Most Overrated Militaries

Jul 2009
9,955
In the 1920s and into the 1930s, I think the West was more concerned about Communist revolution than it was about German rearmament. A German state that had not been devastated industrially was perhaps seen as a huge buffer between the USSR and the West. Germany had been weakened politically by Versailles, but her resources were still intact.

There was some French general who complained in 1919 that the Versailles 'settlements' were "not peace, but an armistice for 20 years." (How right he was.) In any case, before Germany became a threat to everyone else, IMO many in the West - established political and economic interests - would have been happy to see the USSR and Germany ruin each other. However, after the Rhineland, and then as a result of the Munich agreements, it was too late. Whatever the overall views, Poland was just sacrificial material. I doubt it was ever any different in the minds of either France or Britain before Munich. The Poles could see it.
 
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Likes: sailorsam
Dec 2011
4,894
Iowa USA
The separate Polish-French alliance was always suspect by both Marshal Pilsudski and many other influential Poles. The agreements of Locarno in 1925 could be seen as indisputable proof that France would throw Poland under the bus in order to preserve France's security in the West. I am not sure of any sources, but it is possible that when the Nazi regime became recognizable for what it would become, Pilsudski urged France to join Poland in a preventive war against Germany. The French refused him (they were busy "staying safe" by building the Maginot line presumably).

Britain could do nothing for the Poles. France was the only possible guarantor of Polish interests, and, in the 1920s and 30s, France was not interested beyond diplomatic posturing and diverting Germany eastward.

As to trade relationships, most countries' trade at that time period was concentrated on neighboring states and economies. Poland's economy had to rely on markets in Germany and Russia, as well as "Little Entente" states to the south. Germany and Soviet Russia were biding their time to destroy an independent Poland. (Its a bad place to have a country - between Germany and Russia.)
Poland was without a guarantor. I tend to agree with whoever it was that helped James Michener research his lengthy historical fiction "Poland". Memorably in "Poland" one of the key characters bemoans the fact that Western Europe (read France) did not help Poland achieve an Eastern border far beyond the 1921 settlement line with the USSR.
 
Mar 2019
1,649
Kansas
Dare I say "Overated" threads are overated? ;)

What exactly is the "rating" for the Wehrmacht?
Pretty average. Like all military forces they had strengths and weaknesses. The point is there are people who think German tanks were the best of the war, the German solider was the best through out the war...........so on and so forth. These opinions seem to get sucked up by various documentaries and casual books.

And number of casualties does not decide the victor. It is whoever carries the field.
 
Sep 2016
1,218
Georgia
In the 1920s and into the 1930s, I think the West was more concerned about Communist revolution than it was about German rearmament. A German state that had not been devastated industrially was perhaps seen as a huge buffer between the USSR and the West.
Then European countries should've destroyed or banned all their Communist parties first. Instead, they were allowed to participate in the elections and some even managed to win them.

In any case, before Germany became a threat to everyone else, IMO many in the West - established political and economic interests - would have been happy to see the USSR and Germany ruin each other. However, after the Rhineland, and then as a result of the Munich agreements, it was too late. Whatever the overall views, Poland was just sacrificial material. I doubt it was ever any different in the minds of either France or Britain before Munich. The Poles could see it.
Nazi Party only achieved 2 % of votes in 1928 General elections. Government was formed by ,, Grand Coalition '' with Herman Muller ( member of Social Democratic German Party ) becoming the Chancellor. However, such government faced World Financial Crisis in 1929 and wasn't really able to effectively deal with new challenges. Internal disagreements also became stronger by 1930 and ,, Grand Coalition '' fell apart.


After that, Hindenburg made Heinrich Brunning from Centrist Party the new Chancellor in 1930. However, he failed in his attempts to cooperate with Reichstag.
Reichstag rejected Brüning's measures for solving economic crisis. Instead of finding way to navigate amongst political parties of Reichstag and negotiate, Hindenburg and Bruning dissolved Parliament and called for a new election in 1930.

