An address to the S.A. Military History Society by
COMMANDANT NEIL D ORPEN
on 8 May, 1969
Commandant Neil Orpen was born in Cape Town in 1913. He was educated at St. John's College, Johannesburg and obtained an MA Honours degree at Cambridge. He was commissioned in the Cape Garrison Artillery in 1938 and served in World War II. He was one of the luckless garrison captured at Tobruk in June 1942. After the war he continued to serve in the Citizen Force first commanding the False Bay coast defences and later 1st Field Regiment, Cape Field Artillery.
Commandant Orpen began his career as an accountant but soon gave this up to become a journalist. The call for serious research was however so strong that he soon started concentrating most of his efforts to the writing of military history. He has written a number of books among which are such well known titles as Gunners of the Cape. Total Defence and East African and Abyssinian Campaigns (The South Afticans in World War II - Vol 1).
The tensions leading to the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Warsaw Pact, said Comdt. Orpen, were already discernible before the end of World War II. Arthur Bryant, in "Triumph in the West", remarked upon the fact that America's and Britain's scrupulous adherence to their agreements allowed the Russians into the heart of Europe, where as early as July, 1945 they made it clear that they intended to stay. 'An Iron Curtain," said Mr, Churchill, "was brought down between the Western Allies and everything to the eastward."
General Mark Clark, in his book "Calculated Risk", also tells of his difficulties with the Russians in Austria, where they stripped the country. Once he said to Marshal Konev, "You've made ten demands at this Council meeting that we can't meet. But suppose I should say, 'All right. We agree to all ten demands.' Then what would you do?" 'Tomorrow,' he said, "I'd have ten new ones
That was the spirit behind the future relations between the former Allies of the war.
The Yalta Conference of February, 1945, had settled the limits of separate Occupation Zones in Germany, but the American, General Clay, in June, 1945, apparently did not realise that there was a requirement for unanimity; in the Allied Control Council, and he therefore did not make access to Berlin a condition of the withdrawal of American troops into the United States occupation zone. Within 6 months it became obvious that agreement in the Council was impossible, firstly because of the attitude of Marshal Zhukov and then of his successor, Sokolovsky -- both gaining advantage from the French fear of German resurgence.
Nevertheless, in January, 1946, the first glimmer of the reunification of Germany came with the holding of local council elections in the U.S. Zone, in Württemberg-Baden and then in Hesse, and by the end of July, 1946, Britain and the United States had agreed to the economic fusion of their Zones. Two years later, on 23 August, 1948, the first draft constitution for West Germany was published, but meanwhile much had happened, with the Soviet attitude causing disquiet and French fears of Germany still complicating matters.
On 4 March, 1947, Britain and France significantly concluded the Treaty of Dunkirk, aimed at preventing the rebirth of any German danger, and in a joint statement they expressed the desire for a treaty between the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union for the disarmament and demilitarisation of Germany.
Almost exactly one year later, on 17 March, 1948, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg established through the Brussels Pact what has become known as the Western European Union (WEU), aimed at collective military aid, and economic and social co-operation. It was only three days later that Marshal Sokolovsky, whose turn it was to be in the Chair, adjourned the Allied Control Council in Berlin as a prelude to the Russians walking out. Customarily, the Chairman whose turn it was to fill the post for the month, would call the next meeting. But this time no notice of any further meeting went out. At the same time -- bearing in mind that Berlin could not be reached without passing through part of the Russian Zone -- there was an ominous increase in difficulties placed before the other Allies transporting troops, supplies and food into the city.
At the end of March, 1948, the Russians insisted on checking military trains and baggage routed to Berlin. General Clay, avoiding trouble where possible, began a small airlift for military personnel only, but by 4 August, 1948, the blockade of the city, by land and water, was total.
The ostensible excuse for this drastic curtailment of the Allies' rights was said by the Russians to be a measure to prevent Tripartite currency reforms of June 18 ruining the economy of the Soviet Zone -- a transparent travesty of the facts, since the Americans, British and French, on introducing a standard currency throughout their zones, had not introduced the currency into Berlin.
