Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Winston Churchill, Warrior and Leader

Winston Churchill, a Man of All Seasons

Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, KG, OM, CH, TD, DL, FRS, RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was perhaps the most successful man of the 20th Century. Sure, others made more money, had bigger families, invented this or that, or did whatever else you may think constitutes success.

Winston Churchill
Official portrait of Winston Churchill.

Churchill, however, did more with less. He bounced back from adversity more often, and to greater effect than anyone else during the 20th Century. Just for starters, Churchill was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.

Winston Churchill

Churchill also won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And he's legendary despite the fact nobody really remembers or cares about either of those two facts.

Winston Churchill
Jennie Jerome, Winston's American mother, when Winston was a lad.

Like so many other leaders who had huge impacts on their country, Churchill wasn't completely "of" England. His mother, Jennie Churchill, was a socialite from Brooklyn, back in the days when Brooklyn was a separate city and an address there was considered classy. There was some controversy about Winston's birthdate, which was only eight months after the wedding, but Winston would only comment, "Although present on the occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Winston Churchill
Churchill at the beach in the swimsuit of the time.

Winston did the usual thing for ambitious and able young men at the height of the Empire, serving overseas with distinction after going through Sandhurst. He was noticeable for actively maneuvering to go where the fighting was thickest, thereby advancing himself.

Winston Churchill
With Kaiser Wilhelm II, on maneuvers in 1909.

Hungry for money, he became a war correspondent, visiting the States and Cuba among other places. Churchill also tried to learn to fly twice, first in 1913-1914 and then in 1919. One of his early instructors (Captain Gilbert Wildman-Lushington RMA) crashed. His second attempt ended with a crash of his own at Croydon 18 July 1919, with Group Captain Alan John Lance Scott as the instructor.

Winston Churchill
Winston and daughter Mary watching measures to combat flying bombs in the south of England June 1944, shortly after D-Day.

Winston sustained minor injuries, and his wife and others in government grew concerned and asked him to stop. Though he claimed it was useful to learn to fly to better understand the challenges facing the Royal Naval Air Service (founded during his tenure as First Sea Lord), he eventually did give up.

Winston Churchill
Churchill as a war correspondent in 1899.

Winston retained his love of flying his entire life, and reportedly would take the controls of his Dakota aircraft during World War II, and somewhat mysteriously he seems to have worn some air wings (on an Air Commodore's uniform) signifying his status as a pilot during that time. Winston was a man on the move, and hungry to advance himself and take risks.

Winston Churchill
"Churchill with his flying machine at the Central Flying School at Upavon on Salisbury Plain, May 1914."

With a full resume and family connections galore, he won a seat in Parliament as a Conservative and was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, just in time for World War I. He instigated the disastrous Gallipoli campaign and had to resign in 1915, but he quickly bounced back. He served in command positions on the Western Front, again building up his resume at serious risk to his own life.

Winston Churchill
Churchill holding a M128 Thompson, 1940.

Reportedly present at the New York Stock Exchange during the Wall Street market crash of 1929, Winston survived the inter-war years in good humor, though money always was a concern. His political instincts were not particularly good, praising Mussolini and opposing Indian independence, but those were common attitudes of the time. He consistently opposed German rearmament efforts, realizing the danger of a powerful Germany. His main worry, though, was Communism. He was no fan of the Soviet Union, or of Stalin. As he later said, though,
"If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

Winston Churchill
Young Winston Churchill, 1895.

Things started coming to a head with Germany in the late 1930s. Always able to coin a memorable phrase, Churchill dismissed the Munich Agreement made by a naive Prime Minister with Adolf Hitler with the succinct line, "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war." War soon followed as Winston knew it would. The British government was in trouble, and it suddenly became quite handy to be known as the most strident critic of its failed policies towards Germany.

Winston Churchill
Another picture of Churchill as a subaltern, 1895.

The choice for a new Prime Minister came down to Churchill or Lord Halifax. Since Halifax was a member of the House of Lords, the feeling was that it would be better not to have a Lord in charge of the war effort - though Churchill was at least as much a member of the aristocracy as anyone else. Churchill being an elected member of the House of Commons made all the difference. Halifax (supposedly) turned down the job, and Winston was in. It was a good thing, too, because Halifax later became in interested in a settlement with Hitler, which Churchill successfully opposed.

Winston Churchill
Winston in 1899, complete with mustache.

