NEWSLETTER No 395
The DDH Talk was presented by fellow member Charles Whiteing entitled "Eagles Nest."
Following the most destructive war of all time, there is still a mysterious fascination with the Obersaltzburg, an area which played such significant role in the history of the Third Reich. The Bavarian village of Berchtesgaden lies on the Austrian border, across the valley from the mighty Untersberg mountain range.
The Obersaltzberg area represented many facets of the Third Reich, with Hitler's home affording him a retreat from daily duties, a base to entertain foreign dignitaries and where many wartime decisions were made.
Other than Munich and Berlin, Hitler's choice of the Obersaltzburg as a holiday region was woven in his middle class background.
It was during the mid 1930`s that the main transformation of the Obersaltzburg area began under the management and driving force of Martin Bormann. As site custodian, Bormann bought about 687 acres from private landowners and 1762 acres from the state. He proceeded to eject all the current inhabitants of the existing settlements once the final decision had been made to establish a completely insular and secure "Fuhrergebeit" or Fuhrer area. Extensive renovations followed the purchase of the Hitler's house. Overlooking the Untersberg, a huge window was installed in the lounge that could be raised & lowered from the basement of the house.
Distinguished British visitors during the pre war period included the Prime Minister David Lloyd George in September 1936, and the Duke of Windsor and his wife on October 23, 1937. Neville Chamberlain visited the Berghof on September 15, 1938, eventually leading to his "Peace in our times declaration."
On June 25th 1943, on returning from a bomb ravaged Berlin, Goebbels remarked on the "almost unreal peacefulness of the area" and that "one notices little of the war here."
On the 25th April 1945, two waves of RAF Lancaster bombers of 617 Dambuster Squadron dropped a total of 1,232 tons of bombs on the Obersaltzberg area. Many buildings were destroyed, but due to the extensive tunnel and bunker systems, only 31 lives were lost. The remains of the buildings and fortifications were later blown up by the American occupation forces.
Today, a forest adjoins the site where the Berghof once stood. There are a few guesthouses and parking areas for the tourists who take the buses to the base of the Eagles Nest.
The sensitivity of the war in Germany is reflected in the Bavarian government with its concern with the awkward legacy of the region. It has an inherent concern with the site becoming a place of pilgrimage for neo Nazis or other right wing radicals. Nowadays, the peacefulness and sheer beauty of the Obersaltzberg overshadows its violent connections. One wonders if, when tourists visit and enjoy their lunch on the Eagles Nest, they have a presence that they are walking in the footsteps Hitler, Bormann, Speer, and Eva Braun, and Dwight Eisenhower.
The Main Talk was by former chairman Paul Kilmartin. The talk was far more than simply about "The End of World War I", 11.00 hours, 11th of November 1918. Paul picked important salients, those key dates that led finally to the armistice; the dates follow.
4 August 1914. This is usually thought of as the day the War began. Actually it began on 28 July as the "European War" when Austria attacked Serbia.
7 August 1914. Brigadier Aylmer Haldane moves to France to command at the battle of Le Cateau. (From captain when he was captured with Winston Churchill in 1899, to Lt. General retiring in 1925, dying in 1950).
22 April 1915. Poison gas (chlorine) is used by the Germans on the first day of the 2nd Battle of Ypres. The Hague rules were thus overturned, and technology took over.
22 September 1915. This was the first day of the Battle of Loos; the "Unwanted Battle". The politicians in London forced the British commanders to order the attack solely to appease the French government. British losses: 16 000 dead; 38 000 wounded. The British high command had recommended NOT to attack this front, Lens to La Basse.
1 July 1916. The first day of the Battle of the Somme; the blackest day in the history of the British Army. The battle had been discussed and planned since the meeting at Chantilly, December 1915. The plan: a massive attack by 42 French and 12 British divisions. But unexpectedly the Germans attacked Verdun. The French removed 34 divisions. It instantly became a British battle. Statistics of the first day: 19 000 dead in the first two hours. The soldiers had to carry a pack weighing 60 lbs; WHY? The officers wore shiny Sam Browns and carried a swagger stick: easily spotted, easily shot.
The struggle lasted four months; the Allies advanced 13 km at the cost of over 100 000 dead. Success? Yes, the Germans could not release the 35 divisions needed to take Verdun. The French line was saved, at terrible cost to the British.
31 July 1917. The first day of 3rd Ypres - Passchendale; the last mass "advance" of the British Army across a sea of porridge mud, ten feet deep. This cost the British 200 000 casualties. The stalemate continued.
21 March 1918. Die Kaiserschlacht. This was the first of three massive German attacks, repeated on 9 April and 27 May. The Germans used new tactics: attacking in small groups, infiltration out of the fog. The Germans advanced 65 km, but never broke through to either Paris or the Channel ports.
17 July 1918. The British line was held. The Germans had not won; they had been stopped. After all that effort, they lost heart.
8 August 1918. British attack at Amiens. There was no artillery bombardment; the troops advanced out of fog, with Mark V and Whippitt tanks. The Germans had not had time to prepare deep trenches. They were taken by surprise. General Ludendorff called this "the black day of the German Army".