As an aside, it might be mentioned that the Russians did suggest that the currency might be acceptable, provided they were given a set of plates as well. Even the Americans were not na&iunl;ve enough for tbat one! Quite clearly the Soviet measures were actually designed to prevent, at all cost, the establishment of a West German Government. They miscalculated badly.
In the three Western Sectors of Berlin there were some 2,500,000 people to be fed and provided for. First with Dakotas, then with C-54s and eventually C-74s from Panama, Alaska and Hawaii and other American bases, supplies were flown in, with minimum needs knmvn to be 4,000 tons per day. Our own SAAF, as we know, joined in this enormous effort, and by the Spring of 1949 British and American aircraft were carrying to West Berlin an average of 8,000 tons a day -- with a record of 13,000 tons on one particular day.
Even those who had harboured fears of a resurgent Germany could hardly entertain any illusions about where the real threat now originated. At the same time the magnificent result of Western co-operation in the airlift showed the Soviet clearly that her blockade had misfired. On 12 March, 1949, just four days after the draft of a North Atlantic Treaty had been agreed upon in Washington, the blockade came to an end, after having been on for 11 months.
On 18 March, 1949, a year after Sokolovsky's abrupt ending of the Allied Control Council's meetings, the text of the North Atlantic Treaty was published. All the Brussels Pact powers (Britain, France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, and now Denmark, Iceland, Portugal and Italy as well), agreed to its terms, as also did the United States, Canada and Norway.
In the States, considerable constitutional problems had to be overcome, in view of the possibility of the Treaty automatically committing the United States to war. Only through the efforts of Senators Connally and Vandenburg was the Senate won over to support the draft, but nevertheless the problem remains - the U.S.A. is not automatically committed to enter any war on behalf of NATO - a fact which General De Gaulle was quick to seize upon later. Nevertheless, on 8 April, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed.
Just a month later the Basic Law for a Federal Republic of Germany was adopted by a Parliamentary Council established by the three Western Allies. On 15 May, 1949, having ably discharged his enormous responsibilities, in which he received great support from the British, General Clay returned to America.
Not to be outdone, on 5 October, 1949, the Soviet-sponsored People's Council in East Germany proclaimed "The German Democratic Republic" -- accompanied by the usual vociferous denunciations of the West. Almost forthwith the new Communist government was recognised by the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria.
It was only in 1950 that NATO (the military organisation that we know) really began. On 15 September, 1950, the Council met in New York to set up an integrated military force and (shades of the past) Britain and France both opposed the American proposal to form German units. The Germans themselves, understandably, were also reluctant to offer themselves as cannon-fodder in any conflict in which they would, willy-nilly, be the first to bear the brunt of attack.
With an eye to the defence of the Mediterranean, Turkey and Greece were both invited to join NATO, and on 4 October, 1950, they accepted.
Though, when facing the Nazis, Churchill himself had been prepared to form an alliance with "the devil" of Communism, in July, 1951, the American suggestion for some association with Spain was turned down flat by France and Britain for fear of political embarrassment. The United States, more realistically perhaps, nevertheless negotiated her own arrangement for the use of bases in Spain, while in Germany the establishment of democratic government went steadily ahead and Teutonic thoroughness and hard work built up a new and thriving economy.
On 5 May, 1955, the historic step was taken by the Western Allies of ending the occupation of their Zones. The new Federal Republic of Germany gained full sovereignty under the London and Paris Agreements, and American, British and French forces remained in West Germany only by agreement. Protocols admitting both Italy and West Germany to the Western European Union were ratified and a Protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty admitted West Germany to NATO.
Though still without an army, on 9 May, 1955, West Germany formally entered NATO. Dr. Hans Adenauer attended the Council meeting in Paris, and Major-General Hans Speidel, in civilian clothes, joined Supreme Allied HQ with other German representatives.
