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Oil giants are far apart on eve of crucial output talks   

Thu, 2020-04-09 02:33

DUBAI: Big oil producers are divided over the way forward on the eve of two days of “virtual” talks aimed at rebalancing the global market.

Industry sources in Saudi Arabia and Russia told Arab News on Tuesday they were still hopeful of an agreement to cut oil output at a meeting on Thursday of OPEC and non-OPEC members, the so-called OPEC+ group.

But they said issues remained to be resolved, and a full agreement may be delayed until after Friday’s meeting of G20 energy ministers under the Saudi presidency.

The oil price, which has rebounded from lows this week after the intervention of US President Donald Trump, gave few clues to the market’s view. Trading in Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, was quiet until a late surge of nearly 4 percent to nearly $34 a barrel.

Trump has said he “expected” cuts in oil output of up to 15 million barrels a day, but most experts believe that is impossible, even if US producers join in.

Reports from Moscow suggested Russia was considering cuts of 1.6 million barrels a day, but President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said there were significant differences to be bridged before a deal could be done, especially with regard to US involvement.

“There are different concepts and they cannot be equated,” he said. “The natural decline in US oil production cannot be compared with reductions to stabilize oil markets.” US producers have slashed capital expenditure and oil output in the face of plunging global demand.

The Texas oil and gas regulator, Ryan Sitton, said US producers were likely to “organically” cut 4 million barrels of oil per day over the next three months, but cuts of 20 million barrels were needed from OPEC+ countries. Industry experts said this was unlikely.

“Trump has made a big mistake by blaming Saudi Arabia and Russia. He will be shocked when oil prices remain low even if we have a 10 million barrel cut,” said Anas Al-Hajji, managing partner of Texas oil consultancy Energy Outlook Advisers.  

JP Morgan, the big US bank with a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia, said the most it expected from the OPEC+ talks was a commitment to cut 4.3 million barrels a day.

“The Saudis want to keep pressure on oil prices in order to gain a larger market share and concessions from Washington,” the bank said.

Influential energy expert Daniel Yergin predicted cuts of 10 million barrels, including America’s “natural decline.”

“The collapse in world oil demand and low prices are driving large spending cuts among oil companies around the world. The largest cuts in percentage terms so far are coming from north America,” he said.

Main category: 
Make or break days for global oil ahead of OPEC crunch meetingOil crisis puts 300m livelihoods at risk, says IEA chief

Ученики математического класса школы №1273 поучаствовали в Moscow CTF School 2020   

Команда школы №1273 поучаствовала в соревнованиях по компьютерной безопасности Moscow CTF School 2020. Организатором интеллектуальных состязаний, которые длились целых восемь часов, стал факультет Вычислительной математики и кибернетики МГУ.

Flu Psyop -- Pretext to Impose Orwellian Dictatorship?   


If this contributor is right, the pandemic will not go away. The Depression will deepen and an oppressive political regime will be instituted.  

"Their goal is take away our freedoms. Then if we want them back, we'll be forced to receive vaccines to gain a digital certificate of movement which allows us to be tracked on 5G control grids."

"A future where dissenters & anyone with a brain or a spine won't be able to borrow money, get a passport, driving license, get a pensionable government job is coming without a doubt. I can smell it, it's that close." -ReplacetheIrish (on Makow Twitter feed.)

(Disclaimer - Naturally, I hope our anonymous contributor is wrong and things will return to 'normal.' However, 85% of my readers think he's right. See Twitter poll.) 

see first comment below- Col. in Russian Military Intelligence confirms substance of this article.

by Anon

In the 1950's, a highly credible investigator, Norman Dodd, discovered that the tax-exempt foundations e.g. Rockefeller Foundation etc, are really there to make changes in the world, and that the only way they know how to make changes is through war, so their job is really to start wars. 

Since war was the only effective method they knew for making major changes, they would continue to use it until they had other equivalently effective methods. 

Ten years ago, a high-level Rockefeller document described details of other methods for influencing how the world evolves. One scenario suggested in the document was a pandemic. What societal changes do the Rockefellers desire? 

A former Rockefeller family friend, Aaron Russo, blew the whistle on the Rockefellers' plans. He had been told they want everyone chipped for tracking and to buy/sell. 

If they don't like you they will turn off your chip to make it incredibly difficult for you to function in society. 

Conclusion:- The Rockefeller no longer rely on war to make changes in the world, now they have other tools at their disposal, such as pandemics. Their goal is take away our freedoms, then if we want them back we'll be forced to receive vaccines to gain a digital certificate of movement which allows us to be tracked on 5G control grids. 

Over time it will be placed onto a chip, which will be hard to avoid. By then society will be cashless, making life without a chip a struggle, almost impossible.

Chief suspects for causing this pandemic = Rockefeller family and their many proxies.

So, as Bill Gates (who is allied with the Rockefellers) recently admitted on Reddit, the plan is for people to have digital certificates of movement. Germany is calling them antibody certificates. 

It's very easy to see how these digital certificates of movement, initially on your smart phone, will eventually be installed on implanted micro-chips, in case you lose your phone and for your convenience, they will say. 

You won't be allowed in society without one, as they will claim you may spread a virus, for you to be allowed out in public they will force you to have this, which also means receiving the vaccines and whatever ingredients eugenics enthusiasts Gates and the Rockefeller decide to put in them.

Last but not least, the 5G control grid which is being rapidly rolled out is there to track your movement by connecting with the digital certificate/chip, this is why 5G is being prioritized despite there being so much public resistance and unknown health risks. While 4G was similar, it is nowhere near as fast and cannot make as many connections, with 5G they can track us in real time.


The perfect thing about their plan is that they can keep on attacking us with wave after wave of pandemic until we give in. That means to stop them we need high level people in the world to get onboard, deciding enough is enough. 

There needs to be arrests and all their essentially terrorist operations must be shut down once and for all, the Rockefellers and Mr Gates can no longer be tolerated as being above the law.


The idea to deploy "smart monitoring" to enforce the new rules and will develop a special pass system for residents to leave their houses was announced by Moscow authorities on March 30 and caused a widespread negative reaction among the Russian society.


First Comment from NK

Above is interview with Colonel from GRU (Russian Military Intelligence) It is original video on Russian.

I was reading translation on Serbian but he is just confirming your article (by Anon)

In short he said: there is no pandemic it is lie

It is special strategic operation by "deep state"

There is goal to reduce people rights, travel  freedom, suspend constitution..

He said that number of people dying from Covid 19 is much less than dying from flu,etc

What is main objective of this operation? There is 4 of them

Religious ---reducing world population

Political......reducing population freedom

Financial .....reseting financial bubble

Attack on Geo strategic "enemies" of US (Europe and China as only economic competitor to US domination. He said that Russia is not that kind of problem.They need Russian vast territories for expansion)

When asked for advice what we can do.He said until we get rid of enemies within us  ("deep state fifth column" in every country) we will not be able to fight foreign enemies

MA writes:

 I have family in Italy and in Canada (I am Canadian and reside in Canada). A good family friend in Italy, an old tough farmer and a good soul, has been locked in his apartment for nearly a month now.

He cannot leave or he risks extreme fines or prison time. He has begun to lose his mind. His only exercise is the stairs in his complex. He counts every single one -- there are 72. He has a daughter who lives 300 meters away. He cannot go live with her; again, he is not allowed to leave his property. I think he will soon break.

This is coming to Canada. Our economy is ruined and I fear that this will go on for a long time. We just received word in Ontario that no new renovation or residential construction project can start. We are allowed to finish current projects if they have been started; however, consider this, from the time a home starts as a hole in the ground to completion can be months.

In the meantime, we are still working away. What is the sense of not allowing new projects to start unless they intend for this crisis to last beyond the scope of what it would take for current construction to complete (months).

This is an absolute disaster. The cute "stay at home" hashtags are giving way now and the mental deterioration is starting to be observable in people. My liberal friends are starting to feel the pinch. Even just the lack of activity is a hard burden to bear. Others who are still receiving their pay checks are apathetic. They won't escape suffering for long.

The social fabric of society has been destroyed; now we have lost our fundamental human right to human intimacy. We are all prisoners and lab rats looking to our experts in this technocracy, wondering what they will do to us next.

My only consolation is God. I know in the end that everything will be alright; however, to not carry a burning hatred for what they are doing and intend for humanity is a hard thing to wrestle.

"Because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow cold." Don't let this happen to you. Love the innocent and hate the evil being prepared for them. I pray one day to find kindred souls who have the courage to resist with me, because I will never take the mark no matter what.

Anyways, I better get back to work... I don't suspect I will have much longer to do so.



Round 6, Turn 7: "Die Macher" with Jesse   

  • 0:00:00 - Introduction: Welcome Jesse, the Analytical Gamer
  • 0:01:54 - This Week's Game Night
    • The Crew, Die Macher, Age of Steam
    • Just One, Secret Hitler
    • Pandemic Season 2: Legacy (0:06:29)
    • Seafall (0:06:57)
  • 0:12:50 - This Week's News
    • Spirit Island: Jagged Earth (0:13:04)
    • Gugon: Panjun (0:14:00)
    • Blood on the Clocktower (0:17:11)
    • John Carpenter's They Live: Assault on Cable 54 Kickstarter (0:18:13)
    • Aquanauts Kickstarter (0:22:45)
    • Free Print and Plays (0:26:17)
      • Corinth
      • C3I Magazine eBook: Battle for Moscow 2nd ed
      • Frost Grave
      • Osprey Publishing eBooks for Grognards: Blackbeard's Last Fight, Battle of Watterloo, etc.
      • Imperial Settlers: Empire of the North, Hiroshima Next, Imperial Settlers Roll and Write, Pret a Porter, Explorers of the North Sea
  • 0:29:14 - Games on the Brain
    • The Crew, Pandemic Legacy
    • Yellow and Yangtze (0:29:41)
      • Tigris and Euphrates
      • Samurai
    • The Crew, Cards for American Mah Jong (0:32:45)
    • Animal Crossing (0:35:00)
  • 0:37:38 - 8x8 Challenge
    • Age of Steam
  • 0:38:13 - Die Macher Review
  • 1:36:52 - Gaming Remotely
    • Blood on the Clocktower
    • Just One
    • Secret Hitler
    • Avalon
    • Barrage
    • 18xx
    • Catan
    • Tichu
    • Bridge
    • Agricola
  • 1:51:31 - Board Game Sommelier
    • Azul, King Domino, Patchwork
    • Oceans, The Crew
    • Everdell
    • Detective
    • Pandemic: Legacy
  • 1:55:53 - Sign Off


Генеральный секретарь ИФЛА Джеральд Ляйтнер обратился к российским коллегам в связи с переносом очередной апрельской ALMA-встречи   

В связи с тем, что IV Международный форум «Формируя будущее библиотек» — ежегодная ALMA-встреча (April Library Moscow Agenda), которую четвертый год подряд организует Библиотека иностранной литературы с обязательным участием руководства ИФЛА, перенесена с апреля на октябрь 2020 года, Джеральд Ляйтнер, генеральный секретарь ИФЛА, обратился с видеообращением к российским коллегам.

Predam originalne rockove a metalove CD II - V texte   

Accept - Balls To The Wall - 10€ Asia - Live In Moscow - 6€ Europe - Bag Of Bones - 8€ Kiss - Destroyer - 8€ KISS - Hotter Than Hell - 10€ Kiss - Kiss - 10€ Kiss - Rock And Roll Over - 7€ Nazareth - Exercises - 9€ Robert Plant - Dreamland - 8 ...

Fire at a Moscow retirement home kills 4, leaves 16 injured    

The fire broke out Wednesday night in the basement of the building and quickly spread to the ground floor. It was most likely caused by a malfunctioning electric cable, authorities said.

В России нашли город, которому грозит судьба Бергамо   


В этом российском городе все в точности как было в итальянском Бергамо в самом начале эпидемии, пишет Stern (Германия). Статистика сомнительная, медицинского оборудования не хватает, а жители не воспринимают угрозу всерьез. Неужели и Россию ждет трагедия, подобная итальянской? Перевод статьи - InoSMI.


В Бергамо уже давно нет места для всех умерших. Военным пришлось вывозить гробы в крематории других городов. Город с населением 120 тысяч жителей, расположенный неподалеку от Милана, стал эпицентром пандемии коронавируса в Европе. Здесь людям пришлось испытать на себе, чем чреваты слишком долгое ожидание и недооценка опасности.

С таким же опытом в скором времени могут столкнуться жители Ульяновска. Город расположен в 850 км к юго-западу от Москвы, на берегу Волги. 600 тысяч жителей ведут здесь размеренный образ жизни. Пандемия коронавируса, охватившая весь мир, многим из них кажется мифом.

«Вирус? Какой вирус? Это заговор, а не вирус, — говорит 35-летняя предпринимательница Ольга. — Китайцы запустили его в мире, чтобы обогнать Европу и США. У них точно есть вакцина». Ее цитирует газета The Moscow Times.

Она не единственная в Ульяновске, кто так думает. Призывы Москвы соблюдать карантин здесь отклика не находят. При этом вирус уже давно достиг и Ульяновска.

Нулевой пациент

Нулевым пациентом, предположительно, стал молодой человек по фамилии Рожков. Сын депутата местного парламента привез вирус из Великобритании, где он учился в школе. Когда подросток 16 марта вернулся в родной город, влиятельный отец начал объезжать с ним одну больницу за другой в поисках теста на коронавирус. Исключительно из соображений безопасности, как он позднее говорил. Анализ на Covid-19 у 15-летнего подростка оказался положительным.

В Фейсбуке его отец извинился за то, что семья не соблюдала карантин. В конце концов, на тот момент Великобритания не считалась в России регионом риска, добавил он. До постановки диагноза 20 марта парень успел поездить по стране: он был в Москве, Самаре, Димитровграде и, в конце концов, Ульяновске. Сколько людей он за это время заразил, неизвестно.

Согласно данным официальной статистики, на сегодняшний день это единственный случай коронавируса в городе. Но врачи и эксперты больше не верят этим данным.
Врачи критикуют приукрашенную статистику

«У нас до сих пор нет работающей тест-системы, поэтому мы не можем дать даже приблизительную оценку масштаба проблемы», — говорит Алексей Куринный, депутат регионального парламента Ульяновска и член комитета здравоохранения городской администрации. Протестированы совсем мало людей. «Эти цифры не дают нам полной картины эпидемии», — считает он.

Куринный выразил опасения, что Россия может пойти по «итальянскому сценарию», а Ульяновск станет российским Бергамо. «У нас нет достаточного количества аппаратов ИВЛ. У нас даже нет достоверных данных о том, сколько их вообще, — говорит депутат и кандидат медицинских наук. —То их 325, а потом внезапно стало 436. Этим цифрам нельзя доверять».

Обеспокоенность у врачей города вызывают не только сомнительные цифры, но и ситуация с оснащением. «Управление здравоохранения говорит, что у нас в регионе 436 аппарата ИВЛ. Но как они их считают?— возмущается местный врач. — Достали со складов старые аппараты ИВЛ, в том числе те, которые больше не работают, и посчитали их тоже!»

Куринный, работавший ранее главврачом Ульяновского областного клинического центра специализированных видов медицинской помощи, разделяет это мнение: «Многие аппараты ИВЛ полностью устарели. Если смотреть реалистично, у нас меньше 100 единиц».

Мрачные прогнозы для Ульяновска

Другие врачи жалуются на катастрофичную нехватку средств личной защиты как для медицинского персонала, так и для населения. «В аптеках нет медицинских масок, а в медицинских центрах нет профессиональных защитных масок и защитных костюмов», — говорит Дмитрий Малых, педиатр из Ульяновска. Врачи и медсестры вынуждены самостоятельно делать маски из подгузников или марли.

Другой врач, который работает в городской больнице, рассказал, что им с коллегами выдали одноразовые респираторы. «Те, что на строительных рынках продают по 1,5 доллара. Мы, по сути, работаем без защиты. Медсестры вообще ничего не получили».

Вот почему Куринный считает, что перспективы у Ульяновска пессимистичные. «Что можно ожидать, если даже врачи не обеспечиваются защитными масками? Когда число пациентов вырастет с 800 до 1000 человек, региональная система здравоохранения не будет в состоянии их лечить», — таков мрачный прогноз.


Цены на нефть рухнули, а что будет с газом?   


Сейчас нефть и газ переживают не лучшие времена. Пандемия коронавируса серьезно подорвала спрос на традиционных рынках. Особенно это касается Европы, которая для России — один из основных покупателей. Цены на нефть уже обрушилась, стоит ли ожидать того же самого и с ценами на газ? Об этом пишет Carnegie Moscow Center (Россия).


Нефть и газ — два кита российского энергетического экспорта — сегодня переживают не лучшие времена. Пандемия коронавируса подорвала спрос на традиционных рынках, особенно в Европе, изменила привычные модели поведения и тренды энергопотребления. В закрытых на карантин городах Германии люди уже не ездят каждый день на автомобилях, топливо для которых производится из российской нефти, и не ходят в офис, куда тепло и электричество поставляют электростанции на российском газе.

Если сравнить, например, вторники конца марта этого года и прошлого, то будет видно, что производство электроэнергии на газовых электростанциях на севере Италии упало на 54%, в Нидерландах — на 37%, на западе Германии — на 15%. И это несмотря на то, что в этом году конец марта в Европе выдался более холодным, чем в прошлом. Последствия двухмесячного карантина — это миллиарды кубометров выпавшего спроса на газ.

Невыгодная Европа

Если на нефтяном рынке всплеск предложения произошел после распада сделки ОПЕК+ в начале марта, то на газовом низкие цены и избыток сжиженного природного газа (СПГ) установились еще в середине 2019 года. Нефти и газа в мире сегодня действительно очень много — по прогнозу Международного энергетического агентства, производство нефти в этом году вплотную приблизится к 100 млн баррелей в сутки, а добыча газа поставит очередной рекорд в районе 4 трлн кубометров. На этом фоне резкое падение спроса из-за эпидемии окончательно отправило цены в неконтролируемое пике.

На рынке Европы биржевые цены на газ, то есть те, которые формируются на виртуальных торговых площадках на основе спроса и предложения, уже падают ниже $80 за тысячу кубометров — такого не было с 1999 года. Для сравнения: в регионах Центральной и Южной России «Газпром» может получать до $65 по текущему курсу за тысячу кубометров, продавая газ промышленным предприятиям, и чуть ниже — населению. И при этом не нужно тратиться на транспортировку газа и платить 30%-ную экспортную пошлину.

Цены по долгосрочным контрактам «Газпрома» пока в полтора-два раза выше европейских биржевых котировок, да и на собственной экспортной биржевой площадке «Газпром» удерживает уровень $110 за тысячу кубометров, используя длинные форвардные контракты на осень и следующий год, когда, по мнению компании, газ будет дороже. Все это пока позволяет компании продолжать поставки газа в Европу с минимальной маржой — тут помогает еще и то, что за транспортировку газа по России «Газпром» платит, по сути, сам себе (то есть своим многочисленным 100%-ным дочкам-«трансгазам»), а также владеет долями во многих газопроводах на территории Европы («Северный поток», «Ямал — Европа»).

Тем не менее говорить, что российский концерн, обеспечивающий свыше трети потребления газа в Европе, с легкостью проходит кризисные времена, не приходится. Свой бюджет на 2020 год компания верстала при ценах $200 за тысячу кубометров. В январе — феврале поставки осуществлялись в среднем по цене около $170 за тысячу кубометров, а в целом по году с учетом мартовского обрушения цен на нефть этот показатель очевидно будет еще ниже.

Инвестиционная программа «Газпрома» на этот год составляет 1,1 трлн рублей, или $14 млрд по текущему курсу. При этом выручка при годовых поставках 200 млрд кубометров (планка, которую «Газпром» задал себе в последние годы) при цене $170 составит около $35 млрд.

Из них $10 млрд необходимо будет сразу выплатить в бюджет в качестве экспортной пошлины. Расходы на добычу газа и налог на добычу полезных ископаемых, по данным «Газпрома», обойдутся еще в $6 млрд. Наконец, $5 млрд составят затраты на транспортировку газа по Европе, и это по самым скромным оценкам.

В результате инвестпрограмме, источником средств для которой как раз и является экспортный сегмент, придется пролезть в иголочное ушко рыночных возможностей. А ведь инвестпрограмма «Газпрома» — это и развитие трубопроводных поставок газа в Китай, и недостроенные «потоки» в Европу, и СПГ-проект на Балтике.

Это совсем грубая арифметика. В реальности объемы экспорта, очевидно, будут меньше. В январе — феврале сокращение составило как минимум 20% к уровню прошлого года. Мартовская динамика не добавила оптимизма, оставшись примерно на уровне февральской. И мы пока слабо представляем, как сократится европейский спрос в ближайшие несколько месяцев из-за карантина.

Летом цены на газ в Европе, если не будет черных лебедей на экспортных газопроводах, очевидно, пробьют очередные минимумы. Уже сейчас в европейских газохранилищах на 15 млрд кубометров газа больше (+35%), чем в прошлом году. А ведь именно закачка газа в хранилища — главный стимул для спроса на газ летом.

