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Post When Did Franco Become Chief of State?
Created by John Eipper on 06/09/19 1:18 PM

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When Did Franco Become Chief of State? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 06/09/19 1:18 pm)

I was not interested in commenting on the Spanish Supreme Court's recent decision on the exhumation of Franco's remains which has caused much stir and uproar among historians, Paul Preston and Ángel Viñas among others, because I considered the case to be of less significance and a matter of moral positions.  In that case morality is a very personal question not a legal, factual or historical one.

The statement in question is that Franco was Chief of State since the start of the Civil War in 1936, and apparently this sentence was a shock to many because it gave a kind of legitimacy to the Franco dictatorship. Let's be clear, whether Franco was a bloody dictator or not, to name him Chief of State might be only a question of semantic, morality or legality, but it is unquestionable.

He was named Chief of State at the beginning of the war and this seems to be a historical fact. To call the Supreme Court judgment "rubbish" seems to be out of the question; because the legality already has been confirmed by many years of the regime and its international recognition.

Besides, It could be argued that Franco's appointment might be considered illegal, being the result of a military uprising against a "democratically elected" government, but the assumed legality of this government has been also questioned by historians regarding accusations of fraudulent elections.

Historians have the right to question ethics and legality, but they should be more concerned with facts, events, its causes and effects, not in their moral valuations and personal interpretations. Otherwise their readers might strictly be influenced by the moral and ethical principles of historians, which by the way might not really apply to the judged historical events.

Now and finally, I would like to refer to Jordi Molins's post of June 7th. Frankly I found his arguments confusing and cumbersome--sorry, but I need clearer argumentations. Nevertheless, Jordi seems to question, once more, the Spanish Constitution and the morality of Spanish society. He argues again for the moral superiority of the Catalonian people, and uses, once again, victimization arguments about the imprisoned Catalonian politicians.

Jordi's comments deserve just one remark in reply. He should remember that the 1978 constitution, the one that according to him legitimated Franco's regime, was voted and approved by more than 80% of Catalonians, the region with the most votes in Spain. Should we considered Catalonians accomplices of Franco's legitimization?

JE comments:  I may be missing something here, but what is the problem, political or otherwise, with starting the clock on the Franco regime from the moment the Republican government finally left the country in 1939?

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  • At the Madrid Book Fair (Angel Vinas, Belgium 06/09/19 10:13 PM)
    I'm in Spain signing copies of my book at the Madrid Book Fair. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that this book, Who Wanted the Civil War, is likely to be my most successful one ever.

    I've promised the readers of my blog to upload a small article in which I will try to demonstrate how the recent sentence of the Spanish Supreme Court is in line, and must be interpreted with, a precedent which gives information about the frame of mind of some legal eagles of the Francoist juridical system. My thesis will be that the same frame of mind permeates the said sentence eighty years later.

    I will upload it to WAIS albeit in Spanish. I won't have the time to translate it into English, because as soon as I get back to Brussels I must prepare for my short summer holidays in sunny Tuscany.

    JE comments:  Ángel, congratulations on the success of ¿Quién quiso la Guerra Civil?  It's on my summer reading list.  Thoughts on this year's Book Fair?  Any new "it" authors this Hispanist should know about?

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  • When Did Franco Become Chief of State? (Anthony J Candil, USA 06/11/19 4:45 PM)
    I believe the question of when the Franco regime officially started is really some kind of "Byzantine" debate.

    One may like it or not, but to question if General Franco was Head of State or not is like discussing what gender the angels are.

    Of course he was Head of State, and when after 1953 most nations recognized Spain again and returned their ambassadors, and even more, when Spain was admitted to the UN, Franco was certainly recognized legally as Head of State.

    And the main one recognizing him as Head of State was no other than Prince Juan Carlos when he accepted becoming his successor in 1969 after the decision was made official and sanctioned by the Spanish "Cortes" (as the Francoist parliament was called). Otherwise, if Franco wasn't Head of State, what should we think of the present Spanish monarchy?

    We can think or argue differently, but facts are facts. Saying otherwise is a waste of time and energy.

    JE comments:  Can someone walk us through the legal significance of the Supreme Court's decision?  Why does "predating" his rule to 1936 have an impact on the disinterment debate?

    We are now back in North America, in Toronto awaiting our connecting flight to Windsor/Detroit.  It was a wonderful fortnight in Poland, among family and friends (including WAISworld's own Tom Hashimoto).  I'll share some photos in the coming days.

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    • When Did Franco Become Head of State? (Paul Preston, UK 06/12/19 6:15 AM)

      It goes without saying that Franco was de facto head of state once he had won the Spanish Civil War. At that point, he was recognised by Britain, the USA and France.

      The issue raised by the Tribunal Supremo is the notion that he was head of state since being declared "head of the government of the state" by a meeting of rebel generals at the end of September 1936. That is acceptable only if the initial premise is that the military coup of July 1936 was legitimate. It was not. At that time, the head of the Spanish state was Manuel Azaña.

