Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Charles XI’s War. The Scanian War 1675-1679

As promised here is the review of my second piece of holiday reading, another much anticipated publication in Helion’s exceptional Century of the Soldier series. First impressions are very positive. The scope of the book is extensive, and for someone almost completely ignorant of many aspects of this war, the amount of detail is impressive. We have potted pen-pictures of the two kings (Christian of Denmark and Charles of Sweden) followed by chapters on the origins of the war and the organisation, arms, tactics etc. of the armies before launching into the war itself with almost a blow by blow account of hostilities in all theatres of operation on land and at sea. Finally there are a number of appendices covering the units of the warring nations and detailed orders of battle for the battles of Fehrbellin, Halmstad, Lund, Landskrona and Warksow.

The book is quite well written although at times the text is a little clunky but not to the point where it distracts from the subject. I put that down to my OCD when it comes to reading as I forget I’m not at work any longer, and that the author is not a native English speaker. There are some very informative maps and a host of excellent contemporary black and white illustrations, together with a comprehensive bibliography and recommendations for further reading. Finally there are eight pages of beautiful colour illustrations of uniforms and flags for the troops of both sides by Russian artist Sergy  Shamenkov. I can recommend this book highly for anyone with even just a passing interest in this war or in warfare during the 1670s.

Readers will be aware that I have a large collection of troops for conflicts contemporary to the Scanian War, i.e. my 1660s/1670s French, Dutch, Spanish, Hanoverians, Piedmontese and assorted others, so it is very unlikely that I shall expand my collection further to include Danes and Swedes, as I need to recruit some troops from Munster and Cologne this year. 

Monday, 15 April 2019

In the Emperor's Service. Wallenstein's Army

Another book on the 30 Years War from the prolific Lawrence Spring. As the title hints, this one focuses in detail on the army of the legendary/infamous Albrecht Von Wallenstein both before and after his assassination in 1634. Much of the book deals with individual aspects of the army, e.g. raising the regiments, the men and officers, uniforms, flags and so forth, each in some depth, complemented by chapters of the siege of Stralsund and the battle of Lutzen. The book is well illustrated throughout with many maps and contemporary b&w pictures and as is the norm these days there are several pages of glorious colour illustrations by the talented Mark Allen. The author includes a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. I learnt much from reading this book and can recommend it highly even if you have only a passing interest in the 30 Years War. Helion should be commended on their Century of the Soldier series.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The men behind Frederick the Great

I trundled into the little square where these statues are located purely by chance. An excellent find to end the trip.

von Winterfeldt

Marshal von Schwerin
von Seydlitz
FML James Keith

von Zeiten

That's it. I'm knackered from too much trundling. Berlin is great as it's flat, but cobbles are a killer, and not all the U-bahn stations have elevators. As I can barely make 50m without a rest I think my days of city breaks are over. Time now for a generous free scotch in the executive 'all you can eat for €120' lounge , then a bath, the last two episodes of Line of Duty season 3 and bed. Home tomorrow then I can do some more basing and painting and finish planning the game arranged for Saturday (I have a scenario but not sure about the period yet). That of course depends upon if I survive my weekly walk of shame at Slimming World on Wednesday!

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and the Topography of Terror Museum.

Sachsenhausen was the first permanent concentration camp set up by the Nazis and was originally intended to hold political opponents of the regime or undesirables, such as Communists, Socialists Jehova's Witnesses, intellectuals and homosexuals. As the camp expanded and with the onset of war Jews, Russian POWs, captured resistance fighters and various 'special' prisoners (including Jack Churchill of longbow and broadsword fame) found themselves sent here. By the liberation of the camp on April 1945 over 35000 inmates had been murdered out of a total of 200000 who passed through the system. A drop in the ocean when one compares the numbers murdered at Auschwitz and the other death camps, but ruthless, brutal and systematic murder nonetheless. More info here. Interestingly after the war the camp was used for a few years by the NKVD for much the same purpose as the Nazis.

I didn't take many photographs, but here are a few.

A plan of the camp. The original camp is the triangular area bottom right.
The main gates. Work makes you free.
In the 'special prisoners' block a memorial to seven men from No 2 Army Commando who were held at the camp before being murdered as part of the implementation of Hitler's Commando Order demanding that all commandos captured should be summarily executed. Other commandoes later suffered the same fate at the camp as did several SOE operatives.
The running track. Inmates were forced to walk round this track for 12-14 hours day clocking up to 50km a day testing boots and shoes for the army. There were even different road surfaces over which they had to walk in order to assess the capabilities of differing materials. Life expectancy for those assigned to the project was measured in days. The exception were the British commandos mentioned above who kept going for several weeks until their execution.
The parade ground. It was bitterly cold on the day we visited, and that was when we were well wrapped up unlike the inmates who were dressed in thin cotton uniforms and made to stand here for hours on end.
Memorial to the inmates from 20 different countries imprisoned in the camp.
One of the most notorious atrocities was the execution of 13000 Russian POWs over the course of  a matter of a few days. Each was photographed before being sent for a 'medical'. When standing having their height measured they were each shot  in the neck through a small hole in the wall behind them. The murders were carried out by  just 24 SS men, working in pairs, who were handsomely rewarded for their actions with medals and special leave. The seven men above were possibly only minutes from death when they were photographed.
The execution trench where many more prisoners were shot. 
Monument to those murdered at the camp. In addition to the systematic execution of inmates by shooting, others were  killed in gas chambers or were used in horrific medical experiments. 
Much of the camp was destroyed after the war but enough remains or has been rebuilt to portray a cold bleak and soulless place. It was certainly a thought provoking trip, but not an especially emotional one, which surprised me.

We also visited the Topography of Terror Museum in Berlin. here

The permanent exhibition documents the rise of the Nazis and the SS, SD, Gestapo and Einsatzgruppen from 1933 until the fall of Berlin. It is an excellent museum (built on the site of the HQ of the above organisations) with a tremendous amount of often graphic pictorial material and documents on show. Full marks for the shear volume and breadth of information as well as the resources available for researchers, but less so for other aspects. For me maybe the museum needs humanising and I felt it failed to adequately communicate the brutality and savagery of the Nazi regime or of the German people's acquiescence or acceptance of their crimes. It was another deeply thought provoking experience that reinforced for me the fragility of democracy and how much of the success of the growth of the Nazis lay in their divide and rule approach. Why have we not learnt?

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Martin Neimoller 1892-1984) here

Holiday snaps

This was my first trip to Berlin and it was excellent even though it was exhausting. These photos are from Day 1 of the holiday.
View from our hotel room overlooking the Gendarmenmarkt
Mrs Carryingonupthedale and the Brandenburg Gate.
The memorial to the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis, built on the spot Goebels had his offices. Quite a haunting experience.

The Reichstag. We were supposed to go to the dome cafe for coffee and cake but couldn't as not only do you need tickets, which we had, but also photo ID, and we'd left the passports in the room and I don't have a driving licence any longer. Never mind.
Frederick the Average. He had a wonderful PR team though - see photos at top of this post.
The renowned Berliner Zinnfiguren shop. I was slightly underwhelmed although the painted figures on display were gorgeous. I didn't even find a book to buy as everything they had that I could've/would've bought I already own. But i can now at least tick the box to say I've been.
We're going to Sachsenhausen tomorrow.