Monday, 15 June 2015

HISTORY LESSON: INVADING RUSSIA IS A NO-NO

Napoleon in burning Moscow by Adam Albrecht, 1841 (US Public Domain)

The month of June is very significant to the Russian people. And it should be. On two different occasions, over 100 years apart, two dictators with huge egos thought they could attack Russia and crush it with massive battle campaigns.

The first time occurred June 24, 1812, when the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte with over 600,000 troops crossed the Russian border through Poland. The French called it the Russian Campaign: the Russians, the Patriotic War of 1812. Either way, it was part of the historic Napoleonic Wars that so many of us had studied and continue to study in school. Napoleon’s main purpose for invading was to cut off the Russians and their leader Tsar Alexander I from trading with Britain, thereby pressuring the English to sue for peace. Taking the route through Poland was Napoleon’s idea for keeping on their good side, thus convincing the Polish that he was preventing them from falling to the Russian wrath.

Napoleon pushed his Grand Armee through Russia, winning minor battles, including a major one at Smolensk in August. The Russians then set the city ablaze, and retreated east, further into the interior, with Napoleon hot on their tails. Along the way, Russian Cossacks practiced Scorched Earth policies: burning villages, towns, farms, and crops. These actions prevented the French from living off the land, forcing them to rely on a stretched supply line that subsequently failed them. Under these terrible conditions, many starving French troops had to leave their camps at night and scrounge for food, whereupon Cossack patrols either captured or killed them.

On September 7, Napoleon engaged the Russians at Borodino, 70 miles west of Moscow. The ensuing battle was the largest and fiercest clash of the Napoleonic Wars. The French won a costly victory with many of its high-ranking officers dead or badly injured, consisting of 47 generals. Napoleon lost 35,000 soldiers: the Russians, 40,000. Once again, the Russians retreated east, scorching as they went. Napoleon and his battered and depleted army entered Moscow a week later and were shocked to find the city vacant and many sections in flames. Napoleon remained in Moscow for a month, hoping that the Tsar and his representatives would drop by for a chat and finally capitulate. But they didn’t.

Napoleon and his now not-so-mighty army headed southwest where they engaged the Russians at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets. Following this, the Russians once more sought to drop back. Now, Napoleon and his boys were in deep you-know-what. Barely hanging on, they were exhausted, and without food or proper winter clothing. Their horses were in even worse condition than the troops. As the winter set in, Napoleon began his retreat west. The Cossacks never let up on the French, attacking their flanks on several occasions during the withdrawal.

By the time the Grand Armee had left Russia behind, its morale was at its lowest. They were badly whipped and down in numbers to less than 30,000 troops: the others either dead from starvation, frost bite or battle wounds, or taken prisoner where they were never seen again. It was the turning point in the Napoleonic Wars and it spelled the end of Napoleon Bonaparte’s power in Europe.

One hundred and twenty-nine years later, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler had the misguided notion that he could take what Napoleon so miserably failed at capturing in the previous century. On June 22, 1941, nearly two years into World War II, the German Wehrmacht launched what was codenamed Operation Barbarossa, the massive invasion of the Soviet Union on an 1800-mile front stretched from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. It had been Hitler’s dream to invade the Soviet as proposed in his book, Mein Kampf, written two decades earlier. By the way, the attack was named after 12th century Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire.

Barbarossa was the largest invasion force in the history of mankind. Engaged were four millions soldiers in 140 divisions of which 17 were Panzer units and 13 motorized; 600,000 vehicles and 625,000 horses; 7,100 guns, 3,300 tanks and 2,770 Luftwaffe aircraft. It was Blitzkrieg at its scary best, more terrifying than what had been unleashed on Western Europe earlier in the war. The assault began at 0300 hours; by noon the Soviets had lost over 1,000 aircraft. The Germans moved fast and furiously with precision across the vast country.

