Category Archives: democracy

Status of Jews in Moldavia, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 149-151:

These hostile feelings were much more deeply rooted in the north, where the Jewish population had increased from about two thousand families to close on a million in a hundred and thirty years, most of them in flight from the appalling conditions in Poland and the Russian Pale, until in several large Moldavian towns, including Yassy, the Moldavian capital, they now outnumbered the Rumanian inhabitants and monopolized the commerce of the province. Small wonder that this indigestible explosion of people caused dismay, resentment and hostility among the inhabitants; there was nothing comparable here to the harmonious and long established position of the polished and much less numerous Sephardim of the Ottoman world; small wonder, too, that the Jews, denied full citizenship and with nearly every route to advancement or honour denied to them, should expand and excel in the only field that was not barred by prejudice. The remote principality in which they suddenly began to proliferate had no middle class; rural society knew nothing between the mediaeval feudalism of landowners – the great and the lesser boyars, many of whom seldom set foot on their accumulations of acres – and a vast and callously exploited peasantry. There was no urban middle class, and, in Moldavia especially, as the country expanded, the Jewish population became a semi-alien bourgeoisie of middlemen and retailers.

Everyone reluctantly admitted that the Jews were honest in their dealings, however ruthless, and faithful to their agreements. I also noticed that nearly everyone, however ill-disposed in general, had one Jewish friend who ‘was not like the others’, an array of exemptions that must have added up to an imposing total. It was only on later travels in Moldavia and Bukovina that I got to know, talk to and even make friends with Jews not isolated in a Gentile majority. Lack of any need to conform to alien ways had left their way of life absolutely intact: the long black kaftans, broad-brimmed black velvet hats, skullcaps, black, red and blond beards, corkscrew side-whiskers (like those of my host and his son in the woods of the Banat), and a Yiddish largely unalloyed by Rumanian, but embedded with Polish and Russian words as well as the Hebrew studied by the rabbis and divinity students.

2 Comments

Filed under Romania, language, religion, democracy, migration, Russia, nationalism, Britain, economics, Poland

Bulgarian Monastery Hospitality, 1934

From The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 3, NYRB Classics, 2014), Kindle pp. 12-15:

St John of Rila is only surpassed in venerability by SS Cyril and Methodius, the inventors of the Cyrillic script, and by St Simeon, in Bulgarian hagiography. The great monastery that he founded near his hermitage in these lonely mountains is, in a sense, the most important religious centre in the kingdom. The church, burnt down again and again in the disturbed past of Bulgaria, was rebuilt in the last century. The poor quality of the frescoes which smothered every inch of interior wall space and the brazen proliferation of the ikonostasis was mitigated by the candlelight. The Slav liturgy of vespers boomed out by a score of black-clad and long-haired and long-bearded monks, all leaning or standing in their miserere stalls, sounded marvellous. It continued for hours. Afterwards, charitably singled out as a foreigner, I was given a little cell to myself, although the monastery was so full that villagers were sleeping out with their bundles all over the yard and under the trees. Many more arrived next day and the inside of the church virtually seized up with the pious multitude. There were an archbishop and several bishops and archimandrites besides the abbot and his retinue. They officiated in copes as stiff and brilliant as beetles’ wings, and the higher clergy, coiffed with globular gold mitres the size of pumpkins and glistening with gems, leaned on croziers topped with twin coiling snakes. They evolved and chanted in aromatic clouds of smoke diagonally pierced by sun shafts. When all was over, a compact crocodile of votaries shuffled its way round the church to kiss St Ivan’s ikon and his thaumaturgic hand, black now as a briar root, inside its jewelled reliquary.

