Saturday, October 24, 2015


The Allied Forces had raced across France the summer of 1944 after the breakout from Normandy in July. The Germans were reeling and in what was deemed to be complete disarray. By mid-September the Allies had reached the Hitler’s Third Reich that was meant to last a thousand years. The Allies expected it to crumble by Christmas 1944. The American forces were anticipating encountering beaten forces as they drew near Germany. Yet, eight months later after much struggle, in May of 1945, the Reich finally was subdued.

Part of the story is the Battle of the Huertgen Forest at the western border of Germany. It was a twenty mile by 10 mile forest, some 200 total square miles of forest. The West Wall or what the Allies eventually called the Siegfried line, 390 miles (630km) long with 18,000 bunkers, tank traps and tunnels ran through it. It was built between 1938 and 1040. And contrary to thinking after the Fall of France where the Maginot line was inconsequential to lightning warfare, here Blitzkrieg warfare was stymied. Terrain, weather contributed. The Huertgen Forest removed the tank and the air might from the military equation. The narrow trails or fire breaks through the forest were generally not passible for tanks or a tank in the narrow confines of the forest often hit a mine and blew out a track, ending up blocking it. The Americans could rarely use the Air Force to “soften” targets. In the fall and winter of 1944 in the inclement weather, overcast skies and the dense forest these elements were negated.

Combat here has little relation to the dashing heroics accompanied by complete ineptitude of the enemy so many of Hollywood’s war movies like the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan, and Fury among many others, portray. In fact the famous Army Rangers, 2nd battalion spent a few days taking Castle Hill near Bergstein near the Roer fought bravely, but were delighted to get out as torn up as they were. Here a soldier would likely to spend days in a cold, frozen, wet foxhole, being subject to mortar fire, machine guns, artillery shells and infiltration or counter attack,   praying, hoping and sometimes crying that you get out alive. The weather in northern Europe in inclement in the Fall and Winter with rain, sleet, snow. 

Fighting here was no picnic. Land mines were a constant danger for men and military vehicles including tanks. At night in the forest it was normally literally pitch black. You didn’t leave you foxhole for fear of stumbling near someone and  being shot. Tree bursts in the dense forest showered deadly shrapnel down on you and a foxhole was no help unless covered with thick foliage and tree trunks. Standing up was the best policy in that situation.

Thousands of casualties came from combat fatigue: frost bite in which toes and fingers and limbs were lost, trench foot in which feet were constantly wet and cold, mental breakdown, etc. This was as close to hell on earth you will find. This battle was a literal “death factory” as the soldiers who were there called it.

I know of only one movie that accurately depicts combat conditions in the Huertgen Forest; When the Trumpets Fade. This was a 1998 made for TV movie available on YouTube. (This movie is rated R for a reason: strong language and violence.) But it conveys the absurdity of modern combat and the Huertgen Forest combat in particular, completely accurately. No Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks or John Wayne ever stoic and confident, here. Those fearless types were likely to die right away. This is the kind of combat that can break many a good man. That saw desperate prayers and uncontrollable crying and mental breakdown as well as great heroics.

Processions of several divisions were sent into the forest over three months from Mid-September to Mid-December and were basically decimated. Many men found themselves back at the aid stations for a variety of mental distress among other disabilities. Dereliction of assigned duties became a big problem. There were some who gave themselves self-inflicted wounds, like shooting themselves in the big toe to escape the hell. It became such a problem it was decided that someone like Ernie Slovik, a deserter, was executed as an example to others; the first since the Civil War.

This battle is forgotten; just south of the Forest the battle of the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge was fought beginning December 16, 1944.  Essentially 5 to 6 months the Allies were stalled on the Siegfried Line with the Battle of the Bulge punctuating the lack of advancement.

Much of the failure to push the Germans aside in the fall of 1944 hinged on the lack of supplies. Supplies were coming from Cherbourg, France the closest deep water port, farther then Normandy. It was only until November 28 that the major port Antwerp was freed up for shipping, the Netherland coastal areas being held by the Germans up until then.

By the autumn of 1944 there began to be a shortage of front line riflemen. There were 12 men supporting 1 man up at the front in the American Army. The Germans it was 5 to 1. But nonetheless it demonstrates an army operated like other bureaucracies; people tend to avoid the dirty work. And it got no more dirty,  than this. It was the end of the war and people knew it was only a matter of time before Germany capitulated and who wants to die just before the war ends?

In the three months up to December 16 only a few miles of territory were gained. They were trying to reach the Roer River, which flowed north south here, paralleling the much larger Rhine River, the border of ancient Germany. In those three months casualties totaled 32,000. 

Combat in the forest could include house to house fighting and even a rare bayonet charge; the forest and areas surrounding it was dotted with settlements. And in the dense forest infiltration by the enemy was a constant danger; sometimes trenches would be only 30 yards apart.

The Germans were vastly outnumbered, somewhere 5 to 1 but were masters at this type of warfare. The forest was part of the West Wall with bunkers, pill boxes and many a defensive entrenchment not easily spotted. They mined extensively as noted above. Their artillery and mortar fire was accurate and deadly.

The American infantryman was often a teacher, desk clerk, bank teller or some such. Brick layers and construction workers and such went to the Army engineers not the infantry. The American Army had two classifications: general fitness and noncombat. The British had physical fitness classes A through I with the A, top, going to the infantry. The Germans with a similar system sent their top physical specimens to the infantry. When the American soldier fought with the tremendous advantages in the number of tanks, planes and such, it didn’t matter. In the forest few of those standard advantages were present.

Due to the large amount of attrition that occurred in the forest, replacements were individually inserted into the battalions, companies, platoons and squadrons with little or no instruction, training or insight into the type of fighting they were going to encounter. This is no way improved combat effectiveness since the replacements didn’t have the advantage of what prior units had learned.

The greatest irony of the Huertgen Forest is that it lacked any strategic value. The initial idea was to push aside the weak German units in the Huertgen Forest that were presumed to be in disarray and drive straight to the Roehr River. The situation was found to be much different but the upper echelons of the American military continued to pursue that objective. However, it was finally realized after about four months that the true strategic goal was the dams on the Roehr south of the forest that held enough water to flood the Roehr plain for miles downriver. A failed attempt was made in early February to capture the dams but they were too late. The sluices were destroyed by the Germans and huge volumes of water cascaded down the river and flooded the plain anyway. For a period of weeks the Americans were blocked from crossing the Roehr and the Germans on the other side were freed up to attack the British and the Canadians farther north. The Americans were able to cross the Roehr on February 23, 1945, some 5 months after plan. That completed the fustercluck that was the battle of the Huertgen Forest.