В прошлом норвежцы не раз сокращали поставки, чтобы поддержать европейские цены на газ, но в этом году они не спешат с такими мерами. Сейчас норвежские поставки газа в Европу идут почти на полную мощность (330-340 млн кубометров в сутки), а основной объем профилактических работ на месторождениях перенесли на август из-за коронавируса. Это означает, что летом газа на европейском рынке будет много. Очень много.

Единственное утешение для отрасли — это продолжающееся сокращение добычи газа в Нидерландах. Но оно контролируемое, ожидаемое и давно отраженное трейдерами в биржевых котировках.

Кто уйдет первым?

В прошлом году главным ньюсмейкером на европейском газовом рынке стал сжиженный природный газ. По итогам 2019 года поставки СПГ в Европу выросли вдвое — до 100 млрд кубометров. Приток СПГ на европейский рынок продолжается и в этом году. С начала года в Европу было поставлено 30 млрд кубометров сжиженного газа, что на 6 млрд кубометров больше (+25%), чем за аналогичный период прошлого года.

Уже в ноябре 2019 года ведущим поставщиком СПГ в Европу стали США, потеснив Катар. Американцы выбрасывают все новые объемы газа на и без того перенасыщенный рынок. Если в 2019 году страна экспортировала около 50 млрд кубометров СПГ, то в 2020 году ожидается уже около 70 млрд кубометров, а в 2021-м — около 80 млрд кубометров.

Эти объемы необходимо куда-то поставлять. Два года назад таким направлением была Азия из-за динамичного спроса и более высоких цен. Однако уже в прошлом году преимущество азиатского рынка по цене почти исчезло, началась торговая война с Китаем, а в этом году регион первым столкнулся с эпидемией коронавируса. В результате невостребованные Азией объемы оказываются в Европе.

Текущие цены для поставщиков СПГ, недавно вышедших на рынок, не позволяют окупить инвестиции в проекты. Они могут компенсировать только операционные затраты на добычу, сжижение газа и транспортировку. Окупить вложения в многомиллиардные проекты заводов при текущих ценах невозможно даже за десятки лет. А ведь необходимо еще отдавать кредиты, платя проценты.

Возникает резонный вопрос: кто первым сойдет с дистанции на вираже падающего спроса и цен на газ в Европе? На рынке уже начали появляться интересные парадоксы. Например, трейдинговая компания американского производителя газа Cheniere объявила тендер на покупку шести партий сжиженного газа на рынке для последующей поставки в Европу. Для Cheniere может быть просто дешевле купить СПГ на рынке, чем произвести на собственном заводе и доставить в Европу. Или компания может пытаться временно снять эти объемы с рынка в надежде на рост цен.

Ранее Египет заявлял, что может сократить отгрузку СПГ на глобальные рынки с аналогичной целью — сократить избыток предложения.

Впрочем, пока из гонки не вышел никто. С поправкой на упавший спрос все основные производители продолжают бороться за свои доли. Однако к активным боевым действиям и демпингу по саудовскому сценарию, как на нефтяном рынке, в газовой отрасли пока никто не переходит, опасаясь полностью разрушить и так сильно пошатнувшийся баланс интересов на рынке.

Фундаментальные последствия

Падение цен на газ создаст немало проблем, но одновременно может оказать столь необходимое очистительное воздействие на отрасль, где в последние годы возникают все более безумные проекты газопроводов и терминалов СПГ. Многие из них явно не учитывают, что в долгосрочном периоде газ должен быть прежде всего доступным по цене и желательно зеленым, чтобы устоять в растущей конкуренции с возобновляемой энергетикой.

В марте компания Shell вышла из проекта СПГ Lake Charles на побережье Мексиканского залива. Австралийская компания Woodside отложила ряд своих СПГ-проектов. Это лишь некоторые примеры недавних дней, и в ближайшее время их будет становиться больше.

Европе тоже стоит ждать инвестиционных последствий для своей газовой отрасли. Скорее всего, затормозится реализация новых морских проектов газодобычи на норвежском шельфе. Также можно ставить крест на планах некоторых европейских стран по добыче сланцевого газа.

Для России медвежий суперцикл на газовых рынках тоже не пройдет бесследно. Но российская газовая отрасль всегда была больше, чем просто отрасль экономики, поэтому тут вряд ли стоит ожидать радикального пересмотра стратегии. Возможно, замедлится ввод в эксплуатацию новых месторождений и строительство новых инфраструктурных проектов (хотя обращение президента про коронавирус почти совпало по времени с новостью, что «Газпром» начинает готовить технико-экономическое обоснование для нового мегапроекта «Сила Сибири — 2»). А вот проекты с широким международным участием, вроде «Северного потока — 2» или «Арктик СПГ — 2» «Новатэка» имеют больше шансов на успех, потому что объединяют интересы и производителей газа, и потребителей.

Что касается экспорта «Газпрома» в Европу, то на фоне карантинов европейские потребители рискуют не выполнить условия долгосрочных контрактов «бери или плати» по отбору минимальных количеств газа. Потенциально это чревато для них штрафами в пользу российского концерна. Но тут «Газпрому» важно проявить терпение и добрую волю, перенеся невыбранные объемы на будущие периоды, ведь жесткий разговор с клиентами на падающем перенасыщенном рынке чреват долгосрочной потерей их лояльности.

Когда в Европе цены на минимумах с 1999 года, а в Азии — за всю историю, российские газовики стали больше внимания обращать на российский внутренний рынок. Теоретически развитие внутреннего спроса даже при нынешних регулируемых ценах способно создать сегмент выручки, сравнимый с традиционными рынками Европы. Однако здесь большую угрозу создают неплатежи, которые будут неизбежно накапливаться из-за тяжелой экономической ситуации.

Поэтому самый надежный выход для газовой отрасли, применимый ко всем отраслям в период кризиса, — радикальная оптимизация затрат и повышение эффективности. В предыдущие кризисы без этого в основном удавалось обходиться, но нынешний идеальный шторм просто не оставляет других вариантов.


A Dangerous Pattern Of Mutinous Behavior Within The Executive Branch.   

byJulio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.  On January 11th, The New York Times published an article detailing how the FBI initiated an investigation of the President of the United States as a result of James Comey's firing.  According to the Times, the action was in response to a series of events leading to the conclusion that the President could have been "knowingly working for Russia, or . . . unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence." Predictably for T [...]

In Pandemic, Russia’s Regions and Republics ‘Coming to Hate Moscow Ever More,’ Experts Say   

Experts surveyed by URA journalist Kseniya Nigamayeva says that the steps that have been taken in Moscow in response to the pandemic are “completely justified” but that “as a result of this may arise a new conflict between Moscow and the regions, the consequences of which are unpredictable”

#China Closes Russia Border, Puts New City Into Wuhan-Style Lockdown to Contain Pandemic    


The Chinese embassy in Moscow on Wednesday night announced the temporary closure of all land border points of entry for individuals travelling between the mainland and Russia.

CADO recognizes sixth case of COVID-19: brought from Moscow   

The sixth case of coronavirus infection was recognized in the CADO. This is reported by the so-called "Ministry of Health", operating in the occupied part of Donetsk oblast. It is clarified that after arriving from Moscow on March 31, the patient was on self-isolation and turned to...

"DNR" recognizes one more case of coronavirus. Infected just arrived with her husband and child from Moscow   

The second case of the COVID-19 disease in the so-called "DNR" was detected yesterday. This was reported by the fake "Ministry of Health". It was reported that the second infected in the "republic" was child of a local resident whom was detected coronavirus the day before. ...

4 dead after HORROR Moscow nursing home fire prompts dramatic rescue (VIDEO)   

Preview At least four people died and ten were injured after a nursing home went ablaze in Moscow, cutting off dozens of immobile patients. Rescuers were able to quickly put out the blaze but the toxic smoke hampered their efforts.
Read Full Article at

«Эвотек-Мирай Геномикс» выходит на арену   


«Медуза» рассказывает, почему эти тесты так дорого обходятся, и как новая компания-поставщик связана с семьей миллиардера Аркадия Ротенберга. По информации Роспотребнадзора, 25 марта в России было проведено 4,4 тысячи тестов, а 26 марта — уже 26 тысяч тестов на коронавирусную инфекцию. По расчетам Русской службы «Би-Би-Си», сейчас в одной только Москве проводят около 700 тестов на коронавирус в сутки. В конце следующей недели московское правительство планирует проводить в десятки раз больше тестов ... Читать дальше



«Ты мужчина только по паспорту!» – таксистка с Урала накинулась на столичного танцора в шоу «Последний герой. Зрители против звёзд»   


В эту субботу, 11 апреля, в 19:00 на ТВ-3 выйдет десятая серия шоу «Последний герой. Зрители против звёзд». После 27 дней выживания в джунглях на одном рисе и воде и других испытаниях на выносливость, в игре осталось всего семь участников – и у каждого уже сдают нервы, так что едва не доходит до драк. В прошлом выпуске рэпер Птаха и танцор Евгений Папунаишвили поддержали выбывшую актрису Наталью Бардо, дав понять объединённому племени Героев, что отныне будут действовать сообща. В новой серии их союз ждёт первое испытание... Читать дальше

Источник: Tele-Media


АТОР: Российские отели отказываются возвращать деньги туроператорам при аннуляции путевок   

09.04.2020 12:32. Агентство "Москва".

Отели в России отказываются возвращать деньги за аннулированные туры из-за коронавируса. Об этом сообщает Ассоциация туроператоров России (АТОР).

«Вслед за туроператорами выездного туризма с проблемами столкнулись и игроки въездного и внутреннего рынка. Несмотря на сложную эпидемиологическую обстановку, отели, как и другие поставщики (часть музеев, транспортные компании и другое) не возвращают деньги туроператорам, а те в свою очередь не могут вернуть их туристам», - говорится в сообщении. Читать дальше



Депздрав планирует активнее использовать метод диагностики коронавируса по анализу крови   

09.04.2020 12:30. Агентство "Москва".

Метод диагностики коронавирусной инфекции с помощью анализа крови планируется активнее в использовать ближайшее время. Об этом журналистам сообщил руководитель департамента здравоохранения Москвы Алексей Хрипун.

«Да, конечно. Это метод ИФА (иммуноферментный анализ - прим. Агентства «Москва»), анализ крови. Мы уже такое тестирования провели в клинике в Коммунарке. Результаты очень показательные, намного более показательные чем ПЦР-диагностика по мазкам из зева и носа. Читать дальше

Источник: (Москва)


Год подписки от MEGOGO для покупателей SMART проекторов LG CINEBEAM: проводим время дома с пользой и удовольствием   


Компания LG Electronics (LG) совместно с крупнейшим в Восточной Европе медиасервисом MEGOGO возобновляют акцию: каждому покупателю любого Smart TV проектора LG в России – бесплатный годовой доступ к ТВ и Кино по подписке «Максимальная» от MEGOGO.

Покупателям проекторов LG предоставляется неограниченный доступ к контенту партнера, а именно более чем к 210 зарубежных и российских телеканалов, 10 000 фильмов, сериалов и мультфильмов, а также образовательным и научно-популярным лекциям. Читать дальше

Источник: PR LG


Павильон МЦД запустит онлайн-экскурсии   


Источник ФОТО:

Информационный павильон МЦД приглашает на удаленные экскурсии, а также на онлайн-лекцию о московском транспорте, пишет Агентство городских новостей "Москва".

Первая онлайн-экскурсия состоится 10 апреля в 15:00 в прямом эфире официального аккаунта проекта МЦД в Instagram. 9 апреля в 18:00 в официальном аккаунте МЦД в Instagram начнется онлайн-лекция о работе столичного метрополитена в годы Великой Отечественной войны. Фотограф и историк метро Александр Попов расскажет о том... Читать дальше



Клиенты BelkaCar в 2019 году забывали награду «Золотой граммофон», Новый Завет и 74 упаковки лапши   

09.04.2020 12:24. Агентство "Москва".

Клиенты каршеринга BelkaCar забывали в машинах в 2019 году награду «Золотой граммофон» и Новый Завет в золотом переплете, а также 74 упаковки лапши быстрого приготовления. Об этом сообщается в Telegram-канале компании.

«За прошедший год в наших автомобилях забыли свыше 3 тыс. разных вещей, что значительно меньше, чем год назад. Какие-то оставляли вполне предсказуемо, а какие-то забыть было почти невозможно, но водители постарались. Самые необычные: Новый Завет в золотом переплете... Читать дальше

Источник: (Москва)


Всемирный банк спрогнозировал снижение ВВП России в 2020 году на 1%   

УрБК, Москва, 09.04.2020. Всемирный банк ухудшил прогноз ВВП России на 2020 год до снижения на 1% вместо предыдущего роста на уровне 1,6%, об этом говорится в докладе международной организации по странам Европы и Центральной Азии. «Базовый сценарий динамики ВВП пересмотрен в сторону понижения — предполагается, что он сократится на 1% в 2020 году из-за пандемии COVID-19 и падения цен на нефть. Восстановление в 2021 и 2022 годах будет основано на восстановлении цен на нефть и ослаблении последствий пандемии, но будут понижательные риски. Читать дальше

Источник: «УралБизнесКонсалтинг»


LG отмечена наградой Института кондиционирования, отопления и охлаждения за высокие производственные показатели   


Климатические решения компании LG были отмечены наградами сразу в шести товарных категориях в рамках выставки, организованной Институтом кондиционирования воздуха, отопления и охлаждения - AHRI

Многочисленные технологические разработки и достижения LG Electronics (LG) были отмечены организаторами выставки - Национальной конвенции AHRI.

Речь идет о решениях в системах отопления, вентиляции и кондиционирования (ОВиК), которые используются в коммерческом и в жилом сегментах в США.

Компания... Читать дальше

Источник: PR LG


Moscow’s Coronavirus Quarantine, Explained   

A guide to what you can and can't do under Moscow's coronavirus lockdown.

Moscow’s Air Pollution Drops As Coronavirus Lockdown Sets In   

Concentrations of pollutants in the air fell almost instantly after the city's self-isolation order entered into force.

Moscow Church Holds Anti-Coronavirus Procession Despite Stay-at-Home Order   

An Orthodox church seemingly broke the rules of self-isolation when it led a religious procession in the streets of Moscow.

Moscow Won’t Require QR Code Coronavirus Lockdown Passes, for Now   

The city will reconsider the QR code system if the coronavirus situation worsened or self-isolation violations increased.

Moscow’s Small Businesses Feel the Pinch Under Coronavirus Lockdown   

Once the health crisis ends, the city's small businesses say they might not be able to bounce back.

Saudi Arabia sharply rebukes Russia over oil price collapse   

Saudi Arabia has sharply criticized Russia over what it described as Moscow blaming the kingdom for the collapse in global energy prices. The two statements early Saturday showed the tensions ahead of an emergency meeting of OPEC and other oil producers. Oil prices sharply fell after the so-called OPEC+ group of countries including Russia failed to agree to production cuts in early March. A price war began soon after, with Saudi Arabia threatening to pump at a record-breaking pace to seize back market share even as the new coronavirus pandemic saw demand sharply drop as airlines worldwide halted flights. 

OPEC 'hancurkan diri sendiri', kata Trump   

MOSCOW - Presiden Donald Trump menyatakan Pertubuhan Negara-Negara Pengeksport Petroleum (OPEC) menghancurkan diri sendiri dan beliau sedia mengenakan tarif terhadap import minyak melindungi perniagaan

Rubles in the near abroad   

Coronavirus is the first major economic shock to test the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, Eurasianet said , noting that so far, there’s been more friction than friendship. At a March 25 meeting of the Eurasian Economic Commission (Commission), the EAEU’s executive body agreed to drop customs duties on medical equipment and other items imported for the coronavirus response.

Canadian Equestrian Set to Break Olympic Record   

When Equine Canada released the names of their equestrian athletes competing at the London Olympics, among them on the showjumping team was Ian Millar. So far he’s competed in nine Olympic games, a record he shares with Austrian sailor, Hubert Raudaschi. Millar’s appearance at the London Games will be his tenth…and he will hold the record for an athlete attending the most Olympics. It would have been his 11th, but he didn’t compete at the 1980 Moscow games because of the Canadian boycott.

Ian Millar was born in 1947 and has taken out the Canadian Showjumping Championships nine times and holds multiple records. He won an Olympic silver medal in Beijing as part of the Canadian team comprising Eric Lamaze, Jill Henselwood and Mac Cone. Millar has been indicted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, and goes by the nickname of ‘Captain Canada’!

The only other equestrians to come close to the record are Italian show jumpers Raimondo D’Inzeo and Piero D’Inzeo, who have both competed in eight Games in show jumping.

Australia's Andrew Hoy has competed in six Olympics...London will be his seventh.

Photo Ken Braddick/FEI


'Judy Mackay' Award Announced   

Dressage Queensland have announced a new ‘Judy Mackay Award’, which will be awarded to a Queensland person who has trained, ridden and competed his or her own horse from lower levels through to FEI; the horse to be bred in Australia (any breed) or contribute to the sport of dressage (excluding paid coaching). Judy Mackay was a pioneer of Australian dressage who worked her way to top level competition. She would often be the only competitor in a Grand Prix event. Her Grand Prix horses included Prudence, Delaware, Debonair and Duel Diablo. She was part of the 1980 Olympic Equestrian team who rode at Rotterdam after boycotting the Moscow Olympics. She also trained as a visiting rider at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Judy passed away in January, 2011 aged 84. Visit here for more information, and to download an entry form.

Photo courtesy RIDER Magazine


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In 1944 the U.S. Army Crushed This German Tank Group   


Warfare History Network

History, Europe


An epic battle.

Key point: Patton's tanks went toe-to-toe with the Nazis at the Battle of Arracourt. Here's how the fight went down.

Scouts for the U.S. Third Army on foot and in armored vehicles cautiously approached the town of Luneville on the east side of the Moselle River in the rolling hills of north- eastern France on September 15, 1944. As the lead M8 armored car of C Troop, 42nd Cavalry Squadron reached the outskirts of the fog-shrouded town, a shell fired from a German 88mm gun slammed into it. The startled Americans quickly fled the area.

Although no one knew it at the time, the shot heralded the beginning of the Battle of Arracourt, an 11-day armored fight between U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army and German General of Panzer Troops Hasso von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army.

Over the next four days, the 4th Armored Division of Maj. Gen. Manton Eddy’s XII Corps fought against Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadier Division for control of Luneville. On September 16, the Americans vigorously attacked the town from the south, fiercely opposed by panzergrenadiers who had been reinforced a day earlier by six tanks and an equal number of antitank guns. The Germans were forced from the town, and the Americans formed a defensive cordon around the city.

On September 17, the Germans made a concerted effort to reclaim Luneville. Their efforts were thwarted by the cavalry troops and tanks and armored infantry from Combat Command R, U.S. 4th Armored Division. The fight for the town heated up on September 18 as two battle groups from Colonel Heinrich von Bronsart-Schellendorf’s 111th Panzer Brigade, supported by units from Generalleutnant Edgar Feuchtinger’s 21st Panzer Division, attacked Luneville from the southeast. At the same time, Colonel Erich von Seckendorf’s 113th Panzer Brigade struck the Americans from the northeast. By 12 PM, reinforcements from Combat Command A, 4th Armored Division in the form of Task Force Hunter, which comprised a company of tanks, infantry, and tank destroyers, arrived and drove the Germans from Luneville and the surrounding area. However, fighting for the town continued on September 19 when the 15th Panzergrenadier Division returned to cover the withdrawal of German forces from the town.

In the struggle for control of Luneville, 1,070 Germans were either killed or captured and 13 armored fighting vehicles were destroyed. American losses amounted to several hundred GIs dead and wounded, and the loss of approximately 10 armored fighting vehicles. With Luneville secured, Patton’s Third Army planned to use the entire 4th Armored Division as its spearhead in a rapid advance toward the German frontier.

At U.S. Third Army headquarters, the American reaction to the German attack at Luneville in mid-September was one of little concern. The enemy effort was so weak and disjointed that the Americans believed it was merely a poorly coordinated local counterattack. Although Third Army intelligence knew of the presence of the 111th Panzer Brigade in the area, it did not know of the 113th Panzer Brigade’s whereabouts, nor did it have any hard evidence that a large enemy armored attack was planned for the immediate future.

Activated in April 1941, the 4th Armored deployed to France in July 1944 and was commanded by Maj. Gen. John S. Wood. The division’s main fighting units were three brigade-sized formations known as Combat Command A, B, and R (which stood for reserve). Each was organized around a single tank battalion composed of 53 Sherman M4 medium tanks and 17 Stuart M5A1 light tanks, an armored infantry battalion of three companies totaling 1,000 men transported on M2 and M3 armored half-tracks, and an armored field artillery battalion with 18 self-propelled 105mm guns. The 4th Armored Division was augmented by the independent 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion. This unit controlled three companies with a total of 36 M18 Hellcat tank destroyers. A divisional reconnaissance squadron composed of four troops in 48 M8 armored cars gave the American armored divisions a solid scouting asset, which by 1944 was better than the much-diminished reconnaissance battalions attached to German panzer and panzergrenadier divisions.

