In these pages the history is not of the Arab movement, but of me in it. It is a narrative of daily life, mean happenings, little people. Here are no lessons for the world, no disclosures to shock people. It is filled with trivial things, partly that no one mistake for history the bones from which some day a man may make history, and partly for the pleasure it gave me to recall the fellowship of the revolt. We were fond together, because of the sweep of the open places, the taste of wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for. We lived many lives in those whirling campaigns, never sparing ourselves: yet when we achieved and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep: and it was pitiably weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth, and they thanked us kindly and made their peace.
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find that it was a vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did. I meant to make a new nation, to restore a lost influence, to give twenty million of Semites the foundations on which to build an inspired dream-palace of their national thoughts. So high an aim called out the inherent nobility of their minds, and made them play a generous part in events: but when we won it, it was charged against me that the British petrol royalties in Mesopotamia were become dubious, and French Colonial policy ruined in the Levant.
I am afraid that I hope so. We pay for these things too much in honour and in innocent lives. I went up the Tigris with one hundred Devon Territorials, young clean, delightful fellows, full of the power of happiness and of making women children and glad. By them one saw vividly how great it was to be their kin, and English. And we were casting them by thousands into the fire to the worst of deaths, not to win the war but that corn and rice and oil of Mesopotamia might be ours. The only need was to defeat our enemies (Turkey among them), and this was at last done in the wisdom of Allenby with less than four hundred killed, by turning to our uses the hands of the oppressed in Turkey. I am proudest of my thirty fights in that I did not have any of our own blood shed. All our subject provinces to me were not worth one dead Englishman.
For my work on the Arab front I had determined to accept nothing. The Cabinet raised the Arabs to fight for us by definite promises of self-government afterwards. Arabs believe in persons, not in institutions. They saw in me a free agent of the British Government, and demanded from me an endorsement of its written promises. So I had to join the conspiracy, and, for what my word was worth, assured the men of their reward. In our two years’ partnership under fire they grew accustomed to believing me and to think my Government, like myself, sincere. In this hope they performed some fine things but, of course, instead of being proud of what we did together, I was continually and bitterly ashamed.
It was evident from the beginning that if we won the war these promises would be dead paper, and had I been an honest adviser of the Arabs, I would have advised them to go home and not risk their lives fighting for such stuff: but I solved myself with the hope that, by leading these Arabs madly in the final victory, I would establish them, with arms in their hands, in a position assured (if not dominant) that expediency would counsel to the Great Powers a fair settlement of their claims. In other words, I presumed (seeing no other leader with the will and power) that I would survive the campaigns, and be able to defeat not merely the Turks on the battlefield, but my own country and its allies in the council-chamber. It was an immodest presumption: it is not yet clear if I succeeded: but it is clear that I had no shadow of leave to engage the Arabs, unknowing, in such hazard. I risked the fraud, on my conviction that Arab help was necessary to our cheap and speedy victory in the East, and that better we win and break our word than lose.
The dismal of Sir Henry McMahon confirmed my belief in our essential insincerity: but I could not so explain myself to General Wingate while the war lasted, since I was nominally under his orders, and he did not seem sensible of how false his own standing was. The only thing remaining was to refuse rewards for being a successful trickster and, to prevent this unpleasantness arising, I began in my reports to conceal the true stories of things, and to persuade the few Arabs, who knew to an equal reticence. In this book also, for the last time, I mean to be my own judge of what to say.
Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff (9 April 1865 – 20 December 1937) was a German general, the victor of the Battle of Liège and the Battle of Tannenberg.From August 1916, his appointment as Quartermaster general made him the leader (along with Paul von Hindenburg) of the German war efforts during World War I. The failure of Germany’s great Spring Offensive in 1918 in quest of total victory was his great strategic failure and he was forced out in October 1918.
Quick Facts: Born, Died … After the war, Ludendorff became a prominent nationalist leader, and a promoter of the Stab-in-the-back myth, which posited that the German loss in World War I was caused by the betrayal of the German Army by Marxists, Bolsheviks, and Jews who were furthermore responsible for the disadvantageous settlement negotiated for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles. He took part in the failed Kapp Putsch (coup d’état) with Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 and the Beer Hall Putsch of Adolf Hitler in 1923, and in 1925, he ran unsuccessfully for the office of President of Germany against his former superior Hindenburg.
From 1924 to 1928, he represented the German Völkisch Freedom Party in the Reichstag (legislature). Consistently pursuing a purely military line of thought after the war, Ludendorff developed the theory of Total War, which he published as Der totale Krieg (The Total War) in 1935. In this work, he argued that the entire physical and moral forces of the nation should be mobilized, because peace was merely an interval between wars. Ludendorff was a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross and the Pour le Mérite.
Early life Ludendorff was born on 9 April 1865 in Kruszewnia near Posen, Province of Posen, Kingdom of Prussia (now Poznań County, Poland), the third of six children of August Wilhelm Ludendorff (1833–1905). His father was descended from Pomeranian merchants who had achieved the prestigious status of Junker.
Erich’s mother, Klara Jeanette Henriette von Tempelhoff (1840–1914), was the daughter of the noble but impoverished Friedrich August Napoleon von Tempelhoff (1804–1868) and his wife Jeannette Wilhelmine von Dziembowska (1816–1854), who came from a Germanized Polish landed family on the side of her father Stephan von Dziembowski (1779–1859).
He had a stable and comfortable childhood, growing up on their small family farm. Erich received his early schooling from his maternal aunt and had a gift for mathematics, as did his younger brother Hans who became a distinguished astronomer. He passed the entrance exam for the Cadet School at Plön with distinction, he was put in a class two years ahead of his age group, and thereafter he was consistently first in his class. (The famous World War II General Heinz Guderian attended the same Cadet School, which produced many well-trained German officers.) Ludendorff’s education continued at the Hauptkadettenschule at Groß-Lichterfelde near Berlin through 1882.
At age 45 the old sinner, as he liked to hear himself called, married the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, Margarethe Schmidt (1875–1936). They met in a rainstorm when he offered his umbrella. She divorced to marry him, bringing three stepsons and a stepdaughter. Their marriage pleased both families and he was devoted to his stepchildren.
Pre-war military career
In 1885, Ludendorff was commissioned as a subaltern into the 57th Infantry Regiment, then at Wesel. Over the next eight years, he was promoted to lieutenant and saw further service in the 2nd Marine Battalion, based at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, and in the 8th Grenadier Guards at Frankfurt on the Oder. His service reports reveal the highest praise, with frequent commendations. In 1893, he entered the War Academy, where the commandant, General Meckel, recommended him to the General Staff, to which he was appointed in 1894. He rose rapidly and was a senior staff officer at the headquarters of V Corps from 1902 to 1904.
Next, he joined the Great General Staff in Berlin, which was commanded by Alfred von Schlieffen, Ludendorff directed the Second or Mobilization Section from 1904–13. Soon he was joined by Max Bauer, a brilliant artillery officer, who became a close friend. By 1911, Ludendorff was a full colonel. His section was responsible for writing the mass of detailed orders needed to bring the mobilized troops into position to implement the Schlieffen Plan. For this they covertly surveyed frontier fortifications in Russia, France and Belgium. For instance, in 1911 Ludendorff visited the key Belgian fortress city of Liège.
Deputies of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which became the largest party in the Reichstag after the German federal elections of 1912, seldom gave priority to army expenditures, whether to build up its reserves or to fund advanced weaponry such as Krupp’s siege cannons. Instead, they preferred to concentrate military spending on the Imperial German Navy. Ludendorff’s calculations showed that to properly implement the Schlieffen Plan the Army lacked six corps.
Members of the General Staff were instructed to keep out of politics and the public eye, but Ludendorff shrugged off such restrictions. With a retired general, August Keim, and the head of the Pan-German League, Heinrich Class, he vigorously lobbied the Reichstag for the additional men. In 1913 funding was approved for four additional corps but Ludendorff was transferred to regimental duties as commander of the 39th (Lower Rhine) Fusiliers, stationed at Düsseldorf. I attributed the change partly for my having pressed for those three additional army corps.
Barbara Tuchman characterizes Ludendorff in her book The Guns of August as Schlieffen’s devoted disciple who was a glutton for work and a man of granite character but who was deliberately friendless and forbidding and therefore remained little known or liked. It is true that as his wife testified, anyone who knows Ludendorff knows that he has not a spark of humour… He was voluble nonetheless, although he shunned small talk. John Lee, states that while Ludendorff was with his Fusiliers, he became the perfect regimental commander … the younger officers came to adore him. His adjutant, Wilhelm Breucker, became a devoted lifelong friend.
Liège At the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914 Ludendorff was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to the German Second Army under General Karl von Bülow. His assignment was largely due to his previous work investigating defenses of Liège, Belgium. At the beginning of the Battle of Liège, Ludendorff was an observer with the 14th Brigade, which was to infiltrate the city at night and secure the bridges before they could be destroyed. The brigade commander was killed on 5 August, so Ludendorff led the successful assault to occupy the city and its citadel. In the following days, two of the forts guarding the city was taken by desperate frontal infantry attacks, while the remaining forts were smashed by huge Krupp 42-cm and Austro-Hungarian Skoda 30-cm howitzers. By 16 August, all the forts around Liège had fallen, allowing the German First Army to advance. As the victor of Liège, Ludendorff was awarded Germany’s highest military decoration for gallantry, the Pour le Mérite, presented by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself on 22 August.
Command in the East German mobilization earmarked a single army, the Eighth, to defend their eastern frontier. Two Russian armies invaded East Prussia earlier than expected, the Eighth Army commanders panicked and were fired by OHL, Oberste Heeresleitung, German Supreme Headquarters. OHL assigned Ludendorff as the new chief of staff, while the War Cabinet chose a retired general, Paul von Hindenburg, as commander. They first met on their private train heading east. They agreed that they must annihilate the nearest Russian army before they tackled the second. On arrival, they discovered that General Max Hoffmann had already shifted much of the 8th Army by rail to the south to do just that, in an amazing feat of logistical planning. Nine days later the Eighth Army surrounded most of a Russian army at Tannenberg, taking 92,000 prisoners in one of the great victories in German history. Twice during the battle Ludendorff wanted to break off, fearing that the second Russian army was about to strike their rear, but Hindenburg held firm.
Then they turned on the second invading army in the Battle of the Masurian Lakes; it fled with heavy losses to escape encirclement. During the rest of 1914, commanding an Army Group, they staved off the projected invasion of German Silesia by dextrously moving their outnumbered forces into Russian Poland, fighting the battle of the Vistula River, which ended with a brilliantly executed withdrawal during which they destroyed the Polish railway lines and bridges needed for an invasion. When the Russians had repaired most of the damage the Germans struck their flank in the battle of Łódź, where they almost surrounded another Russian Army. Masters of surprise and deft maneuver, they argued that if properly reinforced they could trap the entire Russian army in Poland. During the winter of 1914–15 they lobbied passionately for this strategy, but were rebuffed by OHL.
Early in 1915 they surprised the Russian army that still held a toehold in East Prussia by attacking in a snowstorm and surrounding it in the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes. OHL then transferred Ludendorff, but Hindenburg’s personal plea to the Kaiser reunited them. Erich von Falkenhayn, supreme commander at OHL, came east to attack the flank of the Romanian army that was pushing through the Carpathian passes towards Hungary. Employing overwhelming artillery, the Germans and Austro-Hungarians broke through the line between Gorlice and Tarnów and kept pushing until the Russians were driven out of most of Galicia, the Austro-Hungarian southern part of partitioned Poland. During this advance Falkenhayn rejected schemes to try to cut off the Russians in Poland, preferring direct frontal attacks. Outgunned, during the summer of 1915 the Russian commander Grand Duke Nicholas shortened his lines by withdrawing from most of Poland, destroying railroads, bridges, and many buildings while driving 743,000 Poles, 350,000 Jews, 300,000 Lithuanians and 250,000 Latvians into Russia.
During the winter of 1915–16 Ludendorff’s headquarters was in Kaunas. They occupied present-day Lithuania, western Latvia, and north eastern Poland, an area almost the size of France. Ludendorff demanded Germanization of the conquered territories and far-ranging annexations, offering land to German settlers; far reaching plans envisioned Courland and Lithuania turned into border states ruled by German military governor commanders answerable only to the German Emperor. He proposed massive annexations and colonisation in Eastern Europe in the event of the victory of the German Reich and was one of the main supporters of the Polish Border Strip. Ludendorff planned to combine German settlement and Germanisation in conquered areas with expulsions of native populations; and envisioned an eastern German empire whose resources would be used in future war with Great Britain and United States. Ludendorff’s plans went as far as making Crimea a German colony. As to the various nations and ethnic groups in conquered territories, Ludendorff believed they were incapable of producing real culture.
On 16 March 1916 the Russians, now with adequate supplies of cannons and shells, attacked parts of the new German defenses, intending to penetrate at two points and then to pocket the defenders. They attacked almost daily until the end of the month, but the Lake Naroch Offensive failed, choked in swamp and blood.
The Russians did better, attacking the Austro-Hungarians in the south; the Brusilov Offensive cracked their lines with a well-prepared surprise wide-front attack led by well-schooled assault troops. The breakthrough was finally stemmed by Austro-Hungarian troops recalled from Italy stiffened with German advisers and reserves. In July, Russian attacks on the Germans in the north were beaten back. On 27 July 1916 Hindenburg was given command of all troops on the Eastern Front from the Baltic to Brody in the Ukraine. They visited their new command on a special train, and then set up headquarters in Brest-Litovsk. By August 1916 their front was holding everywhere.
Military duumvirate with Hindenburg In the West in 1916 the Germans attacked unsuccessfully at Verdun and soon were reeling under British and French blows along the Somme. Ludendorff’s friends at OHL, led by Max Bauer, lobbied for him relentlessly. The balance was tipped when Romania entered the war, thrusting into Hungary. Falkenhayn was replaced as Chief of the General Staff by Field Marshal Hindenburg on 29 August 1916. Ludendorff was his chief of staff as first Quartermaster general, with the stipulation that he would have joint responsibility. He was promoted to General of the Infantry. Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg warned the War Cabinet: You don’t know Ludendorff, who is only great at a time of success. If things go badly he loses his nerve. Their first concern was the sizable Romanian Army, so troops sent from the Western Front checked Romanian and Russian incursions into Hungary. Then Romania was invaded from the south by German, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Ottoman troops commanded by August von Mackensen and from the north by a German and Austro-Hungarian army commanded by Falkenhayn. Bucharest fell in December 1916. According to Mackensen, Ludendorff’s distant management consisted of floods of telegrams, as superfluous as they were offensive.
When sure that the Romanians would be defeated OHL moved west, retaining the previous staff except for the operations officer, blamed for Verdun. They toured the Western Front meeting —and evaluating— commanders, learning about their problems and soliciting their opinions. At each meeting Ludendorff did most of the commander’s talking. There would be no further attacks at Verdun and the Somme would be defended by revised tactics that exposed fewer men to British shells. A new backup defensive line would be built, like the one they had constructed in the east. The Allies called the new fortifications the Hindenburg Line. The German goal was victory, which they defined as a Germany with extended borders that could be more easily defended in the next war.
Hindenburg was given titular command over all of the forces of the Central Powers. Ludendorff’s hand was everywhere. Every day he was on the telephone with the staffs of their armies and the Army was deluged with Ludendorff’s paper barrage of orders, instructions and demands for information. His finger extended into every aspect of the German war effort. He issued the two daily communiques, and often met with the newspaper and newsreel reporters. Before long the public idolized him as their Army’s brain.
The Home Front Ludendorff had a goal: One thing was certain— the power must be in my hands. As stipulated by the Constitution of the German Empire the government was run by civil servants appointed by the Kaiser. Confident that army officers were superior to civilians, OHL volunteered to oversee the economy: procurement, raw materials, labor, and food. Bauer, with his industrialist friends, knew exactly what should be done, beginning by setting overambitious targets for military production in what they called the Hindenburg Program. Ludendorff enthusiastically participated in meetings on economic policy— loudly, sometimes pummelling the table with his fists. Implementation of the Program was assigned to General Groener, a staff officer who had directed the Field Railway Service effectively. His office was in the War Ministry, not in OHL as Ludendorff had wanted. Therefore, he assigned staff officers to most of the government ministries, so he knew what was going on and could press his demands.
War industry’s major problem was the scarcity of skilled workers; therefore 125,000 men were released from the armed forces and trained workers were no longer conscripted. OHL wanted to enroll most German men and women into national service, but the Reichstag legislated that only males 17–60 were subject to patriotic service and refused to bind war workers to their jobs. Greener realized that they needed the support of the workers, so he insisted that union representatives be included on industrial dispute boards. He also advocated an excess profits tax. The industrialists were incensed. On 16 August 1917 Ludendorff telegraphed an order reassigning Groener to command the 33rd Infantry Division. Overall, unable to control labour and unwilling to control industry, the army failed miserably (actually the government did control industry with its edicts and orders — and the result was disaster). To the public it seemed that Ludendorff was running the nation as well as the war. According to Ludendorff, the authorities … represented me as a dictator. He would not become Chancellor because the demands for running the war were too great. The historian Frank Tipton argues that while not technically a dictator, Ludendorff was unquestionably the most powerful man in Germany in 1917–18. OHL did nothing to mitigate the food disaster: despite the blockade everyone could have been fed adequately, but supplies were not managed effectively or fairly. In Spring 1918 half of all the meat, eggs and fruit consumed in Berlin were sold on the black market.
In government The navy advocated unrestricted submarine warfare, which would surely bring the United States into the war. The Kaiser asked his commanders to listen to the warnings of his friend, the eminent chemist Walther Nernst, who knew America well. Ludendorff promptly ended the meeting, it was incompetent nonsense with which a civilian was wasting his time. Unrestricted submarine warfare began in February 1917, with OHL’s strong support. This fatal mistake reflected poor military judgment in uncritically accepting the Navy’s contention that there were no countermeasures, like convoying, and confident that the American armed forces were too feeble to fight effectively. Ultimately Germany was at war with 27 nations.
In the spring of 1917 the Reichstag passed a resolution for peace without annexations or indemnities. They would be content with the successful defensive war undertaken in 1914. OHL was unable to defeat the resolution or to have it substantially watered down. The commanders despised Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg as weak, so they forced his resignation by repeatedly threatening to resign themselves, despite the Kaiser’s admonition that this was not their business. He was replaced by a minor functionary, Georg Michaelis, the food minister, who announced that he would deal with the resolution as in his own fashion. Despite this put-down, the Reichstag voted the financial credits needed for continuing the war.
Ludendorff insisted on the huge territorial losses forced on the Russians in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, even though this required that a million German soldiers remain in the east. During the peace negotiations with the Romanians his representative kept demanding the economic concessions coveted by the German industrialists. The commanders kept blocking attempts to frame a plausible peace offer to the western powers by insisting on borders expanded for future defence. Ludendorff regarded the Germans as the master race and after victory planned to settle ex-soldiers in the Baltic states and in Alsace Lorraine, where they would take over property seized from the French. One after another OHL toppled government ministers they regarded as weak.
