These Weeks in History, 15-28 September   Leave a comment

These Weeks in History: 15th-28th September

A Hundred Years Ago: The First Battle of Aisne:They are waiting for you up there, thousands of them.

Royal Flying Corps pilot to troops before the battle.

Following their defeat at the Marne, the Germans had withdrawn fifty miles north to the River Aisne. The Allies were slow in their pursuit; troops were exhausted after prolonged fighting. At one point it was thought the invaders could be pushed back into Germany but they had sufficient time to establish strong defensive positions on elevated ground to the north of the river on the Chemin des Dames ridge.

Once the British and the French had made perilous crossings of the river their attacks had to be made uphill in full view of the overlooking Germans. Initial successes were overturned. Trenches were dug, a foretaste of things to come across the whole Western Front.

Only thirty-four men from the First Battalion of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment were left after the battle. They had begun the war with 1,026.The Race to the Sea:
With stalemate in place at the Aisne, the war on the Western Front took another direction in what became known as the ‘Race to the sea’. Both sides tried to outflank each other in a series of engagements that ran northwards. After the German taking of Antwerp in October the remaining Belgian troops retreated westwards. Under severe pressure, they opened the sluice gates to flood land and prevent the Germans’ advance.

Seventy Years ago, September 1944:


The following poem was found in the notebook of Miklós Radnóti, buried in a shallow grave on the road to the Austrian border. He had been at a labour camp in the Bor area of Yugoslavia. Evacuating the area due to the Soviet advance, the Germans decided to march his unit back to Hungary. The poem bears witness to the beginning of this death march. The notebook was found in the pocket of his raincoat when his body was exhumed twenty months after his roadside execution.

Forced March, by Miklós Radnóti:

Crazy. He stumbles, fops, gets up,    and trudges on again.

He moves his ankles and his knees    like one wandering pain,

and when the ditch invites him in,    he dares not give consent,

and if you were to ask why not?    perhaps his answer is

a woman waits, a death more wise,    more beautiful than this.

Poor fool, the true believer:    for weeks, above the rooves,

but for the scorching whirlwind,     nothing lives or moves:

the housewall’s lying on its back,    the prunetree’s smashed and bare;

even at home, when dark comes on,    the night is furred with fear.

Ah, if I could believe it!    that not only do I bear

what’s worth the keeping in my heart,    but home is really there;

if it might be! – as once it was,    on a veranda old and cool,

where the sweet bee of peace would buzz,    prune marmalade would chill,

late summer’s stillness sunbathe    in gardens half-asleep,

fruits sway among the branches,    stark naked in the deep,

Fanni waiting at the fence    blonde by its rusty red,

and shadows would write slowly out    all the slow morning said –

but still it might yet happen!    The moon’s so round today!

Friend, don’t walk on. Give me a shout    and I’ll be on my way.

September 15, 1944, Bor.



Meanwhile, in the second half of September, the plans for a third attempt at a Breakaway from Germany were taking shape in Budapest. As soon as the question of direct negotiations with the Russians became pertinent, the Regent had to proceed to select suitable individuals for a mission to Moscow…  On 24 September, it was considered a done deal that General Faragho was to go to Moscow  In Hungary at this time the Gestapo had become quite powerful: All important telephones were tapped, individuals were shadowed, and there were arrests and kidnappings. Faragho began to lose his ‘characteristic courage’. On the morning of the 26th, when the Regent told him that he was the definite choice, the General categorically declared that he would not go to Moscow without accompanying diplomatic officers, Domokos Szent-Iványi and Géza Teleki, son of the late Premier, Pál Teleki. They were given a letter addressed to Marshal Stalin from Admiral Horthy. On the afternoon of the 27th, the peace delegation received its final instructions from the Regent, who gave the rank of Colonel-General to Faragho. The Armistice Delegation left Budapest on the 28th, crossing the Hungarian-Slovak frontier that night, and on the 29th they were met by a military delegation sent by Marshal Koniev from Kiev, in a Douglas airplane in which the delegation would return to Kiev, before continuing in another plane to Moscow.

Twenty-five years ago… Here comes the trout that must be caught with tickling (Shakespeare).

At the end of September, James Baker, US Secretary of State, and Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Foreign Minister, went trout fishing together. Whether they were tickling the trout we don’t know, but the fishing was mainly for the cameras (see picture). The talks, at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, were successful, however. The wily, smiley, Georgian established a real rapport with his American opposite number. He had visited President Bush and called upon him to adopt a more energetic and engaged policy towards the Soviet Union. Bush had already announced, following the opening of the Hungarian border to the East Germans on 10th-11th September, that Hungary would be given most-favoured-nation status once it liberalised its emigration, which it quickly did. 

Baker invited Shevardnadze to his ranch in Wyoming. On the four-and-a-half-hour flight the two men talked continuously, and the foreign minister astounded his US counterpart with his frankness, having just left Moscow after a two-day plenum in the Central Committee on the problems of separatism and ethnic conflict within the Soviet Union. The Georgian had described how the injustices of the Stalinist era had generated hostility towards Moscow within the Soviet republics; this was now coming home to roost in the unrest sweeping Central Asia and the Baltic, and he felt that the republics must be given some form of autonomy within the Union. However, he also told Baker, we must not turn protest into riots and riots into bloodshed. He was also candid about Moscow’s economic woes. Journalists sitting at the back of the plane could hear nothing of what was said but could see from the intensity of the dialogue that something crucial was going on. Dennis Ross, who translated for Baker, said the two men crossed a threshold as they flew across the continent.

At Jackson Hole, the two men went trout fishing together, both wearing Stetsons. They walked trails through pine and aspen woods and spent the evening dining on ribs and buffalo steaks, listening to a country and western band. The formal talks between the two men then reverted to a more conventional form. Shevardnadze made major concessions in the hope of kick-starting the arms-reduction talks. Moscow no longer insisted on limits to the US Star Wars programme before an agreement to sign a START treaty. This was a major climb-down over the single issue that had prevented Gorbachev and Reagan from signing a far-reaching agreement on nuclear disarmament. Second, the Foreign Minister agreed to dismantle the giant early warning radar installation in Siberia, which the United States had claimed was a violation of the ABM Treaty. The Soviets would do this without any dismantling of the US installations in Greenland and England (Fylingdales Moor).

The Wyoming talks ended with several bilateral agreements, including a reduction in the stockpiles of chemical weapons. There was also an announcement of a summit to be held between Bush and Gorbachev the following year, though further details of the Malta meeting were to be kept secret for another month. However, the US failure to respond in kind to the substantial Soviet concessions was a big disappointment to Shevardnadze, and to Gorbachev, who came under increasing pressure from the Soviet military to change tactics. However, Baker had been convinced that the new line from Moscow was for real and that the US must move to support Gorbachev, advancing from understanding to interaction, and wherever possible to partnership. He concluded that, the situation has got the makings of a whole new world.

Posted September 16, 2014 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

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