Tag Archives: Germany

Fun Friday Fact #18

Due to an oversight at the end of the First World War, Andorra found itself engaged in two world wars at the same time.

The tiny Pyrenean state’s name was omitted from the Treaty of Versailles (1919), meaning that the 11-man national army remained technically at war with Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 placed too much of a strain on the Andorran resources. The beleaguered country hastily signed a private treaty with Germany, finally concluding the First World War and confirming its neutrality in the Second. In benching itself for the second global conflict, Andorra joined a long line of heroes including Ireland, Switzerland and those once mighty empires of Spain and Portugal.

Note: neutral status provided no guarantees from attack. For example Britain invaded the neutral Iceland, whilst Hitler was quick to take over the low countries and add them to his treasure chest.

That was fun now, wasn’t it? I’m sorry to inform you, my beloved readers, that this will be my final Fun Friday Fact. It’s been real, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but I want to turn my attention elsewhere. I know you’ll understand. Goodbye, friends, goodbye.



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Fun Friday Fact #17

Between July and December 1941, with its economic centres around Moscow within reach of the advancing German army, the Soviet Union dismantled 1,523 enterprises piece by piece and transported them to the Urals, Volga, Kazakhstan and eastern Siberia.

On June 22nd 1941, Germany declared war with Russia and launched the now infamous ‘Operation Barbarossa’. Within a matter of months, the German army was only 150 miles away from the Russian capital. The German’s sweep through the rich iron, coal and steel regions of western Russian and the Ukraine had deprived Soviet industry of 3/4 of its iron ore, coal and steel, the beating heart of modern industry. 1/3 of its railway was lost and the availability of resources vital for the production of modern weapons, such as aluminium, manganese and copper, was cut by 2/3. To top it all, the rich grain lands in the Soviet ‘bread basket’ were in enemy hands, so that grain supplies fell by half for the 130 million Soviet citizens living in unoccupied Russia. In short, by December 1941, the Russian economy was on its knees.

Had Russia have fallen in 1941, then it is unlikely that Britain would have survived alone, certainly not against a Germany with the bulk of European industry under its control. But somehow the Soviet economy survived. In a truly staggering feat of human ingenuity, those factories within enemy range were dismantled and carried eastwards out of danger in one and a half million wagon loads on the Soviet rail network. In addition, 16 million Soviet workers were able to escape the German net, to stoke the fires again, some of them starting up production on the frozen floor as the factories were built around them. For the remainder of the war, the Russian war effort was sustained on this remarkable expansion so much so that from 1942, the eastern zones supplied 3/4 of all Soviet weapons and almost all the iron and steel.

The state of the affairs grows all the more incredible when one reflects on the fact that, in 1942, Russian industry produced more weapons in a year than it had done so before and more weapons than the enemy.

The main reason behind Russian industrial success was that the economy was centrally planned. This meant that, unlike America’s free market economy, where one could not simply turn milk into planes, anything and anyone could be used to promote war productions at the expense of everything else. The Soviet Union was turned into ‘Stalin’s single war camp.’ Businesses did not need to show a profit – there were no material incentives offered to factory workers working 16 hour days. The Soviet people were well used to state-set targets, and had been since the pre-war Five-Year plans. They knew the price of failure.

The effectiveness of the Russian economic plan from 1941-45 lay in its scale and its simplicity. The industrial centres in the Urals were not pretty, but each served a specific purpose: Magnitogorsk was the main producer of steel; Chelyabinsk, or ‘Tankograd’ churned out T-34s. The Soviet Union could not afford the luxury of employing a wide range of different types of weapons (they lacked the skilled labour and factory capacity) but this actually transpired to work in their favour. Crude mass-producition ensured large numbers and robust construction of a single model. This meant that spare parts (for tanks, planes etc.) were readily available, and that mechanics were well-versed with a particular model and could fix it quickly when it invariably broke down.

By comparison, the German economy in the Second World War was a bureaucratic nightmare. Hitler had attempted to take military control of economic affairs in a country where there was no precendent. As a result of the German military’s obsession with technological excellence each time a small problem was noticed in the performance of one of their machines, a whole new model would be developed so that the German army fielded a dizzying array of machinery. For example, while the Soviets had 5 main aircraft types, the Germans had 425. There was no chance that a German engineer would know how to fix all of them, or carry the necessary parts.