Lessons I draw from the battle: 1) lightning tank warfare has limited application where here it ceased to be a factor. There were no rapid breakouts 2) fighting in the Huertgen forest was fiendish and 3) Hollywood’s depiction of combat over the years bears only a slim resemblance to the Huertgen Forest combat  except in a made for TV movie, When Trumpets Fade,  which faithfully recounts the conditions of combat in this battle.
Final note, learning about this battle gave me even more appreciation for the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation who we owe our freedoms to. They’ve largely passed, only a few remain. A memorial was finally erected in 2004 for those who gave service in World War II. Of course that was 59 years after the war; the majority who gave service had already passed including my father.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fall of France 1940

American has been pre-eminent for last century or so, largely by the coming to the aid of Europe in World War I and II, specifically France in 1918 and 1944 among other actions. The Fall of France in 1940 is generally attributed to the might of the unstoppable German Panzer Armies. The truth of the history of the Fall of France in May 1940 and its run up is a surprising tale of cowardice and incompetence as much about German military prowess. Truthfully, America might not have been required to come to the rescue in 1944 to reclaim France. On the contrary, France could have forestalled the disaster with a proactive policy running up to the war and stymied Hitler’s schemes at their inception.

The purported reason World War I was fought was to make the “world safe for democracy” and thus the League of Nations was established. This failed. After World War II America setup a similar league, the United Nations. In doing this America was meant to avoid the British hegemony that led to the conflagration of World War I. In large part PAX AMERICANA, that was inaugurated after World War II, has been a Godsend to the world. Peace in the Western Pacific and Western Europe. No cataclysmic conflicts in 70 years. Regardless, President Bush’s military adventurism in the war against Iraq, although needless, would not have failed if the hugely expensive process of nation building was allowed to have been completed over time. Instead, President Obama found it more convenient to retreat as the keeper of world peace and leave Iraq to disintegrate. And yes, in hind sight it would have been far better if the military wasn’t sent there in the first place after September 11. It was a Crusade for Democracy, in an effort to what is called “nation building”, to erect a Jeffersonian Democracy in Iraq. It was tilting at windmills. I think we can safely say there are NO actionable Jeffersonian Democrats in the Arab Middle-East: Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and ISIS among others as patent examples of the absence of liberal democratic governance and sensibilities.

And the fact being the majority of democrats resident in Germany and Japan were put there by America after literally leveling their cities and imposing democratic regimes. It goes without saying this is NOT a standard foreign policy in which you can regularly rely on, otherwise that would have been contemplated when America was the sole possessor to atomic weapons. It hardly goes without saying its neither a workable nor moral foreign policy. Employing that weapon against civilian populations is pure horror and it remains up to debate if ANY use of that weapon is justifiable. America would have been the biggest mass murder of all time, attempting to “Americanize” the world. Retaliation with this weapon against conventional aggression is something like the situation whereby my neighbor kills my dog, so I’ll destroy him, his family and house and neighborhood with RPGs: NOT proportionate. And certainly not anything in which a diplomatic policy could be formulated.   And somebody forgot to think that “wait a minute!” that weapon (atomic bomb) at some time in the future could be used against….US! And that prospect was the linchpin of the MADD strategy. My nuclear gun is pointed at your head and yours at mine….gottcha, let’s not get an itchy finger. So what does it means if American “won” a nuclear war when Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, etc. are smoking radioactive cinders? What does this have to do with the Fall of France 1940?....very little. Let me get back to the issues at hand.

The French defeat in 1940 was an unmitigated fustercluck (bungle), something for which American boys would have to end up fixing with the requisite sacrifice. In this defeat history paints a picture of French incompetence and dereliction, politically and militarily with the complicity of the French People.  Britain and Canada, as brave and valiant as their contributions were, wouldn’t have had a snow ball’s chance of returning to the Continent without the presence of the United States military.  


Yes, the French were badly led in World War I. They lost a quarter of their young men killed in a brutal war of attrition, not forgetting to mention wounded and scarred for life (over a million killed). The society was unified in their opposition to committing to the same sacrifice in the run up to WWII. But the political and social situation in France was far more complicated mess than most people understand. The society was deeply divided. The very active French Far Right was sympathetic to Fascism and was anti-Semitic. Antisemitism is incomprehensible to us as it should be but these French Right wing currents ran against what was seen in pre-WW II circles as key Jewish participation in Left wing, Communist and Socialist political movements as well as principal agents in pivotal financial sectors. (No reason to exterminate a race! A true horror that taints and will continue to taint our entire civilization. NAZI’s used Darwinian race theories to justify their hatred.)
The history of democracy in France had a legacy of unbridled mob action, beginning with the French Revolution and the Jacobins which included the Guillotine and war against the tradition adhering peasant, who remained loyal to an idea of monarchy.  One reason one hears no French “folk” music. All culture came from the center; that is revolutionary Paris. To many on the Right democratic rule becomes associated with terror and mob violence. On the other hand, those of Liberal (original meaning) republican sensibilities were hostile to religion and especially the inordinate influence the Roman Catholic Church; removed from being the state religion in 1905.  The Roman Church was closely associated with monarchial sentiments; the monarchy that supported and fostered the Church.  Liberalism today takes on a great deal of socialism, where originally Liberal meant sympathy for Classical economic nostrums of exercise of capital in free markets including free unrestricted labor. The Left, Socialist and Communist (after the German Soviet nonaggression pact), was largely pacifist and international, seeing warfare like the recent Great War as one of a conflict between capitalist nations. Aggression towards Germany and re-arming to prepare for conflict against Germany were seen as not in the interests of the working class.


The Germans began the invasion of France on May 10th of 1940. Within a matter of five days after the Germans had attacked, the Premier of France, Paul Reynaud, called Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, to say “we are defeated… we are broken. We have lost the battle. The front is broken at Sedan.” Within the first few days of the invasion the German Blitzkrieg had punched across the narrow lightly defended Luxemburg and Southern neck of Belgium which includes the densely forested Ardennes, across the river Meuse at Sedan to then begin to race west behind the French and English Armies, north of them in Belgium. The Allies had moved forward into Belgium to meet main thrust of the German Army, where they presumed the bulk of the German army was poised to attack.  This move forward east into Belgium about 50 miles insured that the English and French could be trapped, as Germany in its Blitzkrieg, advanced West through France behind them.
After hearing that France deemed itself defeated the British Army began to retreat to Dunkirk on the coast of La Manche, the English Channel, in hopes of being able to evacuate itself from France. Much of the French army was left to fight on even after entrapment but couldn’t re-organize itself to attack. In fact the French armies, completely paralyzed, along the Maginot Line remained on the West and didn’t move to join battle north against the break through.

This collapse could have been avoided. The first blunder was absence of opposition to Hitler’s move to re-militarize the Rhineland. After WWI France wanted to insure itself that Germany would never again rise up to invade it like it had in 1870 and 1914. Part of the Versailles treaty stipulated that the Rhineland adjacent to France’s Eastern border would remain denuded of troops as well as severe limits on the size of the Army, just 100,000 soldiers. Hitler upon attaining power in January, 1933 set to dis-mantle the restrictions imposed on by Versailles.

