Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The last professional

One of the great quandaries of the last 100 years has been Germany. One could argue that they are the most educated, professional, and successful cultures in Europe (yes, Europeans are not one culture: CNO call your office).

They took one wrong fork after another in the 30s and wound up becoming a monster and now have such self-loathing that they are not even reproducing enough to keep themselves going. What a shame; I love modern Germany and Germans in general - I spent so much time there and really have nothing but great memories (though they are rude in the ski-lift lines).

It was often said that in most nations, the nation has a military. In the case of Prussia - the seed of the modern German state - a military had a nation. From the time when the Romans filled their Legions with Germans and on - the German martial tradition was strong and reached its peak with the Prussians. The post-Franco-Prussian War Germany took that Prussian professionalism with them. To this day, those who have worked with the rump-German military can speak of their professionalism - though they are firmly under their nation now days.

In their mid-century descent in to madness, there was one branch of the German military that held its honor the longest - some would say they never lost it; that was the German Navy.

The fact they had the last Jewish officers is one point, they were also the service that held out the longest with the traditional military salute, though with time that faded as more and more officers saw the personal-professional gain by "joining the club" with the fascist salute. Many stuck with it throughout.

There are all sorts of pictures out there where some are saluting normal, and others the fascist salute. I have always wondered about the background story of those who held out the longest. I have read Doenitz, Werner, Cremer, and others trying to get an idea - but nothing really sticks. Perhaps it is better addressed in German literature, but not all that well in English literature.

I feel like I am missing a great story; it is all kind of hazy.

Knowing I am a history geek, LT B send along a collection of color photographs of pre-WWII Germany from Life magazine. This picture was second from the last.

In it you see one officer, rank and name unknown, who is the last holdout - surrounded my madness. Just a German officer trying to serve Germany - trying to remain beyond politics as those around him folded.

What did the war hold for this man? What were his thoughts when this picture was taken - and if he survived the war; what were his thoughts afterwords?

I don't know about you, but when I see that picture all I can think of is sadness. Sadness for the last professional before his nation descended in to suicidal madness.



... and yes, the Pocket Battleships were one of the most beautiful ships ever made - never reached their potential.

34 comments:

e ringer said...

one of the cable channels did a thing on the graf spee.  it was noted the skipper (good guy / bad tactician) gave the naval salute when he buried his crew after the battle of the river plate.  most of the germans around him gave the nazi salute.  again, this was early in the war. 

  

Grumpy Old Ham said...

<span>though with time that faded as more and more officers saw the personal-professional gain by "joining the club" with the fascist salute.</span>

As I tend to point out from time to time, parallels with the modern diversity diktat left as an exercise for the reader.

Thanks for sharing this one, CDR S.  Those who fail to remember history, etc., etc...

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Salamander, I beg to differ on your analysis.  His nation and his Navy had long since descended into madness.  The photo was taken during that brief period between the onset of that madness and immolation.

When, exactly, did those in uniform (with the exception of men like we see rendering the military salute) sell their souls?  August 2nd, 1934.

"I swear by God this sacred oath that I shall render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the F├╝hrer of the German Reich, supreme commander of the armed forces, and that I shall at all times be prepared, as a brave soldier, to give my life for this oath."

Mahanwasright said...

Sal,   Goethe probably said it best about the Germans and I must paraphrase since I am having trouble finding the quotation"

The Germans, so laudable as individuals, so deplorable as a group.

something like that.

Boat School Grad said...

The Pocket Battleships were beautiful...but a single rudder?  What where they thinking!

DeltaBravo said...

Perhaps there is something good about pulling up anchor and getting distance and perspective when your country is heading for the cliff.  Maybe the German Naval officers who were at sea were less easily swept up in the frenzy and emotionality of the time.

I wonder how Hitler would have fared in the days of 24/7 coverage and Diane Sawyer/Oprah interviews.

SonOfaBlackshow said...

I spent a year in Germany - I loved it there and I have always loved them... but they always carried a feeling of superiority around with them... mind you they worked hard enough to earn it in most cases.  If you are really into German History - I recommend reading the Berlin Noir trilogy by Phillip Kerr(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Kerr) it will give you such an awesome perspective of life just before, during and after WWII.

