First World War

In Britain popular interest in the First World War runs at levels that surprise almost all other nations, with the possible exception of France. For a war that was global, it is a massively restricted vision: a conflict measured in yards of mud along a narrow corridor of Flanders and northern France. It knows nothing of the Italian Alps or of the Masurian lakes; it bypasses the continent of Africa and Asia, and it forgets the war’s other participants – diplomats and sailors, politicians and labourers, women and children.

Casualty figures do provide a satisfactory explanation for such insularity. British deaths in the First World War may have exceeded those of the Second, and Britain is unusual, if not unique in this respect. The reverse is true for Germany and Russia, as it is for the United States.

By the mid-1920s, the population of Britain, like those of other belligerents, was recovering to its pre-war levels. In the crude statistics of rates of marriages and reproduction there was no ‘lost generation.’ But the British and particularly the better educated classes, believed there was. The legacy of literature, and its effects on shaping memory, have proved far more influential than economic and political realities.


War as a general phenomenon: “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” is he insists, “an old lie.” – Wilfred Owen, killed in action on 4 November 1918.  His mother did not receive the news until after the fighting was over. The war both did for Owen and made him. The war gave him material which transformed him into one of the greatest English poets of the twentieth century. For school children throughout Britain his verses are often their first and most profound encounter with the First World War. Owen did not achieve canonical status until the 1960s. The first edition of his poems sold 730 copies in December 1920. A further 700 copies printed in 1921 were still not sold out by 1929.

By then, the collected poems of another victim of the war, Rupert Brooke, had run to 300,000 copies. For Brooke’s “The Soldier” death in battle was both sweet and fitting. Of course, Brooke’s continuing popularity reflected in large measure the desire of wives and mothers, of parents and children, to find solace in their mourning. They needed the reassurance that their loss was not in vain. But it makes another point that the First World War was capable of many interpretations, and that until at least the late 1920s those different meanings co-existed with each other. Every adult across Europe, and many in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia, had his or her own sense of the war’s significance. The conviction that the war was both wasteful and futile was neither general nor even dominant.


Units from the martial races from India were sent to France in the autumn of 1914

When the great powers of Europe embarked on war in 1914 popular conceptions of combat were shaped more by the past than by prognostications of the future. The literature of warning, both popular and professional, was abundant. But hope prevailed over realism, and in truth the circumstances of the outbreak created little choice: for every nation the war seemed to be one of national self-defence, and the obligations on its citizens was therefore irrefutable. By December 1916 the nature of war, its costs and casualties, and their threat of social upheaval were self-evident. But even then, none of the belligerents seized the opportunity of negotiations which the United States held out. The differences in values and ideologies look less stark than they seemed then only because we have been hardened by the later clashes between Fascism and Bolshevism, and between both of them and western liberalism. The very fact of the United States entry into the war in April 1917 makes the point. Woodrow Wilson had been “too proud to fight.” He was deeply opposed to the use of war for the furtherance of policy, and the evidence of the battles of Verdun and the Somme in 1916 should have consolidated that belief. So, when he took the United States into the war, he laboured under few illusions as to the horrors which men like Wilfred Owen had experienced at first hand. But he concluded that the United States had to wage war if it was to shape the future of international relations. It may have been a vision which the Senate rejected in the war’s immediate aftermath, but it still inspires American foreign policy.

This is of course the biggest paradox in our understanding of the war. On the one hand it was an unnecessary war fought in a manner that defied common sense, but on the other it was the war that shaped the world in which we still live. When the First World War began, historians, especially in Imperial Germany, identified a “long” nineteenth century, starting with the French Revolution in 1789 and ending in 1914. For their successors that was when the “short” twentieth century began, and it ended with the conclusion of the Cold War in 1990. The subsequent conflicts in the Balkans brought home to many the role played by the multinational Hapsburg Empire in keeping the lid on ethnic and cultural difference before 1914. Between 1917 and 1990, the Soviet Union’s ideological confrontation with the west performed a not dissimilar function. But the Soviet Union was itself an heir of the First World War, the product of the Russian revolution. Its authoritarianism established a form of international order, especially in eastern Europe after 1945. The sort of localized war which had triggered world war in 1914 was suppressed precisely because of that precedent: the fear of a big war now contained and defused the dangers inherent in a small one. However, for eastern Europe there was another lesson from the First World War, and it was a very different one from that which it is commonly associated in the west today. War was not futile. For the revolutionaries, as for the subject nationalities of the Hapsburg Empire, the war had delivered.

In the Middle East, the reverse applied. The war satisfied nobody. The British and French were given temporary control of large chunks of the former Ottoman Empire, thus frustrating the ambitions of Arab independence. Moreover, contradictory promises were made in the process, in particular Arthur Balfour, the former British prime minister, declared that the Jews would find a homeland in Palestine. The roots of today’s Middle Eastern conflict lie here.

By courtesy:


WWII – The Third Phase

Once America’s strength developed, and Russia survived to develop hers, the defeat of the Axis powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – became certain, as their combined military potential was so much smaller. The only uncertainties were – how long it would take, and how complete it would be. The most that the aggressors, turned defenders, could hope for was to obtain better terms of peace by spinning out time until the “giants” became weary or quarrelled. But the chances of such prolonged resistance depended on shortening fronts. None of the Axis leaders could bear to “lose face” by voluntary withdrawal, and so clung to every position until it collapsed. There was no real turning point in this third phase of the war, but only an incoming tide. The tide flowed more easily in Russia and in the Pacific, because in these areas an ever-growing superiority of force was combined with ample space for manoeuvre. In southern and western Europe the tide met more checks because space was more cramped.

The Anglo-American forces’ first bound back into Europe – in July 1943 – was eased by the way that Hitler and Mussolini poured troops across the sea into Tunisia in the hope of holding a bridgehead there to block the converging advance of the Allied armies from Egypt and Algeria. Tunisia turned into a trap, and the capture of the whole German-Italian army there left Sicily almost denuded of defence. But when the Allies pushed on from Sicily into Italy – in September 1943 – their advance up that narrow and mountainous peninsula became sticky and slow.

On 6 June 1944, the main Allied armies, which had been built up in England for a cross channel invasion, landed in Normandy. Here success was certain if they could firmly establish themselves ashore in a bridgehead big enough to build up their massed strength and swamp the Germans’ barricading line. For once they broke out, the whole width of France would be open for the manoeuvre of their armies, which were fully mechanised, whereas the bulk of the German forces were not.

The Germans’ defence was thus doomed to eventual collapse, unless they could throw the invaders back into the sea in the first few days. But in the event the move-up of their panzer reserves was fatally delayed by the paralysing interference of the Allied air forces, which had a 30:1 superiority over the Luftwaffe in this theatre.

Even if the invasion of Normandy had been repulsed on the beaches, the Allies’ now tremendous air superiority, applied direct against Germany, would have made her collapse certain. Until 1944, the strategic air offensive had fallen far short of the claims made for it, as an alternative to land invasion, and its effects had been greatly overestimated. The indiscriminate bombing of cities had not seriously diminished munitions production, while failing to break the will of the opposing peoples and compel them to surrender, as expected. For collectively they were too firmly under the grip of their tyrannical leaders, and individuals cannot surrender to bombers in the sky. But in 1944-45 air power was better directed – applied with ever increasing precision and crippling effects to the key centres of war production that were vital to the enemy’s power of resistance. In the Far East, too, the mastery of air power made the collapse of Japan certain, without any need for the atom bomb.