All of those events showed what a mess were politics in Germany. It showed that Government couldn't deal with problems efficiently and instead political parties were more interested in their own squabbles. Now add to that disastrous financial crisis and humiliation from WW1. That is why support for NSDAP skyrocketed to 18 % in 1930 elections. Support for German Communist Party also increased, but those who disliked them were ready to vote for any other opposing force.

The nature of President's power also hindered Reichstag. Article 48 of the constitution of the Weimar Republic of Germany allowed the President, under certain circumstances, to take emergency measures without the prior consent of the Reichstag. In fact, just to conduct the normal business of government, he was forced to invoke Article 48 several times between 1930 and 1932. Subsequent governments under chancellors Franz von Papen and Kurt von Schleicher during the tumultuous year 1932 obtained decrees from Hindenburg under Article 48 when they too found it impossible to obtain a parliamentary majority as the extremist parties on the left and right gained power.
The power to rule by decree became increasingly used not in response to a specific emergency but as a substitute for parliamentary leadership. The excessive use of the decree power and the fact that successive chancellors were no longer responsible to the Reichstag probably played a significant part in the loss of public confidence in constitutional democracy.

I should also mention that SPD ( Social Democratic Party ) and Communists failed to create a Coalition to oppose growing Nazi party. Instead of uniting with each other against NSDAP, they continued to view each other as enemies.

Not to mention, that France and UK were afraid of a new possible bloodbath in Europe. Especially their population.

France also signed the Treaty of Mutual Assistance with Soviet Union in 1935.
 
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Aug 2015
1,873
Los Angeles
I meant the Syrian aristocrat Jotapianus rather than Pacatianus, and as for Odainath he certainly declared his loyalty to Gallienus, but scholars generally consider it the case that Odainath took power in the east in large part through his own initiative and acted with a large degree of independence, albeit with loyalty to Gallienus. After all, he was not a general in the Roman army. He was a Palmyreme notable who appears to have reacted to crisis. Local initiative can otherwise be witnessed with the aforementioned Uranius Antoninus, with individual cities against Gothic raiders, etc. As for the rest I'm inclined to think that it was a perfect storm of factors (losses during wars with Persia, financial strain, Alemanni, Goths, climate, internal instability, etc).
This isn't really true. If by Odainath you mean Odaenathus, he was governor of Syrian Phoenicia and proconsul (possibly) and of senatorial rank, he was most certainly a commanding officer in the Roman military.

While Odaenathus was certainly of Palmyrian descent, we don't really know how much involvement he had in the city that he eventually bases out of. He had access to one of the 2 legions that was not called up by Valarian, making the concept that Odaenathus as a random guy not invovled in the Roman military a bit strange. The legion in Syrian Phoenicia would most certainly have a legate/proconsul, so how would Odaenathus take over that legion which fought under him? Did Roman legions have a habit of just following some random guys' command? I thin the idea that he wasn't involved in the military is highly unlikely even with the lack of sources.
 
This isn't really true. If by Odainath you mean Odaenathus, he was governor of Syrian Phoenicia and proconsul (possibly) and of senatorial rank, he was most certainly a commanding officer in the Roman military.