March 1936 Hitler moved into the de-militarized Rhineland. France had over a million troops at its disposal to counter this. Yet, they remained behind the Maginot Line. Some 295,000 German personnel, most nonmilitary, walked into the Rhineland; virtually all were non-military members of the SA (Storm troopers [Brown Shirts]), the SS (Black Shirts) and Landespolizei (Federal police force) and some 7,000 actual military: 3 battalions of combat ready troops. As we already know this was a phantom army. Wikipedia article referencing this event makes a patently absurd claim that the real reasons for France’s hesitation were discovered after the opening of the French historical archives in the 1970’s. We discover that France was broke and couldn’t afford to advance into Germany for fear of financial collapse. (Stephen Schuker). Funny nobody else (French and German principals in question) mentions that at the time or in retrospect. William Shirer interviewed many of the principals and all confirm the nature of Hitler’s gamble and that France and Britain’s dereliction. They are silent about France’s pending financial collapse.

Just the quantity of military hardware France possessed in 1940 puts a lie to the purported dire financial constraints that would completely harness French military activity. French military was equal in numbers if not superior to the Germans in 1940 based on my readings. They had more airplanes and tanks in May 1940. For that matter the German tank was far inferior to the French. The majority (over 2,000) of the German tanks were Model (Mark) 1 (lightly armored at 6 ton) with simply two machine guns in the turret! And the armor (13 mm) could be penetrated by 50 caliber machine gun. On the other hand the hundreds of Czechoslovakian Skoda tanks (approx.. 12 tons with a 1.5 inch (37 mm) cannons in the turret) the Germans obtained thanks to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his capitulation to Hitler in 1938, provided a significant contribution in the attack on France.

 Again, the Wikipedia article contends that France was financially incapable in March 1936 to finance an excursion into the Rhineland. Something as vital as this financial factor, would likely to have been a matter of debate but never arises as a contemporary issue, among the principal parties.  William Shirer, author of the masterful Collapse of Third Republic: an Inquiry into the Fall of France, 1940, covers this issue extensively.* It is a very curious view. I have not read the aforementioned Stephen Schuker’s uniquely pointed monograph. The evidence supporting France’s lack of will, not absence of financial resources regarding the re-militarization of the Rhine, as the prime cause, is extensive.

We find that French General Gamelin, Commander and Chief, is a central figure in France’s failure. He insisted that a general mobilization of all French military would be necessary to meet the German move into the Rhineland, which he deceitfully overestimated in size by counting non-military personnel (some 235,000). This insistence in complete war mobilization was known by Gamelin to be a nonstarter and a means to insure no response would be made to Hitler’s aggressive move. Why he would have held this belief is a mystery to many a historian. The presence of the massive Maginot Line and the insistence on a defensive response might be part of France’s thinking.

The Maginot line was hugely expensive, sucking up military resources that could have been used elsewhere like planes, tanks, guns. It is said that just one 87 mile stretch cost $ 3 billion francs (my est. $600 million)… that’s more than 1/3 the cost of the Manhattan project. The Maginot would eventually need to stretch 720kilometer (450 miles) between Switzerland in the south to Luxemburg in the north.  Problem is France has a 200 mile border with what became neutral Belgium.

Construction of the defensive wall along the border would have caused critical diplomatic issues with a country meant to be an ally, so the wall couldn’t be extended there. The Germans went around it in any event. In addition with the Rhineland now re-militarized Belgium saw German soldiers on its border and declared itself neutral again in October 1936.  This meant that France couldn’t pre-empt a German invasion into Belgium but had to wait, which is what happened in May of 1940.

In the re-militarization of the Rhine of March of 1936 before acting against Hitler France insisted on British support and received none. They couldn’t face Germany alone, the thinking ran. Tragically the Hitler’s aggression with the re-militarization of the Rhineland in March 1936 was allowed to pass, much to France’s dismay later as we know. Another factor for France’s lethargy was the imminent prospect of election in the spring of 1936.  The political class feared the French electorate, who was solidly pacifist.

Yet, France in 1936 had a decided military advantage. If France had acted, the German response would have been a quick retreat back across the borders, according to von Blomberg, Germany’s Minister of Defense and Commander in Chief. Hitler had only just announced his intent to violate the Versailles military restrictions, and Germany’s Army was not yet built up. Yet, France would not risk 100 divisions against German 3 battalions. They would pay later for their cowardice; an historic opportunity was missed.

It must be emphasized that French popular opinion favored sticking their head in the sand in 1936, ignoring Germany’s aggression. The Front Populaire (Popular Front), which sprung forth much like the Arab Spring of 2012,  was a collection of left wing Socialists and Communists and the Center Radical parties that opposed Fascism within France, which was small but active. In 1936 there was great outcry by the Popular Front that France hadn’t intervened in Spain’s Civil War, yet they largely ignored the real menace and that was NAZI Germany. My reading tells me that France prior to WW II was almost unanimously pacifist in leanings or at least wanted to ignore the menace that was the re-arming NAZI Germany. There was no middle ground. The French Left except for the Communists was pacifist and the Far Right was sympathetic to Fascist movements in Germany and Italy. The Popular Front was initiated when the Communists changed tact and joined with the Socialists, who they ordinarily considered vile betrayers of Communist advancement, and the Radicals, the center party, to form a coalition.

The French popular front outburst could be likened to much more wide spread and virulent “Occupy” movement in America in 2011 which protested income inequalities by holding sit-ins in streets and parks. “We are the 99%” was one of their slogans, as a chant against the 1% that seemed to have made it through the Great Recession of 2008 just fine. The Occupy Movement had no real program however, just an outpouring of popular discontent. The Popular Front likewise had no agenda, other than just an outburst in the name of social justice. That broke out into massive general strikes and demonstrations everywhere, including strikes by retail and department store workers. Strikes involved sit-ins as well; one of the more famous was a sit in the Renault auto plant. One result of the protests was a legislated reduction in the work week to 40 hours with no reduction in pay. Employers couldn’t pay someone the same wage for fewer hours without loss of productivity and so it goes without saying inflation ate up the “gains”. However in addition, they were granted 2 weeks of vacation guaranteed and rights to form a labor union as well. When the Leon Blum, Socialist administration fell in June 1937, the 40 hour limited week was rescinded by the next government.


The French blunders in the build up to World War II piled up one on another.  In 1938 when Czechoslovakia was being carved up France had a chance to stand up again. Once again the British tried appeasement and granted Hitler the Sudetenland, the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Chamberlain claimed “peace in our time” in the act of appeasement to Hitler’s aggression. France, if they didn’t see a need to fight in 1936, didn’t see one in 1938 to take Germany on alone. Note they had signed a defense pact with the Soviet Union in 1935. One small detail in the pact Soviet Union didn’t abut NAZI Germany and would either need the permission or invade a neutral country to reach NAZI Germany. Anyway once Soviet Union saw that the West, France and Britain et al. acquiesced to Germany they lost faith in them as allies. They went courting NAZI Germany and signed a nonaggression pact in late August 1939. Thus France couldn’t have played it any stupider; now Germany could turn on France alone. But of course France had another opportunity in September 1939 with Germany’s invasion of Poland. With Britain’s support France declares war on Germany, once Germany invades Poland. Germany held a thin line on protecting the West while virtually all of the Wehrmacht was employed against Poland. Some might think it was time to attack Germany. The best France does is a tentative move some few kilometers into Western Germany then a quick retreat before anybody got hurt. 8 months later they got a full blown war; the Maginot line didn’t save them. 