The main obstacle in the Allies’ path, once the tide had turned, was a self-raised barrier – their leader’s unwise and short-sighted demand for “unconditional surrender.” It was the greatest help to Hitler, in preserving his grip on the German people, and likewise to the War Party in Japan. If the Allied leaders had been wise enough to provide some assurance as to their peace terms, Hitler’s grip on the German people would have been loosened long before 1945. Three years earlier, envoys of the widespread anti-Nazi movement in Germany made known to Allied leaders their plans for overthrowing Hitler, and the names of the many leading soldiers who were prepared to join such a revolt, provided that they were given some assurance about the Allied peace terms. But then, and later, no indication or assurance was given them, so that it naturally became difficult for them to gain support for a “leap in the dark.”

Thus, “the unnecessary war” was unnecessarily prolonged, and millions more lives needlessly sacrificed, while the ultimate peace merely produced a fresh menace and the looming fear for another war. For the unnecessary prolongation of the Second World War in pursuit of the opponents’ “unconditional surrender,” proved of profit only to Stalin – by opening the way for Communist domination of Europe.

Courtesy of:

WWII – The Second Phase

Britain was the only remaining active opponent of Nazi Germany. But she was left in the most perilous situation, militarily naked while menacingly enveloped by a 2000-mile stretch of enemy coastline.

Her army had only reached Dunkirk and avoided capture through Hitler’s strange action in halting his panzer forces for two days when they were a bare ten miles from the last remaining escape-port, then almost unguarded – a halt order inspired by a complex of motives, including Goring’s vainglorious desire that the Luftwaffe should take the final trick.

Even though the bulk of the British army had got away safely, it had lost most of its arms. While the survivors of the sixteen divisions that came back were being reorganised, there was only one properly armed division to defend the country, and the Fleet was kept in the far north out of reach of the Luftwaffe. If the Germans had landed in England any time during the month after the fall of France there would have been little chance of resisting them. But Hitler and his service chiefs had made no preparations invade England – nor even worked out any plans for such an obviously essential follow-up to their defeat of france. He let the vital month slip away in hopeful expectation that Britain would agree to make peace. Even when disillusioned on that score, the German preparations were half-hearted. When the Luftwaffe failed to drive the RAF out of the sky in the “Battle of Britain,” the Army and Navy chiefs were in fact glad of the excuse thus provided for suspending the invasion. More remarkable was Hitler’s own readiness to accept excuses for its suspension.

The records of his private talks show that it was partly due to a reluctance to destroy Britain and the British Empire, which he regarded as a stabilising element in the world, and still hoped to secure as a partner. But beyond this reluctance there was a fresh impulse. Hitler’s mind was again turning eastward. This was the key factor that proved decisive in preserving Britain.

Had Hitler concentrated on defeating Britain, her doom would have been almost certain. For although he had missed the best chance of conquering her by invasion, he could have developed such a stranglehold by combined air and submarine pressure, as to ensure her gradual starvation and ultimate collapse.

Hitler, however, felt certain that he could not venture to concentrate his resources on the sea and air effort while the Russian army stood poised on his eastern border, as a threat to Germany on land. So he argued that the only way to make Germany’s rear secure was to attack and defeat Russia. His suspicion of Russia’s intentions was all the more intense because of hatred of Russian – style Communism had so long been his deepest emotion.

He also persuaded himself that Britain would agree to peace once she could no longer hope for Russian intervention in the war. Indeed, he imagined that Britain would have made peace already if Russia were not inciting her to fight on, when, on 21 July, Hitler held his first conference to discuss the hastily drafted plans for invading England, he revealed the turn of his mind, saying: “Stalin is flirting with Britain to keep her in the war and tie us down, with a view to gain time to take what he wants, knowing he could not get it once peace breaks out.” From this came the further conclusion: “Our attention must be turned to tackling the Russian problem.”

Planning was initiated immediately, though it was not until early in 1941 that he took the definite decision. The invasion was launched on 22 June- a day ahead of Napoleon’s date. The panzer forces quickly overran the Soviet armies that were immediately available and within less than a month had driven 450 miles into Russia – three quarters of the way to Moscow. But the Germans never reached there.

What were the key factors in their failure? The autumn mud and snow were the obvious ones. But more fundamental was the Germans’ miscalculation of the reserves that Stalin could bring up from the depths of Russia. They reckoned on meeting 200 divisions, and by mid-August had beaten these. But then a further 160 had appeared on the scene. By the time these in turn had been overcome, autumn had arrived, and when the Germans pushed on towards Moscow in the mud, they again found fresh armies blocking the route.Another basic factor was Russia’s continued primitiveness, despite all the technical progress achieved since the Soviet Revolution. It was not only a matter of the extraordinary endurance of her soldiers and people, but the primitiveness of her roads. If her road system had been developed comparably to that of the West, she would have been overrun almost as quickly as France. Even as it was, however, the invasion might have succeeded if the panzer forces had driven right on for Moscow in the summer, without waiting for the infantry – as Guderian had urged, only to be overruled on this occasion by Hitler and the older heads of the army,

The winter in Russia proved a terrible strain and drain on the German forces – and they never fully recovered from it. Yet is evident that Hitler still had a quite a good chance of victory in 1942, as the Red Army was seriously short of equipment, while Stalin’s grip on it had been shaken by the heavy initial defeats. Hitler’s new offensive swept quickly through to the edge of the Caucasus oilfields – on which Russia’s military machine depended. But Hitler split his forces between the double objectives of Caucasus and Stalingrad. Narrowly checked here, he wore down his army in repeated bull-headed efforts to capture the “City of Stalin,” becoming obsessed with that symbol of defiance. Forbidding any withdrawal when winter came, he doomed the army attacking it to encirclement and capture when Russia’s newly raised armies arrived on the scene late in the year.

The disaster at Stalingrad left the Germans with a far longer front than they could hold with their depleted strength. Withdrawal was the only saving course, as the generals urged, but Hitler obstinately refused to sanction it. Deaf to all arguments, he constantly insisted on “No retreat.’ That parrot cry could not stem the tide, and merely ensured that each eventual retreat would be enforced by a heavy defeat, at higher cost because it was delayed too long.

Hitler’s forces were suffering, increasingly, the consequences of strategic overstretch – which had proved the ruin of Napoleon. The strain was all the worse because in 1940 the war had been extended to the Mediterranean- by Mussolini, plunging into the war to take advantage of France’s downfall and Britain’s weakness. That had offered the British a chance for counterattack, in an area where sea power could exert its influence. Churchill was quick to seize the chance – in part, too quick. Britain’s mechanised force in Egypt, though small, soon smashed the out of date Italian army in North Africa, besides conquering Italian East Africa. It could have driven on to Tripoli, but was halted in order that a force could be landed in Greece – a premature and ill-prepared move that was easily repulsed by the Germans. But the Italian breakdown in North Africa led Hitler to send German reinforcements there , under Rommel. However, having his eyes fixed on Russia, Hitler sent only enough to bolster up the Italians, and never made a strong effort to seize the eastern, central and western gates of the Mediterranean – Suez, Malta and Gibraltar.

So in effect he merely opened up a fresh drain on Germany’s strength, which ultimately offset the success of Rommel’s counter-thrusts in postponing for over two years the clearance of North Africa. The Germans were now stretched out along both sides of the Mediterranean, and the whole coastline of Western Europe, while trying to hold a perilously wide front in the depths of Russia.

