‘Encouraging the theory and myth’

I recently read the following passage, in Captain Sidney Jary’s excellent book, ’18 Platoon’:

“It has become the custom for some of our younger military writers to extol the professional ability of the Wehrmacht whilst decrying that of our own fighting arms, particularly our armour and infantry. This has perplexed me because it runs contrary to my experience. My 18 Platoon were better soldiers than any we fought. So was “D” Company and the whole 4th Battalion, The Somerset Light Infantry. Admittedly it was a good battalion but I find it hard to believe that it was unique.​

This tendency among writers is understandable. They are too young to have taken part in the operations about which they write and therefore they have had to rely mainly on official records and personal interviews with those who were present. Official documents so often contain “the story for the record”. Written after the battle, they are extraordinarily incomplete and sometimes too subjective. Interviews with old soldiers, whatever their rank, can also be misleading. Memory fades or becomes distorted and, particularly with the British, little thought has been given over the post-war years to battles long ago. Sadly, interviews with all but a few ex-infantrymen must necessarily be of limited assistance because very few of them survived long enough to have much to contribute…​

…Although they lost, the German soldiers and their families are proud of their exploits, many of which were considerable. It is, of course, very much in their own interest to encourage the theory and myth that, although superior as fighting men, they were beaten only by numerically superior forces and firepower. In my experience this was not so. In many attacks the prisoners we took outnumbered our attacking force and German units who would continue to resist at close quarters were few indeed. Unlike us, they rarely fought at night, when they were excessively nervous and unsure of themselves. Where we patrolled extensively, they avoided it. I can remember only one successful German patrol and not one successful night action.​

If our positions had been reversed, I doubt if they would have performed better than we did. Without doubt, some Wehrmacht formations were extremely professionally competent but many were not. Some of the enemy infantry fought with fanaticism but most did not.”

While this obviously pertains to the Second World War, and the way certain types like to salivate over the ‘military brilliance’ of the SS and Wehrmacht, I think the extract has some interesting parallels to the way some are still desperate to portray the Boers.

I found this line especially pertinent: ‘It is, of course, very much in their own interest to encourage the theory and myth that, although superior as fighting men, they were beaten only by numerically superior forces and firepower. In my experience this was not so’.

Who would ever have imagined it: a defeated people, being absolutely determined to come up with any and all excuses to explain away losing a war they started, and cooking up myths of somehow being superior fighting men to those who bested them; clearly arrogance and misplaced pride trumps showing any humility or contrition… now, where have we seen that before?


  • Niall Beazley Posted January 25, 2024 12:57 pm

    What an interesting person Sidney Jary must have been or still is, if he is still around, I would love to have a conversation. Chris you raise some key points about how certain issues get distorted. We know that Putin is driving a media campaign to highlight the successes of his Russian troops, but what is the reality with such heavy losses even though he has a large population to draw from?

    The realities of the Anglo-Boer war are so similar to what Sidney writes. The British forces gained another long list of battles with honours and some disasters, which we as veterans will always remember as we celebrate those who have gone before. Raising tankards and goblets with beer or wine presented by those who actually fought in memory of those that put their lives into the hands of their fellow soldiers for a British victory. We salute you.

  • Chris Posted January 26, 2024 9:13 am

    Time moves on things change

    Currently due to the war in Ukraine – and other conflicts much is being said in the UK about National service and conscription. Even war talk about having to fight Russia

    Apparently the modern UK army is in dire straits ?

    What is interesting and most concerning are the comments attached to most media Youtube channels. Most of which (almost universally ) are totally against any support for the UK MoD or any idea of going off to fight for a UK that most see as no longer being a country worth fighting for.
    Perhaps people in the UK have had enough of “arrogance and misplaced pride” and the remembrance of past military glory ?

    • Bulldog Posted January 26, 2024 10:09 am

      Arrogance is always an unpleasant trait, but pride in Britain’s armed forces / military history is hardly ‘misplaced’.

      Unfortunately, the last generation or so of British youth have been force-fed unpatriotic nonsense about their forefathers ‘inventing slavery’ and endured non-stop attempts to equate British Colonialism to the Third Reich… not to mention the whole ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ bullshit version of the First World War etc.

      It is thus little wonder that most of Gen-Z are less interested in serving King and Country, than in pondering which of the 56 newly-invented genders they will ‘identify’ as today.

      That said, the British people have been written off before. Perhaps most famously was the Oxford Union vote in 1933 in which the ghastly, hand-wringing students proudly announced their refusal to fight for their nation… but one should not put too much store by this (or the similarly pathetic comments you mention seeing on YouTube): the country obviously stepped up to the mark brilliantly in 1939.

      • Chris Posted February 1, 2024 8:58 am

        But in 1938 there were no Nuclear ICBMs
        There was NO – LONDONISTAN
        The modern demographics are also completely wrong
        Very sad but I doubt the old girl still – has it in her – to go forth and conquer

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