Conflicts with Funny Names

Today I bring you an idea I borrowed from a history magazine I found at work (I am not sure if it was BBC history or History Extra, but it must have been one or the other). There were a few pages dedicated to  armed conflicts with some pretty silly or bizarre names. Now their list was pretty extensive, and in no means I have time to cover that amount of stuff in here. So instead I had a look at some of the issues that I found more interesting, and tried to keep them varied in terms of geographical location as well as historical period. So here it goes to a collection of pretty random war names.

War of the Bucket: sometimes also referred to as the War of the Oaken Bucket; a bellicose dispute between Bologna and Modena. The year was 1325 and the area where the vast majority of the conflict actually develops, is in the district of Emilia. It all started with some troops from Modena pilfered a bucket from a well belonging to the Bologna city walls. And you would think: all that fuss for a blooming bucket?! Well my friends, in case you are not up to speed with the Italian politics of the period, this was obviously not just about the bucket, but about the fact that Modena and Bologna where on opposite sides of the power struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope. Bologna, as a supporter of the Pope was part of the Guelfs, whilst Modena sided with the HRE and the Ghibellines. In short, the outcome of this not so silly war was a victory for Modena, despite the 30000 soldiers that Bologna sent to confront their enemy. And what happened to the bucket? In case you are interested, this is apparently still displayed at Modena’s city hall – just out of spite.

Football War: this was a relatively recent conflict between El Salvador and Honduras. It is often referred to as well as the Soccer War or the 100 Hours War due to its duration – whether that makes it qualify as a war or not… And it is all because of football; indeed. It started in 1969 during the world cup qualifier match for the 1970 FIFA competition between these two nations. And was this really about football? Well, just like with the bucket; not quite that simple I am afraid. Issues rise up regarding immigration due to disputed border and land ownership which affected the mix population of Hondurans and Salvadorans in the area, the latter being effectively kicked out of the country in 1967. So y the time the match comes up, people in Honduras were concerned there were Salvadorans crossing the border not just for the sake of the match, but to stay. A series of nationalistic riots pushed the military to get involved, to the point that the Honduran government was sincerely concerned there would be a trespassing on behalf of the Salvadoran army which eventually happened. For the  over 100 hours that the conflict lasted, the number of casualties added up to around 3000 deaths, most of which were Honduran civilians.

The Flagstaff War: British v Maori. This is the conflict that in fact relates to Hone Heke’s rebellion. After a somewhat peaceful coexistence between the inhabitants of New Zealand and the newcomer British Empire, Heke instigated the war against their new friends due to many things, but I guess the straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact that the British transferred their capital to Auckland from Okiato. This resulted in dramatic economic loses for Heke and his fellowmen. Thus, they decided to take their anger out on the British flag on Maiki Hill, which was chopped down repeatedly in 1844. This caused severe grievances as the British would keep on putting it back on the ground, and Heke and his people kept on cutting it down. The last time this stand-off was performed, it actually ended in violence with the death of one of the keepers of the flag. Leading to several battles; the entire conflict becoming a stalemate, which nonetheless has mostly been presented as a British victory as it meant grounds for reconciliation with Heke and the rest of the Maori communities…

Potato War/Plumfuss (1778-9). This was a conflict involving Austria against Prussia, with the special and additional mentions of Bavaria and Saxony. During the Bavarian War of Succession there was an attempt made by the alliance of Prussia and Saxony to stop the Hapsburg control over the region of Bavaria. As a result the fight entangles into a series of skirmishes. However, although the conflict was not so terrible there were thousands of death due to starvation as the result of  the raiding and pillaging soldiers who spoilt the vast majority of the food supplies. So, yes, perhaps this one war and its funny name have a higher affiliation in terms of terminology than the others. And the reason for the variance between potato and plum? It is a German thing: the Prussians and Saxons referred to it as the Kartoffelkrieg (Kartoffel being potato, krieg: war), whilst the Austrians used the term zwetschgenrummel (zwetschgen – plum, rummel – hustle). So it really depends on which side of the war your stand with this one.


A Portrait of Hindenburg

This is my second contribution towards the effort to document the events of World War One on this blog, and another attempt at modern history, and this time I am profiling a man who preceded Adolf Hitler as president of Germany, Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg (Paul von Hindenburg to his friends). At the first instance of research for this post all I had heard about that could be related to him would be the Hindenburg disaster of 1937 where a blimp crash landed, which I now know occurred after his death. This post will give a brief overview of his life and times in office while attempting to understand his significance in being the man to come before Hitler.