The natural consequences of such general overstretch were postponed, and the war prolonged by Japan’s entry into the war – in December 1941. But this proved more fatal to Hitler’s prospects in the long run, because it brought America’s weight into the war. The temporary effect of the Japanese surprise stroke at Pearl Harbour which crippled the US Pacific Fleet, enabled the Japanese to overrun the Allied positions in the Southwest Pacific – Malaya, Burma, the Philippines, and the Dutch East Indies. But in this rapid expansion they became stretched out far beyond their basic capacity for holding their gains. For Japan was a small Island state with limited industrial power.

Courtesy of: History of the Second World War by B.H. Liddell Hart, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York.

WWII – The First Phasel

On Friday, 1 September 1939, the German armies invaded Poland. On Sunday, the 3rd, the British government declared war on Germany, in fulfilment of the guarantee it had earlier given to Poland. Six hours later the French government, more reluctantly, followed the British lead.

Within less than a month Poland had been overrun. Within nine months most of Western Europe had been submerged by the spreading flood of war.

Could Poland have held out longer?

Could France and Britain have done more than they did to take the German pressure off Poland?

On the face of figures of armed strength, as now known, the answer to both questions would, at first sight, seem to be “yes.”

The German army was far from being ready for war in 1939. The Poles and French together had the equivalent of 150 divisions, including thirty five reserve divisions, and from which some had to be kept for French overseas commitments, against the German total of ninety-eight divisions, of which thirty-six were in an untrained state. Out of the forty divisions which the Germans left to defend their western frontier, only four were active divisions, fully trained and equipped. But Hitler’s strategy had placed France in a situation where she could only relieve pressure on Poland by developing a quick attack – a form of action for which her army was unfitted. Her old-fashioned mobilisation plan was slow in producing the required weight of forces, and her offensive plans dependent on a mass of heavy artillery which was not ready until the sixteenth day. By that time the Polish Army’s resistance was collapsing.

Poland was badly handicapped by her strange strategic situation – the country being placed like a “tongue” between Germany’s jaws, and Poland strategy made the situation worse by placing the bulk of her forces near the tip of the tongue. Moreover, these forces were out of date in equipment and ideas, still placing faith in a large mass of horsed cavalry – which proved helpless against the German tanks.

The Germans at that time had only six armoured and four mechanised divisions ready, but thanks to General Guderian’s enthusiasm, and Hitler’s backing, they had gone farther than any other army in adopting the new idea of high-speed mechanised warfare that had been conceived twenty years earlier by the British pioneers of this new kind and tempo of action. The Germans had also developed a much stronger air force than any of the other countries whereas not only the Poles, but the French also were badly lacking in air power, even to support and cover their armies.

Thus Poland saw the first triumphant demonstration of the new Blitzkrieg technique by the Germans, while the Western allies of Poland were still in the process of preparing for war on customary lines. On 17 September the Red Army advanced across Poland’s eastern frontier, a blow in the back that sealed her fate, as she had scarcely any troops left to oppose this second invasion.

The rapid overrunning of Poland was followed by a six months’ lull – christened the “Phoney War” by onlookers who were deceived by the surface appearance of calm. A truer name would have been the “Winter of Illusion.” For the leaders as well as the public in the Western countries spent the time in framing fanciful plans for attacking Germany’s flanks – and talked about them all too openly,

In reality, there was no prospect of France and Britain ever being able, alone, to develop the strength required to overcome Germany. Their best hope, now that Germany and Russia faced each other on a common border, was that friction would develop between these two mutually distrustful confederates, and draw Hitler’s explosive force eastward instead, instead of westward. That happened a year later, and might well have happened earlier if the Western Allies had not been impatient – as is the way of democracies.

Their loud and threatening talk of attacking Germany’s flanks spurred Hitler to forestall them. His first stroke was to occupy Norway. The captured records of his conferences show that until early in 1940, he still considered “the maintenance of Norway’s neutrality to be the best course” for Germany, but that in February he came to the conclusion that “the English intend to land there, and I want to be there before them.” A small German invading force arrived there on 9 April, upsetting the British plans for gaining control of that neutral area – and captured the chief ports while the Norwegian’s attention was absorbed by the British naval advance into Norwegian waters.

Hitler’s next stroke was against England and France and the Low Countries on 10 May. He had started to prepare the previous autumn when the Allies rejected the peace offer he had made after defeating Poland – feeling that to knock out France offered the best chance of making Britain agree to peace. But bad weather and doubts of his generals had caused repeated postponements from November onwards (1939). Then on 10 January a German officer who was flying to Bonn with papers about the plan missed his way in a snowstorm and landed in Belgium. This miscarriage caused the offensive to be put off until May, and it was radically recast meanwhile.That turned out very unfortunately for the Allies, and temporarily very lucky for Hitler, while changing the whole outlook for the war.

For the old plan, with the main advance going through the canal-lined area of central Belgium, would in fact have led to a head-on collision with the best part of the Franco-British forces, and so would probably have ended in failure – shaking Hitler’s prestige. But the new plans suggested by Manstein took the Allies completely by surprise and threw them off their balance, with disastrous results. For while they were pushing forward into Belgium, to meet the Germans’ opening assault there and in Holland, the mass of the German tanks – seven panzer divisions – drove through the hilly and wooded Ardennes, which the Allied High Command considered impassable to tanks. Crossing the Meuse with little opposition, they broke through the weak hinge of the Allied front, and then swept on westward to the Channel coast behind the back of the Allies’ armies in Belgium, cutting their communications. This decided the issue – before the bulk of the German infantry had even come into action. The British army barely managed to escape by sea from Dunkirk. The Belgians and a large part of the French were forced to surrender. The consequences were irreparable. For when the Germans struck southward, the week after Dunkirk, the remaining French armies proved incapable of withstanding them.

Yet never was a world-shaking disaster more easily preventable. The panzer thrust could have been stopped long before reaching the Channel by a concentrated counterstroke with similar forces. But the French though having more and better tanks than their enemy, had strung them out in small packets in the 1918 way.

The thrust could have been stopped earlier, on the Meuse if the French had not rushed into Belgium leaving their hinge so weak, or had moved reserves there sooner. But the French Command had not only regarded the Ardennes as impassable to tanks but reckoned that any attack on the Meuse would be a set-piece assault in the 1918 style, and would take nearly a week to prepare after arrival there, thus allowing the French ample time to bring up reserves. But the panzer forces reached the river early on 13 May and stormed the crossing that afternoon. A “tank time” pace of action bowled over an out of date “slow motion.”

But the Blitzkrieg pace was only possible because the Allied leaders had not grasped the new technique, and so did not know how to counter it. The thrust could have been stopped before it even reached the Meuse if the approaches had been well covered with minefields. It could have been stopped even if the mines were lacking – by the simple expedient of felling the trees along the forest roads which led to the Meuse. The loss of time in clearing them would have been fatal to the German chances.*

*A French friend of mine, then in charge of a sector on the Meuse, begged the High Command for permission to do this, but was told that the roads must be kept clear for the advance of the French cavalry. These cavalry duly pushed into the Ardennes but came out more rapidly and routed, with the German tanks on their heels.

