German defense minister tells troops in Afghanistan to prepare for long haul

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has told Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan they should prepare to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. This follows the Bundestag’s decision to raise troop numbers.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen admitted on Sunday that Afghanistan was still far from ready to take responsibility for its own security situation.

“It is not a question of a time frame that must be stubbornly stuck to,” von der Leyen told German troops during a visit to the Bundeswehr base in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The length of the mission in Afghanistan depended on whether conditions in the country improved, she said, adding that “we need patience and staying power.”

Von der Leyen’s remarks came on the back of the German parliament’s decision on Thursday to extend the Bundeswehr’s mission to Afghanistan, now in its 16th year, and raise the number of troops stationed in the conflict-ridden country from 980 to 1,300.

Germany’s new ruling coalition government has also vowed to increase military spending by some €10 billion ($12.4 billion) over the next four years, with further funds expected to be allocated towards development aid.

The German Defense Ministry defended the rise in troop numbers amid concerns that it would overstretch the Bundeswehr’s aging military equipment.

The German military came under criticism in the winter after it was able to carry out only around a half of its joint operations alongside the Afghan army. Von der Leyen blamed these shortcomings on a lack of security personnel and vowed to “fix this situation.”

NATO’s “Resolute Support” mission is focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces in the ongoing conflict with extremist groups, such as the Taliban and affiliate divisions of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS). The German military is involved in implementing these goals in northern Afghanistan, mainly in the city of Kunduz.

Deteriorating security situation

Von der Leyen’s pledge to keep German troops in Afghanistan reflects the deteriorating security situation in the country. A resurgent Taliban has regained control of large pockets following the initial withdrawal of US-led NATO troops at the end of 2014. IS affiliates also remain powerful in the region, despite the main group having been effectively defeated in Syria and Iraq.

Afghan security forces currently only control around 60 percent of the country: “That is good, but not enough by a long shot,” von der Leyen said.

The Afghanistan military’s wavering control has prompted a surge of extremist attacks since the new year, the most devastating of which saw a Taliban suicide bomber blow up an explosive-laden ambulance on a busy Kabul street in January, killing more than 100 people and injuring at least 235.

This week, an IS suicide bomber killed 29 Shiite worshippers celebrating the Persian New Year.

According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the ongoing war in Afghanistan in 2017, with militant bombings and terror attacks responsible for a majority of the casualties.

 

2Shares

1941 Yugoslavia joins the Axis

On this day, Yugoslavia, despite an early declaration of neutrality, signs the Tripartite Pact, forming an alliance with Axis powers Germany, Italy, and Japan.

A unified nation of Yugoslavia, an uneasy federation of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, was a response to the collapse of the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires at the close of World War I, both of which had previously contained parts of what became Yugoslavia. A constitutional monarchy, Yugoslavia built friendships with France and Czechoslovakia during the years between the world wars. With the outbreak of World War II, and the Anschluss (“union”) between Austria and Germany, pressure was placed on Yugoslavia to more closely ally itself Germany, despite Yugoslavia’s declared neutrality. But fear of an invasion like that suffered by France pushed Yugoslavia into signing a “Friendship Treaty”—something short of a formal political alliance—on December 11, 1940.

With the war spreading to the Balkans after the invasion of Greece by Italy, it was important to Hitler that the Axis powers have an ally in the region that would act as a bulwark against Allied encroachment on Axis territory. Meeting on February 14, 1941, Adolf Hitler proved unable to persuade Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic to formally join the Axis. The next day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill contacted the Yugoslav regent, Prince Paul, in an effort to encourage him to remain firm in resisting further German blandishments. It was essential to the Allies that Yugoslavia cooperate with Anglo-Greek forces in fending off an Axis conquest of Greece.

But with King Boris of Bulgaria caving into Germany, Prince Paul felt the heat of the Nazis, and on March 20 he asked the Yugoslav Cabinet for their cooperation in allowing the Germans access to Greece through Yugoslavia. The Cabinet balked, and four ministers resigned in protest at the suggestion. This gesture failed to prevent Prime Minister Cvetkovic from finally signing the Tripartite Pact in Vienna on March 25, 1941.

Within two days, the Cvetkovic government was overthrown by a unified front of peasants, the church, unions, and the military—an angry response to the alliance with Germany. Prince Paul was thrown from his throne in favor of his son, King Peter, only 17 years old. The new government, led by Air Force Gen. Dusan Simovic, immediately renounced the Tripartite Pact. In less than two weeks, Germany invaded the nation and occupied it by force.

