Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saratoga: When Britain Lost America

The campaign which, ultimately, helped decide the fate of a continent during the American War for Independence was fought in and around upper New York in 1777. It came one year after the American declaration of independence, following a string of brilliant but inconclusive British victories. The colonial rebels were down but not out and at the end of the previous year two inconsequential but much lauded successful skirmishes had boosted rebel morale. The Crown authorities in London wanted an end to these troubles and a decisive victory for the British Empire in America. One man claimed to have a plan to bring that about and that man was General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne. He was a well known figure in British high society, known for his gambling, charm and flamboyant attire. The plan he put forward, however, was not truly his own but rather an elaboration on a plan developed earlier by General Sir Guy Carleton, the governor of Canada but which Burgoyne was happy to present as his own. If it all worked out, he was confident it would effectively end the rebellion in America once and for all.

"Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne
The plan was a basic “divide and conquer” strategy. Identifying New England as the nest of revolutionary activity in North America, Burgoyne’s plan called for cutting off the New England colonies from the middle and southern colonies so that each could be more easily pacified in turn. To do this, there was to be a three-pronged invasion of New York. General Burgoyne would lead the British army in Canada south along Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson, a smaller diversionary column would launch raids and enlist native support along the New York frontier to draw rebel attention and at the same time the main British army under General Sir William Howe would march north, up the Hudson and join forces with Burgoyne at Albany. This would cut New England off from the rest of the colonies and Burgoyne expected to benefit from the sizeable loyalist population in New York as well. It was, on the whole, an excellent plan but one that required proper coordination. General Burgoyne submitted his plan to the secretary of state for America, Lord Germain, who approved it and it was well received by King George III himself. Ever the gambler, before setting off for America, General Burgoyne wagered a sizeable sum that he would return victorious as the man who had won the war in North America.

Unfortunately for the British, the coordination the plan required was lacking from the start. General Sir Guy Carleton was offended that Burgoyne had taken credit for his plan and been appointed to command the expedition south over him. As a result, he was not prepared to be very helpful in carrying it out. Likewise, General Howe was not prepared to submit himself to being directed by an officer who was his junior and, in any event, had his own plan to march on the rebel capital at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It would be wrong, however, to blame General Howe for what was to come but rather more of the responsibility must fall on the shoulders of Lord Germain who, for some reason, authorized General Howe to move on Philadelphia which sent the main British army moving south when Burgoyne’s plan, which Germain had just authorized, depended in large part on Howe moving north to join forces with Burgoyne in Albany. There was simply no way that Howe could have done both. Upon arriving in Canada, General Burgoyne was informed that Howe was moving on Pennsylvania as well as being told that General Carleton was not prepared to assist his operation. Nonetheless, Burgoyne the gambler decided to roll the dice and set out on his campaign anyway.

Lt Col Barry St Leger
On June 17, 1777 General John Burgoyne set out from St John’s, Newfoundland bound for Lake Champlain with 7,000 troops (British regulars and Hessian mercenaries from Germany) plus artillery, 400 Native Americans and a smaller number of Canadian and American loyalist militia. Altogether, he had about 7,700 men and 138 cannon which was certainly not large enough to be completely invulnerable but which was large enough to be difficult to move through the heavily forested and mountainous regions he would have to cross. Still, Burgoyne trusted his luck and in the early stages things seemed to go well. On July 5, 1777 the Crown forces re-captured Fort Ticonderoga, the “Gibraltar of America” without firing a shot. At the same time, Lt. Colonel Barry St Leger led a detachment of British troops down Lake Ontario and surrounded Fort Stanwix on the upper Mohawk River. Just as predicted, the rebel forces responded and soon a rebel army of about 740 colonials plus 100 allied Native Americans were coming to confront his column of 500 British, loyalist and Native American soldiers. In the Battle of Oriskany, the quality of the Crown forces was shown and St Leger defeated the rebels and forced them back, inflicting heavy losses on the colonials. However, despite winning the battle, more rebel troops were on the way and Colonel St Leger had no choice but to retreat or be overwhelmed by numbers and wiped out completely

One of the Americans sent to relieve Ft Stanwix was General Benedict Arnold and he played a key part in forcing St Leger to back off, making the British believe that he had far more troops than he actually did. This news caused most of the Native Americans to abandon the British and left St Leger with no other option but to retreat. In command of the rebel troops gathering to oppose Burgoyne were generals Philip Schuyler and Horatio Gates. Neither were much to write home about. Schuyler had planned the first patriot invasion of Canada, which had failed miserably and after he lost Ft Ticonderoga without a struggle he was replaced by Horatio Gates, a man who would become known for taking credit for victories won by his subordinates before later in the war being humiliatingly defeated in the south at the Battle of Camden when he abandoned his army and ran for his life. However, Gates had some subordinates who were prepared to fight, none more so than Benedict Arnold. General Burgoyne, for his part, was starting to feel the wilderness closing in around him. His troops were woefully short of provisions and this was prompting many of his men to desert, driven by hunger. With his small army becoming ever smaller, Burgoyne decided to remedy this situation by sending a detachment of Hessian mercenaries under Lt. Colonel Friedrich Baum to raid Bennington, Vermont for supplies.

Bennington Flag
Unfortunately for the Germans, their raid ended in a confrontation with a much larger force of colonial militia on August 16. The Battle of Bennington was a clear rebel victory, the Germans suffering much heavier losses, including Colonel Baum, though his top subordinate, Lt. Colonel Heinrich von Breymann, survived the ordeal. The operation cost Burgoyne around 900 men killed or captured which he could not afford to lose, had gained him no provisions for his army and more rebel troops were moving in on his position with each passing day. North of Albany, the rebels had an army of about 6,000 men entrenched in a long line on Bemis Heights, blocking the way for the British. Burgoyne had gathered about 8,500 men by this time but that still was not enough to make a frontal attack on a fortified position. As the American line extended into some woods to the west, Burgoyne decided to target that area and flank the rebels on their left. On September 19, at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, he sent his attack force in (the battle was named for the nearby farm of John Freeman, who happened to be a loyalist). Benedict Arnold suspected such a move and with great difficulty persuaded Gates to send some forces there and they ran into the attacking column of British General Simon Fraser.

American riflemen picked off the British officers and artillerymen but the British and German troops fought stubbornly. The battle flared off and on all day until finally, as darkness approached, the rebels retreated, leaving the field to the British. Burgoyne had won a minor victory but had lost twice as many men as the colonials doing it and had not managed to achieve his ultimate goal. His army had been reduced and every day brought more rebel troops to oppose him and his logistical situation grew ever worse. The prudent thing to do would have been to abandon the campaign and retreat to Canada immediately. However, that was not Burgoyne’s style and he decided to press on and fight it out no matter the odds against him. Unfortunately for the Crown forces, the luck of Burgoyne the gambler had finally run out. On October 7, Burgoyne mounted another attack on the American left at Freeman’s Farm with 1,650 troops but, this time, his forces were repulsed and driven back by the colonial rebels. The tide had turned and the British were forced to retreat. However, in their weakened state, it was extremely difficult to disengage and move away quickly. More and more rebel militia arrived and moved around to encircle the British army. Near Saratoga, New York General Burgoyne found himself surrounded by 17,000 men. He had only 5,000 in his own command by that time and these were weak and growing weaker.

