Friday, June 30, 2017

Visiting the War Museum in Belgrade

In the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the military museum is in the ruins of a castle on top of the highest point in the city. It overlooks the place where the Sava and Danube rivers flow together. To the north of the confluence is an old Roman tower that marks the only other hill in an otherwise flat landscape--flat for a hundred miles in almost any direction.

From the walls of the old fortress, it is easy to see why Belgrade is among the most conquered cities in the world. In the museum on the property, you see how many times Serbia and Belgrade have been rolled over by conquerors from antiquity to now.

The first room in the museum has artifacts of Alexander the Great and the Greek Army from 2,300 years ago. The Romans, then various barbarian tribes took over Serbia.  They had a run of sovereignty in the middle ages, followed by the Turkish conquest in the late 1400s. The Ottoman Empire remained in charge until its collapse at the end of World War I. Belgrade's independence lasted only until Nazi tanks rolled in at the beginning of World War II. The Russians defeat the Nazis and formed Yugoslavia from a group of countries and peoples that hated each other. Marshall Tito kept a lid on that mess until the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Then the Serbs started years long slaughter of Bosnian Muslims and Croats that only stopped when American bombers attacked Belgrade.

Outside the museum is a display armor and cannons from World Wars I and II.  Some of them are here.  While I was near the tanks, I overheard a French group talking about the German tanks on display as early models. We ended up talking about the invasion of France and how the French and British tanks were in many ways better and that the Allied forces outnumbered the Germans 3000 to 2000 in tanks. The difference was that the French and British spread their tanks from Dunkirk to Switzerland and the Germans put nearly all their tanks on a 20-mile front through the Ardennes Forest and into France.

In the lead of that formation was General Erwin Rommel, the best tank commander in the German Army. The lightly armed and armored German Panzer I and II tanks were stopped several times when they faced a formation of heavier Allied tanks. Even the Panzer IIIs were outmatched by the much bigger British Matilda tanks. But the German light tanks were supported by large-caliber towed guns with well trained crews that would take out the opposing tanks so the Germans could move forward.
On paper, the French and British had the numbers and the equipment to stop the Wehrmacht, but the greatest and most storied victories in military history occur when brilliant tactics  overcome sheer numbers. The Fall of France in 1940 was one of those victories.

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