For the rest of the day, the glade outside the monastery was star-scattered with merrymaking pilgrims. At their heart an indefatigable ring of dancers rotated in the hora to the tune of a violin, a lute, a zither and a clarinet, ably played by Gypsies. Another Gypsy had brought his bear with him; it danced a joyless hornpipe and clapped its paws and played the tambourine to the beat of its master’s drum. A further castanet-like clashing came from an itinerant Albanian striking brass cups together, pouring out helpings of the sweetish, kvass-like boza from a spigot in a tasselled brass vessel four feet high, shaped like a mosque, its Taj Mahal dome topped by a little brass bird with wings splayed. Kebab and stuffed entrails were being grilled in culinary tabernacles as bristling with spitted and skewered meat as a shrike’s larder. Slivo and wine were reaching high tide. The lurching kalpacked villagers offered every newcomer their circular flasks of carved wood. (Elaborate woodwork plays a great part in the lives of Balkan mountaineers from the Carpathians to the Pindus in Greece, where it reaches its wildest pitch of elaboration. The same phenomenon applies to the Alps: the conjunction of harsh winters, long evenings, soft wood and sharp knives.) Under the leaves, a party of bright-aproned women sat round the feet of a shaggy bagpiper pumping out breathless pibrochs.

On the edge of this vast Balkan wassail I fell in with a party of students from Plovdiv. Like me they had come over the mountains, and were camping out. The most remarkable of these was an amusing, very pretty, fair-haired, frowning girl called Nadejda, who was studying French literature at Sofia University: a nimble hora dancer and endowed with unquenchable high spirits. She was staying on at the monastery three days to do some reading, which was exactly the length of my intended stay. We became friends at once. Apart from the stern rule of Mount Athos, women are just as welcome guests as men in most Orthodox monasteries. Bestowing hospitality seems almost the entire monastic function and the atmosphere of these cloisters is very different from the silence and recollection of abbeys in western Christendom. With its clattering hooves and constant arrivals and departures and the cheerful expansiveness of the monks, life was more like that of a castle in the Middle Ages. The planks in the tiers of galleries and catwalks were so worn and unsteady that too brisk a footfall would set the whole fabric shaking like a spider’s web. The courtyards are forever a-clatter with mules. The father Abbot, the Otetz Igoumen, a benign figure with an Olympian white beard and his locks tied in a bun like a lady out hunting, spent most of his day receiving ceremonial calls: occasions always ratified, as they are everywhere else south of the Danube, by offering a spoonful of sherbet or rose petal jam or a powdery cube of rahat loukoum, a gulp of slivo, a cup of Turkish coffee and a glass of water, to help along the formal affabilities of the visit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, Bulgaria, democracy, economics, food, language, religion, travel

Slovak Resentments, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 295-296:

We had hardly said good-bye when a spectacled young man on a bike overtook me and dismounted, with a greeting in Slovak—‘Dobar den,’ I think, instead of ‘jo nápot kivánok’—and asked where I was going. He fell in step beside me [and we conversed in German]. He was a schoolmaster and he enlarged on the past sorrows of Slovakia. It is true that the local villages are Hungarian, but further north they are pure Slovak as far as the Polish border. They had been under the Magyars for a thousand years and always treated as an inferior race, and when any Slovak rose in the world he was promptly seduced into the lesser Magyar nobility—with the result that all local leadership evaporated. Slovak children used to be taken away from their parents and brought up as Magyars. Even when they were fighting the Austrians in defence of their nationality and language, the Hungarians were busy oppressing and Magyarizing their own Slovak subjects. The schoolmaster didn’t seem to like the Czechs much either, though this involved a different kind of resentment. The Czechs, it seems, regard the Slovaks as irredeemable bumpkins, while in Slovak eyes, the Czechs are bossy, petit bourgeois bureaucrats who take unfair advantage of their closeness to the government in Prague. The schoolmaster himself was from northern Slovakia, where—partly thanks to the Hussites, partly to the general spread of the Reformation in east Europe—much of the population is Protestant. I hadn’t realized this. It was touch and go in the Dark Ages whether the Slavs of the North became Catholic or Orthodox. Under the proselytizing influence of SS. Cyril and Methodius—the Byzantine missionaries who invented the Cyrillic script and translated the sacred writings into Old Slavonic—it could easily have been the latter. When I asked why it hadn’t, he laughed and said: “The damned Magyars came!” The link was severed, and the Czechs and Slovaks stuck to Rome and the West.

When he reached his turning he asked me to stay in his village, but I had to press on. He pedalled away with a wave. A nice man.