“Peace Offensive” in the West In contrast to OHL’s questionable interventions in politics and diplomacy, their armies continued to excel. The commanders would agree on what was to be done and then Ludendorff and the OHL staff produced the mass of orders specifying exactly what was to be accomplished. On the western front they stopped packing defenders in the front line, which reduced losses to enemy artillery. They issued a directive on elastic defence, in which attackers who penetrated a lightly held front line entered a battle zone in which they were punished by artillery and counterattacks. It remained German Army doctrine through World War II; schools taught the new tactics to all ranks. Its effectiveness is illustrated by comparing the first half of 1916 in which 77 German soldiers died or went missing for every 100 British to the second half when 55 Germans were lost for every 100 British.
In February 1917, sure that the new French commander General Robert Nivelle would attack and correctly foreseeing that he would try to pinch off the German salient between Arras and Noyon, they withdrew to the segment of the Hindenburg line across the base of the salient, leaving the ground they gave up as a depopulated waste land, in Operation Alberich. The Nivelle Offensive in April 1917 was blunted by mobile defense in depth. Many French units mutinied, though OHL never grasped the extent of the disarray. The British supported their allies with a successful attack near Arras. Their major triumph was capturing Vimy Ridge, using innovative tactics in which infantry platoons were subdivided into specialist groups. The Ridge gave the British artillery observers superb views of the German line but elastic defense prevented further major gains. The British had another success in June 1917 when a meticulously planned attack, beginning with the detonation of mines containing higher explosive than ever fired before, took the Messines Ridge in Flanders. This was a preface to the British drive, beginning at the end of July 1917, toward the Passchendaele Ridge, intended as a first step in retaking the Belgian coast line. At first the defense was directed by General von Lossberg, a pioneer in defense in depth, but when the British adjusted their tactics Ludendorff took over day by day control. The British finally took the Ridge, it was impossible to stop determined attacks that inched forward for preset, limited gains, but the British paid a heavy price.
Ludendorff worried about declining morale, so in July 1917 OHL established a propaganda unit. In October 1917 they began mandatory patriotic lectures to the troops, who were assured that if the war was lost they would become slaves of international capital. The lecturers were to ensure that a fight is kept up against all agitators, croakers and weaklings.
Following the overthrow of the Tsar, the new Russian government launched the Kerensky Offensive in July 1917 attacking the Austro-Hungarian lines in Galicia. After minor successes the Russians were driven back and many of their soldiers refused to fight. The counterattack was halted only after the line was pushed 240 kilometres (150 mi) eastwards. The Germans capped the year in the East by capturing the strong Russian fortress of Riga in September 1917, starting with a brief, overwhelming artillery barrage using many gas shells then followed by infiltrating infantry. The Bolsheviks seized power and soon were at the peace table.
To bolster the wobbling Austro-Hungarian government, the Germans provided some troops and led a joint attack in Italy in October. They sliced through the Italian lines in the mountains at Caporetto. Two hundred and fifty thousand Italians were captured, and the rest of Italian Army was forced to retreat to the Grappa-Piave defensive line.
On 20 November 1917 the British achieved a total surprise by attacking at Cambrai. A short, intense bombardment preceded an attack by tanks which led the infantry through the German wire. It was Ludendorff’s 52nd birthday, but he was too upset to attend the celebratory dinner. The British were not organized to exploit their break-through, and German reserves counterattacked, in some places driving the British back beyond their starting lines. The local German commander had not implemented defence in depth.
At the beginning of 1918 almost a million munition workers struck; one demand was peace without annexations. OHL ordered that all strikers fit to bear arms be sent to the front, thereby degrading military service.
With Russia out of the war, the Germans outnumbered the Allies on the Western Front. After extensive consultations, OHL planned a series of attacks to drive the British out of the war. During the winter all ranks were schooled in the innovative tactics proven at Caporetto and Riga.
The first attack, Operation Michael, was on 21 March 1918 near Cambrai. After an effective hurricane bombardment coordinated by Colonel Bruchmüller, they slashed through the British lines, surmounting the obstacles that had thwarted their enemies for three years. On the first day they occupied as large an area as the Allies had won on the Somme after 140 days.
The Allies were aghast, but it was not the triumph OHL had hoped for: they had planned another Tannenberg by surrounding tens of thousands of British troops in the Cambrai salient, but had been thwarted by stout defence and fighting withdrawal. They lost as many men as the defenders; —the first day was the bloodiest of the war. Among the dead was Ludendorff’s oldest stepson, a younger had been killed earlier. They were unable to cut any vital railway. When Ludendorff motored near the front he was displeased by seeing how: The numerous slightly wounded made things difficult by the stupid and displeasing way in which they hurried to the rear. The Americans doubled the number of troops being sent to France.
Their next attack was in Flanders. Again, they broke through, advancing 30 km (19 mi), and forcing the British to give back all the ground that they had won the preceding year after weeks of battle. But the Germans were stopped short of the rail junction that was their goal.
Next, to draw French reserves south, they struck along the Chemin de Dames. In their most successful attack yet they advanced 12 km (7.5 mi) on the first day, crossing the Marne but stopping 56 kilometres (35 mi) from Paris.
But each triumph weakened their army and its morale. From 20 March 1918 to 25 June the German front lengthened from 390 kilometres (240 mi) to 510 kilometres (320 mi).
Then they struck near Reims, to seize additional railway lines for use in the salient but were foiled by brilliant French elastic tactics. Undeterred, on 18 July 1918 Ludendorff, still aggressive and confident, traveled to Flanders to confer about the next attack there.
A telephone call reported that the French and Americans led by a mass of tanks had smashed through the right flank of their salient pointing toward Paris, on the opening day of the Battle of Soissons. Everyone present realized that surely they had lost the war. Ludendorff was shattered.
OHL began to withdraw step by step to new defensive lines, first evacuating all of their wounded and supplies. Ludendorff’s communiques, which hitherto had been largely factual, now distorted the news, for instance claiming that American troops had to be herded onto troop ships by special police.
On 8 August 1918 they were completely surprised at Amiens when British tanks broke through the defences and intact German formations surrendered. To Ludendorff it was the black day in the history of the German Army. The German retreats continued, pressed by Allied attacks. OHL still vigorously opposed offering to give up the territory they desired in France and Belgium, so the German government was unable to make a plausible peace proposal.
Ludendorff became increasingly cantankerous, slating his staff without cause, publicly accusing the field marshal of talking nonsense, and sometimes bursting into tears. Bauer wanted him replaced, but instead Oberstabarzt Hochheimer was brought to OHL, he had worked closely with Ludendorff in Poland during the winter of 1915–16 on plans to bring in German colonists, before the war he had a practice in nervous diseases. The doctor spoke as a friend and he listened as a friend, convincing Ludendorff that he could not work effectively with one hour of sleep a night and that he must relearn how to relax. After a month away from headquarters his patient had recovered from the severest symptoms of battle fatigue.
Downfall On 29 September 1918 Ludendorff and Hindenburg told an incredulous Kaiser that they must have an immediate armistice. A new Chancellor, Prince Maximilian of Baden, approached President Woodrow Wilson but his terms were stiff, and the Army fought on. The chancellor told the Kaiser that he and his cabinet would resign unless Ludendorff was removed, but that Hindenburg must remain to hold the Army together. The Kaiser called his commanders in, curtly accepting Ludendorff’s resignation and then rejecting Hindenburg’s. Ludendorff would not accompany the field marshal back to headquarters, I refused to ride with you because you have treated me so shabbily.
Ludendorff had assiduously sought all the credit, now he was rewarded with all of the blame. Widely despised, and with revolution breaking out, he was hidden by his brother and a network of friends until he slipped out of Germany disguised in blue spectacles and a false beard, settling in a Swedish admirer’s country home, until the Swedish government asked him to leave in February 1919. In seven months, he wrote two volumes of detailed memoirs. Friends, led by Breucker, provided him with documents and negotiated with publishers. The memoirs testify to his capacity for work, his intellectual brilliance, and the sweeping range of his involvement: We regarded ourselves as the leaders of the whole nation in arms. Greener (who is not mentioned in the book) characterized it as a showcase of his Caesar-mania. He was a brilliant general, according to Wheeler-Bennett he was certainly one of the greatest routine military organizers that the world has ever seen, but he was a ruinous political meddler. The influential military analyst Hans Delbrück concluded that The Empire was built by Moltke and Bismarck, destroyed by Tirpitz and Ludendorff.
After the Great War In exile, Ludendorff wrote numerous books and articles about the German military’s conduct of the war while forming the foundation for the Dolchstosslegende, the stab-in-the-back theory, for which he is considered largely responsible. Ludendorff was convinced that Germany had fought a defensive war and, in his opinion, that Kaiser Wilhelm II had failed to organize a proper counter-propaganda campaign or provide efficient leadership.
Ludendorff was extremely suspicious of the Social Democrats and leftists, whom he blamed for the humiliation of Germany through the Versailles Treaty. Ludendorff claimed that he paid close attention to the business element (especially the Jews), and saw them turn their backs on the war effort by — as he saw it — letting profit, rather than patriotism, dictate production and financing.
Again, focusing on the left, Ludendorff was appalled by the strikes that took place towards the end of the war and the way that the home front collapsed before the military front did, with the former poisoning the morale of soldiers on temporary leave. Most importantly, Ludendorff felt that the German people had underestimated what was at stake in the war; he was convinced that the Entente had started the war and was determined to dismantle Germany completely.
By the Revolution the Germans have made themselves pariahs among the nations, incapable of winning allies, helots in the service of foreigners and foreign capital, and deprived of all self-respect. In twenty years’, time, the German people will curse the parties who now boast of having made the Revolution — Erich Ludendorff, My War Memories, 1914–1918
Political career in the Republic
Ludendorff returned to Berlin in February 1919. Staying at the Adlon Hotel, he talked with another resident, Sir Neill Malcolm, the head of the British Military Mission. After Ludendorff presented his excuses for the German defeat Malcolm said you mean that you were stabbed in the back? Ironically coining a key catchphrase for the German right-wing.
On 12 March 1920, 5,000 Freikorps troops under the command of Walther von Lüttwitz marched on the Chancellery, forcing the government led by Friedrich Ebert and Gustav Bauer to flee the city. The putschists proclaimed a new government with a right-wing politician, Wolfgang Kapp as new chancellor. Ludendorff and Max Bauer were part of the putsch. The Kapp Putsch was soon defeated by a general strike that brought Berlin to a standstill. The leaders fled, Ludendorff to Bavaria, where a right-wing coup had succeeded. He published two volumes of annotated —and in a few instances pruned — documents and commentaries documenting his war service. He reconciled with Hindenburg, who began to visit every year.
In May 1923 Ludendorff had an agreeable first meeting with Adolf Hitler, and soon he had regular contacts with National Socialists. On 8 November 1923, the Bavarian Staatskomissar Gustav von Kahr was addressing a jammed meeting in a large beer hall, the Bürgerbräukeller. Hitler, waving a pistol, jumped onto the stage, announcing that the national revolution was underway. The hall was occupied by armed men who covered the audience with a machine gun, the first move in the Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler announced that he would lead the Reich Government and Ludendorff would command the army. He addressed the now enthusiastically supportive audience and then spent the night in the War Ministry, unsuccessfully trying to obtain the army’s backing.
The next morning 3,000 armed Nazis formed outside of the Bürgerbräukeller and marched into central Munich, the leaders just behind the flag bearers. They were blocked by a cordon of police, firing broke out for less than a minute. Most of the Nazi leaders were hit or dropped to the ground. Ludendorff and his adjutant Major Streck marched to the police line where they pushed aside the rifle barrels. He was respectfully arrested. He was indignant when sent home while the other leaders remained in custody. Four police officers and 14 Nazis had been killed, including Ludendorff’s servant.
They were tried in early 1924. Ludendorff was acquitted, but Heinz was convicted of chauffeuring him, given a one-year suspended sentence and fined 1,000 marks. Hitler went to prison but was released after nine months. Ludendorff’s 60th birthday was celebrated by massed bands and a large torchlight parade. In 1924, he was elected to the Reichstag as a representative of the NSFB (a coalition of the German Völkisch Freedom Party (DVFP) and members of the Nazi Party), serving until 1928. At around this time, he founded the Tannenberg League, a German nationalist organization which was both anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic, and published literature espousing conspiracy theories involving Jews, Catholics – especially Jesuits – and Freemasons.
As his views became more extreme under the influence of his wife, Mathilde von Kemnitz, Ludendorff gradually began to part company with Hitler, who was surreptitiously working to undermine the reputation of his one serious rival for the leadership of the extreme right in Germany. Nonetheless, Ludendorff was persuaded to run for President of the Republic in the March 1925 election as the Nazi Party candidate, receiving only a pitiful 1.1 per cent of the vote; there is some evidence that Hitler himself persuaded Ludendorff to run, knowing that the results would be humiliating.
No one had a majority in the initial round of the election, so a second round was needed; Hindenburg entered the race and was narrowly elected. Ludendorff was so humiliated by what he saw as a betrayal by his old friend that he broke off relations with Hindenburg, and in 1927 refused to even stand beside the field marshal at the dedication of the Tannenberg memorial. He attacked Hindenburg abusively for not having acted in a nationalistic soldier-like fashion.
The Berlin-based liberal newspaper Vossische Zeitung states in its article:
Ludendorff’s hate tirades against Hindenburg — Poisonous gas from Hitler’s camp that Ludendorff was, as of 29 March 1930, deeply grounded in Nazi ideology.
Tipton notes that Ludendorff was a social Darwinist who believed that war was the foundation of human society, and that military dictatorship was the normal form of government in a society in which every resource must be mobilized. The historian Margaret L. Anderson notes that after the war, Ludendorff wanted Germany to go to war against all of Europe, and that he became a pagan worshipper of the Nordic god Wotan (Odin); he detested not only Judaism, but also Christianity, which he regarded as a weakening force.
Retirement and death Ludendorff divorced and married his second wife Mathilde von Kemnitz (1877–1966) in 1926. They published books and essays to prove that the world’s problems were the result of Christianity, especially the Jesuits and Catholics, but also conspiracies by Jews and the Freemasons. They founded the Society for the Knowledge of God, a small and rather obscure esoterical society of Theists that survives to this day. He launched several abusive attacks on his former superior Hindenburg for not having acted in a nationalistic soldier-like fashion.
By the time Hitler came to power, Ludendorff was no longer sympathetic to him. The Nazis distanced themselves from Ludendorff because of his eccentric conspiracy theories. On 30 January 1933, the occasion of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor by President Hindenburg, Ludendorff sent the following telegram to Hindenburg:
I solemnly prophesy that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and bring our nation to inconceivable misery. Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.
To regain Ludendorff’s favour, Hitler arrived unannounced at Ludendorff’s home on his 70th birthday in 1935 to promote him to field marshal. Infuriated, Ludendorff allegedly rebuffed Hitler by telling him:
An officer is named General Field-Marshal on the battlefield! Not at a birthday tea-party in the midst of peace.
He wrote two further books on military themes, demonstrating that he still could think coherently about war despite his political and social prejudices.
Ludendorff died on 20 December 1937 at the age of 72. He was given — against his explicit wishes — a state funeral organized and attended by Hitler, who declined to speak at his eulogy.
Decorations and awards Knight of the Military Order of Max Joseph (Bavaria) Grand Commander with Star of the House Order of Hohenzollern Pour le Mérite (Prussia) Grand Cross of the Iron Cross Knight of the Military Order of St. Henry (Saxony) Knight of the Military Merit Order (Württemberg) Knight Grand Cross of the House and Merit Order of Peter Frederick Louis with Swords and laurel Military Merit Cross, 2nd class (Mecklenburg-Schwerin) Military Merit Cross, 1st class with war decoration (Austria-Hungary) Gold Military Merit Medal (Signum Laudis, Austria-Hungary) Cross for Merit in War (Saxe-Meiningen)
The copyright holder of this file, David Liuzzo, allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted. Attribution: David Liuzzo
By courtesy of Wikipedia.org
The Art of War
Erich Ludendorff understood what modern war was like at the top. He did not regard it as field game – as he wrote, having lost two sons, the war has spared me nothing. On the other hand, and again unlike Liddell Hart in particular, neither did he shrink from its horrors. Ludendorff’s post war dabbling with anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism and anti-Freemasonry (he could never make up his mind which of the three international forces posed the greatest danger to Germany) bordered on the paranoid and has been rightly condemned. However, this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that his vision of future armed conflict was awesome and, what is more important, more nearly correct than any of the rest.
Having spent over two years in charge of the war effort of the most powerful belligerent in history until then, Ludendorff did not believe that a first-class modern state could be brought to its knees rapidly and cheaply by aircraft dropping bombs on its civilian population. Nor could this be achieved by fleets of tanks engaging in mobile operations, however indirect and however brilliant. In part, Ludendorff merely continued the work of some pre-1914 militarist writers, such as Colmar von der Goltz and Friedrich von Bernhardi, who had advocated total mobilization and mass armies. Up to a point, too, Der totale Krieg ( the English translation is called The Nations at War) both recounted his own experience, and also, by attacking many of his less cooperative colleagues, sought to explain why Germany (with himself as its head) has had lost the war. Whatever the book’s precise origins and purpose, Ludendorff’s main thesis was that the developing technologies of production, transportation and communication made modern war into much more than merely a question of armed forces maneuvering against each other for mastery of some battlefield. Instead it was total – the title of his book – basing itself on all the forces of the nation, and requiring that the latter be mobilized to the last person and the last screw.
To be sure, the next war would make use of all available modern weapons, including poison gas. Civilians as well as the armed forces would be targeted, and the resulting number of casualties, the destruction and suffering would be immense. Therefore, it would be all the more important to mobilize not only all material resources but also the people’s spirit, a point on which, the way Ludendorff and many of his countrymen saw it, Imperial Germany with its old-fashioned authoritarian system of government and its neglect of the working classes had been sadly deficient. The implication of such mobilization was an end to democracy and the liberties it entailed, including not only freedom of the press but capitalist enterprise as well. For either industrialists or union leaders (during the war Ludendorff had had his troubles with both) to insist on their own privilege was intolerable; they, as well as the entire financial apparatus available to the state, were to be subjected to a military dictatorship. Nor was Ludendorff under any illusion that the nation’s spiritual and material mobilization could be quickly improvised. Hence the dictatorship which he demanded, and for which he no doubt regarded himself as the most suitable candidate, was to be set up in peacetime and made permanent.
The next war would not be a gentlemanly fight for limited stakes to be won by the side with the swiftness and sharpest sword. Instead it would be a life and death struggle won by the belligerent with the greatest resources and the strongest will power – which incidentally disposed of any childish illusions concerning small, professional and highly mobile, let alone chivalrous, armed forces. Anything not serving the war effort would have to be ruthlessly discarded, and this specifically included playing at politics. Politics would, in effect, be swallowed up by the war; the two would become indistinguishable. All the theories of Clausewitz should be thrown overboard . . . Both war and policy serve the existence of the nation. However, war is the highest expression of the people’s will to live. Therefore politics must be made subordinate to war. or, to the extent that it was not, it was superfluous and, indeed, treasonable.
