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Posted in Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Revolution on Wednesday, 19 March 2014
This edited article about the Hungarian Uprising first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.
Soviet tanks and troops rolled into Budapest and the heroic but futile street fighting began by Graham Coton
Two young men climbed to the top of the massive metal statue and dragged up a heavy cable which they attached to its head. The crowd below roared its approval. Many hundreds of hands hauled on the rope but the statue did not budge. Then the three workers came with acetylene torches and began to cut into the statue’s knees. The crowd stood hushed as it began to topple. Then cheering broke out as Joseph Stalin pitched forward from his plinth and lay face-downwards in the square. The place was Budapest and the date the 23rd of October, 1956 – the Hungarian revolution had begun.
What had brought it about? Hungary had emerged from the war in moral and political confusion. She had officially been an ally of Germany but had bred a spirited resistance movement as well. In 1947 the communists seized power and eventually the country was governed by Matyas Rakosi. Rakosi reproduced in Hungary the tyranny which Stalin imposed on Russia and the country underwent a long period of privation and terror. The death of Stalin and his subsequent denunciation by the Russian leader, Krushchev, encouraged the Hungarians to overthrow Rakosi in July 1956. But there was little change under his successors. Nevertheless, the spirit of rebellion was abroad.
Students, dissatisfied with conditions in the universities, and factory workers, demanding high wages, joined forces; they were in turn joined by all those who resented the repressive system by which the country was governed. A series of strikes and rallies reached its climax in the destruction of the towering statue of Stalin which symbolised for the rebels the oppression and the exploitation which their country had suffered.
Their triumph swiftly turned to tragedy. The A.V.O., the Hungarian security police opened fire on the crowds and many were killed. But the police could not quell the defiant citizens for long, and more and more people flocked to demonstrate in the streets of Budapest.
Hungary turned for help to Russia. In the small hours of the following morning Russian tanks began to arrive in the city, but even they could not drive the people home. The Russian soldiers were, in fact, reluctant to attack the crowd at all; some wept when they saw the destruction which the A.V.O. meted out to its fellow-citizens.
The revolution gathered momentum and spread across the whole country. The government had to decide whether it should go on fighting the rebels or whether it should try to quieten them by giving in to their demands for a new leadership. In the end it decided on the latter course and Imre Nagy, a liberal politician who had been disgraced in the days of Stalin, was allowed to form a new government. Janos Kadar, who had also suffered under the Rakosi regime, joined the new government too.
Soon Nagy was able to announce that the Russians had withdrawn their troops from Budapest. But the withdrawal was really a clever piece of stage-management; as the tanks fell back, fresh Russian troops were moved towards eastern Hungary.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Tuesday, 18 March 2014
This edited article about the Suez Crisis first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.
British tanks enter a street in the Egyptian town of Port Said in November 1958, after an Anglo-French bombardment has devastated buildings, by John Keay
In July 1956, the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, gave a formal dinner – an uncomfortable affair for the men, who had to wear strictly conventional attire. In the middle of the banquet, news was brought to the Prime Minister that President Nasser of Egypt had nationalised the Suez Canal. Eden got rid of his guests as quickly as politeness allowed and called an immediate meeting of his ministers. “The Egyptian,” he told them, “has his thumb on our wind-pipe.” It was in this mood of desperation that he committed an act of aggression which destroyed his reputation and that of his country for many years to come.
President Nasser had come to power following the expulsion of the ineffective and corrupt King Farouk from Egypt. He inherited an impoverished country which had lost face in its struggle with the new state of Israel and which badly needed a boost to its morale. A project to build a great dam – the Aswan dam – seemed to offer a chance to improve the country’s economy and to bolster its prestige: Nasser compared the project in importance to the building of the pyramids. At first the United States and Britain agreed to finance the scheme; but Nasser’s anti-western policy led them to withdraw their help. It was in retaliation for this act that the Egyptian President nationalised the Suez canal, intending to use its revenues to finance his dam.
Nasser’s action caused great alarm in Britain and France. Both countries felt certain that he would eventually close the canal to the oil supplies from the Persian gulf which were vital to Europe’s industrial development, and Nasser’s intemperate speeches did little to allay these fears. In both countries he was regarded as a second Hitler and neither government intended to trust him as Hitler had once been trusted. The French had a separate grievance: Egypt was an open supporter of the Algerians who had recently revolted against France.
Attempts were made to settle the crisis by diplomacy. The United States supported Britain and France, but without enthusiasm. America, after all, was much less dependent on the canal than Europe. A way had to be found, said the American John Foster Dulles, to make Nasser disgorge what he was attempting to swallow. Dulles was thinking of negotiation. Britain and France were thinking of force.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 1 on Thursday, 13 March 2014
This edited article about the First World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 588 published on 21 April 1973.