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Britain, Czechia, democracy, education, Hungary, language, nationalism, religion, Slovakia, travel

Heilsarmee Hospitality in Vienna, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 196-198:

We seemed to have been walking for miles in this dim wilderness. At last, not far, I think, from the Danube Canal, we reached a quarter full of sidings and warehouses, and tramlines running over cobblestones glimmered amid dirty snow, and broken crates were scattered about. Under the lee of a steep ramp, a lighted doorway opened at the foot of a large building whose windows were bright in the murk. The policeman left me and I went in.

A large antechamber was filled with a moving swarm of tramps. Each one had a bundle; their overcoats flapped like those of scarecrows and their rags and sometimes their footgear were held together by rusty safety-pins and string. There were Guy Fawkes beards and wild or wandering eyes under torn hat brims. Many of them seemed to have known each other for years. Social greetings and gossip combined in an affable manner and a vague impulse kept them on the move in a shuffling ebb and flow.

A door opened, and a voice shouted “Hemden!”—“Shirts!”—and everyone stampeded towards the door of the next room, elbowing and barging and peeling off their upper clothes as they went. I did the same. Soon we were all naked to the waist, while a piercing unwashed smell opened above each bare torso like an umbrella. Converging wooden rails herded us in a shuffling, insolvent swarm towards a circular lamp. As each newcomer came level with it, an official took his shirt and his under-linen, and, stretching them across the lamp, which was blindingly bright and a yard in diameter, gazed searchingly. All entrants harbouring vermin were led away to be fumigated, and the rest of us, after giving our names at a desk, proceeded into a vast dormitory with a row of lamps hung high under the lofty ceiling. As I wriggled back into my shirt, the man who had taken my name and details led me to an office, saying that a Landsmann of mine had arrived that evening, called Major Brock. This sounded strange. But when we entered the office, the mystery was solved and the meaning of the word Heilsarmee as well. For on the table lay a braided and shiny-peaked black forage-cap with a maroon strawberry growing from the centre of the crown. The words ‘Salvation Army’ gleamed in gold letters on a maroon band. The other side of the table, drinking cocoa, sat a tired, grey-haired figure in steel-rimmed glasses and a frogged uniform jacket unbuttoned at the neck. He was a friendly-looking man from Chesterfield—one could tell he was from The North—and his brow was furrowed by sober piety and fatigue. Breaking his journey on a European inspection tour of Salvation Army hostels, I think he had just arrived from Italy. He was leaving next day and knew as little about events as I. Too exhausted to do much more than smile in a friendly way, he gave me a mug of cocoa and a slice of bread. When he saw how quickly they went down, a second helping appeared. I told him what I was up to—Constantinople, etc.—and he said I could stay a day or two. Then he laughed and said that I must be daft. I untied Trudi’s eggs and arranged them on his desk in a neat clutch. He said “Thanks, lad,” but looked nonplussed about what to do with them.

I lay on my camp-bed fully dressed. A dream feeling pervaded this interior; and soon the approach of sleep began to confuse the outlines of my fellow-inmates. They flitted about, grouping and re-grouping in conversation, unwinding foot-cloths and picking over tins of fag ends. One old man kept putting his boot to his ear as though he were listening to sea-sounds in a shell and each time his face lit up. The noise of talk, bursting out in squabbles or giggles on a higher note and then subsiding again to a universal collusive whisper, rippled through the place with a curious watery resonance. The groups were reduced in scale by the size and the height of the enormous room. They seemed to cluster and dissolve like Doré figures swarming and dwindling all over the nave of some bare, bright cathedral—a cathedral, moreover, so remote that it might alternatively have been a submarine or the saloon of an airship. No extraneous sound could pierce those high bare walls. To those inside them, everyday life and the dark strife of the city outside seemed equally irrelevant and far away. We were in Limbo.

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Britain, democracy, disease, economics, food, NGOs, religion, travel

A Guest in an Austrian Schloss, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 136-138:

The word ‘schloss’ means any degree of variation between a fortified castle and a baroque palace. This one was a fair sized manor house. I had felt shy as I ploughed through the snow of the long avenue late that afternoon; quite baselessly. To go by the solicitude of the trio at the stove-side in the drawing-room—the old Count and his wife and their daughter-in-law—I might, once again, have been a schoolboy asked out for a treat, or, better still, a polar explorer on the brink of expiring. “You must be famished after all that walking!” the younger Gräfin said, as a huge tea appeared: she was a beautiful dark-haired Hungarian and she spoke excellent English. “Yes,” said the elder, with an anxious smile, “We’ve been told to feed you up!” Her husband radiated silent benevolence as yet another silver dish appeared. I spread a third hot croissant with butter and honey and inwardly blessed my benefactor in Munich.