While Odaenathus was certainly of Palmyrian descent, we don't really know how much involvement he had in the city that he eventually bases out of. He had access to one of the 2 legions that was not called up by Valarian, making the concept that Odaenathus as a random guy not invovled in the Roman military a bit strange. The legion in Syrian Phoenicia would most certainly have a legate/proconsul, so how would Odaenathus take over that legion which fought under him? Did Roman legions have a habit of just following some random guys' command? I thin the idea that he wasn't involved in the military is highly unlikely even with the lack of sources.
Certain scholars have suggested this, but as you note there is no explicit evidence for it. As far as the epigraphic evidence allows, Odainath and his son Herodian Hairan held a special role in Palmyra as exarchs from at the latest 251 onward, were senators from at the latest 251 onward as well, and were consulares from the late 250s onward. No previous Palmyrene had held the status of exarch, so their prominence in Palmyra was of an exceptional nature. Inscriptions in Palmyra from the 250s dedicated by traders to Herodian and Odainath's deputy Worod suggest that this prominence may have stemmed from their role in protecting the caravan trade routes that Palmyra and also Rome were very invested in. But this was something that Palmyrene notables did with their local military forces, regardless of whether they were an officer in the Roman army. Rome awarded senatorial and consular status to prominent provincials, especially those who did good by the emperor and/or empire (such as securing trade routes), and these honours could be awarded to vassal kings and ultra-powerful Syrian notables like Odainath. The emperors responsible (Gordian III? Philip? Valerian in the case of consularis) may well have wanted someone as powerful as Odainath on their side, thus the awarding of honours, especially when the Persians were over the horizon and later did provoke the treachery of the Antiochene noble Mareades (in 252 or 253 - he may well have not been the first instance of this). We thus do not need to postulate a post in the army to explain such honours, and the epigraphic evidence does not explicitly point to any military post in the case of Odainath and his eldest son, and as far as I'm aware no inscription locates him where Palmyrene auxiliary units in the Roman army were known to be located (e.g. Dura Europos). What does not get acknowledged enough is that Odainath was indeed a Roman citizen (although I concede that you did), that most of the soldiers on the eastern front were probably Syrians themselves, incl. Palmyrenes (based on the trend of local recruitment), and that local initiative was a thing in times of crisis. With an emperor captured (an unprecedented thing), an army badly defeated, and a Persian army marching into Syria, we can expect soldiers to flock to prominent figures with command experience (in this case possibly merely command of Palmyra's local forces, albeit successful command, and an exceptionally prominent individual nonetheless who was apparently taking matters into his own hands). Those loyal to Gallienus and Valerian would also flock to Odainath, since he had not usurped against Gallienus, unlike the other option - the Macriani. Eventually, Odainath's authority was set in stone through the titles of Corrector Totius Orientis (awarded by Gallienus), and King of Kings (a challenge to the authority of Shapur). The first title, Gallienus' approval, and the resulting subservience of the governors in Syria to Odainath would have set in stone his authority over the soldiers, and his military successes would have had the same effect.

With all this being said, I concede that some have suggested what you're saying, but I am sceptical. In this sense I am following e.g. Potter 1990, Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire, and Andrade 2018, Zenobia: Shooting Star of Palmyra. But I admit that I shouldn't have presented this as an open-and-shut case. Maybe he was the consularis of Syria Phoenice. It is admittedly possible.

But in the end the point I was making is that the third-century crisis and its causes are complex. I don't think that it should be used as an example of how the Roman army tended to struggle against Germanic armies, which was the original point that I was responding to. For every defeat to the Germanic peoples of the third century we can find many more victories over them, and such an interpretation downplays the importance of other factors like internal instability, Persia, climate, etc.
 
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Jan 2015
5,579
Ontario, Canada
The French in the inter war period was considered the best on the continent, maybe even in the world. In the 1930s France’s muscle was used by nations like Poland to keep German and Soviet threats at bay. Yet, in 1940 Germany ran right through the French military in weeks.
French intervention in the case of Poland happened more prior to Hitler's assumption of power. What with the uprising in Upper Silesia. In fact French intervention was more targeted towards supporting Czecho-Slovakia. It even seemed as though the French would not intervene in 1939 until Britain issued the "Guarantee". But as it so happened Hitler did not attempt to threaten Poland until the Danzig Crisis in '39. Although the Franco-Polish Alliance was a strategic agreement with the intention to keep the Germans in check, the French did not really co-operate. The Locarno treaty in 1925 was the first step in a rift between Poland and France at the time, which was then exacerbated by the 1934 German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact, the Franco-Soviet Alliance of 1936, the Rhineland Crisis in 1936 and the impotence of France to act in the Sudeten Crisis and Czech Invasion 1938/39 as well as the Polish attempts to grab Lithuania in 1938 and their seizure of Czech territory in that same year.