      JE comments:  I am reminded of the Chilean national motto:  Por la razón o la fuerza/By reason or (if that doesn't work) by force.  Paul, so glad you've weighed in.  Can you give us a couple of sentences on how the Supreme Court's decision shapes the disinterment controversy?

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      • If Franco is Exhumed, What to Do with the Body? (Paul Preston, UK 06/13/19 3:48 AM)
        John E asked how the Spain's Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court)'s statement justified its decision to suspend the exhumation of Franco.

        It might turn out that the TS decision has helped the government of Pedro Sánchez dodge a bullet. The idea of the Valle de los Caídos being a massive mausoleum for the dictator and pilgrimage site for his dwindling band of supporters is infuriating for many Spaniards. There is no equivalent for Hitler or Mussolini.

        However, the initial decision immediately raised the question of what to do with the body. Among those with a say in the matter were his family and they finally agreed to the creation of a smaller mausoleum in Madrid. This would be a logistically more convenient site for the die-hards and, in my opinion, a disastrous solution.

        My solution, which got a bit of traction on social media, but not taken up by the authorities or the family, was that he should be buried at sea. All of his life he regretted that he had failed to gain entry to the Naval Academy (for budgetary reasons) and had had to join the army. Once in power, he used every opportunity to wear the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet. On his visit to Oliveira Salazar in October 1949, instead of the relatively rapid train journey from Madrid to Lisbon, he travelled to Vigo by car and then went aboard the battlecruiser Miguel de Cervantes and sailed to Lisbon at the head of a flotilla eleven warships.

        JE comments:  Prime Minister Sánchez may be breathing a sigh of relief, as he can now claim his hands are tied on the Franco tomb controversy.  I agree with Paul Preston that even a modest mausoleum in Madrid would be much more of a gathering point for neo-Francoists.  Paul, is the matter now considered over, in legal terms?

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      • Spain's 1978 Constitution Legitimized Franco (Jordi Molins, Spain 06/13/19 4:09 AM)
        Paul Preston wrote on June 12th: "The issue raised by the Tribunal Supremo is the notion that [Franco] was head of state since [...] the end of September 1936. That is acceptable only if the initial premise is that the military coup of July 1936 was legitimate. It was not. At that time, the head of the Spanish state was Manuel Azaña."

        From a historian's point of view, I fully agree with Sir Paul.

        However, in legal terms, Spain's "1978 regime" acknowledges the July 1936 military coup as legitimate and the Spanish Republic as illegitimate after that date. Note: I define "legitimate" as the "acknowledged to be legally valid," and "illegitimate" as "acknowledged not to be legally valid."

        My axiom is that a modern, not-at-war State has one, and only one, valid legal code. A legal code cannot be inconsistent with itself (if the legal code states A, it cannot state not-A).

        Now, the Spanish constitution states: "(...) Queda [derogado el fuero] del Trabajo, de 9 de marzo de 1938..." (The "fuero del Trabajo", as of March 9, 1938, is abolished).


        And from:


        ...we can see that Franco was nominated as the Spanish Head of Government on September 30, 1936. As is expected, "all laws opposing this nomination are abolished" (5th article).


        According to the Spanish Republican regime, Manuel Azaña was the Spanish Head of Government up to March 3, 1939,

        The Spanish Constitution "abolishes" a Francoist law as of March 9, 1938,

        and 1938 happens before 1939,

        If we use the axiom stated above, I claim the Spanish Constitution, the basis of the Spanish "1978 regime," acknowledges the Francoist regime as the legitimate one, and considers the Spanish Republic regime as illegitimate. The proof is as follows:

        By abolishing Francoist laws, the Spanish Constitution de facto considers the Francoist laws were legitimate before the day the Spanish Constitution entered into force. The reason is that by my axiom, one and one only legal code can be valid, at a given point in time. So, it is obvious that the day before the Spanish Constitution entered into force, the legitimate law was the Francoist one. The reason is the Francoist regime was not retroactively abolished before the day the Spanish Constitution entered into force (since always there has to be a valid legal code).

        Even more, since the "Fuero del Trabajo," as of March 9, 1938, is abolished, this means the Spanish Constitution acknowledges the Francoist regime was legitimate as of March 9, 1938; otherwise, the "Fuero del Trabajo" could not be abolished, since it would not be valid in the first place. In other words, since the "Fuero del Trabajo" was abolished by the Spanish Constitution, this means the Spanish Constitution considers the "previous legitimate legal code" (the Francoist one) was valid at least as far as March 9, 1938 (you cannot abolish a non-existing law).

        Since there can be only one legitimate legal code at any given time, this implies the Spanish Constitution considers the Francoist regime was legitimate as of March 9, 1938 (otherwise, why bothering abolishing an illegitimate law?) it cannot be the Spanish Constitution considers that Azaña was the legitimate President of the Government in 1938. On the contrary, Franco was.