The Count was old and frail. He resembled, a little, Max Beerbohm in later life, with a touch of Franz Joseph minus the white side-whiskers. (Next day he wrote a chit to some private gallery in Linz on the back of a visiting card. After his name was printed: K.u.K. Kämmerer u. Rittmeister i.R[uhestand]. ‘Imperial and Royal Chamberlain,’ that is, ‘and retired Captain of Horse.’ All through Central Europe the initials ‘K.u.K.’—Kaiserlich und Königlich—were the alliterative epitome of the old Dual Monarchy. Only candidates with sixteen or thirty-two quarterings, I learnt later, were eligible for the symbolic gold key that court chamberlains wore on the back of their full-dress uniforms. But now the Empire and the Kingdom had been dismembered and their thrones were empty; no doors opened to the gold keys, the heralds were dispersed, the regiments disbanded and the horses dead long ago. The engraved words croaked loud of spent glories. Rare then, each of those symbols by now must be one with the translucent red button, the unicorn-embroidered robe and the ruby and jade clasp of a mandarin of the first class at the court of Manchus: ‘Finis rerum, and an end of names and dignities and whatsoever is terrene . . .’) I admired his attire, the soft buckskin knee-breeches and gleaming brogues and a grey and green loden jacket with horn buttons and green lapels. These were accompanied out-of-doors by the green felt hat with its curling blackcock’s tail-feather which I had seen among a score of walking sticks in the hall. It was in Salzburg that I had first admired these Austrian country clothes. They were similar in kind, but less splendid in detail, to the livery of the footmen who kept bringing in those silver dishes. There was a feeling of Lincoln green about them, woodland elegance that the Count carried off with the ease of a courtier and a cuirassier.

Leave a comment

Filed under Austria, Britain, democracy, food, Hungary, language, nationalism, travel

Impressions of Bavarians, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 121-123:

“Hans.” “ What?” “Can you see me?” “No.” “Well, the dumplings are enough.”

The inn-keeper’s wife, who was from Munich, was illustrating the difficulties of the dialect by an imaginary conversation between two Bavarian peasants. They are seated on either side of a table, helping themselves from a huge dish of Knödel, and it is only when the plate of one of them is piled high enough with dumplings to hide him from view that he stops. In ordinary German, this dialogue would run: “Hans!” “Was?” “Siehst Du mich?” “Nein.” “Also, die Knödel sind genug.” But in the speech of Lower Bavaria, as closely as I can remember, it turns into: “Schani!” “Woas?” “Siahst Du ma?” “Na.” “Nacha, siang die Kniadel knua.” Such sounds were mooing and rumbling in the background all through this Bavarian trudge.

