To 7th century AD

Germany as a region

Although less clearly defined by geography than the other natural territories of western Europe (such as Italy, the Spanish peninsula, France or Britain), the area broadly identified as Germany has clear boundaries on three sides - the Baltic to the north, the Rhine to the west, the Alps or the Danube to the south. Only to the east is there no natural border (a fact which has caused much strife and confusion in European history).

The region becomes associated with the name Germany in the 1st century BC, when the Conquest of gaul makes the Romans aware for the first time that there is an ethnic and linguistic distinction between the Celts (or Gauls) and their aggressive neighbours, the Germans.

Celts Germans and Romans: 2nd - 1st century BC

The Celts themselves, in earlier centuries, have moved westwards from Germany, crossing the Rhine into France and pushing ahead of them the previous neolithic inhabitants of these regions. More recently the Celts have been subjected to the same westward pressure from various Germanic tribes. The intruders are identified as a group by their closely related languages, defined as the Germanic or Teutonic subdivision of Indo-european language.

From the 2nd century BC the Germans exert increasing pressure on the Roman empire. The reign of Augustus caesar sees a trial of strength between the empire and the tribes, leading to an uneasy balance of power.

The region in which Augustus makes the most effort to extend the empire is beyond the Alps into Germany. By 14 BC the German tribes are subdued up to the Danube. In the next five years Roman legions push forward to the Elbe. But this further border proves impossible to hold. In AD 9 Arminius, a German chieftain of great military skill, destroys three Roman legions in the Teutoburg Forest.

The Romans pull back (though they return briefly to avenge what seems a shameful defeat). The conclusion, bequeathed by Augustus to his successors, is that the Roman empire has some natural boundaries; to the north these are the Rhine and the Danube.

German and Roman Europe: from the 5th century AD

The Germanic tribes continue to raid, often deep into the empire. But their base remains north of the Rhine and Danube until the 5th century - when the Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians and Franks move in vast migrations through Italy, France and Spain.

Their presence becomes part of the history of these regions. France and Spain - prosperous and stable parts of the Roman empire - have becomes almost as Romanized as Italy itself. Culturally they are strong enough to absorb their new Germanic masters, as is revealed by the boundary line of Europe's languages. French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian are known as the Romance languages because they share a Roman, or Latin, origin.

Northern Europe, by contrast, speaks Germanic languages. Scandinavia does so because it is the region from which the German tribes migrate southwards. Britain does so because tribes invading from the 5th century (Angles and saxons) are able to dominate a culture less fully Romanized than Gaul. And Germany, with the Netherlands, does so because here the tribes are relatively unaffected by Roman influence - secure in a region which Tacitus describes as 'covered either by bristling forests or by foul swamps'.

By the same token the tribes in the German heartland are backward. For the first few centuries of the post-Roman era they are no match for the more sophisticated Franks, who have established themselves in Gaul.

8th - 9th century

Charles the Great: AD 768-814

The only empire which has ever united France and Germany (apart from a few years under Napoleon) is the one established in the 8th century by Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles martel and son of Pepin III.

On the death of his father in 768, Charles - whose name Charlemagne is a version of the Latin Carolus Magnus (Charles the Great) - inherits the western part of the Frankish empire, a coastal strip from southwest France up through the Netherlands into northern Germany. Three years later his brother Carloman dies. Charlemagne annexes Carloman's inheritance - central France and southwest Germany. By the time of his own death, in 814, he rules much of the rest of Germany together with northern Italy.

Conversion of the Saxons: AD 772-804

North of the Alps Charlemagne extends his territory eastwards to include Bavaria, but his main efforts within Germany are directed against the Saxons.

The Saxons, restless Germanic tribesmen, have long plagued the settled Frankish territories by raiding from their forest sanctuaries. Charlemagne the emperor is harmed by their depredations; Charlemagne the Christian is outraged by their pagan practices. From 772 he wages ferocious war against them, beginning with the destruction of one of their great shrines and its sacred central feature - the Irminsul or 'pillar of the world', a massive wooden column believed to support the universe.

It takes Charlemagne thirty years to subdue the Saxons; not until 804 are they finally transformed into settled Christians within his empire. It has been a brutal process. Charlemagne's method is military conquest followed by forced conversion and the planting of missionary outposts, usually in the form of bishoprics. In his book of rules, the official punishment for refusing to be baptized is death.

The chronicles record that on one day some 4500 reluctant Saxons are executed for not worshipping the right god.

Holy Roman Emperor: AD 800

In 799, for the third time in half a century, a pope is in need of help from the Frankish king. After being physically attacked by his enemies in the streets of Rome (their stated intention is to blind him and cut out his tongue, to make him incapable of office), Leo III makes his way through the Alps to visit Charlemagne at Paderborn.

It is not known what is agreed, but Charlemagne travels to Rome in 800 to support the pope. In a ceremony in St Peter's, on Christmas Day, Leo is due to anoint Charlemagne's son as his heir. But unexpectedly (it is maintained), as Charlemagne rises from prayer, the pope places a crown on his head and acclaims him emperor.

Charlemagne expresses displeasure but accepts the honour. The displeasure is probably diplomatic, for the legal emperor is undoubtedly the one in Constantinople. Nevertheless this public alliance between the pope and the ruler of a confederation of Germanic tribes now reflects the reality of political power in the west. And it launches the concept of the new Holy Roman Empire which will play an important role throughout the Middle Ages.

The Holy Roman Empire only becomes formally established in the next century. But it is implicit in the title adopted by Charlemagne in 800: 'Charles, most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman empire.'

Aachen or Aix-la-Chapelle: AD 805

Five years after the coronation in Rome, Leo III is again with Charlemagne at a religious ceremony. But this time it is in Germany. He is consecrating Charlemagne's spectacular new church in Aachen, begun just nine years previously in 796.

The French name of Aachen, Aix-la-Chapelle, specifically features this famous building - a small but richly decorated octagonal chapel which Charlemagne has consciously modelled on another famous imperial church, Justinian's San vitale in Ravenna.

Much is significant about the choice of Aachen as Charlemagne's seat of power. It is in the north of his empire, at the opposite extreme from Rome. The pope's journey north in 805 makes it plain that Rome cannot assume precedence in this new Christian partnership; and when Charlemagne decides to crown his only surviving son, Louis, as co-emperor in 813, the ceremony takes place in the imperial chapel at Aachen without the pope.

The site of Aachen is also ideal in terms of Charlemagne's united Frankish empire. It lies exactly between the west and east Frankish kingdoms, a fact reflected in its modern position at the intersection between the borders of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

A centre of Christian learning: AD 780-814

While extending his territories, Charlemagne needs to improve the administration of the empire. Christian clerics (the only literate group in the barbarian north) are enlisted as his civil servants at Aachen, where the emperor also establishes a programme of education and cultural revival.

Alcuin, a distinguished teacher from York, is invited in 780 to found a school in the palace at Aachen (Charlemagne and his family sometimes join the lessons); and the copying of manuscripts is carried out in a beautiful Script which later becomes the basis of Roman type. Though still primitive by the standards of classical culture, the renewal of intellectual and artistic life under Charlemagne has justly been described as the Carolingian Renaissance.

The Carolingian inheritance: AD 814

Charlemagne intends, in the tradition of the Franks, to divide his territory equally between his sons. But the two eldest die, in 810 and 811, leaving only Louis - who succeeds as sole emperor in 814. His subsequent name, Louis the Pious, reveals a character different from his father's; he is more interested in asserting authority through the medium of church and monastery than on the battlefield.

Charlemagne's great empire remains precariously intact for this one reign after his death. Its fragmentation begins when Louis dies, in 840. But the name of Charlemagne in legend and literature remains vigorously alive .

The region united by Charlemagne includes, in modern terms, northeast Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, much of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and north Italy. In 840, on the death of Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious, war breaks out between his three sons over their shares of this inheritance.

A division between the brothers is finally agreed, in 843, in a treaty signed at Verdun. The dividing lines drawn on this occasion prove of lasting and dark significance in the history of Europe.

Three slices of Francia: AD 843

Two facts of European geography (the Atlantic coast and the Rhine) dictate a vertical division of the Frankish empire, known in Latin as Francia. The three available sections are the west, the middle and the east - Francia Occidentalis, Francia Media and Francia Orientalis.

It is clear that Francia Occidentalis will include much of modern France, and that Francia Orientalis will approximate to the German-speaking areas east of the Rhine. Francia Media, an ambiguous region between them, is the richest strip of territory. Allotted to Charlemagne's eldest son, Lothair I, it stretches from the Netherlands and Belgium down both sides of the Rhine to Switzerland and Italy.

This central Frankish kingdom is in subsequent centuries, including our own, one of the great fault lines of Europe. The northern section becomes known as Lotharingia (the territory of Lothair) and thus, in French, Lorraine; between it and Switzerland is Alsace.

As power grows or decreases to the west or the east, in the great regions emerging slowly as France and Germany, these Rhineland provinces frequently change hands. So, for many centuries, do the Low Countries, Burgundy and northern Italy.

This central Frankish kingdom is in subsequent centuries, including our own, one of the great fault lines of Europe. The northern section becomes known as Lotharingia (the territory of Lothair) and thus, in French, Lorraine; between it and Switzerland is Alsace. As power grows or decreases to the west or the east, in the great regions emerging slowly as France and Germany, these Rhineland provinces frequently change hands or allegiance.

So, for many centuries, do the Low Countries, Burgundy and northern Italy.

Members of the Carolingian dynasty maintain tenuous power on both sides of the Rhine through the 9th century. But they lose control of Germany in 911 and of France in 987.

From 919 the ruling dynasty in Germany is Saxon in origin. But Hugh Capet, who becomes king of western Francia in 987, is a Frank. His descendants rule from Paris for nearly four centuries. In the name of their emerging nation, France, they perpetuate the achievement of the Franks.

10th - 12th century

Feudal upstarts: 9th - 10th century AD

The external threat from marauding Vikings in the west and from Magyars in the east aggravates an already grave internal problem for the feudal dynasties of Charlemagne's descendants. Feudalism, with its decentralization of military and territorial power, has at the best of times a tendency to foster regional independence. In periods of crisis, when the regions need to be well armed if they are to repel invaders, it is almost inevitable that the feudal holders of large tracts of frontier territory grow in strength until they are capable of challenging their own king.

Baronial contenders upset the succession to the throne in the west Frankish kingdom from the late 9th century and in the eastern kingdom a few years later.

The main rival to the Carolingian kings in Francia occidentalis is the family of Robert the Strong. Count of extensive territories around the Loire, he plays a leading part in the struggle against the Normans. His son, Eudes, adds Paris to his feudal domains and defends it successfully in 885-6 against a Norman siege.

When the west Frankish king dies in 888, the nobles elect Eudes in his place instead of a member of the Carolingian dynasty. Subsequently the crown returns to Carolingian monarchs, but by the mid-10th century they rule only with the support of the descendants of Robert the Strong. One of them, Hugh the Great, exemplifies the nature of a great nobleman's power base.

In 911 the east Frankish king dies without a male heir. The only legitimate claimant within the Carolingian dynasty is Charles III, ruler of the west Frankish kingdom. Rather than do homage to him, and reunite the empire of Charlemagne, the eastern Franks and the Saxons elect one of their own number to the vacant throne. Conrad, the duke of Franconia, becomes the German king.

Although not of the Carolingian line, Conrad is nevertheless a Frank. But on his death the Franks and the Saxons together elect a Saxon king. In 919 Henry I becomes the founder of the Saxon, or Ottonian, dynasty.

Part of Hugh's strength derives directly from his feudal lands; he is count of Paris, with large territories between the Seine and the Loire. He also acquires a title of romantic resonance, capable of inspiring a special kind of loyalty; from 937 he is called 'duke of the Franks'. And he has useful brothers-in-law; his first wife is sister of an Anglo-Saxon king of England, his second is sister of the emperor Otto I.

More surprisingly, Hugh is the lay abbot of at least four great monasteries, bringing him considerable wealth and a voice in the vast network of Benedictines . This astonishing portfolio, as early as the 10th century, reveals the peculiar blend of secular and religious power in European Feudalism.

At different periods Hugh supports and opposes the Carolingian dynasty in the west Frankish kingdom, depending on where he considers the best interest of his own family to lie. When he dies in 956, succeeded by three sons, he has considerably extended his territory around Paris and has secured the important duchy of Burgundy for his descendants.

Some thirty years later, in 987, Hugh's eldest son - also Hugh - is elected king by the west Frankish nobles in preference to a Carolingian claimant. His nickname, because of the capa or 'cape' which he wears, is Hugh Capet. His descendants become known as the Capetians.

Ottonian dynasty: AD 919-962

The east Frankish kingdom over which Henry I becomes king in 919 consists of four great duchies - territories settled by tribes (such as the Baivarii and the Suebi) which have been conquered by the Franks and converted to Christianity. Their leaders, becoming dukes in the Frankish Feudal system, accept the rule of any strong Frankish king but tend to independence in other reigns. The four are Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony and the Franks' own region, Franconia. Lorraine, a fifth duchy, is a frequently disputed territory between the east and west Frankish kingdoms.

Henry succeeds in asserting at least nominal control over these five duchies (often called the stem duchies). He is succeeded by his son Otto in 936.

The rule of Otto I, or Otto the Great, amounts to a revival and extension of the eastern half of Charlemagne's great empire. Where Charlemagne used a combination of force and Christianity to subdue the Saxons on his border, Otto applies the same tactics in the north against the Danes and in the east against the Slavs. He protects the eastern border of what now becomes known as the Reich (the German 'empire') by a decisive victory against the Magyars of Hungary on a plain near the river Lech in 955.

Like Charlemagne, Otto marches into northern Italy and proclaims himself king of the Lombards. Like Charlemagne he is crowned by the pope in Rome.

Emperors and popes: AD 962-1250

The imperial role accorded by the pope to Charlemagne in 800 is handed on in increasingly desultory fashion during the 9th century. From 924 it falls into abeyance. But in 962 a pope once again needs help against his Italian enemies. Again he appeals to a strong German ruler.

The coronation of Otto I by pope John XII in 962 marks a revival of the concept of a Christian emperor in the west. It is also the beginning of an unbroken line of Holy Roman emperors lasting for more than eight centuries. Otto I does not call himself Roman emperor, but his son Otto II uses the title - as a clear statement of western and papal independence from the other Christian emperor in Constantinople.

Otto and his son and grandson (Otto II and Otto III) regard the imperial crown as a mandate to control the papacy. They dismiss popes at their will and instal replacements more to their liking (sometimes even changing their mind and repeating the process). This power, together with territories covering much of central Europe, gives the German empire and the imperial title great prestige in the late 10th century.

But subservience was not the papal intention in reinstating the Holy Roman Empire. A clash is inevitable.

Otto and his son and grandson (Otto II and Otto III) regard the imperial crown as a mandate to control the papacy. They dismiss popes at their will and instal replacements more to their liking (sometimes even changing their mind and repeating the process).

This power, together with territories covering much of central Europe, gives the German empire and the imperial title great prestige from the late 10th century. This high status is unaffected by a minor change of dynasty in the early 11th century.

In 1024 the male line of descent from Otto i dies out. The princes elect the duke of Franconia, descended from Otto in the female line, as the German king Conrad II. His dynasty is known either as Franconian (from the province of the Franks) or Salian (from the Salii, one of the main tribal groups of the Franks).

Conrad's son, Henry III, is crowned emperor in Rome in 1046. Before his coronation he deposes three rival claimants to the papacy and selects a candidate of his own - the German bishop of Bamberg - who carries out the coronation in St Peter's. This renewed intervention in Rome's affairs launches two centuries of conflict between German Emperors and the papacy.

Guelphs and Ghibellines: from AD 1152

The struggle between emperors and popes is at its most extreme during the reign of Henry III's son, Henry iv. But it continues unabated after the next change of dynasty.

Henry iv's son, Henry V, dies without an heir in 1125. By this time two of the most powerful German families, each closely linked to the imperial house, are the Welfs and the Hohenstaufen. They are bitter rivals, but the German electors show signs of resolving that issue when they select Frederick i as German king in 1152. On his father's side he is a Hohenstaufen, on his mother's a Welf.

The hostility of the popes to the German emperors remains a factor in European and Italian politics during the Hohenstaufen period. Indeed the ancient Welf hatred of the Hohenstaufen becomes linked to papal hostility. Supporters of the papacy in Italy become known as Guelphs (a version of Welf), while the imperial party are called Ghibellines (from Waiblingen, the name of a Hohenstaufen stronghold in Swabia).

The particular bugbear of the papacy is the emperor Frederick ii. He alarms them because the dynastic marriage of his parents has brought him control of southern Italy and Sicily as well Germany. Yet this unwieldy extension of the German empire is also a source of weakness within Germany itself.