After the fall of France, there was a popular tendency to ascribe it to the poor state of French morale, and to assume that the fall was inevitable. That is a fallacy, a case of “putting the cart before the horse.” The collapse of French morale only occurred after the military breakthrough- which could so easily have been prevented. By 1942 all armies had learned how to check the Blitzkrieg attack – but a lot would have been saved if they had learned before the war.

By courtesy:

Key Factors and Turning Points WWII

This catastrophic conflict which ended by opening Russia’s path into the heart of Europe was aptly called by Mr. Churchill “the unnecessary war.”

In striving to avert it, and curb Hitler, a basic weakness in the policy of Britain and France was their lack of understanding of strategical factors. Through this they slid into war at the moment most unfavourable to them, and then precipitated an avoidable disaster of far-reaching consequences. Britain survived by what appeared to be a miracle – but really because Hitler made the same mistakes that aggressive dictators have repeatedly made throughout history.

The Vital Pre-War Phase

In retrospect it has become clear that the first fatal step for both sides was the German re-entry into the Rhineland in 1936, For Hitler, this move carried a two-fold strategic advantage – it provided cover for Germany’s key industrial vital area in the Ruhr, and it provided him with a potential springboard into France.

Why was this move not checked? Primarily, because France and Britain were anxious to avoid any risk of armed conflict that might develop into war. The reluctance to act was increased because the German re-entry into the Rhineland appeared to be merely an effort to rectify an injustice, even though done in the wrong way. The British, particularly, being politically-minded tended to regard it more as a political than as a military step – failing to see its strategic implications.

In his 1938 moves Hitler again drew strategic advantage from political factors – the German and Austrian peoples’ desire for union, the strong feeling in Germany about Czech treatment of the Sudeten Germans; and again there was widespread feeling in the Western countries that there was a measure of justice in Germany’s case on both issues.

But Hitler’s march into Austria in March laid bare the southern flank of Czecho-Slovakia – which to him was an obstacle in the development of his plans for eastward expansion. In September he secured – by the threat of war and the resultant Munich agreement – not merely the return of the Sudetenland but the strategic paralysis of Czecho-Slovakia.

In March 1939 Hitler occupied the remainder of Czecho-Slovakia, and thereby enveloped the flank of Poland – the last of a series of “bloodless” manoeuvres. This step of his was followed by a fatally rash move on the British government’s part – the guarantee suddenly offered to Poland and Rumania, each of them strategically isolated, without first securing any assistance from Russia, the only power which could give them effective support.

By their timing, these guarantees were bound to act as a provocation; and, as we now know, until he was met by this challenging gesture Hitler had no immediate intention of attacking Poland. By their placing, in parts of Europe inaccessible to the forces of Britain and France, they provided an almost irresistible temptation. Thereby the Western powers undermined the essential basis of the only type of strategy which their now inferior strength made practical for them. For instead of being able to check aggression by presenting a strong force to any attack in the West, they gave Hitler an easy chan e of breaking a weak front and thus gaining an initial triumph.

The only chance if avoiding war now lay in securing support of Russia, the only power that could give Poland direct support and thus provide a deterrent to Hitler. However, despite the urgency of the situation, the British government’s steps were dilatory and half-hearted. But beyond their own hesitations were the objections of the Polish government, and the other small powers in Eastern Europe, to accepting military support from Russia – since these feared that reinforcement by her armies would be equivalent to invasion.

Very different was Hitler’s response to the new situation created by the British backing of Poland. Britain’s violent reaction and redoubled armament measures shook him, but the effect was opposite to that intended. His solution was coloured by his historically derived picture of the British. Regarding them as cool-headed and rational, with their emotions controlled by their head, he felt that they would not dream of entering a war on behalf of Poland unless they could obtain Russia’s support. So, swallowing his hatred and fear of “Bolshevism,” he bent his efforts and energies towards conciliating Russia and securing her abstention. It was a turnabout more startling than Chamberlain’s – and as fatal in consequences.

On 23 August, Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, and the pact was signed. It was accompanied by a secret agreement under which Poland was to be partitioned between Germany and Russia.

This pact made war certain – in the intense state of feeling that had been created by Hitler’s rapid series of aggressive moves. The British, having pledged themselves to support Poland, felt that they could not stand aside without losing their honour – and without opening Hitler’s way to wider conquest. And Hitler would not draw back from his purpose in Poland, even when he came to see that it involved a general war.

Thus the train of European civilisation rushed into the long, dark tunnel from which it only emerged after six exhausting years had passed. Even then, the bright sunlight of victory proved illusory.

By courtesy:

Karl Haushofer

He was for a joint German, Russian and Japan axis over the Asian landmass and, worked hard at collaboration with Japan culminating in the Axis Pact in 1936 which also included Italy. Haushofer was very disappointed when Hitler invaded Russia and the flight of Rudolph Hess, the Deputy Fuehrer, in 1941 from Germany in a Messerschmitt 110 was an attempt to bring about some kind of understanding with Britain through contact with a Scot noble near whose castle he had parachuted in 1941.

Germany under the Versailles Treaty was barred from an Air Force and was to keep a limited size of the navy and army. So with Russian help, aircraft factories were set up in Russia and airmen trained for the air force. Tanks were produced and tested in field manoeuvres in the vast areas of Russia. Japan also gained from German and Italian prowess in aeronautics and many of the aircraft designs bore that stamp – S.M. Husain.

Messerschmitt Me 262, the first jet fighter to see active service in WWII. Hitler interfered in its role and wanted it developed as a fighter bomber for which it was not suited. However, the fighter version of this aircraft created a havoc like atmosphere in the Allied airmen because it was unmatched in speed being. 100 mph faster than any aircraft at the time.

The Japanese jet fighter modelled after the Messerschmitt Me 262 above, in the planning stage

This Navy fighter with folded wings for better storage on the carrier deck was also a wonder weapon

The six engined aircraft was a wonder weapon which was still on the drawing board when the war folded. It was to fly from Japan to the west coast of the United States, drop its bomb load,and, return back.

The Japanese focused on developing bacteriological weapons for which a secret factory was set up in Manchuria. Hence they did not develop jet fighters.

German philosopher: Karl Ernst Haushofer (27 August 1869 – 10 March 1946) was a German general, geographer and politician. Through his student Rudolf Hess, Haushofer’s ideas influenced the development of Adolf Hitler’s expansionist strategies, although Haushofer denied direct influence on Nazi Germany. Under the Nuremberg Laws, Haushofer’s wife and children were categorized as Mischlinge. His son, Albrecht, was issued a German Blood Certificate through the help of Hess.

Centre: Father Edmund A. Walsh, professor of geopolitics and Dean at Georgetown University.

Albrecht Haushofer in War plans

Quick Facts

  • Birth name: Karl Ernst Haushofer
  • Born: 27 August 1869, Munich
  • Died: 10 March 1946 (aged 76)
  • Allegiance: German Empire
  • Branch: Imperial German Army
  • Years of service: 1887–1919
  • Rank: Major general
  • Spouse(s): Martha Mayer-Doss, married 1896; died 1945.
  • Children: Albrecht Haushofer
  • Other work: Professor at University of Munich

Life and career

Haushofer belonged to a family of artists and scholars. He was born in Munich to Max Haushofer, a well-known professor of economics, politician and author of both academic and literary works, and Adele Haushofer (née Fraas). On his graduation from the Munich Gymnasium (high school), in 1887, Haushofer entered the 1st Field Artillery regiment (Prinzregent Luitpold) of the Bavarian Army and completed Kriegsschule, Artillerieschule and War Academy (Kingdom of Bavaria). In 1896, he married Martha Mayer-Doss (1877–1946) whose father was Jewish. They had two sons, Albrecht Haushofer and Heinz Haushofer (1906–1988). In 1903, he accepted a teaching position at the Bavarian War Academy.

