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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
• 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)
• 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
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 escape of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 was largely due to Hitler’s personal intervention. After his tanks had overrun the north of France and cut off the British army from its base, Hitler held them up just as they were about to sweep into Dunkirk – which was the last remaining port of escape left open to the British. At that moment the bulk of the B.E.F. was still many miles distant from the port. But Hitler kept his tanks halted for three days. His action preserved the British forces when nothing else could have saved them. By making it possible for them to escape he enabled them to rally in England, continue the war, and man the coasts to defy the threat of invasion. Thereby he produced his own ultimate downfall, and Germany’s five years later. Acutely aware of the narrowness of the escape but ignorant of its cause, the British people spoke of the miracle of Dunkirk. After cutting the lines of supply to the Allied left wing in Belgium, Guderian’s panzer corps had reached the sea near Abbeville on the 20th. Then he wheeled north, heading for the Channel ports and the rear of the British army – which was still in Belgium, facing the frontal advance of Bock’s infantry forces. On Guderian’s right in this northward drive was Reinhardt’s panzer corps, which was also part of the Kleist’s group.
On the 22nd, Boulogne was isolated by his advance, and on the next day Calais. This stride brought him to Gravelines, barely ten miles from Dunkirk – the British Expeditionary Force’s last remaining port of escape. Reinhardt’s panzer corps also arrived on the canal line Aire-St Omer-Gravelines. But there the continuation of the drive was stopped by orders from above. The panzer leaders were told to hold their forces back behind the line of the canal. They bombarded their superiors with urgent queries and protests, but were told that it was the Fuhrer’s personal order.
Before probing deeper into the roots of that saving intervention let us see what was happening on the British side, and follow the course of that grand-scale escape. On the 16th General Lord Gort, the Commander-in-Chief, brought the B.E.F. a step back from its advanced line in front of Brussels. But before it arrived in its new position on the Scheldt, that position had been undermined by Guderian cutting the B.E.F.’s communications far to the south. On the 19th the Cabinet heard that Gort was examining a possible withdrawal towards Dunkirk if that were forced upon him. The Cabinet, however, sent him orders to march south into France and force his way through the German net that had been flung across his rear – though they were told that he had only four days’ supplies and ammunition sufficient for one battle.
These instructions accorded with the new plan which Gamelin, the French Commander-in-Chief, had belatedly made and issued that morning. In the evening Gamelin was sacked and replaced by Weygand, whose first act was to cancel Gamelin’s order, while he studied the situation. After three days’ further delay he produced a plan similar to his predecessor’s. It proved no more than a paper plan.
Meanwhile Gort, though arguing that the Cabinet’s instructions were impracticable, had tried an attack southward from Arras with two of his thirteen divisions and the only tank brigade that had been sent to France. When this counterstrike was launched on the 21st it had boiled down to an advance by two weak tank battalions followed by two infantry battalions. The tanks made some progress but were not backed up, the infantry being shaken by dive-bombing. The neighbouring French First Army was to have cooperated with two of its thirteen divisions, but its actual contribution was slight. During these days the French were repeatedly paralysed by the moral effect of the German dive-bombers and the swift manoeuvring tanks.
It is remarkable, however, what a disturbing effect this little armoured counterstroke had on some of the German higher commanders. For a moment it led them to think of stopping the advance of their own tank spearheads. Rundstedt himself described it as a critical moment, saying: For a short time, it was feared that our armoured divisions would be cut off before the infantry divisions could come up to support them. Such an effect showed what a vital difference to the issue might have been made if this British riposte had been made with two armoured divisions instead of merely two tank battalions.
After the flash-in-the-pan at Arras the Allied armies in the north made no further effort to break out of the trap, while the belated offensive from the south that Weygand planned was so feeble as to be almost farcical. It was easily baulked by the barricade which the German motorised divisions had quickly built up along the Somme, to keep out interference, while the panzer divisions drove northward to close the trap. With such slow-motion forces as Weygand commanded, his grandiloquent orders had no more chance of practical effect than Churchill’s adjurations to the armies to cast away the idea of resisting attack behind concrete lines or natural obstacles and regain the mastery by furious, unrelenting assault.
Whilst the highest circles continued to debate impracticable plans, the cut-off armies in the north were falling back on a slant closer to the coast. They were under increasing frontal pressure from Bock’s infantry armies – though they were spared a deadly stab in the back from the panzer forces.
On the 24th Weygand bitterly complained that the British Army had carried out, on its own initiative, a retreat of twenty-five miles towards the ports at a time when our troops moving up from the south are gaining ground towards the north, where they were to meet their allies. In fact, the French troops from the south had made no perceptible progress and the British were not yet retreating – Weygand’s words merely showed the state of unreality in which he was living.