Paul von Hindenburg was born to a Prussian aristocrat, Robert von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, in 1847 in Posen, Prussia (now Pozen, Poland). Hindenburg’s parents were engaged in a morganatic marriage due to his mother, Luise Schwickart, being a daughter of a medical professional and this fact was not seen as favourable to Hindenburg due to her barely occupying any attention in his journals. Hindenburg lineage was distinguished through two high powered Prussian aristocratic families. Hindenburg obtained a long but in no regards exceptional military career, after joining the Prussian Cadet Corps in 1858. He served in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, Hindenburg eventually retiring from active service in 1911 aged 64 after being decorated for bravery and representing his regiment at the declaration of the German Empire in 1871. He finished his first career as head of the Fourth Army Corps. However his most significant rise to prominence came after retirement through being appointed to mobilise the whole German state for war in 1914, and thus becoming a popular and well-known figure to the detriment of the reputation of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Hindenburg’s shining hour was by cripplingly defeating the Russian Army at Tannenburg and Masurian Lakes earning him a promotion to Field Marshall and sole command of the Eastern Front in November 1914.

Throughout the First World War Hindenburg rose to immense power across the military and civil spheres of German government. August 1916 saw Hindenburg being appointed as Chief of the Greater German General Staff (GGB) a body within the Prussian Government established in 1806 to overlook all aspects of war through intelligence and strategic advances. The GGB had greater autonomy to the rest of the German Empire and held extensive political sway. Hindenburg was also a major mind behind the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Russia. This treaty effectively ended Russia’s involvement in World War One on 3rd March 1918 after the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia thus eradicating the Romanov Tsar and his family. Throughout the war Germany had pushed through Russian occupied Poland and Lithuania, and into Russia itself, disintegrating the enormous but undisciplined Russian army. It was also Hindenburg that was instrumental in orchestrating the armistice as the Allies were pushing Germany to their limits especially after America waded into the fray to push the invasion of Germany. If the Allies had succeeded Germany would have suffered to a much greater extent materially, financially and civilly like France and Belgium. The 1918 German offensive on the Western Front had failed and the result was the conclusion of the First World War on November 11th 1918.

The aftermath of the war was the crushing of Germany as a power in Europe. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated the throne and retired to Holland while Hindenburg remained as head of the army until July 1919 when he once again attempted to retire. This was not to last since he was persuaded to stand in the presidential elections of 1925 upon the death of Ebert. Weimar Germany was growing and needed an authoritative figure at its helm. This era in German history unofficially began at the end of the war but took off in 1924 upon its first constitutional assembly in Weimar. Creating the German Republic caused several issues such as extreme inflation, political extremism from both the left and right and a distinct coldness toward other European countries that partook in the First World War. The main achievements of Weimar Germany was a reform of the currency, tax policies and a new organised railway connecting and integrating Germany into a further unified country. Germany had strained against the Treaty of Versailles which was aimed to prevent Germany from obtaining any power and Weimar Germany pushed against these boundaries vigorously. Hindenburg as the leader of all this was elected twice in 1925 and 1931, partly due to not being a politician foremost but a military man who was active during the whole war.

Hindenburg was of advanced age during these years but proved to be a good president for a Germany attempting to renew itself, particularly when hit by the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Hindenburg had a particular fear of communism which led to dismissals within his government including the chancellor Heinrich Brüning. 1932 saw Hitler attempts to become chancellor of Germany. Hindenburg initially rebuffed these due to Hitler not coming from the right social class, and had not had a majorly established career in the military during the war, but Hindenburg gave in January 1933 and Adolf Hitler began his track to power.

During the years that Hindenburg was in power he began to show his age and was more susceptible to persuasion. The burning of the Reichstag in February 1933 enabled Hitler to be granted emergency powers against any communism and thus gain another step to dictatorship. Hindenburg died in August 1934 on his Prussian estate which Hitler used the state funeral to solidify his progress. Immediately after Hindenburg’s death Hitler initiated the use of Fuhrer instead of president and started the ball rolling towards World War Two.


German U-Boats in World War One

During the first world war maritime warfare underwent a technical change that led them to becoming a revolutionised weapon. Both the British and Germans used them to lead attacks on other submarines, merchant ships and battleships. World War One was the first time submarines are used for a significant amount of time in battle or skirmishes. The German submarines entertained a distinguished success in managing to halt and destroyed almost half of all food and supplies carried by the British Merchant Navy. Even though they had similar purposes they should not be confused with the Austro-Hungarian submarines.