In the early 1930s, after Hitler came to power, Poland and Germany were sparring over the border created by the Treaty of Versailles. As Hitler Hagen to militarize Germany, there were “incidents,” especially around the free city of Danzig. Poland relied on their alliance with France to deter possible German aggression. Poland even contemplated a military strike before Hitler got too strong in the mid 1930s, but declined after France refused to join them.
It was more of a soft political conflict brought about the German military's desire to reclaim at least Upper Silesia and Danzig, but also pressure from the German Conservatives and the Foreign Office. In 1933 Pilsudski sent diplomats and officers to France to discuss "pre-emptive" war with Germany. Personally I've never seen any evidence to think that at the time the Conservative faction in Germany was planning a war with Poland, but they did put pressure on Hitler to reclaim German territory, they also pushed for 1939 as well. Anyway the French completely rejected Polish overtures and to pour salt in the would they began to send diplomats and negotiated the Franco-Soviet Alliance. The actual negotiations went on forever and were not formally signed until 1935 and ratified by the government in 1936, but had actually started in 1934 with two foreign ministers. Actually the French recognized the USSR in 1924, which must have been doubly confusing for the Poles, who were simultaneously receiving French support during the war with the Soviets.

And the close cooperation with France was during Pilsudski's lifetime if I recall correctly?

Wasn't there a dilemma that, end of the day, Poland's trade with Germany was much greater than even the long-term potential trade relationship with France?
Not at all, if anything Pilsudski jeopardized relations with France, they were at the very least strained. Granted he and the Poles in general were fed up with the French cozying up to the Soviets from 1934 to 1936 and also not accepting Pilsudski's plans for a war against Germany in 1933. From 1934 until about the start of 1939 the Germans and Polish had closer relations. Simultaneously the Germans had their own agreements with the Soviets for the purpose of containing Poland, taking some bite out of France and making sure the Soviets didn't fall on Germany. The solution? Both Hitler and Pilsudski would snub the Soviets and by extension France, they signed the 1934 German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact. Although Pilsudski never went as far as Hitler had wanted, nor did any of Pilsudski's successors, that being open war with the USSR. So Hitler's policy was definitely a massive departure from the Weimar policy in that regard. But I think it was severely flawed in that he expected Polish co-operation with Germany and that just isn't feasible within the realm of realpolitik.

I am not sure of the trade balances between Poland and Germany and Poland and France at this time. I know France often provided weapons and arms to Poland during this time period. But, if you look at trade balances and deficits today, it becomes apparent that nations trade with other nations that aren't so friendly to them. Germany's rhetoric about taking back Danig and even part of the Polish Corridor troubled Poland to the pnt that they leaned on France's reputation, at least in the 1930s, in an effort to keep German aggression at bay. As history has demonstrated, by1 940, germany had the advantage over France.
As for trade well in the 1930's the British pulled out their investments from Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Naturally of course, due to geography, Poland's major trade partners were all in the east. Germany imported eastern grain and exported industrial goods and weapons to all of these countries. So Poland was economically dependent on Germany for both acquiring industrial goods and to export their own substantial amounts of grain. The Germans had similar arrangements with just about everyone else in Eastern Europe. Chamberlain essentially signaled that the Balkans would be within the German sphere of influence as part of his policies.
But Poland also relied on France for weapons and military support, even the French military mission of 1919 which continued until 1939. Then during British Re-Armament the British also included sending weapons to Poland from about 1938, as part of Chamberlain's attempts to contain Germany and as well as part of the "Guarantee". But as I said before the geography made this all rather difficult, the main weapons provider and military support came from France.