German attack of Russia, June, 1941
(German Federal Archives)
Similar to Napoleon’s campaign, the Russian Red Army fought battle after battle, then kept retreating in order to stretch the enemy’s supply line. And it worked, as it did in 1812. In addition, the German engineers had to deal with a different gauge of rail tracks in Russia for transporting their equipment and troops. It took valuable time to make the changes along the way that could have been used elsewhere. In October, when the rains came, the Germans pushed on, more slowly than before. Then winter arrived in mid-November: a brutal one at that. The cold temperatures froze guns, vehicles, and soldiers. Not equipped for this, the Wehrmacht still managed to fight their way to within 15 miles of Moscow by December 2, where the majestic Kremlin spires--home to Communist dictator Joe Stalin--could be spotted through German binoculars. They were that close. Some reports spoke of Stalin fleeing east from the capital with his entourage.

Three days later, the well-armed, reinforced Red Army--500,000 strong--with warm military clothing drove the Germans out of the Moscow suburbs with a steady counterattack. By the end of the month, the Germans had already lost 830,000 Eastern Front troops (killed, wounded, captured or missing-in-action) since the June debut. It was the turning point for Hitler’s Nazi Germany. After that, it was all downhill for the German Wehrmacht, as the Russian Red Army slowly and methodically took the German army on, punching them all the way back to their final stand in Berlin, 1945, with the German’s most-humiliating defeat being at Stalingrad in 1942-43 where they lost a total of 745,000 soldiers.

According to the original Barbarossa plans, Hitler had wanted to attack Russia in mid-May, 1941. Had he accomplished that, he might have taken Moscow before the winter had set in. It would have been a different war after that. And what if Napoleon had attacked earlier than he did in June, 1812?

In summation, Napoleon and Hitler shared a lot of similarities related to their attacks on Russia. They both began in the month of June. They moved fast, almost too fast for their own good. Both times Russian troops retreated and burned everything they could, as the enemy marched deeper into the interior. And, most important, Napoleon and Hitler were done in by the Russian winters, a time of year they were both unprepared for. Furthermore, attacking Russia was truly the beginning of the end for the two of them.


And…such is ego.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

THE CHAPEL IN THE SAND

The following is a word-for-word article written by Rev. Howard D. Honsinger and published in the Pentecostal Testimony, June 1984, on the fortieth anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. Prior to the article, Rev. Honsinger had been District Superintendent of the Western Ontario District of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, and the pastor at Glad Tidings Assembly, Burlington, Ontario 

On 
the morning of June 6, 1944, his 3rd Canadian Division, 19th Field Regiment, 23rd  Battery landed at St. Aubin, France, five kilometers from Juno Beach. 

The 
piece seems very fitting this June 6… 


THE CHAPEL IN THE SAND by Howard D. 
Honsinger 

On June 5, 1944, an armada of more than 5,000 ships began to move beyond the pro
tective booms at Portsmouth and Southampton into the waters of the English Channel. Operation “Overlord” was underway under the direction of General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. 

The weather was bad. Rain, driven by hurricane winds
, cut almost horizontally into the boyish faces of soldiers who, on the morrow, would become veteran fighters on the beaches of Normandy. Some of them would die. Others would survive, and still be alive 40 years later to relive memories of that day and the savage battles that followed to bring Hitler’s Third Reich to the place of unconditional surrender. 


Personal Memories
 

Each man had his own thoughts in that distant day, and each man will have his own particular memories as the eyes of the world turn for a fleeting time of remembrance 40 years later. I was there. I will remember. It is difficult to express in words what I will remember, but I will remember… Well, let me put it like this
: I will remember the crashing of the waves that threatened to submerge the shallow-bottomed, heavily-laden landing craft. 

I will remember the barrage balloons tied to the boats, floating overhead and looking so much like the toy balloons at the old hometown fair. I will remember the inability to escape from the wet chill of the water, the muted conversation of men who conversed together as they shared an anxiety sharpened by fear of the unknown. I will remember the silence that descended at dusk came on to introduce the protective covering of merciful darkness. Sleep was fitful and troubled.
 