Unterseeboot, or ‘U-Boat’/’Undersea Boat’, had several naval stations on German coast lines, and the Germans had a total of 29 boats at the beginning of the war. Most were manufactured in Brugge Harbour but requirements for more submarines meant that development grew to involve Zeebrugge and Oostende Harbours. Each piece of the submarines was designed and built inland in German factories and then transported to the harbour were they would be fitted together piecemeal. A large amount of naval manufacturing took place in these harbours since torpedoes and destroyer boats were also constructed large-scale here. Even though they were crucial in damaging enemy naval war ships they were mostly designed for commercial warfare, as the main aim was to sink merchant ships from between Britain, America and Canada.

The U-boat Campaign during World War One took place during the entire four years. It mostly took place in the waters around Britain and in the Mediterranean since these were the busiest channels for sea port trade. Since both Germany and England relied on imports for food and fertilizer, the general idea was to blockade each other and sink the ships. Pre-War England had a vastly superior navy, something that had been built up to prestige over some five hundred years. This meant it was vital for Germany to catch up in naval aspects in order to successfully unhinged Britain’s trading standards. This they did with swift renovations to their underwater ships. In August 1914 the first ever submarine flotilla patrol took place by German U-boats with the aim to sink the British Grand Fleet’s premium ships. However U-15 subs failed in the one attack that took place with torpedoes missing their mark. The Germans knew that merchant ships in the Mediterranean had to make stops in places like Crete, Gibraltar, Malta and navigate the Suez canal. It was around these areas that were targeted in order to disallowed British and neutral ships to pass. U-33, U-39 and U-35 were responsible for taking control of the Mediterranean commercial fleets.

The second attack taking place mere days after the announcement of War between England and Germany was broadcast. On the 5th of September HMS Pathfinder was sunk by U-21, the first of which to be done by a self-propelled torpedo. The next biggest was during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign when the U-21 sank two pre-dreadnaught battleships, one the most lethal battleships in the English and American navy. Commercial warfare began in 1915 when the Kaiser declared the waters surrounding the British Isles to be a series of war zones. This meant merchant ships could be attacked without warning and without provocation even if they are ships declared neutral. However restrictions had to replaced onto submarine movements and attacks when a SM U-20 sank an American civilian ship the RMS Lusitania and SS Sussex. Part of the Sussex Pledge the Germans were forced to do was to limit submarine fleets. The Germans resorted to surfacing submarines while in battle which led to a small victory at the Battle of Jutland. Despite winning the battle the British Grand Fleet was still in control of British waters. Therefore the Germans went back to just targeting merchant ships. This succeeded with several million tonnes of shipping destroyed up until 1918. 1917 saw a reversion to unrestricted submarine warfare but by armistice the Germans had failed to deplete the British resources enough. This meant on the declaration of peace in 1918 all the German submarines had to surrender and sail to the British submarine port at Harwich. The decisive moment was when Japan joined the Allies in 1917 who were strongly anti-submarine. The Japanese fleets aided by the French and Italian was successful in patrolling the Mediterranean and blockading the Germans.

Most of the U-boats the Germans created were studied at great length ensuring some of the more technical aspects were taken into consideration when upgrading the British submarines. Much was scrapped in aid in use as building materials and the rest was sold to Allied navies. The last moment to take place by the German Submarines during World War One was to stage and suppress a naval mutiny since the loss of so many ships destroyed naval morale.

The Battle of Tannenberg, 1914

Continuing with the WWI themed posts, this is another focussed on one of the earlier battles of the Eastern front. The Battle of Tannenberg was an engagement between the Russian and the German Empires in the first days of the war. It was fought by the Russian Second Army against the German Eighth Army between 26 August and 30 August 1914. Perhaps the most spectacular and complete German victory of the First World War, the encirclement and destruction of the Russian Second Army in late August 1914 and the suicide of its commanding general, Alexander Samsonov virtually ended Russia’s invasion of East Prussia before it had really started. A series of follow-up battles destroyed the majority of the First Army as well, and kept the Russians off-balance until the spring of 1915.

The Allied battle plan prior to the war had been based on France and the United Kingdom halting the German armies in the West while the huge Russian armies could be organized and brought to the Eastern front. In perhaps as little as a month, the Russians could field around ten complete armies, more men than the Germans could muster on both fronts put together. At Tannenberg the actual ratio of Russian to German troops was 29 to 16. However, there were some issues that worked against this plan, such as the Russians’ lack of a good quality railroad network and Russian trains being operated on a different rail gauge to Germany, meaning that their armies could only be transported by rail as far as the German border. Additionally, the presence of the armies of Austria-Hungary to the south limited Russia’s involvement in the beginning of the war.