Although the Americans were unaware of it, the 4th Armored Division’s intended advance over the next 11 days would be disrupted and blocked by a German armored counterattack that was second only to the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 as the largest armored contest between U.S. and German Armies in the European Theater of Operations. The Lorraine armored battles proved to be classic meeting engagements where both sides were simultaneously conducting offensive maneuvers with neither side possessing any significant numerical or distinct defensive advantage. The U.S. Third Army commanders did not realize, as the third week of September began, that the fight for Luneville put up by the Germans occurred because that was where the German offensive in the Lorraine was supposed to be launched.

The prolonged armored battle in Lorraine followed the collapse of Wehrmacht resistance in France and Belgium and the resultant swift advance of the Western coalition forces

across the breadth of France following Patton’s breakout from the Normandy bridgehead on July 30. While the overall Allied pursuit of the German Army toward the western margin of the Reich was most impressive, the Supreme High Command of the German Army (Oberkommando des Heeres, or OKH) was most concerned about the lighting speed of Patton’s Third Army.

Despite crippling fuel shortages that periodically retarded its progress, the Third Army managed to drive 400 miles from Normandy to the west bank of the Moselle River. The enemy forces defending Lorraine along the Moselle line belonged to General of Panzer Troops Otto von Knobelsdorff’s First Army, which comprised six infantry and three panzergrenadier divisions. For the most part, these divisions had been replenished with underequipped and poorly trained replacements. First Army possessed fewer than 200 armored fighting vehicles of all types. The Luftwaffe units supporting the First Army had only 110 aircraft.

While operating in Lorraine, Patton’s Third Army was composed of Eddy’s XII Corps, Maj. Gen. Walton Walker’s XX Corps, and Maj. Gen. Wade Haislip’s XV Corps. The Third Army brought to the Arracourt fight eight well-equipped divisions, including three armored and four attached tank battalions. The Third Army had 933 tanks, of which 672 were M4 Sherman medium tanks and 261 were M5A1 Stuart light tanks. In addition, the U.S. Army Air Corps backed up Third Army with 400 fighters and fighter bombers from its XIX Tactical Air Command.

In compliance with the wishes of the Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Patton was directed to liberate Lorraine and then breach the Siegfried Line defenses guarding Germany’s western frontier. Once those daunting objectives were achieved, Third Army was to cross the Rhine River and capture the cities of Frankfurt and Mannheim. This fatal stab into Germany would ensure the Allied capture of the Saar Region, which furnished coal and steel for the Hitler’s war machine.

Patton ordered his 4th Armored Division toward the German border on September 19. In

accordance with that plan, the division’s CCB was to push on from the Delme-Chateau-Salins area, 16 miles north of Luneville, to the city of Saabrucken, while CCA was to advance from its location at Arracourt, which was situated 10 miles north of Luneville, and capture the German city of Saareguemines.

To deal with the threat posed by Patton’s Third Army, Hitler ordered Manteuffel to launch a bold counterattack. Manteuffel had proven his skill at handling panzer forces on the Eastern Front where he commanded the 7th Panzer Division of Army Group Center during its advance toward Moscow in 1941. Manteuffel’s attack, which had a tentative start date of September 5, was to originate west of the Vosges Mountains and drive across the Langres Plateau toward the Moselle River. However, this proved impossible since Fifth Panzer Army’s headquarters was not able to redeploy from the northern sector of the front in the Netherlands to Strasbourg until September 9.

Moreover, Manteuffel had the enormous task of assembling his three panzer and three panzer grenadier brigades from a variety of different regions. This was a complex task given that some of them were deployed on the front lines. Because of Patton’s swift advance, the German attack ultimately was pushed back to September 15.

Frustrated by the series of delays, Hitler ordered the offensive to begin regardless of whether all of the allotted forces had arrived at the staging area. Fully realizing the unrealistic time table for the attack and the inadequate forces to be committed to it, Manteuffel was deeply skeptical that his attack would succeed. With so few battle-worthy panzer divisions in the Lorraine sector of the Western Front, the German attack on the U.S. Third Army would have to depend on the new panzer brigades that had been formed in the late summer of 1944. Nearly all of the Third Reich’s tank production during that time had been diverted to equip the new armored formations. Many of the new panzer brigades were slated for service on the Eastern Front. Indeed, Hitler had established the panzer brigade program in an effort to keep pace with the Soviet Union’s robust tank production. However, the concept of these new panzer formations on which Hitler placed such great hope was deeply flawed.

Rather than a balanced combined arms unit, such as that fielded by the German Army’s panzer divisions deployed at the outset of World War II, the new panzer brigades contained mostly tanks and panzergrenadiers. They sorely lacked sufficient artillery, engineer, and logistical assets. Designed for quick counterattacks, they were ill suited for sustained periods of frontline combat.

The first of these brigades were numbered 101 to 110. They actually were similar to a regiment in strength and had only one tank battalion. Their armor included 36 PzKpfw Panther medium tanks and 11 Pz IV/70 tank destroyers. These brigades’ infantry component consisted of 2,100 panzergrenadiers in six companies transported in SdKfz 251 half-tracks that mounted 20mm cannons.

In response to the shortcomings of the first series of panzer brigades, a second series designated 111 to 119 was fielded in August 1944. These contained two battalions of tanks, one of which had 36 Pz.Kpfw V Panthers and the other of which had 36 Pz.Kpfw IVs. The infantry complement was expanded to a regiment of two panzergrenadier battalions of three companies each, as well as a heavy weapons company. In addition, each brigade had one armored reconnaissance company, assault gun company, and engineer company. Due to the shortage of SdKfz half-tracks, most of the 4,800 troops in these brigades had to travel in trucks, which severely limited the cross-country capability of the brigade.

Manteuffel, tasked with using Panzer Brigades 106, 111, 112, and 113 in the attack against

Patton’s forces in Lorraine, was particularly concerned about the combat reliability of these units. He had little confidence in their fighting ability due to the absence of any artillery in the brigades, a lack of radio equipment for communications, and insufficient armored recovery and maintenance services. He also pointed out that the men in the new panzer brigades had not been trained in combined- arms tactics.

Lieutenant General Walter Kruger, who led LVIII Panzer Corps, was deeply critical of the battle worthiness of the new panzer brigades. “Panzer Brigades 111 and 113 … were makeshift organizations,” he wrote. “Their combat value was slight. Their training was just as incomplete as their equipment. They had been given no training as a unit and they had not become accustomed to coordinating their subunits.” His disgust for the caliber of troops sent to the front from rear-echelon formations was evident in his description of them as “barrel-scrapings.” The concerns of the senior panzer leaders involved in the forthcoming mission about the usefulness of the panzer brigades to be employed did not bode well for its success.

Knobelsdorff was so alarmed in early September by the approach of Patton’s Third Army to the Moselle River that he wanted to launch an immediate spoiling attack against Walker’s XX Corps before it could cross the river. Knobelsdorff intended to send Colonel Franz Bake’s 106th Panzer Brigade against Maj. Gen. Raymond McClain’s 90th Division on the extreme left flank of Third Army. But before he could send the 106th Panzer Brigade into action, Knobelsdorff had to promise Hitler that he would return it to First Army’s reserve within 48 hours.

The 106th Panzer Brigade, which was organized in two groups, moved under cover of darkness on the night of Sept. 7-8 toward the American flank. With the arrival of darkness, the attack groups split up at Audun-le-Roman. The first attack group drove northeast toward Landres, and the second attack group turned southeast toward Trieux.

Having failed to reconnoiter the enemy’s position, at 2 AM the first attack group rumbled past McClain’s headquarters, which was situated on a wooded hill south of Landres. Curious as to the nature of the traffic, a member of the crew of a Sherman tank guarding the headquarters realized after an hour that it was a German column. He alerted nearby artillery crews. The Americans knocked out a half-track, but one of the German Panthers blew up the Sherman. A number of American artillerymen were killed in the sharp firefight. The first attack group disengaged and continued south.

McClain immediately issued orders to his infantry battalions to engage the Germans. The U.S. 712th Tank Battalion started up its Shermans and they caught up with the back of the first attack group column and fired on it. Meanwhile, U.S. bazooka teams from a tank destroyer platoon prepared to engage the Germans at first light.

Much to the consternation of the Germans, the Americans stood their ground rather than retreating. A battle unfolded at dawn when the first attack group split up to attack the town of Mairy from two directions. The town was vigorously defended by the 1st Battalion, 58th Infantry, which had 3-inch antitank guns. Additionally, the Americans were supported by 105mm howitzers. The panzer grenadiers attacked into the town on halftracks, but they could not dislodge the Americans.

After nearly three hours of hard fighting, the Germans began to disengage. One half of the attack group was able to retire, but the other half was targeted by the U.S. artillery where it was positioned in a sunken road west of Mairy and completely destroyed.

The second attack group pushed west from Trieux toward Avril, but the Americans were at Avril in force. They used their antitank guns to repulse a half-hearted attack by the Germans probing their positions. The defeat of the 106th Panzer Brigade in the Battle of Mairy left it badly crippled and of limited use during the forthcoming Battle of Arracourt.

Four days later, elements of Brig. Gen. Holmes E. Dager’s CCB, 4th Armored Division and infantry from the 35th Infantry Division crossed the Moselle south of the railroad hub of Nancy. The following day, September 13, Combat Command Langlade, named after its commander French Colonel Paul Girot de Langlade, part of Haislip’s XV Corps, foiled a spoiling attack at Dompaire by Panzer Brigade 112.

After its defeat at Dompaire, the 112th Panzer Brigade was in no shape to engage in combat for the time being. In addition, the 107th and 108th Panzer Brigades were withdrawn from Lorraine and placed in reserve to help defend the German city of Aachen against an imminent attack by the U.S. First Army. These events would seriously weaken the offensive Hitler had envisioned to serve as a hammer blow to Patton’s Third Army.

Not only were the forces marked to participate in Manteuffel’s main attack altered, but the scheme itself was changed just before it was to be launched. With Patton’s tanks in control of Luneville and the German forces assembled northeast of the town, Manteuffel aimed his assault against the American southern flank toward the town of Arracourt, which lay 10 miles north of Luneville. Hitler’s ambitious panzer attack of mid-September had devolved from its ambitious objectives of striking Patton in the flank, cutting his lines of communication, and destroying him to the much lesser goal of eliminating the spearhead of the U.S. Third Army.

On September 14, the foot soldiers of the 80th Infantry Division of the XII Corps spilled over the river to the north of the city. That same day, 4th Armored Division’s CCA, led by Colonel Bruce Clarke, reached the east bank of the Moselle just below Nancy. Eddy asked Clarke if he felt it was safe to cross his CCA to the east bank. Clarke passed along the query to Lt. Col. Creighton W. Abrams, who commanded the 37th Tank Battalion attached to CCA. “That is the shortest way home,” said Abrams, pointing to the east bank.

Clarke approved the order and Abrams’ tank battalion crossed the river. Once across it continued its lightning advance and by nightfall had driven 20 miles into the German rear. The American advance beyond the Moselle threatened to create a breach between the German First Army and General of Infantry Friedrich Wiese’s Nineteenth Army to its south. This would enable Patton’s tanks to race across the German border and into the Saar Basin. OKH realized that the unrelenting pressure from Patton would require an immediate and vigorous counterstrike against his army.

By mid-September 1944, Wood’s 4th Armored Division had a complement of 163 tanks supporting its 15,000 troops. The well-trained division, which had only been in combat since late July, had been fortunate not to have sustained heavy casualties. The 4th Armored Division had encountered few German tanks since it broke out of Normandy and sped across France. This was because it had not faced determined German panzer units until it reached Lorraine. As a result, the 4th Armored’s troops had no real experience facing German tanks.

On September 19, Manteuffel finally unleashed the armored offensive in Lorraine that Hitler had been demanding since late August. The morning of the attack dawned as it had the last several days with intermittent rain and thick fog in the low-lying areas. The terrain around Arracourt was agricultural, with gently rolling hills and tracts of woods. While the hills were not particularly high, some of them offered good vantage points for surveying the surrounding farmland. These vantage points would play an important role in the coming fight.

Fifth Panzer Army’s strike on September 19 took the form of two simultaneous thrusts. One thrust consisted of the 113rd Panzer Brigade advancing northwest from the town of Bourdonnay along the Metz-Strasbourg road toward Lezey-Moyenvic. The other thrust involved the 111th Panzer Brigade striking the Third Army’s center by way of the Parroy-Arracourt axis.

The objective of the operation was to link-up with Colonel Enrich von Loesch’s 553rd Volks- grenadier Infantry Division north of Nancy at Chateau-Salins, thus closing the breach the Americans had previously opened between the German First Army and the Nineteenth Army to its south. Barring the Germans’ way was Clarke’s CCA, which had deployed in 4th Armor’s southern sector around Arracourt. The division’s northern zone near Chateau-Salins was covered by CCB.

When the German tanks began to roll on the morning of September 19, CCA’s main components were the 25th Cavalry Squadron, 37th Tank Battalion, and the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion. CCA was understrength since Task Force Hunter, amounting to one third of the combat command’s strength, had been detailed the day before to aid the fight for Luneville. Clarke’s command post was at the Riouville farm a half mile east of Arracourt. Guarding the command post was a platoon of Hellcats, two battalions of M7 105mm self-propelled howitzers, and a battalion of tractor-drawn 155mm artillery pieces.

CCA’s left flank was shielded by B Company, 37th Tank Battalion and C Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion. This small task force linked CCA with CCB to its west. CCA’s center consisted of the balance of the 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion, which was deployed on the southeast ridge of the Bezange Forest overlooking Moyenvic. The right margin of the combat command consisted of the unit’s headquarters company and C Company, 37th Tank Battalion, which held the village of Lezey. At the village of Moncourt, on the eastern portion of CCA’s zone, stood a platoon of Stuart tanks belonging to D Company, 37th Tank Battalion. Screening CCA’s front was a line of out- posts manned by the troopers of the 25th Cavalry Squadron. Near the center of CCA’s position was the 166th Engineer Battalion.

The first contact CCA had with the enemy near Arracourt occurred at 7 AM when fire from a Stuart light tank destroyed a German half- track near Moncourt. Shortly afterward, five Panther tanks emerged from the fog and forced D Company to retreat to the main 37th Tank Battalion assembly area near the hamlet of Bezange-la-Petite. The Americans spotted another column of German armor moving along the Metz-Strasbourg road.

Notified of the enemy’s advance, Colonel Clarke ordered Captain William Dwight, 37th Tank Battalion’s liaison officer, to take a platoon of tank destroyers and establish a blocking position on Hill 246 approximately 800 yards from the village of Rechicourt-la-Petite. It was 7:45 AM when Dwight, with four M18 Tank destroyers under Lieutenant Edwin Leiper, reached the summit of Hill 246. No sooner had the crews assumed firing positions than they saw a single German tank emerge from the woods at the base of the hill.

The lead tank destroyer, commanded by Sergeant Stacey, opened fire, striking the enemy tank with its first shot. More German tanks were seen, and Stacey destroyed a second target in quick succession. A third German tank hit Stacey’s Hellcat, which caused injuries to the crew, but it was able to move under its own power back to Arracourt. Another Hellcat destroyed the Pz IV that had disabled Stacey’s gun. Two more German tanks were knocked out as they tried to reverse into the wood.

As the German armor withdrew, so did Leiper’s three remaining M18s, which rumbled onto a neighboring height. Leiper noticed a string of German tanks on a road running along the hills between Rechicourt and Bezange-la-Petite. The Americans unleashed a fusillade of armor-piercing shells at the new target. To make sure the tanks were completely destroyed, they called in an artillery strike from nearby M7 105mm guns. The torrent of American artillery shells destroyed five Pz IV tanks.

The fog and occasional rain had thus far prevented American airpower from coming into play; however, some help from the sky was forthcoming. Major Charles “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter, the head of the 4th Armored Division’s reconnaissance aircraft detachment, was flying in the area. He dove in his L-4H single-engine reconnaissance airplane on German tanks trying to work their way around Leiper’s position. Although he was unable to hit the tanks with his 2.36-inch rockets, he alerted Leiper to the threat to his rear.

Reacting to the German threat, Leiper pulled one of his vehicles around and hit two German tanks. But a third German tank destroyed two Hellcats in quick succession. Leiper withdrew toward Arracourt with his remaining Hellcat. As he did, he was joined by three Sherman tanks sent by Abrams. While mopping up an enemy infantry platoon, one was hit by a panzergrenadier armed with a panzerfaust.

As Leiper battled south of Arracourt that morning, farther north C Company, 37th Tank Battalion, commanded by Captain Kenneth Lamison, engaged German armor along the Metz-Strasbourg road. In the initial contact, Lamison and his fellow tankers disabled three Panthers that emerged from the thick fog. Recoiling from that loss, the Germans withdrew south of the highway.

Lamison hurriedly sent a platoon of Shermans to a commanding ridge near Bezange-la-Petite to trap the retreating foe. The American tankers sprung the ambush. From a flanking position, they knocked out four enemy tanks. Then, the Shermans hid on a reverse slope before their opponent could return fire. Due to the fog, the Germans could not pinpoint the origin of the fire. As they looked around anxiously, the Shermans popped up over the crest of the ridge and finished off the four remaining Panthers. As the action on the ground escalated, Bazooka Charlie again entered the fray, this time successfully striking two German tanks with his rockets from an altitude of 1,500 feet.

At 9:30 AM another German tank column approached CCA’s command post. CCA’s command center had ordered B Company, 37th Tank Battalion to shift to CCA’s command center. B Company arrived at its destination 45 minutes later. To deal with the developing threat, C Company, 37th Tank Battalion deployed on a ridge 500 yards from the command post. Sending salvos of 75mm armor-piercing shells at their antagonists, the Shermans knocked out several enemy tanks.

A German force of 14 tanks neared CCA’s headquarters at 12 PM. This was the southernmost assault of the day. Although it is not known exactly which German unit made the assault, it likely was the 111th Panzer Brigade. In a series of quick engagements, the platoon of Hellcats assigned to shelter the headquarters knocked out eight Panther tanks. The remaining Panthers withdrew rapidly.

At mid-afternoon, A Company, 37th Tank Battalion, which was part of Task Force Hunter sent to Luneville the day before, returned to Arracourt. Clarke and Abrams immediately paired A Company with B Company. “Dust off the sights, wipe off the shot, and breeze right through,” they instructed the company leaders. The two tank units then swept across the zone east of Arracourt. Leaving a single tank platoon from A Company to guard CCA’s command post, Hunter formed up southwest of Rechicourt with 24 Shermans and Dwight’s Hellcats.

Within minutes, the American tankers were hitting the remaining enemy armor in the area from front and flank, resulting in eight German tanks knocked out and approximately 100 German infantry casualties. The Americans lost three tanks. This was the last major engagement of the day. The U.S. forces engaged reported losing a total of five Shermans, three Hellcats, and six killed and three wounded.

As night fell, the 113th Panzer Brigade withdrew to Moncourt having suffered the loss of 43 tanks, mostly Panthers, and approximately 200 infantry. Due to its late disengagement at Luneville on September 18, coupled with its late arrival at its staging point for the attack on Arracourt on the following day, the 111th Panzer Brigade played virtually no part in the battle on September 19. As a result, the 113th Panzer Brigade attacked alone and unsupported. Nevertheless, OKH ordered Manteuffel to continue the attack the next day.

Although outnumbered 130 tanks to 45, Manteuffel instructed Kruger’s 58th Panzer Corps to attack from Arracourt toward Moyenvic on September 20 using the 111th Panzer Brigade. If repulsed, the Germans were to draw the Americans back to the Marne-Rhine Canal where flak guns and tanks from Panzer Brigade 113 awaited them.

American opposition on that day included not only the 37th Tank Battalion and some tank destroyers, but also the 35th Tank Battalion, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, 53rd Armored Infantry Battalion, and three field artillery battalions.

On the morning of September 20, in accordance with Patton’s orders of the previous day, 4th Armored Division advanced toward the German border. The Americans advanced in the early morning in two columns. Abrams led the 37th Battalion and Lt. Col. Charles Odems led the 35th Tank Battalion.

Trailing the American columns was Clarke’s command post, which was attacked by the lead elements of the 111th Panzer Brigade. The threat was relieved by the lively fire from the towed guns of the 191st Field Artillery Battalion, which fired its 155mm howitzers at a range of only 200 yards. After two tanks were hit, the rest of the German force withdrew. U.S. forces sent to assist the headquarters destroyed five Panther tanks that day.

By late morning, the two U.S. task forces had traveled six miles from their start line. Fearful that more German forces were in the Parroy Forest sector and might attack the division’s rear, Wood returned both task forces to Arracourt to clear that region of the enemy.

After returning to his launch point, Abrams sent a team composed of tanks and armored infantry to the north of the Parroy Forest. When C Company, 37th Tank Battalion crested a rise near the town of Ley, it was met by a German ambush containing tanks and 75mm Pak 40 antitank guns. The first German volleys destroyed six Shermans. In return, the Americans knocked out seven German tanks and three enemy antitank guns.