        JE comments:  Jordi Molins is certainly not interested in "legitimizing" Franco, but rather in de-legitimizing a constitution which was born of Francoism.  Do I follow your argument, Jordi?  To my mind, the problem is that during the Civil War, Spain did not have one legal code, but two.  Didn't Spain in 1978 have to work with the facts on the ground--especially given the very delicate state of democracy at that time?  Even three years later, with the Tejero putsch, it was far from certain that Spanish democracy would endure.

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        • Thoughts on Franco Exhumation (Angel Vinas, Belgium 06/14/19 3:28 AM)
          Several colleagues have provided useful insights into the debate currently raging in Spain about the preliminary sentence of the Spanish Supreme Court regarding Franco's exhumation. I will address three points.

          1) Acknowledgment of the need to wait for the final decision, which may last a few months longer or even more, on the exhumation itself. This kind of procrastination has been explained because of the alleged protection of the rights of the Franco family in face of the "irreparable" damage which might be caused before the final decision is taken. It means, legally and politically, that those personal rights are put before the general interest as defined by Parliament and Government concurring in the exhumation.

          2) Identification of Franco as head of State from 1 October 1936 to his death. This has caused a furore because it would seem to ignore the realities of the time. It is the point I will discuss in my announced post this coming Tuesday.

          3) Acknowledgment of the legality of the Franco dictatorship, as argued by Jordi Molins. This is a moot point. The Spanish State (as defined by Franco) existed. It was legitimised in terms of both Spanish and international law. One can differ as to when this happened. With Sir Paul Preston I agree that it was recognised as a fully fledged member of the international community by the series of diplomatic recognition in 1939.  I'm not a lawyer but my argument will combine historical facts, precedents and a small reference to legal texts which haven't prominently appeared in the discussion so far.

          My conclusion? For reasons not made explicit (which I find a pity) the magistrates of the Supreme Court have deemed it advisable not to found their decision on any legal text. This is in my view an important omission.

          JE comments:  Looking forward to your longer essay, Ángel.  We'll post it on WAIS, with an English translation shortly after that.

          My outsider's perspective:  the exhumation controversy seems to be doing little more than energizing the nostalgists and neo-Francoists.  Am I off the mark?

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        • More Thoughts on the Spanish Constitution and Franco (Jordi Molins, Spain 06/14/19 4:31 AM)
          John Eipper wrote: "During the Civil War, Spain did not have one legal code, but two."

          I fully agree with John from a historian's point of view. For this reason my axiom emphasized the "not-at-war" adjective: "a modern, not-at-war State has one, and only one, valid legal code."

          However, when a country ceases to be at war, one of the tasks for the corresponding new Constitution is to "put order." In particular, a new Constitution must be drafted in such a way that the axiom above is valid at all times (including the "war times").

          As a consequence, despite the fact that historically there were two legal codes coexisting in time, the Spanish Constitution had to "choose sides." And the Spanish Constitution chose to side with Franco, and away from the Spanish Republic.

          The reason is clear: if the Spanish Constitution abolished a 1938 Francoist law in 1978, this means by definition (you can only abolish a legitimate law; you do not bother with illegitimate laws, since you do not recognize them as valid to start with) that the Spanish Constitution believed in 1938 the legitimate law in Spain was the Francoist one, and not the Republican one (otherwise, the Spanish Constitution would acknowledge two different legal codes at the same time in 1938, which is anathema for a modern Constitution).

          JE comments:  How exactly does the 1978 Constitution describe the Franco era?  Is the Caudillo ever mentioned by name?  I presume not, but wouldn't a constitutional democracy have to acknowledge the non-democratic system that existed prior?

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          • Was Franco Mentioned in the 1978 Constitution? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 06/17/19 5:42 AM)

            When commenting on Jordi Molins's post of June 14th, John E asked regarding Spain, "wouldn't a constitutional democracy have to acknowledge the non-democratic system that existed prior?" He also asked how the 1978 Constitution describes the Franco era.

            First, John's second question: El Caudillo and his regime are not mentioned whatsoever, not by name or by any other means.

            Now to turn to the first question. Is it necessary for a democratic constitution to renounce and deny a previous antidemocratic regime?  Posing that question in the Spanish case is perhaps to overlook the willingness of Spanish society to accept a democratic constitution in place of a dictatorial one. After 40 years, society was still divided between Franco supporters and his adversaries--Nacionales or rebels if you like--and Republicans. A constitutional law to favor reconciliation was essential. To mention or condemn the Franco regime would have been an insurmountable obstacle for the transition.

            Perhaps the only very important concession to conservatives and supporters of the previous regime was to declare that "La forma política del Estado español es la Monarquía parlamentaria." Namely, that the Spanish state would be a parliamentary monarchy, a form otherwise common in other European nations, giving the king a role that many Republicans still today refuse to acknowledge.

            Jordi Molins attempts to discredit the Spanish Constitution by showing that it legitimated the Franco regime when it abolished the "ley del Trabajo de 1938." He ignores other legitimate Republican laws that were in force during the war. In this same constitutional article, other older laws were abolished if they were in conflict with the "constitutional principles presently established." Therefore, the removal of a 1938 law was not only necessary because it was in force for more than 40 years of the Franco regime. This measure was necessary because it might be in conflict with the new constitution.