The Germans however, only considered the Russians to be a secondary threat. The entire Schlieffen Plan was based on the idea of defeating France as quickly as possible, and then transporting their armies by train to the eastern front. This allowed the Germans to garrison Prussia fairly lightly with a single army, the Eighth, while the German Ninth Army was stationed in central Germany to reinforce either front. There was little allowance for anything other than a delaying action while the outcome in the west was decided. This gave the Russians a great opportunity to attack if they were quick enough.

Russia’s incursion into German territory was two-pronged. Two armies planned to combine in assaulting General Prittwitz’s German Eighth Army, Rennenkampf in a frontal attack while Samsonov engulfed Prittwitz from the rear. General Rennenkampf advanced to north-east with the First Army while General Samsonov had begun to take his Second Army into the south-western corner of East Prussia to move westward around the Masurian Lakes and then swing north over a hilly area to cut off the Germans, who would by this point be forced into defending the area around Königsberg. If executed correctly, the Germans would be surrounded

Such was the Russians’ initial plan.  But Rennenkampf brought about a modification following a scrappy victory against The German Eighth Army at the Battle of Gumbinnen, after which he paused to consolidate his forces. Samsonov meanwhile, due to severe supply and communication problems, was entirely unaware that Rennenkampf had chosen to pause and lick his wounds at Gumbinnen, instead assuming that his forces were continuing their movement south-west.

Meanwhile, a trap was being set by the German leadership. They planned to deploy cavalry as a distraction to Rennenkampf’s forces, meaning that he could not continue forward or support Samsonov. German troops were simultaneously being transported by rail to the far southwest to meet the left-wing of Samsonov’s Second Army.  Others were to await orders to move south by foot so as to confront Samsonov’s opposite right-wing.  And a fourth corps was ordered to remain at Vistula to meet Samsonov as his army moved north. Samsonov was entirely unaware of the German plan or of its execution.  Assured that his Second Army was en route to pursue and destroy the supposedly retreating German Army

Just prior to the German attack, the Germans intercepted Russian communications that revealed the distance between the two Russian armies, and detailed The First Army’s imminent marching plans, which were not towards Samsonov’s Second Army. Another message told the Germans that Samsonov had assumed that there would be a general German withdrawal to Tannenberg and beyond. Consequently, his message provided detailed plans for his intended route of pursuit of the German forces. These messages reassured the Germans that their plan would work, and they would not need to fear intervention from the Russian First Army during their assault upon Samsonov’s forces.

Over the next few days, the resulting confrontation had Samsonov’s Army completely surrounded by German forces. There was no support from the Russian First Army, as Rennenkampf held a deep personal vendetta with Samsonov. Finally, Samsonov became aware of the peril he faced.  Critically short of supplies and with his communications system in tatters, his forces were dispersed, and many were defeated. He ordered a general withdrawal on the evening of 28 August. However, It was too late for the Russians. As they scattered, many throwing down their weapons and running, directly into the encircling German forces. Support from the Russian border in the form of counter-attacks were weak and insufficient.

95,000 Russians troops were captured in the battle, while an estimated 30,000 were killed or wounded, and of his original 150,000, only around 10,000 of Samsonov’s men escaped.  The Germans suffered fewer than 20,000 casualties and captured over 500 guns. Samsonov ended up lost in the surrounding forests with his aides, and shot himself, unable to face reporting the scale of the disaster to the Tsar.  His body was later found by German search parties and was given a military burial.

The scale of the Russian defeat shocked Russia’s allies, who wondered whether it signalled the defeat of the Russian army entirely.  This was not the case, as was demonstrated by the lesser German victories shortly after.  And as always, the sheer mass of the Russian army ensured its survival.  Even so, no Russian army set foot on German territory again until the end of the Second World War, in 1945.

Chronicle of Two Announced Deaths

If you are a would-to-be revolutionary, it is in fact an extremely big irony to name your movement in remembrance of the leader of one of the most famous, and most obviously, lost causes in History. Well, that exactly is what Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, leaders of the extreme left-wing of the German Social-democrat Party, did when they, and some other party members, decided to make their move in the wake of the Soviet Russian Revolution. They called themselves “The Spartakist League”.