Churchill rallied the country against the German Blitz, and many of his lines became clichés. Some of his best lines ("This was their finest hour") have become so associated with the war that people forget that Churchill first came up with them (or at least was the first to popularize them). Their tone of utter defiance and determination have been lightly mocked ever since, but they saved his country.
Winston Churchill
Churchill as he was.
Winston Churchill
Churchill as he wanted to be seen.

Listening to his speeches now is bracing, for their resignation, their tired determination, the iron will lying coiled beneath the barely disguised annoyance that England should once again have to establish something obvious for all to see that never should have to be demonstrated even once in a rational world.

A few of Churchill's epic and best-remembered quotes from World War II:
"[W]e shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'."
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few," about the Royal Air Force.

Churchill's biggest worry wasn't the Luftwaffe, though. Instead, and contrary to what generally is believed, the biggest threat to Great Britain was the German Navy, the Kriegsmarine. German U-Boats remained a thorn in Churchill's side well after other elements of the German threat had faded away, and he alone knew just how close Hitler came to starving the country into submission. It was a very close call. United States trade, assistance, and intervention made all the difference, or else Hitler likely would have won. Churchill having an American mother was quite handy.

Winston Churchill
With Canadian Prime Minister Borden in 1912

The war was duly won, and for his troubles, Churchill immediately was voted out of office. To be sure, Churchill had many detractors. He was a great motivator, but not nearly as good at strategy. His war policies caused immense hardship to the people, and by war's end, they had suffered enough. It is inarguable that he saved Great Britain with his inspirational speeches, but by 1945 the people had had quite enough of deprivation and turned to the Left.

Winston Churchill
Winston during the seige of Sydney Street Police House, 1911.

Winston could have retired with honor at that point, being 70 years old, but instead, he remained in government as leader of the opposition. He came up with the famous phrase "the Iron Curtain" in 1946 during a speech in Fulton, Missouri:
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere.

Winston Churchill
Attempting to bomb Britain into submission, the German Luftwaffe attacked the city of Ramsgate while Churchill was visiting in August 1940. Taking cover in an underground shelter, he exchanged his trademark civilian hat for a steel helmet. The city’s mayor forced him to discard his cigar in the shelter, eliciting the rueful response, ‘There goes another good one."

Eventually, after six years, he was voted back in as Prime Minister, but it was a difficult time. Quite frankly, the Empire was dissolving, and there wasn't a thing that he or anyone else could do about it. As he said, "I will not preside over a dismemberment," but that is what was going on whether he wanted it or not. His health started going, and he finally retired in 1956. He lived out his years in peace, famous and revered around the world.

Winston Churchill
Testing a Thompson sub-machine gun, 1940

Winston Churchill
With General Eisenhower, 1944

Winston Churchill
The "Big Three" at Tehran, 1943

Winston Churchill
Reviewing the troops, 1945

Winston Churchill
Relaxing, 1948

Winston Churchill
After being released from the hospital, August 21 1963

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill
Churchill at his estate, 1951


Monday, December 23, 2013

Child Soldiers

Children Were Key Parts of the Conflict

Hitler Youth

In more ways than one, World War II was the war of the children.

Hitler Youth

They started out cheering, and wound up dying.
Two young German soldiers armed with Panzerfausts (anti-tank weapons) and Mauser rifles, march along Bankowa street in Lubań (Lauban), Lower Silesia. There was fierce fighting there and it was the site of pretty much the last successful German operation of the war. 

Children suffered on the home front along with adults during bombings and ground attacks, but they also did some attacking and defending of their own at the front lines.

child Flak gunner
Unknown young German anti-aircraft gunner 'flakhelfer' on position with devyatikilogrammovym projectile antiaircraft gun 8.8 cm FlaK 18/41 in the German city of Hagen (Hagen). Countless American bombers were shot down by boys like this. These brave boys were out there in the open while the bombs were dropping.

German children were actively recruited for various defense purposes throughout the war, not just at the very end.

child Flak gunner
“Youth serves the Fuehrer! All 10 year-olds join the Hitler Youth.” 

The boys, indoctrinated in the system from birth (or, as the poster above shows, at least from the age of 10), were more than willing in many cases.

Hitler Youth Identity papers
This boy looks remarkably like the one in the above poster.

It was the norm for schoolchildren to wind up working alongside their schoolmasters (often WWI Vets) on anti-aircraft duty or guarding important installations. Not all of the jobs were dangerous, but some were very important.