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

I could be wrong, but I think you are thinking of the Bismark, which was a full up battleship, and became trapped when a Swordfish (Stringbag to her crews) put a torpedo up her kilt, jamming her rudders hard over by buckling the hull in after steering around the rudder posts.

I never heard or read of any of the pocket battleships lost or impaired to damage to the rudder.  Graf Spee was scuttled after being repeatedly but indecisively hit by 3 light cruisers punching above their weight.  Outgunned but by no means outclassed.

The Brits ran down and killed essentially all the German surface anticommerce Q-ships and pocket battleships with much older,and on paper, less capable ships. But they had a lot of them. And they had that combination of ferocity, guile, brains, and guts sailors call professionalism, to the confusion of Marines who call ferocity, guile, brains, and guts warrior spirit. That they had in spades.

Oh yes, a US Merchant Marine crew and Naval Armed Guard Detachment got one of the last commerce raiders with one (1) 5 inch 38 caliber open mount.

'Taint the size of the dog in the fight, its the size of the fight in the dog.  RIP, largely forgotten heros.

Aubrey said...

Great post, 'Phib...

In my opinion one of the two or three best looking ships ever built was the Scharnhorst - not one of the most effective, but damn she was a pretty ship.

Salty Gator said...

Agreed.  Those ass clowns killed many of my relatives (civillians).  My relatives in uniform more than made up for that in far superior numbers.

The German people and German military sold their souls long before this picture was taken.  And, just as we can never fully trust the Japanese again, we should never fully trust the Germans again.  Ever.

pk said...

don't get to far up on your high horses guys, that great bastion of technical smarts USN built a class of destroyers that had a single rudder and not only that the stock was firmly welded into the fin which made things that much worse.

Aubrey said...

If memory serves, didn't they have tandem rudders?  Not an improvement over single rudder given they were in-line rather than abreast...

Roger Fortier said...

Just came back from 10 days visiting the in-laws in Berlin. You can't understand Europe today without appreciating the context of European men in perpetual arrested development; courtesy of 60+ years of U.S. military protection. I'd bet that Germany will be the first to break the pacifist mold, since they are arrogant enough to forget their past, or perhaps, because of it.   

xbradtc said...

The pocket battleships were good looking ships, but not nearly as good looking as the Alaskas.

ewok40k said...

Just a couple of observations:
Germany is not in position to focus on naval power, positioned between France and Poland, or worse, Russia... Each battleship was 1000 of Panthers in steel.
And this was its undoing in both world wars as resources available in Europe were just not up to scale of fighting, especially oil.
Allies could get all they wanted from US Carribeans and Middle East. Germany had only mediocre Ploesti assets. Russia had similar problem with their Caucasus oil, (siberian fields not discovered until 1960s) but just as Germany was poised to seize them Stalingrad happened.
Sea denial via subs and in ww2 aircraft allowed Germans to threaten credibly UK, but it wasnt enough to knock it out, especially as it was at the same time drawing US with all its resources into the war...
Re:Graf Spee commander - after scuttling her, he committed suicide in Uruguay.
Norway campaign was a pyrrhic victory for German navy, as roughly half of destroyers and cruisers was sunk or badly damaged, which made Sealion pretty much madmans dream.

Boat School Grad said...

Deutschland Class (Lutzow, Graf Spee, Scheer) were twin screw, single centerline rudder I beleive, but WTH, I'm a brown shoe. 

murphy said...

Being a History major (with a focus on  20th Century China :-D   ) I have always been interested in Prussian-German military history.

Could anyone recomend a good (basic/intro) history book on Prussia-Germany...?

Xie Xie

ewok40k said...

http://www.amazon.com/German-Wars-Concise-History-1859-1945/dp/0760337802/ref=sr_1_232?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311799718&sr=1-232
http://www.amazon.com/German-Way-War-Thirty-Studies/dp/0700616241/ref=sr_1_233?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311799718&sr=1-233
those 2 seem a good starting point...

