the SS ?

We will see next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What would you do ? (13) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And here’s an enlargement of that box:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

So, the answer is taken, more or less, from that wonderful war film of 1958, “Ice Cold in Alex” with John Mills, Sylvia Sims, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews. All the four of them can think about in all that heat and all that sand is an ice cold beer in a bar in Alexandria, but at one point they have to wind the truck up a steep sand slope in exactly the same way, more or less, as the solution says:

 

 

 

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What would you do ? (13) The Puzzle

What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s Ned again:

The pale box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation.  Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section. Here’s the overall view:

Here’s that box enlarged:

So, just in case you can’t make out that rather blurred blue box, it reads, roughly:

“You are out on an African safari when the truck swerves off the road and sets off down a steep slope. Eventually, the truck is stopped when it hits a large boulder. But that isn’t the problem solved. What on earth can they ding-dong-diddily do to escape death? The slope they are on ends with a thousand foot drop. All they have is a rope, and without help, they cannot haul the truck back up the slope. Food and water is limited, and they cannot possibly walk all the way to their destination because of dehydration.  What can do to save themselves?”

Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (1)

“Soldaten”, which means “Soldiers” is a book about the many atrocities committed by the German armed forces during World War II, although the two young authors do not hesitate to include other conflicts if they wish to make a particular point. War crimes by American forces in both Vietnam and Iraq are therefore included:

The two young authors are both highly distinguished academics, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer.

Harald Welzer (above) was born in Hannover in 1958 and he is a German social psychologist, having studied sociology, psychology and literature at the University of Hannover.

Born in 1968, Sönke Neitzel (above) studied at the University of Mainz and is Professor of Military History at the University of Potsdam. He has previously held professorships at the London School of Economics, the University of Karlsruhe, the University of Bern, the University of Glasgow and the University of Saarbrücken.

The two young men belong to a burgeoning group of modern German academics who are completely willing to study and to write about Hitler, Nazism and the conduct of the German people during World War II. They are not in the slightest bit biased towards the Germans and they do not try to defend the behaviour of the Nazis. Overall, in “Soldaten”, they treat the Nazi period, quite rightly, as if Hitler’s Germany was so far away in the past that it has become a foreign country. Things were done differently there:

I read “Soldaten” recently and I found it absolutely stunning. I even read the first fifty pages twice to make sure that I had understood it all fully.

The book is based on what was probably Sönke Neitzel’s luckiest day ever. He discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and had then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts, which he was able to locate and then to read. Neitzel later found that the National Archives in Washington DC had around 100,000 further pages of prisoners’ conversations. The transcripts from the German prisoners in England have produced a 400 page book which I am going to review in almost note form.

In the earliest pages, it is explained that:

“the brutality, harshness and absence of emotion are what is so disturbing for us, sixty years after the fact…..killing and the worse sorts of violence were part of everyday reality (back then).”

The book will seek to explain why these levels of violence came about, and whether they were unique to this period of the twentieth century.

One idea, mentioned as early as page four, is that when you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules:

“In the Third Reich, people didn’t need to be anti-semitic to murder Jews, or altruistic to rescue them….it was enough to be in a social situation in which one or the other course of action seemed called for. After that, people tended to follow what they had already done…massacre or rescue.”

When the course of action chosen is massacre, the situation may also incorporate the idea of “inhumanity with impunity”. Clearly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then this promotes situations where people can “follow what they had already done”. Here is an example from a conversation between German POWs which was taped by British Intelligence:

Soldier A : “Kharkiv was a delightful town. At Taganrog too, there were splendid cinemas and wonderful cafés.

Everywhere we saw Russian women doing compulsory service.

We drove past, pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again. And did they curse!”

Where does “inhumanity with impunity” come from? Well, on page 25 of “Soldaten, an explanation is given:

“In psychological terms the inhabitants of the Third Reich were as normal as people in all other societies at all other times. The spectrum of perpetrators (of violence) was a cross section of normal society. No specific group proved immune to the temptation of “inhumanity with impunity”.

The Third Reich did not though, reduce the variations of individual personalities to absolute zero. But it showed them to be of comparatively slight, indeed often negligible, importance.

In other words, we are more or less all capable of carrying out dreadful acts, because our characters do not differ enormously from those of other people. And that is why those variations are of negligible importance. All of us, every single one, can do dreadful evil.

They were people just like any other, under that showy uniform………

 

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