The German penchant for quality over quantity also meant that they were unable to compete with the Russians in terms of numbers. They saw mass-production as a synonym for ‘shoddy goods’ to the point where each of their weapons was painstakingly custom built. The great strengths of their economy had always been (and still are) high quality, skilled workmanship. But this was not enough. The Germans did produce better weapons than their enemies in many cases, but they were too expensive in terms of money and labour.

This failure on the part of the German economy to identify a winning strategy meant that the new Russian industrial centres were able to outproduce the Germans with a fraction of their resources and from a much smaller skilled work base. In 1943, the Soviet Union turned 8 mil tons of steel and 90 mil tons of coal into 48,000 heavy artillery and 24,00 tanks, while the Germans turned 30 mil tons of steel and 340 mil tons of coal into 27,000 heavy artillery and 17,000 tanks.

However tempting it is to claim the Germans lost the war with Russia, it is clear that the Russians won it. And as I have mentioned before, Stalin owed his country’s survival to the Soviet people, heroically toiling day after day on 1/5 of the British rations. For more details about their story, or the Second World War in general, one should consult Richard Overy’s excellent ‘Why The Allies Won’.


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Fun Friday Fact #14

Allegedly, Adolf Hitler was something of a prankster. On one occasion, his propensity for rambunctious behaviour backfired on him, when his confidant Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl mistook a harmless practical joke for an attempt on his life, and promptly defected to the Allies.

I’m hungover today, and tender as an infant, so here’s how it’s going to work: you listen, I’ll explain.

What you need to realise is that Hitler considered himself quite the joker. In 1937, upset by his less than flattering comments about the fighting spirit of German soldiers in the Spanish Civil War, Hitler stitched up his old mess mate proper like by issuing him pretend orders to parachute into an area of Spain held by the Communists (the baddies).

Not surprisingly, our hero began to fear he was being sent on a suicide mission. As his pilot, apparently rather a lad himself, always eager for a bit of banter and in on the joke, circled Germany, Hanfstaengl grew more and more disconcerted. Convinced that he was on his way to Communist Spain, where his number was sure to be up, he struck a desperate bargain with his pilot and the plane landed safely at Leipzig Airport.

The nightmare over, Putzi fled to Switzerland, and, later England. He was imprisoned as an enemy alien after the outbreak of the Second World War and sent to a prison camp in Canada. In 1942, he was turned over to America, where he worked for President Roosevelt’s “S-Project”, revealing information on approximately 400 Nazi leaders including 68 pages about Hitler alone.



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Fun Friday Fact #10

Fanta was invented by the Coca-Cola company to sell in Nazi Germany during the Second World War, because the Allies wouldn’t allow the import to Germany of the syrup needed to make Coke.

It must be true because Wikipedia says so. Apparently we have a certain Mr. Max Keith to thank for the refreshing orange drink. Mr. Keith, as you well know, was of course the man in charge of the German branch of the Coca-Cola company at the time. It seems he was unwilling to be put off by such a trivial thing as a World War, and, keen as ever to make some money, he decided to create a new product for the German market, using only ingredients available in Germany at the time (i.e. next to nothing) including whey and pomace – the “leftovers of leftovers”, as he later recalled. The name was the result of a brief brainstorming session, which started with Keith exhorting his team to “use their imagination” (“Fantasie” in German), to which one of his salesmen, Joe Knipp, banterously retorted “Fanta!” In other news, the German Fanta Klare Zitrone (“Clear Lemon Fanta”) variety became Sprite, another of the company’s bestsellers and its response to 7 Up.

But Coke’s relationship with the Second World War doesn’t end here. Oh no. The American salesmen were just as canny as their German counterparts. Before the outbreak of war, Coke was already a symbol of the American dream. Many GIs wrote home listing the drink as one of the things about home they most missed (losers). In response to this (or more likely because he got the sniff for a massive financial opportunity) Coca-Cola CEO Robert Woodruff made a point of supporting US troops, sending an order to: “See that ever man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca Cola for 5 cents wherever he is and whatever the cost to the company.”  Metal cans were introduced to meet the troops’ needs, and when the US Army landed in North Africa in 1943  3 complete Coca Cola bottling plants were brought ashore. 148 of Coke’s employees were sent abroad to oversee the installation and management of these plants. They were given US Army uniforms with the rank of Technical Observer and were treated as officers, although they had no military duties to speak of. They were affectionately known as the “Coca-Cola Colonels.”

