Just one of those things

On April 14, 1945, Dole’s company was ordered to take Hill 913. It was soon trapped by withering machinegun fire from a nearby farmhouse. Dole was cut down as he led a charge on the German position. Bullets broke his spine, destroyed his shoulder and all but severed his arm from his body.

I’ve always thought it worse – when it isn’t of course, death is death, injury is injury – when it’s right at the end. There were what, 3 weeks to go at this point?

As with All Quiet on the Western Front, it’s the death being in the last month (?) of the war that increases the poignancy. And I’ve long had a deep, deep, revulsion over the events of the morning on Nov 11, 1918. As is remarked in many a place, there was a last and extended salvo of artillery just before the ceasefire.

Why? What’s the damn point of killing a few more an hour, two, before it stops?

19 thoughts on “Just one of those things”

  1. My great-grandfather was taken out by a sniper in July 1918 in a lull between the Spring and Summer offensives, days after receiving a letter telling him he had a daughter – who never met him.

  2. The point of killing a few more is probably that you don’t know whether it will start up again; it’s a last chance to get those bastards who got your mates; and that you don’t fancy lugging those live shells back to the depot.

  3. “As is remarked in many a place, there was a last and extended salvo of artillery just before the ceasefire.
    Why? What’s the damn point of killing a few more an hour, two, before it stops?”

    No doubt an arrangement between the beancounters of the opposing armies. There’s all the ammunition doesn’t have to be put back into stock & subsequently disposed of. And the opportunity to make good kit & weapons discrepancies which can be written off as “lost in battle”.

  4. You fight wars to win. Or you wouldn’t bother, given all the nastiness it involves.

    The desire to win doesn’t stop because politicians decide to change *their* minds.

    If the frontline soldiers decide that they don’t want to fight to win you get the Russisns in WWI. I’m not convinced that’s better.

    Asking people to suddenly turn off years of vengefulness is too much to ask. WWII was, after all, because much of Europe decided to refight WWI to a proper conclusion.

  5. The boys needed to play with their toys one last time before the adults told them to stop. Maybe that was the point. 🙁

  6. Clive James father was held in Changi during WW2. When the Japs surrendered he was one of the lucky POW’s to be on the first plane home. It crashed in a typhoon, killing all on board.

  7. What the Governments of UK and France knew was that Germany had requested an Armistice – a truce. Germany had made the request to President Wilson (expecting, rightly, that he would be a softer touch than Lloyd-George and Clemenceau) and had accepted Wilson’s terms for granting it. At that point, Wilson had not consulted the Governments of UK and France and they had very little knowledge of what the Germans had agreed to. So, the stability of the truce was uncertain. Seizing positions of advantage was important up to the last minute because a temporary truce would have enabled the Germans to strengthen their defences.

  8. I can perfectly understand it. Assuming I turned out not to have the mental block against killing another person, I’d be using my last bullet to off as many of the enemy as I could right up until formal down tools, those who had killed and maimed my army friends and colleagues, and my countrymen, women (and trannies).

    Also, as we know, Jerry has a habit of doing the war thing over and over again, so is a good strategy to deplete their manpower and their breeding capacity while you have the chance.

  9. I suppose my attitude towards Afghanistan is somewhat similar. If they don’t bother us we won’t bother them.

    Of course this doesn’t mean we should give them any money, or indeed allow them into our countries.

    To me Afghanistan is free. But freedom necessarily includes the freedom to go to hell after your own fashion.

  10. “What’s the damn point of killing a few more an hour, two, before it stops?”

    My father told me that after he’d seen Belsen then “paradoxically” if he’d been ordered to advance ten miles a day and kill every German he met he’d have done it.

    Is that different from blasting off shells in cold blood? But the artillerymen may have been thinking of pals they’d lost.

    Lesson: war is a coarsening experience. So don’t fight frivolous wars such as those of W and Blair.

  11. The last British death in WW1 was about 9:30 am 90 minutes before the Armistice came into effect. The last American was at 10:59 am, less than a minute.

  12. ‘Dole’s company was ordered to take Hill 913’

    If you were one of the Germans on Hill 913 what would you have done? Especially when their comms were shit at the best of times by modern standards, and worse by that point, and when the command structure to tell you to sit tight, it’s almost over, was probably not even in place anyway. Plus whatever we tell ourselves about German war crimes, it wasn’t unknown for captured Krauts to find themselves in shallow graves.

  13. Bloke in North Dorset

    Wilson’s terms were, amongst others, that Germany should be under democratic control but the general staff were resisting because they didn’t believe they had lost and at that at worst it was a stalemate. Some of the hard liners believed that as they still occupied Allied territory they were in fact the winners and should be negotiating the Armistice from a position of strength. To use a modern term, they needed a nudge.

    Another of Wilson’s terms was that German soldiers should walk away and leave their weapons. This they were doing anyway as desertions were sky high, but it emphasised the point.

    This is a good read but its as dry as they come: https://www.amazon.co.uk/November-1918-German-Revolution-Making/dp/0199546479

  14. One of my father’s lancejacks murdered some German prisoners one morning. Dad wasn’t best pleased. Mind you that was before he saw Belsen.

  15. Remember that the reason the War ended just three weeks later was precisely because the likes of Mr Dole braved machine gun fire at Hill 913.

    I mean, the very next day, a bit to the north, my own father (a Ukrainian) was successfully repelling a Russian counter-attack on Gleichenberg , near Graz, which his division had seized from elite Russian airborne troops a week earlier.

    It was by no means all over bar the shouting.

  16. “Plus whatever we tell ourselves about German war crimes, it wasn’t unknown for captured Krauts to find themselves in shallow graves.”

    Quite a few of them on the urging of George S Patton, who escaped any censure for his actions of course, the US always being totally one eyed about such things. At least he got his come-uppance fairly soon after.

  17. I’m sorry Tim, but this is wrong headedness. You must play to the whistle.

    Germany may have been defeated but it had not surrendered nor had the coup de grace ( ie Berlin’s fall ) been applied ( see also Japan + nukes, if the European war had not ended when it did then Ludwigshafen and Berlin were going to have The Big One dropped on them).

    The same went for WW1, with Germany in the throes of revolution there was no telling whether a last-ditch/last-stand was going to be made by some of the more fanatical Huns. Besides Erzberger had only signed the Armistice at 5am and no one was sure that it would reach all parts of the Front.

  18. Dear Mr Worstall

    According to my friend Peta with an ‘a’*, the PM of the day wanted the time of cease fire to be that afternoon, so he could announce it during PM’s question time in the Commons. One of the Army staff decided otherwise and that the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month had a certain ring to it and it would also save a few hours of bloodshed. Apparently the Army chap lost out on his war bonus of some £500,000 in 1918 money for his pains.


    * somewhat redundant in writing; it works better when spoken.

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