Hitler Youth
The culture of the time on both sides encouraged a martial indoctrination.

The war served as a king of extracurricular learning experience. It is not exaggerating to say that the entire Third Reich culture conspired against young boys.

3 SS Panzer Division Totenkopf  Warsaw 1944
3.SS Panzer Division 'Totenkopf', Warsaw 1944.

Surviving the war if you were in your late teens was a major accomplishment.

Frankenthal 94th Infantry Division
A soldier of the 94th Infantry Division searching two young anti-aircraft gunners who surrendered in Frankenthal, 23 March 1945

At that age, it is difficult to question those who are older and who stand as the leaders of your people.

Hitler Axmann Fegelein 20 March 1945
20 March 1945: Adolf Hitler decorates his last tranche of boy soldiers for fighting to the bitter end. Artur Axmann, leader of Hitler Youth, is behind Hitler; Otto Günsche is in background on left, then Hermann Fegelein in the center and Heinz Linge on the right. Many accounts mistakenly state this was taken 20 April.

Without the experience to make your own assessments as to the validity of a cause or to challenge authority, the tendency is to follow it blindly and whole-heartedly.

Japanese Soldiers Okinawa
U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Hart H. Spiegal tries to communicate with two Japanese child soldiers captured during the Battle of Okinawa. June 17, 1945

This tendency to conform to what is asked of you, regardless of deeper issues such as morality, survivability or long-term sustainability, is enhanced by the respect given by all to senior soldiers with shiny medals and lots of gold braid; there is nothing a schoolchild wants more than earned respect.

child soldiers poster

Added to that is the very real understanding that by, for instance, manning a Flak gun, you were defending not only your homeland, but the lives of everyone you loved. Propaganda encouraged the young warriors every step of the way.

Hitler Youth

Thus, the youngest soldiers were often the most fanatical, and also the ones who were most determined not to give up. The smart German boys, of course, recognized the self-abnegation resulting from their becoming cannon fodder for people who did not have their best interests at heart, and realized that they were only safe after they had surrendered.

child soldier

Still, it took an extreme act of will for a child with romantic notions of valor to 'give up' and admit defeat. It was especially difficult because surrendering took away all the shortcuts to prestige and pathways to success that had been laid out for them by everyone they knew. A boy could be taken seriously as a soldier, when otherwise he would be just another face in middle school.
German WW2 . Says : " Youth ( Join ) in Air defense. " Children manned many anti-aircraft batteries in the major cities, and usually were not asked to do so - they were told to do it as part of their normal routine. 

Child soldiers carried guns and fought. They were actively recruited by some combatants. The Germans were the most active in recruiting children for their Hitler Youth active combat formations such as the 12th SS Hitlerjugend Division. Since most schoolchildren were already manning anti-aircraft guns or performing other civil defense duties (spotlights, patrols), it was not quite as much of a leap in Germany to actually enlist as it would have been for children elsewhere. By late 1944, the Wehrmacht was taking anyone that could carry a rifle.

Children, of course, didn't know any better and were not ready to make adult choices. While from our perspective they fought for the enemy, it's possible for many to feel sympathy for them. The peer pressure on them and their lack of perspective doomed them to joining up and dying for nothing.
Berlin 1945 (Ang, Federal Archives).

It was heinous of their elders to think that was appropriate for boys of 10, 11, 12 years of age to carry a gun or man a tank. A huge fraction of them wound up dying or being maimed for life.

Hans-Georg Henke
This lad, Hans-Georg Henke, thought he had lost everything because he knew of nothing else

Many know of the famous Hitler Youth, led by Baldur von Schirach, and their SS Division. The 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend" Hitler Youth Division saved the entire Western Front for Hitler and Rundstedt in August 1944 after the US breakout from Avranches. They prevented the British and Canadians from closing the northern escape route for the German armies fleeing from out of the Mortain pocket, preserving the so-called Falaise gap despite ferocious Commonwealth efforts to close it. Without their efforts, the German defense of the West would have entirely collapsed in 1944. Only a very small fraction of the boys survived, and those that did kept fighting for the remainder of the conflict. Hitler Youth were some of the last defenders of Berlin. Yes, they were fanatics, because they didn't know any better.