Every time the candidate got up to speak at an election meeting, several people in the audience would shout: “What about the Dardanelles?” The uproar continued right through the campaign that October in 1923, and, when Polling Day came, Winston Churchill was soundly defeated, losing his seat in Parliament for the first time since he had entered the House of Commons in 1900.
His enemies – and he had plenty of them – laughed gleefully at his downfall. Clearly, he was finished, his career in ruins. Anyone who had suggested at the time that he would one day save his country, as he did in the Second World War in 1940, would have been laughed to scorn.
Churchill, so his opponents claimed, was the man most responsible for one of the most scandalous disasters of the First World War of 1914-18, the Dardanelles Campaign in which there were nearly a quarter of a million casualties, British, Australian, New Zealand and French. An American wrote of it in the 1920s: “It is doubtful if even Great Britain could survive another world war and another Churchill!” And the official Australian war historian of the day had attacked Churchill savagely in print.
Amongst other charges, the Australian had flayed him for lack of imagination. Yet today, his Dardanelles scheme, though it failed tragically, is widely considered to have been one of the only inspired ideas in the long nightmare that was the First World War.
By 1915, there was stalemate on the Western Front in France and Flanders, with seemingly endless trenches stretching from the Channel to the Swiss border. Millions of Germans faced millions of Frenchmen and Britons across the barbed wire, mud and desolation of no-man’s land.
The only tactic dreamt up by baffled or incompetent generals was the occasional bloody frontal attack against machine guns and barbed wire, which gained at the most a few hundred yards at a colossal cost in lives. The object seemed to be to go on killing Germans (or vice versa) until there were none left to kill, leaving the handful of survivors on the other side as the victors.
But there was one possible way to change all this. The first to think of it was Lieutenant-Colonel Hankey, Secretary of the War Council of statesmen and soldiers and sailors who were running the war. Turkey had sided with Germany and Austria while Russia had joined Britain and France, and the Russians wanted the pressure relieved on their hard-pressed front. Hankey thought that if a fleet could sail through the Dardanelles – the narrow channel dividing Asian from European Turkey and leading into the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea – the fabulous capital city of Constantinople could be taken, Turkey knocked out of the war, and the Russians helped. Most of all, Germany could be attacked from the rear through the Balkans.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty, World War 2 on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Leopold III, King of the Belgians first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
Leopold III, King of the Belgians
In the bitter spring of 1940, as the grim grey-uniformed German Army pushed through Northern Europe, one man made a decision that was for years afterwards, to divide a nation.
At 4 a.m. on May 28, half a million Belgian soldiers laid down their arms and surrendered to the advancing Germans. This they did not on the orders of their generals, nor on instructions from their political leaders, but at the bidding of their handsome king, Leopold the Third.
Leopold’s instructions to his countrymen – who had fought bravely and acquitted themselves well – were given after a last desperate attempt by his Ministers to make him change is mind.
The king was adamant. He saw no further use in resistance. He told M. Spaak (then Foreign Minister): “I shall stay here whatever happens. I shall ask them (the Germans) to let me live in a castle in Belgium.”
The news that the Belgian Army had stopped fighting stunned and angered the allies. Tempers, already inflamed by the passions of war, were now inflamed in turn by hatred directed at Leopold. At 8 a.m. on the morning of May 28 M. Reynaud, the Prime Minister of France, broadcast to the French people and spoke in terms of contempt of the Belgian king.
The Belgian Prime Minister, M. Piertot, denied the right of Leopold to give a surrender order without the consent of the government.
The Germans were jubilant. “Under the impression of the devastating effect of the German arms the King of the Belgians has decided to put an end to further useless resistance,” screamed the Goebbels propaganda machine.
In London Winston Churchill sucked gravely upon the inevitable cigar and exhorted the allies to greater efforts. Meanwhile the German armies swept on into France, only the Channel separating them from Britain, and Belgium was occupied and out of the war.
Why had Leopold surrendered? Was he a hero or a traitor? Had the Germans made him promises? Since that day in 1940 the arguments have raged and some, but not all, of the questions have been answered.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about Crimea first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.
In the spring of 1854, a large Expeditionary Army left Britain bound for the Crimea. No one, it seemed, was quite certain what the war was about. In some manner Britain had become involved in a quarrel between Russia and Turkey, and was about to invade Russian territory. But few troubled about the larger issues: for the first time in a generation the army could show off its paces in a real war and the Expeditionary Army left in a holiday atmosphere. The transports carried ladies and their maids: room was found for private carriages: there was a profusion of flowers, choice wines and food. Lord Cardigan, Colonel of the Light Brigade, had already sent ahead his own yacht to which, during the coming battles, he would retire comfortably each night.