German kings and emperors: 10th - 13th century

When the Holy Roman empire was re-established in the 10th century, with the coronation of Otto i, the German kingdom was by far the most powerful territory in Europe. But the political structure in Germany contributes, in the long run, to a decline in the power of the German kings.

It is the tradition in Germany, an alliance of powerful duchies, for the king of the Germans to be elected from among the local rulers (though the practice of power ensures that the choice usually remains within a dynasty). And the reign of Otto i introduces an extra tradition - that the German king is also automatically the emperor, once the pope has crowned him in Rome.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, when the regions of western Europe (France, England, Spain) are developing strong centralized monarchies, Germany moves in the opposite direction. Large numbers of small territories grow in wealth and independence, while offering nominal allegiance to the emperor. Some are aristocratic in origin, domains of noble families; others are ecclesiastical, with a rich abbot or bishop wielding temporal power; a few are towns, flexing new economic muscle. All are ferociously competitive.

This tendency to anarchy results from the paradox of an elected feudal overlord. His position, not based on conquest, must depend on a network of negotiated alliances - meaning, in brutal reality, concessions.

The lack of authority of the German kings within Germany is compounded by the demands on their attentions elsewhere. Being Roman emperors, they have interests to defend in Italy.

The problem is at its extreme in the 13th century when marriage brings the rich kingdom of Sicily to the Hohenstaufen dynasty of German kings. For much of his reign Frederick ii succeeds in controlling Germany, Italy and his favourite domain of Sicily, as well as going on crusade and becoming king of Jerusalem. But after his death, in 1250, the empire loses any real political meaning. The title becomes valued only as the most resounding dignity possessed by the German kings.

Pressure eastwards: 11th - 13th century AD

Dynastic politics may have the effect of making the German empire less cohesive, but the energies of the German people achieve at the same time a marked expansion of the realm. This is achieved commercially through the trading network of the Hanseatic towns. And it is reflected in territorial terms in the steady push eastwards (or in German Drang nach Osten) into the less developed and heavily forested lands occupied by Slavs and Prussians.

This process at first brings considerable benefits to the colonized regions, though it also inevitably leads to violent reactions against the colonists.

The German advance is gradual, achieved by peasant settlement (laboriously clearing the forests), by the granting of feudal rights in newly conquered territories, by the establishment of monasteries and bishoprics, and by the extension of Baltic trade along the coast.

By these means the ancient German duchies are expanded. Swabia absorbs much of what is now Switzerland. Bavaria extends spasmodically into Austria, with occasional disastrous reverses at the hands of the Magyars in Hungary. To the north the Prussians resist German attempts to conquer and convert them in the 10th century, remaining pagan in their remote forests until the arrival of the Teutonic knights in the 13th century.

Hanseatic League: 12th - 17th century AD

In 1159 Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria, builds a new German town on a site which he has captured the previous year. It is Lübeck, perfectly placed to benefit from developing trade in the Baltic. Goods from the Netherlands and the Rhineland have their easiest access to the Baltic through Lübeck. For trade in the opposite direction, a short land journey from Lübeck across the base of the Danish peninsula brings goods easily to Hamburg and the North Sea.

Over the next two centuries Lübeck and Hamburg, in alliance, become the twin centres of a network of trading alliances known later as the Hanseatic League.

A Hanse is a guild of merchants. Associations of German merchants develop in the great cities on or near the Baltic (Gdansk, Riga, Novgorod, Stockholm), on the coasts of the North Sea (Bergen, Bremen) and in western cities where the Baltic trade can be profitably brokered - in particular Cologne, Bruges and London.

It suits these German merchants, and the towns which benefit from their efforts, to form mutual alliances to further the flow of trade. Safe passage for everyone's goods is essential. The control of pirates becomes a prime reason for cooperation, together with other measures (such as lighthouses and trained pilots) to improve the safety of shipping.

The rapid growth of Hanseatic trade during the 13th century is part of a general pattern of increasing European prosperity. During this period the towns with active German hanse gradually organize themselves in a more formal league, with membership fees and regular 'diets' to agree policies of mutual benefit. By the 14th century there about 100 such towns, some of them as far afield as Iceland and Spain. Their German communities effectively control the trade of the Baltic and North Sea.

But economic decline during the 14th century takes its toll on the success of the Hanseatic towns. So do political developments around the Baltic.

In 1386 Poland and lithuania merge, soon winning the region around Gdansk from the Teutonic knights. On the opposite shore of the sea, the three Scandinavian kingdoms are united in 1389; the new monarchy encompasses Stockholm, previously an independent Hanseatic town. A century later, when Ivan III annexes Novgorod, he expels the German merchants.

Such factors contribute to the gradual decline of the Hanseatic League. What began as a positive union to promote trade becomes a restrictive league, attempting to protect German interests against foreign competitors. But great enterprises fade slowly. The final Hanseatic Diet is held as late as 1669.

13th - 15th century

Prussia and the Teutonic knights: AD 1225-1525

The Teutonic knights, short of work in the Holy Land, adopt a new form of crusade in about 1225. A prince of Poland, Conrad of Mazovia, asks them to control his unruly neighbours, the pagan Prussians - tribes who have lived for many centuries in the lands northeast of Germany, bordering the Baltic sea. The knights prepare their campaign carefully, establishing in advance their rights over any land they may conquer. In 1230 Conrad formally cedes to the order his territories on the west bank of the Vistula.

During the next thirty years the knights fight their way east along the coast as far as the Neman river, building castles to hold down the Prussians and sharing out the land as feudal fiefs for German families.

In 1261 an uprising by the Prussians almost succeeds in evicting the Teutonic knights. It takes the knights some twenty years to regain full control. They achieve their purpose by giving feudal rights to many more families and by importing large numbers of German peasants to till the land (their iron ploughs are more effective than the wooden implements of the Prussians in this heavily wooded region).

The knights improve their security when they seize Gdansk in 1308 and annexe the coast west to the Oder (the region known as Pomerania). This links Prussia with the German empire. But it has a very adverse effect on its southern neighbours, cutting Poland off from the sea.

The knights retain this territory for a century, until Poland and Lithuania win a crushing victory over the order at Grunwald in 1410. The disposal of Prussian territory between Poland and the knights is eventually agreed in a treaty at Torun in 1466. The western part of Prussia, around the Vistula, is incorporated in the Polish kingdom. Further west along the coast, Pomerania (annexed by the knights in 1308-9) is now restored to Poland.

But the eastern part of Prussia, more densely settled by Germans, is granted to the order as a feudal duchy owing allegiance to Poland.

This arrangement lasts until the Hohenzollern. In 1525, under Lutheran influence, the high master dissolves the Teutonic Order in Prussia. However he retains his own position at the head of the duchy, owing allegiance just as before to the Polish crown. But he is now the secular duke of Prussia, a position capable of becoming hereditary.

The name of this last high master in the region is Albert. He is a member of the Pomerania family. Prussia becomes one of his family's most significant possessions.

After the Hohenstaufen: AD 1254-1438

The Hohenstaufen period has seen some notably forceful popes (Innocent III, Gregory IX, Innocent IV) and powerful emperors (Frederick I, Frederick II). It is followed, after the death of the last Hohenstaufen ruler in 1254, by a prolonged time of uncertainty in both Papacy and empire.

The popes abandon Rome in 1309 and spend most of the 14th century in self-imposed exile in Avignon. From 1378 there are two rival popes (a number subsequently rising to three) in the split known as the Great schism.

Meanwhile, for almost twenty years after the death of Conrad IV in 1254, the German princes fail to elect any effective king or emperor. This period is usually known (with a grandiloquence to match the Great schism in the Papacy) as the Great Interregnum.

The interregnum ends with the election of Rudolf I as German king in 1273. The choice subsequently seems of great significance, because he is the first Great schism on the German throne. But the Great schism grip on the succession remains far in the future. During the next century the electors choose kings from several families. Not till the coronation of Charles IV in 1346 is there the start of another dynasty - that of the house of Habsburg.

Charles IV is crowned emperor in Rome in 1355. He makes his capital in Prague (he has inherited Luxembourg as well as Habsburg), bringing the city its first period of glory. The imperial dignity remains in Charles's family until 1438, when it is transferred to the Habsburgs.

At the beginning and end of those eighty years Charles and his son Sigismund take a strong line with the Papacy. Within a year of his coronation, Charles issues the Council of constance of 1356 which excludes the pope from any influence in the choice of emperor. And in 1414 Sigismund is instrumental in bringing together the Bohemia which finally ends the Great schism and restores a single pope to Rome.

The Golden Bull and the electors: AD 1356-1806

The Golden Bull, issued by Charles IV in 1356, clarifies the new identity which the Holy Roman empire has been gradually adopting. It ends papal involvement in the election of a German king, by the simple means of denying Rome's right to approve or reject the electors' choice. In return, by a separate agreement with the pope, Charles abandons imperial claims in Italy - apart from a title to the kingdom of Lombardy, inherited from Charlemagne.

The emphasis is clear. This is now to be essentially a German empire, as reflected in a new form of the title adopted in 1452 - sacrum Romanum imperium nationis Germanicae (Holy Roman empire of the German nation).

The Golden Bull also clarifies and formalizes the process of election of a German king. The choice has traditionally been in the hands of seven electors, but their identity has varied.

The group of seven is now established as three archbishops (of Mainz, Cologne and Trier) and four hereditary lay rulers (the count palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, the margrave of Brandenburg and the king of Bohemia).

This group of seven electors remains unchanged until the 17th century, when an eighth vote is added (the newcomer to the list is the duke of Bavaria). In 1708 the ruler of Hanover becomes a ninth elector. But by this time the idea of election is as meaningless as in any Rotten borough. The office of Holy Roman Emperor has become a hereditary attachment of one family.

From 1438 to 1806 every Holy Roman Emperor but one is part of the Habsburg dynasty. The reason for the exception, in 1742-5, is that the Habsburg ruler of Austria is a woman, Maria theresa.

Imperial cities: 12th - 15th century AD

The fragmented political structure of Germany has certain advantages for the larger German towns. An elected emperor often finds it difficult to control virtually independent territories, held by hereditary nobles or by dignitaries of the church. In such circumstances there may be a natural alliance between the emperor and the citizens of a prosperous borough - who frequently have their own grudge against their local feudal overlord.

The rich burghers can help the emperor with funds or troops for his armies. He can help them with privileges to protect their trade.

Gradually, over the centuries, a premier league of German cities begins to emerge. It consists of those which hold their rights directly from the emperor. These are the Reichstädte, or imperial cities. Since the emperor is often relatively powerless, this direct allegiance becomes tantamount to independence.

Such cities run their own affairs and make alliances among themselves for mutual benefit, even putting armies into the field to enforce their interests. Each of them is run by a Rat, or council, membership of which is often limited to the leading local families.

In many ways the imperial cities are similar to contemporary Communes in Italy or Flanders. But they are more numerous and are more inclined to group together in large trading alliances - of which the Hanseatic league is the best known example.

A document of 1422 lists seventy-five free German cities. They include many of the most distinguished places in early German history - Aachen, Cologne, Lübeck, Hamburg, Bremen, Dortmund, Frankfurt am Main, Regensburg, Augsburg, Nuremberg, Ulm. From 1489 all the free cities are formally represented in the imperial diet or Reichstag.

Reichstag: 12th - 19th century AD

The Reichstag is in origin the royal council of the medieval German emperors, similar in kind to the curia regis of kings in western Europe at the same period. The term is usually translated into English as imperial diet - Reich meaning empire, and Tag (day) being reflected in diet (from dies, 'day' in Latin).

At first only the princes and bishops of the empire are summoned to a diet, but the representation gradually extends to lessser feudal nobles and then to the Imperial cities. The larger cities become informally involved during the 13th century. From 1489 all the free cities are given a guaranteed role in the diet.

The reform of 1489 organizes the imperial diet in three separate colleges. The first consists of the seven electors who are responsible for choosing a new emperor when the throne is vacant (a group established by the Golden bull of 1356). The second is the college of princes, of whom sixty-one are from the hereditary nobility and thirty-three are bishops.

The third is the college of the cities, identified as two groups. They consist of fourteen towns loosely identified with the Rhineland and thirty-seven with Swabia.

The three colleges of the diet meet separately and pass their own resolutions. These resolutions are combined in an agreed statement which is then presented to the emperor - who has the legal right to act upon it in whole, in part or not at all (the degree of compliance depends largely on his need at the time for the diet's financial support).

In the 16th century the Holy roman empire begins a long decline into irrelevance. The emperors are Habsburgs, with their roots in Austria. The German princes are increasingly independent. The imperial diet lapses into disuse, meeting from 1663 in Regensburg but deciding little. Two centuries later, with the creation of a new German empire in 1871, the Reichstag is revived as Germany's parliament.

16th century

Germany and the Reformation: AD 1517-1648

The decline of the Holy Roman empire is closely connected with the great 16th-century upheaveal in central Europe - that of the Reformation. The German princes, in the many semi-independent territories of the empire, see the religious options suddenly on offer as political opportunities.

The pope is resented by many as a devious and distant intriguer, who drains away money from local church lands and regularly demands more. The emperor, lord of vast new Habsburg territories, is now also a distant figure with interests far beyond the traditional empire.

Once the turmoil of the Reformation begins, in the years after 1517, each German prince assesses his own best chance of securing or expanding his territory and his treasury. The resulting conflicts within German-speaking regions are frequent until the peace of Augsburg in 1555. They then erupt again in the Thirty Years' War of 1618-48.

The great dispute soon becomes a European event. But the original flare-up in 1517 is very much a German phenomenon.

Albert of Mainz: AD 1517

Germany provides a context in which materialism within the Roman Catholic church is offensively evident. Some of the principalities, which together make up the Holy Roman empire, are ruled by unscrupulous prelates living in the style of Renaissance princes. Foremost among them is Albert, archbishop of Mainz and one of the Seven imperial electors.

By the age of twenty-four Albert holds a bishopric and a second archbishopric in addition to Mainz. Such plurality is against canon law. But the pope, Leo X, agrees to overlook the irregularity in return for a large donation to the building costs of the new St Peter's.

Both pope and archbishop are men of the world (the pope is a Medici). Leo makes it possible for Albert to recover his costs by granting him the concession for the sale of indulgences towards the building of St Peter's. Half the money for each indulgence is go to Rome; the other half will help to pay off Albert's debts (he has borrowed the money for the original donation from the Fuggers of Augsburg).

This secret arrangement might distress the faithful if they knew of it. But more immediately shocking to some is the behaviour of the friar Johann Tetzel, whom Albert employs to sell the indulgences.

Tetzel is a showman. When preaching to gullible crowds in German towns he goes far beyond the official doctrine of Indulgences. He promises the immediate release of loved ones from the pain of Purgatory as soon as a purchase is made. He even has a catchy jingle to make the point: 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, The soul from Purgatory springs.'

In October 1517 some parishioners return to Wittenberg with Indulgences which they have bought from Tetzel - Indulgences so powerful, some have been led to believe, that they could pardon a man who had raped the Virgin Mary. News of this travesty reaches the ears of a professor at the university of Wittenberg.

Luther's ninety-five theses: AD 1517

Martin Luther, a man both solemn and passionate, is an Augustinian friar teaching theology at the university recently founded in Wittenberg by Frederick the Wise, the elector of Saxony. Obsessed by his own unworthiness, he comes to the conclusion that no amount of virtue or good behaviour can be the basis of salvation (as proposed in the doctrine known as justification by works). If the Christian life is not to be meaningless, he argues, a sinner's faith must be the only merit for which God's grace might be granted.

Luther therefore becomes a passionate believer in an alternative doctrine, justification by faith, for which he finds evidence in the writings of St paul.

Nothing could be further from the concept of justification by faith than Tetzel's impudent selling of God's grace. Luther has often argued against the sale of Indulgences in his sermons. Now he takes a more public stand. He writes out ninety-five propositions about the nature of faith and contemporary church practice.

The tone of these 'theses', as they come to be known, is academic. But the underlying gist, apart from overt criticism of Indulgences, is that truth is to be sought in scripture rather than in the teaching of the church. By nailing his theses to the door of All Saints' in Wittenberg, as Luther does on 31 October 1517, he is merely proposing them as subjects for debate.

Instead of launching a debate in Wittenberg, the ninety-five theses spark off a European conflagration of unparalleled violence. The Reformation ravages western Christendom for more than a century, bringing violent intolerance and hatred which lasts in some Christian communities down to the present day. No sectarian dispute in any other religion has matched the destructive force, the brutality and the bitterness which begins in Wittenberg in 1517.

Luther is as surprised as anyone else by the eruption which now engulfs him - slowly at first but with accelerating pace after a year or two. Its violence derives from several unusual elements.

