The Rise and Fall of an Infamous Marxist Icon
by Chris Oakley
Summary: In the first ten episodes of this series we examined Adolf Hitler’s conversion to Marxism; his rise to leadership of first the KPD and then Germany itself; his transformation of Germany into a Communist state, his aggressive expansion of the German armed forces and intervention in the Spanish Civil War; his involvement in the 1938 German-Austrian invasion of Italy and decision to invade northern France after the Spanish naval defeat at Sardinia; his authorization of the air raid on Calais that destroyed much of the combined Anglo-French naval fleet; the Franco-Italian assault on Volksarmee occupation forces in the Po Valley and the subsequent German counterattack; the Soviet victory over Finland in the 1938-39 Winter War; the Red Army’s invasion and conquest of Poland; the beginning of the Second Russo-Japanese War and the Japanese reaction to the initial Soviet invasion of Manchuria and Korea, the collapse of the Anglo-French battlefront in northern France, and the beginning of the German drive on Paris, Case Engels. In this chapter, we’ll follow the Volksarmee’s advance into metropolitan Paris and continue our look at the Imperial Japanese Army’s fight to eject the Soviets from the Korean Peninsula.
Case Engels hit the beleaguered French army like a ton of bricks. Within hours after the Volksarmee began its initial infantry and armor attacks on the Anglo-French lines outside Paris, the French government offices at Quai d’Orsay began receiving urgent phone calls and telegrams of French troops being driven into retreat, surrounded, or captured; one French infantry battalion was literally wiped out to the last man. Across the English Channel in London, the British general staff nervously kept track of the German advance columns’ steady progress towards the heart of metropolitan Paris. If Paris fell, not only would Great Britain be in danger of losing her most important ally in continental Europe but the threat of a Communist bloc invasion of Britain herself would be increased tenfold.
At CIGS1 headquarters in London, the British Army’s most senior generals began drafting battle plans for a defense of the British Isles against invasion by German Communist forces. There had been a number of contingency studies prepared over the years about the possibility of a GDPR assault on Britain’s southern coast, but those had been strictly hypothetical problem-solving exercises; this was a life-or-death dilemma that had to be resolved in quick order if Great Britain were to survive.
The thought of Britain under Communist rule was chilling to say the very least...
The roads leading out of Paris became jammed with refugees trying to escape the French capital before the Volksarmee arrived and took it over. In Berlin, the Volksarmee general staff watched with considerable pride as their troops smashed through the French defenses around Paris and held off British attempts at a counterattack. Through the agents it had previously embedded in the Paris area2, the Stasi did everything it could to wreak havoc behind the Allied lines; Volksluftkorps bombers hit the French capital without pause or mercy, damaging or destroying many of the city’s most treasured landmarks in the process.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was the first casualty of the German bombers’ wrath, reduced to rubble in less than an hour; also wrecked as a result of the German air raid was the Eiffel Tower, which had its top spire sheared off by falling bombs, and the Arc de Triomphe, which crumbled into dust under the force of multiple explosions. One of the few major Paris institutions not subjected to devastation by Volksluftkorps bombers was the Louvre art museum, which Hitler, a passionate art lover, had ordered the bomber crews to spare. Before getting into politics he had once aspired to be a painter, and to him destroying paintings was a sacrilege-- and besides, he intended that the artworks being displayed at the Louvre should be relocated to Germany once the Volksarmee had taken Paris. One of his great ambitions was to establish a "Volkskulturmusee" (people’s cultural museum) in Berlin; he was determined that the Louvre’s art collection should be part of the Volkskulturmusee’s collected works.
While Volksluftkorps bombers visited death and destruction on Paris, German fighter squadrons systematically ravaged what was left of French air defenses in the Paris area. Historical records of the modern-day French air force indicate that during the German Communist assault on Paris French fighters were shot down by their German counterparts at a rate of 5 to 1. At least three Volksluftkorps fighter aces saw their total kills top the 40 mark before Case Engels was over, and one pilot recorded his 50th kill during the German drive to take the French capital.
The French weren’t having much luck at sea either. Volksmarine U- boats were stepping up their kills of French surface warships like there was no tomorrow, and Volksmarine surface vessels stalked French merchant ships like lions hunting down a wounded gazelle. Only Britain’s Royal Navy appeared to be capable of meeting the German Communist naval threat on anything remotely resembling equal terms, and even they found the U-boat problem a tough nut to crack. Not that the Germans were by any means immune to submarine attack either: on September 13th, five days into the Case Engels campaign, a British T-class submarine torpedoed and sank the Volksmarine destroyer escort Kameradschaft("Comradeship") off the Channel port of Le Havre.
