Friday, January 04, 2013

German Army? No worries...

Englishmen of a certain age -- let's say over seventy -- tend to have a grudging respect for the German army. I'm not quite sure why, but it probably has something to do with two world wars, the flower of English youth slaughtered in the first, 20 million dead, worldwide, in the second. And we tend to remember incidents such as the invasion of Russia in winter (Napoleon did it and lost), the battle of Stalingrad, and so on.

One way and another, us old guys have a mental image of the German army as a vast assembly of bullet-headed thugs, with masses of first-class ordnance made by world-class German engineers. And even now we keep seeing these history documentaries showing the inexorable advances made by these relentless buggers.

It's worth noting that even when it came to the Battle of Stalingrad, when everything conceivable was against the Germans -- the weather, the lack of supplies, the sheer number of the Russians launched against them -- even then the Germans were hard to shift. Stalin's approach was to send boat after boat across the river, where they were machine-gunned down to one or two survivors, as often or not. But one or two was enough. Stalin sent another boat. And another. He had lots of peasants at his disposal.

All of that being the case, we ancient Limies tend to think of the German army as a hard-nosed bunch. Jeez, we mutter to ourselves, I hope we don't have to fight those buggers again -- not till I'm safely dead, anyway.

But you know what? We can sleep easy! Yes, there is absolutely no cause for alarm. A report in today's Times says it all. The link may not get you through Rupert's firewall (the strategy isn't going to work, Rupert, I keep telling you), so I'll give you the gist of the report here.
It was once dreaded for its military might and unfailing discipline. But the German Army is now struggling to hold on to recruits, with almost one in three dropping out after six months of basic training.
See, what happens is this. The recruits turn up cos they rather fancy themselves in one of those uniforms -- a real girl-puller. But then they're a bit surprised by what they find. They have to share a room with other men. They have to polish their own boots! They can't smoke except during certain times. And there are all these bossy types strutting about and expecting recruits to do what they tell them! Whatever next? Result: 30.4 per cent drop out within six months.

So, I think we can all relax. If and when the German army invades somewhere uncomfortable, such as Russia in winter, or even Manchester on a rainy day in August, the recruits are going to take a long hard look at what they can expect. And if the Generals can't guarantee of supply of the young men's favourite hairspray, the great German war machine is going to say, 'Nah. No way. Fuck that for a game of soldiers.' And then they're going to piss off home.

For those of you who would like to read in detail about the glories of the once-unstoppable Wehrmacht, and just how difficult they were to batter into submission, William Shirer gives the best overall picture in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

For a painfully detailed account of one battle, go to Antony Beevor's Stalingrad


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