After 1945 Ludendorff’s military thought was often attacked by featherweight commentators. In addition to taking a justified dislike to his racism and his early support of Hitler, they mistook their world – in which nuclear weapons had made total war as he understood it impossible – for his. During these years it was Liddell Hart and Fuller who, rightly or not, were celebrated as the fathers of the Blitzkrieg (whether Liddell Hart in particular had as much influence on its development as he later claimed has recently become the subject of an entire literature). Nevertheless, the fact remains that it was not their vision of the Second World War but Ludendorff’s which turned out to be only too horribly true.
To be sure, fleets of aircraft did overfly fronts and bombed cities on a scale which, had he only been able to envisage it, might have made even Ludendorff blanch. Other air raft, cooperating more closely with the tanks, helped carry out spectacular mobile operations on the ground. The combination of amour, mobility and wireless restored operational, laying the groundwork for some spectacular victories in which countries the size of Poland and France were knocked down at a single blow. It also did much to re-establish the balance between offense and defense, although events were to show that both tank and aircraft (the latter, thanks to the introduction of radar) were as capable of operating on the defense, and preventing a breakthrough as they were of helping it to take place.
Where Ludendorff proved most correct, however, was on insisting that the Second World War – a term, of course, which he did not use – would be broadly like the first. As with its predecessor, it would develop into gigantic struggle and a prolonged one. It would both demand and make possible the mobilization of all resources under a regime which, even in democratic countries, came close to doing away with politics while putting everybody and everything under its own control (in 1945 the British Ministry of Food alone had no fewer than 30,000 employees). Ludendorff’s posthumous triumph may, indeed, be seen in the fact that, by the time the war was over, a continent had been devastated and between forty and sixty million lay dead. As the coming decades were to prove, the history of (conventional) military theory had run its course.
Courtesy of: The Art of War by Martin Van Creveld, Cassel & Co London
SFR Yugoslavia from 1991 through 1992. The colours represent the different areas of control.
Republic of Serbian Krajina (1991–1995), after Croatian Army Operation Storm (1995) and after UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (1996–1998), part of Croatia
Republic of Macedonia (1991–)
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia (1991–1994), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995–)
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992–1997), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997–)
Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia (1993–1995), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995–)
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003), Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006), Montenegro (3 June 2006–), Serbia (5 June 2006–) and Kosovo (17 February 2008)
Republika Srpska (1992–1997), part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997–)
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943–1992)
The breakup of Yugoslavia occurred because of a series of political upheavals and conflicts during the early 1990s. After a period of political crisis in the 1980s, constituent republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia split apart, but the unresolved issues caused bitter inter-ethnic Yugoslav wars. The wars primarily affected Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighbouring parts of Croatia. After the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was set up as a federation of six republics, with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
In addition, two autonomous provinces were established within Serbia:
Each of the republics had its own branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia party and a ruling elite, and any tensions were solved on the federal level. The Yugoslav model of state organization, as well as a middle way between planned and liberal economy, had been a relative success, and the country experienced a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability up to the 1980s, under the rule of president-for-life Josip Broz Tito. After his death in 1980, the weakened system of federal government was left unable to cope with rising economic and political challenges.
In the 1980s, Albanians of Kosovo started to demand that their autonomous province be granted the status of a constituent republic, starting with the 1981 protests. Ethnic tensions between Albanians and Kosovo Serbs remained high over the whole decade, which resulted in the growth across Yugoslavia of Serb opposition to the high autonomy of provinces and ineffective system of consensus at the federal level, which were seen as an obstacle for Serb interests. In 1987, Slobodan Milošević came to power in Serbia, and through a series of populist moves acquired de facto control over
garnering a high level of support among Serbs for his centralist policies. Milošević was met with opposition by party leaders of the western republics of Slovenia and Croatia, who also advocated greater democratization of the country in line with the Revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe. The League of Communists of Yugoslavia dissolved in January 1990 along federal lines. Republican communist organizations became the separate socialist parties.
During 1990, the socialists (former communists) lost power to ethnic separatist parties in the first multi-party elections held across the country, except in Serbia and Montenegro, where they were won by Milošević and his allies. Nationalist rhetoric on all sides became increasingly heated. Between June 1991 and April 1992, four republics declared independence (only Serbia and Montenegro remained federated), but the status of ethnic Serbs outside Serbia and Montenegro, and that of ethnic Croats outside Croatia, remained unsolved. After a string of inter-ethnic incidents, the Yugoslav Wars ensued, first in Croatia and then, most severely, in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina; the wars left long-term economic and political damage in the region.
Yugoslavia occupied a significant portion of the Balkan peninsula, including a strip of land on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, stretching southward from the Bay of Trieste in Central Europe to the mouth of Bojana as well as Lake Prespa inland, and eastward as far as the Iron Gates on the Danube and Midžor in the Balkan Mountains, thus including a large part of Southeast Europe, a region with a history of ethnic conflict.
The important elements that fostered the discord involved contemporary and historical factors, including the formation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the first breakup and subsequent inter-ethnic and political wars and genocide during World War II, ideas of Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia, Greater Albania, and conflicting views about Pan-Slavism, and the unilateral recognition by a newly reunited Germany of the breakaway republics.
Before World War II, major tensions arose from the first, monarchist Yugoslavia’s multi-ethnic make-up and relative political and demographic domination of the Serbs. Fundamental to the tensions were the different concepts of the new state. The Croats and Slovenes envisaged a federal model where they would enjoy greater autonomy than they had as a separate crown land under Austria-Hungary. Under Austria-Hungary, both Slovenes and Croats enjoyed autonomy with free hands only in education, law, religion, and 45% of taxes. The Serbs tended to view the territories as a just reward for their support of the allies in World War I and the new state as an extension of the Kingdom of Serbia.
Tensions between the Croats and Serbs often erupted into open conflict, with the Serb-dominated security structure exercising oppression during elections and the assassination in national parliament of Croat political leaders, including Stjepan Radić, who opposed the Serbian monarch’s absolutism. The assassination and human rights abuses were subject of concern for the Human Rights League and precipitated voices of protest from intellectuals, including Albert Einstein. It was in this environment of oppression that the radical insurgent group (later fascist dictatorship), the Ustaše were formed.
During World War II, the country’s tensions were exploited by the occupying Axis forces which established a Croat puppet state spanning much of present-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Axis powers installed the Ustaše as the leaders of the Independent State of Croatia. The Ustaše resolved that the Serbian minority were a fifth column of Serbian expansionism, and pursued a policy of persecution against the Serbs. The policy dictated that one-third of the Serbian minority were to be killed, one-third expelled, and one-third converted to Catholicism and assimilated as Croats. Conversely, the Chetniks pursued their own campaign of persecution in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Sandžak per the Moljevic plan (On Our State and Its Borders) and the orders issues by Draža Mihailović which included the cleansing of all nation understandings and fighting.
Both Croats and Muslims were recruited as soldiers by the SS (primarily in the 13th Waffen Mountain Division). At the same time, former royalist, General Milan Nedić, was installed by the Axis as head of the puppet government and local Serbs were recruited into the Gestapo and the Serbian Volunteer Corps. Both quislings were confronted and eventually defeated by the communist-led, anti-fascist Partisan movement composed of members of all ethnic groups in the area, leading to the formation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
The official Yugoslav post-war estimate of victims in Yugoslavia during World War II was 1,704,000. Subsequent data gathering in the 1980s by historians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović showed that the actual number of dead was about 1 million. Of that number, 330,000 to 390,000 ethnic Serbs perished from all causes in Croatia and Bosnia.
Yugoslavia was in its heyday a regional industrial power and an economic success. From 1960 to 1980, annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaged 6.1 percent, medical care was free, literacy was 91 percent, and life expectancy was 72 years. It was a unique state, straddling both the East and West. Moreover, its president, Josip Broz Tito, was one of the fundamental founders of the third world or group of 77 which acted as an alternative to the superpowers. More importantly, it acted as a buffer state between the West and the Soviet Union and also prevented the Soviets from getting a toehold on the Mediterranean Sea.
The central government’s control began to be loosened due to increasing nationalist grievances and the Communist’s Party’s wish to support national self-determination. This resulted in Kosovo being turned into an autonomous region of Serbia, legislated by the 1974 constitution. This constitution broke down powers between the capital and the autonomous regions in Vojvodina (an area of Yugoslavia with a large number of ethnic minorities) and Kosovo (with a large ethnic-Albanian population).
Despite the federal structure of the new Yugoslavia, there was still tension between the federalists, primarily Croats and Slovenes who argued for greater autonomy, and unitarists, primarily Serbs. The struggle would occur in cycles of protests for greater individual and national rights (such as the Croatian Spring) and subsequent repression. The 1974 constitution was an attempt to short-circuit this pattern by entrenching the federal model and formalizing national rights.
The loosened control basically turned Yugoslavia into a de facto confederacy, which also placed pressure on the legitimacy of the regime within the federation. Since the late 1970s a widening gap of economic resources between the developed and underdeveloped regions of Yugoslavia severely deteriorated the federation’s unity. The most developed republics, Croatia and Slovenia, rejected attempts to limit their autonomy as provided in the 1974 Constitution. Public opinion in Slovenia in 1987 saw better economic opportunity in independence from Yugoslavia than within it. There were also places that saw no economic benefit from being in Yugoslavia; for example, the autonomous province of Kosovo was poorly developed, and per capita GDP fell from 47 percent of the Yugoslav average in the immediate post-war period to 27 percent by the 1980s. It highlighted the vast differences in the quality of life in the different republics.
Economic growth was curbed due to Western trade barriers combined with the 1973 oil crisis. Yugoslavia subsequently fell into heavy IMF debt due to the large number of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans taken out by the regime. As a condition of receiving loans, the IMF demanded the “market liberalization” of Yugoslavia. By 1981, Yugoslavia had incurred $19.9 billion in foreign debt. Another concern was the unemployment rate, at 1 million by 1980. This problem was compounded by the general unproductiveness of the South, which not only added to Yugoslavia’s economic woes, but also irritated Slovenia and Croatia further.
The SFR Yugoslavia was a conglomeration of eight federated entities, roughly divided along ethnic lines, including six republics.
With the 1974 Constitution, the office of President of Yugoslavia was replaced with the Yugoslav Presidency, an eight-member collective head-of-state composed of representatives from six republics and, controversially, two autonomous provinces of the Socialist Republic of Serbia, SAP Kosovo and SAP Vojvodina.
Since the SFR Yugoslav federation was formed in 1945, the constituent Socialist Republic of Serbia (SR Serbia) included the two autonomous provinces of SAP Kosovo and SAP Vojvodina. With the 1974 constitution, the influence of the central government of SR Serbia over the provinces was greatly reduced, which gave them long-sought autonomy. The government of SR Serbia was restricted in making and carrying out decisions that would apply to the provinces. The provinces had a vote in the Yugoslav Presidency, which was not always cast in favour of SR Serbia. In Serbia, there was great resentment towards these developments, which the nationalist elements of the public saw as the division of Serbia. The 1974 constitution not only exacerbated Serbian fears of a “weak Serbia, for a strong Yugoslavia” but also hit at the heart of Serbian national sentiment. Most Serbs see Kosovo as the cradle of the nation and would not accept the possibility of losing it to the majority Albanian population.
In an effort to ensure his legacy, Tito’s 1974 constitution established a system of year-long presidencies, on a rotation basis out of the eight leaders of the republics and autonomous provinces. Tito’s death would show that such short terms were highly ineffective. Essentially it left a power vacuum which was left open for most of the 1980s.
Economic collapse and the international climate
During the years of Tito’s presidency, his policy was to push for rapid economic growth. Indeed, growth was high in the 1970s. However, the over-expansion of economic growth caused inflation and pushed Yugoslavia into economic recession.
After the death of Tito and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev, perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union, the West felt secure enough in the USSR’s intentions that Yugoslavia was no longer of pivotal strategic importance. Despite Belgrade’s non-alignment and its extensive trading relations with the European Community and the US, the Reagan administration specifically targeted the Yugoslav economy in a Secret Sensitive 1984 National Security Decision Directive NSDD 133. U.S. Policy towards Yugoslavia. A censored version declassified in 1990 elaborated on NSDD 54 on Eastern Europe, issued in 1982. The latter advocated expanded efforts to promote a ‘quiet revolution’ to overthrow Communist governments and parties, while reintegrating the countries of Eastern Europe into a market-oriented economy.
The external status quo, which the Communist Party had depended upon to remain viable was thus beginning to disappear. Furthermore, the failure of communism all over Central and Eastern Europe once again brought Yugoslavia’s inner contradictions, economic inefficiencies (such as chronic lack of productivity, fuelled by the country’s leaderships’ decision to enforce a policy of full employment), and ethno-religious tensions to the surface. Yugoslavia’s non-aligned status resulted in access to loans from both superpower blocs. This contact with the United States and the West opened up Yugoslavia’s markets sooner than the rest of Central and Eastern Europe.
The 1980s were a decade of Western economic ministrations.
A decade of frugality resulted in growing frustration and resentment against both the Serbian ‘ruling class,’ and the minorities who were seen to benefit from government legislation. Real earnings in Yugoslavia fell by 25% from 1979 to 1985.
By 1988 emigrant remittances to Yugoslavia totalled over $4.5 billion (USD), and by 1989 remittances were $6.2 billion (USD), making up over 19% of the world’s total.
Death of Tito and the weakening of Communism
On 4 May 1980, Tito’s death was announced through state broadcasts across Yugoslavia. His death removed what many international political observers saw as Yugoslavia’s main unifying force and subsequent ethnic tension started to grow in Yugoslavia. The crisis that emerged in Yugoslavia was connected with the weakening of the Communist states in Eastern Europe towards the end of the Cold War, as symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In Yugoslavia, the national communist party, officially called the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, had lost its ideological potency.
In 1986, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) contributed significantly to the rise of nationalist sentiments, as it drafted the controversial SANU Memorandum protesting against the weakening of the Serbian central government.
The problems in the Serbian autonomous province of SAP Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and Albanians grew exponentially. This, coupled with economic problems in Kosovo and Serbia as a whole, led to even greater Serbian resentment of the 1974 Constitution. Kosovo Albanians started to demand that Kosovo be granted the status of a constituent republic beginning in the early 1980s, particularly with the 1981 protests in Kosovo. This was seen by the Serbian public as a devastating blow to Serb pride because of the historic links that Serbians held with Kosovo. It was viewed that that secession would be devastating to Kosovar Serbs. This, eventually, led to the repression of the Albanian majority in Kosovo.
The more prosperous republics of SR Slovenia and SR Croatia wanted to move towards decentralization and democracy.
Rise of nationalism in Serbia (1987–89)
Serbian President Slobodan Milošević’s unequivocal desire to uphold the unity of Serbs, a status threatened by each republic breaking away from the federation, in addition to his opposition to the Albanian authorities in Kosovo, further inflamed ethnic tensions.
In 1987, Serbian communist official Slobodan Milošević was sent to bring calm to an ethnically-driven protest by Serbs against the Albanian administration of SAP Kosovo. Milošević had been, up to this point, a hard-line communist who had decried all forms of nationalism as treachery, such as condemning the SANU Memorandum as “nothing else but the darkest nationalism” However, Kosovo’s autonomy had always been an unpopular policy in Serbia and he took advantage of the situation and made a departure from traditional communist neutrality on the issue of Kosovo.
Milošević assured Serbs that their mistreatment by ethnic Albanians would be stopped. He then began a campaign against the ruling communist elite of SR Serbia, demanding reductions in the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina. These actions made him popular amongst Serbs and aided his rise to power in Serbia. Milošević and his allies took on an aggressive nationalist agenda of reviving SR Serbia within Yugoslavia, promising reforms and protection of all Serbs.
The ruling party of SFR Yugoslavia was the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), a composite political party made-up of eight Leagues of Communists from the six republics and two autonomous provinces. The League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) governed SR Serbia. Riding the wave of nationalist sentiment and his new popularity gained in Kosovo, Slobodan Milošević (Chairman of the League of Communists of Serbia (SKS) since May 1986) became the most powerful politician in Serbia by defeating his former mentor President of Serbia Ivan Stambolic at the 8th Session of the League of Communists of Serbia on 22 September 1987. In a 1988 Belgrade rally, Milošević made clear his perception of the situation facing SR Serbia in Yugoslavia, saying:
At home and abroad, Serbia’s enemies are massing against us. We say to them We are not afraid. We will not flinch from battle. — Slobodan Milošević, 19 November 1988.
On another occasion, he privately stated:
We Serbs will act in the interest of Serbia whether we do it in compliance with the constitution or not, whether we do it in compliance in the law or not, whether we do it in compliance with party statutes or not. — Slobodan Milošević
The Anti-bureaucratic revolution was a series of revolts in Serbia and Montenegro which brought Milošević’s supporters in SAP Vojvodina, SAP Kosovo, and the Socialist Republic of Montenegro (SR Montenegro) to power. The government of Montenegro survived a coup d’état in October 1988, but not a second one in January 1989.
In addition to Serbia itself, Milošević could now install representatives of the two provinces and SR Montenegro in the Yugoslav Presidency Council. The very instrument that reduced Serbian influence before was now used to increase it: in the eight-member Presidency, Milošević could count on a minimum of four votes – SR Montenegro (following local events), his own through SR Serbia, and now SAP Vojvodina and SAP Kosovo as well. In a series of rallies, called Rallies of Truth, Milošević’s supporters succeeded in overthrowing local governments and replacing them with his allies.
As a result of these events, in February 1989 the ethnic Albanian miners in Kosovo organized the 1989 Kosovo miners’ strike, demanding the preservation of the, now endangered, autonomy. This contributed to ethnic conflict between the Albanians and the Serb population of the province. At 77% of the population of Kosovo in the 1980s, ethnic-Albanians were the majority.
In June 1989, the 600th anniversary of Serbia’s historic defeat at the field of Kosovo, Slobodan Milošević gave the Gazimestan speech to 200,000 Serbs, with a Serb nationalist theme which deliberately evoked medieval Serbian history. Milošević’s answer to the incompetence of the federal system was to centralise the government. Considering Slovenia and Croatia were looking farther ahead to independence, this was considered unacceptable.
Meanwhile, the Socialist Republic of Croatia (SR Croatia) and the Socialist Republic of Slovenia (SR Slovenia), supported the Albanian miners and their struggle for recognition. Media in SR Slovenia published articles comparing Milošević to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Milošević contended that such criticism was unfounded and amounted to spreading fear of Serbia. Milošević’s state-run media claimed in response that Milan Kučan, head of the League of Communists of Slovenia, was endorsing Kosovo and Slovene separatism. Initial strikes in Kosovo turned into widespread demonstrations calling for Kosovo to be made the seventh republic. This angered Serbia’s leadership which proceeded to use police force, and later the federal army (the Yugoslav People’s Army JNA) by order of the Serbian-controlled Presidency.