1Shares

1943 Another plot to kill Hitler foiled

On this day, the second military conspiracy plan to assassinate Hitler in a week fails to come off.

Back in the summer of 1941, Maj. Gen. Henning von Tresckow, a member of Gen. Fedor von Bock’s Army Group Center, was the leader of one of many conspiracies against Adolf Hitler. Along with his staff officer, Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, and two other conspirators, both of old German families who also believed Hitler was leading Germany to humiliation, Tresckow had planned to arrest the Fuhrer when he visited the Army Group’s headquarters at Borisov, in the Soviet Union. But their naivete in such matters became evident when Hitler showed up—surrounded by SS bodyguards and driven in one of a fleet of cars. They never got near him.

Tresckow would try again on March 13, 1943, in a plot called Operation Flash. This time, Tresckow, Schlabrendorff, et al., were stationed in Smolensk, still in the USSR. Hitler was planning to fly back to Rastenburg, Germany, from Vinnitsa, in the USSR. A stopover was planned at Smolensk, during which the Fuhrer was to be handed a parcel bomb by an unwitting officer thinking it was a gift of liquor for two senior officers at Rastenburg. All went according to plan and Hitler’s plane took off-—the bomb was set to go off somewhere over Minsk. At that point, co-conspirators in Berlin were ready to take control of the central government at the mention of the code word “Flash.” Unfortunately, the bomb never went off at all—the detonator was defective.

A week later on March 21, on Heroes’ Memorial Day, (a holiday honoring German World War I dead), Tresckow selected Col. Freiherr von Gersdorff to act as a suicide bomber at the Zeughaus Museum in Berlin, where Hitler was to attend the annual memorial dedication. With a bomb planted in each of his two coat pockets, Gersdorff was to sidle up to Hitler as he reviewed the memorials and ignite the bombs, taking the dictator out—along with himself and everyone in the immediate vicinity. Schlabrendorff supplied Gersdorff with bombs—each with a 10-minute fuse.

Once at the exhibition hall, Gersdorff was informed that the Fuhrer was to inspect the exhibits for only eight minutes—not enough time for the fuses to melt down.

1Shares

1918 Germany begins major offensive on the Western Front

On March 21, 1918, near the Somme River in France, the German army launches its first major offensive on the Western Front in two years.

At the beginning of 1918, Germany’s position on the battlefields of Europe looked extremely strong. German armies occupied virtually all of Belgium and much of northern France. With Romania, Russia and Serbia out of the war by the end of 1917, conflict in the east was drawing to a close, leaving the Central Powers free to focus on combating the British and French in the west. Indeed, by March 21, 1918, Russia’s exit had allowed Germany to shift no fewer than 44 divisions of men to the Western Front.

German commander Erich Ludendorff saw this as a crucial opportunity to launch a new offensive–he hoped to strike a decisive blow to the Allies and convince them to negotiate for peace before fresh troops from the United States could arrive. In November, he submitted his plan for the offensive that what would become known as Kaiserschlacht, or the kaiser’s battle; Ludendorff code-named the opening operation Michael. Morale in the German army rose in reaction to the planned offensive. Many of the soldiers believed, along with their commanders, that the only way to go home was to push ahead.

Michael began in the early morning hours of March 21, 1918. The attack came as a relative surprise to the Allies, as the Germans had moved quietly into position just days before the bombardment began. From the beginning, it was more intense than anything yet seen on the Western Front. Ludendorff had worked with experts in artillery to create an innovative, lethal ground attack, featuring a quick, intense artillery bombardment followed by the use of various gases, first tear gas, then lethal phosgene and chlorine gases. He also coordinated with the German Air Service or Luftstreitkrafte, to maximize the force of the offensive.

Winston Churchill, at the front at the time as the British minister of munitions, wrote of his experience on March 21: There was a rumble of artillery fire, mostly distant, and the thudding explosions of aeroplane raids. And then, exactly as a pianist runs his hands across a keyboard from treble to bass, there rose in less than one minute the most tremendous cannonade I shall ever hear. It swept around us in a wide curve of red flame

By the end of the first day, German troops had advanced more than four miles and inflicted almost 30,000 British casualties. As panic swept up and down the British lines of command over the next few days, the Germans gained even more territory. By the time the Allies hardened their defense at the end of the month, Ludendorff’s army had crossed the Somme River and broken through enemy lines near the juncture between the British and French trenches. By the time Ludendorff called off the first stage of the offensive in early April, German guns were trained on Paris, and their final, desperate attempt to win World War I was in full swing.