Burgoyne surrenders to Gates
With no other option available, on October 17, 1777 General John Burgoyne surrendered his army to General Horatio Gates. The Crown forces laid down their arms as the colonial bands played “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and Burgoyne was the guest of General Gates, each toasting the enemy side. General Burgoyne was paroled and returned to England where he abandoned the Tories for the Whigs and was later made commander-in-chief of Ireland when they came to power. General Gates was lauded as the “Hero of Saratoga” in spite of the fact that he had not directed the battle and, indeed, usually opposed every move argued by Benedict Arnold that ultimately brought victory. Arnold was wounded in action but survived to become the most infamous “traitor” in American history. Ironically, if he had died on the field at Freeman’s Farm, he would have been a war hero and pigeons would be relieving themselves on statues of Arnold all over New England to this day. It would take another campaign and a disastrous, ignominious defeat before the American public learned just how overrated General Gates was as a battlefield commander. Meanwhile, far to the south, British forces under General Sir William Howe won the Battle of Brandywine and captured the rebel capital of Philadelphia but the surrender at Saratoga proved more significant.

Burgoyne’s capitulation at Saratoga marked the first time that a British army was forced to surrender to the American rebels and, indeed, it was really the first decisive victory the colonials had won. It was most decisive because it proved to the very reluctant King Louis XVI of France and his advisors that the Americans just might be able to win and this, along with the cajoling of Benjamin Franklin, at last persuaded the Kingdom of France to recognize the independence of the United States of America and form a Franco-American alliance against Great Britain. Had Burgoyne not lost at Saratoga and had the French not subsequently joined in support of the American rebels, it is almost certain that the War for Independence would have ended in a British victory, at least of some degree. In short, as much as some might not want to admit it, without the aid of the Kingdom of France there would be no United States of America and had Burgoyne not been defeated at Saratoga, there would likely have been no aid from France. It was the one American victory that ultimately mattered the most in determining the outcome of the war.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Reflections on the Black Hundreds

The period encompassing what turned out to be the final years of the Russian Empire has been the subject of intense focus by historians around the world and a preponderance have done everything possible to slander and defame the Romanov monarchy and all those who supported it. As a result, it has become all too common for people to take for granted that the Russian Empire was an evil regime and that all who supported it were villains and all who opposed it were heroes. Of course, seldom mentioned is the fact that most Russians retained their loyalty to the Czar and that none of the revolutionary regimes which succeeded the monarchy came about by the democratically expressed will of the people which the revolutionaries always claimed to champion. However, that is the situation and one group which had been particularly vilified, due to the fact that few to none were so zealous in their support of the Russian imperial monarchy, was the group of people who came to be known as the Black Hundreds. As usual, while the Black Hundreds have been vociferously demonized, at the same time most doing so have little to no understanding of who the Black Hundreds actually were, why they came into being and why they did the things they did.

In the first place, it is important to keep in mind that there was never a single organization known as “the Black Hundreds”. The name was applied to a number of separate organizations of various sorts that all held the same basic point of view. There was no official starting point for them, no single program and no centrally directed campaigns governing their actions. The Black Hundreds were reactionary in that they emerged in response to the increasing revolutionary activity in late Imperial Russia and they were conservative in that they sought to preserve the Russian Empire as it was which is exactly why so many others then, and particularly now, opposed it; because the Russian Empire did not fall in line with prevailing liberal world opinion being a staunchly Orthodox Christian absolute monarchy. The Black Hundreds looked at the turmoil, treason and violence that was becoming ever more commonplace in Russia, the national setbacks the country had suffered and, not surprisingly, yearned to go back to the example of Russia at its zenith of power under Czar Nicholas I. They endeavored to be the defenders of the three pillars that made up the motto of Czar Nicholas I, “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality”. Those are the things they defended and would fight for.

Contrary to what most believe, most of what the Black Hundreds did to further their cause was peaceful. They held special prayer meetings and Church services, organized lectures to educate the public on the sacred nature of the monarchy, the central role of the Church and the dangers posed by the revolutionaries. They held marches and demonstrations to show their loyalty to their Czar and to counter opposition rallies held by the revolutionary crowd. This is something that, while not being the whole story, is invariably ignored altogether but the fact is that the major of the activity of the Black Hundreds was completely non-violent and consisted of praying for their Czar and motherland and educating the populace on the importance of faith, loyalty and the Orthodox monarchy. However, there is also no denying the fact that there were those among the Black Hundreds who went further and not a few. This is the part that most historians talk about and are only too happy to relate. Anyone who has read anything about this period of Russian history will certainly have heard of the assortment of assassinations, violent demonstrations and pogroms in which the Black Hundreds were implicated. They are also usually quick to point out the support for the Black Hundreds that came from the Imperial Family when mentioning these.

There is no denying that such events took place, however, the context of these violent acts are invariably ignored completely. The Church services, patriotic demonstrations, newspaper publishing and educational campaigns are ignored entirely and all the focus is on killings, violent demonstrations and particularly the pogroms. However, these were, again, actions taken in response to the violence, acts of treason and murder taken by the revolutionaries. If one understands the desperate situation Russia found itself in, it should be no surprise that there would be those who determined to take a stand and to fight back against it. In terms of law enforcement, the government could do only so much. There was revolutionary infiltration of the police after all and even had their been no traitors or corruption in the police force, for an empire as vast as Russia with so huge a population there was only so much they could do. The authorities could not be everywhere at all times and the revolutionaries were very adept at covering for each other and manipulating the legal system to their own advantage. The Black Hundreds were motivated to action by the dangers afflicting their country and were not prepared to sit back and do nothing while their motherland, their Czar and their faith was under attack.

Several politicians, for example, who had shown themselves to be enemies of the monarchy, were assassinated by elements of the Black Hundreds. Regardless of what one thinks of such actions, the fact is that they paled in comparison to the number of assassinations carried out by the revolutionaries and their motivations were completely different. Acts of violence committed by the revolutionaries were done in an effort to derail the legitimate Russian government, to thwart actions to improve the country and to cause chaos and turmoil. The acts of violence committed by the Black Hundreds were done in an effort to destroy treasonous elements (who made no secret of their treason by the way but in fact gloried in their status as traitors) and to protect the Russian Empire as it existed and had always existed. When they found revolutionaries or people supporting what was essentially treason or anyone who threatened the Russian monarchy, Orthodoxy or the unity of the Russian Empire, they took action. The revolutionaries were not playing by the rules, as it were, so the Black Hundreds saw no reason why they should not respond in kind. If the revolutionaries were prepared to kill to destroy the Russian Empire, the Black Hundreds were willing to kill to protect it.

Another point that is often overlooked is that, while some Black Hundreds groups lasted until the Russian Revolution of 1917, most formed around 1905 and had ceased to be very relevant by 1907. During that time there were many acts of revolutionary violence and political assassinations by those trying to bring down the Russian Empire. During the Russo-Japanese War, increased stress on the national infrastructure caused strikes, riots and protests, the most infamous being “Bloody Sunday”. Enemies within Russia were very active and foreign elements were also on the offensive from outside with Japan providing funding for dissidents working to undermine and bring down the monarchy. The actions of the Black Hundreds, in short, did not spring up for no reason but were a reaction to very real and present threats against the Russian Empire and the Orthodox monarchy that was its foundation. Among the revolutionaries that the Black Hundreds took action against, a prominent element was the Jews and since the Black Hundreds have come to be so associated with anti-Semitism (which is still going on today), this has to be looked at.

There was, without question, plenty of anti-Semitism in the ranks of the Black Hundreds. The Jews were seized upon as a primary enemy, if not the primary enemy of everything that the Black Hundreds stood for. There is no denying that and it is clearly wrong to persecute anyone who was innocent of any crime. That is something pretty widely accepted. Just as important though, is to understand where this animosity came from and why it was not terribly surprising. There were certainly many Jews who were unjustly persecuted but there is also no denying the fact that the Jewish population was greatly overrepresented in the ranks of the revolutionary agitators. A disproportionate number of the revolutionaries plotting acts of terrorism to bring down the monarchy were, in fact, Jews. Given that, it is at least understandable why the defenders of the Russian monarchy would often take on an anti-Semitic mindset. Their fear and suspicion toward the Jews was not completely unwarranted. Plenty of Jews, in and outside of Russia, were enemies of the Russian Empire and made no secret of the fact. During the Russo-Japanese War for example, the Japanese war effort was bankrolled by a prominent German-American Jew named Jacob Schiff who loaned Japan huge amounts of money because he detested the way Jews were treated in Russia and hoped that a Japanese victory would destroy the Russian Empire.