            JE comments:  A legal quandary:  can you abolish a law without recognizing the legitimacy of a system that enacted it?  I am reminded of a US Civil War contradiction:  Lincoln arrested and exiled some "Copperheads" (Northern Confederate sympathizers) to the US Confederacy--yet he did not recognize the legitimacy of the Secessionist regime.  (See the example of Ohio Copperhead Clement Vallandigham.)

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      • Two Coups: Spain in 1936, Yugoslavia in 1941 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/13/19 5:32 AM)
        The horrors of military coups.

        When Dusan Simovic on 27 March 1941 carried out his coup sponsored by the UK (Churchill, Amery, Secret Service), the regent prince Paolo was arrested and as the new head of state the 17-year-old Peter, son of the assassinated King Alexander, was nominated.

        Immediately the new regime was recognized by the British Empire with an exalted speech by Churchill at Parliament. One day later, the South African PM General Smuts said: "The battle in the Balkans is lost by Germany."  A very correct prediction.  In reality the war was lost, not only the battle.

        Therefore, as soon as the historians will condemn the Simovic coup I will join them in condemning the Spanish Generals' coup.

        JE comments: WAISdom's outspoken Bastian Contrario, Eugenio Battaglia, forces us to ask: why are some coups bad and others "good"?  I know very little about the 1941 coup in Yugoslavia, but was it justified because it put Belgrade in the Allied camp?

        Eugenio has also stated before that the Axis lost the war in the Balkans.  Most historians would move farther north to the Eastern Front, although Americans naïvely believe that we did most of the winning.  And don't forget those plucky British...

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        • America Won WWII: on Debunking a Trope (Sasha Pack, USA 06/13/19 8:13 AM)
          It seems to be an article of faith in WAISWorld that Americans naively believe that but for D-Day we'd all be doing the Hitler salute. Although it may once have been true, it may be time to put that canard to bed.

          Each year, I teach a course on World War II to 150 undergraduates at a large state university--mainly not History majors, mind you, but students from engineering to theater who are there to fill a general education requirement. When I began teaching it several years ago, I quickly learned not to design the course around busting that myth. Students are not surprised to learn of the magnitude of the Soviet contribution or the value of Britain's refusal to surrender in 1940. A certain portion of them like to argue the war began in 1937 with the Japanese advance on Beijing (a defensible position though not one I would support). In some cases, they need to be convinced that the US did in fact play an important role in defeating the Third Reich.

          The takeaway: high school World History teachers may actually be doing a pretty decent job!

          JE comments:  Sasha Pack has a large sample group to work with, so he certainly knows of what he speaks.  It was probably unacceptable during the Cold War to teach the massive contribution of Uncle Joe to winning WWII, but things have changed in a generation.  Sasha, what are some of the other historical shibboleths that "we" think Americans believe, but by and large do not?  How about the notion of the US Civil War as a war fought to end slavery?

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          • America Didn't Win WWII? Not So Fast... (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/14/19 4:59 AM)
            Oh, my goodness.  I never in all my life expected to read a post like the one from Sasha Pack, 13 June.

            Of course the Soviet contribution to winning WWII was enormous, but without the US the war could have been won by the Axis. Period.

            Great Britain on 18 July 1940, thanks to Churchill (better to avoid any adjective), did not refuse to surrender but refused to save the British Empire and its position as Queen of the Seas, since Hitler, see Mein Kampf, wanted an alliance with the UK or at least a new Entente Cordiale.

            Thanks to its PM, the UK is one of the extremely few nations that theoretically won a great war but in reality came out considerably less important that when it declared war. War was declared for something that was betrayed only 14 day later.

            I am convinced that if Yugoslavia had been in the Axis the war could have over prior to 7 December 1941. However if Japan on this date instead of attacking the US had attacked South Asia and the USSR, the war could have been won.

            In such a case the US Empire would now be limited to the Americas (except Canada and the British territories), FDR would have been dismayed, but what about the American people? For sure hundreds of thousands of Americans would not have prematurely lost their lives.

            JE comments:  There several "what ifs" in this one, perhaps too many to disentangle.  Yes, we can presume that if the UK had allied with Germany, there wouldn't have been much of a war.  German hegemony would have resulted.  (Don't we have that anyway on the Continent at present?)  Eugenio, does your alternate scenario have Great Britain and Germany joining forces against Stalin?  

            But we can ever ignore a profound statistic:  from 70% (low estimate) to 90% (high estimate) of German war casualties occurred on the Eastern Front.

            I will concur that whether or not the US won the war, it certainly won the peace.  For starters, it helps to have the destruction take place in other countries...

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            • Could the Soviets Have Beaten Germany without US Help? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/14/19 7:49 AM)
              This is not a new topic on WAIS, and there is probably not a lot to say on the matter, which has not already been said here before.