In February 1989 ethnic Albanian Azem Vllasi, SAP Kosovo’s representative on the Presidency, was forced to resign and was replaced by an ally of Milošević. Albanian protesters demanded that Vllasi be returned to office, and Vllasi’s support for the demonstrations caused Milošević and his allies to respond stating this was a counter-revolution against Serbia and Yugoslavia, and demanded that the federal Yugoslav government put down the striking Albanians by force. Milošević’s aim was aided when a huge protest was formed outside of the Yugoslav parliament in Belgrade by Serb supporters of Milošević who demanded that the Yugoslav military forces make their presence stronger in Kosovo to protect the Serbs there and put down the strike.
On 27 February, SR Slovene representative in the collective presidency of Yugoslavia, Milan Kučan, opposed the demands of the Serbs and left Belgrade for SR Slovenia where he attended a meeting in the Cankar Hall in Ljubljana, co-organized with the democratic opposition forces, publicly endorsing the efforts of Albanian protesters who demanded that Vllasi be released. In the 1995 BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia, Kučan claimed that in 1989, he was concerned that with the successes of Milošević’s anti-bureaucratic revolution in Serbia’s provinces as well as Montenegro, that his small republic would be the next target for a political coup by Milošević’s supporters if the coup in Kosovo went unimpeded. Serbian state-run television denounced Kučan as a separatist, a traitor, and an endorser of Albanian separatism.
Serb protests continued in Belgrade demanding action in Kosovo. Milošević instructed communist representative Petar Gračanin to make sure the protest continued while he discussed matters at the council of the League of Communists, as a means to induce the other members to realize that enormous support was on his side in putting down the Albanian strike in Kosovo. Serbian parliament speaker Borisav Jović, a strong ally of Milošević, met with the current President of the Yugoslav Presidency, Bosnian representative Raif Dizdarević, and demanded that the federal government concede to Serbian demands. Dizdarević argued with Jović saying that You [Serbian politicians] organized the demonstrations, you control it, Jović refused to take responsibility for the actions of the protesters. Dizdarević then decided to attempt to bring calm to the situation himself by talking with the protesters, by making an impassioned speech for unity of Yugoslavia saying:
Our fathers died to create Yugoslavia. We will not go down the road to national conflict. We will take the path of Brotherhood and Unity.— Raif Dizdarević, 1989
This statement received polite applause, but the protest continued. Later Jović spoke to the crowds with enthusiasm and told them that Milošević was going to arrive to support their protest. When Milošević arrived, he spoke to the protesters and jubilantly told them that the people of Serbia were winning their fight against the old party bureaucrats. Then a shout to be from the crowd yelled “arrest Vllasi'”. Milošević pretended not to hear the demand correctly but declared to the crowd that anyone conspiring against the unity of Yugoslavia would be arrested and punished and the next day, with the party council pushed to submission to Serbia, Yugoslav army forces poured into Kosovo and Vllasi was arrested.
In March 1989, the crisis in Yugoslavia deepened after the adoption of amendments to the Serbian constitution that allowed the Serbian republic’s government to re-assert effective power over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Up until that time, a number of political decisions were legislated from within these provinces, and they had a vote on the Yugoslav federal presidency level (six members from the republics and two members from the autonomous provinces).
A group of Kosovo Serb supporters of Milošević who helped bring down Vllasi declared that they were going to Slovenia to hold the Rally of Truth which would decry Milan Kučan as a traitor to Yugoslavia and demand his ousting. However, the attempt to replay the anti-bureaucratic revolution in Ljubljana in December 1989 failed: the Serb protesters who were to go by train to Slovenia, were stopped when the police of SR Croatia blocked all transit through its territory in coordination with the Slovene police forces.
In the Presidency of Yugoslavia, Serbia’s Borisav Jović (at the time the President of the Presidency), Montenegro’s Nenad Bućin, Vojvodina’s Jugoslav Kostić and Kosovo’s Riza Sapunxhiu, started to form a voting bloc.
Final political crisis (1990–92)
In January 1990, the extraordinary 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia was convened. The combined Yugoslav ruling party, the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ), was in crisis. Most of the Congress was spent with the Serbian and Slovene delegations arguing over the future of the League of Communists and Yugoslavia. SR Croatia’s actions in preventing Serb protesters from reaching Slovenia played its part. The Serbian delegation, led by Milošević, insisted on a policy of one person, one vote in the party membership, which would empower the largest party ethnic group, the Serbs.
In turn, the Croats and Slovenes sought to reform Yugoslavia by delegating even more power to six republics but were voted down continuously in every motion in an attempt to force the party to adopt the new voting system. As a result, the Croatian delegation, led by Chairman Ivica Račan, and Slovene delegation left the Congress on 23 January 1990, effectively dissolving the all-Yugoslav party. This in turn, along with external pressure, caused the adoption of multi-party systems in all republics.
When the individual republics organized their multi-party elections in 1990, the ex-communists mostly failed to win re-election, while most of the elected governments took on nationalist platforms, promising to protect their separate nationalist interests. In multi-party parliamentary elections nationalists defeated re-branded former Communist parties in Slovenia on 8 April 1990, in Croatia on 22 April and 2 May 1990, in Macedonia 11 and 25 November and 9 December 1990, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 and 25 November 1990.
In multi-party parliamentary elections, re-branded former communist parties were victorious in Montenegro on 9 and 16 December 1990, and in Serbia on 9 and 23 December 1990. In addition Serbia re-elected Slobodan Milošević as President. Serbia and Montenegro now increasingly favored a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
Ethnic tensions in Croatia
In Croatia, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was elected to power, led by controversial nationalist Franjo Tuđman, under the promise of “protecting Croatia from Milošević”, publicly advocating for Croatian sovereignty. Croatian Serbs, for their part, were wary of Tuđman’s nationalist government and in 1990, Serb nationalists in the southern Croatian town of Knin organized and formed a separatist entity known as the SAO Krajina, which demanded to remain in union with the rest of the Serb populations if Croatia decided to secede. The government of Serbia endorsed the Croatian Serbs’ rebellion, claiming that for Serbs, rule under Tuđman’s government would be equivalent to the World War II fascist Independent State of Croatia (NDH) which committed genocide against Serbs during World War II. Milošević used this to rally Serbs against the Croatian government and Serbian newspapers joined in the warmongering. Serbia had by now printed $1.8 billion worth of new money without any backing of the Yugoslav central bank.
Croatian Serbs in Knin, under the leadership of local Knin police inspector Milan Martić, began to try to gain access to weapons so that the Croatian Serbs could mount a successful revolt against the Croatian government. Croatian Serb politicians including the Mayor of Knin met with Borisav Jović, the head of the Yugoslav Presidency in August 1990, and urged him to push the council to take action to prevent Croatia from separating from Yugoslavia, as they claimed that the Serb population would be in danger in Croatia led by Tuđman and his nationalist government.
At the meeting, army official Petar Gračanin told the Croatian Serb politicians how to organize their rebellion, telling them to put up barricades, as well as assemble weapons of any sort in which he said If you can’t get anything else, use hunting rifle. Initially the revolt became known as the Log Revolution as Serbs blockaded roadways to Knin with cut-down trees and prevented Croats from entering Knin or the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia. The BBC documentary The Death of Yugoslavia revealed that at the time, Croatian TV dismissed the Log Revolution as the work of drunken Serbs, trying to diminish the serious dispute. However, the blockade was damaging to Croatian tourism. The Croatian government refused to negotiate with the Serb separatists and decided to stop the rebellion by force and sent in armed special forces by helicopters to put down the rebellion.
The pilots claimed they were bringing equipment to Knin, but the federal Yugoslav Air Force intervened and sent fighter jets to intercept them and demanded that the helicopters return to their base or they would be fired upon, in which the Croatian forces obliged and returned to their base in Zagreb. To the Croatian government, this action by the Yugoslav Air Force revealed to them that the Yugoslav People’s Army was increasingly under Serbian control. The SAO Krajina was officially declared as a separate entity on 21 December 1990, by the Serbian National Council headed by Milan Babić.
In August 1990 the Croatian Parliament replaced its representative Stipe Šuvar with Stjepan Mesić in the wake of the Log Revolution. Mesić was only seated in October 1990 because of protests from the Serbian side, and then joined Macedonia’s Vasil Tupurkovski, Slovenia’s Janez Drnovšek and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Bogić Bogićević in opposing the demands to proclaim a general state of emergency, which would have allowed the Yugoslav People’s Army to impose martial law.
Following the first multi-party election results, the republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia proposed transforming Yugoslavia into a loose federation of six republics in the autumn of 1990, however Milošević rejected all such proposals, arguing that like Slovenians and Croats, the Serbs also had a right to self-determination. Serbian politicians were alarmed by a change of phrasing in the Christmas Constitution of Croatia that changed the status of ethnic Serbs of Croatia, from an explicitly mentioned nation (narod) to a nation listed together with minorities (narodi i manjine).
Independence of Slovenia and Croatia
In the Slovenian independence referendum, 1990, held on 23 December 1990, a vast majority of residents voted for independence. 88.5% of all electors (94.8% of those participating) voted for independence – which was declared on 25 June 1991.
In January 1991, the KOS (Kontraobaveštajna služba, Yugoslav counter-intelligence service) displayed a video of a secret meeting (the “Špegelj Tapes”) that they purported had happened some time in 1990 between the Croatian Defence Minister, Martin Špegelj, and two other men, in which Špegelj announced that they were at war with the army and gave instructions about arms smuggling as well as methods of dealing with the Yugoslav Army’s officers stationed in Croatian cities. The Army subsequently wanted to indict Špegelj for treason and illegal importation of arms, mainly from Hungary.
The discovery of Croatian arms smuggling combined with the crisis in Knin, the election of independence-leaning governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia, and Slovenes demanding independence in the referendum on the issue suggested that Yugoslavia faced the imminent threat of disintegration.
On 1 March 1991, the Pakrac clash ensued, and the Yugoslav People’s Army (Jugoslovenska Narodna Armija, JNA) was deployed to the scene. On 9 March 1991, the March 1991 protests in Belgrade were suppressed with the help of the Army.
On 12 March 1991, the leadership of the Army met with the Presidency in an attempt to convince them to declare a state of emergency which would allow for the pan-Yugoslav army to take control of the country. Yugoslav army chief Veljko Kadijević declared that there was a conspiracy to destroy the country, saying:
An insidious plan has been drawn up to destroy Yugoslavia. Stage one is civil war. Stage two is foreign intervention. Then puppet regimes will be set up throughout Yugoslavia.— Veljko Kadijević, 12 March 1991.
This statement effectively implied that the new independence-advocating governments of the republics were seen by Serbs as tools of the West. Croatian delegate Stjepan Mesić responded angrily to the proposal, accusing Jović and Kadijević of attempting to use the army to create a Greater Serbia and declared That means war!. Jović and Kadijević then called upon the delegates of each republic to vote on whether to allow martial law and warned them that Yugoslavia would likely fall apart if martial law was not introduced.
In the meeting, a vote was taken on a proposal to enact martial law to allow for military action to end the crisis in Croatia by providing protection for the Serbs. The proposal was rejected as the Bosnian delegate Bogić Bogićević voted against it, believing that there was still the possibility of diplomacy being able to solve the crisis.
The Yugoslav Presidency crisis reached an impasse when Sapunxhiu ‘defected’ his faction in the second vote on martial law in March 1991 Jović briefly resigned from the presidency in protest, but soon returned. On 16 May 1991, the Serbian parliament replaced Kosovo’s Riza Sapunxhiu with Sejdo Bajramović, and Vojvodina’s Nenad Bućin with Jugoslav Kostić. This effectively deadlocked the Presidency, because Milošević’s Serbian faction had secured four out of eight federal presidency votes and it was able to block any unfavorable decisions at the federal level, in turn causing objections from other republics and calls for reform of the Yugoslav Federation.
After Jović’s term as head of the collective presidency expired, he blocked his successor, Mesić, from taking the position, giving the position instead to Branko Kostić, a member of the pro-Milošević government in Montenegro.
In the Croatian independence referendum held on 2 May 1991, 93.24% voted for independence. On 19 May 1991, the second round of the referendum on the structure of the Yugoslav federation was held in Croatia. The phrasing of the question did not explicitly inquire as to whether one was in favor of secession or not. The referendum asked the voter if he or she was in favor of Croatia being able to enter into an alliance of sovereign states with other republics (in accordance with the proposal of the republics of Croatia and Slovenia for solving the state crisis in the SFRY)?. 83.56% of the voters turned out, with Croatian Serbs largely boycotting the referendum. Of these, 94.17% (78.69% of the total voting population) voted “in favor” of the proposal, while 1.2% of those who voted were “opposed”. Finally, the independence of Croatia was declared on 25 June 1991.
The beginning of the Yugoslav Wars
Both Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on 25 June 1991.
On the morning of 26 June, units of the Yugoslav People’s Army’s 13th Corps left their barracks in Rijeka, Croatia, to move towards Slovenia’s borders with Italy.
The move immediately led to a strong reaction from local Slovenians, who organized spontaneous barricades and demonstrations against the YPA’s actions. There was, as yet, no fighting, and both sides appeared to have an unofficial policy of not being the first to open fire.
By this time, the Slovenian government had already put into action its plan to seize control of both the international Ljubljana Airport and Slovenia’s border posts on borders with Italy, Austria and Hungary.
The personnel manning the border posts were, in most cases, already Slovenians, so the Slovenian take-over mostly simply amounted to changing of uniforms and insignia, without any fighting. By taking control of the borders, the Slovenians were able to establish defensive positions against an expected YPA attack. This meant that the YPA would have to fire the first shot. It was fired on 27 June at 14:30 in Divača by an officer of the YPA.
On 7 July 1991, whilst supportive of their respective rights to national self-determination, the European Community pressured Slovenia and Croatia to place a three-month moratorium on their independence with the Brijuni Agreement (recognized by representatives of all republics). During these three months, the Yugoslav Army completed its pull-out from Slovenia. Negotiations to restore the Yugoslav federation with diplomat Lord Carrington and members of the European Community were all but ended. Carrington’s plan realized that Yugoslavia was in a state of dissolution and decided that each republic must accept the inevitable independence of the others, along with a promise to Serbian President Milošević that the European Union would ensure that Serbs outside of Serbia would be protected.
In the event, Lord Carrington’s opinions were rendered moot following newly reunited Germany’s Christmas Eve 1991 recognition of Slovenia and Croatia. Except for secret negotiations between foreign ministers Genscher (Germany) and Mock (Austria), the unilateral recognition came as an unwelcome surprise to most EU governments and the United States, with whom there was no prior consultation. International organizations, including the UN, were nonplussed. While Yugoslavia was already in a shambles, it’s likely that German recognition of the breakaway republics—and Austrian partial mobilization on the border—made things a good deal worse for the decomposing multinational state. US President George H.W. Bush was the only major power representative to voice an objection. The extent of Vatican influence in this episode has been explored by scholars familiar with the details, but the historical record remains disputed.
Milošević refused to agree to the plan, as he claimed that the European Community had no right to dissolve Yugoslavia and that the plan was not in the interests of Serbs as it would divide the Serb people into four republics (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia). Carrington responded by putting the issue to a vote in which all the other republics, including Montenegro under Momir Bulatović, initially agreed to the plan that would dissolve Yugoslavia. However, after intense pressure from Serbia on Montenegro’s President, Montenegro changed its position to oppose the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
War in Croatia
With the Plitvice Lakes incident of late March/early April 1991, the Croatian War of Independence broke out between the Croatian government and the rebel ethnic Serbs of the SAO Krajina (heavily backed by the by-now Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army). On 1 April 1991, the SAO Krajina declared that it would secede from Croatia. Immediately after Croatia’s declaration of independence, Croatian Serbs also formed the SAO Western Slavonia and the SAO of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem. These three regions would combine into the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) on 19 December 1991.
The other significant Serb-dominated entities in eastern Croatia announced that they too would join SAO Krajina. Zagreb had by this time discontinued submitting tax money to Belgrade, and the Croatian Serb entities in turn halted paying taxes to Zagreb. In some places, the Yugoslav Army acted as a buffer zone, in others it aided Serbs in their confrontation with the new Croatian army and police forces.
The influence of xenophobia and ethnic hatred in the collapse of Yugoslavia became clear during the war in Croatia. Propaganda by Croatian and Serbian sides spread fear, claiming that the other side would engage in oppression against them and would exaggerate death tolls to increase support from their populations. In the beginning months of the war, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and navy deliberately shelled civilian areas of Split and Dubrovnik, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as nearby Croat villages. Yugoslav media claimed that the actions were done due to what they claimed was a presence of fascist Ustaše forces and international terrorists in the city.
UN investigations found that no such forces were in Dubrovnik at the time. Croatian military presence increased later on. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, at the time an ally of Milošević, appealed to Montenegrin nationalism, promising that the capture of Dubrovnik would allow the expansion of Montenegro into the city which he claimed was historically part of Montenegro, and denounced the present borders of Montenegro as being drawn by the old and poorly educated Bolshevik cartographers.
At the same time, the Serbian government contradicted its Montenegrin allies by claims by the Serbian Prime Minister Dragutin Zelenović contended that Dubrovnik was historically Serbian, not Montenegrin. The international media gave immense attention to bombardment of Dubrovnik and claimed this was evidence of Milosevic pursuing the creation of a Greater Serbia as Yugoslavia collapsed, presumably with the aid of the subordinate Montenegrin leadership of Bulatović and Serb nationalists in Montenegro to foster Montenegrin support for the retaking of Dubrovnik.
In Vukovar, ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs exploded into violence when the Yugoslav army entered the town. The Yugoslav army and Serbian paramilitaries devastated the town in urban warfare and the destruction of Croatian property. Serb paramilitaries committed atrocities against Croats, killing over 200, and displacing others to add to those who fled the town in the Vukovar massacre.[
Independence of the Republic of Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina
With Bosnia’s demographic structure comprising a mixed population of a majority of Bosniaks, and minorities of Serbs and Croats, the ownership of large areas of Bosnia was in dispute.
From 1991 to 1992, the situation in the multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina grew tense. Its parliament was fragmented on ethnic lines into a plurality Bosniak faction and minority Serb and Croat factions. In 1991, the controversial nationalist leader Radovan Karadžić of the largest Serb faction in the parliament, the Serb Democratic Party gave a grave and direct warning to the Bosnian parliament should it decide to separate, saying:
This, what you are doing, is not good. This is the path that you want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina on, the same highway of hell and death that Slovenia and Croatia went on. Don’t think that you won’t take Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and the Muslim people maybe into extinction. Because the Muslim people cannot defend themselves if there is war here.— Radovan Karadžić, 14 October 1991.
In the meantime, behind the scenes, negotiations began between Milošević and Tuđman to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serb and Croat administered territories to attempt to avert war between Bosnian Croats and Serbs. Bosnian Serbs held the November 1991 referendum which resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of staying in a common state with Serbia and Montenegro.
In public, pro-state media in Serbia claimed to Bosnians that Bosnia and Herzegovina could be included a new voluntary union within a new Yugoslavia based on democratic government, but this was not taken seriously by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government.