The papacy is determined to suppress this impertinence. Luther's writings are burnt in Rome in 1520; his excommunication follows in 1521. This is the predictable part. The unexpected elements are the groundswell of support in Germany, nourished by a deep resentment of papal interference; and the effect of the relatively new craft of printing.

Before Gutenberg, news of Luther's heresy would have circulated only slowly. But now copies of the ninety-five theses are all over Europe within weeks. A fierce debate develops, with pamphlets pouring from the presses - many of them from Luther's pen. Within six years, by 1523, Europe's printers produce 1300 different editions of his tracts.

In these circumstances it is impossible for the issue to be swept under the carpet. Any action taken against Luther in person is certain to provoke a crisis - though in the early years his safety depends heavily on the protection of Frederick the Wise, proud of his university and reluctant to hand over to Rome its famous theologian, however controversial.

Support for the excommunicated monk is so strong among German knights that the young emperor, Charles v, is prevailed upon to hear his case at a diet held in 1521 in Worms. Luther is given a safe conduct for his journey to and from the diet. He is no doubt aware of the value of an imperial safe conduct to John Huss a century earlier, but he accepts the challenge.

The Diet of Worms: AD 1521

Where Huss had slipped into Constance in 1414 almost alone, Luther arrives at the Diet at Worms supported by a large number of enthusiastic German knights. Nevertheless the purpose of the confrontation, from the emperor's point of view, is a demand that he should recant.

In a lengthy speech Luther explains that he will recant any of his views if they can be proved wrong by scripture or reason. Otherwise he must remain true to his conscience and to his understanding of God's word. The presses soon reduce this to the pithy statement which has been remembered ever since: Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders., 'Here I stand. I can not do otherwise.'

The emperor and the Diet declare Luther an outlaw in the Edict of Worms (using the violently intemperate language of the time). Luther leaves Worms with his safe conduct guaranteed for a few days. Once it has expired, it becomes the duty of any of the emperor's loyal subjects to seize the heretic.

Precisely that disaster seems to happen. Luther is bumping along in his wagon when armed men gallop up and drag him off. He is not seen in public for almost a year, causing many to assume that he is dead. But the armed men belong to Frederick the Wise. They take Luther to safety in one of Frederick's castles, the Wartburg, where he is given new clothes and a new identity - as Junker Georg, or plain Squire George.

Luther's stand leads, eventually, to the emergence of the first sect to break away from the Roman Catholic church and to survive the opposition of the papacy - Lutheranism, finally established by the Peace of Augsburg in 1555. This first Protestant faith is soon followed by others, violently disagreeing among themselves. Zwingli goes further than Luther. The Anabaptists far outstrip either. Meanwhile Henry viii devises a new English church for personal purposes.

The papacy, unable to stem the tide, calls the Council of trent and develops the Catholic Reformation - Rome's own rigorously virtuous programme of reform.

Speyer: AD 1526-1529

In the years following the Edict of Worms, and Luther's return to Wittenberg in 1522, the princes of German states and the councils of imperial cities engage in furious argument whether to accept the Edict's rejection of Luther's reforms. There is growing hostility to external interference in German affairs - from Rome and from the pope's committed ally, a Holy Roman emperor whose interests now seem as much Spanish as German. A large minority within the empire is in rebellious mood.

In 1526 the emperor, Charles v, attempts to calm the situation by appeasement.

An imperial diet held in Speyer in 1526 modifies the outright ban on Luther's teachings, imposed five years previously in the Edict of Worms. Now each German prince is to take his own decision on the matter, with the responsibility to answer for it 'to God and the emperor'.

Three years later, once again at Speyer, another diet take the opposite line. The concession of 1526 is withdrawn, and the Edict of Worms reinstated. A dissenting minority, consisting of five princes and fourteen imperial cities, publishes a 'Protestation' against the decision. As a result they become known as the Protestants.

Augsburg: AD 1530-1555

The need to settle religious unrest in Germany is made more urgent by the shock of the Turks besieging Vienna in September 1529. They withdraw unsuccessfully a month later. But the affront vividly suggests the possibility of greater dangers.

The emperor Charles V makes a new attempt to resolve the issue at a diet in Augsburg in June 1530. Luther, officially an outlaw under the terms of the Edict of Worms, is unable to attend. His place is taken by Melanchthon, who presents what is now known as the Augsburg Confession. Drawing various previous documents into one coherent whole, this becomes the standard statement of the Lutheran faith.

Melanchthon's purpose is to emphasize that the Lutheran reforms 'dissent in no article of faith from the Catholic church'. They merely strip away abuses which have been introduced in recent centuries. The diet refuses to accept this, decreeing instead that by April 1531 all Protestant princes and cities must recant from the Lutheran position and (an important element) restore all church and monastic property which has been seized.

The threat of military intervention by the emperor is implicit. In response, the Protestant princes and some of the imperial cities form a defensive pact for mutual defence, established in 1531 as the League of Schmalkalden.

Over the next two decades the League is often in action against its Catholic neighbours in Germany. In 1547 it suffers a severe reverse in the battle of Mühlberg, a victory for Charles V which results in the League's two main leaders - the elector of Saxony and Philip of Hesse - spending five years as the emperor's prisoners.

But no military victory can resolve these deep religious divisions within the empire. When another imperial diet meets at Augsburg in 1555, presided over by Charles V's brother Ferdinand, all sides are weary and desperate for a solution.

The compromise eventually accepted, and known as the Peace of Augsburg, acknowledges the reality which has emerged in the years since Luther's ninety-five theses sparked off the conflict. Each prince and city is to be allowed to choose between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism (but all other sects, such as the Swiss reformed church and the Anabaptists, remain proscribed). The formula is later succinctly described in the Latin phrase cuius regio, eius religio (whoever has the kingdom chooses the religion).

The principle of the ruler choosing the religion has effectively held sway for some time within the empire. And it has been far more starkly the case in the independent kingdoms of Northwest europe.

After Augsburg: AD 1555-1619

The Augsburg formula preserves for half a century an uneasy peace in the German lands, while princes use their religious freedom as a form of diplomacy.

Catholic rulers can be sure of strong support from a newly invigorated Rome after the Council of Trent; an energetic role is now played in their territories by the new order of Jesuits. Lutheran princes gain strength not only from each other but from Protestant kingdoms to the northwest, Denmark and Sweden. And the minority of Calvinist territories can expect friendship from France during the reign of Henry iv.

Early in the 17th century the two sides form up in opposing blocs, each headed by a branch of the Wittelsbach family. The Wittelsbachs of the Rhine Palatinate, in southwest Germany, are Calvinist; they lead the Protestant Union, formed in 1608. The Wittelsbachs of Bavaria, just to the east, form the Catholic League in the following year.

This confrontation does not immediately lead to armed conflict - until the Protestants of distant Bohemia elect as their king, in 1619, the Calvinist Wittelsbach, Frederick V. The response by the Catholic League, in alliance with pope and emperor, becomes one of the opening encounters of the Thirty Years' War.

17th century

The Winter King: AD 1619-1620

In accepting the Bohemian throne, and being crowned in Prague in November 1619, Frederick V is perpetrating an extremely inflammatory act within the edgy community of the German states. Ferdinand II, Habsburg successor to the kingdom of Bohemia, has been elected Holy Roman emperor in August of that year.

Frederick owes Ferdinand allegiance, as one of the German princes and as an imperial elector (the Elector palatine of the Rhine). Instead, by popular demand in Bohemia, he is usurping his lord's place.

Ferdinand is able to organize a powerful army against the Protestant upstart. The bulk of it comes from the duchy of Bavaria, a Catholic line of the Wittelsbach dynasty and deeply hostile to the Protestant branch headed by Frederick in the Palatinate. In return for his support the Bavarian duke, Maximilian I, is promised Frederick's hereditary lands and his status as an imperial elector.

Frederick, by contrast, receives messages of goodwill but little practical help from the Protestant states.

The issue is decided in a single brief encounter. The Bavarian army, under its distinguished general Johann Tserclaes von Tilly, marches on Prague. A battle at the White Mountain, to the west of the city, lasts only an hour before the Protestant army gives way. On the evening of that same day, 8 November 1620, almost exactly a year after his coronation, Frederick flees from Prague with his family.

His wife is Elizabeth, daughter of James I of England. Their brief reign causes Frederick and Elizabeth to become known as the Winter King and Queen. (But unwittingly they found a dynasty. A century later their grandson becomes king of Great Britain as George i).

After the White Mountain: AD 1620-1625

Both the emperor Ferdinand II and the duke of Bavaria, Maximilian I, benefit greatly from the victory at the White Mountain.

Ferdinand gains full control over Bohemia. Meanwhile Maximilian has occupied part of Austria, which he intends to hold until all Ferdinand's debts to him are paid. He also now takes much of Frederick's territory in the Palatinate (part has been quietly occupied by the Spanish, moving down from the Netherlands while the locals are busy in Bohemia).

Maximilian is passionately opposed to any increase in Habsburg power. As a great Catholic prince now ruling the whole of southern Germany, he seems well placed to keep Ferdinand in check.

But Ferdinand's ruthless suppression and exploitation of conquered Bohemia introduces a new element to upset the balance. It provides him with great wealth. It also brings to prominence a general and entrepreneur of extraordinary ambition and talent - Albrecht von Wallenstein.

Wallenstein is a minor Czech nobleman who becomes rich through marriage to an elderly widow. From 1617 he uses her money to raise a small private army with which he assists Ferdinand. His reward, after the suppression of Bohemia, includes a licence to issue coins debased to half their previous value. With the profit he buys at a knock-down price sixty large estates, which together make him lord of the whole of northeastern Bohemia.

Wallenstein now proposes to Ferdinand a bold extension of his earlier private army. He offers to provide, at no expense to the emperor, an independent imperial army of 24,000 men. The expense, raised by a financial agent, will be recovered from conquered territories.

The idea appeals to Ferdinand because it frees him from reliance on the powerful duke of Bavaria, whose army made possible the victory at the White mountain. Wallenstein's plan is approved and he is appointed chief of all the imperial forces. Seeing another rich opportunity, he mobilizes his estates in Bohemia to provide arms and equipment for the army.

Wallenstein acquires a welcome opportunity to put his army into the field when Christian IV, the king of Denmark, decides to take a hand in the troubled affairs of Germany.

Lutherans from Scandinavia: AD 1625-1631

As a Lutheran monarch, the Danish king Christian IV has good cause to support Protestant states in north Germany under threat from Catholic neighbours. He is also eager to keep Catholics away from the Baltic. He has been promised a subsidy by England if he intervenes in Germany's wars. And he is interested in extending his own territory southwards to the estuaries of the Elbe and the Weser.

In May 1625 he marches into Germany.

Christian IV is an unskilled commander, and he has the misfortune to have ranged against him the two most experienced generals of the age. Tilly commands the Bavarian army on behalf of the Catholic League. Wallenstein is at the head of the separate imperial army which he has raised for Ferdinand II.

Christian's first defeat is at the hands of Tilly, at Lutter in August 1626. Between them, Tilly and Wallenstein then drive the Danes north, clearing them from the Baltic coast, pursing them into the peninsula of Denmark and eventually confining Christian IV and his army to the Danish islands.

By 1628 Wallenstein has been granted the duchy of Mecklenburg, and an army of his is besieging the town of Stralsund. If it falls to him, he will be master of the German Baltic coast. This dramatic increase in Catholic power, and in Wallenstein's personal standing, has several results of great significance for the next stage of the war.

A new surge of confidence causes Ferdinand II, in March 1629, to issue the Edict of Restitution. It demands that all Protestant land not specifically ceded in 1555 in the Peace of augsburg be now returned to the Catholic church. This unilateral attempt to put the clock back eighty years is guaranteed to inflame the present religious conflict.

The new Catholic presence on the shores of the previously Lutheran southern Baltic persuades the king of Sweden, Gustavus ii, that he should enter the war. Resolving his long dispute with Poland (in the treaty of Altmark in September 1629), he brings an army across the sea and marches into Germany in July 1630.

Meanwhile the greatly increased stature of Wallenstein prompts the duke of Bavaria and the Catholic League to issue an ultimatum. Unless Ferdinand dismisses his general, he can expect no further cooperation. With reluctance, in August 1630, the emperor deprives an outraged Wallenstein of his high command.

After Wallenstein's dismissal, Tilly becomes commander of the combined armies of the Catholic League and of the emperor against the intruding Swedes.

For a year the two opposing sides, Protestant and Catholic, fail to meet in direct battle. Each attempts to secure firm alliances among the many German principalities (Protestant princes are at this stage reluctant to commit themselves to the Swedish king). But eventually, at Breitenfeld near Leipzig in September 1631, there is a confrontation. It is Tilly's misfortune that this is the first public display of new tactics devised by Gustavus ii. They prove devastating.

Swedish tactics: AD 1631

During the early years of his reign Gustavus II has effected a quiet revolution in the Swedish army. Where other monarchs rely on foreign mercenaries, he conscripts and trains his Swedish subjects - thus achieving an organized version of a citizen army. He instils in his soldiers sufficient discipline for them to be able to respond to flexible tactics on the battlefield.

For the same purpose he makes his infantrymen's Pikes less unwieldy, shortening them from 16 to 11 feet. He lightens the weight of armour, wearing himself only a leather jacket in battle. And he reduces the number of men in each company in battle formation.

Together with these measures of increased human mobility go similar improvements in artillery. Gustavus's ordnance factories produce a cast-iron cannon less than half the weight of any other in the field, but still capable of firing a four-pound shot. Moreover a form of cartridge holding a prepared charge of powder means that the cannon can be reloaded faster even than the muskets of the day.

This field artillery is mounted on carriages which can be pulled by two horses or even, when required, by a platoon of men.

When Gustavus's army is first seen in action in Germany, at Breitenfeld in 1631, the opposing Catholic army under Tilly is deployed in the cumbersome Spanish squares which have been the military convention for a century and more.

The Swedes begin the encounter with an artillery barrage from about 100 cannon which they have been able to bring to the field of battle. Thereafter the rout of the Catholics is completed in a series of unwelcome surprises - musketeers appear among lines of infantrymen instead of on the flanks, cavalry charges suddenly materialize from unexpected quarters. The battle sets a new order of military priority. Fire power and mobility are now the trump cards on the battlefield.

Breitenfeld and Lützen: AD 1631-1632

The Swedish victory at Breitenfeld causes many of the German Protestant princes to declare their support for Gustavus, who presses his campaign further south into Catholic Germany. In May 1632 he takes Munich. In the same month his ally the Protestant elector of Saxony enters Prague.

Confronted by these threats, the emperor Ferdinand II has already reappointed Wallenstein to his post as commander of the imperial army. Wallenstein's subtle strategies manoeuvre Gustavus out of his newly won territories in the south without risking a pitched battle. When this comes, it is again in the north near Leipzig - at Lützen in November 1632.

Swedish tactics again win the day at Lützen, though Gustavus himself dies leading a cavalry charge. Swedish armies continue to campaign in Germany. But the death of the king ends the heady period when there has been a serious possibility of Protestant Sweden playing a major role in German affairs.

Meanwhile the irrepressible Wallenstein is once again building himself an empire, with the help of an army which owes allegiance more to him than to the real emperor. By 1634 Ferdinand II is so exasperated that he authorizes the assassination (by an English captain, Walter Devereux) of his brilliant but over-ambitious commander.

Swedish tactics again win the day at Lützen, though Gustavus himself dies leading a cavalry charge. Swedish armies continue to campaign in Germany. But the death of the king ends the heady period when there has been a serious possibility of Protestant Sweden playing a major role in German affairs.

Peace of Prague: AD 1635

Exhaustion among the German princes now at last makes a compromise possible. The conflict which flared up in Prague in 1618 is resolved, at least in local terms, by a peace agreed in Prague in 1635.

It is the emperor who makes the major concession. Instead of the ownership of church lands being restored to the situation that prevailed in 1555, as demanded by Ferdinand's Edict of restitution, the date of the agreed status quo is now to be the very recent one of 1627 - reflecting the period immediately before the issue of the edict in 1629. (In 1648, in the peace of Westphalia, there is a final minor change - the relevant year becomes 1624).

If the war had only involved the German states, the agreement at Prague might well have ended it. But it has had from the start a broader theme, with the Spanish Habsburgs giving active support to the emperor, their Austrian cousin. From 1621 Spain has also renewed her war against the United provinces of the Netherlands. And the Swedes, at war with the emperor and the Catholic League, are not party to the peace of Prague.

Most significant of all, the improvement in Habsburg fortunes alarms the dynasty's greatest enemy, France. During the months before the peace of Prague, Cardinal Richelieu forms alliances with the United provinces and Sweden. And he declares war on Spain and the Austrian empire.