The separate Polish-French alliance was always suspect by both Marshal Pilsudski and many other influential Poles. The agreements of Locarno in 1925 could be seen as indisputable proof that France would throw Poland under the bus in order to preserve France's security in the West. I am not sure of any sources, but it is possible that when the Nazi regime became recognizable for what it would become, Pilsudski urged France to join Poland in a preventive war against Germany. The French refused him (they were busy "staying safe" by building the Maginot line presumably).

Britain could do nothing for the Poles. France was the only possible guarantor of Polish interests, and, in the 1920s and 30s, France was not interested beyond diplomatic posturing and diverting Germany eastward.

As to trade relationships, most countries' trade at that time period was concentrated on neighboring states and economies. Poland's economy had to rely on markets in Germany and Russia, as well as "Little Entente" states to the south. Germany and Soviet Russia were biding their time to destroy an independent Poland. (Its a bad place to have a country - between Germany and Russia.)
The separate Polish-French Alliance was suspect to the Poles? I think you mean the separate Franco-Soviet Alliance? Because the 1934 to 1936 endeavor to finally get the Franco-Soviet Alliance, was basically the most significant event in severely damaging Polish relations with Britain and France and directly led to Pilsudski agree to the German Non-Aggression Pact. Then during the Rhineland Crisis in 1936, the Poles actually told France that so long as Germany did not take action against the French, then Poland would not agree to war with Germany. The other, major, controversial event was the Sudeten Crisis which led to the Poles and Hungarians siding with Germany. Poland not only rejected British and French demands, it helped to take Czech territory and denounced Czecho-Slovakia as an aggressor. In fact the French ambassador informed the French and British that Poland would be more likely to join forces with Germany in the event of a war in 1938. Also in 1938 the Polish attempted to invade Lithuania, which was stopped after Britain and France issued an ultimatum.
In 1939 when Poland finally went all in they had actually rejected Soviet support, and rejected attempts by France and Britain to reconcile them with the USSR. Although ultimately Chamberlain decided not to call in Soviet support for ideological reasons.

This is my understanding as well.Neither Poland or Czechoslovakia were invited to the Locarno meetings. Germany and Italy were. The emphasis in the mind of the Poles (and perhaps the Czechoslovaks) was that France ensured their western border by giving tacit approval for germany to focus n reshaping their eastern border. After that, Poland never fully trusted France. However, they were still leverage, on paper t keep the Germans in check. I can't remember the exact year, 1934, 035 or maybe 1936, but Poland wanted to initiate an attack of Hitler's Germany before it grew too strong - as the handwriting was on the wall - byt the French declined to engage. Poland alone, even at this point in Germany's military development, wasn't strong enough to ensure a victory.
The year was 1933/34 when Pilsudski sent overtures to France to wage war on Germany. France's rejection together with their negotiating the Franco-Polish Alliance was the nail in the coffin. If you look at 1939 you will find that Poland was relying far more on British diplomatic support than French.
 