              I'm glad to hear that high school students are now learning about the central role the Soviets played in defeating Nazi Germany in WWII. People from my generation, who were taught that the Battle of the Bulge and El Alamein were key battles in the war, rather than minor sideshows, as they actually were, are often surprised to hear facts like that more than 90% of German casualties occurred on the Eastern Front. The European Theatre of World War II altogether, was not actually something like a "world war"; it was different wars which were connected in various ways, or not connected. By far the biggest of these different wars was the really big war, actually the biggest war ever fought in human history, between Nazi Germany and the USSR, with relatively peripheral roles played by the various allies of the two main combatants.

              I agree with everyone here that the US played an important role, if not the main one--but it was not military, but rather industrial. The Nazis were defeated, despite the immense problems in Soviet military leadership (largely resulting from the decimation of the Soviet officer corps by Stalin's insane purges of 1937), by production and supply, and Lend Lease played a large role in this. Lend Lease amounted to only 10% or less of the total materiel used by the Soviets, but this does not adequately describe the importance of that materiel.  Lend Lease filled numerous gaps in the productive capacity of the Soviets, which meant that unlike the Germans, they suffered no significant strategic shortages of anything, at least by the time Lend Lease deliveries got ramped up fully in 1943. And the supply of certain particular items allowed the Soviets to concentrate on other items, creating significant efficiencies which improved production. For example, and just one example--the US supplied more than 80% of all the trucks used by the Soviet Army, which allowed the Soviets to concentrate on tank production, which they did with spectacular success, producing more and better tanks than the Germans, which played a crucial role in the result of the war.

              The strategic bombing of Germany by the British and Americans--a hideous war crime which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and destroyed entire cities--did not directly influence the outcome of the war. This slaughter, this--there is no other word for it--terrorism did not, contrary to Allied war planning, break the will of the Germans and force them to sue for peace. But by distracting a large proportion of German artillery resources away from the fighting on the Eastern Front, this had a significant effect on the outcome of the war by creating shortages of artillery.

              Would the Soviets have lost, without these factors? It's hard to say. The Soviets may have almost lost in December 1941 when von Bock pressed Army Group Center to within sight of the Kremlin churches, and the fall of Moscow looked possible. This was the last possible moment at which the Germans probably had any chance to beat the Soviets, as they definitely lacked the productive capacity and logistics to fight a war of attrition in Russia.  A sharp knockout blow was the only chance they had--as Hitler himself had said the year before. In December 1941, the last chance of a knockout blow was lost (if it had ever existed), and Soviet victory seems to have been more or less inevitable, as the Soviets after that slowly but continually solved their military leadership problems, and continuously ramped up war production to overwhelm the Germans with well-supplied and well-equipped troops. Only 16% of Lend-Lease support to the Soviet Union arrived before 1943, and the war was probably decided already by December 1941, so probably Lend Lease, although it was immensely valuable to the Soviets, did not change the outcome of the war. Considering the great effect of Lend Lease on the efficiency of Soviet war production, and the elimination of strategic gaps in supply, Lend Lease probably shortened the war, and perhaps by a lot, and so probably saved a lot of lives, perhaps millions of them. Lend Lease was a very intelligent, extremely effective program.

              The key to all of this is war production. The Germans, as Hitler himself had said, simply lacked the productive capacity to defeat the Soviet Union in an extended conflict. The Germans had vastly superior war leadership, and at the beginning of the conflict had a better trained and more experienced army, and had air superiority almost until the end of the war. But none of this was enough to resist the rising tide of well-equipped, well-supplied, and gradually better and better led Soviet soldiers, which eventually crushed the Third Reich.

              JE comments:  Can we scrutinize the "90% of German casualties happened on the Eastern Front" claim?  I had also accepted this figure as gospel, at least until this morning when editing Eugenio Battaglia's post.  A quick Web search reveals that some estimates go as low as 70-75%.  ("Low" must be taken here in relative terms.)

              Can anyone enlighten us?  I would assume that we're talking about combatant casualties, not total casualties.

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              • With WWII, Don't Overlook the Importance of Other Theaters (Timothy Brown, USA 06/15/19 1:57 PM)
                These postings on Germany, USSR and WWII ignore a few things, such as the concurrent wars being fought in the Pacific, China, Africa and at sea, logistical imbalances and the difference between Soviet, Chinese use of massed infantry units versus Allied strategies and tactics, with one side willingly used massed formations that expend the lives of troops in combat in great number while the other used logistical advantage to limit casualties.

                Perhaps the decisive element that led to Truman approving the use of nuclear weapons on Japan when he was made aware that the alternative, an invasion of Japan that could have cost of at least 100,000 US/Allied lives plus far more casualties--on both sides.

                I suggest that whenever someone visits Oahu, they take a moment to turn their eyes from the bathers on Waikiki, turn around and take a look in the opposite direction at what later became Tripler Hospital and CINCPAC HQ. Both were initially built in anticipation of the tens of thousands of US and allied soldiers that were expected to need immediate medical attention to save their lives before they could be sent to mainland hospitals. I did this often during my five years in the 1st INT (interrogator/translator team) unit at FMFPAC, every time I returned from a mission in Southeast Asia.

                JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer wrote that WWII was at least two wars just in Europe; certainly we could argue that the conflict was four or more wars worldwide.  World Wars II?  Perhaps it's nothing more than semantics--but speaking of which, I always thought it strange that "theater" is used to describe a war zone.

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                • Germany, USSR, and "Logistical Imbalances": Destroying Some Assumptions (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/17/19 4:12 AM)
                  I found the phrase "logistical imbalance," in Timothy Brown's post of June 15th, curious.

                  "Massed infantry formations" vs. "logistical advantages"--what does that mean? Supplies and equipment? That the Japanese and Germans used advantages in supplies and equipment to save manpower whereas Chinese and Russians did not?

                  That's not really true, and rather sells the Germans (and Japanese) short. In Europe, the Germans were poorly supplied and equipped compared to the Soviets at least from late 1942, and critical issues with German supply and equipment were already being felt by November 1941, when it proved impossible to deliver even warm clothing to the German troops at the front, just to mention one item of critical shortage out of many. The "logistical imbalance" in the European part of WWII was all against, not in favor of, the Germans. The Germans were not good in logistics at all in WWII--they lagged far behind the US and USSR in the science of logistics, and they suffered throughout the war from critical transport bottlenecks--they lacked trucks (most German transport was horse-drawn), they had massive difficulties with railroads in occupied territory, and the German railroads themselves suffered from underinvestment and were not up to the job of transporting materiel even to the border.

                  Nor can we say that the Soviets "willingly used mass formations" as a doctrine; or that the Germans "used logistical advantages to limit casualties." Both propositions are false, and "mass formation" vs. "logistical advantages" does not in any way characterize military tactics of WWII of any side, not excluding the Chinese. The big revolution in doctrine followed the disastrous slaughter of WWI where positional warfare using massed troops collided with machine guns and new types of artillery with high rates of fire. The revolution was a strong shift towards what is called "manoeuvre warfare" (think Napoleon and Nathan Bedford Forrest), and the Soviets were actually pioneers of this, developing the concept of maneuver warfare to a different level into something called "Deep Operation," developed in the 1920s. The Germans had something similar, which we like to call "Blitzkrieg" (a word invented by journalists and never used in the German military), and had a great thinker on the subject, Guderian, among others.

                  "Deep Operation" is similar to "Blitzkrieg" in that shock and deep penetration are used to disrupt the enemy's organization, communications, and logistics, but the Soviets took the idea to a different level, elevating it to a whole system of thought with its own place between strategy and tactics. See: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/November-December-2018/Blythe-Operational-Art/ . The Soviets restructured the whole Soviet Army to implement this doctrine--they had entire "Shock Armies," even. The US Army has largely adopted the Soviet idea of the "Operational Art," Tukhachevsky's texts on the subject are central parts of US Army study.

                  Unfortunately for the Soviets, the concept of Deep Operations led them for a time to believe that defense is almost irrelevant or impossible (this error is known as the "Cult of the Offensive"; the disastrous German Schlieffen Plan in WWI is an example), and this was one of several factors contributing to the devastating defeats of the Soviet defenders at the beginning of Barbarossa (there is some opinion among scholars that Deep Operations were temporarily abandoned altogether by the Stavka because it was associated with Tukachevsky and other military leaders purged in 1937, but I don't see evidence for that). But at the same time, Deep Operations was the principle used to inflict the first setbacks on the Germans in the Moscow counter-offensive. Then, as we all know, Marshal Grigory Zhukov, the most famous practitioner of Deep Operations, gradually implemented all the modern principles and as the Soviets gained strategic initiative (after Stalingrad, decisively), they used these principles to destroy the Wehrmacht, starting with Army Group South.

                  During the first year (or so) of the war, the Soviets lacked well-trained troops, and suffered from various problems including those caused by doctrines such as the one which gave insufficient initiative to lower-level commanders, but they had virtually all the other ingredients needed to conduct highly mobile, deep operations--better transport than the Germans had (trucks versus feet and horses), plenty of tanks and artillery, excellent supply logistics--and they gradually figured out the other stuff, which the sole exception of air superiority (something which is a linchpin of current US Army doctrine).

                  This process did not go without setbacks--the brilliantly played (by the Germans) Third Battle of Kharkov showed the extent to which German military leadership continued to outshine their Soviet counterparts, or at least the particular genius of von Manstein, the greatest general of the war, but the victory of course was pyrrhic. The Third Battle of Kharkov set up the Battle of Kursk of the summer of 1943, which decisively finished off the Germans' ability to stand up to the Soviet Army, after which the Germans were continuously on the run and never regained strategic initiative.