Final years and the peace of Westphalia: AD 1635-1648

The active intervention of France, as the ally of Sweden and the United Provinces against imperial Austria and Spain, ensures that warfare rumbles on for several more years after the peace of Prague in 1635. But it does so in a somewhat haphazard manner, with numerous local encounters across Europe from the Netherlands to Bohemia and with no clear outcome.

There are certain significant turning points. In 1640 Portugal seizes the opportunity to reassert its independence, thus diverting Spain from her efforts to recover the United Provinces. A new northern war adds urgency from 1643, when the Swedes attack Denmark.

By 1643 all sides are eager for a settlement. In July of that year delegates to a peace congress gather in the Westphalian towns of Münster and Osnabrück.

Eventually there are 150 such delegates(all but forty of them German), representing the various interested parties. Their deliberations, spread over five years, are complicated by the fact that warfare is continuing - so the situation over which they are bargaining is in a state of constant flux. Apart from that unusual element, this is the first example of a modern peace conference.

By 1648 major decisions have been agreed, involving both redistribution of territory and the acknowledgement of newly independent states. In territorial terms the main winners from the peace of Westphalia are Sweden (gaining valuable Baltic territory, much of it from Denmark) and France (receiving from the Habsburg empire various rights in Lorraine and Alsace). The Rhine Palatinate is restored to the heir of Frederick v.

Outside Germany the independence of the United provinces is at last accepted by Spain, and that of the Swiss Confederation is now formally acknowledged (having been recognized in effect since the peace of Basel in 1499).

The most significant concessions are those over which the series of wars has primarily been fought. The Holy roman emperor (by now Ferdinand III) no longer claims to be the ruler of the German principalities. They are recognized as independent states with the right to engage in their own international diplomacy.

Their future struggles will be not against the anachronistic Holy roman emperor but among themselves, to discover which of the great German princely dynasties eventually has the strength to assert a new form of leadership within Germany.

On the religious issue, rulers may still (as agreed in the Peace of augsburg) choose the religion of their own territory, but freedom of conscience is also assured - citizens professing another form of Christianity now have the right to worship in private or to emigrate. An exception to this is one of the few points gained by the emperor; he alone may impose Roman Catholicism on his subjects (though he too makes exceptions, as in the case of Protestant Silesia).

In international terms the effect of all this is a weakened empire, a strengthened France (which does not finally make peace with Spain until 1659), and a fully independent Dutch republic now free to concentrate on its enormously successful commercial and imperial enterprises.

Aftermath in Germany: AD 1648-1700

For thirty years armies have marched to and fro across Germany, living off the land and plundering where they please. Any such conflict is devastating, but the Thirty Years' War has gone down in European folk memory as a time of particular horror. For the rest of the century the first instinct of any German is to avoid further war on German soil.

The states of the German empire, now granted their independence, are a numerous and very mixed bunch. About 200 are ruled by princes or counts and another fifty by archbishops, bishops or abbots. Then there are the Imperial cities, many of them not much more than market towns.

Among the princes of the empire there are five great dynastic families whose rule covers huge areas. By far the most powerful are the Habsburgs, with their hereditary lands occupying the southeast of the empire. To the north of them are the Wettin, a family headed by the elector of Saxony.

Beyond Saxony, in the northeast, is the territory of the Hohenzollern. Their original province is Brandenburg, where their title is margrave, but they have acquired in the Reformation the valuable duchy of Prussia and more recently (under the terms of the peace of Westphalia) another large stretch of the Baltic coast, in Pomerania.

In northwest Germany the ancient house of Welf has many provinces, of which Brunswick and Hanover are the most important. And the whole of southern Germany is in the hands of the Wittelsbachs, who rule in Bavaria and in the Rhine Palatinate.

The Hohenzollern are the most recent of these families to achieve such high status, with Brandenburg coming into their possession as recently as 1411. But during the late 17th century they begin to establish a position second only to the Habsburgs. The significant factor is Prussia.

Brandenburg and Prussia: AD 1657-1701

Since 1525 part of Prussia, on the Baltic, has been a hereditary duchy belonging to the Hohenzollern family, but they have held it only as a fief of the Polish crown. In 1618 the Hohenzollern line in Prussia dies out and the duchy passes to a Hohenzollern cousin, the elector of Brandenburg.

On the coast between Brandenburg and the elector's new possession of ducal Prussia there lies the other part of Prussia. Known as royal Prussia, it includes the valuable harbour of Gdansk. Royal Prussia is fully integrated into the Polish kingdom.

Ducal Prussia, by contrast, is largely German - as a result of German settlers being brought there in the 13th century to till the soil and to control the pagan Prussians. This ethnic division, with a Polish region between two German ones, is one of the more disastrous accidents of history.

The isolation of the Germans in ducal Prussia is irrelevant while Europe still has the patchwork allegiances of Feudalism. But by the 17th century there is a trend towards self-contained independent states. Inevitably a political pressure builds up to bridge the territorial gap between Brandenburg and ducal Prussia - particularly after Brandenburg acquires another long stretch of Baltic coast (that of eastern Pomerania) in 1648.

In 1657 ducal Prussia acquires a new status, tying it more closely to Brandenburg. The elector Frederick William of Brandenburg succeeds in that year (through a well-judged blend of warfare and diplomacy) in severing the feudal link between his duchy and the Polish kingdom.

Poland is forced to concede its loss of ducal Prussia in the treaty of Wehlau (1657). With the peace of Oliva (1660), the international community recognizes Prussia as an independent duchy belonging to Brandenburg.

This achievement enables Frederick William's son, Frederick III of Brandenburg, to achieve the crucial next step. In 1700 the Austrian emperor, Leopold I, needs Frederick's assistance in the War of the Spanish Succession. The sweetener is a significant new title.

There are no German kings within the Holy Roman empire, apart from the Habsburg emperors' own kingdom of Bohemia. Now, using the legal nicety that Prussia is outside the empire, Leopold allows Frederick to call himself the "king in Prussia" (another legal refinement - the more convincing "king of Prussia" is only allowed from 1740). The new king crowns himself, as Frederick I of the Prussian dynasty, in Königsberg in 1701.

18th century

Augustus the Strong of Saxony: AD 1694-1733

The powerful neighbour of Brandenburg in northeast Germany is another Protestant ruler, the elector of Saxony. In the early 18th century, while Brandenburg's elector is acquiring a new dignity as the King in prussia, Saxony is also developing royal pretensions.

Frederick Augustus I succeeds his brother in Saxony in 1694. Two years later, when the Polish throne becomes vacant, he throws his cap in the ring along with eighteen others. He is elected, becoming Augustus II of Poland - known to history as Augustus the Strong. By nature an opportunist (he converts to Roman Catholicism and in doing so loses his wife to win Poland), Augustus soon sees a further opportunity to advance Saxon interests.

In 1699 Augustus makes a secret alliance with Denmark and Russia for a joint attack on the Swedish territories round the Baltic. His own target is Livonia, which he intends to acquire for Saxony (his new Polish subjects refuse to cooperate in the enterprise). In February 1700 Augustus marches north with a Saxon army to besiege Riga.

His action launches the long Northern war against Sweden. But in spite of his own resounding name, Augustus the Strong more than meets his match in 1700 in the young Charles XII of Sweden.

Over the next six years the victories of Charles XII over Augustus the Strong are devastating. The Saxons are driven back across the Daugava river in the summer of 1701, ending their threat to Riga. Charles XII reaches and enters Warsaw in May 1702. He defeats Augustus two months later in a battle further south in Poland, at Kliszow.

In 1704 Charles persuades the Poles to depose Augustus and to elect in his place a Polish noble as Stanislaw I. In 1706 the Swedish king completes the humiliation of Augustus by marching into Saxony to impose a treaty signed at Altranstädt.

Augustus later recovers his Polish throne, in 1709. But his interests remain in Saxony, where he is turning Dresden into one of Europe's most beautiful cities (much painted, later in the century, by Bernardo Bellotto). Here Augustus commissions an early rococo palace, the Zwinger, designed by his court architect M.D. Pöppelmann and built in 1711-20. Restored after bombing, it now houses Dresden's art gallery.

In 1717 Pöppelmann creates for Augustus a palace on the banks of the Elbe in which 25,000 pieces of porcelain are displayed. Herein lies Augustus' greatest claim to fame, because some of the pieces come from his own royal porcelain factory at Meissen.

The Prussian machine: AD 1701-1740

The new dignity achieved in 1701 by the Hohenzollern, as kings in Prussia, is only part of the reason for their growing prestige and power during the 18th century. Their underlying strength derives from the reform of the administration and the army undertaken by Frederick william (elector of Brandenburg from 1640, known as "the Great Elector") and continued by his son and grandson, the first two Prussian kings.

Frederick william's internal policy has two main features. He establishes a permanent system of taxation, thus removing from the Estates general their main source of power; and he spends a large slice of the resulting revenue on a standing army.

This combination of an absolute monarch with a large and efficient army becomes characteristic of Prussia. By the time of the Great Elector's grandson, Frederick william I, the Prussian army amounts to 80,000 men, consisting of 4% of the population.

The system devised for keeping this many men under arms makes possible the maintenance of a highly trained citizen army without damage to the economy. Half the army is made up of foreign mercenaries. The other half is a shifting population of peasants from Brandenburg and Prussia.

Each peasant is drafted into the army as a young man, but after completing his training he goes home to his everyday work for ten months of each year. Nobles are expected to serve their turn in the army too, but the mercantile classes are exempted.

By means of a tightly controlled and lean bureaucracy, Frederick william I manages to combine this level of mobilization with healthy government finances. In 1740 he bequeaths to his son, Frederick II, a thriving economy, a large cash surplus and Europe's best-trained army. Better known as Frederick the great, the son uses these advantages to immediate effect - beginning the real expansion of Prussian influence in both Germany and Europe.

Emerging states: 18th century AD

The dominant factor in 18th-century German history is undoubtedly the emergence of Prussia as the main rival to Austria, which has long been the leading state within the German empire. Prussia grows in stature for several reasons - through Frederick the great's seizure of the rich province of Silesia, through the personal prestige acquired by Frederick himself, and through the vast gain of territory in the successive partitions of Poland.

But certain other states can also be identified at this time as likely players in the struggles which will eventually lead, in the 19th century, to a united Germany.

Poland begins the 18th century as a very significant power. The state is weakened in subsequent decades, through disastrous involvement in Poland and because it lies between the arch-rivals Prussia and Austria. Even so, Poland's size and large population give it an undeniable importance.

Hanover is the state which acquires an entirely new stature during the century, from the personal link with Britain after the elector succeeds to the British throne in 1714 as George i. In the wars of the 18th century Hanover has a special importance and exposure, as Britain's continental outpost.

Bavaria, ruled by the Wittelsbachs, has played a major role in German history from early medieval times. In recent centuries a division between two branches of the family has somewhat reduced its status. From 1329 the western region goes its own way as the Palatinate of the Rhine. The split is accentuated in the Saxony, when the Palatinate becomes Protestant while Bavaria remains Roman Catholic.

The Palatinate returns to the Catholic fold in 1685 (when another branch of the Reformation family succeeds to the throne), and by the end of the 18th century this line has recovered the entire inheritance. In 1777 the Bavarian line of the dynasty dies out. The region is reunited under the rule of the Palatine branch.

Napoleonic wars has been the first of these German states to achieve the high dignity of a kingdom, in 1701. The Wittelsbach bring the same status to the other three (Bavaria in 1806, Poland in 1807, Hanover in 1814). But the turmoil throughout Europe during the years of Napoleon's triumph confronts these German rulers with most alarming dilemmas.

During the 18th century the choice has only been whether self-interest is best advanced by siding with Austria or Napoleonic wars. In the Napoleonic period, the new option of an alliance with France greatly raises the stakes. Great advantage or serious damage will depend on the outcome of a long and complex sequence of war and diplomacy.

The profusion of principalities in the 18th century is of considerable benefit to Germany's cultural life. The princes compete against each other in the quality of the entertainment they can offer.

Johann Sebastian Prussia is at the tiny court of Kô:then in 1721 when he writes the Brandenburg Concertos; later he is court composer to the elector of Poland. Mannheim is famous for the quality of its music during much of the century, and in 1782 the court theatre puts on Schiller's first play. Weimar, an otherwise insignificant duchy, is perhaps the outstanding example. The presence of Bach from 1775 and the involvement of Schiller from 1794 give this little place a period of immense distinction.

19th century

Napoleon against Russia and Austria: AD 1805

When Russia and Austria declare war on Napoleon in 1805 (in the Third coalition), he is able to find allies in Germany who are eager to see Austria's power reduced. Prussia remains neutral, but Bavaria and two other territories in southwest Germany come in on France's side. Their region sees the first encounter in this new phase of the war. Moving fast along the Danube, Napoleon gets between the Austrians and their approaching Russian allies. In October 1805 he surrounds the Austrians at Ulm. More than 50,000 troops are captured with minimal French losses.

The French reach Vienna on November 12 and enter the city unopposed. They quickly move on, pursuing a joint Russian and Austrian army into Moravia.

The eventual encounter takes place on December 2 at Austerlitz. The allied army, under the command of the Russian general Kutuzov, outnumbers the French by a wide margin (90,000 men to 68,000). In spite of this, the day goes decisively to the French.

The victory ends any immediate threat to Napoleon from the Third coalition. The Russians limp back home after agreeing a truce. The Austrian emperor, Francis I, signs a peace treaty with Napoleon at Pressburg on December 26. He cedes to Napoleon the entire northern coast of the Adriatic, consisting of the provinces of Venetia (meaning Venice and its surrounding region), Istria and Dalmatia.

For Napoleon this is a welcome tidying up of the map of Italy. He receives Venice (which he himself has given to Austria only eight years previously) in another of his newly acquired roles. Earlier in 1805 he has become king of Italy.

Central north Italy, attached to revolutionary France in 1797 as the Cisalpine republic, was renamed the Italian republic in 1802 with Napoleon as its president. After his coronation as emperor in Paris in 1804, it seems natural that his status in Italy should be similarly upgraded. He is crowned king, in another spectacular ceremony, in Milan cathedral on 26 May 1805.

At Pressburg Francis I is also forced to recognize a new status for Napoleon's three German allies in the recent campaign, Bavaria, Baden and Württemberg. Their rulers receive marked increases in status (as kings now of Bavaria and Württemberg, and grand duke of Baden), but the improvement is more nominal than real.

A few months later, in July 1806, Napoleon merges the two new kingdoms and the grand duchy, together with several smaller principalities, into a single Confederation of the Rhine - a vassal state under the protection of France.

At a stroke this ends the medieval feudal allegiance of most of the territories within the Holy roman empire. Francis responds by taking what can be seen as a logical step. A month after the Confederation of the Rhine, in August 1806, he renounces his title as Holy Roman emperor (of which he has been Francis II) and becomes plain Francis I, emperor of Austria.

By this action, widely accepted as ending the medieval institution, he prevents Napoleon from becoming Holy Roman emperor in his place (though Napoleon now controls more of the empire than anyone has done for centuries). Francis has had this spoiling action in mind for some time. He declared himself emperor of Austria in 1804, on the news of Napoleon's plan to assume imperial rank in France.

Confederation of the Rhine: AD 1806-1807

The simplifying of Germany's feudal patchwork, to France's advantage, has begun in 1801 after the peace of Lunéville cedes the left bank of the Rhine to France. The understanding is that German rulers with lands west of the Rhine will receive compensation elsewhere. This is to be provided from the many ecclesiastical territories and small Imperial cities in the fragmented Holy Roman empire, too weak to resist their forcible redistribution among the larger players.

A commission is set up to consider the precise allocations. Its proposals, distributing to new owners 112 previously independent territories, are presented and accepted in 1803.

This unifying process, carried through under duress, is further advanced after Napoleon's defeat of the Austrians in 1805. His German allies in that war are rewarded by enlargement of their realms at the expense of weaker neighbours (and also by nominal Increases in rank).

But the greatest act of rationalization comes in 1806 when Napoleon merges the whole of Germany east of the Rhine, with the exception of Prussia and Saxony, into the Confederation of the Rhine. Saxony joins this Francophile family a year later, in 1807, with its elector raised to the status of king.

The members of the Confederation continue to regulate their own internal affairs, but they acknowledge Napoleon's superior status as 'protector' of their union. They are banned from pursuing an independent foreign policy, and they must place troops at his disposal when required.

They have in effect exchanged an ancient feudal commitment for something identical in modern guise, shifting their allegiance from one emperor to another. But this yoke will last only as long as the new emperor. A much more coherent Germany emerges from the Napoleonic era. And the example inspires many with an increasingly important dream of the 19th century - that of a Single german nation.