In 1940 the German air force in raw numbers is outnumbered by the French and the British but tactically Germany handled its air force much more adeptly. Based on my reading the dominance of the German air force in the Invasion of France in 1940 was founded on Germany’s tactical superiority. Aircraft were used to support the Army, not as a strategic weapon, so loved by other air forces including Britain and United States and really French air power advocates. Germany was able to concentrate their aircraft to dominate a local air space, which swept the French and British from the skies whenever they would appear. Germany flew many times more sorties per aircraft than the French, while their far superior anti-aircraft capabilities downed many enemy aircraft. The French inexplicably had only 25% of their airplanes in the Western Front, holding their airplanes back to preserve them for possible later use. Let me say that the French once again was deeply divided as to the strategy and purpose of its Air Force. Leaders of the Air wing looked to see air power as a strategic strike weapon. The Army demanded a tactical Air wing. The Air Force passively fought the Armies aims and as a result the French Air Force failed to have the infrastructure such as airfields and communications to support a tactical effort. In mid-June when it became completely clear that defeat was imminent most of the French air force was flown to North Africa, without ever being utilized.  How do you say dereliction of duty?

On May 10, 1940 after over eight months of inactivity, the Germans attacked. Germany’s Army Group B, comprised of 29 total divisions began a move through Belgium and Netherlands to France, the route they used in 1914 in World War I. This enticed the Allies, France and Great Britain to move forward into Belgium by some 50 to 75 miles. Belgium had insisted on their neutrality so a move before invasion was not possible. Belgium switched to neutrality when France made no move to counter the Germans in 1936.  By occupying the Rhineland German military adjoins Belgium.

Yet, the main thrust of the German invasion was being made not there but through the Ardennes to the south, a heavily forested area with few roads, just north of the vaunted heavily fortified Maginot line with Army Group A with 35 divisions including 7 fully equipped Panzer divisions.  In fact if the French had bothered to notice, they would have seen a huge traffic backup winding its way through the area composed of German military vehicles. The French air force never attacked, though an attack would likely to have been crippling. In the fog of war this thrust was ignored for several days, even as the Germans crossed Belgium and reached Sedan on the River Meuse on May 13, crossing over into France initially with a fragile hold on the opposite bank. The Germans met the 2nd Army composed of 5 divisions, the two most forward the 55th and 71st. The initial assault over the Meuse at Sedan initiated a general panic of the 55th French Infantry division, which fled in disarray south.
A dilatory counter thrust against the break through at Sedan was ineptly made by France. The 3rd Armored division was scattered and in training on May 10 and had to be collected and wasn’t prepared to fight on May 13, when the Germans began to cross the Meuse at Sedan, the French Armor lacking anti-tank weapons, fuel, radios, repair companies, etc. The French 3rd Armor and the 3rd Motorized divisions sent to staunch the breach delayed their attack by a day to counter the pocket over the Meuse made by the Germans. This permitted two divisions of the German 19th Armored Panzers Corps led by General Guderian to continue their turn right to the West on May 14. This would lead them driving, along with the 4 Panzers including Rommel’s 7th mentioned below, across France to the Channel. The French Armor counterattacked north towards Sedan, but due to their dallying of a day, was met and stopped by the Grossdeutschland infantry regiment and the 10th Panzer division. The French decided to remain stationary content to staunch the German thrust south. The 10th followed the other Panzers west across France.
Some 50 miles north along the Meuse four Panzer divisions, including Rommel’s7th who insisted on leading from the very front of the spear, along with infantry support broke through a weak French 9th Army, which lacked armor and anti-tank weapons. They were swept aside by the Panzers. The inept General Gamelin who remained passive throughout the 1936 remilitarizing of the Rhineland up through the breakout of the Panzers in France was asked to step down on May 18 and was replaced by an equally inept 73 year old General Weygand. The Germans would be able to race to the Channel by June 5, keeping the French and British off guard. The British and French Armies in the north were cut off, who evacuated at Dunkirk in the thousands. Meanwhile the Belgians had given up the fight. The defensive strategy of the Maginot failed them.

Britain lost confidence in France’s fighting ability by May 21st, when Britain attempted a break out south across territory of the Panzer thrust but France could not organize itself to attack north to meet it. The Brits began to contemplate evacuating to fight another day. France felt betrayed, especially when Britain wouldn’t send more squadrons of fighters to attempt to protect their troops; the excuse given was that they were needed to defend an attack by Germany who now possessed the Channel and could easily fly sorties across the Channel.

Britain’s retreat off the continent sealed France’s fate if it wasn’t sealed before by its military ineptitude. The return would have to be made by the Americans in conjunction with the Brits and Canadians four years later in a massive invasion. The Soviets would commence colossal offensive in the East two weeks later as well. France would be restored in about three months.


The declaration of war by Britain when Poland was attacked was silly. Hitler was nothing but shocked that Britain chose to go to war for Poland. Britain had NO means to rescue Poland. Poland would remain under tyranny for the next fifty years, either NAZI or Communist. For that matter they were of little help to France with their 9 divisions. So when they saw France sinking they beat a fast retreat relying on America to rescue them. In one way of thinking wouldn’t it been easier to have done all you could to remain on the continent, than try to battle your way back on it? If they weren’t prepared to win the war on the continent, they needed to be certain of France’s fighting abilities. After so many concessions, 1936 Rhineland and 1938 Czechoslovakia among others, they might have been better to have remained off the continent. And see NAZI Germany and Soviet Russia eventually fight it out to their exhaustion. Anyone who read Mein Kampf knew about Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum, the needed living space for the Nordic master race in the east and the inevitable conflict between NAZI and Communist Ideologies. Probability of the conflict can be seen in the aftermath of the war, when the two allies, the Americans and the Soviets became dreaded enemies in the Cold War.

The result of World War II for Eastern Germany and Eastern Europe was Soviet domination, not what I call a condign result. One can never forget the horror of the Holocaust. It must be said it could NOT have been any worse for the Jews in Eastern Europe, absent the intervention of the Brits, so intervening in the continent certainly didn’t save Jewish lives. The Jewish population which numbered millions in Poland prior to the war was virtually wiped out.

