The Invisable Casualty – Combat Fatigue In War

364px-Jacob Mendes Da Costa

364px-Jacob Mendes Da CostaIt has been known by many names over the course of history, the earliest recorded identification of emotional or psychological disorders affecting a man’s combat ability by a medical source comes from the U.S. Civil War, when Union Surgeon Dr. Jacob Da Costa, called the men who reported to sick call, the Army’s ER for illness, complaining of nervous discomfort, shortness of breath. Unofficially it was referred to as “Da Costa’s Syndrome” but also was called “nostalgia” and “irritable heart”, whatever the early medical terms used, it was attempting to describe the effects of violent combat and its effects on the men who were fighting in it. Although first identified by medical staff as an illness, no official or systematic study was conducted by any medial authority, north or south, into the causes and possible treatments of the malady.

The next reference to psychological illness came in 1917 for the United States, in World War I, the Spanish-American War of 1898 did not have the intense close-order fighting of the Civil War and the fighting lasted only some eight months and many of the battles were sharp but short. Many of the symptoms first experienced in the U.S. Civil War arose again with the misery of life in the frequently flooded filthy trenches of north-western France. Artillery bombardments, short and inaccurate in 1865, now became days and even weeks long torrent of an accurate hurricane of steel and high explosives. Along with the other new invention of the Great War, accurate and sustained machine gun fire, and the inability to break the logjam of positional warfare until the last months of the war in 1918, the weeks and months in the same trench were the perfect laboratory for all kinds of illnesses, physical as well as psychological.

Continue reading “The Invisable Casualty – Combat Fatigue In War”

Manpower Squandered: The German Luftwaffe Field Divisions

Luftwaffe Field Division on the long walk to Normandy!

Luftwaffe Field Division on the long walk to Normandy!

With the two German military disasters on the eastern front, one in front of Moscow in the winter of 1941/42 and the other on the lower Volga River at Stalingrad in the late summer and winter of 1942/43, the loss of manpower in these two catastrophic defeats was far above the anticipated loss rates in the planning for Barbarossa.

What goes unnoticed in the field reports and the examination of the battles of the first four months of the German invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941 was the level of exhaustion for both men and machine.  As one German officer commented in August that ” . . . we were victoring ourselves to death!”  The inability to bring the Red Army to the final battle, as it retreated deeper  across the Ukraine and Byelorussia, Russia’s borderlands, and into Russia’s seemingly endless interior was worrisome to the German high command. The short war, one of kurs und vives, of short and lively campaigns, of quick and decisive movement, popularly known as the Blitzkrieg, was developing into the war they feared and could not win, one of material and human attrition.  The need for more men was critical.

The foundational problem in identifying and establishing additional fighting units was primarily political.  By late 1942, the Luftwaffe did have men whose positions had become superfluous or obsolete, primarily in the bomber squadrons or Kampf Geschwader.  It was these men that were identified as potential manpower sources for the army or, in German, der Heer.  However, just because they could pull a trigger, did not automatically mean they could soon be fighting infantry. Herman Goering, always in competition with other heads of the Third Reich, namely, the Army, Navy and especially Himmler and his growing SS organizations.  Seeking to keep his share of the Nazi empire, he insisted that he could form his non-essential men into a field fighting force, soon to be named the Luftwaffe Feld Division.

The problem with drafting men from the largely technical Luftwaffe into the fighting Army infantry was assuming that the round peg would easily fit into the square hole.  The Luftwaffe was largely composed of technicians; radio, radar and electronics specialists, pilots, high altitude weapons specialists, engine technicians, metal crafters and the like.  With the exception of the pilots, the bulk of the Luftwaffe organization never came into direct contact with the enemy.  Even their most forward airfields were far more comfortable and structured than the most of the dirty, lice-ridden trenches and bunkers of the front line infantry.  Furthermore, the insistence of maintaining that these men remain within the fold of the Luftwaffe deprived it of the vast body of experienced combat infantryman they could learn to not only fight effectively but simply stay alive in the harsh conditions of the Eastern Front.