Later in the day, A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion and A Company, 37th Tank Battalion took Moncourt. They did this by initiating the assault with tanks and following up the armored attack with an infantry assault. By day’s end, the Germans had lost 16 tanks, 257 dead, and 80 captured. The 111th and 113th Panzer Brigades had only 54 tanks left from the 180 with which they started the offensive. The U.S. 4th Armored Division lost 18 Shermans.

The 4th Armored Division rested on September 21, and the Germans reinforced their strike force at Arracourt with elements of Generalleutnant Wend von Wietersheim’s 11th Panzer Division from the Alsace area. Unfortunately for the Wehrmacht, the 11th Panzer Division, to which the 111th Panzer Brigade was attached, had a tank strength of just 40 Panthers and Panzer IVs.

In the predawn hours of September 22, the 11th Panzer began its mission to seal off the 4th Armor’s penetration by gaining control as far west as the Bezange Forest-Arracourt Blois de Benamont area. The attack was redirected to seize the village of Juvelize and then push north through Lezey. A supporting thrust was to be made by the 113th Panzer Brigade toward Ley.

The first encounters of the day occurred around 9:15 AM in thick fog between light Stu- art tanks of the screening D Troop, 25th Cavalry Squadron and German panzergrenadiers aided by 12 tanks, which quickly destroyed four American Stuarts. Hellcats from B Company, 704th Tank Destroyer Battalion, responded to the German assault and knocked out three Panthers before withdrawing. In response, B and C Companies of the 37th Tank Battalion deployed between Juvelize and Lezey and beyond the latter town.

By noon, elements of 111th Panzer Brigade had occupied Juvelize, while the 113th reached Lezey. During their advance, American ground attack aircraft struck both panzer brigades. To block the enemy’s move any farther south, Abrams established a defensive line consisting of tanks from two of his companies, supported by infantry, on Hill 257 just northwest of Juvelize.  As German armor continued to advance, American tanks on Hill 257 fired on them at ranges from 400 yards to 2,000 yards, destroying 14 tanks and effectively stopping the enemy’s attempt to reinforce the town. Abrams then ordered his B Company, together with A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, to take the town. They successfully achieved their objective. The 111th Panzer Brigade subsequently withdrew from the area.

German casualties at Juvelize amounted to 16 tanks, 250 men killed, and 185 captured. The U.S. forces engaged lost seven killed and 13 wounded. As for equipment, the Americans lost seven Stuarts and one Sherman tank.

On September 23, the Germans licked their wounds and waited for the remainder of the 11th Panzer Division. As for the Americans, Patton’s desire to continue his advance toward Germany was frustrated by a lack of supplies, which were being funneled to the Allied forces engaged in Operation Market Garden in Holland. As a result, Eisenhower ordered Patton to switch to the defensive.

On September 24, the 11th Panzer Division advanced on the lightly defended town of Moyen- vic. Over the next few hours the Germans conducted small battalion-sized probes supported by a few tanks against the Americans, but each probe was repulsed. The Germans lost 10 tanks and 300 troops.

The following day, the 11th Panzer Division made a minor attack from Moyenvic. Larger assaults were made at Juvelize, Lezey, and Ley. By this time, the 4th Armored was in the process of shortening its defensive line by pulling back to Rechicourt-Arracourt. That day, CCA and CCB reported destroying 10 enemy tanks and killing 300 enemy soldiers, while suffering 212 casual- ties. The fighting on September 26 was limited due to bad weather. However, the two sides exchanged artillery fire.

The tempo picked up on September 27 when Manteuffel sought to secure Hills 318, 265, and 293 on the southern flank of 4th Armored guarded by CCB. These hills overlooked the German positions in the Parroy Forest and placed any German movement there under the threat of American artillery and tank fire.

The 224 men of A Company, 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, who were deployed between Hills 265 and 318, put up a spirited defense of their position that day. They held their ground in the face of repeated assaults by tanks and infantry from the 11th Panzer Division throughout the long day.

Meanwhile, the 110th Panzergrenadier Regiment supported by tanks from the 11th Panzer Division attacked C Company and a platoon of tank destroyers holding Hill 265. A German battle group took Hill 318 from elements of the U.S. 51st Armored Infantry Battalion in heavy fighting, which sparked continuous fighting over the next 24 hours. The struggle for neighboring Hill 265 was almost as intense with the Americans barely holding the high ground. They were able to hold on primarily because of strong artillery support.

In preparation for a last-ditch effort to capture Hills 265 and 318, Wietersheim sent reinforcements to the German units deployed opposite CCB’s positions on the two strategic hills. On September 29, the 111th and 113th Panzer Brigades, as well as portions of the 110th Panzergrenadier Regiment, made a coordinated assault on the objectives. The early morning attack, in dense fog that limited observation to a few dozen yards, pushed the 51st Armored Infantry back 500 yards. This gave the Germans control of the forward crest of Hill 318 by late morning.

In response, Clarke sent a company of Sherman tanks from the 8th Tank Battalion to retake the hill, and the fighting reached a new level of intensity. The fog lifted just in time for P-47 Thunderbolts of the U.S. 405th Fighter Group to foil the next German attack. The air strikes forced the German tanks into the clear where they were systematically picked off by American artillery and tank fire.

In the afternoon, the Germans were forced to retreat from Hill 318 after a loss of 23 tanks. At Hill 265, the Germans pushed the Americans back to the reverse slope, but the Americans held on. With no reinforcements expected, the Germans abandoned the height.

The fighting on September 29 marked the last major attempt by the Fifth Panzer Army to cut Third Army’s armored spearhead near Arracourt. The failed effort of the previous four days cost the Germans 36 tanks, 700 killed, and 300 wounded.

The end of September 1944 found the fighting in Lorraine at a stalemate. Deprived of supplies, Patton could not switch to the offensive. As for the German Army, its panzer force had been so badly mauled that it was incapable of further offensive action against Patton’s Third Army.

Patton’s next challenge was to capture fortress Metz on Third Army’s left flank. After Metz fell to the Americans on December 13, Third Army advanced toward the Siegfried Line. Before December was over, Patton’s Third Army would be engaged in another great armored clash, known as the Battle of the Bulge.

This article by Arnold Blumberg originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters


Doomed: How the Battle of Berlin Ended Nazi Germany for Good   


Warfare History Network

History, Europe

Image: Reuters

Hitler's dreams would end badly.

Key point: The Soviets would take their revenge. Here's how the Red Army stormed Berlin.

It began with what a German colonel called “a dull, continuous roar of thunder from the east.” The Soviet bombardment was so immense in Berlin’s eastern suburbs, houses shook, pictures fell from walls, and telephones rang. Berlin civilians heard the rumbling, saw the shaking buildings, and knew the hour had come. On ration queues, women and girls listened “in dread to the distant sounds of the front,” and asked each other if the Americans would get to Berlin ahead of the Soviets.

It was April 16, 1945. The rumbling was the sound of 8,983 Soviet artillery pieces, up to 270 guns every kilometer, hurling a stockpile of seven million shells (1.2 million on the first day alone) at the German defenses on the Oder-Neisse River line. The last and most consequential battle of World War II in Europe was starting—the battle for Berlin.

“Who Will Take Berlin? Us or the Allies?”

After a breather to finish off the “Oder balcony” in East Prussia and to bring up supplies, the Soviet Army was finally ready to attack Berlin and end the war. To Russia’s tyrannical and paranoid ruler, Josef Stalin, nothing mattered more than beating the British and American forces to Berlin. Not only did his prestige demand it, so did vengeance for the bloody trail of atrocities and destruction sown by the Germans all the way to Moscow and Stalingrad.

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“Who will take Berlin? Us or the Allies?” Stalin asked his two top commanders, Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov, commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, and Marshal Ivan Koniev, head of the 1st Ukrainian Front, who faced Berlin, in a Moscow conference on April 1.

“We will, and before the Allies,” answered Koniev.

“So that’s the sort of men you are,” responded Stalin, who promptly gave them their orders—Zhukov would drive on Berlin from the center and north, while Koniev hit Berlin from the south, enveloping the immense German capital in a gigantic pincer movement. To achieve this victory, Stalin was massing 2.5 million men, 41,600 guns, 6,250 tanks, and 7,500 aircraft.

The Soviet Army was by 1945 a well-oiled war machine, lavishly equipped with powerful T-34 and JS tanks, superior to most of their German counterparts and fairly easy for the mechanically challenged Soviet tank crews to operate and maintain. Artillery was still Russia’s “God of War.” Infantry and tanks cooperated with skill, resolution, and aggressiveness. The Soviets understood the importance of surprise, maneuver, and commitment of reserves. They did not rely on numbers alone to win battles.

But the Soviets had weaknesses. While ammunition was plentiful, food, spare parts, and even uniforms were in short supply. Soviet troops were often lean and hungry, expected to live off the land. Much of their rations and transport were American Lend-Lease.

Most importantly, the Army was poorly disciplined. Despite the toughness of Soviet political officers, Soviet troops in all echelons had a fondness for theft and rape, which was inspired by the harsh propaganda of Stalin’s political writers, who hammered down the idea that the invasion of Germany would be the wreaking of Soviet vengeance—Germany was not to be defeated, but despoiled.

Nothing Left to Lose

Zhukov’s assault on Berlin was the centerpiece of the attack, and the general who “never lost a battle” planned this one poorly. He showed little of his usual verve and flexibility. Facing German troops dug in against him on the Seelow Heights, he deployed 143 searchlights to blind the defenders, one every 200 meters. When the searchlights snapped on, the Germans shelled them, killing many of the lights’ female operators.

The German defense was headed by one of that nation’s sharpest minds, Col. Gen. Gotthard Heinrici, son of a Lutheran pastor, married to a “mischlinge,” a half-Jew. Only Heinrici’s ability as a defensive specialist kept him on the Wehrmacht’s payroll, as boss of Army Group Vistula, which was actually defending the Oder.

Heinrici planned his defense with great care. He had close to a million men to defend against the Soviets, counting training units, Hitler Youth, police, and Volkssturm, equipped with 10,400 tanks, 1,500 guns, and 3,300 aircraft. The Soviets outnumbered him badly. Worse, the German war machine had been ground down by years of defeat and retreat. Tanks were short of fuel, artillery short of shells, and many soldiers had gone unpaid for months. Their morale was worn out by the stream of defeats, refugees clogging roads, letters (when mail came) from home that their houses had been destroyed or hometowns occupied by Allied forces.

Yet they fought on. Some did so with the courage of desperate and fanatical men who believed in Hitler. Others were members of SS foreign contingents, like the tough Nordland Division, made up of Scandinavian Nazis—Swedes, Danes, and Norwegian renegades—who had thrown in their lot with Hitler. Another such outfit was the SS Charlemagne Division, composed of Frenchmen. They fought with the courage of men who had nothing left to lose. Capture meant a treason trial back in their homeland, and escape was impossible. So these mercenaries and opportunists—including a scattering of renegade Britons from the 50-strong British Free Corps—also fought on.

The Germans also had some of their usual strengths: mobility, quick-thinking field commanders, an astonishing ability to regroup under pressure, and immense Tiger tanks that hurled 88mm shells and could withstand heavy bombardment.

There were other incentives for Germans to fight this last battle with determination. Josef Goebbels’s propaganda continued to promise miracle weapons to turn the tide of battle. German troops feared the destruction that would rain down upon their homes if the Soviets conquered their Fatherland. SS flying “courts-martial” and the military police effectively patrolled the rear areas. Anyone suspected of being a deserter would get a quick drumhead court-martial, inevitably followed by a hanging.

The picture was bleak. The German divisions that stood on Heinrici’s main line of resistance on the Neisse River and the Seelow Heights were not the goose-stepping legions that had terrorized Europe in 1940. There were contingents of German naval personnel drawn from immobile surface ships and bases, Luftwaffe ground crews and pilots without planes, personnel from Army training schools, and the scores of poorly equipped Volkssturm units, made up of locally drawn old men and Hitler Youth, often armed only with one-shot disposable Panzerfaust antitank rocket launchers instead of rifles. Many had no uniforms and no weapons, and less training.

A Typical “Morning Concert”

With this, Gotthard Heinrici faced Zhukov’s attack. At first, things went well for the Germans. Beyond shooting the lights out, the searchlights themselves were ineffective because their dazzle reflected back off the smoke and dust of the Soviet bombardment. Order and counterorder to turn them on and off soon followed. Overcast skies and rain hampered both sides.

Even so, the bombardment was horrific. The Hitler Youth and trainee youngsters at first thought it was a typical “Morning Concert,” but the old hands soon recognized that this was the long-awaited big offensive. Gerd Wagner of the 27th Parachute Regiment said, “In a few seconds, all my 10 comrades were dead.” Wagner himself regained consciousness in a smoking shell crater and was barely able to escape. Farther back, an SS panzer battalion commander peered through his pericscope and saw “in the field of view the eastern sky was in flames.”

The Soviet bombardment churned up the Seelow Heights, leaving both physical and moral destruction in its wake. An SS war correspondent found a dazed soldier wandering in a wood, having tossed his rifle. This was his first experience of the Eastern Front, he said. He had spent the war as a barber in an officers’ hotel in Paris.

Still, Zhukov had trouble. He sent his men storming across the Oder in American amphibious DUKWs, driven by female soldiers. Behind the Lend-Lease vehicles came all kinds of ordinary boats, many of which leaked. Under heavy fire, the boats came ashore and the Soviets advanced through minefields, making little progress. By midday, the troops were wallowing in heavy mud and German shelling.

The Germans were not doing well either. Joseph Goebbels made a passionate speech on the German radio that the new storm of Mongols would break itself against the Oder walls, but Berliners, who could read maps, got into longer lines at food shops to fill their larders as quickly as possible. Heinrici wanted to counterattack, but Adolf Hitler, in a typically loony decision, had taken away three of his panzer divisions and sent them to Czechoslovakia. At the German Army’s “holy of holies,” the command bunkers at Zossen, Chief of Staff General Hans Krebs kept going on shots of vermouth from a bottle he kept in his office safe, struggling with broken communications to the front and desperate requests for information from the rear.

At noon, a frustrated Zhukov sent his tanks in, but they struggled against the deadly Panzerfausts, the muddy ground, and the chaotic bridgehead, a nightmare for traffic control.

At 3 pm, Zhukov reported to Stalin. “So you’ve underestimated the enemy on the approaches to Berlin, but you’re still on the Seelow Heights. Things have started more successfully for Koniev,” Stalin said. Zhukov bellowed at his Army commanders, who bellowed up the line and down the chain of command, calling for more attacks.

The problems went on. Soviet airmen bombed their own troops when they saw the wrong flares rising up from the ground. Artillerymen shelled their own troops. Medical services were completely overwhelmed, with wounded men lying without treatment for up to five hours. The 27th Guards Rifle Division’s casualty clearing station had only four operating tables. Medical personnel had such a horrific time that some gave up the profession after the war.

“The God of War is Thundering Very Nicely Today”

Koniev’s assault had indeed been more successful. His plan was to rely on artillery—249 guns per kilometer—and the 2nd Air Army to batter the German defenses for 145 minutes, twice as long as Zhukov’s bombardment. Instead of searchlights, a smokescreen would blind the German defenses.

“We had nowhere to hide,” said Corporal Karl Pafflik, a German who was captured after the assault. “The air was full of whistling and explosions. We suffered unimaginable losses. Those who survived were rushing around in trenches and bunkers trying to save themselves. We were speechless with terror.”

“The god of war is thundering very nicely today,” said a Soviet battery commander.

The Neisse River was shallower than the Oder, and Koniev’s men were able to cross simply by swimming the river or wading across fords, weapons over their heads. As soon as the Soviets hit the far bank, they brought up 85mm antitank guns for immediate fire support.

The Germans were stunned by the weight of Koniev’s bombardment. Many were hopelessly demoralized. A deserter from the 500th Penal Regiment told his captors, “The only promise Hitler has kept is the one he made before coming to power. Give me 10 years and you will not recognize Germany.” Others complained that they had been lied to by their officers, with promises of V-3 and V-4 rocket weapons.

Once Koniev’s men secured cables over the river, they ferried over T-34 tanks armed with 85mm guns to support the infantry. The 1st Ukrainian Front picked out some 133 crossing points in the main attack sectors. By the end of the first day, Koniev would be pleased, while his rival Zhukov was furious. Koniev’s only complaint was that evacuating wounded was “unbearably slow.”

Keeping Soldiers on the Front

That evening at 9 pm, Stalin cut more orders, setting the border between Koniev and Zhukov. The line on the chinagraph map shot out from the Neisse River from Guben to the town of Lubben, and then stopped. It was clear that Stalin was setting up Koniev and Zhukov to race for Berlin, and the winner would get the spoils.

So a race was on between two rivals. Zhukov was the better known of the two, having won victories over the Japanese at Khalkin-Gol in 1939, the Germans at Moscow in 1941, and Stalingrad in 1942. The former furrier’s apprentice and cavalryman had masterminded these triumphs and been celebrated for them. Koniev, by comparison, had not commanded troops in the defense of Moscow or Stalingrad, but served well in relatively obscure assignments, rising to take command of the 1st Ukrainian Front and gaining a reputation among Soviet leadership as a hard charger.

Next morning saw overcast skies and drizzle give way to clearer weather on the Seelow Heights, and the Soviets brought down artillery and airpower again. The Germans took heavy casualties, which overwhelmed their medical stations. Their triage policy was to care for those most likely to return to combat first. A stomach wound meant death—surgery required far too much time. Officers wandered through medical areas, sending walking wounded back to the front.

At checkpoints, German military police, known as chain-dogs, or kettenhunden, for the gorgets they wore, searched columns of refugees for stragglers and deserters, sending them back to the front, often to stiffen newly deployed groups of Hitler Youth, some of them as young as 15.

Seelow Surrounded

Meanwhile, Zhukov and his troops pressed on. German 88mm antiaircraft guns and tank-hunting infantry with Panzerfausts caused more Soviet losses, but through determination, the Soviets surrounded Seelow. Key to the German defense was the 9th Parachute Division under General Bruno Brauer, a Crete veteran who smoked cigarettes through a holder. Some of the 9th Division’s men included veterans from Otto Skorzeny’s legendary commando units, but others, mostly replacements, were Luftwaffe ground crews.

The 9th had a rough day on the 17th. A regimental commander was killed, the bombardment and assault panicked many of the men, and the Luftwaffe airmen, most of whom had never seen action, fled the battlefield. Brauer himself suffered a nervous collapse and had to be relieved of what was left of his command.

Still, the Germans tried to counterattack—the 101st Corps, a collection of young trainees and officer candidates, went in, but the Soviets had placed wire-sprung mattresses from nearby houses on the sides of their tanks. The panzerfaust shells simply bounced off. The Germans took fearful casualties. The Potsdam Regiment found that there were only 34 boys left on their feet after its battle.

Buoyed by a false report of peace negotiations with the British from Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, 9th Army commander General Theodor Busse told his men, “Hold on for two more days, then everything will be sorted out.”

But the reality was a slowly disintegrating German defense. The Luftwaffe sent in Focke Wulf FW-190 fighter-bombers to attack pontoon bridges across the Oder, claiming that two of the pilots destroyed a bridge by diving their damaged planes into the pontoons. In actuality, these desperate tactics achieved nothing. The Soviets had 32 bridges across the Oder.

“Turn the Tank Armies Toward Berlin”

Koniev’s tanks also continued to attack, racing for the Spree through burning pine forests. All day the Soviets crashed through the forests, around lakes, through marshes, heading northwest to Berlin. When Koniev reported that evening to Stalin, the Soviet leader told Koniev, “With Zhukov things are not going so well yet. He is still breaking through the enemy defenses.” Stalin suggested that Zhukov attack through Koniev’s bridgehead.

Koniev instead suggested that his army group could head for Berlin itself and do the job.

“Very good,” said Stalin. “I agree. Turn the tank armies toward Berlin.”

In Berlin itself, the offensive was greeted with a flurry of stirring exhortations from Goebbels, who called for resistance to the last and warned, “Any German who offends against this self-evident duty to the nation will lose his life as well as his honor.”

In reality, Heinrici faced more attacks with tanks lacking fuel, guns lacking shells, and troops lacking food. Dawn on the 18th saw a red sky on the eastern horizon as the day began with massive Soviet air attacks and artillery barrages. Zhukov was furious, knowing that his rival Koniev had orders to advance on Berlin.

Zhukov’s armor resumed the offensive and ran back into the usual German ferocity and Panzerfausts until 9:40 am, when the Soviet bludgeon finally broke through, sending the remains of the 7th Panzer Division, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s old command, scattering. By mid-afternoon, the defending 9th Army was about to be split in two. Zhukov had the Seelow Heights at a cost of 30,000 dead, for a German loss of 12,000.

Preparing a New Defensive Line

To the south, Koniev’s armor fended off a counterattack on its left flank but kept pushing on against declining resistance.