3Shares

1945 General Fromm executed for plot against Hitler

On this day, the commander of the German Home Army, Gen. Friedrich Fromm, is shot by a firing squad for his part in the July plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. The fact that Fromm’s participation was half-hearted did not save him.

By 1944, many high-ranking German officials had made up their minds that Hitler must die. He was leading Germany in a suicidal war on two fronts, and they believed that assassination was the only way to stop him. According to the plan, coup d’etat would follow the assassination, and a new government in Berlin would save Germany from complete destruction at the hands of the Allies. All did not go according to plan, however. Col. Claus von Stauffenberg was given the task of planting a bomb during a conference that was to be held at Hitler’s holiday retreat, Berchtesgaden (but was later moved to Hitler’s headquarters at Rastenburg). Stauffenberg was chief of staff to Gen. Friedrich Fromm. Fromm, chief of the Home Army (composed of reservists who remained behind the front lines to preserve order at home), was inclined to the conspirators’ plot, but agreed to cooperate actively in the coup only if the assassination was successful.

On the night of July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg planted an explosive-filled briefcase under a table in the conference room at Rastenburg. Hitler was studying a map of the Eastern Front as Colonel Heinz Brandt, trying to get a better look at the map, moved the briefcase out of place, farther away from where the Fuhrer was standing. At 12:42 p.m. the bomb went off. When the smoke cleared, Hitler was wounded, charred, and even suffered the temporary paralysis of one arm—but was very much alive.

Meanwhile, Stauffenberg had made his way to Berlin to meet with his co-conspirators to carry out Operation Valkyrie, the overthrow of the central government. Once in the capital, General Fromm, who had been informed by phone that Hitler was wounded but still alive, ordered Stauffenberg and his men arrested, but Fromm was located and locked in an office by Nazi police. Stauffenberg and Gen. Friedrich Olbricht began issuing orders for the commandeering of various government buildings. Then the news came through from Herman Goering that Hitler was alive. Fromm, released from confinement by officers still loyal to Hitler, and anxious to have his own association with the conspirators covered up quickly, ordered the conspirators, including two Stauffenberg aides, shot for high treason that same day. (Gen. Ludwig Beck, one of the conspiracy leaders and an older man, was allowed the “dignity” of committing suicide.)

Fromm’s last-ditch effort to distance himself from the plot failed. Within the next few days, on order of Heinrich Himmler, who was now the new head of the Home Army, Fromm was arrested. In February 1945, he was tried before the People’s Court and denigrated for his cowardice in refusing to stand up to the plotters. But because he went so far as to execute Stauffenberg and his partners on the night of July 20, he was spared the worst punishment afforded convicted conspirators—strangulation on a meat hook. He was shot by a firing squad on March 19.

6Shares

Update 3-19-2018 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New Pictures have been added to the Website:

  • Veteran Soldaten Past and Present
  • Battle of Greece
  • Battle of Stalingrad
  • Operation Rösselsprung
  • Destruction of Germany During and After the War
  • Afrika Korps
  • Brandenburgers – German Special Forces
  • Panzer IV
  • Specialized Vehicles
  • World War 2 Generals – F thru H
  • World War 2 Generals – P thru U
  • World War 2 Generals – W thru Z
  • World War 2 Heer Officers, NCO’s, Etc. – A thru F
  • World War 2 Heer Officers, NCO’s, Etc. – S thru Z
  • Luftwaffe Pilots & Airmen – A thru G
  • Luftwaffe Pilots & Airmen – T thru Z
  • Bundeswehr Military History Museum
  • World War 2 Propaganda, Magazines, and Print
  • Franco-Prussian War
  • Otto von Bismarck
  • Historic Figures of the German Empire
  • World War 1 – The Great War
  • WW1 Allies Austro-Hungarian Empire
  • Sudetenland
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Third Reich – Nazi Germany
  • Fuhrer Adolf Hitler
  • Leading Figures of Nazi Germany – A thru L
  • SS – Schutzstaffel
  • Order of Battle – Waffen-SS Divisions & Other Units
  • SS Officers, NCOs, and Men – A thru G
  • SS Officers, NCOs, and Men – U thru Z
  • SS General Josef “Sepp” Dietrich

New Pages have been added to the Website:

  • SS Generals

Enjoy!

3Shares

The leap of hope that ended in despair

When Conrad Schumann jumped over the Berlin Wall, he became a symbol of freedom. But the burden was too great.