Hans-Georg Henke
He hadn't. Hans-Georg Henke - 16 Year Old German soldier crying - now

However, focusing just on the Hitler Youth is misleading. There were children serving on both sides of the conflict, in all armies.
Wounded son of the regiment. Wounded Russian, child soldier, is patched up by a child medic in the field. Among other things, notice how casually the submachine gun is placed (for propaganda purposes of course) and how the nurse doesn't seem to mind it pointing at her. Try to imagine that happening now. 

The Chinese had many boys holding rifles, while the Soviets enlisted them as partisans and spies. Some underage kids snuck into the US and British armed forces.
No, these are not actual soldiers, and this is not comparable to kids carrying actual guns and shooting and being shot. However, indoctrination begins early, and kids are very impressionable. Original caption: 'New York, New York: Soldiers In Miniature. Decked out in military uniforms featured at the 40th annual Toy Fair, Salvatore Beniti, left, and Craig Smith, both stand at attention before a picture of their hero, General Douglas MacArthur.' Toys, dolls, play uniforms and picture books took the military forces as their theme, with virtually every bit of war equipment duplicated in miniature.

The US and British Army and Navy recruiters weren't being too choosy under the circumstances, with the enlistment personnel not checking too closely for absolute age compliance during the darkest days after Pearl Harbour. While some later proudly proclaimed that they had enlisted at age 17, that was not supposed to happen. Boys also manned anti-aircraft and civil defense positions in Great Britain and Germany, downing bombers and fighting fires.

Hardy Krüger
Hardy Krüger was studying acting, but boys in Germany weren't allowed to be choosy and ignore the war. He wound up in a SS Division as a 16-year-old. Of course, he survived the war and became a famous actor, but he was playing the part for real in the ruins of Berlin. Oh, he is very much still with us as of 2014.

It is incorrect to state that support for using children as soldiers was monolithic or even tolerated by everyone in the German high command, no matter how stringent the exigencies of war. However, they fought anyway. During the Battle of Berlin, for instance, German national leader (Reichsjugendführer) of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend) Artur Axmann’s forces formed a major part of the last line of German defense. As in Normandy, the children were reportedly among the fiercest fighters.
Young Soviet soldier.

The Berlin city commander, General Helmuth Weidling, ordered Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations; unfortunately, in the confusion, this order was never carried out. The remnants of the youth brigade took heavy casualties from the advancing Russian forces: only two survived. Axmann? He died of old age in Berlin in 1996.
Hitler Youth being awarded medals, 1943. That's a touch more realistic than the usual propaganda shots.

Children can fight and die when their elders choose to let them. Those that did should be remembered. They were just kids.
11-year-old "soldier" killed during the Warsaw uprising 1944. Really, what can you say.
Child soldiers
1944 - Ten-year-old German boy soldier poses with his Major after their capture in Antwerp, Belgium. Hundreds of other prisoners taken with them march past in background. Since Antwerp was in Allied hands by October 1944, this is proof that child soldiers were serving well before the Reich's last days.

Child soldiers
German youth in uniform surrender to Allied troops in Snamont, Belgium. New Years, 1945. They knew nothing but the Third Reich and no doubt felt it could never end.
A 12-year old Hitler Youth leader receives the Iron Cross, Second Class for combat performance, March 1945. The Iron Cross meant he did... something.
The Last of the last in defense of Hitler and the Third Reich. Child "soldiers" caught during the Battle of Berlin, April-May 1945. Most of them were ordered to ditch the uniform and go home. Behind them appears to be a column of their elders headed toward a processing center, these boys must have been pulled out.
Teenage German soldier, who served with the Hitlerjugend division, is taken prisoner by US troops near Forbach (Alsace), March 1945.
A 13-year-old POW from a Hitler Youth unit captured by the US Army in Martinszell-Waltenhofen, May 1945.
Three 14 year-old German prisoners of war eating rations in front of a group of other POWs, 29 March 1945. The boys were captured by 6th Armoured Division, Third US Army, near Frankfurt-am-Main.
13-year-old Soviet Partisan. Nice uniform - too nice. Obvious propaganda shot.