On 9 January 1992, the Bosnian Serb assembly proclaimed a separate Republic of the Serb people of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the soon-to-be Republic of Srpska), and proceeded to form Serbian autonomous regions (SARs) throughout the state. The Serbian referendum on remaining in Yugoslavia and the creation of Serbian autonomous regions (SARs) were proclaimed unconstitutional by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The independence referendum sponsored by the Bosnian government was held on 29 February and 1 March 1992. That referendum was in turn declared contrary to the Bosnian and federal constitution by the federal Constitution Court and the newly established Bosnian Serb government; it was also largely boycotted by the Bosnian Serbs. According to the official results, the turnout was 63.4%, and 99.7% of the voters voted for independence. It was unclear what the two-thirds majority requirement actually meant and whether it was satisfied.
Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3 March 1992 and received international recognition the following month on 6 April 1992. On the same date, the Serbs responded by declaring the independence of the Republika Srpska and laying siege to Sarajevo which marked the start of the Bosnian War. The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was subsequently admitted as a member State of the United Nations on 22 May 1992.
In the Macedonian independence referendum held on 8 September 1991, 95.26% voted for independence. It was declared on 25 September 1991.
Five hundred US soldiers were then deployed under the UN banner to monitor Macedonia’s northern borders with the Republic of Serbia, Yugoslavia. However, given that Belgrade’s authorities had neither intervened to prevent Macedonia’s departure, nor protested nor acted against the arrival of the UN troops, the indications were in place that once Belgrade was to form its new country (to be the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from April 1992), it would recognise the Republic of Macedonia and develop diplomatic relations with it. As such, it became the only former republic to gain sovereignty without resistance from the Belgrade-based Yugoslav authorities and Army.
In addition, Macedonia’s first president, Kiro Gligorov, did indeed maintain good relations with Belgrade as well as the other former republics and there have to date been no problems between Macedonian and Serbian border police despite the fact that small pockets of Kosovo and the Preševo valley complete the northern reaches of the historical region known as Macedonia, which would otherwise have created a border dispute (see also IMORO).
The Insurgency in the Republic of Macedonia, the last major conflict being between Albanian nationalists and the government of Republic of Macedonia, reduced in violence after 2001.
International recognition of the breakup
In November 1991, the Arbitration Commission of the Peace Conference on Yugoslavia, led by Robert Badinter, concluded at the request of Lord Carrington that the SFR Yugoslavia was in the process of dissolution, that the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia did not have a right to self-determination in the form of new states, and that the borders between the republics were to be recognized as international borders. As a result of the conflict, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted UN Security Council Resolution 721 on 27 November 1991, which paved the way to the establishment of peacekeeping operations in Yugoslavia.
In January 1992, Croatia and Yugoslavia signed an armistice under UN supervision, while negotiations continued between Serb and Croat leaderships over the partitioning of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
On 15 January 1992, the independence of Croatia and Slovenia was recognized worldwide.
Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia would later be admitted as member states of the United Nations on 22 May 1992.
Macedonia was admitted as a member state of the United Nations on 8 April 1993.
Aftermath in Serbia and Montenegro
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consisted of Serbia and Montenegro. The independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina proved to be the final blow to the pan-Yugoslav Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 28 April 1992, the Serb-dominated Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) was formed as a rump state, consisting only of the former Socialist Republics of Serbia and Montenegro. Its government claimed continuity to the former country, however, the international community refused to recognize it as such. The stance of the international community was that Yugoslavia had dissolved into its separate states. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was prevented by a UN resolution on 22 September 1992 from continuing to occupy the United Nations seat as successor state to SFRY. This question was important for claims on SFRY’s international assets, including embassies in many countries. Only in 1996 had the FRY abandoned its claim to continuity from the SFRY. The FRY was dominated by Slobodan Milošević and his political allies.
The five years of disintegration and war in the 1990s led to a boycott and embargo of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, whose economy collapsed as a result.
The war in the western parts of former Yugoslavia ended in 1995 with US-sponsored peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, which resulted in the Dayton Agreement.
The Kosovo War started in 1996 and ended with the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milošević was overthrown in 2000.
FR Yugoslavia was renamed on 4 February 2003 as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was itself unstable, and finally broke up in 2006, with Kosovo declaring its independence from Serbia in 2008. In a referendum held in Montenegro on 21 May 2006 independence was backed by 55.5% of voters, and independence was declared on 3 June 2006. Serbia inherited the State Union’s UN membership.
Kosovo had been administered by the UN since the Kosovo war; however, on 17 February 2008, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia as the Republic of Kosovo. On one side, The United States, the United Kingdom and much of the EU recognized this act of self-determination, with the United States sending people to help assist Kosovo. On the other hand, Serbia and some of the international community—most notably Russia, Spain and China—have not recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence. As of July 2015, Kosovo is recognized by 56% of the United Nations
The last British viceroy of India was Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was known as Dickie to his friends. A member of the British royal family, cousin to King George VI, Mountbatten was dynamic and ambitious, and during World War II, he had risen to the post of Commander in Chief of Allied Forces, Southeast Asia. A naval man, his chief career goal was to become Lord Admiral of the British Navy, a post that had been denied his father during World War I because of the family’s German background. In addition to his other qualities, Mountbatten was charismatic and handsome, and his stock was raised further by his marriage to Edwina, an intelligent and driven woman in her own right. Still in his mid-40s at the end of World War II, Mountbatten was at the leading edge of a rising generation of British officials and politicians, and both he and Edwina developed a close relationship with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.
Mountbatten was hesitant to accept the post of Viceroy of India when it was first offered to him by Prime Minister Clement Attlee in January 1947. He feared that the situation in India, then threatening to descend into widespread rioting if not outright civil war, could only turn out badly, and he did not want to damage his reputation by presiding over a desperate British departure. He was only convinced to take the post after a conversation with his cousin, the king, and after Attlee agreed to grant him almost unlimited powers to organize the transition to Indian independence. Attlee, for his part, was happy to agree. He wanted someone in India with Mountbatten’s drive and stature to replace the well-intended but pessimistic Lord Wavell.
Mountbatten was sworn in as viceroy on March 24, 1947. He tried to get the situation in hand quickly by arranging face-to-face meetings with top Indian officials, thinking that this personal approach might work better than arranging meetings with all present, which had a history of ending in stalemate. For the rest of March and into the first weeks of April, Mountbatten held several meetings with top Congress Party officials Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, as well as with Muslim League leaders Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan. He also met with Mahatma Gandhi, the symbolic head of India’s independence movement, who at the time was concerned about both the growing violence in India and the apparent likelihood that the country would be divided. The meetings convinced Mountbatten that the partition of India was now the only realistic possibility left if Britain was to achieve its goals. Jinnah was simply too set in his conviction to see Pakistan become a reality, and Nehru and other leaders were unwilling to grant concessions to Jinnah or his Muslim League that might prevent or delay partition. Britain’s goals were a peaceful withdrawal and the assurance that India and Pakistan remained tied to their soon-to-be-former colonial overlord by accepting membership in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Mountbatten’s charisma was such, and his arguments forceful enough, that even the hesitant Patel agreed to accept the principle of partition. Only Gandhi continued to resist the idea, but he had no official post in the Congress Party or India’s interim government, so his objections had no binding force on the decisions of others.
The agreement that Mountbatten hammered out with India’s leaders was dubbed Plan Balkan by members of the viceroy’s staff who likened it to the divisions of southeastern Europe in the years before World War I. During those territorial divisions, the Turkish Ottoman Empire which had dominated the regions of southeastern Europe known as the Balkans for several centuries, retreated. It left behind a complex patchwork of ethnicities and religious groups that, in that sense was like India. Some of these groups, such as the Serbs, aggressively pursued nationalist interests whereas others sought simply to preserve a sense of territorial or cultural integrity. The conflicts that arose in the Balkans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries were some of the prime causes of World WarI. Mountbatten’s staff feared that the Balkanization of India would prove violent, as well. One of the administrators, Chief of Staff Lord Ismay, later wrote, No one in India thought it was perfect. Yet nearly everyone agreed that it was the only solution which had any chance of being accepted by all political parties, and of ensuring an equitable deal for all minorities. It was not a gamble. There was no other way. Plan Balkan went through several drafts before Krishna Menon, a congressional civil servant, devised a solution that satisfied Mountbatten’s insistence that India remain within the British Commonwealth. Menon’s proposal was that both India and Pakistan become immediate. Commonwealth members and that India’s many princely states, rather than becoming independent, would join either India or Pakistan. It was, in effect, an acknowledgement that the partition of India was imminent.
Mountbatten approved of the plan and set out to convince Nehru and Patel of its merits. Both had cone around to accepting the principle of partition but, perhaps impatient to actually govern after years of struggling for independence, they hesitated to remain closely tied to Britain. Jinnah had fewer such qualms, as he recognized that Commonwealth status would enable Pakistan to maintain strong military ties to Britain. Once Nehru was reassured that the plan would not permit individual provinces to break away from India beyond Pakistan, he pronounced himself satisfied. Patel, whose political arm twisting would secure the support of the entire Congress Party, agreed to it on conditionthat Britain leave India quickly, well before the June 1948 deadline announced by Attlee. Plan Balkan had now become Plan Partition.
On June 2, the viceroy convened a meeting of important Indian leaders, whose number included the Sikh representative, Baldev Singh but not Gandhi, although the Mahatma later turned up on his own. It was the first such gathering of importance since December 1946. There, Mountbatten secured Jinnah’s public rejection of the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan, which would have left India united. After all the principals left to consider the partition plan, once again, Mountbatten met with Jinnah, where with some difficulty, he got the Muslim League leader to stop his endless negotiating and acquiesce to the partition plan as it then stood. The deed was done. Mountbatten had already secured the agreements of congressional leaders and the Sikhs. His final gesture at the meeting was to present Indian leaders with a prepared document entitled The Administrative. Consequences of Partition. It required them to face the practical consequences of their decision, to unravel the web left behind by three centuries of common habitation of the subcontinent-three centuries that is, of British presence, in which most of the unraveling would be practical and administrative: the division of government offices and property, the national debt and the armed forces. For many Hindus and Muslims, ties dating back ten centuries would have to be sundered, and many of these ties were abstract yet still vital, notably the connection of villagers to their surroundings and to neighbours who practiced a different faith. The partition plan, meanwhile, became public knowledge on June 3, but it did not specify precisely where the actual borders of India and Pakistan would be.
In a press conference, Mountbatten announced that the date of Britain’s departure would not be June 1948, nor sometime near the end of 1947, as he had originally thought. It would be August 15, 1947, two years after Japan’s surrender ending World War II. On July 4, the official Indian independence Bill was presented to the British Parliament; London having had to scramble to make Plan Partition and the August 15 deadline official. The British pronounced themselves quite pleased with events; one, Lord Samuel, said that “it may be said of the British Raj as Shakespeare said of the Thane of Cawdor, nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it.” Even Conservative leader Winston Churchill, who had announced in 1931 that to leave India would mean the end of the British Empire, gave his assent to the plan, and it passed into law on July 15. London’s leaders seemed to have little comprehension of the chaos their quick departure would cause. Meanwhile, in Delhi, Mountbatten printed up hundreds of large tear-off calendars to be placed in government offices, each new page noting that India was one day closer to independence.
The quickness of Britain’s departure left little time to accomplish the practical aspects of partition now that the ideal had been achieved. India’s governmental assets had to be separated, its civil service divided, its armed forces split, and, most importantly, borders had to be drawn. None of these tasks were accomplished without conflict or misgivings or, in the case of the borders, great violence. Adding even greater risk to the plan was the fact that India would simply take over a going concern with everything in place. Pakistan, on the other hand, would be starting from scratch, without an established administration, without armed forces, without records, without equipment or military stores.
Commissions and committees came up with formulas to divide government property, and the concerned officials were so conscientious that they worried about every railroad car, filing cabinet, desk lamp, and even instruments in police hands. After much discussion both sides agreed on a 1 to 4 ratio for government property. For cash assets and their counterpart, the national debt, the ratio was 82.5% for India and 17.5% for Pakistan. Government employees, meanwhile, generally remained in their places across the subcontinent or, if they worked for the central administration, made a choice between India and Pakistan. Establishing these arbitrary boundaries was reasonably straightforward, if not without conflict.
The division of India’s armed forces was more troubling for those directly involved and provided a clear example of the arbitrary borders being drawn. Although material assets, such as guns and ships, were divided in the same ratio of other government property, the same could hardly be done with the soldiers. Most troops were reassigned based on religion, a task fraught with difficulty, since, for example, many Muslims did not want to go to Pakistan, and other troops were neither Muslim, Hindu, nor Sikh. Many troops felt that their loyalty to the armed forces and to their comrades was more important than their communal ties, and they did not want India’s new borders forced upon them.
Meanwhile, officers were given the choice of either the Indian or Pakistani armies; mostly Hindu and Sikh officers chose India, but for Muslims the choice could be very difficult. Many Muslim officers had families and other ties to India and did not wish to uproot themselves. Others felt loyalty above all to Indian Muslims and the ideal of Pakistan, and they hoped to carry the traditions of the Indian army into the new country. These officers made their choices but, in some cases, brothers found themselves in separate armies, which, within months, were to oppose one another on the battlefield. Their fellow Hindu or Sikh officers, meanwhile were often just as distressed at the very idea of partitioning a force that had served India and the empire loyally for decades and had managed to remain aloof from politics.
Mountbatten’s plan had made no provision for any specific borders between India and Pakistan. No one had. All anyone knew was that Pakistan would have two wings, an eastern and western, separated by hundreds of miles of Indian territory. They also knew that, as part of the agreements tentatively reached already, the eastern province of Bengal would be divided, and so also would the western province of Punjab. Jinnah was forced to accept what he had earlier argued would be a moth-eaten Pakistan, shorn of some economic assets of the two provinces: part of the rich agricultural lands of the Punjab, as well as the Bengali city of Calcutta.
The division of Bengal and the Punjab were about as arbitrary as they possibly could be, the only guideline being to separate areas of dominant Hindu and Muslim populations. To draw the borders, Mountbatten organized two boundary commissions, one each for Bengal and the Punjab. At their head was a prominent London lawyer named Cyril Radcliffe. He knew almost nothing of India, which was one reason he was chosen for the task and flown to India on July 8. Mountbatten and other officials thought his ignorance of India would allow him to act without prejudice towards either side.
Radcliffe’s commission met in a heavily guarded bungalow on the grounds of the viceroy’s mansion in Delhi. The Englishman worked with eight prominent India judges, four each chosen by Congress and the Muslim League. To his despair, Radcliffe quickly found that the principle of drawing borders based on population concentrations could hardly be done clearly and evenly; Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs (who mostly hoped to live in India) were simply too dispersed. Some areas had a clear majority, but in thousands of villages, especially in the Punjab, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had lived side by side for centuries. Inevitably, large numbers of people were going to find themselves placed in countries where they did not wish to live or where they might not be welcome.
The potential borders might also give rise to devastating economic effects. The Punjab was watered by the Indus River system, which flowed down from the Himalayas in the north. Complex irrigation networks using these waters had turned the Punjab into the most agricultural part of India. Any new borders would not cross only cross the rivers, they would also split irrigation networks; a water pump that fed Indian fields, for instance, might be placed in Pakistan, making the entire system virtually useless. The economic vitality of eastern Pakistan was also in danger, although the drawing of the border there was generally more straightforward than in the Punjab. Eastern Bengal’s main product was jute, a natural fibre used to make bags and other packaging materials. Most of the jute was processed in factories in Calcutta. If the boundary commission decided to award Calcutta to India, millions of jute farmers would lose their livelihoods, turning eastern Pakistan into the rural slum that many feared. Meanwhile, pending any new arrangements, thousands of Calcutta factory workers might be made idle and therefore a potential threat to civil order.
The partition of the Punjab presented a particular danger to the Sikhs. They made up only 2% of India’s population, but the Punjab was their traditional homeland and was where most Sikhs lived. Drawn to the armed services, Sikhs had served in numbers disproportionate to their total population in the armies of British India, and a military leader named Baldev Singh had served as both the representative of the Sikhs and of the military during the independence negotiations of previous years. Their martial tradition derived, in part, from their perceived need to defend themselves from Muslim kings whose habit of oppressing Sikhs dated back to the seventeenth century. The Sikh population, one-sixth of the total, was scattered throughout the Punjab, and the area had been the home of an independent Sikh kingdom during the early 1800s.
Sikh concerns were not at the forefront of Radcliffe’s boundary commission, whose borders were mostly based on Hindu or Muslim interests. Sikhs in the western Punjab feared that the new borders would place them in a Muslim state where they would face renewed oppression in a repeat of earlier patterns of Muslim-Sikh hostility. Militant Muslims, meanwhile, had little interest in seeing a large Sikh population maintained in western Pakistan. The situation was ripe for conflict and misunderstanding, especially as both Muslims and Sikhs began to, take up arms to defend themselves or to plunder the other. One of the Radcliffe’s few clear choices was to award the city of Amritsar, the site of the Sikhs’ Golden Temple and their holiest spot, to India.
Some Sikhs lived in India’s princely states, and the Sikh maharaja of Patiala was the head of the Council of Princes that had represented the states in India’s independence negotiations. The princes were very concerned to preserve at least some of their authority and privileges after independence. Many claimed that, since the British had entered into separate agreements with each of them, their states should return to full independence once the British left. Neither Nehru nor Jinnah had sympathy for these arguments, and Mountbatten was not about to let the question of the princely states slow down the rapid march towards independence. Plan Partition required the princes to choose either India or Pakistan and be forced to sign articles of accession in each case, giving up any claim to political power. In exchange, the princes could keep their titles and a portion of their estates, which were sometimes vast and extremely wealthy. Groups of diplomats travelled to visit each of the princes, and by early August, almost all of them, recognizing the inevitable, had signed the accession documents. Three holdouts remained. One was the Nizam of Hyderabad, reputedly the richest man in the world. He controlled a state that was nearly as large as Britain and theoretically wealthy enough to survive on its own. He was a Muslim prince, however, in a state populated mostly by Hindus, and one that would be landlocked, surrounded by India once independence occurred. Another holdout was the ruler of Junagadh, a small state on the coast, north of Bombay. The third hesitant prince was the ruler of Kashmir, Hari Singh. His indecision, and Kashmir’s strategic importance, led to the first armed conflict between India and Pakistan in the fall and winter of 1947.
Meanwhile, Radcliffe’s boundary commissions proceeded throughout July and early August with their unhappy task. They finally presented their boundary awards to Mountbatten on August 13, and Radcliffe, under heavy guard, returned to Britain, where he remained haunted by his decisions until his death. Mountbatten decided to tell nobody of his partition plan, not even Nehru or Jinnah, before independence had been accomplished. He feared not only escalating communal violence, but that news of the specific borders would dampen enthusiasm over the coming independence celebrations, when any troubles would be the responsibility of the Indian and Pakistani governments, not the British one. He kept the newly drawn borders locked in a safe in his office and diverted any complaints from Indian and Pakistani officials on the matter.