MANY PEOPLE were standing around, and that was good, because they distracted my colleagues. I was able to swap my loaded sub-machine- gun for an empty one before I jumped. The jump was not so difficult then. After that the gun fell noisily on the ground; with a full magazine it probably would have gone off.”

That is how the East German border guard Conrad Schumann recalled, in one of hundreds of subsequent interviews, the moment he was devoured by history. At 4pm on 15 August 1961, two days after the Communist regime began erecting the Berlin Wall, the 19-year-old soldier set off on the journey that was to define his entire life.

“My nerves were at breaking point,” he remembered. “I was very afraid. I took off, jumped, and into the car … in three, four seconds it was all over.”

A photographer mingling with onlookers on the western side of Bernauer Strasse captured the “Leap of Freedom”, and a Cold War pin-up was born. Pictures of the lanky youth soaring above coils of barbed wire in his tight uniform were blitzed across the world. Suddenly Schumann was a hero of the Free World, and in his homeland a despicable traitor. Some 2,100 East German soldiers and policemen were to follow his example.

“Welcome to the West,” bystanders shouted. But Schumann, a simple NCO, was ill-prepared for the adulation. All he asked for when he arrived at the West Berlin debriefing centre was a sandwich. He said simply that he had been angered by the spectacle of a fleeing East German child being dragged back from the West, and did not want to “live enclosed”. A fit of desperation or an act of heroism: history books rarely distinguish between the two.

But Schumann never really escaped. Uninvited stardom drove him to the bottle in the first decade of his new life. He eventually married, settled down in a Bavarian village, had a son, and worked conscientiously on Audi’s assembly line for 27 years.

Then, last Saturday, something snapped. After a family row, Schumann left the house. He was found by his wife a few hours later, hanging from a tree in the nearby woods. The History Man left no farewell letter behind.

Neighbours in the village of Kipfenberg describe him as a quiet, retiring man. All he had to show for his ephemeral fame was that picture on the living-room wall, alongside floral tapestries and a photograph of him with Ronald Reagan. The family were reasonably prosperous: they had inherited a house from the in-laws.

From the freedom photograph, however, he made not one pfennig. “As lawyers explained, because I am a historical figure, the picture can be published everywhere without my consent. But the photographer did not become rich either,” he consoled himself. “He was working for an agency.”

Nor did he get much joy from official quarters. A hero he might have been for the Western propaganda machine, but all officials wanted from him was information he did not possess. Schumann, according to the German press, was “squeezed like a lemon” by his Western interrogators.

Little wonder that the hero-villain felt confused by his dual status. As he drifted through life in West Berlin, frequently changing jobs in the initial years, alcohol provided the only solace.

Lonely and depressed, his only human contact with his family in the East was through letters. He had not changed his name or gone underground, and now the Stasi, the East German secret police, were after him. They wanted the Cold War icon back, for their own purposes. The family wrote letters asking Schumann to come home – everything would be fine.

“Only much later did I realise how dangerous this situation was,” he recalled in a 1994 interview. “I did not know that the letters my parents were writing me were dictated by the Stasi.”

He was even naive enough to contemplate going home for a visit while the Wall was still standing. At the last minute, a West Berlin policeman managed to talk him out of that plan.

After the Wall fell and Germany was reunited, Schumann was able to return to his native Saxony for the first time. But the homecoming was not the triumphant procession he had anticipated. Many people had been kind to him, he said, but quite a few had shunned him. “There are still some people who refuse to speak to me,” he said. The traitor had remained a traitor to many, even if the country he betrayed had since disappeared.

Still, he was back in the whirlwind of history, and for a time seemed to be enjoying it. In the euphoria of reunification, heroes of old were in great demand again, for one last hurrah. Schumann beamed into the cameras as requested, signed the posters depicting his run, and made efforts to speak cheerfully about his situation.

In 1989, as the Wall was being hacked to pieces, Schumann made guest appearances at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, signing pictures for tourists. He was no longer recognisable from the photo: now he was a podgy middle- aged man with tattoos on both arms.

After that, he devoted his full attention to car-building, making only rare visits to Berlin. The posters nevertheless remain the best-selling item at the Checkpoint Charlie museum, and visitors formed a long queue a month ago when Border Guard NCO Schumann came to sign for the last time.

The museum’s directors worry that business may take a down-turn now that the man it celebrates is no longer alive. They are probably wrong. For the picture was never about Conrad Schumann, the soldier with the invisible face, but about the act. It was the human spirit that soared above that barbed wire, and Schumann was merely an unlucky man who accidentally got into the picture.

6Shares

German Military History with a focus on World War II History including other areas of German History