Wehrmacht boys
World War II - Prisoners of war - 42-35302875 - Rights Managed - Stock Photo - Corbis. Adolescent German prisoners of war - almost children - in an American prison camp shortly after the end of World War II.
A Japanese soldier-to-be. They indoctrinated them early. Kids love to play war.
A Son of the Regiment wearing Red Star. These sort of mascots fought and died.
Boy Red Army soldier serving with front line unit, 1942. The presence of children as young as 12 in Soviet army units was routine. They all received the same weapons and kit as adult soldiers, slightly adjusted for size. This boy is carrying the standard issue PpsH SMG and anti-personnel grenades. His war-fighting abilities remain a mystery, but an artillery shell or bomb will kill him just as surely as the others.
A wounded German Hitler Youth. It's all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.
Young scout reports to the commander of the partisan detachment G.V. Gvozdev about the location of the Germans. Undoubtedly a propaganda shot, but accurate.
Propaganda photos make espionage by children look glamorous. Sometimes, it isn't. Spies are spies. Here, a firing squad of the US. Ninth Army executes 16 year old Heinz Petry of Hitler Jugend for espionage, Germany,1945

child soldiers
A young German wounded prisoner of war captured by the First US Army in Simmerath, Germany. December 1944.
A boy soldier in China during the 1930s
Boy soldiers captured at Kronach, Germany by 11th Armoured Division April 25, 1944
People were horrified at the time, too. This is circa 1945: people view a display entitled of "Militarization of Children" with statues of young boys wearing shorts, armbands, gas masks and carrying rifles, Rockefeller Center, New York City. (Photo by Anthony Potter Collection/Getty Images).
Captured German soldier boy, happy to be out of it
Child soldier in China ca. 1942
Ten-year-old Chinese child-soldier in Burma 1944
15-year-old French Legion boy soldier on Eastern Front 1941

child soldiers
Hitler Youth members pressed into army service are caught by the Americans. Any such youth over 15 was treated as regular soldier for POW purposes. Note the blond guy wearing a winter Waffen SS coat usually issued to officers only. Sheer speculation, but he may have gotten it from a dead comrade.
15-year-old German soldier 1945, Kronach
Teenagers captured east of the Rhine 1945

Hitler Youth 1944
Children from the Hitler Youth serving in the German Army at the last stages of WW2. As Germany suffered more casualties, more teens volunteered and were accepted, initially as reserve troops but then as regulars. The German ethic of the boy soldier not only encouraged such service but the Germans even drafted boys as young as 12 into military service. They saw extensive action and were among the fiercest and effective German defenders in Normandy and the Battle of Berlin
Child carrying shovel and machine gun rounds
The kid appears to be receiving a medal, see picture below.
A propaganda photo that went disastrously wrong, it appears to be a partisan unit.

Hitler Youth 1944
16-year-old Wilhelm Hübner proudly accepts the Iron Cross Second Class from Joseph Goebbels.
Roughly a month before he committed suicide, Hitler holds his last awards ceremony in the garden of the chancellery. The recipients are all Hitler Youth members. Hitler is shaking the hand of 12-year old Alfred Czech - the boy's name alone is ironic. To the latter's right is 16-year old Wilhelm Hubner, already a photo star thanks to receiving a medal from Goebbels in a previous ceremony (see photo above). Both Czech and Hubner have been awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class, quite a lowly medal for Hitler to award personally, but times had changed. If any one of them survived and could time-travel back to that moment, they'd likely have whipped out their pistol and shot him dead.

Hitler Youth 1944
A young German soldier from the SS-Panzerdivision 'Hitlerjugend'. Caen, Normandy, June 1944. The unit was decimated, but they held their position and saved their mates, holding open an escape route for 10 German panzer divisions. This one has "the look" - his eyes show that he knows his time is near. And it probably was. All that equipment, incidentally, is quite heavy. German soldier with MG42 machine gun, Caen, France, Jun 1944 Photographer Wilfried Woscidlo Source German Federal Archive

Lest anyone think that these pictures are heroic and the lads are enjoying every moment of their glory, here is one last photo that shows the reality - not the false hype and glamour - of war for children.

Hitler Youth 1944
This was taken from a movie, it's a little too ... real

Hitler Youth 1944

Hitler Youth 1944

It was against US policy to induct anyone under the age of 18. However, a few did sneak in. Well, more than a few. Many of them bragged about it in later years, but at the time, if they had let on about their true age, they would have been dishonorably discharged like the fellow below.

Calvin Graham
Calvin Graham was an extreme case. He was only 12 years old when he lied to get into the Navy. He wasn't found out until he was wounded at Guadacanal. He was dishonorably discharged, but his benefits were restored eventually.

Oh, and for those who made it this far and perhaps think that this is merely a quaint historical topic that really has no bearing on the current world, the same thing goes on today.

Hitler Youth 1944