On June 22, 1941, a day that will live in infamy (everywhere else but America), the Wehrmacht poured over the barely established line of partition between the Hun-dominated Third Reich and the Georgian-dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. So began Operation Barbarossa, the largest invasion in human history.
It was named for Frederick I Barbarossa, the twelfth century Holy Roman Emperor and Hohenstaufen powerhouse who went east on Crusade only to drown ignominiously in an obscure Anatolian river along the way. After his death, Barbarossa became a sort of Hun Arthur. Hun legend told that Barbarossa hadn’t died in the swirling mountain currents of the Saleph. Instead, Barbarossa was sleeping with his knights in a cave under a mountain in Hun-Land named Kyffhauser. Once the ravens stop circling this mountain, Barbarossa will arise and lead the Hun back to his ancient greatness.
If the Once and Future Hun ever does arise from his half-slumber and staggers out into the light from under his dank Hun mountain, I’m sure he’ll be dazed by all the American tourists who mistake him for the villain from some movie series based on a theme park rise.
Hitler, with a deep understanding of history gleaned from careful study of Viennese light operettas and the backs of Hun bubble gum cards, probably sought to summon the spirit of the Hun Under the Mountain to make his violation of the oldest strategic cliché in the book seem OK. Though, in the Führer’s defense, the last violation of the “don’t wage a land war in Asia” cliché had been a victory for the Hun over a collapsing Tsarist Russia in 1917-1918.
If he was drawing lessons from the European experience in World War I, Hitler should have followed that other cliché, especially àpropos for the Hun: don’t invade Belgium even though that benighted country has historically been Europe’s Scenic Invasion Speedway. Taking just the period since 1800, both Buonapartes, tragedy in 1815 and farce in 1870, Ludendorff in 1918, and Gamelin and Gort in 1940 found their end in Belgian induced complications.
The poor maligned “Maginot” Line would be the butt of less jokes if it’d been built around Belgium instead of along the Franco-Hun border. If the Flemings and Walloons were fenced off, there’d be less standing temptation for the next aspiring trans-European tyrant to go to war so his forces can speed along Belgium’s flat, flat, easy, easy terrain. Hitler should have known that Belgium is a quagmire and its green and smooth as marble fields hide the deadliest form of operational quicksand.
Unbeknownst to Americans, the Eastern Front during World War II was the main event. The Second Russo-Hun War of 1941-1945 swallowed the Hun whole and what emerged afterward was never the same as the pointy-headed militarist Hun of old. The pale imitation Hun of modern times seems more determined to wage wars of aggression against its poor neighbors in the name of Lebensraum for its bank’s balance sheets and not for racial purity. This despite the Hun being a repeat deadbeat and serial debt defaulter of Argentine proportions.
I wouldn’t go so far as this point of view:
The only thing approaching a unifying theme for this cataclysm we call “WW II” is the United States, THE major allied participant in the Pacific (think logistics all you commonwealth coalition guys that are thinking “what about us” as you read this) and the United States becomes the principal partner in the Western alliance which is handling, admittedly only 20-30% of the European War duties against the background of the massive Soviet-[Hun] war. I have written this before but will write it again, we say at CGSC that Overlord was simply a deception operation to support BAGRATION and the destruction of Army Group Center!
This leaves out celebrity military historian John Keegan’s reminder that, out of the four defeats of World War II where the Hun lost 200,000+ casualties or more, two (Tunisia and Normandy) were inflicted by the Western Allies. The accurate characterization of the American infantry as lacking the trained tactical sophistication of his Hun counterpart misses the fact that American artillery and tactical air support was superior to its Hun counterpart. Most Hun slaughtered by American forces, over 70%, were efficiently killed at a distance by superior American firepower.
The 70th anniversary of Barbarossa has more meaning for me this year than years past. My mother was born mere hours before the Hun rolled across the Soviet border. It was still the 21st here but the 22nd had already dawned half a world away in the dark early morning hours of Eastern Europe as 8 million men stirred themselves for the great offensive.
My mother would have been 70 yesterday but she passed away on May 2nd after a long battle with breast cancer, just 1 1/2 months shy. For whatever reason, I never connected the day she was born with Barbarossa until a couple of weeks before her passing as I thought of something to say at her funeral. This despite knowing the date of June 22, 1941 for 3/4s of my life and knowing that the 21st of June was far too late to either buy Mom a gift for her birthday or launch a land war in Asia. The flowers were out, the ground was dry after the spring rainy season, and the campaigning weather was perfect before the hot days of July and August. In the eulogy I gave at her funeral, I was able to use Barbarossa as one bookend of Mom’s life to frame the historical arc of her life.
Chances are 95% percent of the mourners at Mom’s funeral had never heard of Barbarossa and the great noise it produced. Chances are 95% of them didn’t specifically remember Barbarossa afterward. But maybe its vividness in the overall narrative tapestry of her life will help them remember Mom when the 21st of June and campaigning season roll around every year.
It will certainly help me remember.