Britain was going to war in the old style, and the old style regarded the private soldier as the scum of the earth. It was considered – with some reason – that only a desperate man would endure the conditions of a soldier in the ranks.
Officers came only from the upper classes and they purchased their commissions. The practice was defended on the grounds that it prevented control of the army from falling into the hands of revolutionaries. It had worked in the past but, inevitably, it degenerated into a system whereby young gallants purchased control of large sections of the army over the heads of veteran soldiers, and used their command as a means of social display. Their personal bravery was unquestionable but so was their lack of military knowledge.
From the moment that the Army landed in the Crimea to its evacuation two years later it was stalked by disaster. The incompetence of the British general staff was fortunately matched, and at times surpassed by, the incompetence of their enemy: the war would otherwise have ended in a British defeat within the first few weeks. Disease, hunger and thirst took as great a toll as did the enemy. Provisions failed to arrive: vast numbers of men were sent into waterless areas, thirsty before they started: equipment proved inadequate first for the burning heat of summer and then the rigours of winter. In spite of all this, the private soldiers and their field commanders fought with extreme bravery, adding the names of the Alma, Inkerman and Balaclava to the roll of battle honours.
Until the Crimea, the British public were largely ignorant of the daily progress of a war; their only knowledge was gained through infrequent private letters and official dispatches. But throughout the Crimean War a special correspondent of “The Times” newspaper – William Howard Russell – accompanied the troops. He was present at most of the battles, but, far more important, he was an eye-witness of the needless horrors inflicted upon the troops as a result of the personal rivalries and incompetence of the general staff. He reported what he saw and the news created a storm of indignation in Britain. Among those stirred to action was Florence Nightingale who, against official opposition, managed to introduce some humanity into the appalling hospital system in the Crimea. Russell’s dispatches eventually brought down the government and led to a drastic overhaul of the archaic system of army command.
Such an overhaul was long overdue, for the cost of bungled commands was paid for in the lives of hundreds of men, who perished while obeying their officers’ ill-conceived orders.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about fortifications first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.
Allied soldiers attack a steel and concrete anti-aircraft gun site with a flamethrower
As the dazed German soldiers scrambled up from their deep concrete bunkers a terrifying sight met them down the barrels of their guns. The sea seemed covered with landing-craft beyond which lay the big ships, their sides twinkling with flashes of gunfire as they sent salvos of shells high overhead to pound the rear defences of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
For the men manning the pill-boxes and strongpoints along the beaches of Normandy on that 6th day of June in 1944, the threat was more immediate. Even as the roar of the bombers died away and the dust of their bombardment still hung in the air, Allied infantry swarmed ashore and amphibious tanks churned across the open beach. Those Germans who could still stand, fought back with the courage of desperate men, manning their tiny fortresses to the last.
Hitler had said that the Allied invasion must be stopped at the beaches. He boasted that where a German soldier once stood, no other soldier would ever stand again. He would allow no army to drive the Germans from their newly-conquered lands. But his much vaunted Atlantic Wall, part of the Festung Europa (Fortress Europe) which had been built to defend Hitler’s new lands, was neither complete nor capable of resisting an attack like the one which the Allies launched in 1944.
Two years earlier, in 1942, Field Marshal von Runstedt, the man who had led Germany’s blitzkrieg attack on France, was put in charge of defences. It was a strange choice of commander. The Fuehrer put his faith in concrete and steel to meet the threat of an Allied invasion, but Runstedt had already outflanked France’s Maginot Line of static defences back in 1940. He was hardly likely to have much faith in fortresses like those which he had himself defeated.
The French Maginot Line and Hitler’s Atlantic Wall had much in common. In 1930 France started to build a line of fixed defences along her German frontier. The Maginot Line was certainly a strong line of defence. Some of its forts were sunk 200 feet in the ground with subterranean living quarters, stores, communications centres and railways. In addition, the air pressure was kept high to stop poisonous gas from seeping in.
All that could be seen on the surface were steel turrets and acres of concrete. Around and between the main forts were minefields, tank traps, barbed wire and communications trenches. It was an amazing piece of engineering, but it had one outstanding flaw – it simply was not long enough.
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Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Politics, Revolution on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Hungary first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.
The freedom fighters of Hungary defied the Russian tanks and the machine guns to show the world that liberty is a thing to be treasured – even to death, by Graham Coton
One rifle shot – that is all it took, nothing more – turned a wild rowdy march into a revolution in Hungary in 1956.
