Friday 7 June 2019

The Least We Could Do.

Saving What We Could: Had the United States and the British Empire not intervened in June 1944, it is almost a certainty that the Red Army would have rolled on all the way to the English Channel. That was not something either power was willing to countenance. D-Day may have rescued half of Europe from Adolf Hitler, but it could not prevent the other half from falling under the sway of Joseph Stalin - leader of the nation that really won World War II.

ABOUT THIS TIME, 75 years ago, D-Day was at approximately T+24. That is to say, the seaborne invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe was fast approaching being exactly one day old.

In the United States, where most of the resources underpinning the invasion came from; and in what used to be known as the British Empire, which supplied a great many of the troops who spent June 1944 slogging their bloody way inland; D-Day has come to be seen as the pivot-point of the Second World War. The moment when the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich became inevitable.

Indeed, D-Day is crucial to the mythology of that dreadful conflict. It reinforces the notion that the War was an existential struggle between Good and Evil – which Good won.

Except it wasn’t. And it didn’t.

In all the commemorative literature; in the seemingly endless grainy documentaries playing on the History Channel; in the grossly oversimplified D-Day stories broadcast on radio, television, and the Internet; one brutal fact will be, at best, glossed over, or, at worst (and much more probably) omitted altogether.

On 6 June 1944, as the first landing craft were making contact with the beaches of Normandy, fully nine-tenths of the German armed forces were engaged fighting the Soviet Union’s Red Army on the Eastern Front.

Had they not been, then D-Day would never have been attempted. Neither the United States, nor the British Empire, would have dreamed of sending an invasion force against the full strength of the German Army. Why not? Because it would have been an unmitigated disaster.

Even with 90 percent of Germany’s forces battling the Russians; even with the Allies reading virtually all of the Wehrmacht’s military communications; even with a drugged-up Fuhrer incapable of providing anything remotely resembling competent leadership; D-Day was, to borrow the Duke of Wellington’s terse summary of the Battle of Waterloo: “A damn near-run thing.” Had Erwin Rommel and the other German commanders been permitted the same degree of operational freedom in June 1944 as they had enjoyed in the invasion of France, just four years earlier, then “Eisenhower” might now be a by-word for abject military failure.

As for a battle between Good and Evil. Well. Even if we allow that the British Empire and its American ally represented the forces of justice, tolerance and liberal democracy (and that would be a ridiculously generous allowance!) no such generosity can be afforded to the regime of Joseph Stalin.

The battle that mattered: the one that raged across the Great European Plain following the truly pivotal Battle of Stalingrad (and after that, the epic Battle of Kursk) was not a struggle between Good and Evil; but a fight to the death between two equally evil ideologies: Fascism and Communism.

That Communism won the day was not due to any inherent superiority in its philosophical precepts, but simply because Stalin had a great many more human-beings to hurl into the meat-grinder of the Eastern Front than Hitler did. The Fuhrer also lacked military officers who were willing to countenance the deliberate machine-gunning of their own troops should they falter in the face of withering fire, or, worse still, attempt to retreat. Not even the Nazis dared issue an order that the wives of soldiers who dared to surrender to the enemy be sent to the death camps.

Winston Churchill, questioned about his support of the Soviet Union following the launching of “Operation Barbarossa” in June 1941, famously quipped: “If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would, at least, make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” It was a clever joke, but, as jokes so often do, it contained a hard kernel of truth.

“We” won the Second World War not because we had God on our side, but because we were allied with the second-best approximation of Lucifer to be found this side of the Gates of Hades. Adolf Hitler may have started the War; and his industrialised genocide may have come down to us as its most obscene emblem; but it was the Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, who ended it. The combined losses of the British Empire and the United States barely exceeded one million. Soviet losses are estimated at 20-27 million.

In a moral, as well as a military sense: D-Day was the very least we could do.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 7 June 2019.


Kevin Hester said...

"Every human being that loves freedom owes to the Red Army more than he will be able to pay in a lifetime"
Ernest Hemingway.

Anonymous said...

Russian blood & American industry won WW2. anything else was a sideshow really with the exception of the Battle of the Atlantic [down largely to the Royal Navy] The Russians would have won the war on their own in Europe eventually, this is not of course to diminish the sacrifices made in the Battle of Britain,the Desert campaign and Italy, History could have been very different with the Russians and the Western allies looking at each other across the English channel.
The decisive factor in the Pacific war was the US Navy in a number of aircraft carrier battles and an utterly ruthless submarine campaign qwhich starved Japan The events of which little has been written about probably because publicity of the American tactics would have been very embarrassing indeed.

Anonymous said...

Fascism and Communism were not "equally evil." If they were, it wouldn't actually matter who won the Second World War... and I'd suggest that it rather does.