The situation was increasingly desperate for the Germans, and they began taking even more desperate measures. First, Hitler ordered all Volkssturm units in Berlin to join the 9th Army to form a new defensive line. Only 10 battalions and some antiaircraft guns could actually be sent, but that left the city with only its immobile flak guns for defense.

Next, Artur Axmann, head of the Hitler Youth, offered his 15-year-old boys to General Hellmuth Weidling and the 56th Panzer Corps, to fight with Panzerfausts. Weidling exploded at the idea of committing 15-year-olds and even younger boys to the battle, and Axmann agreed to retract the order. Even so, Nazi bloodlust rolled on. At Plotzensee Prison, the Gestapo executed 30 political prisoners.

With the Soviets on the offensive, the 9th Army split into three directions. The 9th Parachute Division tried to regroup but failed. The paratroopers fled the scene, giving their ammunition to the arriving SS Nordland Division troopers.

On Reichstrasse 1, the main highway leading east from Berlin, refugees piled west, as the Nordland Division headed east. “Ivan is right behind us!” the refugees and fleeing troops yelled. SS troops and military police manned roadblocks to search for deserters, shooting and hanging them on the spot. To add to the hypocrisy, while SS men hanged deserters the SS formations were told to be ready to fall back to Schleswig-Holstein, near the Danish border, where they could escape the advancing Soviets.

All along the highways on April 19, Soviet aircraft pummeled anything German that moved, civilian or military. German troops from the 101st Corps fled through Mecklenburg, leaving behind all their equipment. The corps, made up of units from trainee and officer candidate battalions, was stunned by the sheer ferocity of the Soviet offensive. Stragglers formed into ad hoc battlegroups to fight briefly for a crossroads or village, then fled again.

Hitler’s Birthday in the Bunker

All these disasters had little impact on Adolf Hitler, now directing the war from his bunker in the Reich Chancellery grounds, surrounded by flunky generals and obedient secretaries. On April 20, the Führer marked his 56th birthday amid sunny skies and the next-to-last American air raid on Berlin.

With the postal system collapsing like the rest of Germany, there were few gifts for Hitler from his subjects, but the Nazi elite massed one last time to honor their leader. Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring emptied Karinhall, his country house north of Berlin, of art treasures, then pressed the plunger to detonate the buildings, which had all been wired by Luftwaffe engineers. Without looking back, he strode to his enormous car to head to the Reich Chancellery.

The party was a grim one. Except for Propaganda Minister Goebbels and Hitler’s personal secretary Martin Bormann, all the Nazi elite were planning escapes. Göring was headed for Bavaria, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler for Schleswig-Holstein, technocrat Albert Speer to the German Alps. Hitler accepted a sack of money from the German Army’s ordinary soldiers and only noted that it was not as heavy as in years past.

At the daily staff conference, the big issue was what to do with a Germany about to be split in two. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin. After the meeting, the leadership came up with excuses to flee Berlin, while Hitler was recorded on his last newsreel, inspecting a detachment of Hitler Youth, who had received Iron Crosses for knocking out Soviet tanks. The ailing Führer, holding his shaking left arm behind his back, walked down the flanks, patting boys on the cheeks while his aides presented the medals. That evening, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, presided over a champagne party to celebrate Hitler’s birthday in the bunker.

“Break in to Berlin First and Raise the Banner of Victory”

Outside, in the increasingly ruined Berlin, housewives queued for food and news from the one-page newspaper Goebbels put out. Even that was not helpful. It used circumlocutions to explain where the fighting was taking place. That day, Berliners were supposed to receive “crisis rations” of bacon, sausage, rice, dried peas, beans, and lentils. With water, gas, and electricity services nearly broken down, Berliners were now cooking half-rotten potatoes over a tiny fire enclosed by three bricks on their balconies. Offices closed as shellfire and Soviet air bombardment were making it impossible for people to move through the streets. Everyone waited for the end.

At the front, Zhukov’s gunners finally had the range of Berlin and opened fire on the already bomb-blasted city. He gave his 1st and 2nd Guards Tank Armies an order: “Break in to Berlin first and raise the banner of victory.” He wanted to be there by dawn on the 21st. His tanks did not get there until the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Koniev continued a steady advance, hurling his armies across the Spreewald, but not fast enough for Koniev. “You are again moving like a hose,” Koniev signaled one commander.

By now there was no front line. Ninth Army’s men were holding various points to slow or stop Soviet advances. At Werneuchen Airfield, the flak battery had to depress its fixed 88mm guns to take on the ground targets, to little avail. All roads heading west were blocked by panic-stricken refugees. Weidling ordered his Nordland Division, now mingling with Hitler Youth and 18th Panzergrenadier assets, to counterattack, but the Germans were badly mauled. The Hitler Youth were trapped in a forest that caught fire. The Germans retreated.

At one point, a solitary King Tiger tank stabilized the situation by blasting open two T-34s, halting the Soviet advance. The Nordland Division’s Scandinavian nurses were caught in the retreat with their men. One nurse found her Waffen SS lover among the badly wounded and held his head in her lap until he died from his wounds.

German discipline broke down in the retreat. Troops that had not been fed for days broke into abandoned houses and gorged themselves on whatever they could find. Others collapsed into beds in farmhouses, exhausted, in boots and muddy uniforms, to get their first sleep in days. One Hitler Youth slept through a pitched battle. Officers had to restore order at pistol point. With the disintegration, even the SS flying court-martial teams were overwhelmed. Some execution teams themselves deserted. A prisoner told his Russian interrogators that there were about 40,000 deserters hiding in Berlin even before the Soviet advance.

The 56th Panzer Corps regrouped and retreated again, this time to Berlin’s western suburbs, hooking up with the remains of 101st Corps, holding the city’s northern side. At Bernau, the Soviet 47th Army hit the last line before Berlin and found the defenders unable to cope. After firing off a victory salute at the city, the 47th Army and 2nd Guards Tank Army pushed inside the autobahn ring, winning the race for Berlin.

The Last Plane Out of Tempelhof Airport

On the 21st, Berlin’s defense headquarters was besieged by big shots, all demanding authorization to leave Berlin before it became surrounded. Goebbels had ordered that “no man capable of bearing arms may leave Berlin” without a permit, and all the “Golden Pheasants” who ran the Reich or lived its high life were fleeing. Lt. Gen. Hellmuth Reymann, who commanded Berlin, signed more than 2,000 such passes, quite happy to be rid of the useless mouths and armchair warriors.

That morning saw the final Allied air raid of the war and its replacement with the first heavy Soviet shelling of the city. Hitler was astonished that the Soviets could be close enough to bombard central Berlin with guns.

Casualties were heavy as Berliners were queuing up for crisis rations or water at pumps. Crossing a street now turned into a life-threatening ordeal. German families buried their valuables in yards and basements. The German Trans-Ocean News Agency and the Reichssender Berlin both shut down. So did the telegraph office, for the first time in its 100-year history. The last message was from Tokyo, reading, “Good luck to you all.”

The last plane left Tempelhof Airport, carrying nine passengers to Stockholm. Berlin’s 1,400 fire companies were ordered to the west to sit out the battle and survive. Gas, water, and electrical delivery broke down. Two operations continued: the meteorological station in Potsdam did not miss a day during 1945, and 11 of the city’s 17 breweries, engaged by government decree in “essential” production, went on making beer.

With law and order breaking down, civilians turned out to loot—breaking into stalled freight trains in marshaling yards, markets, and even department stores—emerging with all manner of foodstuffs, ranging from canned apricots to chocolate. For hungry and desperate Berliners, it was a bonanza. Stores sold their goods at bargain basement prices, knowing that the money would soon be worthless and the Soviets would loot anything left behind. Those who could not loot cut up dead horses that lay all over Berlin’s streets for the only source of marginally fresh meat left in the dying city.

A City Without a Commander

Ignoring realities, Hitler ordered the 9th Army to hold a line that was disintegrating. The 56th Panzer Corps continued to retreat along roads lined with corpses left from Soviet strafing attacks.

Now the Soviets moved to encircle Berlin, determined to crush it before the Americans—who had stopped on the Elbe River—could arrive. Stalinist paranoia was such that even though the American offensive had stopped at the Elbe, he was convinced the Americans were about to enter beleaguered Berlin.

On Berlin’s eastern side, Zhukov’s troops lined up to attack south toward the Spree River. On the southern side, Koniev’s tanks clattered into one of the most sacred places in the German Army, the Oberkommando Wehrmacht’s headquarters at Zossen. They found the two complexes, Maybach I and Maybach II, almost completely intact, with three sober and one drunken caretaker there to give a guided tour. The leading Soviet soldiers inspected the mass of bunkers, generators, plotting maps, ringing telephones, and clacking teleprinters, which had given orders to the German Army when it stood triumphant from the Pyrenees to the North Cape. When a phone rang, a German officer at the other end asked, “What is happening?”

“Ivan is here,” the Russian retorted. “Go to hell.”

Back in Berlin, Hitler studied his maps and ordered the 3rd SS Panzer Corps to counterattack, ignoring the fact that it consisted of a few battalions and some tanks, all already allocated to the 9th Army. On paper, 3rd SS Panzer Corps was three elite divisions, and paper was what Hitler cared about, not reality. “Whoever throws his last battalion into the struggle will be the winner,” Hitler said, quoting Frederick the Great.

General Kurt Steiner, who commanded the corps, was dumbfounded by the order, particularly that the penalty for failure to attack was execution. His total forces consisted of six battalions, some from the 4th SS Police Division, the 5th Panzer Division, and the 3rd Navy Division. “The Navy men I can forget about,” Steiner told Heinrici. “I bet they’re great on ships, but they’ve never been trained for this kind of fighting. I have hardly any artillery, very few panzers, and only a few antiaircraft guns. I’ll tell you what I have: a completely mixed-up heap.” He could not attack anyway, being hard pressed by Soviet forces.

That evening, Hitler fired Reymann as commander of Berlin, then appointed an obscure Colonel Ernst Kaether, promoting him straight to the rank of lieutenant general. The next day the appointment was cancelled. Berlin did not have a commander as the Soviets arrived in the suburbs.

Crumbling German Supplies and Communications

Zhukov’s forces arrived early on the 22nd, the original target date to capture Berlin. They did liberate hordes of French prisoners at Oranienburg, who waved tri-colored flags and set off through the lines to return home. Koniev’s men continued to seal up the ring around southern Berlin, reaching the Teltow Canal, the southern rim of the defense line. A huge Wehrmacht ration store stood on the north bank of the canal, but the administrator refused to pass out the food to the exhausted troops because “a regulation issue certificate had not been filled out.” He set fire to the food instead.

As Koniev’s men advanced, they searched through civilians, often finding them to be German soldiers who had concealed their uniforms. They also began the ugly process of raping women and looting homes, carrying off furniture, bedding, and even light bulbs.

That same day, two councils of war were held on the German side. First, Weidling polled his commanders and all wanted to withdraw, either south to hook up with what was left of the 9th Army, or in the Nordland Division’s case, north to Steiner’s 3rd Corps. But there was no way out of defending Berlin. Weidling’s troops were exhausted—filthy, bearded, bloodshot-eyed men who had not even seen their iron rations of processed cheese and hard bread in a week. They were living on tins of pork they found in abandoned houses.

The 9th Army was in little better shape, with men moving singly or in small groups, no organized formations, vehicles all out of gas. German communications were so bad that Army Group Vistula knew nothing of the Soviet advance.

Operation Seraglio

The second major council of war took place in Hitler’s bunker that day, with the Führer demanding news of Steiner’s counterattack. At noon he was told that no counterattack had taken place. Hitler was furious and went into a massive tantrum. The war was lost, he told his terrified staff. It was the worst such display the staff had yet seen, and it ended with Hitler saying he would stay in Berlin to the end and then kill himself. The aides tried to buck up their leader’s spirits and sent for Goebbels. He emerged from the discussion to announce that he was moving his wife and six children into the bunker to stay with Hitler to the end.

Later, Hitler cooled down and came up with yet another solution—Lt. Gen. Walter Wenck’s 12th Army, standing on the Elbe against the Americans. With the Yanks no longer moving, it would be disengaged and head northeast to hook up with the 9th Army’s fleeing remnants and save Berlin. Hitler gave written orders to his top flunkies, who took advantage of the orders and the situation to leave Berlin for good.

Operation Seraglio began immediately, with secretaries, doctors, and other aides fleeing to Berchtesgaden by air, while other members of Hitler’s inner circle began burning his papers. Despite the destruction and shellfire raging in the streets above, the bunker was not short of good food and alcohol. Those still trapped in the bunker by duty or choice soon saw discipline get replaced by drunkenness, dejection, and self-pity, from Hitler on down. Everyone was just waiting for Hitler to kill himself.

On the 23rd, the Soviets ramped up their bombardment of Berlin by hauling in 600mm siege guns. Their targets were the three massive armored flak towers in downtown Berlin, which were also being used as shelters for thousands of people who had lost their homes to earlier bombardments. A woman diarist noted reports of a deserter being hanged at the other end of a U-Bahn tunnel and young boys amusing themselves by twisting the corpse round and making it spin back.

The same diarist, searching for coal, was horrified by the sight of “soft-faced children under huge steel helmets … so tiny and thin in uniforms far too large for them.” She saw this use of children as a form of abuse, and a “symptom of madness.”

Weidling’s Command

Meanwhile, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, cut loose from the Führerbunker, hand delivered Hitler’s written order to Wenck for the big attack to liberate Berlin. Wenck knew the order was idiotic but saw an opportunity to help the 9th Army flee the Soviets. If he attacked east and hooked up with Busse’s 9th Army, Wenck might be able to bring both over to the Elbe and the safer captivity of the Americans. Wenck drove around in a Kubelwagen staff car to his various scattered commands, telling them, “It’s not about Berlin any more, it’s not about the Reich any more.” It was about saving lives.

Back in Berlin, Weidling, now commanding a corps nearly surrounded in Berlin, phoned the bunker to report. Weidling was told he had been condemned to death in absentia in a court-martial for cowardice for not holding the line. Enraged, he drove over to the bunker to defend his honor. Hitler was so impressed by Weidling’s determination that he appointed him head of Berlin’s defense.

The 56th Panzer Corps did not have much to defend Berlin with. The 9th Parachute Division was cut to pieces. The Muncheberg Panzer Division, freshly put together from training schools, was in little better shape. The 20th Panzergrenadiers were not much better, either. The Nordland Division and the 18th Panzergrenadiers were in better condition. They added up to 45,000 troops. Weidling found he had other odd assets at hand: 40,000 Volkssturm, a collection of Navy midshipmen flown in at Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz’s orders, the flak bunkers with their ample supplies of ammunition, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke’s 2,000 tough SS Liebstandarte men protecting the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.

Weidling had other advantages. A city of two million offered unlimited supplies of hard buildings, ruins, cellars, and other natural blockhouses for defense. Three years of constant bombing resulted in flak positions with machine guns and heavier cannon throughout the city. Three concentric lines of defensive positions had been built. They just lacked well-trained and well-armed soldiers to man them.

Prisoners Saved in Potsdam

However, the overall picture was disastrous. Two whole Soviet Army Groups were falling on Berlin. The only help at hand was the SS Charlemagne Division, which consisted of renegade Frenchmen. None were eager to surrender, as they would be returned to France to face treason trials. All fought with the courage of doomed men.

The division managed to reach the Olympic Stadium in Spandau, where they found a Luftwaffe supply store complete with benzedrine-laced cocoa, which kept the exhausted Frenchmen going.

As the Soviets closed in on Berlin, the Reich’s prisoners gained liberation. Many were Soviets, who were quickly given rifles and sent back to replace dead and wounded men at the front. Others were of varied nationalities, eager to go home. And a few were some of Hitler’s original victims, surviving Jews. These included some who had worked on the 1936 Olympics and a few foreign Jews, including South Americans. They were held at a camp in Potsdam, and as the shelling closed in, the commandant, SS Lt. Col. Doberke, received orders to shoot the lot. But a prisoner spokesman pointed out to Doberke, “The war is over. If you save our lives, we will save yours.” The prisoners prepared a huge form, signed by them all, saying that Doberke had saved their lives. When Doberke saw this, he opened the gates and the guards vanished. But when the Soviet troops arrived, they raped all the women anyway.

Failed German Counterattacks

Meanwhile, Koniev’s troops struggled across the Teltow Canal. Unlike the British and American Armies, the Soviets lacked bridging engineers, so they rounded up anything that could float to cross the canal, even rowing sculls. On the 24th, Zhukov’s 5th Shock Army crossed the Spree farther north to Treptow Park.

Weidling wasted no time. He refueled his tanks from Luftwaffe aviation gasoline stores at Tempelhof Airport and counterattacked. The remaining King Tigers of Nordland Division clattered into the attack and punched out several heavy JS tanks.

“In the course of three hours, the SS made six attacks but were forced to retreat each time,” wrote a 5th Shock Army divisional commander, “leaving the ground littered with corpses in black uniforms. Panthers and Ferdinands (self-propelled guns) were burning. By midday, our division was able to advance again. They secured the whole of Treptow Park and in the dusk we reached the S-Bahn ring railroad.”

All day on the 24th, the Soviets pressured the defenders, pushing hard against the encircled garrison. As the Soviets advanced, they captured scores of civilians and promptly began an orgy of looting and rape that would become one of the best known and most horrific features of the Berlin battle.

The 3rd Shock Army, heading south toward the Spree River bridges, used its 5th Artillery Breakthrough Division on one narrow sector to blast open 17 houses, killing 120 defenders. The Soviets claimed the defending Volkssturm and Hitler Youth waved white flags of surrender and then opened fire.

The Germans tried a counterattack with three assault guns, but a reconnaissance soldier named Shulzhenok stopped them with three captured Panzerfausts, destroying the first, damaging the second, and forcing the third to withdraw. Shulzhenok was named a “Hero of the Soviet Union” for his feat but was killed the next day by a “terrorist in civilian clothes,” most likely a poorly dressed Volkssturm member.

“SS Traitors are Extending the War”

April 25 dawned cold and clear. The Germans were barely holding on, but the Soviets needed a break to bring up supplies. They turned the battlefield over to the air force, which spent the day strafing the defenders. The Germans abandoned their last bridgehead south of the Teltow Canal. Soviet tanks slugged it out with the Muncheberg Panzer Division at Tempelhof Airport amid the carcasses of wrecked FW-190 fighters.

The Nordland Division was now barely a regiment in size, but it and the Charlemagne Division fought on. Across the city, anti-Hitler resisters scrawled graffiti to counter the official demands for continued resilience, saying, “SS traitors are extending the war.” SS parties hunted for the graffiti artists amid the ruins.

That evening, the French SS men, with 100 Hitler Youth assigned to them, faced a night Soviet tank attack. With determination, Panzerfausts, and a three-man machine-gun team from the Reich Labor Service, the French held the Halensee Bridge against all comers for 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the German civil administration continued to crumble. The German Foreign Ministry told its overseas missions to stop sending reports to Berlin—nobody could receive or answer them. The main German radio station went off the air.

But the big news on the 25th was a climax to the war—the meeting of Soviet and American troops at Torgau on the Elbe River. Germany was now divided in two. Unable to hold on to the Oder much longer, Heinrici ordered his men to start retreating to the west. For doing so, Hitler ordered Heinrici fired. By the time a replacement commander could be found, Army Group Vistula had disintegrated.

Goebbels’s Panzer Bear

On the 26th, the Soviets resumed their offensive, and Weidling’s weary men continued to fire and fall back. General Gustav Krukenberg, commanding the Nordland Division, set up his tactical headquarters in the Kroll Opera House, using a throne-like armchair from the former royal box as a bed to grab a couple of hours of sleep.

The early hours of the 26th saw a thunderstorm and heavy rain, which put out some of the fires raging in Berlin. Civilians lined up for food, resuming their places or taking those of dead ones after a burst of shellfire shredded the ranks. Citizens greeted each other by saying, “Survive” instead of “Sieg Heil.” German troops were impressed by the courage with which women lined up for water at pumps and carried buckets through shell and sniper fire back to their homes. A working radio station called for women to pick up weapons and join the men at the barricades, but few actually did, beyond some SS auxiliaries.

Looting was rampant, both Soviet and German. Law abiding citizens, all desperate, stormed into abandoned shops, seizing goods, which they then traded for food. Those trapped behind Soviet lines found themselves victims of robbery and rape by advancing Russians. Some of the worst rapists and plunderers were second-wave Russians, often freshly released POWs. Women as young as 14 and as old as 60 were savagely victimized. Ilse Antz and her family, hiding in their cellar, suffered repeated brutal rapes at Soviet hands and stayed in their cellar from April 24 to May 4, afraid to emerge.

This fear, fueled by Goebbels’s Panzer Bear, the combat paper for the defenders of Berlin, kept the Germans fighting. So did the occasional radio broadcast or announcement that Wenck’s army was riding to Berlin’s rescue.