Of course, when faced with enemies within from a minority group that was of a different race and different religion, some of whom had ties to foreign powers and supported anti-Russian elements at home and enemies of Russia abroad, it is no wonder that many in the Black Hundreds would become anti-Semitic and take it to extreme lengths. Unfortunately, this is far from uncommon. It often seems that the world is incapable of dealing with the Jews the same as any other people but only ever deals with them in an extreme way, blaming them for all the problems in the world one day and then not allowing any criticism of them at all the next. Even when groups such as the Black Hundreds had understandable reasons for being suspicious of the Jews, all too often this builds to absurd proportions so that we have the creation of a bogeyman which can still be seen among many today, something I have come to call “the magical Jew”. This is when anti-Semitism is taken to such lengths that people attribute super-human qualities to the Jews, as if they have magical powers to successfully deceive, dominate and exploit whole nations, which is all the more odd considering that those making such accusations often claim that the Jews are an inferior people to their own while at the same time claiming that these Jews are, by some “magic” able to completely dupe, outsmart and control entire countries full of people supposedly superior to themselves.

Such attitudes are, of course, completely absurd. In the case of the Black Hundreds, however, the villainy they attributed to the Jews was exaggerated but not totally unfounded. Their fears and suspicions were based on real threats and, as stated above, among those who were threatening the very existence of the Russian Empire, who were building bombs, assassinating royals and colluding with enemy nations, the Jews were disproportionately represented. How most of the Black Hundreds felt about the Jews is well known but what is less well known is why they felt that way. This was not blind hatred that came out of nowhere. Any enemy of the Russian monarchy was an enemy of the Black Hundreds and, unfortunately, many of the enemies of the Russian monarchy were Jews. It is unfortunate that some went too far with that but, given the context of when the Black Hundreds were at their peak, they were not something to be condemned. I certainly would not. It was a violent time and many tragic things happened but when their country and their Czar were being threatened, the Black Hundreds decided to do something about it, to take action and do whatever they could to defend that which was most precious to them and that is something I find laudable.

It was, however, a rather short-lived movement. Still, some groups of what had been the Black Hundreds remained to the end of the Russian Empire. It might surprise some to know that they were often the harshest critics of the White Russian faction. They were critical precisely because they were so loyal to the monarchy and while the Whites were certainly the “good guys” of the Russian Civil War, they were not all monarchists and for the Black Hundreds, absolute loyalty to the Czar and the Russian Orthodox faith were non-negotiable positions. Have these attitudes survived? It is hard for me to say. Recently, groups laying claim to the Black Hundreds legacy have reemerged over the turmoil in Ukraine, backing the position of Ukrainian re-union with Russia and blaming the current crisis on Jews in the Ukrainian government. How similar they are to the actual Black Hundreds of the past I cannot be certain. Were they so active in pushing for the full restoration of the monarchy in Russia rather than extension of the rule of the current Russian regime over Ukraine I would be more positive but I have yet to see that and remained concerned that, as has happened in other countries, the government may be winning monarchists over with gestures and promises while having no intention of ever actually doing anything to restore the monarchy. For that, the ultimate goal of the Black Hundreds of old, only time will tell.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monarchists in the German Military of World War II

After the victorious German blitzkrieg of 1940, Adolf Hitler was angered by the exiled German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, referring to the victorious troops as his own. This is usually understood as being a reference on the part of the ex-Kaiser to the fact that the German military leadership of World War II had been the officer-cadets and junior officers of World War I; they had learned their trade in the Kaiser’s Germany. However, there was more literal truth to the Kaiser’s statement than many people realized. The military of Nazi Germany was not filled with hardcore Nazis, though some certainly leaned in that direction. Many were apolitical men who considered matters of government to be none of their business and not the sort of thing for professional military men to concern themselves with. However, there were also those who were monarchists and who were very conscious of the distinction that they were fighting for their German Fatherland and not Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. There may have been more monarchists than can ever be known for sure since so many did see expressing political opinions as unseemly and due to the fact that, after the Nazis came to power, voicing any support for any other form of government would have meant ruination for themselves and their families.

Korvettenkapitan Hermann Ehrhardt
Even before the Nazis came to power, being too openly monarchist could be disastrous for a German military officer even under the Weimar Republic. Army commander Colonel General Hans von Seeckt brought about the end of his military career when he invited Prince Wilhelm, the Kaiser’s grandson, to the army’s 1926 autumn maneuvers. There had also been a backlash after an earlier coup attempt against the republic in which many monarchists participated. Imperial Naval Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, leader of one of the best Freikorps units in the post-Great War chaotic period in Germany had to flee the country after taking part in the Kapp Putsch but later returned and opposed the Nazis first bid to seize power in Bavaria. Targeted for assassination during the “Night of the Long Knives” he managed to escape to Austria and eluded the Nazi regime throughout World War II. General Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, who came from the untitled Prussian nobility, was assumed by most to be of monarchist sympathies and though he clashed with the Nazis, was called out of retirement to serve in World War II but was later executed for his part in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Major General Ferdinand von Bredow, a monarchist and head of military intelligence, did not escape and was murdered in the “Night of the Long Knives”.

GFM Gerd von Rundstedt
The most senior German officer known to be a monarchist was General Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. He came from a Prussian aristocratic family with a history of military service stretching back to the army of the revered Frederick the Great. He was a staff officer in World War I and was later made colonel-in-chief of the Eighteenth Regiment. He stands out in photographs for his preference to wear the collar lace of his regiment rather than the usual collar rank insignia for general officers. Called out of retirement for the Polish campaign, he was known for being a brilliant commander when it came to broad planning, a master of the “big picture” while leaving the details to others. When SS units, working behind the lines, began massacring Jews he had them banned from his area of operations. He was commander of Army Group A in the blitzkrieg in Western Europe and commander of Army Group South in the invasion of the Soviet Union, leading the conquest of the Ukraine.

During these years, he was contacted by members of the anti-Nazi resistance who tried to enlist him in their cause but, while he sympathized, he refused to take part, fearing the chaos that would follow the violent overthrow of the regime. Dismissed for clashing with Hitler, he was later reinstated and made commander of the western front, where he disagreed with his subordinate, Field Marshal Rommel, over how best to repel the expected Allied invasion that came in June of 1944 in Normandy. When he remarked that, after the defeat at Normandy, Germany should make peace he was dismissed again but was again recalled later and presided over the defeat of the Allied invasion of The Netherlands known as Operation Market Garden. He was still commander of the western front when the Ardennes offensive was launched (resulting in the Battle of the Bulge) and in the aftermath oversaw the establishment of a new defensive line along the Rhine. However, Hitler was as erratic as ever and von Rundstedt was dismissed again, for the last time, in March of 1945, replaced by Luftwaffe Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.

GFM Fedor von Bock
Another senior military figure known to be a monarchist, and another Prussian from a long-standing military family, was General Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. A product of German and Russian aristocratic stock, he was born in what is now Poland and was the nephew of Colonel General Erich von Falkenhayn, mastermind of the Verdun offensive in World War I. He served as a junior officer in that conflict in the army group of Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht, with whom he became close friends, and so distinguished himself that he earned the coveted Pour le Merite (aka the Blue Max), Imperial Germany’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross. He was a staunch opponent of the Allied restrictions placed on the German military by the Treaty of Versailles and as such approved of some Nazi policies in regard to rearmament and reasserting German independence, however, he had no love for the Nazi regime itself. He was a staunch monarchist and continued to make regular visits to the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II in The Netherlands. Hitler would have liked to do away with him but he was simply too valuable as a military leader. He led German forces into Vienna after the union with Austria and into Czechoslovakia after that country was dismembered and occupied.