Then came the dawning of a new day—June 6, 1944; D-Day! The coast of France 
appeared on the horizon like a thin blue line. And then at last, the landing in the midst of indescribable racket. I remember the clanging of armor. The stunning explosion of bombs and shells. Ear-splitting. The cries of the wounded. Unspeakable loneliness. The fear of death clutching at the heart with invisible fingers—vague, indefinable, and curious. I remember the almost imperceptible trembling of hands as cigarettes were lit, then deep calm as, in the purgatory of the conflict, courage was born to enable men to do what had to be done. 


Eternity So Near
 

But there was something else, something I’ll never forget, something that I will cherish above all other memories—the still
 small voice of God within my heart. I was not a Christian. But God and eternity were very near.  I was conscious that if I died, I was not prepared to meet God. I wanted to be at peace with Him. How could that come about? What should I do? I ransacked my mind for the answer in the teachings I had received in the church in which I had been raised. 

I recalled the words of the Lord’s Prayer, and stumbled through the 23
rd Psalm. I pondered  the words of a padre who had encouraged us to believe that a place was assured in heaven for all who die in defense of their country. But my soul refused to be comforted. Nothing worked. There was no eye to pity, no hand to help. 

And then I remembered. I remembered the voice of my Christian aunt who 
had tried to penetrate my drunken stupor as I said farewell before heading overseas. I thought of her face and its awful intensity as she grasped my hand in hers, kissed me, and said, “Howard, if you ever want to get right with God just pray and say, ‘Oh God, be merciful, to me a sinner.’ ’’ 


Slit Trench Altar
 

I had shrugged her words off. I had laughed. Teasingly, I made fun of her. But now, in a slit trench on the beach at 
Bernieres-sur-Mer, I remembered, and that hole in the ground became a chapel. I began to talk with God in silent prayer. I said, “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

I thought that something magic would happen
. I did not fully understand. Nothing happened. Everything was the same, except for one thing—a sense of the nearness of a protecting presence. God was with me. I alternately cursed and prayed. I tried to forget when it was inconvenient to remember. When the battle cooled I put God out of my thoughts. When it heated up, I returned to Him with that short, one sentence prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” 

God was patient. He knew my heart. He spared me from death. When the war ended, I came home. I accepted an invitation to attend a Pentecostal service. I heard the gospel preached. I recognized in that gospel the answer to my quest for forgiveness and rightness with God. I responded. I prayed again: Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Something happened. I was born again—supernaturally converted. God came into my life. Sin’s power was broken. The peace of God flooded my battle-weary soul. A song welled up from within—a song that find
s expression in the words of the hymn which so beautifully says: 

     “I cannot tell the half of love,
 
     Unfeigned, supreme, divine, 
     That caused my darkest inmost self 
     With beams of hope to shine.” 


Lasting Monument
 

Monuments have been erected to commemorate D-Day. Fighting men will relive memories, but my most precious memory will be the memory of the chapel in the sandy beach where I came face to face with God.
 
Monuments erected by human hands will vanish. They will perhaps be desecrated by vandals. They will be changed by the alchemy of the years, but that which is written in my heart by the power of God’s redeeming love will last throughout eternity. Come sickness or health, come joy or sorrow, come life or death, all is well. Saved from sin, and death, and hell. Saved for time. Saved for eternity. Blessed be the name of the Lord who answers the short prayer: “Oh God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  

Rev. Honsinger passed away in 1986, before I had a chance to meet him. But his legacy lives on. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to know his widowed wife, his son and wife, and his grandchildrensolid Christians for whom the Reverend would be very proud.  

We’ll never know “the half” of what 
Rev. Honsinger and the other war vets went through for us to enjoy the freedoms we have today. Please pay honor to them and remember them this June 6, 2015, on the 71st anniversary of D-Day, when the largest amphibious invasion force in the history of mankind struck the first blow at freeing continental Europe from Nazi tyranny during World War II.



Photos courtesy of Howard's son, Kelvin, seen in these photos along with Howard's granddaughter, Rebecca, at the Juno Beach Memorial in France, 2009.