Street Fighting in Berlin

The Waffen SS did not rely on makeshift barricades to halt the attackers but put riflemen in buildings’ upper floors, higher than the Soviet tanks could raise their turrets. Panzerfaust crews deployed in cellars and rubble to knock out Soviet tanks. The Russian solution was to mass machine gunners on the sides of their tanks to pour automatic fire into open windows or to cover tank treads with bedsprings and other metal so that the Panzerfaust shells would bounce off.

Soviet urban fighting tactics were highly developed, based on their experience at Stalingrad. With satchel charges, submachine guns, and even pick-axes, the Soviets fought from house to house and room to room, hurling grenades through holes in walls to silence defenders. Flamethrowers and dynamite aided the Soviet advance.

The Soviets were indifferent to Berlin’s 2 million civilians, winkling them out of cellars at gunpoint, lining them up, and seizing watches and other goods before separating out women for rape.

Even so, the Soviets had trouble—many officers were inexperienced. The relentless advance wore troops down and made them exhausted and sloppy. Mortar fuses were set incorrectly and blew up in the tubes. Soviet troops who tried to hurl German potato masher grenades at their previous owners sometimes disabled themselves instead.

“Berlin Remains German”

The morning of the 26th began with a massive bombardment. The Muncheberg Division’s battle for Tempelhof finally ended with the Germans withdrawing to the Tiergarten.

General Vasily Chuikov massed his 8th Guards Army on the Belle Alliance Platz, named for the Anglo-Prussian alliance that defeated Napoleon in 1815. Ironically, the defenders this day were French SS. Chuikov was determined to beat Koniev’s other armies to downtown Berlin, and his men stormed toward the Tiergarten, a park now churned up by shellfire. Chuikov hurled Katyusha rockets at the German defenders. Weidling and his staff, exhausted and sore, kept going on coffee and cigarettes, deep in the Bendlerblock, the Wehrmacht’s Berlin headquarters bunkers, not knowing if it was day or night.

In the evening, Weidling presented to Hitler his recommendation: break out of the city, and avoid further destruction and loss of life. Hitler vetoed it. “Your proposal is perfectly all right. But what is the point of it all? I have no intention of wandering around in the woods. I am staying here and I will fall at the head of my troops. You, for your part, will carry on with the defense.”

To that end, SS men scrawled new graffiti on walls, reading, “Berlin remains German.” A Soviet soldier saw one such artwork, and added, “But I’m already here in Berlin, signed Sidorov.”

Hitler’s Last Field Marshal

By now, the Russians were using heavy force against the slightest resistance. When a Panzerfaust took out a Soviet tank, the local Soviet commander would retaliate with a massive bombardment against the cellar or house. That could lead to odd consequences. The Soviets captured a small Panzerfaust group of French SS, and the Frenchmen convinced the Soviets they were not SS, but merely laborers called up into uniform. The Soviets did not know about SS blood tattoos, so they let the Frenchmen go.

Some Germans simply gave up. Volkssturm battalion leader Karl Ritter von Halt called together the last of his men in the Olympic Stadium and told them to go home. Half of the men were useless anyway—they had been issued Italian bullets for German rifles. “Letting them return home was about all there was left to do,” von Halt said. “It was either that or throw stones at the Russians.” Others simply deserted, shucking off their Volkssturm armbands and hiding in cellars to avoid both Russians and marauding gangs of SS fanatics, who shot suspected deserters.

That evening came one of the most grotesque moments of the battle. Hitler had received on the 23rd a telegram from Göring, off in Bavaria, asking if the Luftwaffe chief should take over leadership of the Reich. Hitler flew into a rage, seeing treason. He fired Göring and summoned General Robert Ritter von Greim to Berlin to be appointed field marshal and boss of what was left of the Luftwaffe. Greim flew to Staaken Airfield on Berlin’s edge, then transferred to a Fieseler Storch, flown by aviatrix Hanna Reitsch. The two tree-hopped to the small airstrip by the Brandenburg Gate, where Greim was wounded. He hobbled to the bunker to become Hitler’s last field marshal, ready to die in defense of Berlin.

Incredibly, Hitler sent Greim back to Bavaria with orders to mass the surviving Luftwaffe aircraft to fly back to Berlin. After the usual vegetarian dinner with Hitler, the crippled Greim and Reitsch flew back to Staaken and safety. Everyone in the Führerbunker, where the only conversation topic was how to commit suicide, was amazed by Reitsch’s feat. “Miracles can still happen,” Goebbels told everyone.

Defending the Citadel

Next day, the 27th, the German self-deceptions continued. General Hans Krebs, the chief of staff, who had served as military attaché to Moscow before the war, told Weidling and others that the Americans had only to cross 90 kilometers to Berlin to break up the Russian attack. Incredibly, senior and junior Germans still believed that the alliance between the Soviets and the West would crumble before Nazism fell.

The Germans now prepared to defend the Citadel, the center of Berlin, with its massive government buildings. The 503rd SS Heavy Panzer Battalion’s King Tiger tanks, some fresh from Berlin factories, dug in amid Walther Mohnke’s SS Liebstandarte infantry. Other defenders included some Latvian SS. Krukenberg set up his division headquarters in a subway train at U-Bahn station Stadtmitte. The train was stuck due to the lack of electrical power and had no telephone.

Grand Admiral Dönitz’s birthday present to the Führer had arrived in the form of a company of sailors and midshipmen, flown in earlier. Now they dug in around the Foreign Ministry, tearing up its gardens.

The German ammunition supply was now reduced to an improvised arsenal in the Reich Chancellery, mostly of Panzerfausts and weapons captured back in the glory days—French, Russian, Czech, Belgian, Yugoslav, even some British rifles and armored cars bagged at Dunkirk in 1940.

Against this the Soviets advanced slowly, bogged down by debris, rubble, and house-to-house fighting. They also took time to rape women. In Dahlem, Soviet troops stormed into Haus Dahlem, a maternity clinic full of nuns and pregnant women, and raped the whole lot. When a woman complained about the Soviet conduct, a Russian officer sneered, “It hasn’t done you any harm. All our men are healthy.”

Hitler’s Wedding

As the 12th and 9th Armies struggled to hook up and retreat to the Americans, the defenses of Berlin continued to crumble steadily. SS squads entered buildings flying white flags and shot down any men that could be found. On the other hand, General Werner Mummert, commander of the Muncheberg Panzer Division, ordered the SS death squads out of his division’s area and threatened to shoot executioners on the spot.

Exhausted German troops, unable to line up at water pumps, drank water directly from canals and tossed civilians out of air raid shelters and bunkers. Many of the civilians so displaced wound up in U-Bahn and S-Bahn tunnels.

On the 28th, the 3rd Shock Army advanced from the east on the north side of the Anhalter Canal, moving into sight of the famous Victory Column in the Tiergarten. The German defenders were now holding a strip less than five kilometers in width and 15 in length. Hitler Youth defenders clung to the Havel bridges. Colonel Hans-Oscar Wohlermann, Weidling’s artillery chief, stood in a gun platform atop the vast concrete flak tower at the Berlin Zoo. “One had a panoramic view of the burning, smoldering and smoking great city, a scene which again and again shook one to the core,” he wrote.

Now came a new problem for the Soviets—their two armies would collide with each other in the Tiergarten. It was critical to avoid a friendly-fire incident. Stalin solved it by assigning the Reichstag and the Reich Chancellery to Zhukov’s armies, much to Koniev’s chagrin.

Back in the Führerbunker came the latest soap opera. American radio announced that Himmler was negotiating with the Swedes to save concentration camp prisoners and possibly to surrender the German forces in the West. Hitler blamed his mistress’s brother-in-law, SS Brigadier Hermann Fegelein, and devoted much of the 28th to having him found, hauled to the bunker, court-martialed, and shot.

Late that same evening, Hitler summoned a local city council member, Walter Wagner, from his post as a Volkssturm man, to conduct a wedding ceremony, uniting Hitler with Eva Braun. After the near midnight ceremony, Hitler dictated his lengthy last will and testament to his secretaries, blaming the Jews for the failure of his historic mission. The will made Dönitz Germany’s Führer after Hitler’s death and Goebbels the new chancellor. Goebbels wrote out his own will, saying he and his entire family would commit suicide out of loyalty to the Führer. Half an hour after leaving the bunker, while returning to his post, Wagner was killed by Soviet shellfire.

Storming the Bridge Across the Spree

Meanwhile, the battle raged on upstairs, with the city turning into a scene of horror. As Soviet troops took over vast sections of Berlin, they broke into liquor stocks and raped any women at hand. Some women conceded themselves to Russian soldiers, hoping that by giving in to one man, he would protect them against other rapists. In areas still held by German troops, SS and Hitler Youth members would open fire on any house showing a white flag. Everywhere were the smells of decomposing corpses, charred flesh, and blasted buildings.

Now the 3rd Shock Army angled its drive on Moabit to seize the prison there and liberate the last few political prisoners. The Germans surrendered quickly, fearing retribution. Sappers searched through the prison for explosives and mines. From there, it was only 800 meters down to the Moltke Bridge over the Spree, and the 150th and 171st Rifle Divisions got the orders: seize the Reichstag and Reich Chancellery by May 1, communism’s sacred day.

The attack went in on the afternoon of the 28th. The bridge was barricaded on both sides, mined, protected with barbed wire, and covered with machine guns and artillery. At 6 pm, the Germans blew up the bridge. The explosives failed. The bridge sagged, but was passable to infantry.

The Soviets stormed across, with artillery firing shells at the Germans at point-blank range. By midnight, as Hitler was marrying Eva Braun, the Soviets had a bridgehead across the Spree.

108 Tanks Destroyed

During the early hours of the 29th, the 150th Division stormed the Ministry of the Interior, known as “Himmler’s House,” battling the SS Reichsführer’s personal escort battalion. The immense building was a tough fortress to storm, and the Soviets, for once, seemed lethargic in advance—nobody wanted to be the last man to die in the last battle.

“Sunday April 29,” wrote Martin Bormann in his diary. “The second day which has started with a hurricane of fire.” Everyone was waiting for Hitler to commit suicide.

Outside, the Soviets resumed their assault on the Citadel, bringing up heavy howitzers to blast holes in “Himmler’s House” at close range, and doing so at Gestapo headquarters on Prinz Albrecht Strasse. German troops were told lies to keep them fighting—that the Führer was negotiating a cease-fire with the British and Americans and that Wenck’s army was coming. Krukenberg also gained reinforcements—100 elderly police officials.

Everyone was too exhausted to care about messages from the Führerbunker. Defenders would not wake up unless they were shaken vigorously. “Tank-hunting,” wrote a defender, had become a “descent into hell.” Still, they had done their job. The French SS had knocked out about half of the 108 tanks destroyed in that sector. A French battalion commander explained that they fought because they had one idea in their heads: “The Communists must be stopped.” Others said they were trying to provide an anti-Bolshevik example for the future.

“That Building is the Reichstag!”

Chuikov’s 8th Guards Army attacked northward across the Landwehr Canal into the Tiergarten. Some men swam the canal, while others used sewer entrances to outflank the defenders. They took the Potsdamer Bridge through a ruse, attaching oil soaked rags and smoke canisters to a T-34 tank. As it crossed the bridge, the Germans thought they had hit it and ceased fire. By the time the Germans knew what was going on, the Soviets were on top of them.

The Germans were nearly at their last gasp. Weidling summoned his staff to discuss a breakout on the night of the 30th.

At dawn that day, the Soviets had begun a major attack on the Reichstag, the chosen symbol of Nazi Berlin. The 150th Rifle Division was tabbed for the job. On the first floor of “Himmler’s House,” a battalion commander, Captain Neustroev, tried to orient himself, saying to his regimental commander, “There’s a gray building in the way.”

“Neustroev,” the regimental commander said, exasperated, “That building is the Reichstag!” Neustroev did not realize he was now only 400 meters from the primary Soviet objective of the entire war.

The German defenders of the Reichstag included the SS Leibstandarte, and they had turned the battered building into a fortress. Directly in front of it lay a tunnel that had collapsed from bombing and had been turned into an antitank ditch, a formidable water obstacle.

After breakfast, the first Soviet company charged out at 6 am. They were immediately cut down by a “hurricane of fire from the enemy” from both the Reichstag and Kroll Opera House. The 207th Division stormed across the Moltke Bridge to attack the Opera House, and Soviet guns opened fire. More self-propelled guns and tanks clattered across the Moltke Bridge.

With heavy artillery and tank fire supporting them, the 150th Rifle Division reached the water-filled tunnel just after 11 am. But when they tried to get over the ditch, they came under more heavy fire from Berlin Zoo flak bunkers and their heavy guns. The Soviets had the 171st Rifle Division clean out the buildings on the left along the Spree, while some 90 guns, including 203mm howitzers, blasted away at the Reichstag, which somehow survived all the shelling.

Red Banner Over the Reichstag

Soviet shells rained down on the government district, defended by about 10,000 men, including a large number of foreign SS. They were trapped, with Koniev’s tanks to the south and Zhukov’s men all around them, and fought with the courage of despair. Without much food, when someone brought in a frightened Ukrainian POW, the French SS grabbed his little canvas ration bag and devoured its contents.

As the battle raged into the afternoon, the long trail came to an end for Adolf Hitler. In an early morning briefing, Mohnke told the Führer that the situation was hopeless and the Citadel would fall in two days. With that information in hand, Hitler summoned his staff and gave orders for the disposal of his corpse and that of his wife. Sometime after 3 pm, he and Eva Braun shot themselves and took poison in the bunker. Their remains were carried up to the surface and cremated with little ceremony.

With that done, Goebbels summoned Weidling to the Chancellery to tell him to arrange an armistice—but not to tell anyone that Hitler was dead. “I was deeply shocked,” Weidling wrote. “So this was the end.”

Meanwhile, the battle went on. A Soviet NKVD (Intelligence Agency) team driving through the city found it could not work through the shelled streets and got lost. The secret policemen had to ask passing civilians the directions to the Citadel. The German women answered, “When will this nightmare end?” Women in apartments, fearing Soviet retribution, tore up photographs of husbands, brothers, or fiancés in military uniform, as well as the ubiquitous photographs of Hitler and the top Nazis.

At the Reichstag, the heavy guns thundered away, and Neustroev continued to attack. Everyone wanted to raise the Red flag over the Reichstag, and the battle was fiercely fought, going from room to room. The German defenders, armed with Panzerfausts, fired them from stone balconies over the Russians’ heads. Casualties were terrible, but the Soviets, with their usual combination of grenades and submachine guns, fought their way in, gunning down sailors, SS, and Hitler Youth. The battle degenerated into a rugby match style of fighting, with loose scrums of men slugging it out in halls.

A Soviet group with a banner slipped past, struggling to race for the Reichstag’s roof. They were pinned down by machine-gun fire and tried again, supposedly unfurling the flag from a Reichstag cupola at 10:50 pm. Even so, the fighting raged on for the battered building. Junior Sergeant S. Scherbina was named as the man who raised the Red flag over the Reichstag, but a number of Soviet soldiers did the same thing.

That night Berlin was lit only by the flames of burning buildings. A group of SS soldiers tried to hide in the Hotel Continental, but the women and children already there gave the foreign SS men hard looks. For once, fighting soldiers were pariahs. They were no longer defenders of the homeland, but a danger to civilians in hiding. When wounded men reached field hospitals, nurses confiscated weapons so that Soviets coming in right behind them would have no excuse to shoot up a hospital.

“No Negotiations Except For Unconditional Capitulation”

At 10 pm, General Krebs contacted General Chuikov to arrange a cease-fire. At 4 am, Krebs was ushered into Chuikov’s tactical headquarters, a semi-suburban house on the west side of Tempelhof.

“What I am about to say,” Krebs began, “is absolutely secret. You are the first foreigner to know that on April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide.”

“We know that,” Chuikov replied in a straight lie, seeking to disconcert his opponent.

Krebs read out Hitler’s political testament and Goebbels’s request for “a satisfactory way out for the nations who have suffered most from the war.”

Chuikov then rang Zhukov, who called Stalin, waking him up.

“Now he’s had it,” Stalin commented on hearing of Hitler’s death. “Pity we couldn’t take him alive. Where’s Hitler’s corpse?”

“According to General Krebs, his body was burned,” came the reply.

“No negotiations except for unconditional capitulation, with either Krebs or any others of Hitler’s lot. And don’t ring me until the morning if there is nothing urgent. I want to have some rest before the parade,” grumbled Stalin.

Zhukov had forgotten that the next day was May 1, and Moscow would stage a huge May Day parade.

Back in Berlin, Chuikov, joined by Zhukov’s deputy, General Vasily D. Sokolovsky, tried to squeeze an unconditional surrender out of Krebs. But Krebs was wheedling, trying to get the Soviets to recognize the new government under Dönitz. Chuikov saw this as the Germans playing tricks to avoid the inevitable.

Sokolovsky rang Zhukov and said the Germans were being very tricky. “Krebs declares that he is not empowered to make decisions concerning unconditional surrender. According to him, only the new government headed by Dönitz can. I think we should send them to the devil’s grandmother if they don’t agree to unconditional surrender immediately.”

“You’re right,” Zhukov answered. “Tell him that if Goebbels and Bormann do not agree to unconditional surrender, we’ll blast Berlin into ruins.” He set a deadline of 10:15 am.

No answer was received. At 10:35 am on May 1, the 1st Belorussian Front unleashed “a hurricane of fire” on what was left of the city center, breaking the uneasy truce and quiet.

Surrender of the Zoo and the Citadel

As the battle resumed, Mohnke told Krukenberg that he was worried that Soviet troops might enter the U-Bahn tunnels and pop up behind the Reich Chancellery. To forestall that, he sent a gro


Bye Bye: How Mussolini Finally Met Justice During World War II   


Warfare History Network

History, Europe

By Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone -, Public Domain,

An evil man.

Key point: The dictator was shot and strung up. Here's how he was executed.

At 3 am on Sunday, April 29, 1945, a yellow furniture truck stopped at the Piazzale Loreto, a vast, open traffic roundabout where five roads intersected in the northern Italian city of Milan. This industrial center had been held for only four days by Communist partisans, but from 1919 on it had been the spiritual headquarters of the Fascist Party founded there by former journalist and World War I Army mountain corps veteran Benito Mussolini.

In a very real sense, his first political career, ended the day before by his demise, had now come full circle as Mussolini’s dead body was dumped from the van onto the wet cobblestones of the empty roundabout, followed by those of 16 other men and a lone female, his mistress since 1933, Claretta Petacci. All 18 people, their dead bodies thrown out by 10 men, had simply been murdered by Communist Party execution squads in hails of gunfire.

Without any sort of trial, 15 men were shot in the back at the town of Dongo on the shore of Lake Como, with Marcello Petacci slain in the water as he swam in vain for his life.

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As for the Fascist Duce (Leader) and his lady, how, where, why, and by whom they were shot are all still unsolved mysteries even today. While the executions of the men were thinly disguised, politically motivated assassinations, the killing of Claretta Petacci was and remains a shameful, common criminal act by ruthless men who had power over her and wrongfully exercised it—no more and no less.

By 8 am, word had gotten around the city via a special newspaper edition as well as bulletins on Radio Free Milan that the hated Duce, revered just four months earlier at public rallies by this very same citizenry, was dead and available for scorn in the Piazzale Loreto. It was there, on August 13, 1944, that the Fascists, egged on by the German SS, had shot 15 partisans. This day’s butchery had been allegedly in revenge for that earlier deed.

A large, ugly, depraved, and nasty crowd of civilians and partisans gathered and quickly got out of control; neither fire hoses nor bullets fired in the air could deter or disperse it.

Two men kicked the late Mussolini in the jaw while another put a pendant in his dead hand as a mock symbol of his lost power; a woman fired five pistol shots into his head as retaliation, she asserted, for the same number of her dead sons, all slain in Il Duce’s series of imperialistic wars since 1935. A fiery rag was thrown in his face, his skull was cracked, and one of his eyes fell out of its socket.

Another woman hitched up her skirt, squatted down, and urinated on his face, which others spit on with abandon, while yet a third brought forth a whip with which to beat his battered corpse. A man tried to stuff a dead mouse into the former Italian premier’s slack, broken mouth, chanting all the while, “Make a speech now!” over and over again.

Pushed beyond hatred and emotional endurance, the angry mob stormed forward and actually trampled the 18 bodies where they lay.

When a burly man picked up the slain Duce by the armpits and held him for the throng to view, the latter chanted, “Higher! Higher! We can’t see! String them up! To the hooks, like pigs!” Thus it came to pass that the bodies of Il Duce, his mistress, and four others were tied with ropes and hoisted six feet off the ground, their dangling bodies lashed by the ankles to the crosspiece of an unfinished Standard Oil gas station that has long since disappeared.

As the sole female corpse was raised, the belle of that gruesome ball’s skirt fell downward around her face, revealing a panty-less torso to the taunts of the crowd. Some accounts say that a woman, others say a male partisan chaplain stepped forward and placed a rope taut around her legs, thus securing her skirt in place for the cameras of the world to film.

A woman gasped aloud, “Imagine, all that and not a run in her stockings!”

