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Old November 27 2012, 02:22 PM   #1
jmc247
Vice Admiral
 
The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

Today marks the bicentennial of the culminating catastrophe that befell the Grande Armée as it retreated from Russia. This past weekend one of the French Emperor's descendants, Charles Napoleon, traveled to Minsk in Belarus to attend ceremonies commemorating the disaster at the nearby Beresina River crossing, where thousands died -- many by drowning -- in a final, panicked rout in freezing weather. Bonaparte had marched deep into Russia with nearly half a million soldiers; he returned with less than 25,000.

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article.../killer_swarms


Anyway 70 years ago today the net around the German Army in Stalingrad's position was tightened and the 6th Army's commander decision to follow Hitler's orders started to become increasingly apparent that he had consigned his Army Group to death.

And, as a memorial to a friend who fought in that battle and died this month whose wake I reciently attended.



As a man he was one of the toughest men I have ever known, but even then he always bitched that German government sent him and his brother to Stalingrad in the winter with Afrika Korps summer wear. His brother was loudly anti-Nazi and got into trouble with the SS more then once for 'insulting the leader' was also sent there, but didn't make it out. He starved to death in a gulag in the early 50s.

Zimmer was apolilitical and managed to get out of Stalingrad before it fell. He reluctantly surrendered to U.S. forces in 1945 even though he was told by his officers that if he did the Americans would cut off his nads because they wanted to destory the German race. Anyway Soviet officers wanted to take him away to work in Siberia, but the American officers prevented them from doing so and didn't cut off his nads like he feared which is part of why he decided to come to the U.S. and stay.

Oh and if you think he was a moron for thinking that, imagine you are a teenager in a state where everything you read and are told is totally controlled by the state. Total state control of the press of all you read and are told is a powerful force. He told me that he was taught in school in the 30s about U.S. history because he was told it would be his generation that would rule over the country as well as all others. His response was how could a small country like Germany take over the entire world and his response got him hit by a ruler.

He loved to bitch about how good current German soldiers in Afghanistan have it. That they have good beds and roofs over their heads and they have their own union and they can go to it to defy orders to cut their hair because they have lice. He would say 'in my day if an officer told me to cut my hair because I have lice and I told him to go to hell I would have been shot on the spot'.

One of his grandsons is currently in the U.S. Army and is deploying to Germany soon.

The main lesson of the two stories happens to be.


Last edited by jmc247; November 27 2012 at 03:06 PM.
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Old November 27 2012, 04:19 PM   #2
Retu
Lieutenant Commander
 
Location: Finland
Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

Cut off his nads, huh? Finns would have eaten him alive. (or that's what Russians liked to tell their soldiers.)
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Old November 27 2012, 06:36 PM   #3
jmc247
Vice Admiral
 
Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

Retu wrote: View Post
Cut off his nads, huh? Finns would have eaten him alive. (or that's what Russians liked to tell their soldiers.)
The Finns certainly were tough as Stalin found out the hard way when he invaded Finland in 1940.

The world saw how poorly the Red Army did against who they considered a mediocre opponent so when Germany invaded a year later most of the world thought Russia would fall fairly quickly. Nope, the difference is that the Finns were fighting a defensive war then and knew how to fight in Arctic conditions... Germans certainly did not any more then the French did 200 years ago.

Anyway Zimmer told me he and his infantry buddies thought they were tough and bad ass, but the Russians were tough and bad ass on a completely different level and knew how to fight when it was so cold any part of your skin exposed to the air would frostbite so quickly you had almost no time to get it covered or you might lose that limb.

It's a bit funny, but after my sister met him at the gym she commented how nice he was. I told her he served in the German Army in WW2. Her response was shocked. He is a Nazi? They let a Nazi into the country? I told her no he was a soldier not a National Socialist. Her response was that she didn't see the difference. I asked her if she considers Red Army soldiers Communists because they served under Stalin. Her response was no that they were just serving their country. Then what makes people like Zimmer different? She didn't know.

I do though, the Allied press during the war to make it easier for our soldiers to pull the trigger interlinked the justifiably hated political party and the enemy soldiers. That is a natural thing to do in a total war, it's just the wartime propaganda stuck and it makes it easier for modern films to have U.S. soldiers say scalping German soldiers (Inglorious Bastards) and have moviegoers be able to cheer as if they are killing baby killers so my sister can't see a difference between a teenage German infantryman fighting an opposing armed force and card carrying member of the Nazi Party who joined the SS and is herding women and children into gas chambers.

It's unfortunate, because Zimmer said he considered many times returning to Germany because he was so often called a Nazi or Jew killer. His family's house was taken from them because his family was in business with Jews and they were known friends of the family. He watched in sadness as a youth as the SS directed a mob during Kristallnacht to smash Jewish stores and beat up local Jews. The last of the era who lived in such times and saw such events personally are dying.

He told me that few that have never personally experienced living under Totalitarianism would ever be able to really understand it.

Last edited by jmc247; November 27 2012 at 06:54 PM.
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Old November 27 2012, 10:22 PM   #4
gturner
Admiral
 
Location: Kentucky
Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

I worked with a South African whose German father immigrated there after WW-II, having served on the Eastern Front. He wanted to get as far away from Germany and the Soviet Union as possible and go someplace warm.
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Old November 28 2012, 05:43 AM   #5
jmc247
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Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

gturner wrote: View Post
I worked with a South African whose German father immigrated there after WW-II, having served on the Eastern Front. He wanted to get as far away from Germany and the Soviet Union as possible and go someplace warm.
That was one of the reasons Zimmer said he picked Virginia. He said he wanted a place that has never seen -50F below since at least the last Ice Age.

Truth be told he put me to shame in alot of ways. Here is a guy in his 80s dying of one of the most painful terminal illnesses there is to the extent where the vast majority of people with the condition are bed bound on pain meds until the end and it was terribly painful for him to even move and yet he managed to get up every morning at 5:30AM and then go to the gym to exercise and then work all day on various projects and jobs.

I did ask him how he kept going. He said that he learned something in Russia. He watched nearly all his friends in his unit die one by one and rarely was it from a bullet, usually they would refuse to get up or refuse to keep moving and they froze.

He said what kept him alive was that he became determined to always get up and keep moving, because he knew from watching so many of his friends die once you decide not to get up when you know you should and decide not to keep moving its over. He continued with that view on life until the end.

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Old November 29 2012, 03:58 AM   #6
Gaith
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Location: Washington, DC
Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

jmc247 wrote: View Post
I did ask him how he kept going. He said that he learned something in Russia. He watched nearly all his friends in his unit die one by one and rarely was it from a bullet, usually they would refuse to get up or refuse to keep moving and they froze.

He said what kept him alive was that he became determined to always get up and keep moving, because he knew from watching so many of his friends die once you decide not to get up when you know you should and decide not to keep moving its over. He continued with that view on life until the end.
Powerful stuff...
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Old December 2 2012, 04:30 AM   #7
jmc247
Vice Admiral
 
Re: The bicentennial of Napoleon's catastrophe in Russia

Gaith wrote: View Post
Powerful stuff...
I can't imagine dealing with the horror of having everyone around you freezing to death. I mean we have pictures of the fields of frozen troops, but unless you were there in the snow and personally knew the people dying its hard to really have a sense of how life changing the experience would be.



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