But for the most part, however, the tide of the battle for
northern France was rolling largely in favor of the German People’s Republic. By
Many other French soldiers, however, chose to remain at their barricades and resisted the Communist bloc forces to their last bullet. One of these was Charles de Gaulle, an armored warfare specialist who’d been studying Volksarmee tank doctrine at the time the Germans invaded northern France. When his unit’s position came under heavy fire from German "Panzerbär"3 tanks, de Gaulle refused to capitulate to the enemy commander’s calls for him to surrender; instead, he unleashed his own tanks in a counterassault on the German right flank. Both sides sustained massive casualties in this assault, and de Gaulle was fatally wounded by German machine gun fire, but his daring move bought valuable time for the French cabinet to complete the evacuation of vital documents and artworks from Paris and set up a temporary headquarters for the French government at the Normandy coastal port of Cherbourg.
Back in London, the British government was on the horns of a great dilemma regarding a request by the French defense ministry to send what then-French defense minister Andre Maginot called "clouds of airplanes" to save the beleaguered last remnants of the French air force from being exterminated by the Volksluftkorps. London didn’t want to let its French allies down, but by the same token it also didn’t want to short-change Britain’s own air defenses; many of the RAF’s senior commanders feared the Communist bloc armies might yet win the battle for France, and they felt that if the Communists did take over that country it would put Great Britain in danger of being bombed-- and if that happened the RAF would need every air defense fighter it could get.
In the end, the Volksarmee would take the decision out of London’s hands. On September 25th a Volksarmee armored column smashed through the center of the Anglo-French lines outside metropolitan Paris and began to make a beeline for the heart of the city; over the next five days British and French troops would be forced to pull further and further back as the Germans and their Communist allies steadily expanded their control of the French capital. By October 1st the Western Allies had been expelled from Paris altogether and the French air force found itself forced to scrape the proverbial bottom of the barrel in order to find combat-ready planes.
RAF Air Vice Marshal Hugh "Stuffy" Dowding, head of RAF Fighter Command at the time Paris fell to the Communists, saw the city’s capture as a vindication of his belief that Britain should keep all its fighter planes at home for its own defense. In his grim view it was just a matter of time before the rest of France wound up in Communist hands; therefore, he said, it was pointless to ship any more fighters across the Channel. Even if Britain could supply Maginot with the ‘clouds of airplanes’ he’d asked for in a timely fashion-- a questionable prospect at best given Volksarmee successes on land and Volksmarine activity along the French coast --odds were the Germans would cut them to pieces. The RAF, argued Dowding, had no choice but to withhold its fighter reserves against the day when the Volksluftkorps started bombing British cities.
Dowding earned himself the wrath of the French government by stopping those fighters from being sent across the Channel and would eventually be dismissed from his command. But his instincts were right: Britain would shortly need all the fighters it could get to defend its cities against Volksluftkorps bombers. Just before the Communist invasion of France started, Hitler had issued a directive that the conquest and occupation of France was to be followed by a vigorous air assault on the British Isles which in turn would(if all went well for the Germans) lead to an amphibious assault on Britain by the Volksarmee. The air campaign, which he dubbed Fall Rote Adler("Case Red Eagle"), was to begin no later than sixty days from the date the French government capitulated to the German People’s Republic; its main goal was to soften the British Isles up in preparation for the amphibious landings, collectively code-named Fall Rote Lowe("Case Red Lion").
With Paris in Communist bloc hands, the rest of France proved to be easy pickings for the Volksarmee. By contrast, the Red Army was still in full retreat as the Japanese continued their campaign to take back control of northern Korea; in fact, by the time Hitler’s advance troops reached the heart of Paris the Soviets’ tactical situation on the Korean front had deteriorated to the point where some of the more pessimistic souls among the Red Army field commanders there were beginning to worry that the Imperial Japanese Army might eventually succeed in breaching the USSR’s Siberian borders. It didn’t help their nerves any to know that the Japanese were recruiting Korean collaborators to organize anti-Soviet partisan units to counter the pro-Soviet Korean Communist guerrillas set up by the Red Army in the first phase of its invasion of Korea.