Il Duce’s face was blood splashed, and his famous mouth gaped open, while Claretta’s eyes stared dully into space. The former Fascist Party secretary, Achille Starace, dressed in a jogging suit for his daily run, was brought forth, faced the dead, and incredibly gave the stiff-armed Fascist salute to “My Duce!” He was then shot in the back by a four-man firing squad.

Just then, the rope holding the dead body of Francesco Barracu snapped, and his corpse hit the ground below with a sickening thud; Starace was strung up in his place like a piece of meat beside the others. Next, Mussolini’s rope was cut, and he fell to the cobblestones on the top of his head, his brains oozing out onto the wet street.

At 1 pm, the combined protests of the Catholic cardinal of Milan and the just arriving American military government succeeded in having the bodies taken down, placed in plain wooden coffins, and sent to the city morgue.

There, the body of Mussolini was formally autopsied. The 5-foot, 6-inch tall Duce weighed 158 pounds, with sparse white hair on his battered, bald head. Because he was hit by seven to nine bullets while still alive, the immediate cause of death was determined to have been four shots near the heart. His stomach bore ulcer scars, but none of the long-rumored syphilis was visible. He had had a minor gall bladder problem, however.

Mussolini’s corpse was buried anonymously in Milan’s Musocco Cemetery in section 16, grave 384, while part of his brain was handed over for study to St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C., and only returned to his widow, Donna Rachele, decades later.

Claretta had been killed by two 9mm bullets, which added to the mystery of the weaponry used. She was also buried in Milan under the name of Rita Colfosco and in 1956 was exhumed by the Petacci family, which had meanwhile returned to Italy from its Spanish exile at the end of the war. Today her remains rest in Rome’s Verano Cemetery in a pink marble tomb topped with a white marble statue. Rumor had it that her corpse had been retrieved to secure hidden gems sewn into the hem of her skirt.

The bloody killings and their gruesome aftermath horrified the world, but to the Italians the entire episode conjured up mainly postwar political connotations: to the beaten Fascists, the partisans had acted simply as “the Italian arm of the Red Army,” as the agents of Josef Stalin in Moscow; while to the rest of the body politic, the events at the Piazzale Loreto symbolized the birth pangs of the coming socialist republic that even Mussolini himself would have supported over the monarchy that had both hired and fired him.

The final saga for Mussolini and Petacci began when Il Duce arrived in Milan at 7 pm on April 18, just ll days before his death, with Ms. Petacci, the eldest daughter of a former Vatican physician, following later. On the 21st, an American OSS plan to capture Mussolini by paratroopers was vetoed, while his own German Waffen SS battalion-sized escort was removed and sent to the front to fight the advancing Allies and Communist partisan forces.

Even some of his own Fascists, as well as Claretta’s larcenous brother Marcello, were plotting to have Mussolini murdered while suspicions were running deep among members of his circle that the Germans were planning to trade him to the Allies to save their skins.

The Catholic Church offered Il Duce asylum, as did several South American countries.  He refused and vowed he would never surrender but instead would lead a Fascist last stand in the Valtellina region, on the far side of Lake Como.

When the betrayed Duce heard of German plans for a secret surrender of all Axis forces in northern Italy on April 25, he left Milan in a huff for the town of Como, 25 miles distant, trailed by his SS bodyguard chief, Lieutenant Fritz Birzer and Secret Police Lieutenant Otto Kisnatt, each ordered not to let him out of

their sight or to shoot him themselves if he tried to escape.

He did try—twice. He was now a man on the run, but why?

Although informed that neutral Switzerland would not accept him, his family, or any other Fascists, Mussolini nevertheless seemed to be headed there rather than, as he asserted, to a final battle that drew only 12 faithful soldiers.

It has also been suggested that Mussolini meant instead to cross the frontier into the Nazi-held South Tyrolean region of Austria and there stand until death with still-resisting German troops, but even now no one really knows for sure.

Yet another theory has lingered since 1945— that Il Duce was trying to rendezvous with British secret agents to trade his life and those of the members of his sizable entourage in return for secret prewar letters between him and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as well as for others penned during the final stages of the war.

There was also the hoard of loot that the fleeing Fascists took with them in a convoy of 28 vehicles, an estimated millions in cash, checks, jewels, gold bullion and other riches taken from slain Jews, all later stolen by the partisans and used to launch the postwar Italian Communist Party as the largest in Western Europe. This has been referred to ever since as Il Duce’s Gold or the Dongo Treasure in reference to where it was captured on April 27 along with Mussolini and his fleeing minions.

All of this has been endlessly discussed since 1945 in a veritable phalanx of articles and books in both English and Italian, the most recent being an excellent trio of works brought forth for the 60th anniversary of the end of the Italian campaign and the Duce-Petacci-Fascist slayings of April 28, 1945.

The first two books, written by Ray Moseley and Luciano Garibaldi, respectively, appeared in 2004 and were titled Mussolini: The Last 600 Days of Il Duce and Mussolini: The Secrets of His Death/Did Winston Churchill Order Mussolini’s Execution? The third volume of this trio, Sergio Luzzatto’s lyrical The Body of Il Duce: Mussolini’s Corpse and the Fortunes of Italy appeared in 2005.

On Friday, April 27, the convoy of German SS, Luftwaffe, and Italian Fascist vehicles of uncertain numbers was stopped by a small, vastly outnumbered unit of the 52nd Garibaldi Partisan Brigade commanded by Count Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle, alias Pedro, at the small village of Musso along Lake Como. Bluffing as to the size of their actual force, the Red negotiators told the Germans that they could proceed unharmed, but only on the condition that no Italians were in the enemy column.

Luftwaffe Lieutenant Hans Fallmeyer, according to Moseley, and Lieutenant Fritz Birzer agreed to these conditions. The latter hastened to the hidden Duce, who was inside an armored car and armed with a submachine gun and wearing his standard gray-green forage cap and uniform of the Fascist Militia.

Mussolini argued that all of his entourage should be allowed to continue, but the Nazi lieutenant was firm, insisting that only the Duce himself could go and that even Claretta had to be left behind. Urged by her to accept the terms, an embarrassed Duce reluctantly agreed.

Birzer got his own overcoat and steel helmet from a Luftwaffe sergeant and gave them to Mussolini to wear, but the mortified Duce protested that he would be ashamed to be found dressed as a German and hidden in a German vehicle. However, he finally relented.

The disguised Duce slipped out of the armored car and into a truck of Luftwaffe men, wearing the German steel helmet backward until Lieutenant Birzer righted it. Tearing off his own Fascist Militia jacket, the crestfallen Mussolini replaced it with the field gray overcoat that was discovered in Rome in 1999, to further hide the rest of his own uniform, complete with the traditional black shirt of the Fascisti.  Sitting quietly at the far end in the left corner of the fourth truck in line, Mussolini pretended to be drunk.

The hidden Duce was betrayed by an Austrian who told the partisans, “There are Italians; have the trucks searched,” as well as an Italian Fascist, Nicola Bombacci, who lamented, “He is with us! It is not fair that he should get away!” Thus forewarned, the Communists stopped the convoy a second time, at the next village, Dongo, just opposite the town hall.

A former sailor in the Italian Navy, a clog-maker from Dongo named Giuseppe Negri who had joined the Partisans, searched the truck and was startled to see the profile of the man he had formerly served.  He reported immediately to Urbano Lazzaro (alias Bill), asserting, “Oh, Bill! We’ve got the Big Bastard! … It’s really Mussolini! … I’ve seen him with my own eyes!”

Incredulous, Lazzaro climbed into the truck himself and approached the mysterious figure pointed out to him obligingly by the real Luftwaffe men who knew the truth. Lazzaro tapped the seated man on the shoulder and called out, “Comrade!” but got no answer.  He then stated louder, “Your Excellency!” and tapped his shoulder once more, but was still met with silence and no movement. He addressed the silent figure yet a third time: “Cavalier Benito Mussolini!”

Later he recalled, “I take off his helmet and see his bald pate and the characteristic shape of his head. I take off his sunglasses and lower the collar of his coat. It is he, Mussolini.”

Lazzaro removed the man’s machine gun and was offered in turn from his unbuttoned coat a 9mm, long-barreled Glisenti automatic pistol without a word in response to the question, “Do you have any other weapons?”

He stood up and said, “I am Mussolini. I shall not make any trouble.”

Arrested by Lazzaro, the now meek Duce told the Germans not to defend him; he was taken from the truck and marched to the town hall, his captors following respectfully behind. There, according to Moseley, “He took off his coat, which was too long for him, and was found to be wearing a black shirt and a pair of Militia trousers. He wore boots, but had no jacket.”

At Milan, the slain Duce still had on the trousers and the boots, but the shirt had disappeared while he swung from the girders of the filling station and was also absent from the coffin in the morgue, as photographs clearly show.

Also taken by Lazzaro from the captured Duce was a briefcase and other baggage that had the originals of his most important, personal papers, to which Mussolini exclaimed, “Take care of those bags! They contain Italy’s destiny!”  These files included his letters to and from Churchill, correspondence with Hitler, and a document covering the January 1944 Verona Trial of the traitors who had voted against him in 1943. A fourth set of papers detailed the alleged homosexual activities of Italian Crown Prince Umberto, then the designated lieutenant general of the realm.

Lazzaro gave all of this to his superior, Luigi Canali (alias Captain Neri), who wanted to honor the terms of the 1943 armistice with the Allies that required the Duce to be turned over to them for trial. The top Communists in Milan ignored this legal clause. Neri also opposed the seizure of the Dongo Treasure by his Communist bosses, and some have accused him of having shot Mussolini himself.

According to some sources, Neri was assassinated by the Communists in May 1945, not because of having done that, but for bringing the British secret service into the affair.

Ironically, Neri had been drafted into the Italian Army in 1936 as a lieutenant of engineers in East Africa, later took part in the retreat of the Expeditionary Corps in Russia, became a Communist, and helped found the 52nd Garibaldi Partisan Brigade that captured his former Duce.

A further twist to this complicated tale was that of Neri’s own mistress: Giuseppina Tuissi (aka Gianna), who was shot by their Communist colleagues on June 23, 1945. Her body was dumped into Lake Como.

The first and last of Mussolini’s files of personal papers disappeared forever, but the others were copied by the Allies and then deposited in the Italian State Archives after being examined by the Communists. As a precaution, however, Mussolini had made a three copies: one for Claretta, which she gave to Marcello and which the partisans seized; and a second for the Imperial Japanese ambassador to the Salo Republic, Baron Shinrokuro Hikada, which was delivered by him to the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. Mussolini gave the third and final set to his Fascist Education Minister, Carlo Alberto Biggini, who died supposedly of cancer in the hospital in the autumn of 1945, one of the few top Fascists not to have been shot.

There were, too, the now infamous Duce Diaries, 10 notebooks in his own handwriting that were given to Baron Hikada as well.  Most of these vanished. Of the Duce’s own original papers and documents personally seen by Lazzaro, 344 pages dwindled to little more than 70 after several deletions by interested parties.

Some historians speculate that on September 15, 1945, at a secret meeting held between British agents and Como Communist leader Dante Gorreri, the latter turned over 62 Duce-Churchill letters for an estimated 2.5 million Italian lira laundered in Switzerland and then returned to Italy to be used to launch the new republic. Supposedly, during this exchange, the partisans agreed to accept the blame for the killing of Claretta, who had allegedly been shot by the British because she knew of the secret correspondence.

According to Bruno Giovanni Lonati (alias Ciacomo), a British Special Operations Executive agent, “Captain John,” the alias of Robert Maccarrone, shot both the Duce and Claretta. The name of a second British agent, Malcolm Smith, aka Johnson, also surfaced. All this was part of a fantastic yarn known as the so-called British Thread.

Taken away, Mussolini was rejoined at the De Maria farmhouse at Bonzanigo by Petacci, who begged her captors to shoot her as well if that was to be the ultimate fate of the apprehended Mussolini. They spent the night together in a peasant bed.

Meanwhile, a Communist murderer codenamed Colonel Valerio was sent from Milan to execute them both. Valerio has been identified over the decades as several different Communists.

As he went into the De Maria farmhouse to meet the captive Duce for the first and only time, Valerio chortled, “I’ll tell him I’ve come to rescue him!” The men hustled the Duce, now sporting a black beret, and Claretta, frantically searching among the bedsheets for her missing panties, out the door and into a waiting car.

Later, 19-year-old Dorina Mazzola claimed to have seen both victims gunned down just outside the De Maria farmhouse, and it was then that the long-accepted version of their having been shot by the gate of the Villa Belmonte was first challenged by historians.

Exactly who actually shot first Claretta and then Mussolini has been debated. It was even asserted that a second shooting of the already dead bodies was held at the Villa Belmonte. Some others said that the doomed pair committed suicide inside the De Maria farmhouse instead.

At a Communist rally in Rome in March 1947, a former partisan named Audisio was officially proclaimed before an audience of 40,000 as the killer of Mussolini and Petacci.  This occurred during a campaign for the Italian Parliament, and he was elected.

It was also subsequently agreed that both Audisio’s submachine gun and pistol failed to fire in succession and that it was a 7.65mm L/MAS 1938 model F20830 submachine gun with a red ribbon tied to the end of the barrel and belonging to another partisan named Moretti that was the actual murder weapon. Captured from the Fascists, the weapon reportedly fired five French-made bullets into Mussolini while the mysterious 9mm rounds fired into Petacci came from an unknown weapon.

No mention has been made of where the weapons are today. In all, Audisio is said to have given as many as 22 different published accounts of these events before his death in 1971.

Valerio claimed that Il Duce was a trembling coward in death, begging that his life be spared: “I will give you an empire!” But other accounts stated that he pulled himself together after being told “Your luck has run out,” and having seen how Claretta argued with the murderers, “You cannot kill us like this!” before being gunned down herself.

One partisan claimed that Mussolini’s last words were, “Shoot me in the chest!” while another felt that “Aim for my heart!” was, in fact, more accurate. Still other versions are ”Long live Italy!” and “But, colonel….”

Afterward, Audisio was supposed to have said, “Look at his face! It suits him, doesn’t it?”  In any event, the man contemptuously called “Hitler’s gauleiter for northern Italy” by his enemies and code-named “Karl Heinz” by the Germans was dead.

Formal Fascism died on the Piazzale Loreto on April 29, 1945. In perhaps the greatest irony of all, Audisio and his men very nearly never made their rendezvous with destiny in Milan. After having bluffed their way past U.S. Army patrols, which never searched the yellow truck, they were arrested by yet another partisan unit while on their way into the city at 10 pm on the 28th.

“They’re Fascists!” screamed the irate officer in command, and this seemed to be confirmed when he found the list of the top Fascists that Colonl Valerio himself had written to identify those to be shot.

The names of the slain “Dongo 16” have rarely been noted.  They included Fascist Party Secretary Alessandro Pavolini; Francesco Maria Barracu, Paolo Zerbino, Fernando Mezzasoma, Ruggero Romano, and Augusto Liverani, Salo Republic ministers all; Inspector for Lombardy Paolo Porta; the Duce’s secretary Luigi Gatti; Bologna University Rector Goffredo Coppola; Stefani News Agency Director Ernesto Daquanno; Agricultural Federation employee Mario Nudi; Duce aide Vito Casalinuovo; Italian Air Force pilot Pietro Calistri; public relations man Idreno Utimpergher; Mussolini’s longtime socialist friend, Nicola Bombacci; and Claretta’s brother, Marcello, whom the partisans initially mistook for a Spanish diplomat and then for Il Duce’s son, Vittorio.

Neo-Fascism lives on mainly in the person of the Duce’s granddaughter, Italian film actress Alessandra Mussolini, child of Mussolini’s jazz musician son Romano and Sophia Loren’s divorced sister. Alessandra was elected to the nation’s legislature in the 1990s.

When neo-Fascist Domenico Leccisi of the MSI Party stole the Duce’s body on April 23,1946, he unwittingly launched the late Duce’s second political career as a traveling corpse. Leccisi had seen Mussolini twice, in 1936 and 1945, and found his remains to be still recognizable. Later, Leccisi was also elected to Parliament and even concocted a plot to kill Audisio. Fascist deputies were returned to office in the 1953 elections.

As for the missing Duce, his body was surrendered to a pair of Franciscan friars and hidden in the convent of Cerro Maggiore with the knowledge of the cardinal of Milan and of the Italian Socialist government for 11 years. By that time, the remains were skeletal and fit into a small trunk.

The so-called Padua Trial began on April 29, 1957, to resolve the issue of the disappearance of the Dongo Treasure and the subsequent murders of those linked to it. The trial adjourned inconclusively the following August and was never reconvened.

On September 1, 1957, Mussolini’s remains were finally returned to his widow and entombed in the family crypt at Predappio, the town where Il Duce was born in 1883.  It has since become a shrine for 70,000 pilgrims and tourists who visit annually. It is guarded around the clock by twin neo-Fascist sentries in long capes.

The crossbar of the Milan gas station became a sort of monument to socialist and communist unions that staged parades past it, and painted upon it were the names of the five slain Fascisti and Claretta Petacci who had been suspended from it. Later, a merchant supposedly bought the piece as an investment for resale. Ironically, the flames of the memory of that day in Milan were fanned not by the Socialists who wanted to forget it, but rather by the neo-Fascists as a symbol of rightist anger.

It appears that the long-forgotten Claretta Petacci may yet have a final word. In 1945, when she took her leave of Lake Garda to chase after her departed Duce, she left behind with the caretakers at the Villa Mirabella her own papers.

These were two large boxes of 600 love letters from the Duce spanning the 12 years of their passionate association from February 1933 to April 1945. Containing not only gossip but also highly valuable military, political, and diplomatic tidbits, they were buried for safekeeping at Gardone and willed by Claretta to her younger sister and confidante, Myriam Petacci.

Dug up by the family in 1950, the 15 volumes were immediately confiscated by the Italian Socialist Republic. Myriam lost her case for repossession in the courts and died in 1991. The documents were ordered sealed for 50 years, or until April 25, 1995. When that date came and went, they remained sealed as they are today.

Today, the sole family heir is the younger son of Claretta’s murdered brother Marcello, broke and living in a trailer park in Phoenix, Arizona.  Someday, when his legal inheritance is duly honored, Signor Petacci will become one of the most famous and richest men in the world as his late aunt’s papers are released and published globally.

This article by Blaine Taylor originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Wiesel: Germany's Killer Mini-Tanks That Has Been Forgotten    


Caleb Larson


Though tankettes have become almost ineffective on today’s battlefields, Germany’s Bundeswehr still fields the both the Wiesel 1 and Wiesel 2, though their long-term effectiveness is questionable.

While German tank design is perhaps best known for their World War II armor supremacy, or success in exporting Leopards post-Cold War, the smallest in the Bundeswehr’s inventories is worth a look.

Wiesel 1

The first Wiesel (weasel in English) was designed in the late 1970s by the German manufacturing firm Rheinmetall to provide West German paratroopers with additional firepower and some armored mobility upon landing. About 350 were built.

The Wiesel does just that — except it was unable to be airdropped despite its modest 2.75 tons, putting it into the tankette category of armored vehicles. Still, it can be slung underneath a CH-53 transport helicopter, or internally transported.

The Wiesel 1s was tiny, a mere 6 feet from the ground to top. They were powered by a modest 86 horsepower diesel engine, but due to the very low weight, the Wiesel is not hindered by the low horsepower, nor by its relatively narrow treads. It is rather mobile, capable of about 40 miles per hour on roads.

The first batch of Wiesels was intended to be used for communications and reconnaissance. They were initially equipped with either TOW antitank missiles or a 20-millimeter autocannon

While they packed a decent amount of firepower for such a small platform, they were perhaps hindered by their armor, which in contrast to Main Battle Tanks of any country, was relatively thin steel, capable of defeating NATO standard 5.56 and 7.62 rounds, as well as indirect artillery shell splinters.

Wiesel 2

The Wiesel 2 was an upgrade in every respect, though only a modest 180 or so were manufactured. The engine was upgraded to a 146 horsepower turbodiesel.

The size was expanded in width by several inches, the height by over a foot, and the chassis was lengthened by adding a fifth road wheel. The internal volume was approximately doubled.

Like it’s predecessor, the Wiesel 2 is equipped with either a 20-millimeter autocannon with 400 rounds, with a TOW missile launcher with several missiles and an MG3 machine gun, or with an internally carried heavy mortar system.

There are also ambulance variants, mobile command, and air defense models. Additionally, the Wiesel 2 was outfitted with an NCB (nuclear, chemical, and biological) protection system.

The United States also showed interest in one point, acquiring a number of Wiesel 2s for testing both in the lightly armored reconnaissance role, as well as a remote-controlled platform, though the limited trials did not advance.

The Past Becomes Present

Though tankettes have become almost ineffective on today’s battlefields, Germany’s Bundeswehr still fields the both the Wiesel 1 and Wiesel 2, though their long-term effectiveness is questionable.

For now, at lease, tankettes scoot around in the German Bundeswehr.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer for the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.