For all that, contrast the response of the French Republic versus Soviet Russia. Russia suffered some four million casualties in the first months of the war. Of those captured 90% will die in prisoner camps. They lost their agricultural and industrial heartland. Yet, they continued on, obtaining eventually a large amount of supplies from Britain and U.S. to allow them to win the war. Thus, the sacrifice France failed to make fell on Soviet Russia to shoulder and later to the Americans to come to the rescue. Without Lend Lease from America I seriously question if the great sacrifice Russia made would have been enough, but the bottom line is that they were able to rally their people to make it. The Russian incurred 9 out 11 million casualties inflicted by the Germans. Yes, discipline was extremely harsh in the Soviet Army but they were fighting for their lives, not livelihood. And I imagine Stalin was thinking Germany would be locked in battle with France and Britain for years a la 1914 and he could watch them spend themselves.  This was a massive miscalculation. Once France was dispatched Hitler came for Soviet Russia.

 *This is confirmed in other writings including the French work, France and the Nazi Threat by Jean-Baptiste Durosell. See To Lose a Battle, Horne as well.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Steppe People: Terror from the Grassy Plains of Asia

Steppe nomads are largely overlooked in the scope of history. We hear of the bow and arrow totting and horse riding Scythians or Huns or Avars or Cumans but know little about them. They are folks that inhabited the narrow band of steppe some 400 to 500 miles wide that runs 6,000 miles across  Asia from Mongolia through central Asia to the Caspian Sea and can include the Pannonian plain of Hungary and the Anatolian highlands of Turkey. These folk began to inhabit these grassy plains and domesticated the horse in the mid 5th millennium B.C. They maintained domestic herds of sheep, cattle, camels, horses and goats and lived a nomadic life. 
From 4500 B.C. the steppe peoples of upper Caspian Sea spread over central and southern Asia and Europe. Recent DNA testing has established the fact of an extensive migration of peoples throughout these areas, spreading the Indo-European language in the process. So the NAZI’s happen to be right about one thing in their understanding of a process of an expansion of an Aryan race. A race they erroneously claimed to be some kind of superior version of mankind with claim to dominate other peoples. However, evidence shows that the expansion was not simply a transmission of Indo-European language from one people to another, as others held as more plausible. It was a people supplanting other peoples across a wide area.
Of course NAZI race theories turned into an odious justification to exterminate a whole ethnic group. The race idea as we know, centers on an idea of a Master race or people, the Aryans. Under this thinking Folks that is peoples, through a Darwinian evolution, struggle for dominance, survival of the fittest, in this case became the Aryans. Scientific evidence shows that Aryans (Indo-Iranians/Indo-Europeans) from Caspian Steppes used the domesticated horse as a means to spread throughout a vast area of Eurasia, from India through Europe in the Mid-5th Millennium, evidence of which is based on transmission of the Indo-European languages and genetic markers. The racial component of Indo-European migration is albeit highly controversial. There are some who discount the idea of an invasion of blond, blue eye nomads into Northern India completely or push the invasion back in time to some 50,000 years.
NAZI’s placed special emphasis on the superiority of the Nordic peoples, a supposed segment of the Aryans, so people like the Slavs were deemed inferior and were rightfully meant to be oppressed. All this thinking, being frightfully twisted and evil, can be found in the writings of Hans F. K. Gunther, a 20th  century race thinker, several of whose books, could be found in Hitler’s library, and seen to have been well worn. The question one has to ask oneself, who’s to blame, the NAZI’s or Darwin? Today talk of the superiority of one race or group over another is rightfully forbidden but the Darwinian ideas remain. I suspect the idea of racial superiority, once advocated by Darwinists, have been besmirched by the odious application of its ideas.
The ideas bandied about today regarding evolutionary progress are nearly as fanciful, as those of the National Socialists. Socio-biology purports all manner of benign characteristics to human kind that have arisen from the bestial Evolutionary struggle for survival: including kinship, love and art. Most of the theories are based on fanciful supposition and imagination with little or no evidence to support them and neither falsifiable nor verifiable, the required characteristics of most of science endeavors. The most inexplicable to evolutionary thinking is the presence of altruism. How would anyone who gained a purported survival advantage that comes with altruism (a characteristic that promotes the welfare of the group) pass this adaptation along, since they unlike their compatriots, will willingly sacrifice their altruistic genes in lieu of another’s more selfish genes? It’s unlikely that the altruistic individual has a survival advantage to another who lacks it. The first to acquire such altruistic gene would willingly give themselves up to the wonderment of the other that lacks it and not pass it along.  I am certain something more complex and profound is operating in the world than just bare, raw survival instincts. Because if altruism generates a survival adaptation then it’s love not struggle for survival that drove evolution.
As I am wont to do, I have digressed into a polemic that has little to do with the subject of the blog. Back to the Steppe. Steppe peoples played a huge role in history but their role is rarely recognized. For one they didn’t have written language, so they couldn’t record their history. They didn’t construct buildings and structures either, nor literature nor art. Their religion was either folk religion or borrowed from others.  So it was up to the settled civilized peoples to record their history.
The important idea to remember about the steppes peoples, when united they were the most formidable military forces in Eurasia. We in civilized cultures presume a superiority with our institutions and art and writing and architecture, so the military superiority of the steppe peoples comes as a surprise.
Since they lived in grassy plains they could raise vast numbers of horses, far more than settled peoples. The war horse was a great expense to settled peoples. A war horse eats well over 30,000 calories a day versus 3-4,000 for a man. So a cavalry troop of a 1000 horses would have at same nutrition demands as something like 10,000 soldiers would have.  Steppe armies could have several horses as backup and reserve for each warrior as well, thus a steppe army of 20,000 might have upwards 100,000 horses far surpassing the number a civilization could muster.
 Steppe people’s military prowess and tactics were far superior to settled peoples. When the civilized army, far less mobile, went out to pursue the steppe peoples, these peoples would disappear into the vast grass lands of the steppes. When the steppe peoples came to attack the civilized infantry, they would use a variety of hit and run tactics to defeat them.  Steppe nomads could stand off and assail the standing infantry with thousands of arrows and decimate them at a distance. When the standing army chose to pursue, after being harried, they would be at a disadvantage losing unit cohesion, which the steppe cavalry would then destroy them in detail. In fact,  without settled villages or cities an invading army would have little to nothing to attack and nothing to pillage or live on for that matter in contrast to invading a settled country.
One example of the futility of tracking down the steppe peoples is recorded by the Greek historian, Herodotus. The Scythians had previously invaded Persia and contributed to the death of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the vast Persian Empire in 530 B.C. Cyrus the Great is referred to as the anointed (messiah) by Isaiah in Chapter 45.  This is the same Persian Empire that the Spartan “300” fought at the battle of Thermopylae. Herodotus reports the expedition of the later Persian King, Darius in the steppe north of the Black Sea in 513 B.C. The Scythians, a nomadic steppe peoples, employed standard evasive tactics and never allowed themselves to meet the Persians in a set battle. The Persians, with an immense military force (transported by 600 ships with countless thousands of troops), attempted to bring the Scythians to battle but succeeded in only wandering around the grassy steppe, being harassed by them, running out of provisions, food and water, dying with sickness. Additionally, Scythians would have no cities to pillage.  They returned to Thrace (Northern Greece) then to cross back into Asia Minor again. Herodotus records that the Scythians weren’t any problem after this chastening.  Yet it goes without saying, a massive expedition of that nature couldn’t be carried out each year.   
Settled peoples ofttimes would employ mounted steppe peoples as auxiliaries to aid them in fighting the nomadic steppe peoples. But ultimately the settled peoples didn’t have a full proof method of fighting the stepped peoples until the appearance of the hand gun. The musket wasn’t accurate beyond 40 or 50 yards, which was less than the bow and arrow deadly, with armor piecing abilities, at distances far beyond that.  
Part of the military superiority of the Steppe peoples comes from the advantage that was the composite bow that they employed. It was made of wood, bone, sinew and glue. The bow could be small enough to shoot from horse back. It had recurves to enhance the power of the bow. This bow allowed them to stand afar and pelt the enemy with thousands of armor penetrating arrows from 100 yards or more away. This was not the English long bow, fired off by the stationary the English yeoman, but a mobile band on horseback.
The steppe peoples employed a saddle as well that allowed them to use their bow and arrows hands free, so they could remain on horseback as they shot. Latter in the first Millennium A.D. stirrups began to appear that greatly enhanced the riders’ ability to control the horse.
One of the first steppe peoples mentioned in literary sources are the Scythians. The Scythians first used mounted warfare back in the 9th Century. The Greeks spoke of them. They contributed to the demise of the Assyrian Empire 612 B.C. The Persian King Darius led an expedition against them in 513 B.C. but never was able to force them into a set battle. The Scythians would only harass and retreat before Darius’s huge expedition into what we know to be the Russian Steppes. After suffering sufficient loss and deprivation in pursuit of the Scythians for a month to do battle, Darius set up eight forts and returned having conquered enough Scythian territory to make them respect the Persians.
The bottom line is that not many expeditions to subdue the Steppe nomads were successful. Various strategies were employed by the Chinese who fought them throughout its history. Divide and conquer diplomacy was tried, using one group of Steppe nomads to attack another. More times than not the Steppe peoples were divided. It was when they were united like the Huns or the Mongols they became a terror.
Another device,  tribute was paid to pacify them. The hope here is that the leadership of the group can be kept happy by being bought off. Of course, over time the demands became greater and greater.
Expeditions against them were very expensive, and since they were migratory livestock herders there were no cities to conquer. A civilized army could rarely engage them into battle as previously mentioned but would have to suffer hit and run raids, plus there were no cities or crops to destroy.  Interestingly, the nomad domesticated the horse, but this population of the stepped came AFTER agriculture was undertaken. Remember that the Steppe folk were a livestock herder first: sheep, goats, cattle. So the settled agriculturalist migrated to the grassy steppes to pursue animal husbandry. Then became champions of the horse, used to overshadow the settled peoples.  
The Turks and Parthians, among many others, for example came off the steppe and overwhelmed the settled society, as did the Mongols. Huns, steppe peoples said to be related to the fearsome Xiongnu (pronounced shwang-new) on the far Eastern side of great Steppe next to the Chinese, drove the so-called barbarians before them and even attacked the Rome Empire and led to its downfall in the 5th Century A.D.  The Eastern Romans were able to deflect the Huns to the West and who wrecked it, relieving the Eastern to exist for another 1,000 in some form or another until 1453.
When the steppe peoples united they could overwhelm civilized societies. But they didn’t have ability to lay siege to cities. The exception was the Mongols, the most famous of all the steppe peoples and the most successful. They were able to acquire the siege technology from the Northern Chinese in the early 13th Century and thus waylay fortified cities. They easily destroyed settled societies and used great brutality to do so. Cities were depopulated and whole populations either executed or marched off, heedless of any deaths resulting, to be employed at conquering other cities. The most notorious example of the brutality of the Mongols was the destruction of Bagdad in 1258. Bagdad was the location of Islam’s Caliphate, the spiritual head of Islam. Bagdad was a metropolitan city of a million people or more. After a siege that lasted from January 29 to February 10, 1258, the city was subdued. Three thousand of the cities dignitaries come out of the city to negotiate the surrender of the city. These were slaughtered. And the rest of the city was put to the sword, countless died, some sources say up to a 1 million. Bagdad didn’t recover until several centuries later.
Curiously, there have been revisionist views of the effect of the Mongol conquest, one recently being the book, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford. Mr. Weatherford has quite an affection for those marauding Mongols. In fact they are meant to appear quite enlightened and tolerant, far more so than the civilizations that they slaughtered. These are not your daddy’s monstrous Mongols. In contrast they are the linchpins to the modern world that promoted exchange between the civilizations of Eurasia, which their conquest over all the vast steppe lands accomplished. Nonetheless, the Arabs of the Middle East never forgot their brutality and the Chinese rejoiced when they expelled them in 1368 A.D.
The arrival of the Mongols accompanied large scale population declines. According to one scholar they reduced carbon footprint in the atmosphere by several hundred tons of carbon di-oxide, as a result of the world’s surface reverting back to forestation; crop lands were no long being cultivated. I guess you could say they were environmentally friendly. One of the strategies of the Mongols was to turn farm land back into grass land. I presume to provide grazing for their horses.