                  Mass infantry attacks were not used in any systematic way in this conflict by either side. 80% of all the casualties on the Eastern Front were caused by artillery. Both Germans and Soviets were fighting intensive maneuver warfare, the Germans hindered in this constantly by poor logistics, shortages of fuel, shortages of trucks, shortages of spare parts, unreliable armored vehicles. Mass attacks were mostly used, by both sides, in desperate situations, such as encirclements, as was used often by the Germans in the latter parts of the war (and the Allied attack on Normandy on D-Day is another case of a mass attack used out of necessity). It is true that Soviets suffered higher casualties than the Germans--about 3:2. The ratio improved throughout the war, however--7:1 in 1941, 2:1 in 1942, and 1:1 thereafter. If you average out the whole war, a Soviet soldier had the same risk of being killed as a German one--the 3:2 ratio of casualties corresponded to the 3:2 difference in total forces, and had a better chance of survival than a German soldier after 1942 (at which point, to add some perspective, the US is not even in the war).

                  I hope that busts some myths. The Soviets did not indeed suffer more casualties than the Germans as a result of the use of mass attacks as a doctrine; this did not exist at all in Soviet military doctrine. Both the Soviets and the Germans were using advanced concepts of maneuver warfare similar to what the US Army uses even today.

                  JE comments:  Cameron Sawyer never fails to cast WWII myths and shibboleths on History's ash heap.  I too understood Tim Brown's "logistical imbalances" as shorthand for Soviet human-life-be-damned tactics, but this is an oversimplification.  Still, our perceptions die hard.  The opening scene of the 2001 film Enemy at the Gates, the last time Hollywood addressed Stalingrad, portrays a massed infantry assault across the Volga.  The majority of the Soviet grunts/cannon-fodder are sent to battle unarmed.  Loudspeakers instruct them to pick up the rifle of another soldier when he is killed.

                  Cameron, how true are the Western reports that the Soviet army crossed German minefields the quick way--by advancing waves of troops to "explode them out"?

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                  • Soviet Casualties in WWII: How Many Were Slaughtered by the Political Commissars? (David Pike, France 06/19/19 4:27 AM)

                    In the WAIS debate on the Soviet contribution to Allied victory, I've entered the battle a little late, but not too late to mention a factor overlooked by WAISers.

                    Historians of the Second World War reached a consensus fifty years ago that the victory of all three of the leading Allied victors was dependent on the contribution of the other two. The UK primarily through the time factor, the US primarily through the industrial/economic factor, and the USSR through the manpower power.

                    The Soviet manpower factor is based upon the estimated loss of 28 million Soviet dead. I am among those historians who asked Soviet historians, in total respect, to explain the Soviet figure. My forum was The American University in Paris, which had for a long time, literally as its next-door neighbor on Avenue Bosquet, the company of Tass Agency. (We moved in first, Tass followed. Curious.) Apart from the interruption during Ronald Reagan's first three years, when the West was close to reviving the Cold War, we at AUP were able to invite Soviets into our debates, and it is worth recording how very eager the Soviets were to obtain social dates with AUP girl-students. In the conferences that I organized, I was fortunate to attract the participation of several top French Sovietologists, including Alexandre Adler and Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, who both joined the AUP Faculty as a result. Carrère d'Encausse went on to become Permanent Secretary-General of the Académie Française, She was the more radical of the two, but it was Adler whom the Soviets feared most, because of what he knew.

                    In the course of that debate, I raised the question of how the Soviets arrived at the figure of 28 million dead. We spoke in French as a neutral language, even though later, in 1989, for a five-day conference on the Opening of the Second World War, I went to the expense of offering the Soviets a Russian interpreter throughout. When I asked the Soviets for an explanation for the 28 million dead and received no clear answer from them, I offered the Soviets my own. Alongside the slaughters carried out by the SS Einsatzgruppen within all three of the Wehrmacht army groups (north, center and south), alongside the German tactic of allowing Soviet prisoners to starve to death, alongside the vast number of Soviet troops who responded patriotically to the challenge, there was another element, and that was the tactic used by the Red Army to move forward (as they had already moved forward on certain Spanish Republican troops in the Civil War). It was so simple: move forward against the enemy and face whatever certainty of death you find in front of you, or withdraw and face the 100 percent certainty of death waiting behind you at the hands of the Political Commissars who shoot you on sight.

                    This tactic obviously differed from any style of combat to be seen on the Allied side, which simply held to a different value of human existence and the worth of the individual. The Soviet approach was different from anything on either side, including the Japanese kamikaze. Kamikaze did not have to be forced. On the contrary, suicide was considered holy, and it was embraced.

                    JE comments:  David, did the TASS folks deny the use of this draconian "tactic," or did they acknowledge it?  Perhaps with a bit of pride?  And what can you tell us about a question I posed earlier this week:  did the Soviets clear out minefields by sending over waves of infantry?

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              • Soviet Reverse-Engineering in WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/15/19 2:35 PM)
                I pretty much agree with Cameron Sawyer's conclusions of June 14th, and just wish to add an interesting point which I recently learned regarding USSR and US "cooperation" during WWII.