But on the evening of the 25th Gort took the definite decision to retreat to the sea, at Dunkirk. Forty-eight hours earlier, the German panzer forces had already arrived on the canal line only ten miles from the port. On the 26th the British Cabinet allowed the War Office to send him a telegram approving his step and authorised him to carry out such a retirement. Next day a further telegram told him to evacuate his force by sea.
That same day the Belgian Army’s line cracked in the centre under Bock’s attack, and no reserves were left at hand to fill the gap. King Leopold had already sent repeated warnings to Churchill through Admiral Keyes, that the situation was becoming hopeless. Now, at a stroke, it was so. Most of Belgium had already been overrun and the army had its back close to the sea, penned in a narrow strip of land that was packed with civilian refugees. So, in the late afternoon the King decided to sue for armistice- and ceasefire was sounded early the next morning.
The Belgians’ surrender increased the danger that the B.E.F. would be cut off before it could reach Dunkirk. Churchill had just sent King Leopold an appeal to hold on, which he privately described to Gort as asking them to sacrifice themselves for us. It is understandable that the encircled Belgians already aware that the B.E.F. was preparing to evacuate, did not see that appeal in the same light as Churchill. Nor was King Leopold willing to follow Churchill’s advice that he should himself escape by aeroplane before too late. The King felt that he must stay with his Army and people. His decision may have been unwise in the long view, but in the circumstances of the time it was an honourable choice. Churchill’s subsequent criticisms of it were hardly fair, while the violent denunciations made by the French Prime Minister and press were grossly unjust – considering the way that the Belgian downfall had been produced by the collapse of the French defence on the Meuse.
The British retreat to the coast now became a race to re-embark before the German trap closed – notwithstanding bitter French protests and reproaches. It was fortunate that preparatory measures had begun in England a week before – although on a different assumption. On the 20th Churchill had approved steps to assemble a large number of small vessels in readiness to proceed to ports and inlets on the French coast, with the idea that they might help in rescuing bits of the B.E.F. that might be cut off as it tried to push south into France, under the existing plan. The Admiralty lost no time in preparing. Admiral Ramsay, commanding at Dover, had been placed in operational control on the previous day, the 19th. A number of ferry-craft, naval drifters and small coasters were at once collected for what was called Operation Dynamo. From Harwich round to Weymouth, sea transport officers were directed to list all ships up to a thousand tons. In the days that followed the situation became rapidly worse, and it was soon clear to the Admiralty that Dunkirk would be the only possible route of evacuation. Dynamo was put into operation on the afternoon of the 26th – twenty-four hours before the Belgian appeal for an armistice, and also before the Cabinet had authorised the evacuation.
At first it was not expected that more than a small fraction of the B.E.F. could be saved. The Admiralty told Ramsay to aim at bringing away 45,000 within two days, and that it was probable the enemy would by then have made further evacuation impossible. Actually, only 25,000 were landed in England by the night of the 28th. It was fortunate that the period of grace proved considerably longer. For the first five days the rate of evacuation was restricted by an insufficiency of small boats to carry troops from the beaches to the ships waiting offshore. This need, though pointed out by Ramsay originally, had not been adequately met. But the Admiralty now made more extensive efforts to provide them and to man them, the naval personnel being reinforced by a host of civilian volunteers – fishermen, lifeboatmen, yachtsmen, and others who had some experience in handling boats. Ramsay recorded that one of the best performances was that of the crew of e fire-float Massey Shaw from the London Fire Brigade.
At first, too, there was much confusion on the beaches, owing to the disorganised state of the troops waiting to embark – at that time largely base personnel. Ramsay considered that it was aggravated by the fact that Army officers’ uniform is indistinguishable from that of other ranks, and found that the appearance of Naval officers in their unmistakable uniforms, helped to restore order . . . Later on, when troops of fighting formations reached the beaches these difficulties disappeared. The first heavy air attack came on the evening of the 29th and it was only by good fortune that the vital Dunkirk Harbour channel was not blocked by sinking ships at this early date. Its preservation was the more important because the majority of the troops were embarked from the harbour and less than one-third from the beaches.
In the next three days the air attacks increased and on June 2 daylight evacuation had to be suspended. The fighters of the R.A.F. from airfields in southern England, did their utmost to keep the Luftwaffe at bay, but, being outnumbered and unable to stay long over the area because of the distance, they could not maintain anything like adequate cover. The oft-repeated bombing attacks were a severe strain on the troops waiting on the beaches though the soft sand blanketed the effects. Far more material damage was done over the sea where the losses included six destroyers, eight personnel ships, and over two hundred small craft- out of a total 860 British and Allied vessels of all sizes employed in the evacuation. It was very lucky that the German Navy made very little attempt to interfere, either with U-boats or E-boats. Happily, too, the evacuation was favoured by extremely good weather.