12 September 1918. To the southeast, the new US Army cleared the St. Mihiel Salient, where a certain Colonel G.S. Patton and his tanks came to the notice of the European military, and became a casualty.
26 September 1918. U.S. Army takes the Argonne forest, costing 27 000 dead, 97 000 wounded. Next stop was to be Metz!
6 October 1918. The Germans asked for an armistice; after being so close to total victory in July - quite remarkable.
11 November 1918. The agreement was: "At 11.00 hours, French time, the Armistice will come into force to end the hostilities of the Great War." Note: the Germans had NOT surrendered. The official signing was at 05.00 and messages went to all forces at 07.00. The troops must freeze the positions held at 11.00 hrs. The British carried on attacking Mons, and troops were killed that morning, needlessly. Colonel Duncan Major, CoS of the American 26th Division, sent an order at 10.35 for the troops to attack Trenche de Bosphou; 15 killed, 192 wounded. General Charles Summerall ordered a crossing of the Meuse. There was no justification for this. Casualties? 127 dead Americans, 1 000 wounded. For both sides, casualties on 11 November were 2 788 dead, 8 000 wounded in about six hours. The total casualties, Allies and German, for D-Day, 6 June 1944, 24 hours of non-stop fighting, were about 10 000, with about 1 000 dead at Omaha. To quote a sergeant of the British 8th Division on November 11, "An armistice is time to bury the dead".
Some comments about 11.00, 11 November 1918:
Captain H. Truman, U.S. Army: It was so quiet, I felt as if I'd been deprived of my ability to hear.
Deneys Reitz: (I heard cheering.) it was a supreme moment, I see it as the beginning of a new era for the world.
Sir Oswald Moseley: Smooth smug people who had never fought - seemed to be eating, drinking, and laughing on the graves of my companions.
Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower: He cursed inwardly, furious that the war had finished before he had a chance to get front line experience.
Lt. Col. George Patton: At Lange, near Verdun, in hospital recovering from a bullet wound. He wrote a poem: "When such times, Oh God of War, . ., . . ."
A Question: Where is the signed original Armistice document?
A Final Comment: As for British officers, and their shiny Sam Browns, they should have learned their lesson at Talana in 1899.
Dr. John Cooke delivered the vote of thanks to our speakers for an extra-ordinary evening of such comprehensive accounts.
THE SOCIETY'S NEXT MEETING;
THURSDAY - 11 December 2008 19.00 for 19.30
Usual Venue: Murray Theatre, Civil Engineering Building, Howard College Campus, UKZN
This meeting will be the final meeting of the year. To mark the occasion it has been decided to hold a cocktail evening to allow members and guests to socialize. People attending are requested to bring own refreshments. The society will provide snacks.
Due to a power failure Charles Whiteing was unable show the power point slides on Eagles Nest. Charles will present these at the December meeting.
Three short talks will be presented on the 70th anniversary of the Munich Crisis.
Bill Brady will talk on the build up and consequences of the agreement.
James Trinder will outline the political backlash and by election results.
Mike Laing will describe the type of aircraft Chamberlain used.
SOUTH AFRICAN MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY OVERSEAS BATTLEFIELD TOUR, MAY 2009:
A 50% non-refundable deposit must be paid by mid-December 2008. Please contact Ken Gillings if you are interested (firstname.lastname@example.org / 083 654 5880 / 031 702 4828).
ISANDLWANA/RORKE'S DRIFT 130TH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION - 16TH - 25TH JANUARY, 2009 PROGRAMME.
WEDNESDAY 21ST Camp at Rorkes' Drift Zulu Cultural Village - tours, campfire and overnight. Star Gazing (weather permitting)
THURSDAY 22ND 10 a.m. Wreathlaying at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift with Zulu iButho as Guard of Honour.
Tavern Evening at Sithembile.
FRIDAY 23RD Tours to Isandlwana & Rorke's Drift, Fugitives Trail, Hike to Anstey's Stand
Social Evening at Ngudlane Game Lodge
SATURDAY 24TH David Rattray Memorial Half Marathon from Isandlwana to Rorke's Drift
Tour to Spionkop - 109th Anniversary
SUNDAY 25TH MOTH parade at Rorkes Drift, Tour, Display and Lunch
Further information obtainable from: ENDUMENI TOURISM, DUNDEE Phone 034 2122121 Ext 2262 P/bag 2024 Dundee 3000 e-mail email@example.com www.tourdundee.co.za
CONFERENCE TO COMMEMORATE THE 130th ANNIVERSARY OF THE ANGLO-ZULU WAR JANUARY 2009.
To be held at the Battlefields Country Lodge, Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa on Monday 19th January 2009. Cost: R100 per person.
(Arranged Ken Gillings, KwaZulu-Natal Branch, South African Military History Society - Tel: +27 (0)31 702 4828 / +27 (0)83 654 5880) HOSTED BY ENDUMENI TOURISM,
Tel +27 (0)34 212 2121 extension 2262; Fax +27 (0)34 218 2837; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ; Website www.tourdundee.co.za
South African Military History Society / email@example.com