The inns in these remote and winter-bound thorpes were warm and snug. There was usually a picture of Hitler and a compulsory poster or two, but they were outnumbered by pious symbols and more venerable mementoes. Perhaps because I was a foreigner, politics seldom entered the conversations I had to share in; rather surprisingly, considering the closeness of those villages to the fountain-head of the Party. (It was different in towns.) Inn-talk, when it concerned the regional oddities of Bavaria, was rife with semi-humorous bias. Even then, many decades after Bismarck’s incorporation of the Bavarian Kingdom into the German Empire, Prussia was the chief target. A frequent butt of these stories was a hypothetical Prussian visitor to the province. Disciplined, blinkered, pig-headed and sharp-spoken, with thin vowels and stripped consonants—every “sch” turning into “s” and every hard “g” into “y”—this ridiculous figure was an unfailing prey for the easy-going but shrewd Bavarians. Affection for the former ruling family still lingered. The hoary origins and the thousand years’ sway of the Wittelsbachs were remembered with pride and their past follies forgiven. So august and gifted and beautiful a dynasty had every right, these old people inferred, to be a bit cracked now and then. The unassuming demeanour of Prince Ruprecht, the actual Pretender—who was also the last Stuart Pretender to the British throne—was frequently extolled; he was a distinguished doctor in Munich, and much loved. All this breathed homesickness for a past now doubly removed and thickly overlaid by recent history. I liked them for these old loyalties. Not everyone is fond of Bavarians: their fame is mixed, both inside Germany and out and one hears damning tales of aggressive ruthlessness. They seemed a rougher race than the civilized Rhinelanders or the diligent and homely Swabians. They were, perhaps, more raw in aspect and more uncompromising in manner; and—trivial detail!—an impression remains, perhaps a mistaken one, of darker hair. But there was nothing sinister about the farm people and foresters and woodcutters I spent these evenings with. They have left a memory of whiskers and wrinkles and deep eye sockets, of slurred speech and friendly warmth and hospitable kindness. Carved wood teemed in every detail of their dwellings, for from the Norwegian fiords to Nepal, above certain contour-lines, the upshot of long winters, early nightfall, soft wood and sharp knives is the same. It soars to a feverish zenith in Switzerland, where each winter begets teeming millions of cuckoo clocks, chamois, dwarfs and brown bears.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, democracy, Germany, labor, language, nationalism, Switzerland, travel

Bürgermeister Hospitality, 1934

From A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (Journey Across Europe Book 1, NYRB Classics, 2011), Kindle pp. 115-116:

Remembering the advice the mayor of Bruchsal had given me, the moment I had arrived in this little village, I had sought out the Bürgermeister. I found him in the Gemeindeamt, where he filled out a slip of paper. I presented it at the inn: it entitled me to supper and a mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning; all on the parish. It seems amazing to me now, but so it was, and there was no kind of slur attached to it; nothing, ever, but a friendly welcome. I wonder how many times I took advantage of this generous and, apparently, very old custom? It prevailed all through Germany and Austria, a survival perhaps, of some ancient charity to wandering students and pilgrims, extended now to all poor travellers.

The Gastwirtschaft [restaurant] was a beetling chalet with cut logs piled to the eaves. An elaborate balcony ran all the way round it; carved and fretted woodwork frilled it at every point and a layer of snow two feet thick, like the cotton-wool packing for a fragile treasure, muffled the shallow tilt of the enormous wide-eaved roof.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, democracy, economics, food, Germany, travel

December 1941 Turning Points

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 208-209:

None of the celebrating pilots aboard the six Japanese carriers could possibly have known that just the day before, on the other side of the world, Marshal Georgy Zhukov had directed a counterattack of half a million Russian soldiers against German forces outside Moscow. Before the winter was over, the Russians would push the Germans some two hundred miles to the west. Japan had joined the war at almost the precise moment that the German juggernaut was exposed as vulnerable after all.

However tactically successful, the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor stands alongside Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union as one of the most reckless and irresponsible decisions in the history of warfare, and along with the Russian counterattack outside Moscow marked a decisive turning point in the Second World War. It brought the United States and its vast industrial resources fully into the conflict and galvanized American public opinion in such a way as to ensure not only an eventual Allied triumph, but what Roosevelt in his December 8 speech to Congress called “absolute victory.”

In view of that, it is easy to overlook the fact that the raid on Pearl Harbor was only one element of Japan’s grand strategy. In fact, the Japanese began to seize the southern resource area—the actual target of all their planning—at virtually the same moment their aircraft were crippling the American battle fleet. On December 4 and 5, as Nagumo turned his carriers to the southeast (and Zhukov assembled his divisions outside Moscow), Japanese invasion flotillas left Hainan Island, in the South China Sea, and Cam Ranh Bay, in Indochina, to steam southward into the Gulf of Siam. Even as the first plane lifted off from Nagumo’s carriers, a Japanese invasion force of twenty-one transports, escorted by a light cruiser and four destroyers, began landing soldiers on the north coast of British Malaya at Kota Bharu, just below the border with Thailand (formerly Siam). Ninety minutes later (as Fuchida’s planes were lining up for their attack run on Battleship Row), a second invasion force of twenty-two transports, escorted by a battleship and five cruisers plus seven destroyers, began landing soldiers at Singora Beach inside Siam, 130 miles up the Kra Peninsula.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, Germany, industry, Japan, Malaysia, military, nationalism, Thailand, U.S., USSR, Vietnam, war