Despite the obvious need to train these 200,000+ men by the organization who could put them to best use, the army, the transition from the Luftwaffe to the army was badly mishandled.  By the early months of 1943, the continuous series of crises on the eastern front meant that the necessary training required for these men was cut short and in some cases, eliminated altogether.

The initial plan was to insert the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions into quiet sectors of the front line, preferably alongside veteran army infantry divisions to share combat duties of scouting and the many vital routines of the front line environment.  The actual result was quite different.  The new Luftwaffe units were used to displace the army infantry divisions, who were sent to the crises points of the front, most notably in the far south, in and around Stalingrad in late 1942 and all during 1943 with the great retreats there.

Additional difficulties continued to dog the new and inexperienced Luftwaffe Feld Divisions.  The rapidly growing and experienced front line units of the Red Army soon learned to identify the new “kids on the block” by their slow or inappropriate responses to Red Army probing attacks and later full scale operations.  It also did not help that the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions kept their sky blue uniforms rather than the feldgrau of the army, making identification of them that much easier.

battle moscow13









Their performance in combat reflected their lack of combat training and experience.  Easily identified by the Red Army, the portion of the front line held by the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions became the focal points of the full weight of Russian attacks and the results were disastrous. The reaction by the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions to the heavily use of artillery by the Red Army, along with their frequent use of rocket artillery frequently cause the German units to break and run, almost always leaving behind their valuable and also frequently irreplaceable weapons, especially the light and heavy FLAK (anti-aircraft artillery).

By the middle of 1944 the formation of the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions reach some twenty-one divisions, although their equipment, manpower and field expertise never reached that of standard army infantry divisions, and far less than the Waffen SS divisions.  By the end of the war in May 1945, there were only three divisions in existence and only one of these was at full strength, the one located in Norway.

The story of the Luftwaffe Feld Divisions was but one example of the German mismanagement of its scarce resources in the execution of its war effort.  The intervention of political elements diverted one of the last remaining high quality bodies of manpower in the Third Reich and squandered it.  The talent and training of these highly skilled men could have been better used if they had been left in place with their parent Luftwaffe units or transferred within the Luftwaffe to units that could have better used their talents.  The increased efficiency of these units might have tipped the balance in the fight with the U.S. Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force in their fight to destroy the German transportation, fuel and armaments industries.

The Challenges of Historical Writing

Ostfront Bagration Book

Ostfront-Bagration-BookDuring the writing of my recent book Why Normandy Was Won:  Operation Bagration and the War In the East 1941 – 1945 (Ostfront Publications, LLC, 458 pp 2010) one of the recurring obstacles I confronted was obtaining accurate data and information as well as getting access to it.

 The source material for all historical writing is either original material (interviews, witnessing, original documents or participating) or secondary sources (books, newspapers, journals or indirect interviews).  Based on what is being written about, the preferred sources will always be original  material as that provides the reader and the historical record with fresh new material to evaluate and examine.  However, frequently an engaging historical work can be written from carefully selected secondary source material, especially if the event has occurred beyond the opportunity to have access to living participants of the event or the event or period being written about is difficult or impossible to visit or no longer exists. Also, an innovative work can be constructed with the use of secondary material, especially if it has been selected and presented in such a way that presents a new view or perspective on the subject. It is this second manner of writing history that is most challenging and difficult for the author/historian.  It puts the researcher and/or author in the position of not only seeking appropriate sources to develop his or her thesis or theme but also to determine if the material being used is available, accurate, timely, pertinent and usable.

This last item, that of the source material being usable, e.g. previously published, is especially important to understand, as almost all published material is automatically copyright protected when created or written.  The author using someone else’s work in a non-academic or review publication (known as the “fair use” doctrine) should seek permission, preferably in writing, when quoting from copyrighted material.  The laws of copyright protection protect the creator of intellectual property until the author’s death plus 70 years.  After that point the work, if the copyright is not extended it then becomes public domain.

Now that we have established the sources and protections of written and other protected forms of creative material, two additional hurdles remain to overcome.  At least one I was confronted with and that is the need for translations of non-English publications, documents and other material under the protection of government security classifications.