During World War II, von Bock commanded Army Group North in the conquest of Poland and Army Group B in the invasion of France and the Low Countries. When the invasion of the Soviet Union came in 1941 he was part of a bloc of German monarchist commanders on the eastern front. He commanded Army Group Center while on his flanks were Army Group North commanded by monarchist Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb and Army Group South commanded by monarchist Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. He disagreed with Hitler’s meddling in the campaign and favored pressing on to Moscow as rapidly as possible with his panzer divisions, leaving Russian armies to be mopped up by the slower infantry rather than taking the time to encircle and wipe out each enemy force. The constant order to divert his armored forces to the north or south on such errands were, he warned, wasting their resources and slowing down the campaign. When his forces were given the key role in the drive on Moscow (Operation Typhoon) von Bock was shown to have been correct all along. The delays had allowed the Russians to reinforce their positions and the High Command ordered him to dispatch his armored forces under the famous panzer General Heinz Guderian toward Bryansk to encircle more Red Army forces rather than pressing ahead. A combination of stiff Russian resistance, these diversions of resources and increasingly bad weather finally brought the offensive to a halt just short of Moscow.

Field Marshal von Bock was later dismissed by Hitler after continued disagreements over the Fuhrer’s handling of the Russian campaign. Von Bock was also frustrated by the treatment of Russian civilians and Hitler’s opposition to enlisting anti-communist Russians in the Axis cause (the Russian Liberation Army of General Andrei Vlasov). As a known monarchist who opposed the Nazi regime, he was naturally approached by members of the resistance who were plotting Hitler’s assassination. Like von Rundstedt, von Bock sympathized but refused to get involved. He was convinced that the SS were too powerful and that SS Chief Himmler would prevent any coup from being successful even if they did manage to kill Hitler. He remained in retirement until 1945 when Admiral Karl Doenitz took over leadership of the Reich after Hitler’s suicide. Von Bock set out to meet with the new Fuhrer, presumably to take up a military post again but his car was attacked by British aircraft on his way to Kiel. Fedor von Bock thus became the only German Field Marshal of World War II to die by hostile fire.

GFM Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
The aforementioned Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was another monarchist to rise to prominence in the German military in World War II. He was a Bavarian with a long record of service to his country, serving in China during the Boxer Rebellion as an artillery officer and then seeing extensive service, both in the field and as a staff officer in World War I, predominately on the eastern front. In 1915 he earned the Knights Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph, a very prestigious Bavarian decoration, and was elevated to the rank of knight and minor nobility, Wilhelm Leeb becoming Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb. Staying in the army, it was Ritter von Leeb who commanded the troops that suppressed the first Nazi attempt to take power in the Munich “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923. Needless to say, Hitler despised the Bavarian royalist and after coming to power promptly promoted him to Colonel General and retired him. Talented officers of such experience as Ritter von Leeb were rare though and Hitler had to tolerate him when necessary. In the occupation of Czechoslovakia he was briefly recalled and given command of an army but then quickly retired again when the Allies did not respond.

When World War II broke out, Ritter von Leeb was recalled to duty again for the blitzkrieg in the west, given command of Army Group C. However, he annoyed Hitler again by objecting to the violations of Dutch and Belgian neutrality which Germany had promised to respect. He was a man of honor and integrity but, of course, such values were not always appreciated by the new leadership in Berlin. Nonetheless, he gave his usual service, displaying his expert leadership and for his contribution to the victory over the Allies in the west was awarded the Knights Iron Cross and promoted to Field Marshal. For the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler decided he could not do without him and gave Ritter von Leeb command of Army Group North. His forces performed magnificently, smashing through Soviet resistance and quickly moving to surround the key, historic city of Leningrad. It might have been taken but at that crucial time, he was ordered to divert forces from his command to the south. Leningrad would never be taken but would be the scene of the longest siege in modern military history. When Ritter von Leeb advised staying on the defensive so that Army Group Center could be reinforced and push toward Moscow, Hitler accused him of timidity and blamed his Catholicism, saying that von Leeb would rather pray than fight. Ritter von Leeb was just as disgusted with Hitler’s micromanaging of the war and asked to be relieved of command. Hitler promptly granted his request and he never saw active service again.

Kapitan zur See Hans Langsdorff
There were, presumably, quite a few monarchists serving in the German military of World War II but the political situation as well as the prevailing sensibilities and traditions of the officer corps prevented most from ever making their monarchist sentiments explicitly known. However, some managed to send signals that would seem to most to be a clear message as to their true political opinions. So, lastly, we will look at the case of a famous German naval officer in World War II. Prior to the conflict, partly because of treaty restrictions and partly because of an intentional naval strategy, Germany built a number of vessels known as “pocket battleships”. These were designed to be lighter and faster than most any other warships while still packing the powerful punch of the full-size battlewagons. Of these, probably the most famous was the Admiral Graf Spee commanded by Captain Hans Langsdorff. Captain Langsdorff had served in the High Seas Fleet in World War I, earning the Iron Cross for his actions at the Battle of Jutland and he continued to advance his career in the inter-war years. In 1938 he was given command of the Admiral Graf Spee and the following year, with the outbreak of war, set out with orders to do as much damage as possible to British shipping lanes in the South Atlantic. As such, merchant ships were to be his primary targets while he was to outrun any warships he encountered, especially those he could not outgun.

Captain Langsdorff did his duty brilliantly, sinking nine British ships for a total of 50,000 tons of lost shipping. The British Admiralty was thrown into a panic as resources were diverted from far and wide to hunt down and sink the Graf Spee. However, Captain Langsdorff was no pirate but truly an officer and a gentlemen. He followed all the appropriate rules for war at sea and no one from any of the ships he sunk were killed. The pocket battleship was soon packed full of British prisoners and they were unanimous in attesting to how well treated they were by the German captain. However, the brief, brilliant career of the Graf Spee was soon to come to an end as more British warships moved into the area. Eventually, the pocket battleship was cornered in Montevideo, Uruguay by the Royal Navy. After a brief battle off the Rio de la Plata, Captain Langsdorff was ordered to scuttle his ship rather than see it interned by the Uruguayan authorities. He did so and after seeing to the well being of his crew, Captain Hans Langsdorff dressed in his best uniform, wrapped himself in a German naval ensign and shot himself in the head. It was a tragic, noble end to a promising naval officer. In his death, he also sent a message that strongly suggests that Captain Langsdorff was of monarchist sympathies for the flag he wrapped himself in before taking his own life was not the swastika flag of Nazi Germany, but the ensign of the old Imperial German Navy under which, in service to the King of Prussia and German Kaiser, he had begun his career. In death, he had shown the world what his true loyalties were.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prussian Princes in World War II

During the years of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, some royals embraced the new regime while others opposed it. Those who joined the Nazis were mostly from minor families who felt they had nothing to lose by doing so and would have gained little if the old monarchy system had been restored. However, it was the Prussian royals who were the focus of the most attention as they had previously been not only the Royal Family of Prussia but the Imperial Family of the whole of Germany. Of those, it is important to note that only one son of the former Kaiser, Prince August Wilhelm and his family, took up the Nazi cause. His father, Kaiser Wilhelm II, practically disowned him for doing so as he refused to have anything to do with any government in Germany that was not the old monarchy. Some thought that Prince August Wilhelm harbored ambitions of gaining the imperial throne for himself or perhaps his son but, of course, that is something the Nazis would never have done. In the end, Hitler would turn on him as he turned on all the German royals when they could no longer be of use to him.