Needless to say, the Communist response was swift. Five days after West Germany's entering NATO, a "Treaty of Friendship, Mutual Assistance and Co-operation" was signed in Warsaw by the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and Rumania. Albania, of course, now has no diplomatic relations with the Soviet and has fallen by the wayside, but the Warsaw Pact remains, reinforced by bilateral treaties concluded in 1964 between the other Pact countries, and Status-of-Forces Agreements dating from 1956-57 under which Soviet troops are stationed in Poland, East Germany and Hungary. Rumania had a similar agreement, but when it fell due for renewal in 1958, it was allowed to lapse when the Russian troops pulled out.
Since the signing of the Warsaw Pact on 14 May, 1955, some of the signatories may have rued the day, but it has not broken up. You may recall that in October, 1956, Hungary tried to liberalise, and was crushed by Russians with tanks and machine guns.
Since 1956, strategy on both sides has been inextricably linked with the development of NATO and the Pact. France, from the first, was unhappy at the prospect of total reliance on the United States' nuclear weapons, arising inevitably from NATO's adoption of a strategy based on massive retaliation, with the U.S.A. the sole arbiter on the subject of when to use nuclear weapons, though not irrevocably bound to enter any war on behalf of her NATO partners. Mainly because of this, De Gaulle adopted, and, against opposition, made France adopt, a policy of the "Third Force", with France herself trying to build up an independent nuclear force.
In March, 1966, France announced the end of her assignment of forces to NATO, the withdrawal of her officers from integrated staffs, and the removal of all NATO HQ installations and troops from French soil. As a result, on 1 July, 1966, France withdrew from ACE (the mobile NATO "firebrigade" force organised for immediate action); on 23 July, 1966, France withdrew from the NATO Defence College; on 1 April, 1967, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE), Allied Forces Central Europe (AFCENT) and the NATO Defence College had to be moved out of France, where they had been centred on Paris and Fontainebleau; on 1 April, 1967, or as soon as possible thereafter, all Canadian, American and other Headquarters and installations had to be removed from France. By an agreement reached on 18 May, 1966, however, French troops remained in West Germany under special arrangements. The situation as regards France's part in the overall air defence schemes was obscure.
The outcome of all this was not altogether unfavourable. The NATO command structure was simplified (now that posts did not have to be given to Frenchmen) by combining the Headquarters of AFCENT and those of the Commanders of the Land and Air Forces in Central Europe. SHAPE moved to Casteau in Belgium. AFCENT moved to Maastricht and Brunssum in Holland. NATO Defence College went to Rome.
The Standing Group (a rather unnecessary link between the NATO Council and the various military committees and Commanders) was abolished. France, though assigning no forces, retained her seat on the NATO Council.
Arising out of all this, the U.S.A. moved the Headquarters of two Squadrons and an Air Division HQ to the United Kingdom. Stocks held in France were moved to Germany and Italy and advantage taken to sort them out in the process. The Headquarters of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) was moved to Stuttgart.
The Nato Air Defence Ground Environment scheme (NADGE) was an air defence early warning network of radar stations, computers, communications, etc., projected at the time of the general upheaval caused by De Gaulle's decision to pull out of NATO, but the French appear to want to remain in it, for obvious reasons.
Whatever else the French move may have done, it destroyed faith in the policy of Massive Retaliation, which was clearly becoming untenable in face of the vast increase in Russia's own nuclear warfare potential. Massive Retaliation, to be credible, must imply complete destruction of the enensy's ability to hit back, but with the development of an increasing number of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, reinforced concrete "silos" to protect them, etc., it became apparent that not only the U.S.A. but also Soviet Russia could not merely launch a nuclear attack but could conceivably survive Massive Retaliation and come back with a Second Strike.
In 1962, McNamara first advocated Flexible Response, and a policy of Conventional Option, meaning briefly that NATO's response to any advance or attack by Warsaw Pact forces should be on a scale demanded by the attack. In December, 1967, the Defence Planning Committee of NATO, meeting without France, adopted this Flexible Response policy as the new NATO strategy. Just how futile it is was soon to be demonstrated in Czechoslovakia.