(Or to take another example: the West allied with the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi Germany. Would it have been equally good for the West to ally with the Nazis to invade the Soviet Union - as Hitler himself wanted? I thought not).

Guerilla Surgeon said...

""Every human being that loves freedom owes to the Red Army more than he will be able to pay in a lifetime"
HE maybe – let's not forget also that the red Army raped its way across Europe – probably millions of women, German, Polish, other European slave labourers, and Russians. So SHE maybe not so much.

powderburns said...

Great article. The war certainly was decided in the East, as was that battle spawned from the French Revolution: Napoleon in 1812. Hitler though simple ran out of men and material. The Soviets were ruthless with their own troops. Upon return from the great victory in Europe, fighters in the Red Army were generally imprisoned or killed: recall Solzhenitsyn 25 year sentence upon returning home from fighting the Germans.

Stalin and Hitler were allies at the start of the conflict. Brother and sister. The great battle of WWII was a family feud.

JFK was a good friend of Uncle Joe, and sent him tanks, guns, bullets and planes during the war, and turned a blind ideological eye to some of the rumours coming out of the Russian concentrations camp escapee's and, say, Katyn. England was exhausted and broke. World War I had put it in debt and decimated the empire. Although Churchill's decision to convince the empire to fight on was critical for the survival of Western civilisation, all its flaws and beauty together. America and Russia won the fight, but Churchill set the scene of defiance:

“If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

From an unprompted speech to parliament after the Prime Ministers role landed in his lap in 1940.

David Stone said...

I heard it was generals December January and February that were decisive for Russia. What humans will do to each other "for their country"

aj said...

Yes the Russian military and political hierarchy were quite brutal in their prosecution of the defense of their country. The Germany policy of deliberate mistreatment of the prisoners they took, and the wiping out civilians in the town and cities they overran, encouraged the Russians to return the favour. It's quite something that the military were in shape for such a battle after the purges of the 1930's
It was viewed simply a fight to the death. It's easy to label it as communism v fascism but it was also the defense of their homeland from invaders from the west. If Russia had a more benign leadership and/or democratic government, would it have altered Hitlers hate of the Slavic people? and would the Russian response be any different? Anyway, a knowledge of the that war and previous history explains why Russia is so unhappy with NATO expansion.

sumsuch said...

Good analysis. We seem further along in our understanding of WW 2 than WW 1. D Day wasn't necessary to defeat Germany. A political thing. Realpolitek. But somehow the means of idealism roseated several decades in the West, if less elsewhere. We had this good moment.

sumsuch said...

Ernie Hemingway had a fig up his arse to utter that ultimate contradiction, Kevin Hester. But yep, it was just politics as usual. Where most of us think of it as the Righteous War.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

JFK was a good friend of Uncle Joe ??????????????????? FDR? Because JFK was fighting in the Pacific, and his dad was a good friend of the Nazis.

pat said...

An obvious fact of history that has been conveniently buried and is now widely misunderstood....certainly in the western influenced world post Soviet Union.

We are in increasing danger of believing our own propaganda (in monochrome )

Anonymous said...

Stalin and Hitler were allies at the start of the conflict. Brother and sister. The great battle of WWII was a family feud.

It really wasn't, and a non-aggression pact ain't an alliance - it was just that neither wanted a war at that exact moment. Hitler didn't want a war on two fronts, and Stalin needed time to build up his military after the purge. A Nazi-Soviet War - as David Low's famous cartoon from the era pointed out - was inevitable, given what Hitler's war aims actually were. You know, the enslavement of the Slavic people, the elimination of Communism, and lebensraum for Germany.

So, no. Not a family feud at all.

BTW, it was Roosevelt, not Kennedy, who was US President during the War.

greywarbler said...

And thinking of Chamberlains appeasement, it is known that at the time Britain wasn't ready to enter a war. He no doubt had to do the best to delay for Britain to arm up. And D-Day was necessary to show the Brits that there was hope and to keep them fighting to their death, if necessary.

Churchill's comment, paraphrased, can be applied to our new Fronts, Climate Change and Clown Politics.

"“If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”"

Say it like this: 'If this long human era of ours is to end at last, or change beyond imagination, let it end for loving humanity only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.'

powderburns said...

Oops, yes FDR, the progenitor of the new deal. Damn three letter acronyms and Scotch.

It's amazing that Hitler wrote in his Mein Kampf that he intended to invade Russia and do Lebensraum. It was all laid out in a best seller! And his main negotiator with Germany was Molotov, of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, was Jewish. What a mess.

It's hard to imagine the courage these young men summoned to liberate Europe from France. I measure myself but am found wanting.