Territorial Loose Ends
India still contained territories controlled by others when it became independent in August 1947. Since Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders wished to consolidate their new nation and prevent any fragmentation, they had to find ways to incorporate these territories and ensure both that India’s new territorial boundaries were secure, and that further fragmentation would not occur,
Three princely states remained independent that August, their leaders refusing to accede to India, even though most of their counterparts had already done so. One of these was Kashmir, which only acceded to India under the threat of an invasion from Pakistan and whose status is still a source of conflict. The other two required drastic action by India’s government. One, Junagadh, was a small state on India’s western coast, north of Bombay. Its prince, a Muslim wanted to cede his state to Pakistan, even though Pakistan lay some 150 miles away and most of Junagadh’s population was Hindu. Nehru’s government mounted a naval blockade of the coastal kingdom and, in October 1947, sent an army of 20,000 to take control of the state by force. The prince exiled himself to Pakistan, and Junagadh’s accession to India was legitimized by a vote among its people in 1948. It was integrated into the state of Gujarat.
Hyderabad, a large and wealthy kingdom that possessed, among other features, its own currency and its own airline, proved more troublesome. Its leader, the Nizam-ul-Mulk, wanted to remain completely independent of both India and Pakistan. When the Nizam refused to give up his independence, Nehru and his deputy prime minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, granted him a period of one year, until August 1948, to change his mind. After the year had passed and the Nizam still had not given in, the government authorized a large-scale invasion that resulted in four days of fighting and a victory for India, Hyderabad and nearby territories became the Indian state of Andrea Pradesh.
Other parts of India still remained under the control of European colonial powers. In the south near Madras was Pondicherry, a possession of France since the seventeenth century. Realizing that there was little point to maintaining such a small outpost against the desires of India, the French relinquished it peacefully in 1954. France had already, in 1951, surrendered its other outpost: the settlement of Chandernagore in the suburbs of Calcutta.
On India’s west coast was the large Portuguese enclave of Goa, the oldest European possession in India. Nehru began negotiating with Portugal’s military government soon after independence, but the Portuguese did not want to give up an enclave that they had held for more than 450 years and that was once the centre of their Asian empire. Fed up, Nehru sent in the army in 1961. The Portuguese were unable to mount any effective resistance over several days of fighting, so Goa became part of India, as did Portugal’s other small outposts, Damian and Diu, north of Bombay. Both Goa and Pondicherry were made Indian states and retained a distinctive part-European character.
Radcliffe had been unable to justify awarding Calcutta to East Pakistan, given the importance of the city to recent Indian history. Moreover, it contained large populations of Sikhs, Hindus and other religious groups. He placed the border of East Pakistan just to the east of the city itself, leaving the region without a major city. Calcutta’s governor H.S. Suhrawardy and other separatists thought, even in the spring and summer of 1947, that East Pakistan should become an independent country. In a clear example of creating new troubles by determining boundaries based on stated religious affiliation alone, Bengali Muslims had little in common with Muslims in the Punjab or other western provinces; indeed, aside from their religion, they were little different from Bengali Hindus, with whom they shared the Bengali language and numerous customs. Jinnah himself, meanwhile, had never even visited eastern Bengal, and it remained separated from Pakistan by hundreds of miles. Still, neither Jinnah nor Nehru was willing to accept partition into three rather than into two, and they completely rejected calls for Bengali independence.
The boundary awards in the Punjab gave the city of Lahore, one of India’s largest, to Pakistan, whereas Amritsar, only 40 miles away, remained in India. Elsewhere, the line was fairly arbitrary. Radcliffe and his advisers used the only available maps, which were old and outdated, and despite a few visits and flyovers, he gained very little accurate sense of the Punjab topography. Sometimes, not only villages but farms and even houses were separated by the blunt axe that severed Punjab. in a last-minute decision that was to have far reaching consequences, Radcliffe awarded the district of Gurdaspur to India. Gurdaspur provided the only reliable land route connecting India to Kashmir. Had the district instead been awarded to Pakistan, it is likely that Hari Singh, Kashmir’s maharaja, would have had no other choice but to cede Kashmir to Pakistan as well.
With the boundary set and the plans protected, Mountbatten prepared for the final withdrawal of Great Britain and the independence celebrations of India and Pakistan. One concession he had to make on the deadline was to shift it to August 14 rather than August 15. Hindu astrologers had pronounced August 15 to be an extremely inauspicious day and, in a nation where people consulted astrologers for important decisions on matters ranging from marriage to starting businesses to going to war, such opinions mattered. Astrologers determined that August 14, however, would be auspicious, and independence ceremonies were scheduled for midnight on that day.
On August 13, Mountbatten and his wife travelled to Karachi, the city proclaimed the capital of Pakistan. They were met there by Jinnah, who had been unanimously elected president, or head of state, by Pakistan’s constituent assembly on August 11, and the two travelled by open car to recognize the new nation’s independence. Jinnah’s lieutenant, Liaquat Ali Khan was to be the nation’s first prime minister and as such, the head of the government. Mountbatten later remembered being rather nervous because of rumoured assassination attempts, but Jinnah maintained his customary cool and aloof demeanor. Pakistan’s independence celebrations were as elaborate as could be expected, but Karachi had few facilities appropriate for large celebrations, or even for large-scale governmental administration. This left most of the celebrating to cheering crowds in the streets, which the two leaders’ car passed through. Karachi, a city of 350,000, was overwhelmed by the 250,000 visitors and migrants who had arrived to witness the independence celebrations and to shout again and again, Pakistan Zindabad! or long live Pakistan!
Mountbatten gave Britain’s farewells to the assembled representatives of Pakistan’s diverse peoples in the crowded—and heavily guarded—assembly hall that had been chosen for the occasion. He was followed by Jinnah, who thanked Mountbatten and the British and expressed his certainty that the two nations would remain on good terms. Jinnah made a more dramatic speech on August 11, before the constituent assembly. There, he proclaimed that Pakistan would be a nation of complete religious freedom and tolerance, not the Islamic state that many feared. He assured his people that my guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your cooperation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.
India’s formal independence celebrations began at sundown, when a procession of Hindu sannyasin or holy men, presented a collection of sacred symbols to Jawaharlal Nehru, designated India’s first prime minister, at his Delhi home. Also, that evening, Great Britain’s flag, the Union Jack, was struck from flagstaff at military and government posts around India for the last time. As in Karachi, hundreds of thousands of celebrants and migrants converged on Delhi to witness the celebrations firsthand, whereas millions of others readied festivities of their own in India’s cities and villages.
At midnight, after India’s constituent assembly had been sanctified by further Hindu rites and after a choir had sung the Congress anthem Vande Mataram, (I Bow to Thee, My Motherland), a Sanskrit poem whose adoption had angered Muslims earlier, Nehru rose to speak. His speech delivered extemporaneously, without notes, and delivered across India via the radio, announced:
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
Soon after, India’s new flag, a tricolour of orange, white and green was raised at Delhi’s Red Fort, an edifice originally erected by the Mughals. The Gandhian spinning wheel that had graced the banner earlier was now replaced by a sign reflecting a much earlier symbol of India’s heritage: the Asoka Buddhist wheel of life. India had achieved independence. The planned processions of Nehru, Mountbatten, and other leaders through Delhi’s streets the next day proved impossible. The crowds were too thick and, to many people’s surprise, both exuberantly happy and peaceful.
At 5:00 P.M. on August 16, Mountbatten revealed Radcliffe’s boundary awards to India’s and Pakistani leaders—Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan had flown into Delhi for the occasion. None were pleased. The placements of Calcutta, Lahore and Amritsar were no surprise, but other issues inspired ill feeling. Balder Singh was dismayed that so many Sikh holy places had been awarded to Pakistan. Indian leaders were unhappy that the mostly Buddhist Chittagong hill tracts, in far eastern Bengal also went to Pakistan. Jinnah, for his part, was disappointed that Gurdaspur District, which again provided India’s only road link to Kashmir, went to the Indians, despite an earlier warning to Mountbatten’s staff that this would have a most serious impact on relations between Pakistan and the United Kingdom. Radcliffe had apparently based his Gurdaspur decision on Nehru’s desire to leave Kashmir connected to India pending the decision of the hesitant maharaja, Hari Singh, to join one of the two nations.
The borders were revealed to the public on August 17, and those Punjabi villages whose residents had cautiously flown both Indian and Pakistani flags on August 15 now knew their status. The immediate effect was to vastly increase a torrent of migration towards India or Pakistan that had already begun. Within weeks, 11.5 million people were on the move. Ten million of these were in Punjab, as 5 million Hindus and Sikhs made their way towards India and a similar number of Muslims headed for Pakistan. These millions were people who had found new arbitrary borders drawn around them, often with little attention paid to tradition or other communal relationships, or to areas that had served the agricultural needs of its inhabitants for generations. The migrations were accompanied by communal violence that left hundreds of thousands dead. V.P. Menon, a member of Congress who had played a large part in refining the partition plan and convincing many of India’s princes to accede to it, said simply as India became independent, now our nightmares really start. He seemed to understand that the drawing of new national boundaries did not automatically create viable new nation-states, especially in a land as diverse and complex as India, a land where people’s loyalties might be attached as much to a religious community, caste, cultural group, or village as they were to a traditionally defined nation-state.
Many Indians and Pakistanis, especially those from the Punjab, associate independence and partition with forced migrations, loss of property and death. This legacy is one of the reasons why the two nations have maintained a bitter distrust of one another in the years since 1947. Some 11.5. million people migrated between India and the two wings of Pakistan in 1946, 1947 and 1948, and of those, 10 million were from Punjab. The pattern was for Muslims to depart for Pakistan and for Hindus and Sikhs to leave the newly designated territories of Pakistan for India. The process was far from peaceful and estimates of those killed range from 200,000 to over a million. Sometimes the scenes of killing in these partition riots were so horrific that even hardened military men and war correspondents were stunned. New York Times reporter Robert Trumbull wrote: I have never been as shaken by anything, even by the piled-up bodies on the beachhead at Tarawa [a bloody World War II battle]. In India today blood flows oftener than the rain falls. Women and children were not spared and were sometimes killed by family members wanting to save their loved ones from defilement.
India’s religious diversity had periodically inspired violence in the subcontinent’s history, although incidents were usually small in scale and localized. Aside from overt periods of oppression, such as the late 1600s, when Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, a devout Muslim, directly targeted Hindu and Sikh practices and customs, the general pattern was for Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs to live side by side reasonably comfortably, especially in small villages. There, communities often had to share resources and abilities because survival depended on it.
The communal violence that attended partition can be traced to certain aspects of Indian history and village culture, as well as the circumstances of partition itself. First, Great Britain had used a policy of divide and rule in its Indian possessions. After the so-called mutiny of 1857, when Hindu and Muslim soldiers in Britain’s Indian armies revolted against their officers, and British rule in principle, the British purposefully encouraged separation among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Leaders believed that by dividing the communities, order could be maintained and, more important, another large-scale rebellion could be prevented.
Knowingly or not, Indian independence leaders picked up on the practice of divide and rule. Mahatma Gandhi’s actions and sentiments were based in Hinduism despite his belief in the truth and equality of all religions, and many Indian Muslims scoffed at his argument that they did not constitute a true nation but were mostly Hindus who had converted and were therefore fundamentally Indian. Ironically, Gandhi also displeased Hindu fundamentalists. They found him far too open minded with regard not only to Islam but also caste restrictions and the status of untouchables. After the government reforms of 1937, meanwhile, Hindu Congress members who found themselves in important positions often gave precedence to Hindus over Muslims. Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, for his part, stirred up Muslim communal feeling after 1937 with his claims that the British Raj would be replaced by a Hindu one.
The other trend was a shift in everyday relations among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs from 1942 on. The imminence of partition and the encouraging of communal conflict by leaders brought to the surface tensions often ignored or tolerated in the past. In villages, for instance, Muslims were often indebted to moneylenders for seed, fertilizer and other resources. Since Muslims were forbidden by their religion to engage in money lending, their creditors were invariably Hindus. After the borders were announced in August 1947, Muslim farmers suddenly found it possible to free themselves from debt by forcing the moneylenders to flee to India or by simply killing them. Sikhs, meanwhile, remembered that it was Muslims who had targeted many of their seventeenth-century founders and plotted revenge for these long-ago acts, even though in earlier years few had worried overtly about such distant matters. On an even more trivial level, aspects of life and religion that in other times were little more than objects of curiosity or discussion—dietary prohibitions, dress, festivals—now became reasons to think of others as dangerous and threatening.
Greed also played a part in the partition riots. On both sides of the border, people saw opportunities to seize the property of those leaving. To encourage quick departures, looters and thieves threatened or carried out violent acts. Meanwhile refugees themselves could be targeted by thieves in search of gold, jewelry, cash, and other portable valuables. Often, robbery turned into rape and murder. In some instances, attacks were carried out by organized bands, such as the Sikh jathas, often made up of former soldiers who had been recently demobilized. The Sikhs, especially were afraid that their very way of life was being threatened and were stirred up by radical leaders such as Tara Singh.
The cycle of violence spun out of control, and neither British, Indian, nor Pakistani authorities were able to do much about it until the riots had burned themselves out. Attacks inspired other attacks, as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs vowed revenge for atrocities committed by their enemies. Many found violence an outlet for their frustration and despair over having to leave homelands that, in many cases, their ancestors had lived in and cultivated for centuries.
There had already been small incidents, but the violence of partition truly began on August 16, 1946, the Muslim League’s Direct-Action Day. For that day Jinnah and the central working committee of the League had called for a “universal Muslim hartal” in response to what they saw as British duplicity and an egregious power grab by Congress in setting up an interim government the previous month. A hartal was a distinctly Indian form of protest, used often by the independence movement. It called for a complete stoppage of work, school and other everyday activities. Hartals were supposed to be non violent and, in most of India, this one too. The major exception was Calcutta, India’s most violent city and a place called the city of the dreadful night by Rudyard Kipling, the British imperialist author. There from August 16 to August 19, communal rioting left about 5,000 people dead and 15,000 more injured. Tens of thousands more were turned into exiles or refugees. Officials gradually restored order, but the poorer quarters of Calcutta remained in constant state of tension and insecurity.
The Great Calcutta Killings started a pattern that was to be repeated for many months. Calcutta Muslims had used the occasion of the hartal to target local Hindus and Sikhs. The latter groups then sought retaliation against Muslims. When on September 2, the Congress dominated interim government took office, a new wave of riots broke out in Bombay and other cities as Muslim activists turned the day into one of mourning. Attacks in Calcutta continued, and they indicate clearly the back-and-forth nature of the communal killings. During September, 162 Muslims and 158 Hindus were killed there.
The British viceroy, Lord Wavell, feared complete collapse in public order and grew increasingly pessimistic about India’s future. He seemed to take to heart Gandhi’s warning that if India wants her blood bath she shall have it. Muslim League representatives were eventually brought into the interim government, which quelled the violence for a while, but Wavell was not reassured. He told the British Cabinet towards the end of the year that he did not believe that the colonial government or its armed forces could hold India for another 18 months as Prime Minister Attlee hoped. He had also been drawing up plans for the evacuation of British personnel in the event of a large-scale outbreak of violence. Wavell’s attitude left Indian leaders in a troublesome position; it seemed the British could do little about the spread of violence but, because the Indians did not control the country yet, they could do little, either.
The next large-scale outbreak of violence occurred in the Noakhali and Tippera districts of eastern Bengal. It was a region with a long history of communal tension because of the large gap in wealth between the Muslims peasant farmers and Hindu landlords and professionals. In a wave of attacks orchestrated, apparently, by a powerful Muslim League official who used both hired thugs and elements of the League’s paramilitary wing, the Muslim National Guard, Noakhali erupted in a series of thefts, rapes, forced conversions and murders. Thousands of Hindu refugees fled westwards to Calcutta and the province of Bihar, a bit farther west, bringing with them their stories of horror.
In a continuation of the increasingly familiar pattern, Hindus responded to Noakhali with attacks on Bihari Muslims, and the violence even spread to Uttar Pradesh, the province to the west. In the Bihari case, the radical Hindu paramilitary group, the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Personal Service Society), sometimes took part. In the last weeks of 1946, Hindu groups killed about 7,000 Bihari Muslims, an estimated 75% of whom were women and children. A horrified Jawaharlal Nehru, the head of the interim government, nearly resigned in despair at the news of Noakhali and Bihar.
Mahatma Gandhi, unhappy with India’s partition and distressed by the turn to violence, adopted the restoration of peaceful Hindu-Muslim relations as a personal crusade. He travelled to Noakhali in the aftermath of the violence there, and walked from village to village, visiting hundreds of Hindu and Muslim families and often asking them something to eat and a place to sleep. Along the way, he begged these ordinary people to end any support for radical activists, and he tried to convince community leaders to sit down with one another and make their peace. He later visited Bihar, where he announced that the sins of Noakhali Muslims and of the Bihar Hindus are of the same magnitude and are equally condemnable. Although Gandhi was usually received peacefully by villagers, he suffered occasional abuse from Muslims and from Hindu radicals.
Vast outbreaks of rioting in the Punjab formed part of the context in which the Congress Party, the Muslim League, and British leaders devised their partition plan in the spring of 1947. By the time Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived to replace Wavell as viceroy and use his personal drive and charisma to move the process forward, the Punjab had erupted. The coalition government in the province, representing Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims not affiliated with the Muslim League was dissolved in March. This created an opening for radical Sikh separatists who, led by Tara Singh, hoped to carve out their own independent state out of the Punjab. With Tara Singh calling for blood, Sikh activists attacked Muslim League representatives in Lahore, Amritsar and other Punjab cities and towns. Muslims reacted in kind, and the riots, murders, robberies and rapes spread from the towns to the countryside. Hindus were inevitably caught up in the violence. An incident there illustrates how small problems became the inspiration for large-scale communal violence.
Soon after Mountbatten took office, he received a message from the British governor of the Punjab citing a small, domestic spat outside of the city of Rawalpindi: A Muslim’s water buffalo had wandered on the property of his Sikh neighbour. When its owner sought to reclaim it, a fight, then a riot, erupted. Two hours later, a hundred human beings lay in the surrounding fields, hacked to death with scythes and knives because of the vagrant humours of a water buffalo.
Mahatma Gandhi: A One-Man Boundary Force
As the Punjab exploded into violence in the months before and after partition, many feared that the city of Calcutta would erupt as well. India’s most violent city, Calcutta had been the centre of the first major outbreak of partition riots, the “Great Calcutta Killings” of August 1946, which had left about 5,000 people dead.
In 1947, however, Calcutta remained mostly peaceful. The main reason was the presence of Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual leader of India’s independence movement and a man willing to risk his own life to preserve peace in India, In the decades following the World War I era (1914-1918), Gandhi had staged actions ranging from mass marches to hunger strikes to daily prayer meetings to move India towards independence. Also, an advocate of non-violence, he was horrified at the partition riots. In a manner keeping with his patterns of public action, he went to Calcutta in August 1947 to stage a hunger strike to keep the peace. On the tensest day, August 15, the day of independence, he was joined by Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Leander of Calcutta’s Muslims and the sort of corrupt politician whom Gandhi disliked. That day, peace held in Calcutta and the two gave up their hunger strike. Lord Mountbatten, Britain’s last leader of India, called Gandhi a one-man boundary force. It was a reference to the other, official boundary force, a unit of 55,000 troops that was, even then, failing to maintain order in the Punjab.
