German Military Disasters

When I was a child it was common to rank countries according of their supposed fighting ability.  The Germans were always ranked first, even before the British.  But, reality and experience show that this was an illusion.  Here are two good examples.

In WWI, after 4 years of stalemate of trench warfare, the German Generals running the war, Gens. Ludendorff and Hindenberg, saw their opportunity.  In 1917, the revolution in Russia took them out of the war, so the Germans moved a million troops from the eastern front to the western front to take the initiative.  They decided on a major breakthrough named Operation Michael in the center of the French Front between the main French and British defensive positions, in an area where there was no strategic objectives and so the British defences were weakest.

Indeed when they struck they broke through and advanced more in 3 days than they had done in 4 years.  Ludendorff thought this would win them the war, before the Americans arrived on the Allies side.  This seemed like a good idea at the time, but then things went wrong, the German troops advanced so fast against little resistance that their supplies could not catch up with them, they ran out of ammunition and food, so they took to looting from the French citizens and British supply depots.  This lead to a lot of German drunkenness and loss of discipline.

Also, there was no specific objective to this massive attack.  Under pressure from his officers, Ludendorff, almost on the point of collapse, decided that they should take the town of Amiens, that was a major train junction.  But the French then brought up their army and decided to make a stand at Amiens.  They held off the Germans, who had great losses, and then the British and Americans arrived on the scene and the Yanks attacked with tanks, that was the first major tank success in military history.  The battle of Amiens in 1918 turned out to be a major disaster for the Germans, without adequate supplies of ammunition and food, they were defeated.  German losses in both Operation Michael and the Battle of Amiens were ca. 350,000 dead, while combined Allied losses were ca. 250,000.  The Battle of Amiens brought about the surrender of the German forces and the end of WWI.  So it was not the Jews who lost them the war, it was heroic German General Ludendorff.

In WWII, in 1944 Hitler expected a major Russian attack and assumed it would be in the central front in open tank country, as had been the case at Kursk in 1943.  So he moved his major remaining army south, and then Gen. Zhukov with the main Russian army outflanked them and attacked in the north, thus breaking through towards Berlin.  Anticipating the need to defend Berlin against the possibility of a Russian attack from the east, Hitler had built three defensive lines.  When the Russians did attack they faced these defensive lines with an army of ca. 1 million men.

The first defensive line on the heights of the west bank of the Vistula River held out for several  weeks, but eventually fell in February, 1945.  In April, the Russians attacked the second line of defence at the Seelow Heights.  Here a massive series of underground bunkers were connected by tunnels about 130 m below ground.  The turrets were made of 10 inch thick steel and the construction was of reinforced concrete.  But, it fell in only 3 days, because the Germans could find only 10,000 soldiers to man it when it was intended for 26,000.  This was because Hitler had refused to allow German troops to retreat on several fronts and so they were either surrounded or destroyed.  In this way it is estimated that some 200,000 Germans troops were killed, and they were not available to defend Berlin.

Once they had overcome the Seelow Heights, the only defence between the Russians and Berlin were the available defenders.  There were ca. 100,000, who consisted mostly of Hitler youth, older men of work battalions and untrained cadets.  They were overcome by the Russian forces with a 10:1 advantage and ca. 90% of them were killed.  Hitler then committed suicide and the City was taken and the War ended in May.

Of course, Hitler committed several elementary mistakes.  He moved his last major defensive army south without sufficient intelligence, relying on his intuition.  He refused to allow intact armies to withdraw thus reducing any chance of defending Berlin, and he sacrificed young and old rather than surrender.  Luckily for us he was a lousy General, who allowed his early successes against unprepared armies to foster his sense of invincibility.

PS. Dear friends: I am going to be busy with my son’s visit for a few days, so will return to blog later,  Best Jack