Hitler & Prince Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Numerous Prussian princes, while shunning the Nazi Party, did join the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and fight in the war, at least early on. It is important to understand who these men were and why they served considering that the Nazis and everything connected with them have been vilified to the point of appearing as almost fictional caricatures of pure evil so that the actual facts of the situation are often ignored. Not every German was a Nazi and not even every Nazi chose to be so because they wanted to be on the most evil “team” on the world stage. Many men fought for Germany in World War II who were not members of the Nazi Party and, on the other hand, there were examples like the famous case of Oscar Schindler who was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party who is honored to this day for all of the Jewish lives he saved during the Holocaust. The problem that plagued the German royals was the same as has been faced by many royals around the world whose countries have abolished their monarchies; whether to place themselves in opposition to their country because of its government or to defend their homeland regardless of the political situation.

In the absence of the Kaiser, exiled in The Netherlands, the highest ranking royal in Germany was Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm. Of his sons, all who were able to, served in the German military during World War II in some capacity, at least for a time. The only one who did not was his youngest son, Prince Friedrich of Prussia, who was studying in England when the war broke out. He was arrested by British authorities as an “enemy alien” and placed in an internment camp in England and later moved to Canada. In both camps, his fellow inmates elected him their leader and he became a British citizen after the war in 1947. The first and third sons served in the German army while the second served in the Luftwaffe. Crown Prince Wilhelm himself is sometimes portrayed as a Nazi Party member or supporter. Neither is true. A veteran of the First World War and army group commander on the western front, the Crown Prince was as opposed to the Versailles Treaty as any patriotic German was, opposed the Weimar Republic and supported Germany reasserting itself as a proud member of the world community. However, he was never a member or supporter of the Nazi Party.

Crown Prince Wilhelm
Assumptions to the contrary mostly arise from the fact that numerous photos of the Crown Prince wearing what appears to be the standard Nazi Brownshirt uniform can be found. Despite appearances, the Crown Prince was not a Brownshirt but rather did belong to the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) which was a subsidiary organization for automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts. It was a fact of life in Germany that, under the Nazi regime, virtually all such organizations had to adopt Nazi-style uniforms including the ubiquitous brown shirts and swastika armbands. However, there was nothing sinister about the NSKK itself. It trained drivers, held rallies and helped motorists, similar to organizations such as AAA in America or the British Automobile Association. Crown Prince Wilhelm was never a member of the Nazi Party and never endorsed Adolf Hitler or his movement. The Nazi leadership certainly never saw the Crown Prince as an ally but rather the opposite and their feelings on that score would become very clear during the course of World War II. While, early on, they tried to recruit royals as window-dressing to add legitimacy to Nazi gatherings, the Nazis were paranoid about any sympathy for the old monarchy and took action against the royals even if they were serving in uniform with the German armed forces.

Prince Wilhelm in East Prussia
Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Crown Prince Wilhelm, was born with every expectation of becoming German Kaiser one day. That all changed with the German Revolution in 1918 of course. However, as he reached adulthood, romance barred the way for his expected leadership of the House of Hohenzollern. In 1933, against the wishes of his grandfather, Prince Wilhelm married Dorothea von Salviati who he had met while in school in Bonn. Due to dynastic rules he had to renounce his claim to the throne and the rights of succession for any future children in order to marry the woman who had his heart. Upon doing so, the future of the House of Hohenzollern became the responsibility of his younger brother Prince Louis Ferdinand. He had been far away from Germany for a long time, having settled in the United States and taken a job in Detroit, Michigan where he was taken in by Henry Ford. President Roosevelt was also fond of the young man. When the actions of his brother called him back to Germany in 1934 he seemed the odd man out with some whispers that he was too taken with America and American ideas about democracy to be a potential Prussian monarch. Prince Louis Ferdinand was not pleased with the marriage of his brother and how it thrust him into the position of future leader of the family but it would be his line who would carry on the Hohenzollern legacy to the present day.

Prince Hubertus of Prussia
Prince Louis Ferdinand took a job in the aviation industry in Germany and later joined the Luftwaffe as a training officer. His older and younger brothers, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both joined the army. Prince Wilhelm became an officer in the First Regiment of the First Division, rising to command the 11th Company in 1938. Prince Hubertus was to see service in the Eighth Regiment, Third Infantry Division (he later transferred to the Luftwaffe). When war broke out, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both saw action in the German invasion of Poland. Another Prussian royal at the front was Prince Oskar Wilhelm who was a reserve officer. He was killed in action at Widawka, Poland on September 5, 1939. This Nazis noticed this but took no immediate action. Later, however, Prince Wilhelm was fighting at the front in the invasion of France and was mortally wounded at Valenciennes and died a few days later in Nivelles on May 26, 1940. Two Prussian princes being killed at the front disturbed the Nazi leadership who did not want the royals to have any share of the glory. However, they were more disturbed by what happened later.

Prince Alexander Ferdinand
When news of the deaths of Prince Oskar and Prince Wilhelm reached Germany there was an outpouring of sympathy toward the Prussian Royal Family. When the funeral for Prince Wilhelm was held at the Church of Peace more than 50,000 Germans turned out to show their support for the House of Hohenzollern. The sheer number of mourners caused the Nazi leadership to panic and they immediately enacted the so-called “Prince’s Decree” which banned all Prussian royals from military service. Prince Hubertus was pulled out of the line and basically forced to end his military career while Prince Louis Ferdinand in the Luftwaffe was prevented from ever seeing action. The only Prussian prince who was allowed to remain at his post was Prince Alexander Ferdinand, the son of Prince August Wilhelm and, like his father, a member of the Nazi Party and originally a member of the SA Brownshirts. When the decree was issued, it coincided with a Nazi crackdown on royals and monarchists in general. Any pretense of being in any way sympathetic to the old monarchy was dropped and even the few really pro-Nazi royals in Germany were pushed to the side and became subject to state scrutiny. Prince Alexander Ferdinand, who had once harbored hopes of becoming Hitler’s successor, was sidelined and his pro-Nazi politics also caused him to be shunned by his family. When he married in 1938 none of his Hohenzollern relations attended the wedding.

Prince Wilhelm Karl & Prince Oskar
Most of the Prussian Royal Family had much closer ties to the anti-Nazi underground than they did to the ruling party. Crown Prince Wilhelm, who some people regarded as too friendly with the Nazis, showed his true colors in subtle ways so as not to endanger his family such as the regular gift of cigars he sent to anti-Nazi monarchist Reinhold Wulle who was sent to a concentration camp for organizing a monarchist opposition party. Today, most tend to think that the Crown Prince had virtually nothing to do with the anti-Nazi movement but the Nazis themselves certainly did not think so and kept the Crown Prince under close surveillance throughout the war and after the assassination attempt on Hitler made in 1944 the Gestapo were ordered to shadow him at all times. The German resistance group which orchestrated that assassination attempt had numerous ties to the Prussian Royal Family. The man who would have been chancellor of Germany had the bomb plot and coup succeeded, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, was a monarchist and most of the attention was on Prince Louis Ferdinand as a potential German Kaiser going forward. Many of the plotters were also members of the German branch of the Knights of St John which was presided over by Prince Oskar of Prussia and whose son (and successor in that position) later wrote a history of the German resistance movement.

Prince Louis Ferdinand
Although he was not personally involved in the assassination plot, the connections between the resistance and Prince Louis Ferdinand were sufficiently known for the Prince to be arrested, interrogated by the Gestapo and then imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp. Adolf Hitler himself stated that, “the Crown Prince is the actual instigator” of the attempt on his life. Propaganda Minister Goebbels said of the German royals and aristocrats, “…We must exterminate this filth,” and SS chief Heinrich Himmler said, “There will be no more princes. Hitler gave me the order to finish off all the German princes and to do so immediately.” That, thankfully, did not happen but Prince Louis Ferdinand was sent to a concentration camp and the anti-royal crackdown was so widespread that even the pro-Nazi Prince Philip of Hesse and his wife Princess Mafalda of Italy were arrested and put in (separate) concentration camps. Princess Mafalda died there from injuries sustained when the Allies bombed an ammunition factory in the camp where she was being held. Estimates are that five to six thousand royals and aristocrats were murdered in the purges following the bomb plot. Himmler wanted all German princes to be paraded through Berlin to be spit on before they were killed and their property seized and redistributed to loyal Nazis.