In November 1908, Haushofer was ordered to Tokyo as a military attache to study the Imperial Japanese Army and as a military advisor in artillery instruction. He travelled with his wife via India and South East Asia and arrived in February 1909. He was received by Emperor Meiji and became acquainted with many important people in politics and the armed forces. In autumn 1909, he travelled with his wife for a month to Korea and Manchuria on the occasion of a railway construction. In June 1910, they returned to Germany via Russia and arrived one month later. However, shortly after returning to Bavaria, he began to suffer from a severe lung disease and was given a leave from the army for three years.

During his convalescence, from 1911 to 1913, Haushofer would work on his doctorate of philosophy from Munich University for a thesis on Japan titled, “Reflections on Greater Japan’s Military Strength, World Position, and Future.”

(Dai Nihon, Betrachtungen über Groß-Japans Wehrkraft, Weltstellung und Zukunft). He established himself as one of Germany’s foremost experts regarding the Far East, and co-founded the geopolitical monthly Zeitschrift für Geopolitik (ZfG), which he would co-edit until it was suspended towards the end of World War II.

Haushofer continued his career as a professional soldier after the annexation of Bavaria by Germany, serving in the army of Imperial Germany and returning to teach War History at the Military Academy in Munich.

During World War I, he served as a commanding officer, and commanded a brigade on the western front. He retired with the rank of major general in 1919; however, he became disillusioned after Germany’s loss and severe sanctioning. Around the same time, he forged a friendship with the young Rudolf Hess, who would become his scientific assistant and later the deputy leader of the Nazi Party. Their familiarity formed the basis of the mistaken assumption of an equally close contact between Haushofer and Hitler.

Haushofer entered academia with the aim of restoring and regenerating Germany. Haushofer believed the Germans’ lack of geographical knowledge and geopolitical awareness to be a major cause of Germany’s defeat in World War I, as Germany had found itself with a disadvantageous alignment of allies and enemies. The fields of political and geographical science thus became his areas of specialty. In 1919, Haushofer became Privatdozent for political geography at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and in 1933 professor, although he declined a formal position and salary, as this would have interfered with his military pension.

Haushofer also broadcast monthly radio lectures on the international political situation from 1925 to 1931 and from 1933 to 1939. This Weltpolitischer Monatsbericht made him a household name in contemporary Germany, and he came to be known in circles far removed from academia. He was a founding member of the Deutsche Akademie, of which he served as president from 1934 to 1937. He was a prolific writer, publishing hundreds of articles, reviews, commentaries, obituaries and books, many of which were on Asian topics, and he arranged for many leaders in the Nazi party and in the German military to receive copies of his works.

Louis Pauwels, in his book Monsieur Gurdjieff, describes Haushofer as a former student of George Gurdjieff. Others, including Pauwels, said that Haushofer created a Vril society and that he was a secret member of the Thule Society. Stefan Zweig speaks warmly of him but says history will have to judge how far he knowingly contributed to Nazi doctrine, as more documentation becomes available. Zweig credits him with the concept of Lebensraum, used in a psychological sense of a nation’s relative energies.

After the establishment of the Nazis, Haushofer remained friendly with Hess, who protected Haushofer and his wife from the racial laws of the Nazis, which deemed her a “half-Jew”. During the prewar years, Haushofer was instrumental in linking Japan to the Axis powers, acting in accordance with the theories of his book Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean.

After the July 20 Plot to assassinate Hitler, Haushofer’s son Albrecht (1903–1945) went into hiding but was arrested on 7 December 1944 and put into the Moabit prison in Berlin. During the night of 22–23 April 1945, he and other prisoners, such as Klaus Bonhoeffer, were walked out of the prison by an SS-squad and shot. Beginning on 24 September 1945, Karl Haushofer was informally interrogated by Father Edmund A. Walsh on behalf of the Allied forces to determine whether he should stand trial for war crimes; Walsh determined that he had not committed any.

On the night of 10–11 March 1946, he and his wife committed suicide in a secluded hollow on their Hartschimmelhof estate at Pähl/Ammersee. Both drank arsenic and his wife then hanged herself.


Haushofer developed Geopolitik from widely varied sources, including the writings of Oswald Spengler, Alexander Humboldt, Karl Ritter, Friedrich Ratzel, Rudolf Kjellén, and Halford J. Mackinder.

Geopolitik contributed to Nazi foreign policy chiefly in the strategy and justifications for lebensraum. The theories contributed five ideas to German foreign policy in the interwar period:

• organic state

• lebensraum

• autarky

• pan-regions

• land power/sea power dichotomy.

Geostrategy as a political science is both descriptive and analytical like political geography but adds a normative element in its strategic prescriptions for national policy. While some of Haushofer’s ideas stem from earlier American and British geostrategy, German geopolitik adopted an essentialist outlook toward the national interest, oversimplifying issues and representing itself as a panacea. As a new and essentialist ideology, geopolitik found itself in a position to prey upon the post-World War I insecurity of the populace.

Haushofer’s position in the University of Munich served as a platform for the spread of his geopolitical ideas, magazine articles, and books. In 1922, he founded the Institute of Geopolitics in Munich, from which he proceeded to publicize geopolitical ideas. By 1924, as the leader of the German geopolitik school of thought, Haushofer would establish the Zeitschrift für Geopolitik monthly devoted to geopolitik. His ideas would reach a wider audience with the publication of Volk ohne Raum by Hans Grimm in 1926, popularizing his concept of lebensraum. Haushofer exercised influence both through his academic teachings, urging his students to think in terms of continents and emphasizing motion in international politics, and through his political activities. While Hitler’s speeches would attract the masses, Haushofer’s works served to bring the remaining intellectuals into the fold.

Geopolitik was essentially a consolidation and codification of older ideas, given a scientific gloss:

• Lebensraum was a revised colonial imperialism

• Autarky a new expression of tariff protectionism

• Strategic control of key geographic territories exhibiting the same thought behind earlier designs on the Suez and Panama Canals; a view of controlling the land in the same way as those choke points control the sea

• Pan-regions (Panideen) based upon the British Empire, and the American Monroe Doctrine, Pan-American Union and hemispheric defence, whereby the world is divided into spheres of influence.

• Frontiers – His view of barriers between peoples not being political (borders) or natural placements of races or ethnicities but as being fluid and determined by the will or needs of ethnic/racial groups.

• The key reorientation in each dyad is that the focus is on land-based empire rather than naval imperialism.

Ostensibly based upon the geopolitical theory of American naval expert Alfred Thayer Mahan, and British geographer Halford J. Mackinder, German geopolitik adds older German ideas. Enunciated most forcefully by Friedrich Ratzel and his Swedish student Rudolf Kjellén, they include an organic or anthropomorphized conception of the state, and the need for self-sufficiency through the top-down organization of society. The root of uniquely German geopolitik rests in the writings of Karl Ritter who first developed the organic conception of the state that would later be elaborated upon by Ratzel and accepted by Hausfhofer. He justified lebensraum, even at the cost of other nations’ existence because conquest was a biological necessity for a state’s growth.