In May, 1968, Western "I" and NATO radio monitoring and reconnaissance aircraft observed preparations for manoeuvres behind the Iron Curtain. On the 22nd of that month the West German Foreign Ministry reported to the Federal Cabinet on these manoeuvrcs and the Government informed the Press, who already knew of Russian troops in Czechoslovakia marking routes and taking other unusual measures. From June 20 to 30, 1968, "Exercise Boëhmerwald" was held in Czechoslovakia, but on its completion the Soviet units taking part remained where they were, armed and fuelled.
On 15 July and thereafter, German military Intelligence, the American CIA and Military Intelligence, the British and the French all confirmed reports of concentrations of flat trucks and locomotives of the East German Railways in the south of East Germany. U.S. reconnausanec satellites spotted logistic stocks and reserves obviously too great for simple manoeuvres and the Pentagon sent Lockheed SR-71 supersonic recce aircraft with sideways radar (observing up to 60 miles in depth) along the West German borders.
Then, on 23 July, the Reservist exercise "Nyemen" began in the Western Soviet Union, involving mobilisation in four Western Soviet Republics. Almost at the same time, the Russians held air defence exercises and by the end of July the German BND (information services) had established that 20 divisions were concentrated along the Czech frontiers. They reported to the German Government that a thrust was imminent. And what of NATO's Flexible Response? On 19 August, 1968, though his Intelligence services were already reporting Pact wireless silence and Communist troops in their assembly areas, the NATO C-in-C, General Lyman Lemnitzer, flew to Greece to watch manoeuvres.
At 2311 hrs. on 20 August, 1968, NATO radar screens showed only "snow'" over Prague. Soviet paratroops were
already occupying the airport. The operation to crush Czechoslovakia had begun, and proceeded methodically:
At the time of this massive move, NATO could only stand and watch. The relative strengths of forces in Central Europe at the time were roughly:
|PACT|| ||NATO||380||brigades||180||20,000||battle tanks||7,000||2,600||ground support aircraft||2,040||650||twin jet bombers||???||5,000||other tactical aircraft||1,700|
It would have taken 30-45 days to ship and deploy an armoured division from the U.S.A. to the West German frontier. Only troops actually in Europe before hostilities began could possibly be effective in face of an operation on this vast scale.
The crushing of the Czechoslovakians, like that of the Hungarians, has thus shown that Flexible Response, as things stand, is quite invalid. NATO still depends really on political factors or on Massive Retaliation.
The French Nuclear Force, the creation of which upset the applecart of NATO strategy, can never conceivably present any real challenge either to the United States nor to the Soviet Union. France has neither the industrial nor the economic wherewithal to match these two giants, either of whom could wipe out the whole of the French Nuclear Force without even drawing upon their real ICBM armoury. A great danger has therefore been created by France, in the form of an unfortunate idea that her own nuclear weapons could be used as a "trigger", to force the United States to intervene on behalf of the West with nuclear weapons.
In all this there seems to be a lesson for South Africa, where we have of recent years become increasingly occupied with anti-terrorist and unconventional warfare, losing sight of the fact that the scale of conventional measures adopted by the Russians is so great that it could plunge democracy as a whole into a devastating war, beside which the so-called "terrorists" in Africa would be of virtually no significance. We actually know the scale of terrorist activities threatening our own country, and they are being contained without any use of the army. As a matter of policy, therefore, we should perhaps remember that you can train a conventional soldier to fight terrorists in a few weeks if he is on his home ground; but it takes years to produce a first-class operator of modern electronicahly controlled weapons of sophisticated warfare.
Perhaps the time has come for those who decide upon our policies to ask themselves, "Is the time spent on so-called guerilla training justified, in the light of the Warsaw Pact performance in Czechoslovakia?"
EUROPE AT BRUNSSUM
EUROPE AT BRUNSSUM
|AIR DEFENCE ZONES HQS - LOCATIONS|
|WEST GERMANY, FRANCE, BELGIUM, LUXEMBURG|
|AND NETHERLANDS (CASTEAU); TURKEY, GREECE,|
|ITALY AND MEDITERRANEAN (NAPLES); DENMARK|
|AND NORWAY (OSLO); GREAT BRITAIN AND|
|NORTHERN IRELAND (LONDON)|
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