Prince Wilhelm
It seems strange that some modern historians will go out of their way, grasping at straws, in a desperate effort to link the royals with the Nazis (in an effort to discredit them of course) when the Nazis themselves were absolutely certain that the royals were the heart and center of their most dangerous internal opposition. Those Prussian and other royal princes who fought in the German armed forces, almost without exception, did so purely out of their devotion to Germany and the German people and not because of any sympathy at all with the Nazi regime. Those princes and aristocrats who were truly devoted to the Nazi cause were very few and found themselves betrayed by the party they served and shunned by the rest of their class and often by their own families. The handful that the party did not turn against, such as Prince Josias zu Waldeck und Pyrmont, a notorious general in the SS, faced retribution at the hands of the Allies when the war was over. For the House of Hohenzollern, the Crown Prince was held under house arrest as some considered prosecuting him for “war crimes” during the First World War, which was plainly absurd but his death in 1951 saw leadership of the family pass to the capable hands of Prince Louis Ferdinand, a man with friendly ties to the Allies and a staunch opponent of the Nazi regime throughout his life.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Battlefield Royal: Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein

During World War II, one of the most successful fighter pilots in the German Luftwaffe was Prince Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. His accomplishments were all the more remarkable in that he was a night fighter pilot and an ace who won most of his victories against the British. Whereas most of the highest-scoring German aces achieved most of their "kills" against the Russians on the Eastern Front, victories won over the RAF were more difficult and thus much more prestigious. This was the category that Prince Heinrich fit into. In his time, he was the most successful night fighter pilot in Germany and most of his victories were won against the much more formidable Royal Air Force of Great Britain. He was also no great fan of the Nazi regime and even contemplated assassinating Adolf Hitler personally. Read his story here.

(Left to Right) Luftwaffe ace Hartmann Grasser, Prince Heinrich shaking hands with Hitler, dive bomber ace Gunther Rall and Austrian ace Walter Nowotny at Fuhrer Headquarters in Rastenburg 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monarch Profile: Prince Jacques I of Monaco

One of the more controversial men to hold the title of Prince of Monaco was Jacques Francois Leonor Goyon de Matignon. It will be noticed that his name was not Grimaldi and that would be a hurtful point to many. On October 20, 1715 he married Hereditary Princess Louise-Hippolyte of Monaco, daughter and successor of Sovereign Prince Antoine I after a long and contentious search for a suitable husband. Part of the appeal of Jacques was that he was not so well born as to be reluctant to change his name. Unfortunately this would also mean that he would be tainted from the start with the image of a social-climber. Still, his own family was fairly prestigious as well, coming from one of the oldest families of Brittany. One of his ancestors was the famous Marshal Jacques de Matignon who refused to participate in the notorious Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

Many other members of the larger Grimaldi clan were adamantly opposed to the marriage of Louise-Hippolyte and Jacques de Matignon. They argued, not unreasonably, that according to previous accords the Monegasque throne should only pass to a Grimaldi and that by the marriage Jacques would become the effective ruler of the principality and the founder of a new dynasty in all but name. They tried to pursue the matter through legal means but to no avail and thereafter many took to referring to the Monegasque Princely Family as the House of Matignon rather than Grimaldi. Nor was the Princess of Monaco herself happy with her husband whom she viewed, because of all the intrigue surrounding the marriage, with great suspicion, suspecting that he was only using her to advance his own position. Her fears were not unreasonable as Jacques was attracted to the marriage because he would be gaining a principality rather than any real devotion to the Princess and the match was pushed by King Louis XIV of France who wanted to secure French influence over Monaco and he knew that Jacques would be “his man” as it were.

Princely Family of Monaco
In 1731, with the death of Antoine I, Prince Jacques became “Sovereign Consort” of Monaco and thought of himself as the real ruler of the place and this was another example of what Princess Louise-Hippolyte regarded as her husband assuming more power than was his right and attempting to usurp her legitimate place as Sovereign Princess of Monaco. Nonetheless, throughout their marriage the line of Prince Jacques I was secured by the birth of eight children from 1717 to 1728. When the couple came to the throne the people of Monaco welcomed their Princess but scorned their new Prince who they saw as acting arrogantly and really caring nothing for the people but only about what he could gain from the Principality. Even before assuming the throne he avoided Monaco and preferred to stay with the French court at Versailles enjoying a succession of mistresses. The marriage of Grimaldi and Matignon was not a happy one.

Prince Jacques I was the effective ruler of Monaco, especially after Princess Louise-Hippolyte died of smallpox only eleven months into her reign. With no more opposition Jacques I was able to assume total control of Monaco and was recognized as the Sovereign Prince by the King of France. However, his reign would not be a peaceful one even after the passing of his wife. Her fight was taken up by her sister Princess Margaret d’Isenghien who conspired against Jacques on the grounds that the Monegasque had always been ruled by a Grimaldi and would accept nothing else. To deal with this Prince Jacques appointed the Chevalier de Grimaldi (an illegitimate son of Antoine I) to be Governor of Monaco. Fortunately the Chevalier proved to be a wise administrator and ruled Monaco with great ability for the next 50 years. It was certainly an improvement over Prince Jacques who never showed much interest in Monegasque affairs and was generally unpopular. He preferred the high life of the French court to the business of governing his little Principality. Finally, with public opposition to his rule showing no signs of letting up he left Monaco in May of 1732 and the following year abdicated in favor of his son Prince Honore III. The new Sovereign Prince was barely 14 but with the Chevalier running things the country seemed to be in capable hands with good prospects for the future. Prince Jacques returned to his favored lifestyle in Versailles and Paris where he spent the rest of his life before his death on April 23, 1751. His former residence in Paris, named the Hotel Matignon is today the official residence of the French prime minister.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The House of Hapsburg in World War II

The First World War saw the venerable Hapsburg dynasty deposed and exiled, their empire, Austria-Hungary, broken up. The Second World War saw the end of the last realistic hope for a Hapsburg restoration to date. When it comes to monarchies, history has tended to take an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude; if they do not have a throne, they are not worth remembering. However, the Hapsburgs came closer than almost anyone realizes to being restored to the Austrian throne just prior to World War II. It is also technically true that they retained, in name though not in fact, the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary until late in the war. Unlike the other Central Powers of the First World War, Austria-Hungary had ceased to exist entirely, yet, there were many factors in the inter-war period that encouraged hopes of a restoration in both Austria and Hungary. What had replaced the old “Dual Monarchy” did not seem to be working out so well. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were not nation-states but multi-cultural contrivances that faced serious ethnic tensions and other powers, such as Hungary and Austria found themselves isolated and wishing to be relevant again.

Altogether, the absence of Austria-Hungary helped pave the way to power for Adolf Hitler, a man who despised everything about the “Dual Monarchy”. There was the monarchy, the aristocracy, the multi-cultural nature of it as well as what he viewed as the pandering to the Jewish and Slavic populations by the Hapsburgs. There was nothing about it he liked and the international tensions created by the new borders drawn after World War I all worked together to create a situation the Nazis were only too willing to exploit. Yet, the former Hapsburg lands also posed the greatest threat to the Nazi movement ever gaining the domination in Europe they longed for even after coming to power in Germany. Czechoslovakia stood in the way and had an industrial center that Nazi Germany very much needed. To unite all Germans into a single nation-state also meant that the first “prize” on the Nazi wish-list was Austria and yet Austria was also their first obstacle as Italy supported Austrian independence as a buffer state between Italy and Germany and this also barred the way to the Italo-German alliance which Hitler considered paramount to his plans. A Hapsburg restoration, even if only over Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, would have created a power bloc that would have been a major obstacle to Nazi plans for German expansion considering how militarily weak Germany was at the time, even right up to the outbreak of war.