Ratzel’s writings coincided with the growth of German industrialism after the Franco-Prussian war and the subsequent search for markets that brought it into competition with Britain. His writings served as welcome justification for imperial expansion. Influenced by Mahan, Ratzel wrote of aspirations for German naval reach, agreeing that sea power was self-sustaining, as the profit from trade would pay for the merchant marine, unlike land power. Haushofer was exposed to Ratzel, who was friends with Haushofer’s father, a teacher of economic geography, and would integrate Ratzel’s ideas on the division between sea and land powers into his theories, saying that only a country with both could overcome this conflict.

Haushofer’s geopolitik expands upon that of Ratzel and Kjellén. While the latter two conceive of geopolitik as the state as an organism in space put to the service of a leader, Haushofer’s Munich school specifically studies geography as it relates to war and designs for empire. The behavioral rules of previous geopoliticians were thus turned into dynamic normative doctrines for action on lebensraum and world power.

Haushofer defined geopolitik in 1935 as “the duty to safeguard the right to the soil, to the land in the widest sense, not only the land within the frontiers of the Reich, but the right to the more extensive Volk and cultural lands.” Culture itself was seen as the most conducive element to dynamic special expansion. It provided a guide as to the best areas for expansion, and could make expansion safe, whereas projected military or commercial power could not. Haushofer even held that urbanization was a symptom of a nation’s decline, evidencing a decreasing soil mastery, birthrate and effectiveness of centralized rule.

To Haushofer, the existence of a state depended on living space, the pursuit of which must serve as the basis for all policies. Germany had a high population density, but the old colonial powers had a much lower density, a virtual mandate for German expansion into resource-rich areas. Space was seen as military protection against initial assaults from hostile neighbours with long-range weaponry. A buffer zone of territories or insignificant states on one’s borders would serve to protect Germany. Closely linked to that need was Haushofer’s assertion that the existence of small states was evidence of political regression and disorder in the international system. The small states surrounding Germany ought to be brought into the vital German order. These states were seen as being too small to maintain practical autonomy even if they maintained large colonial possessions and would be better served by protection and organization within Germany. In Europe, he saw Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece and the “mutilated alliance” of Austro-Hungary as supporting his assertion.

Haushofer’s version of autarky was based on the quasi-Malthusian idea that the earth would become saturated with people and no longer able to provide food for all. There would essentially be no increases in productivity.

Haushofer and the Munich school of geopolitik would eventually expand their conception of lebensraum and autarky well past the borders of 1914 and “a place in the sun” to a New European Order, then to a New Afro-European Order, and eventually to a Eurasian Order. That concept became known as a pan-region, taken from the American Monroe Doctrine, and the idea of national and continental self-sufficiency. That was a forward-looking refashioning of the drive for colonies, something that geopoliticians did not see as an economic necessity but more as a matter of prestige, putting pressure on older colonial powers. The fundamental motivating force would be not economic but cultural and spiritual. Haushofer was, what is called today, a proponent of “Eurasianism”, advocating a policy of German–Russian hegemony and alliance to offset an Anglo-American power structure’s potentially dominating influence in Europe.

Beyond being an economic concept, pan-regions were a strategic concept as well. Haushofer acknowledges the strategic concept of the Heartland Theory put forward by the British geopolitician Halford Mackinder. If Germany could control Eastern Europe and subsequently Russian territory, it could control a strategic area to which hostile seapower could be denied. Allying with Italy and Japan would further augment German strategic control of Eurasia, with those states becoming the naval arms protecting Germany’s insular position.

Contacts with Nazi leadership

Evidence points to a disconnect between the advocates of geopolitik and Hitler, although their practical tactical goals were nearly indistinguishable.

Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s secretary who would assist in the writing of Mein Kampf, was a close student of Haushofer’s. While Hess and Hitler were imprisoned after the Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Haushofer spent six hours visiting the two, bringing along a copy of Friedrich Ratzel’s Political Geography and Clausewitz’s On War. After World War II, Haushofer would deny that he had taught Hitler, and claimed that the National Socialist Party perverted Hess’s study of geopolitik. Hitler’s biographers disagree somewhat on the extent of Haushofer’s influence on Hitler: Ian Kershaw writes that “[his] influence was probably greater than the Munich professor was later prepared to acknowledge,” while Joachim C. Fest says that “Hitler’s version of [Haushofer’s] ideas was distinctly his own.” Haushofer himself viewed Hitler as a half-educated man who never correctly understood the geopolitik principles explained by Hess, and saw Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop as the principal distorter of geopolitik in Hitler’s mind.

Although Haushofer accompanied Hess on numerous propaganda missions, and participated in consultations between Nazis and Japanese leaders, he claimed that Hitler and the Nazis only seized upon half-developed ideas and catchwords. Furthermore, the Nazi party and government lacked any official organ that was receptive to geopolitik, leading to selective adoption and poor interpretation of Haushofer’s theories. Ultimately, Hess and Konstantin von Neurath, Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, were the only officials Haushofer would admit had a proper understanding of geopolitik.

Father Edmund A. Walsh, professor of geopolitics and dean at Georgetown University, who interviewed Haushofer after the allied victory in preparation for the Nuremberg trials, disagreed with Haushofer’s assessment that geopolitik was terribly distorted by Hitler and the Nazis. He cites Hitler’s speeches declaring that small states have no right to exist, and the Nazi use of Haushofer’s maps, language and arguments. Even if distorted somewhat, Walsh felt that was enough to implicate Haushofer’s geopolitik.

Haushofer also denied assisting Hitler in writing Mein Kampf, saying that he only knew of it once it was in print, and never read it. Walsh found that even if Haushofer did not directly assist Hitler, discernible new elements appeared in Mein Kampf, as compared to previous speeches made by Hitler. Geopolitical ideas of lebensraum, space for depth of defense, appeals for natural frontiers, balancing land and seapower, and geographic analysis of military strategy entered Hitler’s thought between his imprisonment and publishing of Mein Kampf. Chapter XIV, on German policy in Eastern Europe, in particular displays the influence of the materials Haushofer brought Hitler and Hess while they were imprisoned.

Haushofer was never a member of the Nazi Party, and did voice disagreements with the party, leading to his brief imprisonment. Haushofer came under suspicion because of his contacts with left wing socialist figures within the Nazi movement (led by Gregor Strasser) and his advocacy of essentially a German–Russian alliance. This Nazi left wing had some connections to the Communist Party of Germany and some of its leaders, especially those who were influenced by the National Bolshevist philosophy of a German–Russian revolutionary alliance, as advocated by Ernst Niekisch, Julius Evola, Ernst Jünger, Hielscher and other figures of the “conservative revolution.” He did profess loyalty to the Führer and make anti-Semitic remarks on occasion. However, his emphasis was always on space over race, believing in environmental rather than racial determinism. He refused to associate himself with anti-Semitism as a policy, especially because his wife was half-Jewish. Haushofer admits that after 1933 much of what he wrote was distorted under duress: his wife had to be protected by Hess’s influence (who managed to have her awarded ‘honorary German’ status); his son was implicated in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed by the Gestapo; he himself was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp for eight months; and his son and grandson were imprisoned for two-and-a-half months.

The idea of contact between Haushofer and the Nazi establishment has been stressed by several authors. These authors have expanded Haushofer’s contact with Hitler to a close collaboration while Hitler was writing Mein Kampf and made him one of the ‘future Chancellor’s many mentors’. Haushofer may have been a short-term student of Gurdjieff, that he had studied Zen Buddhism, and that he had been initiated at the hands of Tibetan lamas, although these notions are debated.