Results of the 1940 Battle for Norway

From World War II at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Oxford U. Press, 2018), Kindle pp. 57-60:

Mackesy, with the rest of the Narvik invasion force, landed at Harstad, near Narvik, on April 15. There was more than a little confusion getting ashore, and the landings took longer than anticipated. In one case, it took five days to unload two ships, and meanwhile German aircraft continued their harassing attacks. The Furious, along with the newly arrived Glorious, flew two squadrons of British aircraft ashore, but they had little luck against the Luftwaffe, which claimed six British ships. Pressured by Churchill, [Admiral of the Fleet Lord] Cork urged Mackesy to undertake a land assault, but Mackesy, whose troops were floundering in snow up to their waists, was not to be hurried, and instead began a slow encirclement of the city. As he had with Forbes, Churchill then pressed Cork to undertake a bombardment of the town with his big ships. Cork did so on April 24, though with little effect. By the end of the month the British, French, and Poles had thirty thousand men in the Narvik area, yet the Germans continued to hold the town.

Even as the allied buildup continued, unambiguous intelligence began to arrive in London that a far more serious buildup was taking place on the Continent, where German armored divisions were gathering along the border with France and Belgium. Though the land war in Europe had remained quiescent since the fall of Poland in September, it now appeared that the Germans were about to initiate a major offensive. That led Chamberlain and the rest of the cabinet, including Churchill, to wonder if the Royal Navy was not overextended in Norway. As early as April 24, the day that Cork’s naval forces bombarded Narvik, the cabinet secretly voted to terminate the Norway campaign. The government shared this decision with the French, though they did not tell the Norwegians.

In the first week of May, Chamberlain called for a vote of confidence from the House of Commons. Somewhat defensively, he asked members “not to form any hasty opinions on the result of the Norwegian campaign,” which by now had become an apparent quagmire. Chamberlain narrowly won the vote but, recognizing that a change in government might revitalize British morale, he resigned anyway. Most of the errors of the Norwegian campaign could be traced to Churchill’s unfortunate meddling, but his reputation as an ardent and unyielding foe of Nazism (which he often pronounced as if it derived from the word “nausea”), made him the only suitable candidate as Chamberlain’s successor, and on May 10, the king asked him to form a government. As prime minister, Churchill also kept the portfolio of defense minister in his own hands, and of course he continued to exercise significant influence over naval affairs, so throughout the war he had near complete dominance of military and naval strategy as well as government policy.

On that same May 10, German armored columns, backed up by tactical aircraft, charged across the frontiers of France and Belgium. The swiftly unfolding campaign in France necessarily became Churchill’s most immediate priority, though he still hoped to complete the capture of Narvik before withdrawing from Norway. In part, he wanted to destroy the ore piers and railroad facilities there, but he also hoped that the seizure of Narvik would somehow validate the decision to go into Norway in the first place, which would demonstrate that the campaign had not been a complete failure—another Gallipoli. He replaced the cautious Mackesy with the more energetic Claude Auchinleck, and pressed Lord Cork to “get Narvik cleaned up as soon as possible.”

The Allied ground attack on Narvik took place on May 27. Hitler ordered the German defenders to fight to the last man, though they withdrew inland instead, destroying the railroad tunnels as they did so, thus actually aiding the British objective of making Narvik all but useless as an ore terminal. By the next day, Narvik was at last in British hands, though by then its importance had been overwhelmed by events elsewhere, and almost immediately the British prepared to evacuate not only Narvik but all of Norway. Norway’s King Haakon VII accepted a British offer to carry on a government in exile and was spirited out of Tromsø (along with fifty tons of Norway’s gold reserves) on June 1. At least as important, a handful of Norwegian warships and more than a thousand merchant vessels joined him. Given the worldwide dearth of shipping—on both sides—that was a significant boost to the British war effort.

