The Wehrmacht: A Glorious Myth?

 

When the German army rolled into Paris on the 14th June 1940, the people of France could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing one of the greatest armies since Napoleon’s Grande Armée . After all, the German army had rendered the Maginot Line redundant, a set of fortifications so modern that it was said to be of better living conditions than a modern city. The Wehrmacht bypassed it through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes forest in 5 days. It is perhaps unsurprising after so much hope and resources had been invested into this state-of-the-art defense, that contemporaries saw the German army as something hereto unseen before – a truly unstoppable force.

the people of France could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing one of the greatest armies since their very own Napoleon’s Grande Armée.

There is an idealized vision of the Wehrmacht: as an ultra-mobile, ruthless and highly motivated force, a view that does not lack justification. Although Germany lost the war, is it really credible to blame the Wehrmacht for this? To talk of the Wehrmacht one cannot avoid talking of ‘Blitzkrieg’, a concept so fundamental to early German successes. There is a commonly held image of ‘Blitzkrieg’, one that is often portrayed as relentless waves of tanks steamrolling through inferior opposition. This was not certainly not the case in France. French tanks were better armoured, better equipped and more numerous than their German opposition. General Auchinleck in the defense of Norway, commented that the German forces had much greater morale as a result of their superior training. Therefore, can we call an army that defeated superior opposition on numerous occasions an incapable one?  The early victories in Europe, particularly France, certainly vindicate the superiority of the German military doctrine, however, a fully functioning modern state-of-the-art  force they were not.

The Maginot line was a modern and complex hive of defences.  Entrusted with defending France.
Entrusted with defending France was the Maginot line,  a modern and complex hive of defences.

In so far as the battle for France was concerned, the numerical superiority of the Luftwaffe was certainly pivotal. The German army itself had only mechanized 10% of its ground forces by this point. This was as a result of a production deficit from the pre-war years, one that Nazi industrialists had predicted would only be remedied by 1945 – a fact that was to be ignored by Hitler at great cost. The ramshackle fashion of which the Wehrmacht retreated from Russia in 1943 is perhaps its most ignominious moment. A rapid German army, with its immaculate coordination and communication is a vision that is hugely undermined by this campaign. Some 40,000 horses were sent to the Eastern Front to make up for the lack of modernization that beset the Wehrmacht at this time. Some 148 divisions were expected to fight across a front of almost 2,000-kilometers. It is clear that the Wehrmacht was not as polished a force as it has often been seen as being.

Russland, bei Targowi Sawod, deutsche Truppen
Some 40,000 horses were sent to the Eastern Front to support the Wehrmacht.

At times the Wehrmacht was an unstoppable force, one that laid the way for modern day warfare – where mobility and inter-service cooperation were the order of the day. The Eastern Front may have been calamitous for a whole host of reasons other than just the frailties of the Wehrmacht.  However, there is no ignoring the deaths of 4 million men and boys, soldiers that made up what had proven to be an undefeatable army. Maybe Nazi Germany would have succeeded in winning the war if it had the industrial capacity of the USA or Russia, but does this really restore the image of the Wehrmacht? There is no hiding from how fragile the Wehrmacht proved to be. A one dimensional force unable to adapt in the face of a resilient opponent. It had succeeded against weak and disorganized opposition in the past, but as its enemies learned from its mistakes, the Wehrmacht stuck to its principles, even though to follow such principles was no longer possible.

Magician or Maniac?

On the first day of 2014, after marveling at how Moffat and Gatiss believed that they could get away with toying with the expectancy that gripped all avid Sherlock fans with some fairly half-arsed explanations, I thought I would put on Channel 4’s new show, Real or Magic starring the illusionist David Blaine.

As a big fan of Bradford’s greatest export, Dynamo, my feeling was that if Real or Magic could match up to Magician Impossible in any way I would be satisfied. I mean who couldn’t be impressed with a man who could walk on water – allegedly. Prior to David Blaine’s show I knew a little of his previous exploits, which included: starving himself, failing in one water-related stunt and what appeared to be him punching a stingray.

stingray-450x325

After a while David Blaine’s card tricks lost my attention. There is no doubting how impressive smuggling the correct card into the pocket of his all-trusting members of public. I just didn’t care after a while. Perhaps, I was just longing something on the same level as the ‘transported man’ in The Prestige, then again, that was a film.  Anyway, after more card hocus pocus , this time messing with the harmony of the Smith family, he moved onto star of Indiana Jones and Star Wars, Harrison Ford. Ford is known for some brilliant lines, most memorably in the ice cold utterance of ‘I know’, crushing the heart of Princess Lea – he did not disappoint here either. Blaine’s trick this time was to plant a card in an Orange in Harrison Ford’s kitchen, unsurprisingly Harrison showed signs  of befuddlement, befitting of a man of his age. After pulling himself together, Ford slowly raised his head and as if he was about to trade a witty remark with his Nazi captor typical of the Indiana Jones days, stared David Blaine in the eyes and said in a slow but audible voice, ‘get out of my house’.  At the time it was unsure if this was more Harrison Ford acting gold or a prelude to a modern witch burning.

Harrison-Ford-on-David-Blaine-Real-or-Magic

David Blaine’s acts also included creating money, unsurprisingly he didn’t perform this trick to his celebrities, which included Katy Perry and Jason Sudekikis. The show then took a turn for the downright weird. I had been transported from a sporadically exhilarating, fairly easygoing show, to a documentary covering the antics of a recently released lunatic.