Over the following weeks, as the Punjab jab erupted even more violently, Gandhi stayed in Calcutta, which remained peaceful. Every day, hundreds of thousands of Calcuttans- Hindus, Muslims and Sikh-gathered in the city’s central open space, the Maidan, to try to catch a glimpse of the Mahatma as he went to his daily prayer meetings. By September, several incidents and misunderstandings had brought communal violence to Calcutta. To stop it, Gandhi now proclaimed a fast unto death. After more than three days of eating nothing, the Mahatma received a pledge from Calcutta’s Hindus, Muslims and Sikh leaders promising to stop any further communal violence. He ended his fast, and the communal leaders were true to their word Calcutta’s peace held.
At the end of July 1947, Mountbatten took steps to form a Punjab Boundary Force to try to restore order to the region. It was to be led by a British officer but be mostly composed of Indian troops, many of them Nepali Buddhist Gurkhas, rather than Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs. Numbering 55,000 altogether, the force would be advised by both Indian and Pakistani authorities both before and after the independence. Although the force hastily took the field, it could do little. There were simply not enough troops to cover the territory, a problem that was compounded by the fact that most of the violence was taking place in the countryside rather than the cities. In addition, the force could count on little local cooperation. Even the police, who generally came from the regions they patrolled, often took part in or ignored the communal violence.
The Punjab was still in flames when independence arrived. One British official wrote: The Punjab is an absolute inferno and it is still going strong. Thousands have been murdered and tens and hundreds of thousands of refugees are streaming about. There has been a lot of arson. It will take generations of work to put things straight.
Mountbatten remembered looking down in despair from his airplane at the fires burning in towns and villages as he returned from the independence celebrations at Karachi to those in Delhi on August 15. On August 14, Nehru heard from associates that in Lahore, a city he loved, fires were burning, and women and children seeking water were cut down by Muslim mobs. He said, how am I going to talk tonight? How am I going to pretend there’s joy in my heart for India’s independence when I know Lahore, our beautiful Lahore, is burning?”
A British soldier at the scene spoke much more directly. He remembered that in parts of Lahore,
Corpses lay in the gutter. Nearby a posse of Muslim police chatted unconcerned. A British major. . . had also arrived. He and his driver were collecting the bodies. Some were dead. Some were dying. All were horribly mutilated. They were Sikhs. Their long hair and beards were matted with blood. An old man, not so bad as the rest, asked me where we were taking them. “To hospital,” I replied, adding to hearten him, “You’re not going to die.”
“I shall,” he said, “if there is a Muslim doctor.”
The violence in the Punjab was at its worst that August and September when, with the borders known, the great migrations began. Millions set out, carrying whatever they could. There were caravans of refugees miles long, with one containing an estimated 800,000 people leaving West Punjab for India. The numbers could provide protection against attackers, but not from shortages of food and water, nor from disease, and refugees suffered greatly.
Amongst the grimmest episodes of violence were those on the trains that traversed the region especially those that travelled the short distance between Lahore and Amritsar. For refugees, trains were far quicker than walking, especially given the heat and the shortages of fresh food and water, but each train was overcrowded. For attackers, however, it was easy to judge who was on the trains simply by the direction they were travelling. They learned to stop the trains, sometimes with as simple a measure as placing a cow on the tracks. Then they would rob, rape, and murder with impunity. It was common for trains full of corpses to reach the station in Lahore and Amritsar, as well those of smaller towns. During these deadly weeks, there were periods of four or five days at a stretch during which not a single train reached Lahore or Amritsar without its complement of dead and wounded.
An Indian army officer, K.P. Candeth recalled, I remember seeing a train come in from Pakistan and there wasn’t a single live person on it; there were just bodies, dead and butchered. Now, that train entered India and the people saw it. And the next Pakistan-bound train that came, they set upon it, and the slaughter was terrible. These ghost trains in the words of novelist Khushwant Singh in his story of the period, Train to Pakistan, have become part of the common memory of the era of partition.
As fall turned to winter, the violence wound down, even in the Punjab and in Delhi itself, now a city crowded with angry and hungry refugees. Nehru and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel convinced Mountbatten, now serving as India’s Governor-General, to head an emergency committee designed to restore order in the Punjab, while Indian leaders undertook the same effort in Delhi. Edwina Mountbatten took a leading role in refugee relief efforts and, as peace returned, some emphasized the blessing that, outside of the Punjab, both India and Pakistan had remained mostly peaceful.
The violence of partition had mostly burned itself out when, in early January 1948, Mahatma Gandhi settled in at Birla House in Delhi, the home of a wealthy industrialist who contributed much to the Mahatma’s causes. He started another hunger strike there on January 12, demanding not only the end of communal violence but complete peace between India and Pakistan. This fast brought him near death, but he ended it when a settlement was negotiated between India and Pakistan; its main feature was an agreement by the Indian government to pay Pakistan forty million pounds that the Pakistanis claimed was theirs by right from the partition settlement.
On January 30, on the grounds of Birla House, Gandhi was on his way to his daily prayer meeting when he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist named Nathuram Godse. Alerted Mountbatten quickly reached the scene. Like all other leaders, he was afraid that the event would spark a new and even more brutal wave of violence, especially if a Muslim had pulled the trigger. As he entered the grounds of Birla House, and in response to a voice claiming that a Muslim had shot Gandhi, Mountbatten shouted, without knowing whether it was true: You fool! Don’t you know it was a Hindu?
Gandhi’s death was a turning point. According to journalist Mark Tully and Zareer Masani, more than other event, Gandhi’s death purged the country of communal hatred. Nevertheless, memories of the violence were long lasting and bitter, and they further separated two nations already divided by artificial borders. In future years, the two nations were to carve out separate and often conflicting paths.
Lord Mountbatten first became well known during the war years. He had spent some time in India and then transferred his headquarters to Ceylon. When Lord Wavell resigned, he was appointed Viceroy and Governor-General. Fully briefed by the Labour Government before he left, he came with instructions from Mr. Attlee that power must be transferred before 30th June 1948.
He reached Delhi on 22nd march and was sworn in as Viceroy and Governor-General of India on the 24th. Immediately after the swearing-in ceremony, he made a short speech, in which he stressed the need for reaching a solution within the next few months.
Soon after this, I had my first interview with Lord Mountbatten. At the very first meeting, he told me that the British Government was fully determined to transfer power. Before this could happen, a settlement of the communal problem was necessary, and he desired that a final and decisive attempt be made to solve the problem.
He agreed with me that the differences between the Congress and the League had now been greatly narrowed down.
The Cabinet Mission had grouped Assam and Bengal together.
The Congress held that no province should be compelled to enter a group and each province might vote whether to join the group or not.
The League said that it had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan on the basis that the group would vote as a whole and a province could opt out only after the group had framed the constitution. The League further argued that any change in the proposals of the Plan would nullify the agreement and on this basis the League had rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan.
Nobody can understand why the League placed so much emphasis on the question of Assam, when Assam was not a Muslim majority province. If the League’s own criterion was applied, there was no valid reason to force Assam to join Bengal. Whatever be the reason, the League was formally right though morally and politically its case was weak. I discussed the question with Lord Mountbatten on several occasions. I felt that the difference between the Congress and the League had reached a stage where agreement could be attained only through the mediation of a third party. My opinion was that we might leave the matter to Lord Mountbatten. Let the Congress and the League agree to refer the question to him and accept his arbitration. Neither Jawaharlal nor Sardar Patel would however agree to this suggestion. They did not like the idea of arbitration on a national issue and I did not press the point further.
In the meantime, the situation was deteriorating every day. The Calcutta riots had been followed by riots in Noakhali and Bihar. Thereafter there was trouble in Bombay. The Punjab which had been quiet till now also showed signs of strain and conflict. Malik Khizr Hayat had resigned as Premier of Punjab on 2nd March. Anti-Pakistan demonstrations were held in Lahore on 4th March, which led to the death of 13 persons and injury to many. Communal disturbances spread to other parts of the province and there were major disturbances in Amritsar, Taxila and Rawalpindi.
On the one hand communal passions were mounting. On the other, the administration was becoming lax. European in the services no longer had their heart in the work. They were now convinced that within a short time, power would be transferred to Indian hands. As such, they were no longer interested in their work and only marked time. They told people openly that they were no longer responsible for the administration. This led to more unrest and uncertainty among the people and created loss of confidence.
The situation was made worse by the deadlock between the Congress and the Muslim League within the Executive Council. The Central Government was paralyzed as the Members of the Council pulled against one another. The League oversaw Finance and held the key to the administration. It will be remembered that this was due entirely to Sardar Patel who in his anxiety to retain the Home portfolio, offered Finance to the Muslim League. There were some very able and senior Muslim officers in the Finance Department who gave every possible help to Liaqat Ali. With their advice, Liaqat Ali wasable to reject or delay every proposal put up by the Congress members of the Executive Council. Sardar Patel discovered that though he was Home Member, he could not create the post of a chaprasi (peon) without Liaqat Ali’s concurrence. The Congress members of the Council were at a loss and did not know what to do.
A truly pathetic situation had developed because of our own foolish action in giving Finance to the Muslim League. Lord Mountbatten took full advantage of the situation. Because of the dissensions among the members, he slowly and gradually assumed full powers. He kept up the form of a constitutional Governor-General, but in fact he started to mediate between the Congress and the League to get his own way. He also began to give a new turn to the political problem and tried to impress on both the Congress and the Muslim League the inevitability of Pakistan. He pleaded in favour of Pakistan and sowed the seeds of the idea in the minds of the Congress members of the Executive Council.
It must be placed on record that the man in India who first fell for Lord Mountbatten’s idea was Sardar Patel. Till perhaps the very end, Pakistan was for Jinnah a bargaining counter, but in fighting for Pakistan, he had overreached himself. His action had so annoyed and irritated Sardar Patel that the Sardar was now a believer in partition. The Sardar’s was the responsibility for giving Finance to the Muslim League. He therefore resented his helplessness before Liaqat Ali more than anybody else. When Lord Mountbatten suggested that partition might offer a solution to the present difficulty, he found ready acceptance to the idea in Sardar Patel’s mind. In fact, Sardar Patel was fifty percent in favour of partition even before Lord Mountbatten appeared on the scene. He was convinced that he could not work with the Muslim League. He openly said that he was prepared to have a part of India if only he could get rid of the Muslim League. It would not perhaps be unfair to say that Vallabhbhai Patel was the founder of Indian partition.
Lord Mountbatten was extremely intelligent and could read into the minds of all his Indian colleagues. The moment he found Patel amenable to his idea, he put out all the charm and power of his personality to win over the Sardar. In his private talk, he always referred to Patel as a walnut—a very hard crust outside but soft pulp once the crust was cracked. Sometimes in a jocular mood he used to tell me that he had spoken to Walnut, and Walnut had agreed with him on every question.
When Sardar Patel was convinced, Lord Mountbatten turned his attention to Jawaharlal. Jawaharlal was not at first ready for the idea and reacted violently against the idea of partition. Lord Mountbatten persisted till Jawaharlal’s opposition was worn down step by step. Within a month of Lord Mountbatten’s arrival in India, Jawaharlal, the firm opponent of partition had become, if not a supporter, at least acquiescent to the idea.
I have often wondered how Jawaharlal was won over by Lord Mountbatten. He is a man of principle, but he is also impulsive and very amenable to personal influences. I think one factor responsible for the change was the personality of Lady Mountbatten. She is not only extremely intelligent but has a most attractive and friendly temperament. She admired her husband very greatly and in many cases tried to interpret his thoughts to those who would not at first agree with him.
There was one other person responsible for the change in Jawaharlal. An Indian named Krishna Menon who had lived in London since the early twenties. Jawaharlal had met him first in the late twenties and had found in him one who professed great admiration for Jawaharlal’s views. We all like our admirers but perhaps Jawaharlal likes them a little more than others. Sometime later, in the early thirties, the Labour Party sent adelegation to India led by Miss Ellen Wilkinson. Krishna Menon was attached to the delegation and visited India. He had also been taking an interest in the activities of the India League in London. During this period, his contacts were mainly with people who were regarded as communists or fellow-travellers. When Jawaharlal went again to London, Krishna Menon renewed his contact and reiterated his loyalty for Jawaharlal.
When war broke out, Krishna Menon suggested that he should be provided with funds so that he could carry on propaganda in London on behalf of India. When Hitler attacked Russia, he came in touch with the Soviet Embassy in London. He sent us many messages that he was meeting the Soviet Ambassador as Jawaharlal’s personal representative. He sent all kinds of proposals for securing the help of interests friendly to India. He also prepared schemes asking for funds from the Congress. Jawaharlal was impressed by him and requested me to grant some money. I did so and placed the matter before the Working Committee. Gandhiji and Sardar Patel told me frankly that they did not like my action, but they would say nothing since I had paid the money in good faith. They however, asked me not to make any further payment. They pointed out that Indians in London were sharply divided in their judgement about Krishna Menon. He had some supporters but there was a strong body of opponents who brought all kinds of charges against him. The general impression I got was that his conduct was not above reproach. I could not therefore trust him fully. Later events proved that Gandhiji and Sardar were right in their suspicion of Krishna Menon. He was, to take the charitable view, unreliable and had little concern for the way public funds were spent. Most people took an even worse view and regarded him as downright dishonest.
When the interim government was formed, Jawaharlal wanted to appoint Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner in London. Lord Wavell did not agree. The British Government also advised that his appointment would not be appropriate as he was regarded a fellow traveller. Soon after Lord Wavell left, Krishna Menon came to India and stayed with Jawaharlal. Lord Mountbatten immediately perceived that Jawaharlal had a weakness for Krishna Menon and could be influenced by him. Lord Wavell had opposed Krishna Menon’s appointment, but Lord Mountbatten decided to become his patron and invited him to the Viceroy’s House on several occasions. Krishna Menon had communist tendencies but when he saw that Lord Mountbatten was friendly to him and might help him get a position, he became pro-British overnight. He impressed Lord Mountbatten with his friendly feelings for the British. Lord Mountbatten felt that Krishna Menon would be useful in persuading Jawaharlal to accept his scheme of partition of India. It is my belief that Krishna Menon did influence Jawaharlal’s mind on this question. I was not surprised when sometime later I learnt that Lord Mountbatten offered to support Jawaharlal if he wanted to appoint Krishna Menon as the High Commissioner in London.
When I became aware that Lord Mountbatten was thinking in terms of dividing India, and had persuaded Jawaharlal and Patel, I was deeply distressed. I realized that the country was moving towards a great danger. Partition of India would be harmful not only to Muslims but to the whole country. I was and am still convinced that the Cabinet Mission Plan was the best solution from every point of view. It preserved the unity of India and gave every community the opportunity to function with freedom and honour. Even from the communal point of view, Muslims could expect nothing better. They would have complete internal autonomy in provinces in which they were in a majority. Even in the Centre they would have more than adequate representation. So long as there were communal jealousies and doubts, their position would be adequately safeguarded. I was also convinced that if the Constitution for free India was framed on this basis and worked honestly for some time, communal doubts and misgivings would soon disappear. The real problems of the country were economic, not communal. The differences related to classes, not to groups. Once the country became free, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs would all realize the real nature of the problems that faced them, and communal differences would be resolved.
I did my best to persuade my two colleagues not to take the final step. I found that Patel was so much in favour of partition that he was hardly prepared even to listen to any other point of view. For over two hours I argued with him. I pointed out that if we accepted partition, we would create a permanent problem for India. Partition would not solve the communal problem but would make it a permanent feature of the country. Jinnah had raised the slogan of two nations. To accept partition was to accept the slogan.How could Congress ever agree to divide the country based on Hindus and Muslims? Instead of removing communal fears, partition would perpetuate them by creating two States based on communal hatred. Once States based on hatred came into existence, nobody knew where the situation would lead.
I was surprised and pained when Patel in reply said that whether we liked it or not, there were two nations in India. He was now convinced that Muslims and Hindus could not be united into one nation. There was no alternative except to accept the fact. In this alone could we end the quarrel between Hindus and Muslims. He further said that if two brothers cannot stay together, they divide. After separation with their respective shares, they become friends. If on the other they are forced to stay together, they tend to fight every day. It was better to have one clean fight and then separate than have bickering every day. I was surprised that Patel was now an even greater supporter of the two-nation theory than Jinnah. Jinnah may have raised the flag of partition but now the real flag bearer was Patel.
I now turned to Jawaharlal. He did not speak in favour of partition in the way that Patel did. In fact, he admitted that partition by nature was wrong. He had however lost all hopes of joint action after his experience of the conduct of the League members of the Executive Council. They could not see eye to eye on any question. Every day they quarrelled. Jawaharlal asked me in despair what other alternative there was to accepting partition.
Jawaharlal spoke to me in sorrow but left no doubt in my mind as to how his mind was working. It was clear that in spite of his repugnance to the idea of partition, he was day by day coming to the conclusion that there was no alternative. He recognized that partition was certainly not the best solution, in fact it was not a good solution at all. But he held that circumstances were inevitably leading in that direction.
After a few days, Jawaharlal came to see me again. He began with a long preamble in which he emphasized that we should not indulge in wishful thinking but face reality. Ultimately, he came to the point and asked me to give up my opposition to partition. He said that it was inevitable, and it would be wisdom not to oppose what was bound to happen. He also said that it would not be wise for me to oppose Lord Mountbatten on this issue.
I told Jawaharlal that I could not possibly accept his views. I saw quite clearly that we were taking one wrong decision after another. Instead of retracing our steps, we were now going deeper in the morass. The Muslim League had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan and a satisfactory solution of the Indian problem seemed in sight. It was at his stage that Jawaharlal had made his unfortunate declaration at a press conference in Bombay. When as Congress President he declared that the Congress had not accepted anything but to participate in the Constituent Assembly, he had given Mr. Jinnah a chance of withdrawing from the League’s earlier acceptance of the plan.
I argued that our second mistake arose when Lord Wavell suggested that the Home portfolio be given to the Muslim League. This would not have caused any insuperable difficulty but because Patel insisted on retaining Home, we had ourselves offered Finance to the Muslim League. This was the cause of our present difficulties. Now a situation had arisen where we were becoming greater supporters of partition than Jinnah. I warned Jawaharlal that history would never forgive us if we agreed to partition. The verdict would be that India was divided not by the Muslim League but by the Congress.
Now that Sardar Patel and even Jawaharlal had become supporters of partition, Gandhiji remained my only hope. During this period Gandhiji was staying in Patna. He had earlier spent some months in Noakhali where he made a great impression on local Muslims and created a new atmosphere of Hindu Muslim unity. We expected that he would come to Delhi to meet Mountbatten and he arrived on 31st March. I went to see him at once and his very first remark was, ‘Partition has now become a threat. It seems Vallabhbhai and even Jawaharlal have surrendered. What will you do now? Will you stand by me or have you also changed?