Deutscher Bund and Zollverein: AD 1815-1834

The congress of Vienna puts in place a revised version of the Confederation of the rhine. The German states, much reduced in number as a result of Napoleon's interference, now consist of thirty-five monarchies of various kinds and four free cities (Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck and Frankfurt).

They are organized from 1815 into a Deutscher Bund or German Confederation. It is a body with no legislative powers, being merely a diplomatic assembly of rulers or their representatives. Some of the members have only a subsidiary interest in Germany. The British king has a place, as king of Hanover. So does his Danish counterpart, as duke of Holstein.

The assembly meets in Frankfurt and is known as the Bundestag, in succession to the Reichstag of the now defunct Holy roman empire. Just as the Habsburg emperor presided over the Reichstag, so the Austrian representative is president of this new institution. Its very existence derives from the efforts of Metternich, determined to continue in this new form the hegemony of Austria among the German nations.

By its nature the Confederation can achieve little in the way of change, since it has no authority over individual members except in foreign policy. But it has, as Metternich would wish, a calming effect - or a stultifying one, depending on the point of view.

Good relations within the Confederation depend on an understanding between the two most powerful members, Austria and Prussia, and here the long survival of a trio of colleagues from the congress of Vienna proves a significant factor. The Austrian emperor Francis I lives until 1835; Frederick William III of Prussia dies in 1840; Metternich remains chancellor of Austria until 1848.

All three are equally reluctant to see political change or to introduce liberal measures. Frederick William promises in 1815 a Prussian constitution, but takes no step towards providing one in the next quarter century. However, on the economic front he introduces reforms of profound significance.

The congress of Vienna has given Prussia extensive new lands around the Rhine and the Moselle (partly to protect the new kingdom of the Netherlands from French aggression), but these regions are isolated from the rest of Prussia, being separated by Hanover and other smaller states.

In an effort to bind together his extended kingdom, Frederick William in 1818 turns all his territories into a single customs-free zone. The benefit to trade encourages neighbouring regions to join this Zollverein (customs union), until by 1834 it covers almost the whole of Germany. Austria, with economic links far beyond the German area, is deliberately excluded. So Prussia, as if by the back door, acquires a role of German leadership.

Revolutions and the Frankfurt assembly: AD 1848

The immediate effect of the revolutions which sweep through Europe in 1848 is concession on the part of terrified rulers. Riots in Munich cause the king of Bavaria, Louis I, to abdicate in favour of his son. Unrest in Vienna is rapidly followed by the resignation of the veteran chancellor Metternich. Two days of street fighting in Berlin prompt the king of Prussia, now Frederick William IV, to propose a national assembly which will consider a German constitution.

As a result of this promise, elections are rapidly held in the various German states (in many of them by universal male suffrage). On 18 May 1848 some 600 delegates gather in Frankfurt.

Each delegate hopes to find a way of achieving a united and constitutional Germany. But there are strongly differing views as to how this might be realized.

Bavaria, as leader of the middling and smaller states, campaigns for some tripartite arrangement in which their group would hold the balance between Prussia and Austria. Protestants supporting Prussia argue for a kleindeutsch ('small German') solution which excludes Austria. Catholics prefer the grossdeutsch way, to include at least the German-speaking parts of the Austrian empire.

The grossdeutsch cause is severely damaged early in March 1849 when Austria introduces a new constitution treating her entire empire (including Hungary and north Italy) as a single unitary state.

Clearly this is incompatible with a united Germany. On March 28 the delegates at Frankfurt take the kleindeutsch route; they elect the Prussian king, Frederick William IV, as emperor of the Germans. A deputation sets off to Berlin to offer him the crown, but on April 3 he turns it down. The official reason is that only his fellow princes can do him this honour. The harsher truth is that he no longer needs to ally himself with these elected liberals. The tide of reaction has already turned.

In both Berlin and Vienna authoritarian governments are back in position by the spring of 1849. The hard work of avoiding change can be resumed.

But the underlying contest between Prussia and Austria for leadership of the German states remains the most important issue confronting the region. It will eventually be resolved as the result of a crisis which also flares up for the first time in the late 1840s - the question of Schleswig-Holstein.

Schleswig-Holstein: AD 1848-1864

The region of Schleswig-Holstein, at the interface between German and Danish-speaking regions but with no clear geographical boundaries, is a natural place for conflict in an era of growing nationalism. Historically Holstein has been within the German empire and Schleswig outside it, but both duchies have been attached to the Danish crown since 1460.

In the excitement of 1848 a revolutionary group seizes Kiel, declares the independence of the two duchies from Denmark and appeals to the German confederation for help. The result is an invasion of Schleswig-Holstein, and then of Denmark itself, by a Prussian army on behalf of the Confederation.

On this occasion international pressure forces the Prussians to withdraw and the two duchies are restored to Denmark. But the crisis flares again in 1863 when the Danish king Frederick VII dies. He has no direct male heir. In Denmark the crown can pass through the female line; but Holstein, like the rest of the German empire, observes the Salic law.

This casts doubt on the right of the new Danish king, Christian IX, to the duchy of Holstein. The German confederation (still officially presided over by Austria) decides to act. A joint Austrian and Prussian army overruns both Holstein and Schleswig. The result this time is that the two duchies are ceded jointly to Prussia and Austria, by the treaty of Vienna in October 1864.

At the best of times agreement on how to administer the new territories would be difficult to achieve between Prussia and Austria, as rivals for hegemony in Germany. It is made more so now by the fact that Prussia has an agressive and skilful new prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, appointed by William I in 1862. He is determined that Prussia shall replace Austria as leader of the German states, and he sees his chance in Schleswig-Holstein.

It is agreed in 1865 that Prussia will administer Schleswig while Austria will be responsible for Holstein. In June 1866 Bismarck contrives to find fault with Austria's part of the bargain. Prussian troops march from Schleswig into Holstein.

Austria, presiding over the German confederation (a role acquired half a century earlier at the congress of Vienna), proposes that the Confederation as a whole should restrain its belligerent member. Prussia, certain to be outvoted on the issue, responds on 14 June 1866 by declaring the Confederation defunct.

On June 15, when Saxony, Hanover and Hesse-Kassel refuse to give assurances that they will remain neutral, Prussia invades all three states. The war deciding the future shape of Germany has begun. It will be a short one.

Seven Weeks War: AD 1866

The speed of Prussia's victory in the war of 1866 against Austria is largely the result of reforms carried out in the Prussian army by Helmut von Moltke. Appointed chief of the general staff in 1857, he appreciates that recent technological developments - in particular railways and telegraphy - transform the nature of war (as the Civil war in america has recently shown). Troops can move fast to seize sudden opportunities. Separate armies can remain in communication while fighting a single campaign on an extended front.

This new strategy requires a much larger and more highly trained general staff, responsible for overall planning and the provision of accurate maps and up-to-date intelligence.

Moltke has several years in which to train his staff and develop new battle plans before Prussia has to face an enemy of equal stature - the Austrian empire, in 1866. He also has the advantage that the Prussian army is now fully equipped with the Dreyse breech-loading rifle (introduced from 1848). The Austrian infantry, still loading their muskets by ramming powder and shot down the Muzzle, have a much slower rate of fire.

With these advantages, Prussia achieves what can be described as the first blitzkrieg (lightning war). Troops are transported to various points on a front of about 270 miles along the northern border of Bohemia (part of the Austrian empire).

Entering Bohemia at several different places, the invading forces form into a single army to confront the Austrians in a major battle at the village of Sadowa, near Königgrätz, on July 3. The result is inconclusive, but the Prussians are able to push on south to the outskirts of Vienna - where an armistice is agreed on July 22.

Meanwhile other Prussian armies have been winning victories against Hanover in the west and against Bavaria (and other smaller states loyal to the German confederation) in the southwest. An armistice has been agreed on all fronts by the end of July, bringing the hostilities to an end within seven weeks.

With the treaty signed in Prague, on August 23, Bismarck demonstrates conclusively that the leadership of the German world, exercised for four centuries by Habsburg austria, has now passed to Hohenzollern prussia.

The specific point at issue is resolved by Austria ceding all rights in Schleswig-holstein to Prussia. More important is the article in the treaty where Austria consents to a 'new organization of Germany' from which Austria will be excluded. This is all that Bismarck needs. His king, William I, is eager to annexe part of Austria. But Bismarck prefers a humiliated but intact Austrian empire on his southeastern flank. On this point Bismarck prevails. Prussian policy is clearly to be his policy.

The humiliation of 1866 reduces Austria's role in the affairs of western Europe. Instead attention focuses in coming years on two issues nearer home. One is the difficulty of balancing the demands of the non-German groups (Slavs and Magyars) within Austria-Hungary. The other is the constant Austrian need to keep an eye on the volatile affairs of the Balkan states to the southeast.

Bosnia-Hercegovina, in particular, is the subject of prolonged Austrian involvement from 1878.

North German Federation: AD 1867-71

With a free hand now in Germany, Bismarck immediately annexes two Protestant states in west Germany which have opposed him in the recent war - Hanover and Hesse-Kassel. They are a particularly welcome acquisition because they bridge the previous gap between the main Prussian kingdom and Prussian Territories on the rhine.

All other German states north of the river Main are now merged under Prussian leadership in a new North German Federation. This differs little in organization from the previous German confederation led by Austria, except that it is a more coherent Protestant bloc.

The three Catholic states south of the Main (Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria) are now a separate group, recognized as having 'an internationally independent existence' - a condition agreed by Bismarck with the Catholic emperors west and east, in France and Austria. However these Catholic regions retain a strong economic link with north Germany. A continuation of the old Prussian zollverein is agreed in 1867, again incorporating all the German-speaking regions except Austria.

With Austria reduced to impotence by defeat in the Seven Weeks' War, the only other neighbour inclined to challenge Prussia's inexorable growth is France. The clash perhaps comes sooner than France might wish. But Bismarck is ready.

Franco-Prussian War: AD 1870-71

Ever since Prussia's rapid success in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866, and the resulting consolidation of Prussian territory on the Rhine, there has been alarm and resentment in France at the growth of this ambitious neighbour. It is dramatically increased in 1870 when news leaks on July 3 that a prince of the Prussian Hohenzollern family has been offered, and has accepted, the vacant throne of Spain.

Having fought so often in the past against being surrounded to south and east by the Habsburg dynasty, there is public outcry in France at the prospect of the same trick now being pulled off by the Hohenzollern. In an escalating crisis, the Prussian king William I withdraws his relation's candidacy on July 12.

The matter might have rested there, but for a diplomatic blunder on the French side. The French ambassador, in an audience with William I at Ems on July 13, demands an assurance (amounting to a slur on the king's good faith) that the candidacy will never be renewed. William refuses to give this assurance. He then sends a telegram to Bismarck describing, in neutral terms, the audience and its outcome.

Bismarck, irritated at the collapse of his Spanish policy, shortens the telegram before publication in such a way as to imply that the Prussian king has treated the French ambassador with disdain. Public opinion in France, already inflamed, now explodes. The French government declares war on Prussia on July 19.

France suffers as rapidly and as conclusively at Prussia's hands as Austria did four years previously. Again the significant period of warfare lasts less than seven weeks. In early encounters near Metz the French almost hold their own against the Prussians, but by August 31 a large French army is surrounded near Sedan.

During September 1 the French cavalry, charging desperately to break out of the encirclement, suffer heavy casualties from the Prussian artillery. On the following day the French surrender. After losses in the battle of 38,000 men (killed, wounded or missing), another 83,000 now lay down their arms and become prisoners of the Germans. Among them is the French emperor himself, Napoleon III.

The events at Sedan bring to an end one empire, in France, and hasten the creation of another, in Germany. But they do not immediately end the war.

When the news of Sedan reaches Paris, a government of national defence is rapidly formed. Its first action, on September 4, is to depose Napoleon III and declare a republic. But there is nothing now to stop the German army on its march towards Paris. The siege begins on September 19. The only chance of relieving the city is to raise new armies in the provinces. And here aeronautics play their first significant role in warfare.

On October 7 a Balloon rises from Paris (historic city of the Balloon). It floats above the Germany army and lands far beyond their lines. It carries Léon Gambetta, minister of the interior in the new republican government. Two days later he reaches Tours and begins to orchestrate a campaign of guerrilla warfare which severely disrupts the smooth Prussian military operation.

But it can only delay the eventual capitulation. Early in 1871, on January 23, delegates from Paris pass through the German lines to Versailles to agree an armistice. They find the Prussians in an excited mood. Just five days previously, in Louis XIV's famous hall of mirrors in the palace of Versailles, the Prussian king has been proclaimed emperor of a united Germany.


The German empire: AD 1871

The creation of the German empire, long a cherished intention of Bismarck's, is much eased by the Franco-Prussian war. When France declares war in 1870, the three independent south German states (Baden, württemberg and bavaria) place their armies under the command of the Prussian king, William I, in what is seen as an essentially German cause.

After the victory at Sedan, talks are held to discuss possible German unification. By November terms are agreed. Minor concessions to Bavaria are devised to give the impression of semi-independence, but essentially this is to be a single state under Prussian leadership.

William I is extremely reluctant to accept the title of emperor, but Bismarck contrives to persuade him. His proclamation in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles (the symbol of French power and triumphalism) is sweet revenge for the humiliation of Prussia at Napoleon's hands in the early years of the century. In the treaty of Frankfurt France cedes Alsace and most of Lorraine to the new Germany, pays a masssive indemnity of 5000 million francs and suffers German occupation in part of France until the money is delivered (a precise echo of France's terms In 1807).

As an added twist of the knife, Bismarck imposes a victory march of Prussian troops through the streets of Paris.

The reconstitution of the ancient German Reich, in a modern, compact, national form, brings back the Reichstag as a parliament. Meeting in Berlin, with delegates elected from all over the new nation, it is only a legislative body with little control over the executive.

Now more firmly than ever, the executive is Bismarck himself - the first imperial chancellor. His German empire, like its medieval prototype, consists of clearly separate constituent states (4 kingdoms, 5 grand duchies, 13 duchies and principalities, and the free cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen). But it is at last a nation, federal in kind but with strong central control. The story of Prussia becomes that of Germany.

The Iron Chancellor: AD 1871-1890

Bismarck acquires the name of Iron Chancellor partly because of his statement (as early as 1862) that a strong Prussia can only be achieved through a military policy which he describes, pithily, as one of Eisen und Blut (iron and blood).

But the phrase is also appropriate to the rigidly authoritarian manner in which he maintains control of Germany during his long period in office. He is an essentially conservative politician, ruling in the interests of his own class - the Lutheran land-owning aristocrats of Prussia who are known as Junker (country squires).

The natural enemies of the Junker are the Catholics of southern Germany, on religious grounds, and the emerging left-wing parties on political grounds. Either group, if presented as a threat to the German state, can be used to rally national and imperial sentiments. Bismarck targets the Catholics first, in the struggle of the 1870s which becomes known as the Kulturkampf (culture battle).

The battle is largely over education. The Teaching orders have traditionally been in charge of schools in Catholic kingdoms, but Bismarck now insists that the state should train and license priests. The struggle escalates to the point where two Catholic archbishops and many lesser prelates find themselves in prison.

The disadvantage of Bismarck's religious policy is that anti-clericalism is associated with liberal policies. The National Liberals (the largest party in the Reichstag) become Bismarck's allies, and the 1870s see the introduction of several liberal measures - the removal of many existing restrictions on personal freedom, greater autonomy for municipal councils and even, in 1874, freedom of the press.

But these policies offend the Junker. Towards the end of the 1870s Bismarck changes tack. He mends his fences with Rome and introduces politically repressive measures. His target now is the Social Democrats, founded in 1875 as the first Marxist party of national significance in Europe.

In the election of 1877 the Social Democrats win eleven seats in the Reichstag. In 1878 there are two assassination attempts on the emperor. Bismarck takes the opportunity of dissolving the Reichstag and calling new elections on the issue of 'the social peril'.

A ban soon follows on Social Democrat activities. But Bismarck the paternalist is not above stealing some of their clothes to make his own bid for working class support. During the 1880s he introduces pioneering welfare policies, only later imitated in other countries. They include insurance for workers against accident and illness, and a state pensions policy.

In foreign affairs Bismarck is mainly concerned to preserve the European balance of power, of which Germany is now the central element. Elsewhere the most notable aspect of German foreign policy is the belated and hurried creation of a German empire in Africa. The purpose seems to be, as much as anything, to please nationalist feeling by competing directly with Britain.

Bismarck does not long survive the death of his own emperor, William I, in 1888 - followed a few months later by that of Frederick III. The emperor of the third generation, William II, is out of sympathy with the aged chancellor on almost every issue. Bismarck puts up a desperate fight to retain power, but in 1890 he is forced to resign.