Continue reading “The Challenges of Historical Writing”

The Other Side of Normandy: Operation Bagration, the Russian Summer Offensive, June – August 1944


US-red-army-meet-at-torgauIt was the perfect battle of annihilation. In the summer of 1944 the Roman battle of Cannae in Italy was replayed on the Berezina in Russia

In the opening days and weeks of the Allied invasion of Europe at Normandy in June 1944, the ether cracked and sparked across the English Channel with situation and intelligence reports coming into SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) operational headquarters in Portsmouth at Southwick House, 75 miles south of London. These reports from the combat units in France contained the typical information a commander would expect: Battle progress, enemy force predictions, friendly and enemy casualties, unit readiness and morale, supply status, especially fuel and many other bits of military minutiae that painted the picture of life in the front lines.

 However, among the thousands of reports, certain unusual items began to appear.


Continue reading “The Other Side of Normandy: Operation Bagration, the Russian Summer Offensive, June – August 1944”

The Future of Print Publishing: It’s Not as Bleak as it Appears

The Beach Reading Model and the historical endurance of paper medium

It was two winters ago. I was on New York’s Long Island with my wife Sally visiting relatives over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. Because of recent family moves and relocations we joined my brother Dan and his family at a rental property on Long Island’s south shore at Point Lookout. It is a lovely home, built during Long Islands elegant beach holiday heyday of the 1920’s

Continue reading “The Future of Print Publishing: It’s Not as Bleak as it Appears”

Russian Population Pyramid

Population Pyramid of Russia 2009

Population Pyramid of Russia 2009The chart below demonstrates the distortion in the population balance in men and women as a result of the deaths caused during World War II from 1941 to 1945 in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, now known as Russia.

The impact of the death of 30,000,000 Russians, including its western border nations, from 1937 to 1945 is clearly illustrated in this chart.  The point on which to focus is in the 65 to 90 year old age category and the loss of males compared to females and its impact on Soviet life in the last third of the 20th century.

Continue reading “Russian Population Pyramid”

The “Missing Link” of the WWII Normandy Invasion


german-infantry-attacking-russia-1941Ken Weiler has published a new book dealing with the Soviet contribution that insured the success of the Allied invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Entitled Why Normandy Was Won:  Operation Bagration and the War In the East 1941 – 1945 (Ostfront Publications, LLC Hanover, Pennsylvania, 458 pp, 2010, $24.95) Ken traces the origins of the war in Russia from the Russo-German Non-Aggression agreement of 1939, to the German invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941 leading up to the title topic, Operation Bagration, the largest military operation of World War II three weeks after the landings in Normandy. This little known aspect of the War in Europe is key to understanding the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, the Soviet contributions and sacrifices made by the Red Army in the five year war, and how and why the final borders were determined in the Spring of 1945.

As Ken discovered during his three decades of research and several years of writing, there was a large ‘knowledge gap’ in the American readership of the role of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the war, especially in the under 35 year old age group. The immense losses it suffered battling the German Wehrmacht in the four years awaiting the arrival of the second front in France is still somewhat a specialist area of military history. Fifty years of Cold War estrangement, the lack of Russian language courses in the public schools, no American involvement in the Russian front and the politically biased writing published by the Soviets all contributed to this knowledge vacuum.

Continue reading “The “Missing Link” of the WWII Normandy Invasion”

German World War II Strategic Bombing: The Failure to Develop a Long Range Combat Aircraft


US-8th-Air-Force-Boeing-B-17Introduction: Thank you: John Hart & Pres. Henry Hartman

            A. Personal

                        1. Activities: HAHS Co-Chair Museum Committee, Trustee w/ Eisenhower Society, EISE volunteer work, York County Literacy Council Adult Reading Program.

                        2. U.S. Army 1968 – 1971 D/E&MS and NCOIC “Sprint” ballistic missile program at the Dept of Defense.

            B. Publishing


                        1. Ostfront Publications, LLC Why Normandy Was Won and a 2nd book in the finishing stages of MS preparation.



Continue reading “German World War II Strategic Bombing: The Failure to Develop a Long Range Combat Aircraft”