The Mongols were the most successful killers of all time, attributed to killing 20 million people. Current revisionist historians have belittled the figure, but this brutality is a story told by the losers. Sometimes it is more accurate when the winners don’t write the history.  

Friday, April 3, 2015

Austria-Hungary: Collapse of an Instigator

Why bother learning about the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, concerning events of a century ago? An empire that collapsed at the conclusion of World War I in 1918. For me it’s like viewing an historical train wreck, the kind that you can’t look away from, a wreck involving a state. And to boot they set the spark that started the catastrophe that became World War I.  
Were they doomed to collapse? And what were they thinking invading Serbia in 1914? In one way of thinking Serbia was a terrorist sponsoring state; one that had to be dealt with. It was discovered that the group that assassinated Archduke Ferdinand had connections with Serbia military intelligence. This doesn’t negate the fact that Austria-Hungary was isolated and dependent on Germany’s support. In some circles, especially military, the attack on Serbia was required so the fragile Empire could extinguish Serbian nationalism.
The primary proponent of this wrongheaded thinking among the military was Franz Conrad von Hertzendorf, who is said to have proposed attacking Serbia some 25 times in the period leading up to WWI. Conrad, as often happens with military figures, saw only a military solution to Serbia’s perceived threat. Serbia had arisen from the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and was flexing its nationalist muscles on the border of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. 

 There were some 600,000 plus Serbian speaking people in the Empire.
Chief of Staff, Conrad Von Hertzendorf, all said, was a piece of work. He held to Social Darwinist thinking, which employed Darwinism and its idea of the survival of the fittest towards the social and political realm.  

He wrote,
“…the recognition of the struggle for existence as the basic principle of all events on this earth is the only real and rational basis for policy making”.