How Kim Jong-un Dominates North Korea    


Doug Bandow


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a drill of long-range artillery sub-units of the Korean People's Army, in North Korea in this image released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 2, 2020.?KCNA?via REUTERS

"Kim is no Mikhail Gorbachev. The latter wanted to reform the Soviet Union, but not just the economy. He also wanted a freer politics and more humane society. Nothing suggests that Kim is so inclined. To the contrary, the Supreme Leader has cracked down on traffic across the border with China as well as cultural influences from South Korea and beyond. It looks a lot like Xi’s approach."

Eight years ago Kim Jong-un became the First Secretary of the Korean Worker’s Party. Five months after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, the new title signaled that the 28-year-old third son of the “Dear Leader” was ascending if not yet fully ascendant.

Nevertheless, many North Korean analysts expected Kim to be at most number one in a collective leadership. Or more likely front man for someone else’s rule, perhaps his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who first entered national leadership under Kim’s grandfather and stood in for Kim Jong-il after the latter’s stroke.

However, Kim had Jang executed less than two years later, in December 2013. Jang was not the first mentor (perhaps minder is a better term) assigned by Kim Jong-un’s father to suffer that fate. Two months after Kim took the party’s top title Ri Yong-ho, vice marshal, Chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff, member of the Presidium of the Politburo, and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, lost all his positions at a special Politburo meeting, which removed him “for his illness.” Actually, Ri’s ouster was the disease: he is believed to have been executed, though no formal announcement was made. Since Kim took control well over 300 officials, many high-level cadres, have been killed. Others have been demoted, removed for reeducation, or simply retired.

This suggests that Kim, routinely called the Supreme Leader, is in charge but nervous, if not afraid. Early executions helped establish his power, but also served the interests of competing factions and individuals. For instance, Jang undoubtedly was happy to see Ri disappear. In return, the military brass shed few tears over Jang’s fate.

However, with one man clearly in charge, the won really does stop with Kim. Everyone seems equally in danger of incurring his displeasure. Moreover, he has disappointed many. His negotiations with Donald Trump likely discomfited the military and security apparatus. The breakdown of talks certainly frustrated officials prioritizing economic growth and a nomenklatura beginning to enjoy greater material wealth. Beijing was shocked by Jang’s execution and treated Kim dismissively until the latter was set to meet Trump.

Moreover, Pyongyang’s decision-making process remains highly idiosyncratic. It is centralized and arbitrary, ultimately based on the whims of one man, influenced in uncertain degrees by interests and people around him. And the ill fate of past comrades likely discourages people from telling the Supreme Leader what he doesn’t want to hear. There was speculation that Kim was not fully aware of Washington’s positions before the busted Hanoi summit. Thus, much depends on Kim’s perception of reality, especially regarding the hostile rhetoric and military deployments of his adversaries.

Most important, Kim may be a reformer, but he is no liberal. His emphasis on economic growth distinguishes him from his father and grandfather, who appeared to fear the destabilizing impact of almost any change. Kim may have been convinced by the Chinese experience, that an authoritarian regime could maintain control even after joining the international marketplace. He has adopted cautious market-oriented changes and expressed his goals to the North Korean people.

The Supreme Leader also appears to enjoy international diplomacy and has had dramatic success: multiple summits with Xi Jinping, who spent six years ignoring Kim’s existence; several meetings with Trump, whose first year in office culminated with threats of “fire and fury”; a South Korean government anxious to cooperate with the North following a more conservative administration that had curtailed engagement; a first if brief session with Russia’s Vladimir Putin; reports that Japan’s prime minister also hopes for a tete-a-tete.

Breaking precedent, Kim has publicized his wife at home and brought her to international gatherings. South Korean diplomats cite his skillful treatment of President Moon Jae-in, reflecting typical Asian respect for one’s elders. Almost certainly Pyongyang used the prospect of a deal with the Trump administration to win concessions and assistance from both Beijing and Moscow. Perhaps most dramatic, Kim has made U.S. military action almost inconceivable, in the foreseeable future, at least. The president has cited his personal relationship with Kim; Washington officials continue to push for additional talks; and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has dropped off the nightly news for threatening America, exiting the American people’s collective consciousness.

However, Kim is no Mikhail Gorbachev. The latter wanted to reform the Soviet Union, but not just the economy. He also wanted a freer politics and more humane society. Nothing suggests that Kim is so inclined. To the contrary, the Supreme Leader has cracked down on traffic across the border with China as well as cultural influences from South Korea and beyond. It looks a lot like Xi’s approach.

Still, Kim today offers the best chance for détente of sorts, though not likely denuclearization. Certainly not in an all-or-nothing deal, in which he is expected to abandon his deterrent and hope Washington treats him well. This latter approach is impossible, since no sensible dictator anywhere targeted by the U.S. can be expected to trade nukes for empty promises. That reality was doubly reinforced by the fate of Muammar Khadafy, who gave up his nuclear and missile programs only to be taken out by the American and several European governments the moment he was vulnerable to an internal uprising. While his departure from the world of the living is otherwise a positive, it dramatically demonstrated that the U.S. and its allies cannot be trusted. The only guarantee of survival, to paraphrase China’s Mao Zedong, grows out of the fear of the bomb.

However, having gained a nuclear capability along with ever longer-range missiles, Kim could trade away some of the more fearsome aspect of his arsenal: proliferation to other regimes and non-state actors, unconstrained growth in number of weapons, development of ability to target the U.S. mainland. Winning agreement, however, would require real deal-making, a willingness to relax sanctions in return for various limits backed by inspections and verification. Now would be the right time to indicate a willingness to wheel and deal, with the DPRK likely burdened by a coronavirus epidemic despite the regime’s denials. Washington could both offer medical aid and suspension if not removal of selected sanctions.

To buttress such an approach the U.S. should push for expanded contact as COVID-19 infections recede. Lift the prohibition on visits both ways. Encourage greater contacts, political, cultural, and economic. Offer to open official relations. Put a peace declaration and treaty on the table. None of these measures cost much. All have intrinsic benefits. And all would test Kim’s intentions. If he still won’t deal, Washington could shift to containment by the North’s neighbors, who have the most at stake in peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

In short, failure is an option. However, we won’t know unless the administration presses forward with the diplomatic opportunity which it created by engaging Kim. Over the last eight years he has “grown” in office, after a fashion, and could be the North Korean to finally make peace with America. But only if Washington addresses Pyongyang’s interests and abandons the hopeless question for an all-or-nothing deal.

Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of several books, including Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.


Moscow garage takes BMW R NineT to the nth degree   

More modern, more classic.

When leaders fall ill while in office, how do nations act?   


The measure of a nation — its DNA, or sometimes its political system — becomes more visible when its leader is stricken in office. How to respond, and what to tell — or not tell — the populace?

The hospitalization of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the first head of government to be stricken by the coronavirus, has pushed this matter to the fore in the United Kingdom. Johnson was moved to the intensive care unit of a London hospital after his COVID-19 symptoms worsened.

People in Britain are unsure how transparent the authorities are being with the severity of Johnson's condition. Johnson himself said initially he had mild symptoms and was running the country in quarantine. When he was admitted to hospital Sunday, 10 days after being diagnosed with the virus, the official line trotted out from Downing Street was that it was not an emergency, rather a “”precautionary step.''

Twenty-four hours later,, he was in intensive care. Now the public has been told by a senior cabinet minister that he isn't being intubated — but is receiving oxygen.

Britain has no recent experience to call upon. Seven prime ministers have died in office, the last in the 19th century. Two of Johnson's Conservative predecessors in the premiership, his professed hero Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden, stepped down from the post in the 1950s while ailing.

Unlike its ally and fellow western democracy, the United States, Britain hasn't had a septuagenarian holding the highest office since Churchill, so matters of prime ministerial health have not been a national concern for seven decades. Nor have there been assassinations, or assassination attempts, to contend with.

Nor is there something like the Communist Party Politburo, as in China or the former Soviet Union, to control medical information about a sickened leader.


While many Americans will have either seen or read about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the attempts on the lives of President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in the following two decades, going further back perhaps offers cases more relevant to the present day.

In 1841, U..S President William Henry Harrison died of typhoid and pneumonia just 31 days into his term, the first American president to die in office. Nine years later, Zachary Taylor, the nation's 12th president, died of stomach flu. He served from March 1849 until July 1850, also dying in office.

President Woodrow Wilson is best known as the American commander-in-chief during World War I. His case is an intriguing one. Wilson suffered a severe stroke in 1919, the year after the global conflict ended, and was largely incapacitated for the remainder of his presidency until 1921. That produced speculation that his wife, Edith, was running the country. (Wilson was also the last U.S. president to contend with a global pandemic, the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed 50 million worldwide.)


In today's Russia, President Vladimir Putin is portrayed as a healthy alpha male for all seasons. The carefully structured visual narrative shows him riding bare-chested on a horse, scoring multiple goals in an ice hockey match, or, more recently, stern-faced and in a hazmat suit visiting hospitalized virus patients.

Two of his Soviet predecessors had debilitating health issues that were kept from the masses by the Kremlin as power maneuvering machinations took hold behind Red Square's onion domes. They both had short tenures compared with Putin’s 20 years and counting at the helm.

General Secretary Yuri Andropov was in power in from November 1982 for a little over a year, much of that time permanently in a Moscow hospital after suffering kidney failure. Both his health and his death initially were kept from the nation, until a mourning period was announced. He was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko, who also spent most of his tenure in charge hospitalized, dying after 13 months in power. A youthful and healthy Mikhail Gorbachev followed them, overseeing the end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union several years later.


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'There was a bond of friendship and mateship money couldn’t buy'   

'There was a bond of friendship and mateship money couldn’t buy'
Bob Semple at his home in Essendon.

Rat of Tobruk Bob Semple at his home in Essendon. "You’ve got your complete trust and faith – implicit faith – in your mates." Photo: Leigh Henningham

Bob Semple turns 98 next month, but he remembers the siege of Tobruk as if it was yesterday.

“I well remember it,” he said quietly. “It was only going to be for a couple of months or so, but it turned out to be 242 days, all told.”

For eight long months in 1941, 14,000 Australian and other Allied troops held the strategic Libyan port of Tobruk in what was to be one of the longest sieges in British military history. They were surrounded by a German and Italian force commanded by General Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”, and they withstood tank attacks, artillery barrages and daily bombings in one of the most bitterly fought campaigns of the Middle East and Mediterranean fronts.

“We were no better than any other soldier, but … we were lucky,” Semple said. “I suppose you go wherever you’re put, and you wonder why, but you accept the circumstances.

“There were no trees on the joint at all, and [when we arrived] we thought, God. There were a few picks there, and we were told, you’d better get to work and see if you can dig a hole for yourself because you’ll get some guns in the morning. When the morning came, there was this great heap of old Italian guns … but the biggest problem was they were all in the metric system, and we’d been trained in the imperial system, so you had to convert it all. They’re the tools of the trade, and you just had to go with it, and you had to depend on your mates.” 

They lived in dug-outs, caves and crevices for months on end, enduring searing heat during the day and bitter cold at night, as well as hellish dust storms. 

“It was a bit tough,” he said, simply. “You had one water bottle a day for all purposes, and it would  be 48 degrees, so we were euchred physically as much as anything else, and it’s very wearing on the mental factor.”

Bob Semple during the war.

Bob Semple, far right, in the desert during the war. Photo: Courtesy Bob Semple

He will never forget watching the Stuka dive bombers as they flew in to attack.

“The biggest raid we had on Tobruk, I suppose, would have been about 100 planes,” he said. “They even bombed the hospital, and everything else. It was pretty chaotic. Sometimes you’d get three raids a day [and] 20 or 30 planes would come up, and they’d shoot you up, and you couldn’t move. You couldn’t up sticks and go somewhere else. You just had to take it. And the fleas and flies – the fleas were even worse than the flies, I think.

“We were short of any sort of food, and it was all hard rations, and that’s pretty hard to take, but they’re facts of life, and you weren’t the only one that was dealing with it. You had to think of your mates.”

For Semple, mateship meant everything during the war. “It’s hard to explain, but there was a bond of friendship and mateship money couldn’t buy,” he said. “You’ve got your complete trust and faith – implicit faith – in your mates.”

Even as the siege dragged on, they never thought of giving up.

“No, never,” Semple said. “We didn’t give in, and we didn’t want to give up. When [General Leslie] Morshead, our commander, took a left turn at Tobruk, he said, ‘We’ll hold this place. There will be no surrender.’ I well remember it. He said, ‘There’s only one way out of this – we’ll have to fight our way out.’ And the blokes just took it on. He was a great leader [and] we had great faith in him. They called him ‘Ming the Merciless’, and we were known as the 20,000 thieves.

“There was no alternative. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t swim away. It was a long way to go if you did, so you just had to get on with it … You had to try and win the game because if you weren’t there to try and win the game, you were wasting your time. You had to believe in the fact that we’ll win this.

“There was this Lord Haw Haw, as he became known, and he said we were living in the desert in holes in the ground like rats … so then we became known as the Rats of Tobruk and we thought, that’s not a bad name.”

Semple turned 21 during the siege, and will never forget how he felt, when they were finally relieved. “You didn’t get excited about it, but you knew what your mate was thinking: ‘What a Godsend this is.’”

Bob Semple

Bob Semple: "You just had to go with it, and you had to depend on your mates." Photo: Leigh Henningham

But the siege of Tobruk was just the beginning of Semple’s war. He was sent from the blistering heat of the desert into the the snow of Lebanon before being sent back to the desert and the tiny Egyptian railway stop at El Alamein in July 1942.

“That became a different war again,” he said. “It was shock and shell, and it was a big, big show … We lost nearly a battalion in one morning. They got into a mine field and the Germans had it covered… What they didn’t kill, they took prisoners of war … Some battalions had fronted up there, going in with 150 or 200, and there was only about 30 or 40 left…

”When [an armour-piercing] shell hits tanks, it’s horrendous. There were blokes jumping out of them on fire, and the shells are whizzing around inside the tank, and you just had to put the tin hat on, I suppose.”

He will never forget the opening barrage of the second battle of El Alamein on 23 October 1942.

“It was murderous,” he said. “There was something like 800 or 1,000 guns opened up at the one time. It looked just like a whole lot of glow worms had turned up, and the sky was alight…

“Two searchlight beams went up into the air and they locked, and that was the signal. We all had synchronised watches and all that sort of thing…

“The infantry then started to move… and the engineers had to go in. There was that much ironmongery about, with shrapnel and all the rest of it, the blokes were down on their hands and knees in a lot of cases, digging mines out [of the minefield] and then passing them on to one side, delousing them, and then trying to open up gaps in the barbed wire…

“On the 25-pounders, we would have averaged 600 rounds of ammunition between that time and dawn the next morning, and that’s one gun, and there were nearly a 1,000 guns.

“It was unbelievable, the noise. It was just like a series of trains going past … Half of the German soldiers were dopey, of course, after the shelling they’d had in a lot of places, and they were almost round the bend, but we got back a lot of shelling from them too.

“With the vehicles and everything else, the dirt or the sand … was like talcum powder. It was churned up to such an extent that when the wind came up it was like a big fog. 

“They’re just the hazards of the business and it had to be done [but] the sandstorms were hard to take. When the sandstorms came up … it was just like pulling [a] blind down from the sky to the ground as far as you can see.”

Semple considers himself lucky to have survived. “Even as the shells are coming in, you don’t knock off, you just keep going,” he said. “You see blokes who have been hit in a tin hat [who] are not hurt, and other blokes [who] are in bits and pieces. Why does that happen? Why does a shell come into a gun pit and the blast take part of your crew and not others? I don’t know. You just reflect back, and it’s a game of fate, really.”

He admits there were times he thought he wouldn’t make it home, but he tried to put those thoughts to the back of his mind. “I tried to be positive and say, look, I’m going to make this,” he said. “I’ve always been taught to wear it, and don’t be frightened to go the extra mile ... [but] when you haven’t got replacements, or you haven’t got the equipment, you’ve got to be honest and accept the fact you are fighting an uphill battle...  

“There are moments when you see horrible things and you think to yourself, why? But you try to discipline yourself and overcome that.”

Bob Semple in New Guinea

Bob Semple in New Guinea. "It was different warfare altogether." Photo: Courtesy Bob Semple

In 1943, he was one of 34,000 Australian troops who were brought home from the Middle East and were sent to fight the Japanese in New Guinea.

“It was different warfare altogether, and there were no beg your pardons with those fellows,” he said. “It was a case of come home, straight out of the desert, get a change of gear, and then you were in action on the islands … We had to change uniforms into the jungle green type of stuff – and the equipment, we just had to modify it as best we could because the heavy vehicles were not much use in the jungle area… There was nowhere near the amount of ironmongery thrown around – as far as the volume of fire was concerned for obvious reasons but it was more testing on the nerves and your mind. The unseen is a bit hard to cope with … [and] the conditions were pretty frightful.”

His regiment was involved in the sea borne operations at Lae and Finschhafen, where they battled malaria as well as the enemy. “We were swallowing those yellow pills, and all sorts of things, and looked like a canary after a while,” he said with a laugh. “But malaria took a toll on a lot of the blokes. Of all the casualties in my regiment, malaria would have probably accounted for about 60 per cent … Then Japanese were in the bush, and they gave us a bit of a rough time.”

When he returned to Melbourne on leave he married his sweetheart, Isabel Buchanan, at his local church in Essendon. He carried her picture with him throughout the war, as well as the New Testament he’d been given as a boy at Sunday school. They were married for 55 years when she passed away in 1999.

She was the only girlfriend I ever really had,” he said. “We were thinking of getting married [before I went away to war] and I said, ‘No, if I get knocked off you’d be better on your own.’ … I was away then in the Middle East for about two and half years and spent three Christmases in Palestine, and then we got married when I came home from New Guinea. That was in 1944. I had three weeks’ leave, and then went away again to see out the rest of the war.”

But the wedding nearly didn’t happen. “The best man was one of my mates in my troop … and I thought we’d turned up at the wrong church on the wrong day, to be quite honest.”

They were sitting on the steps of the church, but the doors were closed. It turned out they’d “been miscued on the time” and the wedding went ahead.

“We went to Daylesford for what was to be the honeymoon and I nearly died up there,” he said. “Malaria took over, and I got hit. I felt a bit seedy the day of the wedding, and I began to heave up blood and everything else, and so we had to come home from there, and I had to go straight to hospital.”

He was at Beaufort, 50 miles up the Parker River in British North Borneo when the Japanese surrendered on 15 August 1945. He was discharged at Royal Park in Melbourne on 13 November. After almost six years of war, Semple’s war was finally over. He’d served for a total of 1,975 days since he first joined up on 18 June 1940.

After the war, he admits he “felt at sixes and sevens” for a while, as did a lot of his mates.

“There were a lot of blokes who could never ever relate to their families again,” he said. “They had to get used to the regularity of working and trying to find something to do that they could live with. They knew where all the pubs were … And some of the blokes – even when you were able to sit down and say, ‘Well listen, how’s Mary going with the kids and all that? How are you tracking?’ – they would just go into a fog.”

Bob Semple in his home at Essendon

Bob Semple in his home at Essendon. Photo: Leigh Henningham

Walking in Moonee Ponds one night with his wife, he was moved to see the Hawthorn City Pipe band playing in Queen’s Park, and promptly joined them.  “That was in October 1945, and I’ve been with the band ever since,” he said.

Semple is now Drum Major of the Hawthorn City Pipe Band and chieftain of Pipe Bands Australia. He has performed in Red Square in Moscow and at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Scotland four times. He will never forget being in Edinburgh, when he was asked to report to the commandant’s office to meet a major in the Royal Highland Fusiliers. Semple had been given luxury accommodation and thought he was in the wrong room, but the officials had assured him it was correct. “He said, ‘You’re a Rat. We’re brother soldiers.’ Well, what do you say? And that’s the only time it gets me stirred up a little bit, when you say, ‘Well, what have I done to deserve this?’

“And I’m not ashamed to admit that when I went across that drawbridge, all these things came back and hit me, and I thought how can I handle this? It brings tears to your eyes.”

Today, he is president of the Victorian Rats of Tobruk Association, which established the Rats of Tobruk Pipe Band as a living memorial to those who fought and died during the siege. He and his fellow Rats talk to school children about the war, and the stories and poems they write to him afterwards are some of his most treasured possessions. He still rises at 5.30 each morning, makes his bed in a military fashion, and goes for a walk whenever he can. 

He has returned three times to the desert, where he has played the lament at the war cemetery at El Alamein, and visited the graves of his mates who are buried side-by-side in the desert sand. Looking back, he still wonders how he managed to survive it all.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “I haven’t got any particular qualities that I know of, other than the fact that I was just not meant to go at the time I suppose, and that’s all I put it down to, and accept the fact … You’ve got to be honest with yourself and say yes, it does affect you at times. But the big thing is to accept reality and pay your respects wherever you can.

“I’ve been at reunions where you would just look at one another, and say nothing, and the tears would just roll down the faces … [And] to shed a tear is not a disgrace in my book.”

Rat of Tobruk, Bob Semple, OAM BEM, will be speaking at the Anzac Day National Ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Bob Semple

Bob Semple playing the lament at El Alamein. Photo: Courtesy Bob Semple

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