The GI’s loved it. After all, how bad could a war be when a man was fighting the Italians and had a belly full of sugar? But at the same time as boosting the morale of American fighting forces, the  Coca-Cola company was slyly laying the groundwork for becoming an international symbol of refreshment and solidarity. Many of the bottling plants established overseas during the war continued to operate as non-military factories after the war’s end. Furthermore, GI’s liberating towns throughout Europe or working side-by-side with locals in the Philippines felt pride in sharing their favourite drink with their new-found friends. They thereby created an enormous consumer base throughout the world that would not have been possible without the Coca-Cola Company’s cooperation in working towards bettering the morale of the American fighting man. I suppose you can’t blame them really. And I do love me some Fanta.

A young boy and a bulldozer operator with the 64th Seabees enjoy a coke or two in Tubabao, Samar, the Philippines.

Well isn’t that nice?


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Fun Friday Fact #7

Of all the high-ranking members of the Nazi party – many of whom were Catholics – only Joseph Goebbels was excommunicated, and he was not excommunicated for his involvement in killing millions of people (mainly Jews), as one might have thought, but because he married a Protestant woman.

Controversial. Historically I have avoided the discussion of delicate issues like religion on my blog out of respect for the fact that if I have strong opinions about the subject then so do most people. I have nothing against the religious person as he typically appears, but I do not enjoy some aspects of religious authority, and this fact deftly indicates why.

Excommunication is the ultimate Roman Catholic punishment. It removes a person from the grace of the Church and the grace of God and consigns them to eternal condemnation in hell. It is perhaps surprising to us today that Hitler was never excommunicated, indeed he was never even threatened with excommunication. Nazi Germany was a proud Christian country – standing in direct and physical opposition to the ‘godless’ Russia – and it was proudly supported by the Catholic Church and its new pope, Pope Pius XII, a fervent Hitler fan. It should be noted that the Protestant Church was as culpable as the Catholic Church, but lacked a pope to play the role of figurehead in actively bringing about its designs.

It might be suggested that one should not judge the Church(es) too harshly in this matter. Hindsight, after all, is a wonderful thing; perhaps they did not know the depths of Hitler’s mischief. I’m afraid that this simply isn’t true. Although the Catholic and Protestant Churches did stand in opposition to Hitler from 1930-33, from then on in they were as thick as thieves. Both Churches eagerly furnished their little Führer with their records to better determine which Germans were Jewish or had “Jewish” blood and which did not, so that all Jews (including those who had converted to Christianity) could be sent to concentration/death camps. Moreover the German chaplains serving on the frontline, far from being appalled by what they had seen, cheerfully arranged ‘group absolutions’ for those soldiers enacting the final solution.

Shortly after the end of WWII, the pope did excommunicate all communists; he crushed the liberal ‘Worker Priest’ movement in France. Thank God. The Nazis he left alone except when he put the Vatican to work ‘underground’ to get some of the worst of the Catholic Nazi war criminals out of Europe to safety – often in Latin America – using Church resources.

It is difficult to see how ‘Hitlerism’ could have taken such a strangle-hold on Germany without this widespread and insidious religious support. Everyday people turning to their churches for moral guidance found the men of God sitting squarely on the side of the Nazis. Rather like the aids/condoms debacle confronting the Catholic Church today, this rather shocking fact demonstrates one of the ways in which (organised) religion can obfuscate what really matters. It also warns us not to marry a Protestant, of course.


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Fun Friday Fact #5

The production of Advent calendars was halted by wartime shortages.

Christopher Hitchens is dead and suddenly the world is a much more gloomy place. But life continues and it’s that time of the week again. We must carry on as best we can. We’re looking at a Christmassy one today, it being the season and all that.

It’s a haunting image, isn’t it? The Advent calendars I mean. All those long dark days of despair. But war is tragedy, my friends, and tragedy comes in many guises.

The Advent calendar is a German invention that began in 1851 with a Mr. Gerhard Lang, whose festive mother used to mark for her son each day of Advent by attaching little candles to pieces of cardboard. In an effort to cling on to this childish high, or at least to profit from it, a now adult Mr. Lang created a calendar of his own.

After the war, the production of (German) Advent calendars (as I understand it the only serious kind of Advent calendar around at the time) resumed in 1946. Eisenhower is generally credited with the popular spread of the tradition across the United States, although it is safe to say that the calendars we enjoy today probably bear little resemblance to their more stoic German predecessors

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