Archduke Joseph
Of the countries involved, probably none presented a greater cause for monarchist frustration than the Kingdom of Hungary. The full restoration of the monarchy there was tantalizingly close on several occasions and the fact that it ultimately failed can be attributed to two sources: the paranoia of the Allies (primarily France, though only God in His wisdom knows why) and the ambition of Admiral Miklos Horthy. At the end of the First World War, power in Hungary had fallen to the Hapsburg Archduke Joseph August of Austria, who was quite popular in Hungary and was given the place of regent. He put down one attempted revolution, survived another (communist) revolution and was restored to power again as Hungarian regent. However, in their blind and short-sighted opposition to a Hapsburg holding power in any part of the former Austria-Hungary, the Allies forced Archduke Joseph to step down in 1919. He then became a member of the House of Lords where he remained a respected figure until the German occupation in 1944 forced him to flee to the United States.

King Charles
Nonetheless, in 1920 the Hungarian government voted to restore the monarchy though they lacked a monarch and so Admiral Miklos Horthy was appointed regent. He was of service in preventing a communist takeover of the country, reestablishing stability and a general sense of normalcy but he proved to be ultimately treasonous by not handing power back to the last King of Hungary, Emperor Charles I (Kaiser Karl), when he tried to reclaim his throne twice in 1921 only to be forced out of the country on each occasion. Horthy protested that the time was not right, the Allies opposed it and though some of his arguments might have had merit, as regent it was not his decision to make. As regent, he was only to hold power until the King returned and as soon as Emperor Charles set foot on Hungarian soil, Horthy should have deferred to his legitimate monarch. According to some accounts, the idea that Britain and France would have taken action against any Hapsburg restoration in Hungary seems likely to have been exaggerated. If power had been handed over and the restored monarchy solidified, it seems rather unlikely that Britain and France would have risked a conflagration to keep the Hapsburgs from their Hungarian inheritance.

Horthy and Hitler
So, Hungary would go on through most of World War II as a nominal kingdom; a monarchy without a monarch. Without the monarchy, Hungary drifted ever closer to Nazi Germany, first by increased economic ties, later by taking part in the division of territory in Czechoslovakia and finally militarily by joining the Axis and participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hungary regained some of the territory lost to Romania thanks to Hitler, regained more in the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and took a slice for itself when Czechoslovakia was dismembered. Slovakia had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary prior to World War I and the Slovaks were persuaded to become a German protectorate when Hitler threatened to allow Hungary to swallow them whole if they tried to make any trouble about it. The Hungarians went on as less-than-enthusiastic members of the Axis but the Hungarian military was decimated at the Battle of Stalingrad and as the Soviet Red Army drew closer, Horthy began trying to get Hungary out of the Axis and surrender. When Hitler learned of this, not surprisingly, German forces occupied Hungary in 1944, Horthy was arrested and the Hungarian pro-Nazi “Arrow Cross” party took power as the willing instruments of the German occupation.

Crown Prince Otto
All of these events were watched very closely by the man who should have been King of Hungary, Archduke Otto of Austria. He succeeded as head of the House of Hapsburg on the death of his father Emperor Charles in 1922. It was at that time that he became the nominal King of Hungary but when he reached legal adulthood and was expected to actually take up the Hungarian throne, Admiral Horthy advised him not to try it. The Archduke knew well enough from the experience of his father that it would be useless to try so long as Horthy opposed him, given the current situation. With Horthy being replaced by the Nazis and they in quick succession by the communists, the opportunity to take up the Hungarian throne would never materialize for Archduke Otto. However, he did have reason to be hopeful about a restoration in Austria and if the Austrian situation had worked out, there is reason to believe that the situation in Hungary, and perhaps beyond, would have altered considerably and in favor of the Hapsburgs.

Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss
Very few people realize just how close Archduke Otto came to being restored to the Austrian throne. By his own accounts, it was a done deal, it was going to happen, the long-sought after goal of seeing the House of Hapsburg in Vienna again was no longer a question of “if” nor even of “when”. It was all planned out. The root cause for why it did not ultimately happen came from the last place anyone would have expected: Ethiopia. First, however, a little background information is probably in order. After the First World War, Austria was left as a small “rump state”, powerless and isolated in Europe. It is not surprising that Austrians initially favored a union with Germany but the Allies refused to permit this, fearing that it would strengthen the Germans. Austria went through turmoil, civil strife, the all too common threat of a communist takeover before order was finally restored by a short, fervent man named Engelbert Dollfuss, leader of the Fatherland Front. First coming to office as chancellor in 1932, Dollfuss solidified his hold on Austria after defeating the socialists in 1934 but would not survive the end of the year. He had courted the monarchists but never took them home from the dance.

Banning opposition parties, Dollfuss established a Catholic, corporatist state which has since been termed “Austrofascism”. He did manage to restore a proper patriotic pride to Austria, ended the threat of a leftist revolution and had very close and friendly ties with Benito Mussolini in Rome. He kept monarchists dangling on promises but did see eye-to-eye with Archduke Otto in their mutual loathing of the Nazis. Most importantly, this attitude was shared by Il Duce in Italy. Given the subsequent formation of the Axis, the “Pact of Steel” and so on, it can easily be forgotten that while Hitler hero-worshipped Mussolini since the Blackshirts march on Rome, that sentiment was not returned. Mussolini initially disliked Hitler and even after Hitler came to power and the two met face to face, Mussolini found something unsavory about him. This was important as the Nazis wanted Austria more than anything, it being the largest part of the German population outside Germany itself, and Italy was the one major obstacle to the Nazis being able to take Austria by force. In 1934, when Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis in an attempted coup, Mussolini was outraged and rushed Italian troops to the border, forcing Hitler to back down and denounce the Austrian Nazis who had done the deed.

Schuschnigg and Mussolini
At the time, Germany was still militarily weak but Mussolini was rather put off by the fact that, in that hour of crisis in 1934, he had been forced to act alone; neither Britain nor France had backed him up. In Austria itself, Kurt von Schuschnigg succeeded Dollfuss as chancellor and he knew that something more would have to be done to preserve Austrian independence and keep the country out of Hitler’s grasp. Restoring the monarchy was something Schuschnigg determined he could do. As Hitler and the Nazis in Germany grew in power and prestige there were not a few Austrians who longed to be part of the “Greater Germany” Hitler pledged to build. It was necessary then to give Austrians a greater sense of themselves as a distinct people, to recall the glory days of the past and there could be no better way to accomplish this than by restoring the Hapsburgs. There would be those in the European community who would oppose it but ultimately only two men mattered; Archduke Otto himself and the guarantor of Austrian independence Benito Mussolini.

Archduke Otto
Needless to say, Archduke Otto was more than willing to take the throne. Horrified by the thought of a Nazi takeover in Vienna and Austria becoming a state in Germany, the imperial heir offered to return at any time if he could be of help in saving the situation. The laws banning the Hapsburgs from Austrian soil were repealed and properties of the Hapsburgs were restored to them. The monarchists were jubilant, the Nazis were outraged and Schuschnigg finally put the issue to Mussolini. Would Italy support or oppose a restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy in Austria? By this time, Mussolini had come close to falling out with the Allies but still had no love for Hitler nor did he want to see the Germans on his border by annexing Austria. Surprisingly, given his background, Mussolini informed Schuschnigg that he would not oppose a restoration of the monarchy. He even went a step further and suggested that Italo-Austrian ties could be cemented by a Hapsburg marriage to a member of the Italian House of Savoy (something for which there was plenty of historical precedent). Schuschnigg arranged a secret meeting with Archduke Otto to inform him that the path had been cleared for the restoration of the monarchy. It was all agreed to and Schuschnigg stated that everything should be set for the restoration to happen the following year.