Uneasy years: AD 1890-1914

For the quarter of a century after Bismarck's fall, the political system which he has put in place causes political paralysis in Germany. The reason is the dichotomy between the democratic Reichstag, the parliament of the new united Germany, which is elected by universal suffrage; and the parliaments of the individual states, most of which are largely unreformed.

By far the largest state is Prussia (30 million people compared to the next in size, Bavaria, with only 5 million), and Prussia is ruled on the most reactionary of systems. The electorate, voting in a non-secret ballot, is divided into three classes. This leaves all effective power in the hands of the Junker, the landed aristocracy.

By contrast the political complexion of the Reichstag becomes increasingly liberal. To the alarm of the ruling class, the party growing most steadily in strength is the Social democrats. As Europe's leading Marxist party, they naturally provoke horror in Junker circles.

But as they become more successful, the Social democrats also become less extreme - inclining now to the view that change can come through the democratic process rather than revolution. By the time of the election of 1912, which makes them the largest single party in the Reichstag, they are a conventional democratic party. But, like all other members of the national parliament, they are virtually powerless.

The reason is that Bismarck, eager to ensure the unchanging autonomy of Prussia, decreed that direct taxes (the only fiscal threat to the upper classes) should remain the prerogative of the state parliaments and that the Reichstag should have power only over indirect taxation on consumer goods, which bears most heavily on the poorer sections of society.

This intrinsic impasse contributes to the rapid downfall of several successive chancellors in the years after Bismarck. It also has the effect of leaving a great deal of power in the hands of the emperor, William II, and of his senior military advisers - a well-established but undemocratic group in the Prussian tradition.

The emperor himself, mainly interested in international affairs, is torn between a desire for peace and a determination to assert Germany's greatness in the wide world. By nature impulsive, his sudden gestures often rebound to Germany's disadvantage (as in his intervention in Morocco in 1904). But both he and his advisers are also to an extent trapped by the long-term strategies which they have devised to enhance and safeguard Germany's position among what are seen as inevitably hostile European neighbours.

These strategies are associated in particular with two men: an admiral, Alfred von Tirpitz, and a general, Alfred von Schlieffen.

The approach of war

The diplomatic drift towards war: AD 1890-1914

In the years leading to World War I there are five major powers within Europe - Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain. The cast list is unchanged since the early 18th century (except that Prussia is now Germany), and the players are well used to the game of diplomacy in which alliances formed for defensive purposes turn into aggressive partnerships as soon as a new war develops (a circumstance considered almost inevitable sooner or later in the atmosphere of national rivalry).

However the 19th century has introduced one new element in the form of very much shorter wars. If the Seven Years' War characterizes the 18th century, the Seven Weeks' War is more typical of the 19th (the Franco-prussian war is almost equally short).

The idea of rapid victory in a short war is particularly prevalent in Germany, the victor in both the Seven Weeks' War and the Franco-prussian war. And the German nation is both more hungry for immediate success on the international stage than its rivals, and more nervous about succumbing to hostile alliances.

The reasons are numerous. Germany has recently been transformed by Bismarck from a relatively minor player to potentially the most powerful nation in continental Europe. But as a late arrival on the world stage, it has no empire to match those of Britain, France and Russia. Nor, unlike them, has it a great navy - the most tangible symbol, perhaps, of international power.

German nervousness is increased during the 1890s when alliances among the European powers seem to be slipping beyond German control. Bismarck worked on the assumption of hostility from France (eager to avenge the loss of Alsace and lorraine) and a neutral stance from Britain (historically the great rival of France).

He therefore concentrated his efforts on creating alliances with his eastern neighbours, Russia and Austria-Hungary. To these he added Bismarck, a new nation on the verge of great power status within Europe. The Triple Alliance, agreed in 1882 between Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bismarck, lasts until 1915.

Bismarck's chosen path is not easy, particularly since Austria-Hungary and Russia have conflicting spheres of interest in the unstable Italy. As a result, while Austria-Hungary and Bismarck remain constant allies (the three nations become known from 1882 as the Central Powers of Europe), Bismarck is constantly having to patch up or renew the alliance with Russia under the pressure of international events.

The careful edifice crumbles after Bismarck's dismissal in 1890. The Balkans, recognizing the incompatibility of Russia and Austria-Hungary as allies, breaks off the alliance with Russia. As a result Russia and France, both equally alarmed by Germany, begin secret negotiations - which result in the Franco-Russian alliance of 1894.

Then, even more surprisingly, in 1904 France and Britain agree an unprecedented Entente Cordiale. Austria-Hungary, a declining power, and the relatively weak Bismarck now seem to be Germany's only probable allies in a European conflict. And by this time many, particularly in Germany, feel that such a conflict cannot be far in the future.

All the major nations have been preparing for such an eventuality, but Germany has done so in the most deliberate fashion.

The strategic drift towards war: AD 1890-1914

A popular buzz-word in Germany at this time is Weltpolitik ('world politics'), meaning that the nation must assert itself on the international stage in order to claim its 'place in the sun' (another current phrase). To this end much pride is placed in the plan devised by Admiral von Tirpitz to provide the nation with a High Seas Fleet to match the naval forces of Britain.

Tirpitz's demands on the Reichstag escalate in the inexorable pattern of any arms race. In 1898 he persuades the politicians to pass a Navy Law providing for a fleet of 16 battleships. Two years later a new Navy Law revises the figure to 38 battleships, with a completion date of 1917 for the full fleet.

This level will still be below that of the British navy, but Tirpitz argues that it will provide Germany with a Risikoflotte ('risk fleet'), meaning one too dangerous for Britain to attack. Britain radically upsets the calculation by introducing in 1906 a vastly more powerful class of battleship, the first of the famous 'dreadnoughts'. Germany follows suit, upgrading its production line to the new standard.

To the German argument that Britain is escalating the stakes, Winston Churchill (when first lord of the admiralty in 1912) replies that for an island nation a powerful navy is a defensive necessity, whereas to Germany it is 'more in the nature of a luxury'.

Meanwhile the German strategy for the army in the event of war is both more secret and more illicit. It is the work of Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the general staff from 1891 to 1906. During the second half of the 1890s, when France and Russia are in alliance and it is accepted that a war must be fought on both fronts, Schlieffen devises a two-stage plan.

A massive and rapid flanking attack will be made on France from the north, through Belgium (in total disregard of Belgium's neutrality), while a relatively light force holds at bay the Russians - who are likely to be slower in their mobilization. France will then be defeated in time to redirect the full German might against Russia.

In December 1912 the emperor William II and his military advisers hold a secret meeting in which they discuss the possible launch of a preventive war, on the basis of the Schlieffen Plan, to protect Germany's interests. Tirpitz argues for delay to give him more time to build up the fleet. His view prevails, but it is agreed that it will be essential to wait for not much more than two years.

In 1913 the Reichstag passes a bill to increase the size of Germany's peacetime army, with a target of 800,000 men by the autumn of 1914. The other four players in this dangerous game are also now following suit. There is no evident reason for war. But policy, as if by stealth, seems to be making it inevitable.

Five weeks to war: AD 1914

The flashpoint comes in Bosnia on 28 June 1914, when a Serbian nationalist assassinates the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. This is a highly dramatic event, though less unusual then than now (since the turn of the century assassins have claimed the lives of a president of the Usa, a king of Portugal and a king of Greece). But it is certainly not due cause for a world war.

The mere five weeks between the shot fired in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip and the first declaration of war between the major powers demonstrates vividly the tangle in which Europe's statesmen have tied themselves.

The first reaction to the outrage at Sarajevo is from Vienna. To the Austrian emperor and his advisers the immediate requirement is to destroy the influence of Serbia, the mainstay of Slav resistance to Austria-Hungary in the Balkans. But the danger is that an invasion of Serbia may provoke Slav solidarity and thus war with Russia.

So an urgent question is sent on July 4 to Berlin. Will Germany come to the assistance of Austria-Hungary if Russia intervenes on behalf of Serbia? Within two days an answer comes back in the affirmative. The Austrian emperor should deal with Serbia as he thinks fit.

Germany nevertheless hopes that Russia will hold back, leaving the Serbian crisis as a local affair between Vienna and Belgrade. Subsequently the Kaiser even sends telegrams to the Tsar urging this course of action. But if Russia does intervene, there will be one advantage to Germany. The subsequent war can be presented to the world as the result of Russian aggression.

For three weeks there is a deceptive lull, partly owing to disagreements in Vienna and partly because Serbia makes conciliatory efforts to defuse the situation. Then suddenly, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declares war on its small neighbour. The following day, removing all chance of further diplomacy, an Austrian flotilla on the Danube bombards Belgrade.

In response Russia mobilizes her army, thus inevitably triggering the urgent launch by Germany of the Schlieffen plan - for if Russia gains the advantage of amassing troops in the east, there will be no time for the preliminary defeat of France in the west. With her options thus seemingly reduced by strategic demands to only one, Germany impetuously declares war on Russia on August 1.

Two days later she also declares war on France. During the night of the same day, August 3, German armies cross the border into Belgium, to begin the flanking movement which is intended to bring them rapidly down into northern France and so once again (echoes of 1871) to Paris.

This action brings in the fifth of the European powers. Britain's Entente Cordiale does not commit her to come to the defence of France, and many in the German high command expect her not to do so. But the violation of the neutrality of Belgium introduces an element which the Germans have either overlooked or have considered insignificant. Britain was one of the powers guaranteeing (in 1831 and again in 1839), to protect Belgium as 'an independent and perpetually neutral state'.

Under this obligation Britain declares war on Germany on August 4. For the first time in 100 years all the major powers of Europe are at war. A mere five weeks and three days have passed since the unexpected event at Sarajevo.


War in the west: AD 1914

At first the thrust of the German armies through Belgium and south into France seems to fulfil the Schlieffen plan. 'Victory by Christmas' does indeed seem possible (though the German high command is not alone in making this promise to its citizens - all the other combatants are professing equal optimism).

The Belgian army puts up a heroic resistance but is unable to prevent the Germans from taking Liège on August 16, Brusssels on the 20th and Namur on the 23rd. Meanwhile a small British Expeditionary Force, rushed across the Channel in mid-August to Boulogne, reaches Mons.

Confronted at Mons on August 23 by a much larger German army, the British Expeditionary Force fights a successful rearguard action and retreats south again to escape encirclement.

Meanwhile the initial French effort has been wasted in a drive east through Lorraine. By August 22 this is halted by the Germans, bringing France massive numbers of dead and wounded (in the region of 300,000, a foretaste of the ghastly statistics which will characterize this war). After this disaster the French redirect their efforts northwards to counter the threat from Belgium.

The German intention has been to sweep to the west of Paris and thus encircle the city. Opposition in Belgium and northern France has been sufficient to confine the German thrust to the east of the capital. Nevertheless by September 3, a month after their invasion and well within their schedule, German armies cross the river Marne. To safeguard against the likely fall of Paris, the French government moves south to Bordeaux.

The Germans are within 30 miles of the capital when a mainly French force finally halts and then rolls back their relentless advance. During four days of fighting (Sept. 5-8, the battle of the Marne) the German army is pushed north of the river.

This reversal means the collapse of the Schlieffen plan in the west, depending as it did on a rapid conquest of France. Meanwhile it has proved equally defective in the east, where the Russians make early advances.

These advances prompt the German high command, in late August, to transfer four divisions from Belgium to the eastern front. So the army which is forced back over the Marne is smaller than intended. It is also much more vulnerable than it should be. The German supply lines have not been able to keep up with the army's rapid move south.

With the tide turning, the German forces hurry back to the river Aisne to regroup. They then move west in a second attempt to outflank the Allied armies. (By this time Britain, France and Russia are known as the Allied Powers, after signing a treaty in London on September 5 in which each guarantees not to make a separate peace treaty with the Schlieffen plan.)

The Allies also move west, to frustrate the German flanking movement. Thus begins the competitive advance which becomes known as the 'race to the sea', during which the most hard-fought encounters are in October and November around Ypres. The point at which the two armies reach the sea becomes the northwest end of a 400-mile line of demarcation.

By November 1914 the line is fixed. It runs roughly along the French and Belgian border and then down the French and German border to Switzerland. The only part of this terrain which is flat and therefore hard to defend is in the northwest, among the fields of Flanders.

Here, in the winter of 1914, each side begins feverishly building Central powers. These become permanent defensive structures, more like cramped underground barracks than mere shelters from bullets and shells. They will be home to hundreds of thousands of Europe's young men for more than three years. The fanciful notion of 'victory by Christmas' is transformed into protracted and nightmarish warfare of a kind previously unknown in history.

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

War in the east: AD 1914

Russia mobilizes rapidly in August 1914, in an attempt to relieve the German pressure on France. As a result early gains are made, with Russian armies advancing into east Prussia and into Galicia (the northeast corner of Austria-Hungary). This move has the desired short-term effect, causing the Germans to withdraw four divisions from Belgium for the eastern front. But events soon suggest that Russia has entered the field unprepared. Disaster strikes before the end of the month.

Several factors contribute. The large Russian army in east Prussia is ill-fed and exhausted. And Russian commanders incautiously send each other uncoded radio messages which are intercepted by the Germans.

The result is that a much smaller German force is able to effect a devastating pincer movement during August 26-28 to encircle the Russians at Tannenberg (the site also of a famous medieval battle). About half the Russian army is destroyed, including the capture of 92,000 men. The Russian general, Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Samsonov, shoots himself.

Further south the Russians have slightly more lasting success in their invasion of Austria-Hungary. By the end of 1914 much of Galicia is still in their hands. Further south again, the Austrians prove ineffective in their attempts to crush their tiny neighbour Serbia (in the regional dispute which sparked The wider conflict).

The result is that a much smaller German force is able to effect a devastating pincer movement during August 26-8 to encircle the Russians at Tannenberg (the site also of a famous medieval battle). About half the Russian army is destroyed, including the capture of 92,000 men. The Russian general, Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Samsonov, shoots himself.

Further south the Russians have slightly more lasting success in their invasion of Austria-Hungary. At the end of 1914 much of Galicia is still in their hands. By this time the western front is already paralyzed in the stalemate of trench warfare. There will be more movement in the east, on the open plains between Germany and Russia. But the outcome at the end of the first calendar year of the war suggests that here too there will be no easy or quick victory.

The local campaign begins in mid-August when an Austrian army invades Serbia, but within a fortnight - and with a loss of some 50,000 men - they are driven back by the Serbs. Another invasion is more successful, three months later, when the Austrians succeed in occupying Belgrade for two weeks (from Nov. 30). But by the end of the year the Serbs have again recovered all their territory.

Although there is more movement on the eastern front, particularly on the open plains between Germany and Russia, the outcome at the end of the first calendar year of the war suggests that here too there will be no easy or quick victory. Both sides begin to look for new allies.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The war at sea: AD 1914-1915

The war at sea immediately takes on the aspect of a world war because the fleets of two main combatants, Germany and England, are already dispersed around the globe.

From the very first week of the war a German light cruiser, the Emden, carries out a brilliant series of raids in the seas around India, preying on the British merchant and troop ships which are bringing supplies and men to the European theatre of war. Within a period of three months, until being sunk on November 9 off the Cocos Keeling islands by an Australian cruiser, the Emden either sinks or captures as many as twenty-three merchant vessels - while incidentally finding time to shell the British oil installations at Madras.

Meanwhile the German admiral Graf von Spee is leading a small squadron of four cruisers across the Pacific towards South America. In September von Spee stops at Fanning Island to cut the trans-Pacific telegraph cable. He shells a French base in Tahiti, before reaching the South American coast and joining up with another German light cruiser. Off Coronel, on 1 November 1914, he is confronted by four British cruisers. Von Spee wins a decisive victory, sinking two of the British ships with no damage to his own.

Von Spee continues round Cape Horn to attack the Falkland Islands, where he is unaware that two British battle cruisers, more heavily armed than any of his squadron, have recently arrived from Britain to join half a dozen cruisers at Port Stanley.

Von Spee tries to escape but he is overtaken. In an engagement on 7 December 1914, he and some 2000 other German sailors lose their lives when four of the five ships in his squadron are sunk. The British on this occasion lose only ten men.

The last naval engagement of the early part of the war is again a British victory, this time much closer to home. A battle off the Dogger Bank, on 24 January 1915, ends with the sinking of a German battle cruiser, the Blücher. The effect is to keep the German fleet in harbour for a year or more. But by this time German strategy has in any case shifted to a far more effective form of aggression - submarine warfare.

From the start of the war both Britain and Germany have done their utmost to cut off the other's maritime supply lines. For Britain this is relatively easy. A heavily mined English Channel can prevent vessels from reaching the North Sea and the Baltic from the south. And fleets can be on permanent patrol to protect the only other means of access, around the north of Scotland.