I replied, ‘I have been and am against partition. Never had my opposition to partition been so strong as today. I am however distressed to find that even Jawaharlal and Patel have accepted defeat and in your words, surrendered their arms. My only hope now is you. If you stand against partition, we may yet save the situation. If you however acquiesce, I am afraid India is lost.’
Gandhiji said, ‘What a question to ask! If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow Congress to accept it.’
Later that day Gandhiji met Lord Mountbatten. He saw him again the next day and still again on 2 April. Sardar Patel came to him soon after he returned from his first meeting with Lord Mountbatten and was closeted with for over two hours. What happened during this meeting I do not know. But when I met Gandhiji again, I received the greatest shock of my life to find that he had changed. He was still not openly in favour of partition, but he longer spoke so vehemently against it. What surprised and shocked me even more was that he began to repeat the arguments which Sardar Patel had already used. For over two hours I pleaded with him, but I could make no impression on him.
In despondency I at last said, ‘If even you have now adopted these views I see no hope of saving India from catastrophe.’
Gandhiji did not reply to my comment but said that he had already suggested we should ask Jinnah to form the government and choose the members of the cabinet. He said he had mentioned this to Lord Mountbatten and Lord Mountbatten was greatly impressed by the idea.
I knew this was so. When I met Lord Mountbatten the day after Gandhiji talked to him, he told me that if the Congress accepted Gandhiji’s suggestion, partition could still be saved. Lord Mountbatten agreed that such an offer on the part of the Congress would convince the Muslim League and perhaps win the confidence of Jinnah. Unfortunately, this move could make no progress as both Jawaharlal and Sardar Patel opposed it vehemently. In fact, they forced Gandhiji to withdraw the suggestion.
Gandhiji reminded me of this and said the situation now was such that partition appeared inevitable. The only question to decide was what the form of partition should be. This was the question which was now being debated day and night in Gandhiji’s camp.
I thought deeply over the whole matter. How was it that Gandhiji could change his opinion so quickly? My reading is that this was due to the influence of Sardar Patel. Patel openly said that there was no way out except partition. Experience had shown that it was impossible to work with the Muslim League. Another consideration probably weighted with Sardar Patel. Lord Mountbatten had argued that Congress had agreed to a weak Centre only to meet the objections of the League. Provinces were therefore given full provisional autonomy, but in a country so divided by language, community and culture, a weak Centre was bound to encourage fissiparous tendencies. If the Muslim League were not there, we could plan for a strong Central Government and frame a constitution desirable from the point of view of Indian unity. Lord Mountbatten advised that it would be better to give up a few small pieces in the north-west and the north-east and then build up a strong and consolidated India. Sardar Patel was impressed by the argument that cooperation with the Muslim League would jeopardize Indian unity and strength. It seemed to me that these arguments influenced not only Sardar Patel but also Jawaharlal. The same argument repeated by Sardar Patel and Lord Mountbatten had also weakened Gandhiji’s opposition to partition.
My effort throughout had been to persuade Lord Mountbatten to take a firm stand on the Cabinet Mission Plan. So long as Gandhiji was of the same view, I had not lost hope. Now with Gandhiji’s defection, I knew that Lord Mountbatten would not agree to my suggestion. It is also possible that Lord Mountbatten did not feel so strongly about the Cabinet Mission Plan as this was not the child of his brain. He wanted to be remembered in history as the man who had solved the Indian problem. If the solution was in terms of a plan formulated by him, this would bring still greater credit to him. It is therefore not surprising that as soon as he opposition with the Cabinet Mission Plan, he was willing to substitute it by a plan of partition formulated according to his own ideas.
Now that partition seemed generally accepted, the question of Bengal and Punjab assumed a new importance. Lord Mountbatten said that since the partition was based on Muslim majority areas and since both in Bengal and Punjab there were areas where the muslims were in a clear minority, these provinces should also be partitioned. He, however, advised the Congress leaders not to raise the question at this stage and assured them that he would himself raise it at the appropriate time.
Before Gandhiji left for Patna, I made a last appeal to him. I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs be allowed to continue for two years. De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement. Gandhiji himself had suggested this a few months ago and I reminded him that two years is not a long period in a nation’s history. If we waited for two years, the Muslim League would be forced to come to terms. I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable, but a better solution might emerge after a year or two. Gandhiji did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it.
By this time Lord Mountbatten had framed his own proposals for the partition of India. He now decided to go to London for discussions with the British Government and to secure its approval to his proposals. He also felt that he would be able to win the Conservative’s support for his plan. The Conservatives had opposed the Cabinet Mission proposal mainly claiming it did not satisfy the Muslim League demand for partition of India. Now that the Mountbatten proposal was based on partition of the country, it would be natural to expect Mr. Churchill’s support.
After the Congress Working Committee concluded its session on 4 May, I went to Simla. After a few days Lord Mountbatten also came up. He wanted to have a brief respite before his departure for London. His plan was to return to Delhi on 15 May and leave for London on the 18th. I thought I would make a last attempt to save he Cabinet Mission P and accordingly, on the night of 14 May, I met him at the Viceregal lodge.
We had discussions lasting for over an hour. I appealed to him not to bury the Cabinet Mission proposal. I told him that we should exercise patience for there was still hope that the plan would succeed. If we acted in haste and accepted partition, we would be doing permanent injury to India. Once the country was divided, no one could foresee the repercussions and there would be no retracing of the step.
I also told Lord Mountbatten that Mr. Attlee and his colleagues were not likely to easily give up a plan which they had themselves formulated after so much labour. If Lord Mountbatten also agreed and emphasized the need for caution, the Cabinet was not likely to raise any objection. Till now it was the Congress which had been insisting that India should be freed immediately. Now it was the Congress which asked that the solution of the political problem may be deferred for a year or two. Surely no one could blame the British if they conceded the Congress request. I also drew Lord Mountbatten’s attention to another aspect of the question. If the British acted hastily now, independent and impartial observers would naturally conclude that the British wanted to give freedom to India in conditions where Indians could not take full advantage of this development. To press on and bring partition against Indian desire would evoke a suspicion that British motives were not pure.
Lord Mountbatten assured me that he would place a full and true picture before the British Cabinet. He would report faithfully all that he had heard and seen during the last two months. He would also tell the British Cabinet that there was an important section of the Congress which wanted postponement of the settlement by a year or two. He assured me that he would tell Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps what my views in the matter were. The British Government would have all these materials before them when they came to a final decision.
I also asked Lord Mountbatten to take into consideration the likely consequences of the partition of the country. Even without partition, there were riots in Calcutta, Noakhali, Bihar, Bombay and the Punjab. Hindus had attacked Muslims and Muslims had attacked Hindus. If the country was divided in such an atmosphere there would be rivers of blood flowing in different parts of the country and the British would be responsible for such carnage.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Lord Mountbatten replied, ‘At least on this one question, I shall give you complete assurance. I shall see to it that there is no bloodshed and riot. I am a soldier, not a civilian. Once partition is accepted in principle, I shall issue orders to see that there are no communal disturbances anywhere in the country. If there should be the slightest agitation, I shall adopt measures to nip the trouble in the bud. I shall not use even the armed police. I shall order the army and the air force to act and use tanks and aeroplanes to suppress anybody who wants to create trouble.’
Lord Mountbatten gave me the impression that he was not going to London with a clear-cut picture of partition nor had he given up the Cabinet Mission Plan completely. Later events made me change my estimate of the situation. The way he acted afterwards convinced me that he had already made up his mind and was going to London to persuade the British Cabinet to accept his plan of partition. His words were only meant to allay my doubts. He did not himself believe what he was telling me.
The whole world knows what the sequel to Lord Mountbatten’s brave declaration was. When partition took place, rivers of blood flowed in large parts of the country. Innocent men, women and children were massacred. The Indian Army was divided, and nothing could be done to stop the murder of innocent Hindus and Muslims.
Courtesy: India Wins Freedom by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Orient Longman Private Ltd., published 1988, the complete version. Translated by Humayun Kabir (1906-1969).
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958) was named Firoz Bakht at birth but was known in his youth as Muhiyuddin Ahmad and later adopted the pseudonym of ‘Abul Kalam Azad’. He was descended from a family which came from Herat to India in Babur’s time and among his ancestors were well-known scholars and administrators. Two years after his birth in 1888 in Mecca where his father Maulana Khairuddin had migrated after the 1857 Revolt, the family moved and settled in Calcutta. Azad was educated at home by his father and private tutors. His political awakening was stimulated by the partition (later annulled) of Bengal in 1905. He travelled extensively in Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and France and had planned to visit London, but his father’s illness obliged him to return home in 1908.
Maulana Azad started the Urdu weekly Al Hilal at Calcutta in July 1912. He opposed the Aligarh line of remaining aloof from the freedom movement. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, the journal was banned under the Press Act. He then started another Urdu weekly Al Balagh, also from Calcutta in November 1915 and this continued to be published until March 1916 when Azad was externed under the Defence of India Regulations. The governments of Bombay, Punjab, Delhi and the United Provinces banned his entry, and he went to Bihar. He was interned in Ranchi until 1 January 1920.
After his release Azad was elected President of the All India Khilafat Committee (at the Calcutta session, 1920), and of the Unity Conference at Delhi in 1924. He presided over the Nationalist Muslims Conference in 1928. He was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1923, and again in 1940, and continued to hold this office until 1946. He led the negotiations on behalf of the Congress Party with the British Cabinet Mission in 1946. Later he joined free India’s first government as Minister for Education, a post he held until his death on 22nd February 1958.
Among his other published works are Al-Bayan (1915) and Tarjuman-ul-Quran (1931-1936) which are commentaries, Tazkirah (1916) an autobiographical work and Ghubar-I-Khatir (1943), a collection of letters, all in Urdu.
The Line-up of the Powers By 1914 the European powers were already divided into two rival camps. After the outbreak of war both groups sought allies. Germany and Austria-Hungary were joined by Turkey and Bulgaria. Russia, France and Great Britain sought and gained the support of Japan, Italy, Romania and, after a long struggle, Greece. By far the most important adherent to the Allied cause was the United States, which declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917. In Europe, the price in terms of life and material destruction changed men’s conception of war; it is estimated that over eight million combatants were killed
The war which began in August 1914 as a European war turned into a world war in 1917, and can be seen as a bridge between the age of European predominance and the age of global politics. The spark that triggered it off was the assassination of the Austrian heir-presumptive, Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Bosnian terrorists at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. In the ensuing crisis, none of the powers was prepared to accept diplomatic defeat; war replaced diplomatic manoeuvre.
Everyone expected a short war, over by Christmas 1914. The Germans knew that their chances in a long war on two fronts were slender. Their war plan drawn up by Schlieffen in 1905, was to trap and annihilate the French army by a great encirclement movement through Belgium, before the Russians had time to mobilise. But the Russians mobilised unexpectedly, quickly, invaded East Prussia, defeated the German 8th Army at Gumbinnen (20 August), and drew off German reserves from the west. However, the Germans defeated the Russian invasion at Tannenberg (26-29 August), but were not strong enough to exploit their victory.
Map 2: The German attack in the west and the battle of Marne Germans invaded Belgium successfully taking Liege on 16 August; the French offensive in Alsace was defeated with heavy loss. A further French offensive towards the Ardennes was defeated, and the British and one French army were forced to retreat from the Mons area to avoid encirclement. The Germans were too weak to go west of Paris as they planned and they passed north-east of Paris to cross the Marne. The exposed German army north of Paris was attacked by the French army on 5 September, and in manoeuvring to oppose the French attack left a gap on its own eastern flank. British and French advanced into the gap. The German army retired to the Aisne to regroup.
In the west, the Allies outmanoeuvred the Germans in the Battle of the Marne (5-8 September). The Schlieffen Plan was always a gamble; when it failed the Germans had no alternative strategy. On 8-12 September, the Russians won a crushing victory over Austria at Lemberg. A last, mutual attempt by the Germans and Allied armies to outflank each other in Flanders failed in November, and both sides dug in on a line 400 miles long from the Channel to the Swiss frontier. In the east, mobile warfare was still possible because of the far lower density of men and guns—a possibility brilliantly exploited by the Germans at Gorlice-Tarnow in 1915, and by the Russian general Brusilov in 1916.
The Naval War: After the battle of Jutland (1916) in which the Germans inflicted heavier losses but the British retained command of the North Sea, both sides used naval means to cut the other’s supply lines in a war of attrition. The British instituted an open blockade of the Central Powers which became effective by the end of 1916. In that year, there were fifty-six food riots in German cities. In reply, the Germans resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917 and one out of every four ships leaving British ports was sunk. The assault was only checked by the convoy system first used in May 1917.
In the west, from the beginning of 1915 the dominant factors were trenches, barbed wire, artillery, machine-guns and mud. The war of mobility gave way to a war of attrition. One entrenched man with a machine-gun was more than a match for a hundred advancing across open country. Railways could bring up defenders faster than slowly-moving troops could advance into the front-line gaps which they had created at such high human cost.
Map 3: The Great War in Europe On the Western Front only the opening and closing stages saw a war of movement. From late 1914 to Spring 1918, the superiority of defence based on trench-systems and machine-guns over slow moving offensives by infantry, preceded by the fire of immense concentrations of artillery, imposed a stalemate. Only when armies had been weakened by years of attrition did sweeping advances again become possible. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, with a lower density of manpower and weaker defences, the war was more mobile. The Italian front along the River Isonzo saw another stalemate despite eleven Italian offensives against the Austrians; a stalemate broken in October 1917 by the German-Austrian victory at Caporetto, and the Italian victory in Vittorio Veneto a year later.
Yet the German occupation of Belgium and northern France made it inevitable that the Allies should seek to expel them. This meant repeated French offensives in Artois and Champagne in 1915, assisted by small British offensives at Neuve Chappelle and Loos. For 1916 the Allies planned a joint offensive on the Somme, but the Germans struck first, at Verdun, with the intention of bleeding the French army to death. On 1 July 1916, the British launched their first mass offensive of the war, on the Somme. The fighting lasted until November; each side suffered some 600,000 casualties. It failed to break the stalemate.
By now the conflict was becoming a total war demanding the mobilisation of industry, carried out in Germany by Rathenau and in Britain by Lloyd George. Answers to the trench stalemate were sought in technology; poison gas was first used by the Germans at Ypres in April 1915; the British invented the tank and fielded 32 of them in the closing stages of the Somme battle, but owing to manufacturing difficulties it was only in November 1917, at Cambrai, that the first mass tank attack took place—also proving indecisive.
The struggle spread to the skies, where the handful of reconnaissance aircraft of 1914 gave way to fighters, bombers and artillery-spotters. With the Zeppelin airship and the Gotha long range bomber the Germans introduced strategic bombing of enemy towns. By means of naval blockade the Allies sought to starve the industries and peoples of the Central powers; Germany riposted by U-boat attacks on British shipping.
The War in the Middle East The war was not confined to Europe. To protect the Persian oil wells, an Anglo-Indian force occupied Basra (22 November 1914) and marched on Baghdad (October 1915); they were forced to retreat and surrendered to the Turks at Kut (April 1916). Meanwhile, the British had repelled a Turkish attempt to cross the Suez Canal (1915), and a counter-offensive force entered Palestine in 1916. Here they were assisted by the British-sponsored Arab revolt against Ottoman rule, which broke out in June 1916 under Sherif Hussein of Mecca, but they were checked by the Turks at Gaza in 1917. To the north, the Russians occupied Turkish Armenia (July 1916) and held it until the Russian revolution restored initiative to the Ottomans. In Autumn 1917, British forces under General Allenby rallied, and pushed through Gaza to Jerusalem (11 December). In Mesopotamia, Kut was retaken, and Baghdad was finally captured (10 March 1917); Mosul was occupied shortly after the Anglo-Turkish Armistice (29 October 1918), while Damascus had fallen to British and Arab troops at the beginning of the same month. The war spilled over into Africa and the Far East where Germany quickly lost its colonial possessions. The South Africans conquered German South-West Africa in July 1915; the British and French took the Cameroons and Togoland. In German East Africa, the British had a more difficult task because of the determined German defence under General von Lettow-Vorbeck. In the Pacific, Australian, New Zealand and Japanese troops captured the German colonies within four months of the outbreak of war, and the concessions in China also fell to Japanese and British forces.
Confronted by failure in the west, the Allies sought successes on other fronts:
the Dardanelles (April 1915-January 1916)
an offensive in Mesopotamia against the Turks
a landing at Salonika to help the Serbs.
All ended in failure. Italy, which entered the war on the Allied side on 23 May 1915, likewise failed to break the Austrian front on the Isonzo.
On the Easter Front, too, there was no decision, despite the German-Austrian offensive at Gorlice-Tarnow in 1915 and a far reaching Russian advance under General Brusilov in 1916. Serbian resistance was crushed, but the Germans were now embedded in the prolonged two-front war they had dreaded.
By the end of 1916, all the combatants recognised that victory was far off. There were peace feelers, but annexationist German demands ruled out a compromise peace. The war went on—under new and ruthless leaders: the soldiers Hindenburg and Ludendorff in Germany, the civilians Lloyd George in Britain and later Clemenceau in France.
On 1 February 1917 Germany declared unrestricted U-boat warfare, in the hope of bringing Britain to her knees. This was narrowly averted by the introduction of the convoy system in May 1917. But the U-boat offensive brought the United States into the war on 6 April 1917—a potentially decisive help to the Allies.
In March, revolution broke out in Russia, sparked by heavy losses, war-weariness and economic dislocation. On 15 March 1917, the Tsar abdicated. The future of Russia as an ally lay in doubt. By May, France was in deep trouble too. An offensive by the new Commander-in-Chief, Nivelle, failed to achieve his promised object of a breakthrough leading to peace. Widespread mutinies erupted in the French army with parallel civilian unrest on the home front. The British planned an offensive at Ypres as the best means of keeping German pressure off the French and encouraging Russia. The “Passchendaele” offensive, dogged by bad weather, failed to break the German front; each side sufferedsome 250,000 casualties.
In November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia and in December sued for peace at Brest-Litovsk. At last the Germans could concentrate the bulk of their strength on the Western Front. On 21 March 1918 Hindenburg and Ludendorff launched a series of offensives aimed at victory in the West before the Americans could arrive in strength. They failed, despite impressive initial success. On 18 July, the new Allied generalissimo Foch, launched a French counterstroke. On 8 August Haig followed with a brilliant success on the Somme. From then on the Allies hammered the enemy without respite, breaking the Hindenburg Line on 27-30 September. Meanwhile Germany’s allies, Austria, Turkey and Bulgaria were beginning to collapse under Allied offensives. On 29 September Ludendorff acknowledge defeat and urged his government to ask for an immediate armistice. In October, the German fleet mutinied; revolution and the abdication of the Kaiser followed, and the new German government accepted the Allies’ armistice terms. Fighting stopped on 11 November 1918.
The material and human cost of the war had been immense; the political and social consequences were incalculable. The Europe of 1914 had vanished.
Courtesy of: The Times Atlas of World History Edited by Geoffrey Barraclough, Hammond Incorporated Maplewood, New Jersey