                We all know how important Lend Lease was to the Brits and the USSR, how Stalin was adamant about his allies opening a second front across the Channel rather than just in Africa and the soft belly of Europe. Much to my surprise I learned that the Russian did not have long-range bombers to do what the Brits and Americans were doing to Germany.

                Yet they surprised everyone when they showed bombers which looked remarkably like ours. Having nothing to do with Lend Lease. It happened because Stalin was willing to accept US bombers damaged while attacking Japan but being neutral on Japan he had to manage the process carefully. One of Stalin's directives was for Russian designers to copy the US bombers exactly, the highest form of admiration.

                JE comments:  The plane is the Tupolev Tu-4, but it didn't arrive until 1947.  Nothing is more terrifying than a huge bomber, but hear one in action and yes, it's very cool.  I witnessed a British Lancaster fire up at an air show a few years back, and it puts the fear of God in you.  (Only three Tupolev Tu-4s survive, two of them in China.)

                The Russians were busy with reverse-engineering during WWII.  Another famous example, the ZiS 110 limousine, copied from a Packard Super Eight:


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              • Killing of POWs in WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/15/19 3:20 PM)

                I read and re-read the post of Cameron Sawyer (14 June), and found it the best essay on WWII that I know about, very well-detailed and without bias.
                I would like, for what it is worth, to offer Cameron all my gratitude and admiration, as this nasty Bastian Contrario completely concurs.

                Returning to our topic on casualties, does this include the criminal killing of
                prisoners? The Soviets had a particular fondness for this, and not even Eisenhower with
                his ill-famed DEF could reach their high figures.  The historian Heinz
                Nawratil reports on a shameful episode of the US Army, which refused to accept
                the surrender of German troops in Saxony and Bohemia. Rather, they handed them to the
                Soviet forces (killing them outright would have been more humane).  Of course the British were worse, handing Vlasov's ROA men to the Soviets and Pavelic's men to Tito.

                As I said before, the Yugoslavian coup delayed the German attack on the USSR and absorbed a
                lot of troops precluding the sharp knock-out blow (so well said by Cameron)
                by the deadline of 7 December 1941.

                JE comments:  Were the Germans any less inhumane to POWs than the Soviets?  We commonly believe that the Japanese were the cruelest of all to their captives, but this may be Hollywood's doing. 

                On Vlasov's collaborationist ROA (Russian Liberation) Army, see this 2013 post from Luciano Dondero.  Vlasov was hanged in 1946.  Luciano wrote that the Anglo-Americans handed him over to the Soviets, while Wikipedia says he was captured by the Soviets prior to reaching the Western Allies.  What really happened?


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                • What Happened to General Vlasov? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/17/19 3:51 AM)
                  Wikipedia, Wikipedia! John E noted the different accounts of the fate of General Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov of the Russian Liberation Army.

                  The Italian version states that Vlasov surrendered to the Western forces and was then handed over to the Soviets.

                  The Spanish version states that Vlasov was captured by USA and immediately sent to Moscow.

                  The French version states that Vlasov and his officers looked for asylum with the Western Allies, but were refused and then delivered to or captured by the Soviets.

                  The Portuguese version states that Vlasov was captured by the Soviets.

                  However the best version is from The Secret Betrayal 1944-1947 by Nikolai Tolstoy, where the betrayal and tragedy of Vlasov and his men near Pilsen on 11 May 1945 are clearly related.

                  JE comments:  Vlasov's ultimate fate is not in doubt:  the Soviets executed him.  But how he got there is a surprising historical mystery.  Shouldn't the record be able to tell us if he willingly surrendered to the Anglo-Americans, tried to but was refused, or was captured outright by them...or by the Soviets?

                  Vlasov switched sides at least twice:  first as a POW by allying with the Germans, and later by attempting (unsuccessfully) to support a Czech uprising against the Germans.  That's not a way to make friends or find sympathy with historians.  Could this have something to do with the way his capture/surrender is (mis)remembered?

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              • Did the Eastern Front Claim 90% of German Casualties? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/16/19 7:57 AM)
                To address John E's question, we will never know the exact number of dead on either side on the Eastern Front. I have with my own eyes seen skeletons still lying in the forest near Vyazma, with shreds of Wehrmacht uniforms still on them. I have a Wehrmacht helmet in my garage with a bullet hole through both sides of it, picked up from next to one of them.

                But the latest work on WWII casualties looks pretty solid, and shows 2,742,909 dead on the Eastern Front through the end of 1944, compared to 339,957 in the West. 1945 is a little more difficult, but if we believe the official Heeresarzt weekly casualty reports for 1945, 83% of the 1,230,045 killed in the "final battles" of 1945 occurred in the East. Then if you consider another million German soldiers missing in the East, two or three of whose bones, no doubt, were among those I saw with my own eyes, then the total is well over 90%. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_casualties_in_World_War_II

                90% is an approximate number, but is widely accepted by historians--as an approximation. The reality might be 80% or might be 95%, and I doubt if we will ever know exactly.

                JE comments:  The essential takeaway:  the true killing fields for German combatants were in the East.

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