By May 30, 126,000 troops had been evacuated, while all the rest of the B.E.F. had arrived in the Dunkirk bridgehead – except for fragments that were cut off during the retreat. The defence of the bridgehead against the enemy’s encircling advance on land now became much firmer in consequence. The Germans had missed their opportunity. Unhappily the French higher commanders in Belgium, still conforming to Weygand’s impossible plan, had hesitated to retreat to the sea and to do so as quickly as possible along with the British. As a result of that delay nearly half of what left of the French First Army had been cut off on the 28th near Lille and were forced to surrender on the 31st. Their gallant three-day stand, however, helped the escape of the remainder, as well as the British.
By midnight on June 2 the British rear-guard embarked and the evacuation of the B.E.F. was complete-224,000 men had been safely brought away, and only some 2,000 were lost in ships sunk en-route to England. Some 95,000 Allied troops, mainly French, had also been evacuated. On the next night every effort was made to bring away the remaining Frenchmen, despite increasing difficulties, and 26,000 more were saved. Unfortunately, a few thousand of the rear guard were left – and this left sore feelings in France. By morning of the 4th when the operation was broken off, a total of 338,000 British and Allied troops had been landed in England. It was an amazing result compared with earlier expectations, and a grand performance on the part of the Navy.
At the same time, it is evident that the preservation of the B.E, F. to fight another day would have been impossible without Hitler’s action in halting Kleist’s panzer forces outside Dunkirk twelve days before, on May 24.
At that moment there was only one British battalion covering the twenty-mile stretch of the Aa between Gravelines and St Omer, and for a further sixty miles inland the canal line was little better defended. Many of the bridges were not yet blown up, or even prepared for demolition. Thus, the German panzer troops had no difficulty in gaining bridgeheads over the canal at a number of places on May 23 – and it was as Gort said in his Despatch, the only anti-tank obstacle on this flank. Having crossed it, there was nothing to hold them up – and stop them establishing themselves astride the B.E.F. lines of retreat to Dunkirk- except the halt that Hitler imposed.
It is clear, however, that Hitler had been in a highly strung and jumpy state ever since the breakthrough into France. The extraordinary easiness of their advance, the lack of resistance his armies had met, had made him uneasy – it seemed too good to be true. The effects can be followed in the diary that was kept by Halder, the Chief of the General Staff. On the 17th, the day after the French defence behind the Meuse had dramatically collapsed, Halder noted:
Rather unpleasant day. The Fuhrer is terribly nervous. Frightened by his own success, he is afraid to take any chances and so would pull the reins on us.
That was the day when Guderian was suddenly pulled up when in full stride for the sea.
Next day, Halder noted: Every hour is precious . . .Fuhrer HQ sees it quite differently . . . Unaccountably keeps worrying about the south flank. He rages and screams that we are on the best way to ruin the whole campaign. Not until late that evening, when Halder was able to assure him that, follow-up infantry was wheeling into line along the Aisne as a flank shield, did Hitler agree to let the panzer forces sweep on.
Two days later these reached the coast, cutting the communications of the Allied armies in Belgium. That brilliant success seems to have temporarily drowned Hitler’s doubts. But they revived as his panzer forces swung northward, especially after the momentary alarm caused by the British tank counterattack from Arras, slight as this was. His panzer forces, which he regarded as so precious, were now heading towards the zone occupied by the British, whom he looked on as particularly tough opponents. At the same time, he was uneasy as to what the French in the south might be planning.
On the surface it appears to have been unlucky for Hitler that he chose to visit Rundstedt’s headquarters on the morning of May 24, a crucial moment. For Rundstedt was a wary strategist, careful to take full account of unfavourable factors and avoid erring on the side of optimism. For that reason, he was often a good corrective to Hitler, by providing a coolly balanced estimate – but it did not benefit German chances on this occasion. In his review of the situation he dwelt on the way that the tank strength had been reduced in the long and rapid drive, and pointed out the possibility of having to meet attacks from the north and south, particularly the latter.
Since he had, the night before, received orders from Brauchitsch, the Army Commander-in-Chief, that the completion of the encirclement in the north was to be handed over to Bock, it was the more natural that he should be thinking of the next phase in the south. Moreover, Rundstedt’s headquarters were still at Charleville, near Sedan – close behind the Aisne, and in the centre of the German front facing south. That location fostered a tendency to focus on what was in front and give less attention by what was happening on the extreme right flank, where victory seemed to be assured. Dunkirk came only into the corner of his eye.
Hitler agreed entirely with Rundstedt’s reservations and went on to emphasise the paramount necessity of conserving the panzer force for future operations, On his return to his own headquarters in the afternoon, he sent for the Commander-in-Chief. It was a very unpleasant interview, and ended in Hitler giving a definite halt order –
Halder that evening mournfully summarised its effect in his diary: The left wing, consisting of armoured and motorised forces, which has no enemy before it, will thus be stopped in its tracks upon direct orders of the Fuhrer, finishing off the encircled enemy army is to be left to the Luftwaffe!