Surely choosing a name is not bound to be so decisive as to mark the fate of a group. But in this particular case, it pervades the constant sensation that Fate had quite a lot to do with the Spartakists and their pitiful end. Somewhat, it was announced in the very name: a glorious revolt, an overwhelming counter-stroke, an ignominious defeat, a horrible death.

When the Spartakists set sail in 1916 they thought their moment coming: something great was happening there in Russia and, amidst the atrocities of war, winds of change were gathering momentum in Germany too. So they took their own road to the left, trying to ride on the increasing malcontent of the population, the scarcities of wartime economy, the suffering of broken families, all the grief and suffering of a long and ever more and more unpopular war which, in their opinion, was mostly taking place at the expenses of the working class.

They relentlessly worked against war until this was over. But that was not the end of the story. For them, it was just the beginning. The Russians had been capable of starting a Revolution, and making it succeed, in the middle of a not particularly successful war; so the most learned German workers must be able to achieved the same goal and beyond now that the war was finally over. Or so they said…

Their leaders, in fact, were saying quite a different thing. They were saying” we must wait”. They were saying not all working class was in favour of revolution; they knew some order was utterly needed, and wanted, after four seemingly never-ending years of cruel fighting and hardships. They wanted to help in the recovering, then use their new strength to gain power. They even must had sensed something, because, judiciously, they changed names to the more standardised (and probably safer, as it showed later) German Communist Party. Leibnekcht and Luxemburg were able politicians of the revolutionary kind,strong-minded and idealistic, yes, but with enough hindsight as to see where their country was moving and how that would affect their party if they were not to follow. But they were not listened to.

As it was, they even didn’t start the revolts. They were willing, that’s for sure, but with a worn down country and the need for some balance after such a long conflict, patience prevailed at the beginning. Anyway, as in Russia before, leftist forces formed a Soviet Congress and opposed Government. The spark for final confrontation was triggered by the pretension of the revolutionaries that the Army would be dismissed as a whole and then replaced with troops selected exclusively by the Soviet. Not being possible to be an acting Government and at the same time putting up with this kind of demands, Chancellor Ebert refused.
In this precise moment, first week 1919, the Spartakists decided that it was about time to give support to the revolution, probably in the idea that it was the best way to control it, and most probably without any direct support from neither Leibnekcht nor Luxemburg. So, united, the German left sent the so-called “Popular Navy Division”(involved in the rebellion which had led to the end of the war) to seize control of the Government Building. So they did, but the energetic response of Ebert, who called in the loyal Potsdam garrison, frustrated their intentions and they got back to their quarters.

Thus, on January 10, 1919, started the final act of this drama, when the Army and the non regular, extreme right-wing troops called “Freikorps” initiated the retaliation. Then ensued what is now known as the “Bloody Week”: the revolt was suppressed with extreme alacrity and appalling violence, specially against the Spartakists who were seen as instigators if not as the master mind behind the curtains, and, above all, were obviously the more coherent, best leaded revolutionary force. A Heaven sent opportunity to erase a major political enemy.

Leibnekcht and Luxemburg were both murdered, as were lots of anonymous citizens whose crime, as it was, had been trying to achieve a better world, or at least what they believed to be a better world after all the suffering that WWI brought to Europe. Closing the circle of irony, and the jokes of Fate, what happened to their bodies was never disclosed. Just as it happened to Spartacus.

The Lebensreform

“The Lebensreform movement had offshoots in the vegetarian, clothing reform and anti-alcohol movements which demanded a transformation of lifestyle with rejection of unbridled consumerism and commercialism”[1] stated P. Weindling in 1989.

Many might be thinking what is all this issue about the Lebensreform and why it is significant. The truth is that this particular subject is not very well-known outside the German-speaking countries, but I do consider it should be something to revise and rethink as it could be useful to understand and reconsider the actual situation that we are living.

The Lebensreform (or life reform movement) started a t the end of the 19th century, but it had a bigger impact during the first decades of the 20th century, particularly in Germany and Switzerland. It aimed to return mankind’s lifestyle to a more natural way of life. These “first hippies” followed ideals related to a healthier diet based on natural ailments, natural medicine, and sexual freedom. As one of their principal figures understood it, they were the “champions of a new culture who adopt a negative attitude to the machine age in Western Europe”[2]. This was the period of philosophical uprisings and social utopies, and this one was not an exception. Their ideals were extremely influenced by Nietzsche and Darwing, and encouraged by the failure of the capitalist welfare {3}. They thought life should be lived in an easier way; it should be easy-going, simple, but especially full of freedom.

Continue reading “The Lebensreform”