Posts Tagged ‘‘Don’t’

Don’t Panic! Real Dad’s Army was ‘ruthless guerrilla force’ say historians

January 29th, 2016

The BBC television series and other depictions have done a disservice to the real Home Guard, which was composed of deadly serious volunteers who believed invasion was imminent.

Many of the guard were in fact fit young men in reserve occupations which meant they could not join the regular forces, Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the museum said.

He said: “I think the popular culture depiction has done them a little bit of a disservice. In a lot of cases, it was more a lads’ army, than a Dad’s Army.”

Documents and artefacts outlining the reality of the Home Guard will go on display when the museum reopens in November after a two year refurbishment.

Records show half of some units were aged in their mid-20s or younger. Of the older men, a significant proportion had combat experience from the First World War.

Dr Johnston said: “These were very serious people and these were very serious times. It’s easy to look back and laugh now at people making their own weapons, but it was a desperate time in 1940.”

The Home Guard, which was originally called initially the Local Defence Volunteers, was formed on 14 May 1940. By the end of July there were more than a million volunteers.

With regular forces taking priority for equipment, the Home Guard volunteers were at first poorly armed with their own weapons or obsolete firearms. The original idea was that the guard would act as a secondary defensive force behind the Army, guarding roads, canals and airfields.

But they were soon converted to a more aggressive role to deal with a potential German invasion, Dr Johnston said.

The German invasion plan ‘Operation Sea Lion’ called for a landing force of 67,000 German soldiers along with an airborne division to parachute in land beyond the British beach defences.

The German forces planned to push north and encircle London. The German plan estimated that if they advanced as far as Northampton, the UK would surrender.

If the Home Guard were to stand and fight well-trained and well-equipped German troops who had pioneered and mastered Blitzkrieg warfare, they would suffer enormous casualties for little gain it was decided.

So the guard was reimagined as a guerrilla force that would limit the German advance.

Dr Johnston said: “They would be a secret army, sabotaging and attacking the enemy from the rear, slowing them down to buy time for the regular Army to regroup further inland and re-establish defensive positions.”

The Home Guard drilled twice a week, took part in regular camps, and was trained by the regular Army. Within a short space of time it was probably the equivalent of today’s Army Reserve, he said.

Life in the Home Guard was also dangerous with 1,206 members being killed in the war.

Though the invasion never came, the Home Guard remained active in British defence and manned anti-aircraft guns. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dr Johnston said: “Had the invasion come in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard would undoubtedly have fought with great commitment but probably been able to accomplish little. But the longer the delay in the planned German invasion went on, the stronger the Home Guard, and British forces overall, became, and better able to resist any prospective assault. They were a vital part of Britain’s defences throughout the war.”


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Don’t be fooled – Eichmann was a monster

January 19th, 2015

But the idea that Eichmann was a normal, banal bureaucrat who was just doing his job like any one of us is junk history. It is high time that we dismissed the televised image of the halting figure in the bulletproof box as being representative of Eichmann the man, and the system of which he was a part.

Eichmann was not just some cog in an industrialised and depersonalised killing machine, he was a keen instigator of genocide, a zealous bigot who eagerly forged a career out of anti?Semitism and extermination. We only have to read the words he uttered well before his abduction and trial to realise that he loved the job that involved marshalling an entire people to its destruction. He remarked that when he died, he would “jump into my grave laughing, because the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction”.

Eichmann did not just enjoy his work, he really believed in it. When he was hiding in Argentina after the war, he confided in a Dutch former SS man and journalist called Willem Sassen. “If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy,” he said. “I wasn’t only issued orders, otherwise I’d have been a moron, but rather I anticipated – I was an idealist.”

Eichmann on trial in 1961

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was an admirer. “Eichmann is 34 or 35 years old, a very active, adventurous man,” Höss said in April 1946, while he was imprisoned. “He felt that this act against Jews was necessary and was fully convinced of its necessity and correctness, as I was.” And no less a figure than the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, was also a fan. “If we had 50 Eichmanns,” observed Müller, “we would have won the war.”

So how did this come about, this contrast between the perception of Eichmann and the reality of the man? The answer is that when he was on trial, Eichmann was playing a part. He knew that acting the role of the anonymous, dutiful bureaucrat would do him more favours than presenting his true self. Unfortunately, observers such as Arendt were taken in by this performance.