Was Hitler’s order inspired by Rundstedt? If Hitler had felt that his halt order was due to Rundstedt’s influence, he would almost certainly have mentioned it, after the British escape, among the excuses he gave for his decision, for he was very apt to blame others for any mistakes. Yet in this case there is no trace of his ever having mentioned, in the course of his subsequent explanations, Rundstedt’s opinion as a factor. Such negative evidence is as significant as any.
It seems more likely that Hitler went to Rundstedt’s headquarters in the hope of finding further justification for his own doubts and for the change of plan he wanted to impose on Brauchitsch and Halder. In so far as it was prompted by anyone else, the initial influence probably came from Keitel and Jodl, the two chief military members of his own staff. There is particular significance in the evidence of General Warlimont, who was in close touch with Jodl at the time. Astonished on hearing a rumour of the halt order, he went to ask Jodl about it:
Jodl confirmed that the order had been given, showing himself rather impatient about my enquiries. He himself took the same stand as Hitler, emphasising that the personal experience that not only Hitler but also Keitel and himself had in Flanders during the First World War proved beyond doubt that armour could not operate in the Flanders marshes, or at any rate not without heavy losses – and such losses could be borne in view of the already reduced strength of the panzer corps and their tasks in the impending second stage of the offensive in France.
Warlimont added that if the initiative for the halt order had come from Rundstedt, he and the others at O.K.W. would have heard of it; and that Jodl, who was on the defensive about the decision, certainly would not have failed to point out to Field Marshall von Rundstedt as the one who had initiated or at least supported the order – as that would have silenced criticism because of Rundstedt’s undisputed authority in operational matters among all senior general staff officers’:
One other reason, however, for the halt order was revealed to me at the time- that Goring appeared and reassured the Fuhrer that his air force would accomplish the rest of the encirclement by closing the sea side of the pocket from the air. He certainly overrated the effectiveness of his own branch.
This statement of Warlimont’s gains significance when related to the last sentence in Hallder’s diary note of the 24th, already quoted. Moreover, Guderian stated that the order came down to him from Kleist, with the words:
Dunkirk is to be left to the Luftwaffe. If the conquest of Calais should raise difficulties that fortress likewise is to be left to the Luftwaffe.
Guderian remarked: I think that it was the vanity of Goring which caused that fateful decision of Hitler’s.
At the same time there is evidence that even the Luftwaffe was not used as fully or as vigorously as it could have been – and some of the air chiefs say that Hitler put the brake on again here.
All this caused the higher circles to suspect a political motive behind Hitler’s military reasons. Blumentritt, who was Rundstedt’s operations planner, connected it with the surprising way that Hitler had talked when visiting their headquarters:
Hitler was in very good humour, he admitted the course of the campaign had been a decided miracle, and gave us the opinion that the war would be finished in six weeks. After that he wished to conclude a reasonable peace with France, and then the way would be free for an agreement with Britain. He then astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilisation that Britain had brought into the world. He remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, that the creation of its Empire had been achieved by means that were often harsh but ‘where there is planning, there are shavings flying’. He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church – saying they were both essential, elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany’s position on the Continent. The return of Germany’s lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer support to Britain with troops if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere. He remarked that the colonies were primarily a matter of prestige, since they could not be held in war, and few Germans could settle in the tropics.
He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain on a basis that she would regard as compatible with her honour to accept.
In subsequent reflection on the course of events, Blumentritt’s thoughts often reverted to this conversation. He felt that the halt had been called for more than military reasons, and that it was part of a political scheme to make peace easier to reach. If the B.E.F. had been captured at Dunkirk, the British might have felt that their honour had suffered a stain which they must wipe out. By letting it escape Hitler hoped to conciliate them.
Since this account comes from generals who were highly critical of Hitler, and admit that they themselves wanted to finish off the British Army, it is of the more significance. Their account of Hitler’s talks at the time of Dunkirk fits in with much that he himself wrote earlier in Mein Kampf-and it is remarkable how closely he followed his own testament in other respects. There were elements in his make-up which suggest that he had a mixed love-hate feeling towards Britain. The trend of his talk about Britain at this time is also recorded in the diaries of Ciano and Halder.
Hitler’s character was of such complexity that no simple explanation is likely to be true. It is far more probable that his decision was woven of several threads. Three are visible- his desire to conserve tank strength for the next stroke; his long-standing fear of marshy Flanders; and Goring’s claims for the Luftwaffe. But it is likely that some political thread was interwoven with these military ones in the mind of a man who has a bent for political strategy and so many twists in his thought.
By courtesy: History of the Second World War by B.H. Liddell Hart, G.P. Putnam’s Sons