Thus, an attack on Serbia was imperative for Austria-Hungary to survive in the struggle of peoples and nations. In this type of thinking an aggressive foreign policy would bolster national unity. Weak peoples, folks and nations were meant to be subdued. These ideas were used to justify imperialism of the late 19th Century. Africans, South Asian Indians, Chinese and others were deemed inferior and it was considered expedient to dominate them. Later, others took similar concepts to the extreme and arrived at idea of the Master Race, the superior Aryan peoples of whom the Germans were numbered.

He advocated excessively aggressive battle field tactics, including frontal attack as the best method to continue to maintain all important fighting moral. He would argue in doing so even a smaller army could defeat a larger one, one fighting defensively, pointing to the Prussians victory over the French in 1870. In addition he downplayed the effectiveness of artillery preparation, the weapon that caused the most casualties in WWI. Employing these aggressive attack stratagems in the first month of WWI the Empire contributed to the loss of over 40% of its fighting capacity including some 250,000 killed. That is the number of soldiers United States lost in 3 ½ years of fighting in WWII. The veteran battalion and regimental officer core were decimated along with the fighting grunts. These types of veteran loses were irreplaceable. Without the assistance of Germany, the Empire’s army was not an offensive force for the remainder of the War.

Unrealistically assuming that the Russians wouldn’t be able to mobilize in time, Conrad wanted to quickly strike Serbia first and sent most of Austrian-Hungarian army south towards the Serbs. After the troops, five corps, were being transported south to fight the Serbs, Conrad changed his mind the next day and commanded they turn around. The logistics wouldn’t permit such an impossible turn around and they had to continue on towards Serbia. As a result they were neither useful for the fight against Serbia nor any assistance in the Russian front, arriving too late to be effective. No progress was made against the small Serbian army and after initial success in Galicia (currently Southern Poland) they were driven back with great loss against the Russians.

All the while he was carrying on an adulterous love affair with a married woman with 6 children, whom he met in 1903. He was obsessed with her. He wrote 3,000 letters to his love, one 60 pages long and sometimes 3 letters in one day. Each part of his day at the command center would be spent composing these letters. Yet, he only visited the front briefly three times. But of course, he sent hundreds of thousands to their deaths and yet more inflicted with war related injury and disability. In his thinking, great battlefield victories would grant him sufficient influence and gain esteem in the eyes of his beloved to free him to openly pursue his forbidden love. She was granted a divorce eventually in 1915 and they were married.

Being in a passionate love affair with a married woman is not criminal, but sending people to their deaths, all the while, into a giant meat grinder that was WWI, was nothing less than monstrous. Of course the biggest diplomatic fustercluck: the Hapsburgs unintentionally but carelessly started World War I.  84 year old Emperor Franz Joseph ruling since 1848, acquiesced to the military thinkers and agreed to attack its smaller neighbor Serbia in July 1914 to punish them for the assassination of the Prince Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austrian-Hungarian Empire. 

The critical idea here is that the Empire pursued an independent policy of aggression toward Serbia in July 1914 with the imprimatur of Germany, absent of any diplomatic efforts to diffuse the situation. They were the spark that ignited the conflict and no one else.

Austria-Hungary’s foreign policy over the last half of the 19th Century was largely inept. They alienated a potential ally in monarchist Russia, who came to their aid suppressing the Hungarian revolt of 1848, thus preserving the Empire.  The Austrian-Hungarian Empire, a bulwark against the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the 16th and 17th Centuries, was a balancing act of an empire by the later decades of the 19th Century. In fact, it was so precariously unstable it refrained from pushing the tottering Ottoman Empire into disintegration for fear it would redound to them. Thus they abstained to lend support of any kind to the Russians in the Crimean War;  later when Russia had decisively defeated the Turks in 1878, Austria-Hungary had received authority over Bosnia-Herzegovinian which they later annexed in 1908. That war saw the nation states of Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia freed from the yoke of the decaying Ottoman Empire. On the other hand Russia received very little from its victories, being on the doorstep of Constantinople, when hostilities ceased. They were forced to give up almost all of their gains.  Note British Empire, a nonparticipant, gained the Mediterranean island of Cyrus in the peace negotiations, also part of the Ottoman Empire. Yes, the sun continued to never set on jolly old British Empire.
The Empire was a tottering, decrepit throwback: an anachronism in the age of nationalism exemplified by countries like Germany, Italy and France, states representing national peoples. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire dis-integrated at the conclusion of World War I under the pressure of a dozen ethnic minorities: German, Hungarian, Czech, Slav, Slovene, Croat, Rumanian, Ukrainian, Pole, Italians, Ukrainian, Jews…and a couple you’ve never heard of. It was about the size of Texas with nearly 53 million people in 1914. The central cohesive political idea was loyalty to a divinely anointed Emperor.  Franz Joseph had been Emperor since 1848, attaining the throne after the first nationalist revolts swept over Europe.

The nationalistic fervor unleashed by the French Revolution terrified the monarchies; thousands of the nobility fell under the guillotine and were killed in peasant revolts. A re-instatement of the status pre-revolution was attempted in 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon. The lid blew off this effort in 1848 when Poland, Hungary, France among others overturned their governments and cried out for freedom and justice under the swell of nationalistic feeling. The demands were largely the Liberal type of the period:  freedom from the demands and constraints of feudal obligations, renunciation of the Kings right to claim sovereignty by divine right and autonomy and independence for the national peoples and such.

19th Century Liberalism was much different than what the term entails today. The basic tenants consisted of a government with the consent of an electorate, but propertied only, elimination of support for state sponsored Church, freedom of the press and free exercise of capitalism. And it was absent the socialistic style income transfer welfare benefits, so characteristic today. There were a few Socialistic elements in some revolts but the idea of a central state dispensing welfare benefits and regulating society was far in the future.  Working conditions at the time were brutal, for factory workers, 12-15 hours a day 6 or maybe 7 days a week in sweat shop conditions. The peasant was usually monarchist in leanings, seeing little chance of change in their circumstances with so-called liberal or republican governments. Even a republican would fear universal suffrage.

For a monarchy like Austria or Germany there was a grudging acceptance of some type of popular representative Assembly or Parliament, usually weak or anemic and elected on a narrow electorate of propertied voters. This placed the Monarchy under the aspect of a restraint of rule of law but the Monarch would reserve the absolute divine right but deign to hear the people expressed in these representative assemblies. Ultimately, for the Hapsburgs the Emperor ruled supreme but with limits. In effect the God given right of the monarch to rule would be circumscribed in a ruling coalition with this Assembly. Oddly, nearby up until 1797 Venice had a representative republican government for something like a thousand years, a tiny drop of representative government in all of Europe, nonetheless ruled by the mercantile elite.

Franz Joseph at 18 years old became Emperor of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in 1848 by the abdication of his father of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. 1848 saw a revolt of peoples energized by nationalism. In 1848 the Hapsburg family was driven out Vienna, but shortly thereafter realized they still had the support of the military who swept back into Vienna. The revolt was bloodily suppressed. But it was the Russian Emperor, Czar Nicholas I, who saved the Hapsburgs by violently suppressing the Hungarian revolt. Russia would not be repaid.