The influence of Haushofer on Nazi ideology is dramatized in the 1943 short documentary film, Plan for Destruction, which was nominated for an Academy Award.


• English Translation and Analysis of Major General Karl Ernst Haushofer’s Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean: Studies on the Relationship between Geography and History ISBN 0-7734-7122-7

• Das Japanische Reich in seiner geographischen Entwicklung (L.W. Seidel & sohn, 1921 Wien)

• Geopolitik des Pazifischen Ozeans. (1925)

• Bausteine zur Geopolitik. (1928)

• Weltpolitik von heute. (Zeitgeschichte-Verlag Wilhelm Undermann, 1934)[48]

• Napoleon I., Lübeck : Coleman, 1935

• Kitchener, Lübeck : Coleman, 1935

• Foch, Lübeck : Coleman, 1935

• Weltmeere und Weltmächte, Berlin : Zeitgeschichte Verlag, 1937

• Deutsche Kulturpolitik im indopazifischen Raum, Hamburg : Hoffmann u. Campe, 1939

• Grenzen in ihrer geographischen und politischen Bedeutung, Heidelberg; Berlin; Magdeburg : Vowinckel, 1939

• Wehr-Geopolitik : Geogr. Grundlagen e. Wehrkunde, Berlin : Junker u. Dünnhaupt, 1941

• Japan baut sein Reich, Berlin : Zeitgeschichte-Verlag Wilhelm Undermann, 1941

• Das Werden des deutschen Volkes : Von d. Vielfalt d. Stämme zur Einheit d. Nation, Berlin : Propyläen-Verl., 1941

• Der Kontinentalblock : Mitteleuropa, Eurasien, Japan, Berlin : Eher, 1941

• Das Reich : Großdeutsches Werder im Abendland, Berlin : Habel, 1943

• Geopolitische Grundlagen, Verleger Berlin; Wien : Industrieverl. Spaeth & Linde, 1939.

• De la géopolitique, Paris: Fayard, 1986.

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Mercedes-Benz Model 280

 Mercedes-Benz has sold several automobiles with the “280” model name.

1959–1968 W111
1967–1971 280SE Coupe & Cabrio
1969–1971 280SE 3.5 Coupe & Cabrio
1968–1971 W113
1968–1971 280SL
1968-1973 W108
1968-1972 280SEL
1968-1972 280SE
1969-1971 280S
1971-1973 280SEL 3.5 (& 4.5-North America only)
1971-1973 280SE 3.5 (& 4.5-North America only)
1972-1976 W114
1972-1976 280
1973-1976 280C + 280CE
1975-1980 W116
1975-1976 280S
1977-1980 280SE + SEL
1977-1981 W123
1977-1981 280E
1975/12-1986/01 W123
1975/12-1981/07 280
1975/12-1985/12 280E
1977/04-1980/03 280C
1977/04-1985/08 280CE
1978/05-1986/01 280TE
1994 W202
1994 C280

The Mercedes-Benz W108 and W109 are luxury cars produced by Mercedes-Benz from 1965 through to 1972 and 1973 in North America only. The line was an update of the predecessor W111 and W112 fin tail sedans. The cars were successful in West Germany and in export markets including North America and Southeast Asia. During the seven-year run, a total of 383,361 units were manufactured.

 Car evolution

W108 Mercedes-Ben
W108 Mercedes -Benz

The car’s predecessor, the Mercedes-Benz W111 (produced 1959–1971) helped Daimler develop greater sales and achieve economy of scale production. Whereas in the 1950s, Mercedes-Benz was producing the coachwork 300 S and 300 SLs and all but hand-built 300 Adenauers alongside conveyor assembled Pontons (190, 190SL and 220) etc., the fintail (German: Heckflosse) family united the entire Mercedes-Benz range of vehicles onto one automobile platform, reducing production time and costs. However, the design fashion of the early 1960s changed. For example, the tail fins, originally intended to improve aerodynamic stability, died out within a few years as a fashion accessory. By the time the 2-door coupe and cabriolet W111s were launched, the fins lost their chrome trim and sharp appearance, the arrival of the W113 Pagoda in 1963 saw them further buried into the trunk’s contour, and finally disappeared on the W100 600 in 1964.

The upgrade of the W111 began under the leadership of designer Paul Bracq in 1961 and ended in 1963. Although the fins’ departure was the most visible change, the W108 compared to the W111 had a lower body waist line that increased the window area, (the windscreen was 17 percent larger than W111). The cars had a lower ride (a decrease by 60 mm) and wider doors (+15 mm). The result was a visibly new car with a sleeker appearance and an open and spacious interior.

The suspension system featured a reinforced rear axle with hydropneumatic compensating spring. The car sat on larger wheels (14”) and had disc brakes on front and rear. The W109 was identical to the W108 but featured an extended wheelbase of 115 mm (4.5 in) and self-levelling air suspension. This was a successor to the W112 300SEL that was originally intended as an interim car between the 300 “Adenauer” (W189) and the 600 (W100) limousines. However, its success as “premium flagship” convinced Daimler to add an LWB car to the model range. From that moment on, all future S-Class models would feature a LWB line.

Although the W108 succeeded the W111 as a premium range full-size car, it did not replace it. Production of the W111 continued, however the 230S was now downgraded to the mid-range series, the Mercedes-Benz W110, and marketed as a flagship of that family until their production ceased in 1968. The W108 is popular with collectors and the most desirable models to collect are the early floor shift models with the classic round gear knob and the 300 SEL’s.

Initial range


W109 300SEL

The car was premièred at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1965. The initial model lineup consisted of three W108s: 250S, 250SE, and 300SE, as well as a sole W109, the 300SEL. Engines for the new car were carried over from the previous generation but enlarged and refined.

The 250S was the entry-level vehicle fitted with a 2496 cm³ Straight-six M108 engine, with two dual downdraft carburettors, delivering 130 bhp (97 kW) at 5400 rpm which accelerated the car to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 13 seconds (14 on automatic transmission) and gave a top speed of 182 km/h (177 on auto).

The 250SE featured an identical straight-six, but with a six-plunger fuel injection (designated M129) with performance improved to 150 bhp (110 kW) at 5500 rpm, which decreased 0-100 acceleration by one second and increased top speed by 11 km/h (7 mph) for both manual and automatic versions.

Both the 300SE and 300SEL came with the M189 2996 cm³ engine, originally developed for the Adenauers. It had a modern six-plunger pump that adjusted automatically to accelerator pedal pressure, engine speed, atmospheric pressure, and cooling water temperature, to deliver the proper mixture depending on driving conditions. Producing 170 bhp (130 kW) at 5,400 rpm the cars could accelerate to 200 km/h (195 km/h with automatic transmission) and reach 100 km/h (62 mph) in 12 seconds. The cylinder capacity of the three litre Mercedes engine was unchanged since 1951. From 1965 to 1967, fewer than 3,000 W109s were produced. However, approximately 130,000 of the less powerful 250 S/SE models were built during the first two years of the W108/109’s existence. By 1967 the fuel consumption of the 3 litre unit in this application was becoming increasingly uncompetitive.

New generation 

A W108 in France: note the Selective yellow headlights, mandatory for vehicles registered in France until 1993 

During the winter of 1967/1968 Daimler launched its new generation family of vehicles, called Stroke eight for the model year. The headline was the new W114 and W115 family, built on a new chassis, but the existing models were given an upgrade with a single engine, the 2778 cc M130.