It was fired outside the radio studios in Budapest where hundreds of young Hungarians were making a wild demonstration against their one-party government. And it was enough to send them berserk.
Before the day was out, the office of a newspaper had been stormed by crowds carrying the dead body of a student wrapped in a flag; a statue of Stalin, a former Russian leader, had been smashed, pavements torn up, trams overturned and barricades erected.
For a long time, there had been a great deal of discontent over the presence of Russian troops in Hungary. They were there under the terms of a “self help” treaty made between Russia and her satellites a year earlier. But the students wanted them to go, and they also wanted a western type of democracy with more than one political party, freedom of worship, a free press and reforms concerning land ownership.
Inspired by a recent revolution in Poland, which was bloodless and had brought that country more freedom, the students began their march towards the statue of Joseph Bem, a Polish general whose fight in the Hungarian War for Independence of 1848-49 had made him their hero.
Chanting, “Russians go home,” they marched to the statue, near which was a barracks from where eight hundred cadets joined them. From there they marched to the radio station with the demand that their plea for freedom should be broadcast.
And it was there that the fatal shot was fired.
Nobody knows who fired it. Perhaps it was a nervous security guard. But it caused some trigger-happy rebels to fire back, and set the others rampaging destructively through the town, which caused the government to announce sinisterly that they “had applied for help to the Soviet formations stationed in Hungary.”
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Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 1 on Monday, 24 February 2014
This edited article about Frederick Potts V.C. first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.
The Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli is a wild, scrubby, sun-hardened place. Few people live on it. A tourist can drive a car down the seaside road beside the Dardanelles Strait, the stretch of water that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean and see no other vehicles for dozens of miles.
On the peninsula a few signs crudely painted point the way to war cemeteries; on the wide straits only a small boat occasionally disturbs the emptiness. Everywhere there is an utter soundlessness – Gallipoli and the Dardanelles are like inseparable twins who sleep silently in a tormented past.
That past belongs to the year 1915 the second year of the First World War. It was the outcome of a plan that had grown in the previous year in the mind of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.
Poring over his maps of Central Europe at the headquarters of the War Council, Churchill stabbed a finger at the fat tongue of land marked Gallipoli, reaching out from the Turkish mainland. “A combined naval and military attack here,” he said, “would allow our armies to thrust rapidly upwards to Constantinople. We would command the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. In that one thrust we would eliminate Turkey from the war.”
On the map it looked splendid. Turkey was Britain’s second great enemy after Germany in that frightful war and the primary Turkish threat was to Britain’s ally Russia. If the Black Sea could be opened the Russians, fighting the Germans in Poland, could receive reinforcements through Turkey’s “back door” – Gallipoli.
Even so, the British War Council hesitated to make a commitment so far from the real action in France. While they hesitated the Turks, ably supported by their German allies, had all the time they needed to dig themselves in on Gallipoli.
But the Allies were now committed to help Russia. Thus on April 25th the first wave of 90,000 British and French landed on the southern end of Gallipoli and were at once exposed to a merciless, withering fire from the 200,000 Turks entrenched on high ground. At an appalling cost in lives, the Allies gained a tenuous footing.
For the invaders, every item of provisions had to be brought in by sea to the bombarded beaches and from there carried laboriously by hand through narrow communication trenches to the front line. Water was most precious of all. Even the Allies’ machine-guns at times became unworkable through lack of water to keep the barrels cool.
As the merciless Turkish summer broke, the invading troops were almost prostrated by the tropical heat and plagued relentlessly by flies, until exhausted soldiers vied with each other to see who could swallow food and eat the least number of flies in so doing.
One of the 90,000 who made the landing was Trooper Frederick Potts of the Berkshire Yeomanry. At 22 Potts of the Berkshire Yeomanry. At 22 Potts knew nothing about grand military strategy, but he had seen plenty of army service and in his first hour on Gallipoli he was able to describe the peninsula with feeling as “this horrible, awful country”.
The heart of the Turkish defence was a strongly fortified position which stretched, in anonymous army terminology, from Hill 70 to Hill 112. Here, on the afternoon of August 12, 1915, Potts and his friends were ordered to deliver a massive frontal attack.
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Posted in Architecture, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Invasions on Monday, 24 February 2014
This edited article about forts and castles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.