Admiral Raeder had achieved his goal. Norway—or at least the principal port cities of Norway—had been occupied. To accomplish it, however, he had risked most of his surface navy and it had been severely crippled. Three cruisers, including the brand-new Blücher, and all ten of the destroyers sent to Narvik plus a dozen other ships had been sunk, and nearly every major combatant that survived the campaign had been damaged. By June 1940, the Kriegsmarine had fewer than a dozen surface combatants that were fit for service, and it no longer posed a meaningful threat to the Royal Navy in the North Sea or anywhere else. Raeder was also disappointed by the political outcome in Norway. From the start he had hoped that once the shooting stopped, it would be possible to adopt “a warm and friendly attitude” toward the Norwegians. Instead, Hitler’s appointed deputy treated Norway as a conquered province, a circumstance that gnawed at Raeder, who repeatedly tried to convince Hitler to adopt a more conciliatory policy, though with no success.

Finally, and ironically, the circumstances that had made Norway important enough to justify risking the entire German navy changed dramatically almost immediately. Once the Wehrmacht overran France, Dönitz’s U-boats obtained access to French ports on the Atlantic, which made those in Norway of little value, and the seizure of the enormous iron mines in French Lorraine made the mines in northern Sweden far less important. In the end, despite what looked to many like a German victory, Raeder had risked everything, lost much, and gained little.

The British, too, lost much in the Norway campaign, and for them there was one more tragedy to endure. On June 8, the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, accompanied by two destroyers, Ardent and Acasta, was returning to Britain from the evacuation of Trondheim. The Glorious had just recovered a squadron of Hurricane fighters from Norway that had managed to get aboard despite the fact that RAF planes lacked trailing hooks to catch the arrester wires. With her deck crowded with the Hurricanes, she had no fighters aloft when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau suddenly appeared on the horizon. Raeder had sent the battlecruiser twins to sea four days earlier under Wilhelm Marschall with orders to attack British shipping off Narvik. Though it was too late for that, Marschall stumbled into an unforeseen opportunity. With the Hurricanes crowding her flight deck, the crew of the Glorious could not get any fighters or bombers aloft. There was no explanation at all, however, for the fact that there were no topside lookouts on duty that day; the captain of the Glorious, Guy D’Oyly-Hughes, did not even order general quarters until twenty minutes after the German warships were in sight. The result was that the Glorious achieved the inglorious distinction of being the first aircraft carrier in history to be sunk by surface gunfire. Only thirty-four minutes after the Scharnhorst opened fire, the Glorious rolled over onto her starboard side and went down.

Leave a comment

Filed under Belgium, Britain, democracy, France, Germany, industry, Poland, Scandinavia, war

New England’s Codfish Aristocracy

From Cod, by Mark Kurlansky (Penguin, 1998), pp. 78-80:

By the eighteenth century, cod had lifted New England from a distant colony of starving settlers to an international commercial power. Massachusetts had elevated cod from commodity to fetish. The members of the “codfish aristocracy,” those who traced their family fortunes to the seventeenth-century cod fisheries, had openly worshiped the fish as the symbol of their wealth. A codfish appeared on official crests from the seal of the Plymouth Land Company and the 1776 New Hampshire State seal to the emblem of the eighteenth-century Salem Gazette—a shield held by two Indians with a codfish overhead. Many of the first American coins issued from 1776 to 1778 had codfish on them, and a 1755 two-penny tax stamp for the Massachusetts Bay Colony bore a codfish and the words staple of Massachusetts.

When the original codfish aristocrats expressed their wealth by building mansions, they decorated them with codfish. In 1743, shipowner Colonel Benjamin Pickman included in the Salem mansion he was building a staircase decorated with a gilded wooden cod on the side of each tread. The Boston Town Hall also had a gilded cod hanging from the ceiling, but the building burned down, cod and all, in 1747. After the American Revolution, a carved wooden cod was hung in the Old State House, the government building at the head of State Street in Boston, at the urging of John Rowe, who, like many of the Boston revolutionaries, was a merchant. When Massachusetts moved its legislature in 1798, the cod was moved with it. When the legislature moved again in 1895, the cod was ceremoniously lowered by the assistant door-keeper and wrapped in an American flag, placed on a bier, and carried by three representatives in a procession escorted by the sergeant-at-arms. As they entered the new chamber, the members rose and gave a vigorous round of applause.

Leave a comment

Filed under democracy, economics, food, migration, nationalism, U.S.