Fuhrer & Duce
Unfortunately, problems arose that prevented the speedy restoration that Schuschnigg and Archduke Otto planned. After an Ethiopian attack on an Italian outpost along the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Mussolini launched his invasion of Ethiopia. Liberal world opinion came down hard on Italy with Britain and France denouncing Italy in the League of Nations. Sanctions were imposed on Italy that succeeded in infuriating the public but not in deterring the Duce from his war. Germany, of course, did not join in the sanctions against Italy but continued to offer an outstretched hand of friendship. Ethiopia was conquered by Italian forces within seven months and Mussolini was turned against the Allies firmly and irretrievably. Since the Allies had offended him, the Duce turned to Hitler. From that point on, Austria could no longer count on Italian protection from a Nazi takeover and Hitler immediately began planning for the annexation of Austria and to do it before Archduke Otto could be restored to the throne. Fittingly enough, the Nazi plan for the invasion of Austria was given the codename of “Operation Otto”.

Patriotic rally of the Fatherland Front
Today, few people realize how close Austria came to restoring the monarchy, were it not for the British and French sanctions on Italy over Ethiopia, it almost certainly would have happened. More than that though, few people realize just how seriously the Nazis took the possibility. They were positively panicked by the idea and their fears were not entirely unjustified. Stories circulated in Nazi Germany that Archduke Otto would be restored to the Austrian throne but also that Hungary and Czechoslovakia were planning to join together under the House of Hapsburg and attack Nazi Germany. Of course, the idea that Archduke Otto or any government he presided over would have launched an unprovoked attack on Germany is absurd, yet there was some elements of truth to the stories. Schuschnigg had worked to forge better relations with Hungary and Archduke Otto was already nominally the King of Hungary anyway, so it is not that far-fetched to foresee a restoration in Austria leading to a full restoration in Hungary as well. The idea of Czechoslovakia rejoining Austria and Hungary also seems far-fetched but considering that they were under threat from Nazi Germany themselves, if Italy, Austria and Hungary had become an all-monarchy, anti-Nazi power bloc, it is not impossible to imagine the Czech government joining in as a matter of practical necessity.

The anschluss is accomplished
But, as we know, it didn’t happen. Schuschnigg called for a referendum on Austrian independence and Hitler determined to take action before it could be carried out. The only one who could have stopped him was Mussolini and he was no longer prepared to stand in the way. When this news reached Hitler, the Nazi dictator was ecstatic, knowing that Austria was as good as his. To sweeten the deal, Hitler also renounced forever any claim to the Southern Tyrol (a German populated area ceded to Italy after World War I). Prince Philip of Hesse telephoned the Fuhrer from Rome to inform him that Mussolini would keep his troops at home this time. Hitler excitedly shouted into the phone, “Please tell Mussolini that I shall never forget this…Never, never, never! Come what may! …And listen -sign any agreement he would like…You can tell him again. I thank him most heartily. I will never forget him!…Whenever he should be in need or in danger, he can be sure that I will stick with him, rain or shine -come what may- even if the whole world would rise against him -I will, I shall-” No child on Christmas morning was ever so excited and, though it was said in an obviously exuberant moment, Hitler would be as good as his word, at least as far as Mussolini was concerned. On March 12, 1938 German army units drove into Austria and in quick order the annexation was accomplished.

Archduke Otto
Austrian aristocrats and monarchists were immediately arrested by the Nazis, many of them being killed, along with any others who had opposed the union. The laws against the Hapsburgs in Austria were put back into effect, their property was again confiscated and Archduke Otto himself was declared a criminal, a wanted man and he had to take extra precautions for his own security. He moved to France and helped a great many Jews escape from Austria prior to the outbreak of World War II. He also remained adamant that the Austrians were not partners with Germany, but their first victims. Without the unity that the Hapsburg monarchy had provided, Hitler had a relatively easy time taking the German populated areas of the former Austria-Hungary for himself. First was the Sudetenland and then all of Czechoslovakia was partitioned with Poland and Hungary joining in the feast. Anyone who would dismiss the impact on the world of the loss of the “Dual Monarchy” should consider the fact that all of Hitler’s pre-war territorial gains were a nibbling away at the former lands of Austria-Hungary. It also warrants pointing out that the Allies took no action against Germany in these days and that should serve as an illustration of how unwarranted the fears were of Allied opposition to the restoration of the Hapsburgs. It would all seem to indicate that, despite the protestations of those who did not want to give up power, that the French and British would not have taken any action to oppose a return of the Hapsburgs if a country like Hungary had just gone ahead and done it. Ultimately, the only one who made a commitment to restore the Hapsburgs regardless of Allied opinion was Schuschnigg and he was abandoned.

The Archduke in Florida, 1942
When World War II broke out in Europe and the Germans finally got around to launching their invasion of France, Archduke Otto was again forced to flee, this time to the United States of America via Portugal. With the Nazi laws enacted against them, the Austrian Imperial Family in America were people without a country but Archduke Otto never relented in his anti-Nazi campaign. He settled in Washington DC but traveled across America extensively. He met with President Roosevelt several times and urged him and the American people (which at the time wanted no part of Europe’s war) to intervene and take up the cause of defeating the Axis. He also raised money for refugees from the former Austria-Hungary and charitable causes to benefit them as well as doing his best to make it clear to all that his people were not the enemies of America but victims of the Nazis just as much as the Czechs or the Poles. At the end of 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States in solidarity with their Japanese ally, America committed itself to the world war. Always a man of peace who greatly emphasized the role played by his father in trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the First World War, Archduke Otto nonetheless volunteered to fight for the Allied cause. While in America he tried to raise funds and gain support for an army battalion of Austrian exiles but was unable to bring it to fruition.

When the war progressed in favor of the Allies, ending ultimately in the total destruction of Germany and its division among the Allies, Archduke Otto was on the scene and was briefly able to visit his Austrian homeland in 1945. His immediate concern was lobbying Allied leaders to keep Austria out of the hands of the Soviets. He put forward his own proposal for post-war Central Europe, calling for the creation of a “Danube Federation” that would encompass much of the former territory of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. British Prime Minister Churchill seemed supportive of the idea but, not surprisingly, it was thwarted by the opposition of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As nearly all of the territory of the proposed federation was within the agreed-to Soviet sphere of influence, Stalin was able to veto the plan. Although it was not stated outright that the “Danube Federation” would be another Hapsburg empire, for the Archduke was certainly not an ambitious man, it stood to reason that he would have been the only logical candidate to assume a position of leadership in such a state. As it was, he busied himself with arguing for the rights of the German-speaking peoples outside of Germany, trying to gain recognition of Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression rather than an accessory and to form an Austrian government-in-exile. The last goal proved unreachable and he also railed against the handing over of Eastern Europe to Stalin and the Soviets which was the primary impediment to most of his plans. Unfortunately, that concerned agreements already made and involved territory that the Red Army already occupied so that, even if the British and Americans had regrets, there was little to nothing they could do about it.

With the situation as it was at the end of the war, hopes for a Hapsburg restoration vanished quickly. However, it is still a mark of how much the power-mad politicians who seized control of Austria in the aftermath of the war were about the possibility of Archduke Otto gaining the throne that, while Austria was purged of all the laws and policies enacted during the union with Nazi Germany, the post-war republican government retained those that were anti-Hapsburg. The Archduke remained banned from Austrian soil for decades until he was obliged to renounce his claim to the throne simply to have the basic freedom enjoyed by any other citizen. It was an obscene injustice for a man who had opposed the Nazi movement from the very beginning, a man who had been singled out by the Nazi regime as an “enemy of the state” and who had devoted his entire life during the war to resisting the Nazis and rescuing Austria and the other Hapsburg realms from their grip.
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