CDR Salamander said...

URR,
We are talking about an individual here. A man.  Like all men, he cannot see the future clearly.  The oath he took may seem over the top for an American in the second-half of the 21st century; but for that part of the world at that point in time - you cannot fault him for taking that oath.

We are all small cowards in hindsight.  I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Not all Germans were monsters; you minimize the evil of the actual monsters when you paint with that broad of a brush.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Salamander,

Not my intent at all.  Hitler may have hated the Prussian Army aristocracy, but he knew them well.  The oath to them was a sacred thing, much more so than it is to us today. 

The man saluting with the traditional salute is anything but a coward.  A small act of decency in such a time and place often had terrible, even fatal, consequences.  For men like Langsdorff, and Ludwig Beck, and the lesser knowns like Anton Schmid (a candidate for FbF, by the way),  the Third Reich was an abomination, and Hitler and his henchmen, amoral thugs. 

The honor among the Germans, especially in the Wehrmacht, magnifies the horror of the crimes of their leaders, and adds the sin of betrayal to the nearly incomprehensible tragedy that was WWII.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

"<span>I wonder how Hitler would have fared in the days of 24/7 coverage and Diane Sawyer/Oprah interviews."</span>

At least as well as Castro, Chavez, Ahmedinejad, and Mugabe.  Brutal and oppressive dictators are like that.

Grandpa Bluewater. said...

BSG:

Steering gear design was a nonplayer for the class on the basis of historical fact (Bombed and scuttled, bombed, scuttled).

Zoomies got two out of three, or their own crews got two out of three, depending on how you look at it.

Off topic anyway, a quibble at best.

DeltaBravo said...

Direct, to the point, and unexpectedly funny.  Typical, URR...

Anonymous said...

Well said, Brad!

andrewdb said...

A French Prime Minster, can't remember which one, said "I don't hate Germany.  I love Germany, so much I think there should be two"

Anonymous said...

I suspect he would have done rather well.  Hitler seemingly had rabid female followers, as well.  See Jonah Goldberg's Libeal Fascism.  He knew how to work the minds of people to his advantage.  The press is very vulnerable to people like that, see the election of 2008 for proof of that.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Hitler used to complain that he had a reactionary Army, a National Socialist Air Force, and a Christian Navy.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

And he did. 

andrewdb said...

A family friend came to the US well after the war.  He grew up in Hamburg and was a member of the Hitler Youth - not that there was any alternative at the time.  His family were trade unionists.  He said one aunt was always very anti-Hitler and everyone thought it was just a matter of time before the Gestapo came for her.  They never did though.  After the war he said she was a bit unsufferable with her "I told you so" stuff. 

Another family member was taken away.  At least they had a grave and after the war the family changed the tombstone to read that he was "a victim of the Nazis."

DeltaBravo said...

You know... I can't imagine how those in the military who had honor felt (if they survived the war) to look back and realize how Hitler used them... both in the buildup and then in the destruction of Germany when he decided if he was going to go down, he was going to take the whole country down with it.  (A lesson present day observers should NEVER forget... how the mind of a true narcissist works.)

He was diabolical in using his own military to destroy what was most dear to them.

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Yeah, the Fletchers.  All 175 of 'em.  Had a turning radius almost precisely that of the Iowas

Rectified in the Sumner-Gearings.  

This 'un here is Radford (DD-446).

pk said...

the ones that i was talkin about were builtin the fifties. john paul jones was one of them i believe.

C

pk said...

iowas could turn inside of fletchers but they had to go aft on one side and forward on the other to do it. saw brass plates with caution language at the throttle board on new jersy.

c

TBR said...

Christopher Clark's Iron Kingdom. Don't go for something from an European, let alone a German author because their views (at least those of the published majority) are warped when it comes to German history and the World Wars. Clark was born in Australia and is now established as an academician in Britain, so on that basis he carries less baggage. I've got Iron Kingdom on my bookshelf, if you want an objective history of Prussia its the book to choose:

http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Kingdom-Downfall-Prussia-1600-1947/dp/0674031962/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1311840134&sr=1-1