First to be tested was Ricky Gervais. This time, Blaine’s ‘trick/illusion’ included him shoving a 12 inch metal pin through his bicep, as was quite rightly pointed out by a rather revolted Gervais, ‘that isn’t a trick, you’ve just shoved a needle in your f******arm’. Quite right Ricky, I was yelling the same thing. Blaine then went on to further strengthen his credentials as a maniac by filling his stomach with a unhealthy amount of water, and then topping it up with healthy splash of, you guessed it, Kerosene. As a rule of thumb, when someone in a scratchy black and white video from 30 odd years ago is trying what looks to be a fairly unsafe trick and was then later known to have died as a result, is it really worth following his footsteps as Blaine tells us he is doing? We are taken through a series of Rocky-esque montages, except instead of running and drinking raw eggs, Blaine just spews an impressive volume of water into a bath. This final act required him to regurgitate the Kerosene onto a fire, intensify the flames, then put it out with the water retained in the stomach. While he performed this I carefully watched the reaction of those surrounding him, which he did flawlessly I will add, however, it was impossible not to notice the slightly confused looks of the audience. This unanimous look of bewilderment was completely understandable. This man has just started a fire, then proceeded to make it worse, then spewed stomach water all over it. All of this effort just to put out a fire that he started himself, producing some fairly uningraciating noises in the process.

For me, the show was summed up well when Blaine met Macklemore. Blaine pulled a thread out of his eyeball- I cannot flesh this description out anymore I’m afraid, that was literally it. The Seattle born rapper nervously laughed clearly feeling uncomfortable I’m sure having expected to see some illusions with less gut wrenching crudeness.  I just felt this show was a tad too real for the sleepy headed new years day TV viewers. David Blaine is a very talented man, but his reliance on shocking the audience through self-harm let down an illusionist who is capable of producing some wondrous acts.

Please Mind the Gap

First things first, I am not a travel-a-phobe.  I have watched through the hands covering my eyes the warzone of the traffic system in Istanbul, where, if you remain within it long enough, you will fall shamelessly at the feet of the nearest diety just to make it all end. However, in spite of these priggish claims to being some sort of EU constrained Phileas Fogg, there is one zone of travel that continues to baffle me. A place where light has been banished, stench is incubated and a some truly remarkable behavior is exhibited. Of course I am talking about England’s national treasure: the London Underground.

The most common observation regarding the Tube is that it is a vacuum of conversation. I don’t know if it is because, for noobs, the crushing stress of getting on the right line renders people incapable of forming words. Or, because nobody else does it the unitiated obediently conform to fit in with the ‘locals’. I do it for the latter by the way. It is almost as if Boris is patrolling the carriages of the London underground in an invisibility cloak threatening anyone who breaks this sacred silence. Was the tube a place of friendly conversation in the past, or has it been like this since its conception? Do Londoners start talking when tourists are off the train just to mess with outsiders? My only reasonable explanation is that one day someone was cheerfully telling a ‘your mum’ joke to the whole carraige and went too far, in doing so, creating such an uncomfortable silence that it has been passed down to every generation of tube users ever since.

26tube-531

Every time I use the tube there is always a select group of people, so intent on getting on the carraige, that they show absolutely no regard for their own life – much to my amusement/horror. I personally am not a risk taker. When I was last on the tube my timing was impeccable, with time on my hands I nonchalantly strolled through the doors with such a drippingly smug look on my face, quite frankly I am surprised nobody remedied it with a slap. Anyway, I was proudly sitting in a seat, doing my post-boarding checks: correct line, yes.  Correct direction, yes. Luggage in a vice like grip between my legs, check. The doors were about to close, people braced themselves and everyone powered down into silent mode. Suddenly.  Out of nowhere, some madwomen clearly intent on joining us came charging across the platform. A look steely determination mixed with uncertainty etched across her increasingly reddening face. Stimulated by this drama, tube passengers around me snapped out of standby mode. The doors began to close. Surely not we all thought. The carriage was unified in excitement. Would she be  cruelly sliced in half by the tube doors like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it? To this day I cannot work out how this women made it. I felt a cheer was in order and then I remembered where I was.

Would she be cruelly sliced in half like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it?

This unique combination of  human fortitude and an impatient door closing system makes for ready entertainment. However, this is all I enjoy about the whole experience. My biggest gripe is with myself. I like many of the unenlightened aspire to have the wisdom of the oyster card bearing residents of London – or at least appear to. This pathetic yearning for acceptance often comes at the cost of a care-free trip across London. As far as I am aware I do not have a disorder, the level of preparation and route planning prior to any Tube based journey would suggest otherwise. This dependence on pre-planning comes a cropper with even the most minor alteration to my journey. A reasonable person would ask for help perhaps? Well no actually, for the wannabe Tube pros, as soon as you descend into the caverns of the underground you lose any sort of rational thinking. I am reasonably confident that if there was to be an apocalyptic event affecting the Tube, whereby the only means of escape was to catch an alternative line to safety, that I would stand paralyzed with fear yet resolutely pig-headed as everyone around me calmly walked off to some unknown platform. I would probably continue to do this until the first Zombie / 2012-esque ball of lava devoured me.