Britain, by contrast, has the entire north Atlantic as access to the outer world. The only way to apply any sort of stranglehold here is by submarine warfare - a task which Germany now undertakes with astonishing success, given the very recent development of the submarine as a practical sea-going vessel.

The first victim of a German submarine is claimed in a chivalrous encounter on 20 October 1914. A U-boat (or Unterseeboot) surfaces to confront the British merchant ship Glitra. The crew are ordered into their lifeboats, whereupon the German captain fires his torpedo into the empty vessel.

But matters will not long remain so civil. Ships begin to be sunk without warning, including on 30 January 1915 two passenger liners, the Tokomaru and the Ikaria. In February Germany declares that all the waters round the British Isles are a war zone, in which not even neutral ships will be immune from attack.

Neutral countries, including the USA, are by now protesting at this high-handed damage to their trade. The Germans are not deflected. Even neutral cargo vessels plying between neutral countries continue to be sunk. And then, on 7 May 1915, comes an event of a different order. The British passenger liner Lusitania (which the Germans rightly claim is also carrying ammunition for Britain) is sunk off the coast of Ireland with the loss of more than a thousand civilian lives, among them those of 128 US citizens.

American protests have no immediate effect (two more passenger liners are torpedoed during 1915) but the incident has dangers for Germany. It begins a crucial shift in American perception, from committed neutrality to a growing sympathy for the Allied cause.

War in the air: AD 1914-1918

In 1914 war in the air is an even newer phenomenon than war under the sea, but it is part of the scene from the very start. In early October British planes, taking off from Dunkirk, bomb Cologne railway station and destroy Germany's latest Zeppelin in its great shed at Düsseldorf.

By December the Germans are ready to retaliate. Bombing raids by aeroplanes on Dover in December are soon followed by the much more alarming arrival of vast Zeppelins during the night. Great Yarmouth is the first British town to be bombed by a Zeppelin, on 19 January 1915. London suffers its first raid on May 31. The most intense of all the Zeppelin attacks is on 2 September 1916, when fourteen Zeppelins drop 35,000 lb. of bombs on London and elsewhere.

Meanwhile the development of fighter aircraft is proving an unexpected but increasingly significant factor in the skies above the battlefields. In the early months of the war single- and double-seater planes are used for reconnaissance. Subsequently their task is extended to include photography of the enemy's disposition behind the lines, once the stalemate of trench warfare has developed.

These small light planes are unarmed, but there is always the hazard of encountering a reconnaissance plane from the other side. So the pilots begin to fly with their own hand weapons on board, taking pot shots at each other in mid-air with pistols and rifles.

Both sides rapidly progress from this amateurish state of affairs. During 1915 single-seater planes acquire a machine gun, cunningly synchronized to fire between the blades of the revolving propeller. And the pilots are equipped now with radio, to communicate with each other.

The fighter plane has arrived, and with it the glamour of the ace - the pilot who proves his mettle again and again in individual combat. (No ace of World War I surpasses the glamour of Manfred von Richthofen, known from the colour of his plane as the Red Baron. Before himself being killed in action, in 1918, he shoots down 79 British and one Belgian aircraft.)

As fighter aircraft improve, the great gas-filled Zeppelins prove too vulnerable to undertake bombing raids. In their place both sides develop heavy bombers during the second half of the war. By 1918 these are quite formidable craft. On February 17 of that year one of London's railway stations, St Pancras, is bombed by a Staaken R.VI which carries a crew of seven and a bomb load of 4000 pounds.

Aircraft are not yet at the point of influencing the outcome of World War II, as they will in all subsequent conflicts. But to an extent unanticipated in 1914, they have progressed far enough to make their future role unmistakable.

German Africa: AD 1914-1918

The early months of the war also see energetic attacks on the most significant part of Germany's empire, the four territories acquired by Bismarck in the 1880s in the 'Scramble for africa'.

Matters are speedily resolved in the two colonies on the Bight of Benin, Togo and cameroon, both of which have French and British colonies as immediate neighbours. There are invasions across the borders within a week of the start of war in August 1914. In Togo the Germans are defeated before the end of the month. Hostilities last a little longer in Cameroon but are over by the end of February 1915.

In South west africa (now Namibia) the situation is more complicated. Here the main neighbour is South Africa, an ally to whom Britain entrusts the task of seizing the German colony. But such a policy is much resented by many in the Boer community, including some of the most distinguished commanders from the Boer war. The result is that some of these leaders rebel, deserting the South African cause and taking their troops over to the German side.

The rebellion peters out by February 1915, but it has delayed any effective action as yet against the German enemy. The Germans are eventually forced to capitulate five months later, in July.

In Germany's only east coast colony, German east africa (now Tanzania), the action is much more prolonged. Indeed, owing to the astonishing skill and persistence of one man, the conflict here lasts for the entire four years of the war.

The inspired leader is Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, commander of the German army in the colony. The first force sent against him is 8000 men despatched from Bombay. Landing on 2 and 3 November 1914, and immediately losing nearly 1000 of their number under fire from the Germans, they re-embark and depart in disarray (an embarrassing fiasco, news of which is kept from the British public for several months).

During 1915 Lettow-Vorbeck, left to his own devices, sets about transforming his colony into a self-sufficient territory, capable of surviving without imports as a siege economy. The next allied invasion comes in February 1916, when an army of some 20,000 under General Smuts moves south from British East Africa (now Kenya).

This force is too strong for Lettow-Vorbeck to confront head on, so he transforms his men with great success into a guerrilla army. For two years he moves around German east africa, and often across its borders into neighbouring hostile colonies, always avoiding defeat - and tying down as many as 130,000 Allied troops, about half of whom die (some in action, many more of disease).

By November 1918 Lettow-Vorbeck is still as active and elusive as ever. It takes two weeks for the news of the armistice to reach him, but when it does - on November 25 - he finally surrenders. As an indication of the fight still left in his guerrilla army, he is found to be in possession of 500,000 rounds of ammunition.

Welcomed as a hero on his return to Germany in 1919, and twenty years later avoiding any link with the Nazis (though strongly right-wing in his political views), this remarkable man lives on until 1964, dying in Hamburg in his ninety-fourth year.

Trench warfare: AD 1915-1917

By the start of 1915, on the western front, the pattern of trench warfare is established. It will trap all the combatant nations for the next three years in an insoluble deadlock in which the lifeblood of their young men drains unquenchably away.

The commanders-in-chief - John French and then Douglas Haig for Britain, Joseph Joffre and Philippe Pétain for France, Erich von Falkenhayn followed by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff for Germany - all agree on one thing. The only way forward is to wear the opposing forces down in a ceaseless war of attrition, weakening them to the point where a sudden strategic breakthrough can be achieved.

Never in history have so many men, so heavily armed, remained for so long confronting each other in a restricted area of open ground. All the great battles of the war, some of them lasting several months, take place along a crescent stretching less than 200 miles from Ypres to Verdun. The few major advances made in either direction are less than 50 miles and are soon reversed. Most of the time it is a matter of winning, losing, clawing back a few hundred yards of shell-churned mud.

Yet in this blighted area, during the four years of the war, millions of men lose their lives. In one day alone, at the start of the four-month battle of the Somme in 1916, 20,000 British soldiers die and another 40,000 are wounded.

The pattern of attack, from one line of trenches to the other across no man's land, becomes more sophisticated as the months roll by but remains essentially the same. The trenches are protected by lethal rolls of barbed wire. These need to be flattened before there is any hope of the advancing infantry reaching the enemy. This is achieved by a preliminary bombardment from artillery behind the lines, lasting days and sometimes weeks.

In the early part of the war the bombardment ends when the infantry go over the top of their trenches, armed with rifles, bayonets and hand grenades, to stagger and slither towards the machine guns awaiting them.

Later a slight improvement is made in the form of the rolling barrage, in which the artillery gunners steadily raise their sights as the troops advance. The purpose is to lay down ahead of them a carpet of high-explosive shells, forcing the enemy to keep their heads down. Reconnaissance aircraft fly overhead, equipped with radio, to report back to the gunners where their shells are landing and what enemy targets are available.

Even when this softening-up procedure succeeds, the infantry are left with a lonely final assault on the trenches followed by close combat, unless (always the hoped-for result) the bombardment has in itself persuaded the enemy to withdraw to a secondary line of defence.

Battles along the western front: AD 1915-1917

In each year of this gargantuan contest both sides mount offensives, usually more costly to them than to the defenders. In 1915 the Germans move first, in April, in the northwest section of the line near Ypres. In May the French retaliate further south, between Lens and Arras. In the autumn the Allies launch twin campaigns, the British in the north near Loos and the French in the southeastern part of the line around Reims.

The first offensive of 1916 is a German thrust towards Verdun, a town behind the Allied lines at the eastern end of the trenches. Beginning in February, the battle for Verdun lasts for the rest of the year and severely stretches the resources of the French defenders - commanded by Philippe Pétain, who becomes a national hero.

The pressure on Verdun is eased in July, when the Allies advance in the valley of the Somme, in the centre of the line, in what becomes the most deadly single engagement of the entire war. On the very first day 60,000 of the British troops running forward from their trenches are mown down by enemy fire. Four months later, when torrential rain brings the battle finally to an end with little gained, the British have lost 420,000 men, the French 195,000 and the Germans more than 600,000.

Allied strategic plans are dislocated in March 1917 by a surprise German move. The line of trenches has given the Germans a southwest bulge between Arras and Reims. Deciding not to hold this, the Germans now make an unexpected withdrawal.

They pull their troops back to a newly prepared line, reinforced with a very effective innovation - concrete pillboxes to house machine-guns. This defensive barrier becomes known as the Hindenburg Line, after the recently appointed German commander-in-chief. The territory which has been abandoned is left as a heavily mined wasteland.

By this stage of the war both French and Germans have learnt the value of taking a defensive stance in this new form of warfare, but the British commander, Field Marshal Haig, is still convinced that aggression must ultimately prevail. After attempting to soften up the opposition with a bombardment of 4,500,000 shells, he launches on 31 July 1917 a massive attack from Ypres at the northern extremity of the line of trenches.

As so often previously in the war, three months of horror end with nothing achieved. The campaign lasts until early November, when a macabre last-ditch advance by British and Canadian infantry, wading through knee-deep mud churned up by constant bombardment in the autumn rain, results in the capture of a trivial but by now symbolic prize - the village of Passchendaele. It stands just five miles from where the attack began in July. Since then some 250,000 British soldiers have died.

There is one briefly effective campaign in late November 1917. A suitable terrain is chosen near Cambrai for the first serious outing of a British innovation, the tank. These strange vehicles achieve a rapid advance. But there are not enough infantry in support to consolidate the gain.

Innovations on the western front: AD 1915-1917

There are occasional innovations on the western front, when radically new weapons are brought to the battlefield in an attempt to clear the enemy more effectively from their trenches.

The Germans first try the use of chlorine gas against the Russians in Poland in January 1915, but the extreme cold makes it ineffective. They make a second attempt at Ypres in April 1915. This time the creeping poisonous green vapour immediately empties the French trenches. But the Germans, not anticipating such an immediate success, fail to take advantage of their opportunity. Five months later the British use chlorine gas, at Loos in September - again to little advantage, partly because the wind changes and blows the gas back over their own men.

By the end of the war both sides make frequent use of even more alarming gases (phosgene and mustard). The damage is limited by the gas mask, soon part of the basic equipment of every soldier, though mustard gas also causes severe burns to the skin.

From 1916 poison gas is no longer released from canisters, to drift with the wind across the enemy's position. Now it is fired in compressed form in shells and mortars, to expand on impact. During one advance, in the Ypres region in March 1918, the Germans fire half a million mustard gas shells into the Allied lines. But protective measures by now ensure that even such a heavy bombardment results in only 7000 gas casualties and less than 100 deaths.

Poison gas has been relatively little used in subsequent wars, for fear of retaliation in kind. But modern warfare has been transformed by another innovation on the western front.

During the battle of the Somme, on 15 September 1916, the British send into action eleven vehicles of an entirely new kind, the Mark I tank. On this first occasion they make relatively little impression. But on their second outing, at Cambrai in November 1917, they prove their unmistakable value in clearing the battleground for the infantry following behind them. Unlike foot soldiers, tanks can advance against the dreaded machine gun and can crash through the barbed wire barricades protecting the enemy trenches.

This History is as yet incomplete.


The Battle of Jutland: AD 1916

The early summer of 1916 brings the only major sea battle of the entire war. Since the loss of the Blücher at Dogger bank in January 1915, the German High Seas Fleet has been content to remain in the safety of German waters in the Baltic, leaving the U-boats to carry on the war at sea. Meanwhile Britain's larger Grand Fleet watches over the North Sea from its base at Scapa Flow.

However in 1916 the Germans devise a plan which they hope will entice into a trap one half of the British fleet, which can then be destroyed in isolation. The scheme has two related parts.

First a small force of cruisers is despatched to bombard the east coast ports of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. It is hoped that this will prompt Admiral Jellicoe to send down less than the whole fleet from Scapa Flow, to end this annoyance. He does just that, despatching one battle squadron.

The next step in the German plan is to send a scouting group of cruisers up the Norwegian coast, tempting the British across the sea to move south of them and cut them off. But the cruisers are to be followed at a distance of fifty miles by the entire High Seas Fleet under its admiral, Reinhard Scheer.

A succession of accidents frustrate and alter these plans. British listening devices intercept a message on May 30 suggesting that the High Seas Fleet is on the move. Jellicoe responds by steaming south with the rest of the Grand Fleet from Scapa Flow, heading for a rendezvous near the entrance to the Skagerrak (the channel to the north of Denmark's province of Jutland, leading into the Baltic Sea). This accidentally brings the British and German fleets into the same area.

They fail to notice each other until a chance encounter in the early afternoon of May 31. At that stage the battleships of both fleets are still miles apart. By about 4 p.m. the cruisers of both sides are in combat. Two hours later the battleships open fire.

In the gathering dusk these massive vessels, armed with enormous guns, cumbrously manoeuvre and wheel about with the same objective as the old ships-of-the-line - to be in position to fire a broadside at an enemy less well placed. In the event the chaos is such that neither side has a decisive advantage before night falls and contact is lost.

When the tally is taken, the Germans are the winners. The British lose marginally more ships and twice as many men (about 6000). But in another sense the German effort fails. After the battle of Jutland (known to the Germans as the battle of the Skagerrak) the Grand Fleet is still in command of the North Sea - while the German fleet prefers once again to remain safely at home, shy of the high seas after which it is named.

US involvement: AD 1915-1917

World war i, involving Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, France and Britain as the main contestants, begins in Europe in August 1914. From the start public opinion and the majority of political leaders in the USA have been of one mind - America's best interest lies in remaining a neutral nation, uninvolved in the European conflict. Yet from the very first months this conviction already tends to be undermined by the maritime strategy of the two main combatants.

Britain is busy using her navy to blockade Germany, preventing even neutral ships from trading with continental ports. In doing so, she harms America's trade (and even seizes a few US ships for breaking the terms of the blockade). Meanwhile Germany, relying on Submarine warfare to frustrate the blockade, represents a threat to the actual lives of American citizens on the high seas.

The sinking of the lusitania in May 1915 provides the first crisis. Later in 1915, under US pressure, the Germans modify their submarine campaign. But there are regular demands from the military to revive it, and in February 1916 Germany announces a renewal of activity. On March 24 an unarmed Channel steamer, the Sussex, is sunk with the loss of many lives, among them US citizens.

The US president, Woodrow Wilson, is facing a presidential election later in the year. One plank in his campaign is that he has kept America out of the war. He demands and receives new assurances from the Germans that they will not attack other merchant ships without warning, while behind the scenes he tries to get himself accepted as a mediator between the warring parties.

His good offices are not entirely welcome, particularly when - after his re-election in November 1916 - he intrusively demands that both sides state the terms on which they would be willing to end the war. In subsequent months he develops his own plans for a lasting settlement, based on the concept that it must be a 'peace without victory' (meaning no recriminations if either side is perceived as the loser). But for the moment harsh reality is overtaking Wilson's idealism.

In January 1917 the German high command decides to resort once again to all-out Submarine warfare. President Wilson is informed on January 31 that this will begin on the following day. Since this announcement breaks the pledge given to him after the Sussex incident, he severs diplomatic relations with Germany. And he persuades Congress to pass a bill allowing US merchant ships to be armed. Germany refrains from attacks on US ships during February, but three are sunk on March 18 with many lives lost. There is public outrage against Germany, and not for the first time this month. The previous occasion has been the publication, on March 1, of an intercepted German telegram.