Likes: Rodger
Aug 2015
1,873
Los Angeles
Certain scholars have suggested this, but as you note there is no explicit evidence for it. As far as the epigraphic evidence allows, Odainath and his son Herodian Hairan held a special role in Palmyra as exarchs from at the latest 251 onward, were senators from at the latest 251 onward as well, and were consulares from the late 250s onward. No previous Palmyrene had held the status of exarch, so their prominence in Palmyra was of an exceptional nature. Inscriptions in Palmyra from the 250s dedicated by traders to Herodian and Odainath's deputy Worod suggest that this prominence may have stemmed from their role in protecting the caravan trade routes that Palmyra and also Rome were very invested in. But this was something that Palmyrene notables did with their local military forces, regardless of whether they were an officer in the Roman army. Rome awarded senatorial and consular status to prominent provincials, especially those who did good by the emperor and/or empire (such as securing trade routes), and these honours could be awarded to vassal kings and ultra-powerful Syrian notables like Odainath. The emperors responsible (Gordian III? Philip? Valerian in the case of consularis) may well have wanted someone as powerful as Odainath on their side, thus the awarding of honours, especially when the Persians were over the horizon and later did provoke the treachery of the Antiochene noble Mareades (in 252 or 253 - he may well have not been the first instance of this). We thus do not need to postulate a post in the army to explain such honours, and the epigraphic evidence does not explicitly point to any military post in the case of Odainath and his eldest son, and as far as I'm aware no inscription locates him where Palmyrene auxiliary units in the Roman army were known to be located (e.g. Dura Europos). What does not get acknowledged enough is that Odainath was indeed a Roman citizen (although I concede that you did), that most of the soldiers on the eastern front were probably Syrians themselves, incl. Palmyrenes (based on the trend of local recruitment), and that local initiative was a thing in times of crisis. With an emperor captured (an unprecedented thing), an army badly defeated, and a Persian army marching into Syria, we can expect soldiers to flock to prominent figures with command experience (in this case possibly merely command of Palmyra's local forces, albeit successful command, and an exceptionally prominent individual nonetheless who was apparently taking matters into his own hands). Those loyal to Gallienus and Valerian would also flock to Odainath, since he had not usurped against Gallienus, unlike the other option - the Macriani. Eventually, Odainath's authority was set in stone through the titles of Corrector Totius Orientis (awarded by Gallienus), and King of Kings (a challenge to the authority of Shapur). The first title, Gallienus' approval, and the resulting subservience of the governors in Syria to Odainath would have set in stone his authority over the soldiers, and his military successes would have had the same effect.

With all this being said, I concede that some have suggested what you're saying, but I am sceptical. In this sense I am following e.g. Potter 1990, Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire, and Andrade 2018, Zenobia: Shooting Star of Palmyra. But I admit that I shouldn't have presented this as an open-and-shut case. Maybe he was the consularis of Syria Phoenice. It is admittedly possible.
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Odaenathus's inscription showed hypatikos, a Greek equivalent of consularis also meaning governor like Syria Phoenice. So while it is possible he was just given an honorary title. I didn't read Potter's writing, but from inference by Millar who mentioned that Potter hold a different opinion in 'that Odenathus was not a governor, but did occupy a formal position of dominance at Palmyra.'

The caravan trade person was another Septimius, perhaps Septimiu Vorodes who was perhaps a Aurelius Vorodes the Hippikos and Bouleutes, as he was said to have brought back the caravans at his own expense.

One of the significant things to note is the if we acknowledge Palmyra is a colonia, a proper Roman city under Roman administration then we should note that the carvings in Palmyra dedicated to Odaenathus was probably a mixture. He was addressed as exarch, but so was his son Septimius Airanes (Hairan) who by 251 was also a senator if not of senatorial rank, was also addressed as exarch. So this must then be view in terms of Palmyra as a Roman colonia, what does a exarch mean in a Roman city, and not a semi-independent vassal? Miller argues that it was likely an Imperial Greek to describe a priesthood.

Another to note was Odaenathus was addressed as a master once and patrons 3 times in the surviving inscription in Palmyra and we haven't heard much of him as exarch after the hypatikos. This could well be argued that it is a position of dominance in the city's trade rather than the city itself.

So I think if we view Palmyra as a Roman city, then perhaps it is easier to accept Odaenathus as a Roman military commander, but if we think Palmyra as a semi independent city then perhaps it is easier to view him as a vassal king.

I use chiefly Fergus Millar's The Roman Near East, 31 B.C - AD 337.
 
May 2017
176
Monterrey
And number of casualties does not decide the victor. It is whoever carries the field.
And the casualty figures wouldn't be so skewed if you counted in the ten million and more soldiers that surrendered when the Axis collapsed. Doesn't really matter if that one machinegunner wipes out a thousand men at Normandy if the Allies end up in Berlin anyway. This is mainly from where the myth of German invincibility comes from. Likewise, a Tiger might knock out a dozen enemy tanks, but what does it matter when the entire battalion has to abandon their vehicles due to lack of fuel anyways.
 

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