The W108 now included 280S and 280SE, with production starting in November 1967. These replaced the 250S, 250SE and 300SE, however production of export-designated 250S would continue until March 1969. For the W109, the 300SEL finally retired the M189 engine, and received the 280Se’s 2.8 M130. In January 1968, the model line was joined by yet another car, the 280SEL. The car had the longer wheelbase of the W109 but lacked the pneumatic suspension and other features of the 300SEL. Hence the chassis code remained W108.

Performance on the cars improved. On the 280S the two downdraft carburettors produced 140 hp (100 kW) and could push the car to 185 km/h (180 on auto), whilst 0-100 was done in 12.5 seconds. The fuel-injected delivered 160 hp (120 kW) and featured a new pump which was not affected by temperature or altitude. Thanks to the air oil filter and better arrangement of cylinders, cooling and hence economy improved. Performance of the 280SE, 280SEL and 300SEL was all but identical, a top speed of 190 km/h (185 on auto) and a 0-100 acceleration in 10.5 seconds for the W108s, the W109 due to its larger weight, took slightly longer, 12.2 seconds.

Back in 1964, Mercedes-Benz launched its top-range W100 limousine which featured an OHC 6.3 litre V8 engine. However, the hand-assembly of the limousine and its very high price limited the sale of the car, whilst the size and weight affected performance. In 1966 company engineer Erich Waxenberger transplanted a big V8 into a standard W109, creating the first Mercedes-Benz muscle car and Q-car.

Despite the large size of the W109, the automaker claimed 0-62 mph (0–100 km/h) time of 6.6 seconds. Full-scale production began in December 1967. Claimed as the fastest production sedan (top speed of 220 km/h), the 300SEL 6.3, held this title for many years. West Germany’s stringently applied trade description laws and figures resulted in these figures being under quoted. The 6.3 also introduced a new numbering scheme, whereby the model name described the parent model and the engine displacement was separate. This nomenclature was used by Mercedes-Benz until the introduction of the class system in 1993.

Later models


A very late 280SE, from July 1972 with a standard straight 6-cylinder engine 

The 300SEL 6.3 was a special model and production of the fuel-thirsty M100 engines was limited. As new models were being developed the export markets had to be considered, and the United States in particular. The American car production by the late 1960s has largely switched to V8 powered cars, and Mercedes-Benz had to produce its own eight-cylinder engine to stay competitive.

The new engines arrived in late 1969. The first was the 200 hp (150 kW) M116 3499 cc V8 with Bosch D-Jetronic electronic fuel injection and was shown fitted to the W109 on the Frankfurt Auto Show. The car was christened the 300SEL 3.5. Its performance included a top speed of 200 km/h (124 mph) and 0–100 km/h in 10 seconds. During summer of 1970, the M116 was added to the W108 lineup on both regular and LWB, the 280SE 3.5 and the 280SEL 3.5 respectively.

The next year saw the 2-door W111s and the W113 Pagoda roadsters being phased out of production. This left the W108 and W109 as the sole survivors of the ageing family. However, the arrival of the big-block 4520 cc 225 hp (168 kW) M117 engine allowed for a final set of vehicles to be launched in the spring of 1971, the W108 280SE 4.5 and 280SEL 4.5 and the W109 300SEL 4.5. This was destined solely for the US market. Performance improved, top speed – 205 km/h, 0-100 – 9.5 seconds.

However, as the mainstream V8 models were being introduced, production was already ending. The straight-six 300SEL was finished in January 1970, and in April 1971 the 280SEL followed. The 280SE 3.5 and 280SEL W108s were retired in summer of 1972. In September the last 300SEL 3.5 and the 6.3 rolled off the conveyors. A month later, the final 300SEL 4.5 ended the W109’s output, and in November saw the final models of the W108 280SE and 280SEL 4.5s end a seven-year history.



The W108/W109, thanks to its simple yet iconic design, became a timeless classic

 Although many critics described the car as a “fintail without the fintails”, the vehicle was an amazing success. Mostly, due its simple and square contours, it is not remembered for its looks, though some argue that it was thanks to such design that the car has such a timeless charm, but instead it was very well known for its reliability and durability, as proof of excellent German engineering. Last, but not least, the car ended nearly a full decade of the Ponton family (1953–1962), thanks to which, Mercedes-Benz went from a ruined post-WWII marque to one of European and World leaders in automotive industry. It was succeeded by the W116, a car which brought a new household name for any car, the S-class.


Mercedes Benz W108 interior in MB-Tex, with manual window winders. (1968, Australian delivered) 

 The W108/W109 vehicles carried over many of the basic engineering principles from previous models but had many refinements to make them some of the most well-equipped cars of the era. The 300SE and 300SEL were especially well-appointed, featuring burled walnut dashboards, automatic transmission and power windows. The 300SEL 4.5 featured a sophisticated and advanced 4.5L V8 petrol engine, which was carried over to the W116 S-class and R107 SL roadster, as was the smaller 3.5L unit.


The standard transmission for Europe was a four-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed automatic option was also available. Unusual among mainstream European automakers of the time, Mercedes developed and built their own automatic transmission system. For the six-cylinder models only, a five-speed manual gearbox was also offered, from 1969, though few customers opted for it.

When the V8-engined cars were introduced in 1970, the default transmission was the four-speed automatic, driven via a fluid coupling rather than the more usual torque converter. Buyers could still opt for a four-speed manual box, however, and benefitted from a price reduction if they did so. The 4.5 litre version (offered from 1971 but only in the United States), was fitted with a three-speed automatic box with a torque converter. This engine/transmission combination became more widely available when incorporated in the successor model.

thumbnail_IMG_2929Mercedes-Benz 280SE (US)


thumbnail_IMG_2928A late model, with a 3.5 V8 engine



Model Chassis code Production time Number built Engine
250S W108.012 07/65–03/69 74,677 2.5 L M108 I6
250SE W108.014 08/65–01/68 55,181 2.5 L M129 I6
300SEb W108.015 08/65–12/67 2,737 3.0 L M189 I6
280S W108.016 11/67–09/72 93,666 2.8 L M130 I6
280SE W108.018 11/67–09/72 91,051 2.8 L M130 I6
280SEL W108.019 01/68–04/71 8,250 2.8 L M130 I6
280SE 3.5 W108.057 07/70–09/72 11,309 3.5 L M116 V8
280SEL 3.5 W108.058 06/70–08/72 951 3.5 L M116 V8
280SE 4.5 W108.067 04/71–11/72 13,527 4.5 L M117 V8
280SEL 4.5 W108.068 05/71–11/72 8,173 4.5 L M117 V8


Model Chassis code Production time Number built Engine
300SEL W109.015 09/65–12/67 2,369 3.0 L M189 I6
300SEL W109.016 12/67–01/70 2,519 2.8 L M130 I6
300SEL 6.3 W109.018 12/67–09/72 6,526 6.3 L M100 V8
300SEL 3.5 W109.056 08/69–09/72 9,483 3.5 L M116 V8
300SEL 4.5 W109.057 05/71–10/72 2,533 4.5 L M117 V

Courtesy of:

By Klaus D. Peter, Wiehl, Germany – Own work, CC BY 2.0 de,

 By DirebearHugs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

 By Robotriot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,