(Top) Reconstruction of a motte and bailey style wooden castle; (insets) Restormel Castle in Cornwall (top) and Farnham castle (bottom); (Bottom Left) Hedingham Castle in Essex; (Bottom Centre) Spiral stairs built into angled walls; (Bottom right) Cross section through Hedingham Castle showing the stone arches that support each wooden floor; pictures by Pat Nicolle
Shoulder to shoulder stood the northern barbarians, their shields making a rampart above which fierce bearded faces roared defiance at the foe. The warrior traditions of these northern Angles, Saxons, Franks and Germans were certainly heroic but not always very sensible. Sometimes courage and a strong sword-arm were not enough.
This was just what the Franks found when they set up their kingdom of France in what had been known as Gaul. Under their king Charlemagne the Franks tried hard to rebuild the Roman Empire. They themselves were Christians and quite civilized in their way, but their empire-building habits brought them up against the pagan Saxons of Germany, cousins of those other Saxons who had conquered Britain.
The Saxons fought back savagely and forced the invading Franks to build garrison forts to keep them down. In fact the Franks copied the older forts of the Romans, though their forts were much smaller and cruder than those of Imperial Rome.
Far to the north and to the east the distant barbarians of Scandinavia and eastern Europe were still defending themselves behind earth ramparts and wooden stockades just as the ancient Celts had done. These Scandinavian and Slav tribes were slowly merging into new nations like Poland and Russia. As they did so they built fine hilltop strongholds that were one day to grow into great cities.
In Scandinavia lived the Vikings, the most ferocious and feared of all the peoples who lived outside the frontiers of civilization. Suddenly in the ninth century they burst out of their cold northern lairs to raid and pillage across Europe. From longboats beached on the coasts they plundered the defenceless lands of England, France and Ireland. If they met resistance they would build fortified base-camps in the most inaccessible and marshy parts of the coast.
The kings of Europe had terrible trouble winkling the Viking raiders out of these strongly defended bases, for the camps were well designed by warriors who had long experience of building strongholds back in their Scandinavian homeland. One of the biggest Viking camps was at Trelleborg in Sweden. 1,200 fighting men could live within its huge circular rampart and ditch in ‘long-houses’ like barracks laid out with Roman-like precision.
The only way the English and French could resist these Viking raiders was to copy them and start building fortresses of their own. This is exactly what King Alfred did in England. He built a series of walled towns called burghs or boroughs all over that part of England not conquered by the Vikings. As Alfred’s successors slowly won back the Viking-occupied areas they also built burghs as rallying points for the English forces.
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Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty on Monday, 17 February 2014
This edited article about Edward II first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 555 published on 2 September 1972.
In Berkeley Castle Edward II realises his three visitors are assassins, by C L Doughty
Even the toughest, fiercest warriors usually have soft hearts underneath their iron-clad exteriors. King Edward the First was no exception. When an old servant of his, named Arnold de Gaveston, turned up at the royal palace one day with his little son Piers and told the King all about the hard times he had fallen upon in his travels in France, Edward was moved to pity.
“The boy looks handsome enough,” said the King looking thoughtfully at Piers. “I’m sure he’d make a better companion for my son than some of the louts he keeps company with. Let him stay with the young Prince.”
So young Piers Gaveston was sent down to where Prince Edward lived in King’s Langley. And that, for the King, was to turn out to be the worst mistake that he made in his life, and unwittingly the biggest disservice he ever did his country.
The Welsh, the Scots, the French – and the Prince of Wales – were the problems that beset King Edward the First in his lifetime, and the one that he never succeeded in solving was the last. When old Edward went to his deathbed his mind was full of doubts about his dissolute heir, who seemed determined only to eat the marrow out of life. The King had soon found it necessary to banish young Gaveston who, contrary to his expectations, had proved by far the most evil influence on the Prince’s life. When at last the King died, commanding that his corpse should be carried before his army invading Scotland, the Prince of Wales – now King Edward the Second – did two things that were entirely in character.
First, he ignored his father’s last wish, and secondly, he at once recalled his friend and favourite Gaveston from the Continent. Then to rub in the insult to his dead father, he created Gaveston Earl of Cornwall.
Extraordinary things began to happen at the court, where Gaveston was not only the favourite and the Adonis, but remarkable, too, for his knightly prowess, graceful manners and sparkling wit. It was this last accomplishment that stuck in the baron’s throats, for much to the delight of the feckless King, Gaveston began a scornful teasing campaign, that infuriated them. The Earl of Pembroke, who was dark and thin and sallow-complexioned, he called “Joseph the Jew,” the Earl of Warwick, who foamed at the mouth when angry, was “The wild boar,” the Earl of Lancaster, the King’s cousin and second most powerful man in the land, who was fond of fine clothes, he called “the fiddling player”; and the Earl of Lincoln, who was unfortunately fat, he called “Burst-belly.” All these barons had long memories and short tempers as we shall see.
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