The fighting in Korea, and the subsequent Japanese campaign in Siberia, revealed a host of major problems with the two sides’ respective tank corps. While Soviet armored fighting vehicles generally tended to be of superior quality to their Japanese counterparts, they were no less prone to breakdown; papers released by the post-Communist Russian defense ministry in the late 1990s reveal that at any given moment during the Korean campaign at least a quarter of the Red Army’s tanks and a third of its self-propelled artillery pieces were inoperative due to mechanical troubles.
The Imperial Japanese Army had its own share of mechanical failures to cope with as well; many a successful kill made by Korean partisans on Japanese armored vehicles came after those vehicles had first come to the proverbial screeching halt when their treads came loose or their engines went dead. One tank battalion commander grumbled in a report to Imperial Army headquarters in Tokyo that "we may as well be fighting the Russians with cardboard rifles"4. Knowing all of this, modern students of military history are understandably often astonished that the Japanese campaign to retake northern Korea didn’t collapse into a total fiasco as a result of these technical problems.
One Imperial Army general involved in the Korean campaign, Masahiro Homma, kept a highly detailed private log of his field commanders’ gripes about the troubles plaguing their armored vehicles. While the specifics of these complaints varied from one unit to the next, the commanders all had three common grievances regarding their tanks: (1)inadequate armor; (2)faulty engines; (3)insufficient armament. Homma relayed their concerns to Imperial Army headquarters in Tokyo in a three-page memorandum which earned him stern criticism from the Imperial Army high command for what one senior general called "excessive materialism". Conventional wisdom in elite Japanese military circles at that time held that warrior spirit, or bushido, was more important than material superiority in winning wars and any suggestion to the contrary was nothing more than a sign of Western or Communist decadence.
But as the Japanese continued to struggle their way up the Korean Peninsula and casualties to the Imperial Army’s armored divisions on the Korean front kept mounting, the high command in Tokyo was forced to begin rethinking its attitudes on Homma’s memorandum. In mid-October of 1939, as Japanese troops were starting a push to take the mountain village of Toksan, the Imperial Army headquarters staff commissioned a top secret research project to determine what could be done to remedy the flaws that had been mentioned in the memorandum; from that project would arise a new generation of tanks which would cause untold headaches for Stalin in his quest to expand his Communist empire’s hold over Asia...
While that new generation was waiting to emerge, the Japanese used air and naval power to continue what General Yamashiita’s divisions had started. Those Korean cities still under Soviet control were subjected to ferocious daily bombing by Japanese warplanes; the bombers’ most favorite target was Pyongyang, headquarters for the Soviet occupation authorities in Korea. In one 48-hour stretch in early November of 1939, Pyongyang was bombed more than four dozen times, killing more than five hundred Soviet nationals and fifteen thousand Korean civilians. In the Korean Sea, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s most powerful battleships relentlessly shelled Soviet naval outposts along Korea’s northern coast and its carrier planes dive-bombed Soviet airfields whenever the opportunity presented itself. Given that the Soviet navy had no aircraft carriers of its own, Moscow was at something of a disadvantage in dealing with these carrier raids; no one, however, dared point that out to Stalin for fear of how he might react to such criticism.
By mid-November the Japanese had managed to push most of what was left of the Red Army’s Korean expeditionary force back to the headwaters of the Taedong River and a combined contingent of regular Imperial Army troops and Korean anti-Communist militia had encircled Pyongyang. A year earlier, the idea of Korean nationals openly co-operating with the empire that had been occupying their homeland since 1905 and orchestrated the assassination of their last empress would have seemed at best absolutely ridiculous; since the Soviet invasion, however, many Koreans had found the Soviets to be a far worse oppressor and, in order to get rid of them, had formed a wary alliance with Tokyo under the age-old principle of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".
That same principle would soon prompt the United States, whose relationship with Japan had been souring before the Soviet invasion of Korea, to begin a cautious rapprochement with Tokyo. The Roosevelt Administration knew that if the Japanese couldn’t defeat the Red Army America’s own interests in the Far East would be threatened by Soviet expansionism...
To Be Continued
 Chief of Imperial General Staff.
 See Part 10.
 German for “Armored Bear”; the “Panzerbär” was the standard Volksarmee heavy tank between 1937 and 1943.
 Quoted from the book At Dawn We March: The Untold Story Of The Second Russo-Japanese War, copyright 1991 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.