Saturday, 19 June 2010


I was driving through Belfast recently and I noticed - on a gable wall, a renowned quote by a eminent philosopher, 'Those who ignore history are bound (or) doomed to repeat it'. Now apparently, it is a quote of a once prominent local politician - borrowing a quote in this example or music for that matter, does not make that quote or tune yours, so don't take or give credit unless warranted!

I do know what is meant or intended by the quote - and yes in an Ulster context it is a relevant observation and a valid point. My question would be - Who was the quote directed at?

To give a classic example of this take Hitler's invasion of Russia. Napoleon had done that, and Hitler made the same mistake, and suffered the same fate. On both occasions, the Russians simply retreated , drawing the enemy further and further into Russia in their advance, and then, when they Russian winter struck, and the invaders were unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with it, they were slaughtered in their thousands during their retreat.

The above example is too simplistic. Actually, Hitler was fully aware of Napleon's plight and had planned meticulously how not to fall into the same trap by using the new offensive technique of Blitzkrieg (lightening strike). The plan was for Army Group North to take Leningrad, Army Group Centre to take Moscow and Army Group South to take Stalingrad and the Caucasus oilfields. All before the winter weather made mobility impossible.

The original start date for Operation Barbarossa was accordingly 15th May 1941 but Mussolini's failing invasion of Greece required German intervention to protect Operation Barbarossa's southern flank. German troops invaded Greece on April 6, 1941; Athens fell on 27 April and mainland Greece was fully occupied by mid-May.

Nevertheless, the six week campaign led to Operation Barbarossa being launched five and a half weeks later than planned, on 22 June. Weather (rain and mud at first before the snows) slowed the advance from early October onwards, meaning that the Blitzkrieg part of the campaign was shortened from the planned 20 weeks, to just 14. How vital those six weeks would have been we will never know but whilst none of the main city objectives (Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad) were taken yet all three almost fell. After taking three million Russian soldiers captive during the advance, only 90,000 remained to defend Moscow by late 1941 for example.

Arguably it wasn't ignoring the lesson of history that was Hitler's fatal mistake, it was not adapting to changing circumstances.


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