Later the Hapsburgs were out maneuvered by Prussia’s Bismarck, the Foreign Minister and Chancellor. Bismarck insured the neutrality of France, sympathetic to nationalistic yearnings in large part, thus Austria-Hungary was isolated, having failed to assist Russia in the Crimean War; they lost the support of Russia. France supported limited nationalistic aspirations in Northern Italy, Lombardy and Veneto, which since 1815 had been given to Austria-Hungary. In concert with Italian states fighting in Northern Italy, Prussia soundly defeated Austria in 1866 at Koniggratz (Sadowa) in a battle to determine who would be dominate in the union of German states. Prussia it was decided would lead a confederation of German states and Austria would be excluded from the union. Bismarck, Chancellor of Prussia, completely out maneuvered them. A Prussian led united Germany without Austria, the heavy weight in Central Europe over the course for some four Centuries, was demoted to spectator and then client state of the German Empire.

Besides loss of Northern Italy in its war in 1866, the defeat led to the arrangement of a dual monarchy of Austria and Hungary. The two states would be ruled separately under the under the sole sovereignty of Emperor Franz Joseph. Hungary would be independent except for military and foreign relations. This arrangement always restrained appropriations to the military: a military that could be used to suppress the Hungarians, making the risky invasion of Serbia all the more foolhardy. Austro-Hungarian military was a fraction of the major powers. The Empires subjects spent as much on tobacco and more on beer and wine than defense. It trained a quarter of its military age male and in contrast France 80%. It was ill prepared for the military adventure its leadership show eagerly thirsted.
The original question was whether Austria Hungary was doomed to collapse. The collapse was a likely based on  the anachronism that was the monarchial dual sovereignty of Austria-Hungary, combined with a disconnected, aged monarch and the fact the country was composed of a host of separate, diverse nationalities. But they couldn’t have played it dumber. Let’s attack Serbia to teach it a lesson not to spread nationalism, rather than initiating any internal reforms. With a relatively small and decidedly unprepared army it was an act of complete foolishness, idiocy and stupidity. It destroyed a country and led to even more instability and war just a generation later.
The rot did appear at the top. Indicative of the Emperor’s ossified behavior that led to the downfall of the Empire, was his attitude to his nephew’s marriage. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, fell in love with a Czech noble women, a lady-in-waiting to the Archduchess Isabella of Teschen. Sophie Chotek, duchess of Hohenberg, had a well-bred background, but was deemed below his elevated station. Permission was grudgingly granted to allow a morganatic marriage by the Emperor on the provision that his wife would not share Franz Ferdinand’s status and the children would not be able to inherit the throne.  She was humiliatingly shunned at the court. The Emperor only met her by accident several years after they were married and was virtually ignored by Franz Joseph and the court followers.

 Archduke Franz Ferdinand due to his somewhat irascible personality and the morganatic marriage, so frowned up by the Emperor, was not in complete confidence of the Emperor. And it appears that he harbored ill will towards the Archduke. For one the security surrounding the Archduke was very light in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, a patriotic holiday that commemorates the long remembered defeat of the Serbs by the Turks in 1389: the defeat that subjugated the Serbs for half of a millennium. Only 60 police were on duty in Sarajevo, a city of 80,000 that Sunday morning. In fact the Austrians were given a hint that mischief was in the air by the Serbian ambassador to Austria, resident in Vienna, who had knowledge of possibility of an assassination plot but wasn’t at liberty to reveal the details. Warnings by the Foreign office, the Ministry of the Interior and Austrian military intelligence reported threats about the visit. The Archduke was very nervous and concerned about the visit but the visit was insisted upon by the Emperor. As a result of their visit to Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife were both assassinated with only two shots that day.
Another indication that the Archduke was held in low esteem was the absence of an appropriate funeral. No foreign dignitaries were allowed to attend, only the royal family. Initially the three surviving children were even asked to pay for the funeral, although this was rescinded. The Emperor was said to have expressed relief that the troublesome Archduke was finally out of the way and showed little distress that he’d lost his heir. The Archduke might have been the only brake to war with Serbia.

It’s interesting to know that the Emperor Franz Joseph’s wife and son were in some profound way alienated from him, not to say they were completely absence his presence. His wife, Elizabeth, avoiding dreary court decorum, traveled extensively absent the Emperor, preferring to be away for long periods of time on tour. She was tragically stabbed to death by an anarchist in 1898. Their son Rudolf, the heir to the throne, preceded her in death in 1889 in a murder-suicide. He is said to have shot his 17 year old mistress and some hours later committed suicide at his hunting lodge Mayerling. Tragic death seems to have haunted the Emperor; ones that might have initiated reform in the Empire. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was desirous of reducing the hegemony of the Hungarians over the lesser ethnic groups in their half of the empire. Hungarians ruled unopposed over the Serbs, Croatians, Romanians, and Slovenians among others. This would have re-balanced the Empire in a tri-partite union, instead of the current one in which Hungary wouldn’t have virtual veto over reforms that might begin to incorporate the lesser minorities into the Empire.  

 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was much opposed to aggressive military action towards Serbia, but with his demise the military heads gained transcendence and persuaded the Emperor Franz Joseph to allow a military operation to take place against Serbia. They didn’t give much thought it seems to Russia who might come to Serbia’s support.

This dilapidated, outmoded, archaic Empire contained a Vienna that was a cosmopolitan vibrant city, a source of great cultural production. Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Freud and Trotsky who lived within a few miles of each other there in 1913 sought it out. One of 20th Century’s most famous philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, the author of logical positivism had lived there until 1911. Composers Gustav Mahler, Brahms, Richard Strauss (Theme used for 2001 a Space Odyssey) among others lived there. Gustav Klimt lived there as well. How could such a vibrate civilization co-exist with a tottering Empire? It almost makes one think the civilization was worth saving.
One last thought regarding the collapse, four empires fell along with Austria-Hungary; that is Germany, Russia and the Ottomans. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that monarchy and modernized military and mass mobilization were incompatible with societies based on some idea of ordered hierarchies. These societies claimed a right to existence of a ruling class and divine ruler in which a society owed respect and fidelity based on religious principles of the rightly ordered society. For example it would be unthinkable that the officer staff be served the same food as the regular soldier as did other militaries.  The Americans, the French and increasingly the British rejected this scheme. The empires couldn’t have been more foolish in pursuing state interests through modern military means. They were blind to their own demise, especially the Dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary.

A J P Taylor's Struggle for the Mastery of Europe explains that the Austrian-Hungarian Empire feared Serbia as a unifying agent in the Balkans. They had seen Emile Cavour, Prime Minister, leading Piedmont and the Kingdom of Savoy in Northern Italy to initiate unifying Italy in 1860. The unification culminated in depriving Austria-Hungary of the Northern Italian provinces of Lombardy and Veneto, granted to them in the Congress of Vienna in 1815. They may have feared a repeat in 1914, but were frightfully ill prepared for the total war fought in WWI. The ossified leadership of the Empire couldn't comprehend internal reform.