Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Swedish Independence as an Expression of German Greed and Danish Avant-Gardism

Idealised image of Gustavus Vasa raising the rebellion. 

Do countries and states have DNA -- elements present at their creation that then resonate throughout their history and help to shape them? If so, what are we to make of Sweden and the odd collection of forces that brought that state into existence? The key date in this piece of historical alchemy was the 6th of June, 1523, exactly 495 years ago today.

Up until that date, Swedish history had seemed to be a tributary subsumed into the wider current of Danish history. As a backward and ill-defined area, it had been united to Denmark in 1388, as part of the Union of Kalmar, and its fate as a somewhat reluctant provincial region of that powerful Baltic monarchy seemed set until the early 16th century.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Flooding China to Stem the Japanese Tide

When did WWII begin? Most would say it was when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but a good case can be made for July 7th, 1937, when the Japanese kicked off their invasion of China, a campaign that lasted eight years and became a major part of WWII. One of the biggest and most dramatic events in that war was the deliberate flooding of a large area of China in 1938 by the Nationalist Chinese government in an attempt to halt the rapid Japanese advance. This occurred 80 years ago today.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Pu Yi and the Puppet State Principle of "Wangtao"

Back in 1933, Peter Fleming, the brother of James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, travelled via the Trans-Siberian Railway to the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo in what is now the North Eastern corner of China. Here, he was lucky enough to interview Pu Yi, the "Last Emperor" of China, who was then serving as the figurehead leader under the title "Chief Executive of the State of Manchukuo. The following year he would become its "Emperor."

Fleming's sympathetic account of the meeting in his travel memoir "One's Company" (1934) perfectly captures Pu Yi's situation and the slyly manipulative nature of the Japanese rulers.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

The Dambusters Raid – an example of British technological 'try-hardism'

War, among other things, is a great stimulus to technology. WWI saw the invention of the tank, aerial bombardment, and the use of gas as a weapon; while WWII brought a host of innovations that were equally applicable in both wartime and peacetime, like radar, jet-powered flight, and nuclear power.

While any military power is interested in new technologies that can give it the edge, the British in the WWII period felt a particular impetus to try new things. Partly this was because Britain was the old, established power in decline, with a society that retained antiquated elements. Faced by more modern and up-to-date states, like Republican France, the USA, Communist Russia, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany, the British felt somewhat out-of-date, and as consequence felt a need to overcompensate by throwing their weight behind daring innovations.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018


Today, May the 9th, is celebrated as Victory Day in Russia, commemorating the victory of the Soviet Union (aka Russia) over Nazi Germany. This is also the cornerstone of the modern day myth that WWII was effectively won by the Russians with some minor help from the other allies. According to this version of things, the Brits and Yanks were merely holding Russia's coat, while the Great Bear went head to head with the Nazi behemoth and won.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Italian Army's Greatest Achievement on British Soil During WWII

Italian PoWs
In World War II the Italians achieved little of merit on the battlefield. Despite having 20 years of Fascist rule to harden their bodies and minds to turn them into ruthless fighting machines, they tended to surrender in droves when not backed up by their formidable German allies. 

However, one major achievement they can claim was pulling off what was by far the largest POW escape in Britain. The site of this daring escapade in Italian military history was Camp 14 at Doonfoot, located on the south side of the town of Ayr in Scotland.

What Was the Ethnic Composition of the Hapsburg Army?

In 1906 a survey found that out of every 1000 men enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army, there were 267 Germans/Austrians, 223 Hungarians, 135 Czechs, 85 Poles, 81 Ukrainians, 67 Croats and Serbs, 64 Romanians, 38 Slovaks, 26 Slovenes, and 14 Italians.