There are many reasons why this error took hold. Perhaps the most important is that there was a strong need for people to believe that the enormity of genocide and anti?Semitism was rooted in something systemic, rather than being the product of a relatively small handful of crazed, but influential, individuals. When the Mossad found Eichmann living in a shack in a crummy part of Buenos Aires, the agents were appalled and even insulted that a man who had eradicated millions was not living in a huge, diabolical lair in the middle of the jungle. Somehow the size of the crime did not match up to the size of the man.

We can see this desire even today, when we look at what lies behind the recent murders of Jews in cities such as Paris and Marseille. Again, it is more palatable to suppose that the enemy is something large and systemic – in this instance, Islamism – rather than an increasing number of violent cranks who have perverted an ideology in an attempt to give their murderousness a sort of respectability.

Ultimately, we should realise that some people are not normal, and that they do not think like us. For want of a better word, the Eichmanns of this world are indeed monsters.

Guy Walters is the author of ‘Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Hunt to Bring Them to Justice’


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The last British Dambuster: ‘Don’t call me a hero’

May 10th, 2014

Mr Johnson was the bomb-aimer on one of the Lancasters which damaged the Sorpe Dam. Other crews in the 617 Squadron destroyed the Möhne and Edersee Dams, leading to catastrophic flooding in the valley.

“It was misty on the way out, but we did find the Sorpe,” Mr Johnson remembers in The Last British Dambuster, a book telling the story of the operation told from his own perspective, which is published this week.

“In the totally clear moonlight, it was an incredibly sight…after nine dummy runs, we were satisfied we were on the right track. I pushed the button and called, ‘Bomb gone!’ From the rear of the plane was heard ‘Thank Christ for that!’ The explosion threw up a fountain of water up to about 1,000 feet.”

Bouncing bombs, specially designed for the task by the English engineer Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, were able to breach nets which protected the German constructions from attack.

But, as Mr Johnson recalls, “In the final event, of the eight aircraft in total designated to attack the Sorpe, only two got through. Three were shot down and three returned unsuccessfully.” It would have taken five more bomb blasts to completely destroy that dam.

Despite 53 of Mr Johnson’s 132 comrades losing their lives in the attempt, the mission’s overall success was seized upon by the British propaganda machine and the feat cemented in the public consciousness with Michael Anderson’s 1955 film The Dam Busters.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson has expressed an interest in remaking the film, employing Mr Johnson as an advisor, though the project is currently on hold.

Following the 70th anniversary of the raids last year, and realising the interest the younger generation still had in the mission, Mr Johnson decided to act on his three children’s suggestions that he write an autobiography, telling of his role in the raid.

“I think there are a few reasons why it’s so well remembered,” says Mr Johnson, who also has eight grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. “It proved to Hitler and the German high command that what they thought was impregnable the RAF could get to and destroy.

As a new recruit, aged 19

“It delayed production in the Ruhr quite considerably, though perhaps not as much as we would have liked, and it meant men who were being used to build a defence wall along the Atlantic coast had to be brought back to repair the damage.

“But probably the most important reason is the morale affect it had on the people of this country. It seemed like a turning point in the war; whether it was or not is debatable, but it seemed to give that impression.”

The book also recounts his life before and after the war, including the story of how he came to be involved in the 617 Squadron at the age of 21.

On joining the Air Force he was originally sent to America to train as a pilot but failed to complete the course because of problems with his solo landings. On his return to England he trained as a spare gunner, but soon switched to become a bomb aimer, “since it made a difference between starting at 7am and starting at midday”.

It was in this position that he was asked to join a special squadron to be sent on what was then a top-secret mission. He married his teenage sweetheart Gwyn just weeks before the Dambusters raid, and the pair were together for over 60 years, until Gwyn’s death from cancer eight years ago.

Now Mr Johnson lives in Bristol with his family and is “too lazy to do anything” apart from speak at the memorial events he is invited to.

“I won’t volunteer but if people are interested I’ll always tell them what happened,” he says. “I get a lot of recognition, but it shouldn’t be just for me, because I’m still around. It should be for the whole squadron.” Across the world, only three men who were involved in the mission are still alive: a former pilot in New Zealand and a gunner in Canada.

And Mr Johnson – who worked as a primary school teacher following his retirement from the Air Force in 1962 – is sure that if the need arose today, young people would be able to match the achievements of the Dambusters.

“I think by and large younger people are a good group; the thugs amongst them are few and far between. People say to me, ‘If the same thing happened now as in 1939, what do you think the reaction would be from young people?’

“It sometimes surprises them but I always say: ‘The majority would do what we did. They would want to defend themselves, their country and the lives they wanted to live.’”

The Last British Dambuster by George ‘Johnny’ Johnson (Ebury Press, RRP £17.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £15.99 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk


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