The telegram, destined for Mexico, was sent by the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann. Intercepted, decoded and passed to President Wilson by the British admiralty, its content proves to be highly inflammatory. Zimmermann suggests that in the event of the USA entering the war, Mexico should side with Germany. Germany will in return back Mexican recovery of Texas, New mexico and arizona.

Wilson therefore has widespread public support when he asks approval for a declaration of war on Germany, assuring Congress that the citizens of the USA will be privileged to make the necessary sacrifices to safeguard democracy. War is declared on 6 April 1917.

The USA can provide immediate support for the Allies in two areas. Credit and loans can be rapidly arranged (by the end of war, eighteen months later, these amount to as much as $9.5 billion). And the powerful US navy is in a state of readiness. But manpower is more problematical. The armed services number only 378,000 men when war is declared. Conscription is immediately introduced, in May 1917, and by November 1918 the number enlisted will amount to 4.8 million.

But it takes time to get the conscripts trained and ready for service in Europe. The Germans can rely on a breathing space on the western front before the arrival of the Americans. For a while they make exceptionally good use of this brief opportunity. In the spring of 1918, under the overall command of Erich Ludendorf, they launch three massive assaults against different parts of the line. They succeed as no such offensive has done in the past three years. Indeed the first, pushing towards Amiens, brings the Germans forty miles into France within a few days. The other two create similar great bulges into French territory. But it is too late. US troops are in action on the western front in large numbers from May 1918, and many more divisions are on their way.

In the second battle of the Marne (from July 18) and in the battle of Amiens (from August 8) the German forces are driven back. With these German defeats the psychological tide of the war finally turns.The German decision to seek an armistice comes with surprising speed after the start of a new Allied push in the west. The war ends with the signing of an armistice in France on November 11. In the peace talks that begin in Paris in January 1919 Woodrow Wilson's vision of the future plays an influential role.

The Russian front: AD 1916-1917

After the Campaigns of 1915, bringing into German hands the whole of Russian Poland, the German high command can reasonably expect a relatively quiet Russian front during 1916, enabling maximum forces to be deployed against Britain and France in the west.

However Russia springs a surprise in June 1916, with a sudden and completely unexpected advance (the 'Brusilov breakthrough') by a large army under Aleksey Brusilov. In the first three days 200,000 Germans and Austrians are captured on a broad front stretching from Lutsk to Chernovtsy, and for a few weeks the impetus is maintained. It brings the Russians back into the territory of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in eastern Galicia.

The Brusilov offensive also has a profound effect on the western front. It causes the diversion to the east of seven divisions which the Germans had been hoping to deploy against the British on the Somme.

The casualties suffered by the Central Powers at the hands of the Russians are immense (750,000 men dead, wounded or captured by the time Brusilov's advance is finally halted), but as so often in history Russia herself suffers even more, with an equivalent loss nearer to a million. In a war-weary and ill-provisioned Russian army, the summer's adventure lowers rather than heightens the appetite for a fight. Even more dramatic events in 1917 will have a similar effect.

The very sudden collapse of the Romanov dynasty, in March 1917, is followed by rival claimants to power (the Provisional Government and the Petrograd Soviet). This has a disastrous effect on the troops in the front line, confronted now by conflicting messages from home.

The Provisional Government wants the war to continue, being as eager as the tsar to humble Austria-Hungary and to win Istanbul and the Dardanelles from the Turks. The Petrograd Soviet has no interest in the war, except as a seedbed of revolution. On 15 March 1917 its members issue Order No. 1. This states that committees of soldiers and sailors are to be set up in all military units. They are to take control of all arms, which are only to be issued to officers as the committees decide.

The next stage in the destruction of the Russian army as an effective fighting force follows immediately after the revolution of November 1917. On November 8, the first day after the coup, Lenin issues a Decree on Land, abolishing the private ownership of large estates and assigning the land to the peasants. This has an immediate and debilitating effect at the front. It gives a strong incentive to peasant soldiers to hurry home and stake their claim.

On the same day Lenin also issues a Decree of Peace, offering to come to immediate terms with Russia's enemies on a basis of no annexations, no indemnities and self-determination for all who want it.

Meanwhile during 1917, confronted with a lack of stomach for the fight in both the Russian army and government, the Germans have continued their advance along the Baltic coast - among the small nations which are already proclaiming independence from Russia.

Lithuania has been in German hands since September 1915. Now a German army advances into Latvia, taking Riga on 3 September 1917. On November 26 Lenin's new government orders all Russian units on the European front to stop fighting. At the same time an armistice is proposed to Germany. It is signed at Brest-Litovsk on December 15.

During the subsequent peace negotiations the Russian position is inevitably weak - though Lenin confidently hopes that revolution will break out in Berlin and Vienna to strengthen his hand. While he and his deeply divided colleagues prevaricate, the Germans reinforce their negotiating position by continuing to march through Latvia and into Estonia, in blatant disregard of the armistice.

On 3 March 1918, with only a tiny majority of his government in favour, Lenin signs the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. By its terms Russia loses control over Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine (together representing much of the nation's iron and coal resources). With the treaty signed, Germany is free to concentrate all her efforts on the western front.

During the subsequent peace negotiations the Russian position is inevitably weak - though Lenin confidently hopes that revolution will break out in Berlin and Vienna to strengthen his hand. While he and his deeply divided colleagues prevaricate, the Germans reinforce their negotiating position by continuing to march through Latvia and into Estonia, in blatant disregard of the armistice.

On 3 March 1918, with only a tiny majority of his government in favour, Lenin signs the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. By its terms Russia loses control over Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Ukraine (together representing much of the nation's iron and coal resources). With the treaty signed, Germany is free to concentrate all her efforts on the western front.


U-boats and convoys: AD 1917-1918

In the spring of 1917, and then again a year later, Germany seems to have two real chances to clinch victory. The first is at sea and the second on the western front.

Germany's advantage at sea early in 1917 is the result of her decision in January to resume all-out Submarine warfare. Three months later the success rate is 430 Allied and neutral merchant ships sunk during April alone (of merchant vessels leaving British harbours during that month one out of four fails to return). Both the Germans and the Allies calculate that if losses continue at this rate, the Allies will be starved into submission by the end of the year.

A rapid solution is essential, and it is found in a very simple change of procedure - though one which is considered highly controversial at the time. A proposal is put forward in the British admiralty early in 1917 that merchant ships should cross the Atlantic in convoys. Opponents point out what seems to many at the time blindingly obvious - that such a strategy merely gathers the ships together for a U-boat to pick them off, as a collection of sitting ducks.

But until now each vessel has been setting off on its own for its transatlantic journey, thus dotting the ocean with separate targets which a U-boat is much more likely to encounter. Moreover if ships are grouped together, it becomes feasible to provide an armed escort.

The argument is won by those in favour of convoys, which begin crossing the Atlantic in June 1917. There is an immediate and drastic fall in the number of ships sunk. In the following six months only ten fall prey to U-boats when travelling in convoy. Like fighter planes and bombers and tanks, the convoy system evolves in World War I before becoming a standard feature of later conflicts.

With the advantage at last turning, the Allies now take much more vigorous steps to retaliate against the U-boats. Vast numbers of mines, laid in the Channel and North Sea, bring many underwater victims. And successful raids are launched to block the Belgian harbours where the U-boats have been returning to refuel.

Western front: AD 1918

The Germans appear to win a second chance of victory on the western front early in 1918. It is by now a matter of urgency. Ludendorff, in command of the German armies, is aware that a decisive blow is essential if Germany is to prevail before the arrival of US troops tips the balance irretrievably.

Between March and June he launches three massive attacks in different parts of the line. They succeed as no such offensive has done in the past three years. Indeed the first, pushing towards Amiens, brings the Germans forty miles into France within a few days. The other two create similar great bulges into French territory.

But Ludendorff fails to make the breakthrough which he requires, either against the French towards Paris or against the British in the direction of the Channel ports. And in July and August he suffers two critical reverses at the hands of the Allied armies, now under the unified command (since April 1918) of the French marshal Ferdinand Foch.

In the second battle of the Marne (from July 18) and in the battle of Amiens (from August 8) the German forces are driven back. In both encounters the Allies make extremely effective use of the one weapon which is exclusively theirs. The attack at Amiens is led by as many as 450 tanks.

With these German defeats the psychological tide of the war finally turns. At the same time the balance of physical power is also tipping. US troops are in action on the western front in large numbers from May 1918, and many more divisions are on their way.

After the battle of Amiens, in August, Ludendorff concludes that the German cause is hopeless. He advises his emperor that peace negotiations should be started before the situation deteriorates further. Meanwhile Germany's allies are all about to drop separately out of the fray.

Germanys armistice: AD 1918

The German decision to seek an armistice comes with surprising speed after the start of a new Allied push in the west. This is a carefully coordinated assault on three fronts. On September 26 the French and the US 1st army (under John Pershing) advance at the eastern end of the line, near Verdun. A day later the British begin an assault on the central section, between Cambrai and St Quentin. And on the following day a French and Belgian army (commanded by the Belgian king, Albert I) attacks in the north, round Ypres.

Only in the centre is a rapid advance made, similar to the German successes earlier in the year. By October 5 the British, under Haig, are through the much vaunted Hindenburg line.

These events seem to reinforce Ludendorff's advice (given after August 8) that it is time for an armistice. So does the capitulation of Bulgaria on September 29, opening up a new front to which German resources will need to be diverted if the conflict is to continue.

On October 3 the Kaiser appoints a new chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, who is internationally respected (during the war he has worked with the Red Cross for the welfare of prisoners on both sides). His task is to win Germany a just peace. The obvious channel, among the Allied leaders, is through Woodrow Wilson. During the past year the US president has spoken frequently on the necessary basis for a lasting peace in Europe. His blueprint is enshrined in his famous Fourteen Points.

During the night of October 3 Prince Max sends a message via Switzerland to President Wilson. It asks for an immediate armistice followed by peace negotiations based on the Fourteen Points. Over the next four weeks Wilson and the Allies stipulate various conditions. An armistice will only be signed with a government representing the German people (a direct threat to the Kaiser's autocracy). And its terms will have to ensure that Germany is in no position to renew the conflict before a peace treaty is agreed.

Seeing this as a demand for unconditional surrender, Ludendorff now argues that Germany should fight on. On October 26 Prince Max persuades the Kaiser to dismiss him.

Over the next ten days events give ever greater urgency to Germany's need for an armistice. On October 28 there is the start of a mutiny when the High Seas Fleet in Kiel is ordered into the North Sea (in the hope of a last-minute naval victory which might improve the peace terms). Within days the mood of rebellion spreads through the armed forces and erupts in German cities. On November 3 Austria-hungary opts out of the war with its own separate armistice.

Prince Max moves swiftly. On November 6 he appoints a commissioner to negotiate for Germany. On November 9 he deposes the Kaiser and hands over his own powers as chancellor to a Social Democrat government, which proclaims a German republic. It is therefore a new but uncertain Germany which approaches the armistice and the peace.

Forest of Compiègne: AD 1918

The German delegation to the armistice talks consists of three men - the commissioner (a politician, Matthias Erzberger) and two army officers. They set off from Spa, in German-occupied Belgium, to their rendez-vous with the Allies. Their destination is a railway carriage parked on the track at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne, north of Paris. Here, on November 8, they are confronted by a team led by the Allied commander-in-chief, Marshal Foch.

The terms on offer are uncompromising. In addition to the return of foreign land captured during this war, together with Alsace-lorraine (won from France half a century previously), German territory to a line 31 miles (50 km) east of the Rhine is to be occupied by Allied troops for up to fifteen years and then be permanently demilitarized.

The advantageous German Treaty with russia is to be annulled. All German submarines are to be appropriated by the Allies, as is much military equipment. The High Seas Fleet is to be interned in Scapa Flow, pending any future decision. And the Allies will continue their blockade of Germany until peace is agreed. In addition there is one further ominous detail. France and Britain have announced they will insist on a postwar settlement not envisaged in Wilson's Fourteen Points - the compensation by Germany for damage done by land, sea or air to civilian property.

For the next two days the small German delegation struggles to improve these terms, mainly using the argument that both sides share an urgent need to prevent revolution in Germany on the Russian pattern.

They win some concessions, particularly in delaying the withdrawal of German troops on the highly sensitive eastern front. But the eventual agreement is nevertheless close to the one imposed from the start by the Allies. Both sides eventually sign at 5 a.m. on November 11. With a fine instinct for the drama of the occasion, the document states that hostilities will cease six hours later. So the great war ends, with memorable precision, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

The Germans certainly expect the peace treaty to follow fairly soon. In the event their nation suffers the economic effects of the Allied blockade for a further six months before peace terms are finally offered.


The Weimar republic: from AD 1919

The six months between the armistice of 1918 and the peace of 1919 are turbulent ones in Germany, where those hoping for a democratic version of traditonal German society are confronted by revolutionaries intent on introducing socialism on the Russian pattern. The two sides both emerge from the Social Democratic party, originally Marxist but by the time of the war a powerful mainstream party believing in democratic change.

Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social democrats, is the man chosen by Prince Max of Baden as his own successor after the deposition of the Kaiser. He thus becomes the first chancellor of the German republic. But a splinter group from within his own party has a radically different concept of the republic.

This more radical group (calling themselves the Spartakusbund or Spartacus League, after the rebel leader of the gladiators), has split from the Social Democratic party in 1916. It is led by Karl Liebknecht and the Polish-born Rosa Luxemburg.

On 9 November 1918, the day on which Ebert becomes chancellor, Liebknecht proclaims in Berlin the birth of a German Socialist republic along Russian soviet lines. On January 1 the Spartacus League is transformed into the Communist party of Germany. Five days later a vast crowd gathers in Berlin, demanding revolution. Though urged by Rosa Luxembourg to proceed cautiously, they seize many of the public buildings in the capital.

Confronted by the strong possibility of a successful communist revolution, as has happened in Russia not much more than a year earlier, Ebert deploys army units and right-wing volunteer militias armed with machine guns and artillery.

The result, after several days of violent street fighting, is the death of more than 1000 revolutionaries and the collapse of their uprising. On January 15 Liebknecht and Luxemburg are captured and summarily shot. Luxemburg's body is unceremoniously dumped in a canal in the centre of the capital city. Four days later elections are held for a new national assembly, to be entrusted with the task of devising a constitution for the young republic.

The assembly meets in Weimar in February and elects Ebert as president of the republic. When the constitution is drawn up (to be promulgated in August 1919), extensive powers are given to the president as the chief executive of the state.

He will derive strong personal authority through being elected for a seven-year term by universal suffrage. He will be commander of the armed forces, with the right to appoint and remove officers. He will make international alliances and treaties. He can suspend civil liberties and impose a state of emergency. He can reject any law passed by the national parliament (the Reichstag), submitting it instead to a referendum. And he has the power to dissolve the Reichstag.

But the Reichstag, with its members elected by universal suffrage, is itself for the first time given a proper democratic role. The chancellor will be the leader of the party or coalition which can command a majority. And although Germany retains a federal structure (with the German states, or Länder, reduced to seventeen in number), the Reichstag now at last has control over all areas of Taxation.

So the hope is that a viable new democracy has emerged from Germany's defeat. But in these same months of 1919 that defeat is being harshly emphasized in the Paris peace talks.

Paris and Versailles: AD 1919

The delegates to the peace conference gather in Paris and hold their first full session on 18 January 1919. The terms to be imposed upon Germany are not agreed until May. The treaty is finally signed at Versailles, on 28 June 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors - the very room, so profoundly symbolic of triumphalist French power, which has been sullied by the proclamation here in 1871 of the German empire.

In most respects the terms follow Wilson's Fourteen Points (though distorted by an animosity towards Germany) and the broad outlines of the armistice. Historic national frontiers are restored except where the higher principle of self-determination is deemed to prevail (plebiscites in border regions between Germany and Poland are used to define new boundaries).

Germany's land and sea forces are to be permanently reduced to a very limited size, and she is to be allowed no air force at all. Her pre-war pride, the great High seas fleet, is to be transferred to the Allies (a decree frustrated in a splendid act of defiance by the German sailors themselves who on 21 June 1919, under the very eyes of the British, manage to scuttle every one of the fifty German warships held in Scapa Flow).

The German empire is to be dismantled and all its colonies redistributed among the victorious powers under mandates from the League of nations. And finally, under consideration by the delegates in Paris, there is the contentious matter of reparations.

Germany cannot complain at the principle of reparation, for in 1871 she imposed a vast indemnity on France after a brief war blatantly engineered by the Germans themselves. But in Paris there is profound disagreement as to the proper level of payment. The USA, Britain and Italy argue for a more moderate imposition than France and Belgium (the main sufferers) are inclined to demand.

Eventually, in 1921, the commission set up for the purpose assesses Germany's obligation at $33 billion. Of this some $21 billion is eventually paid, becoming a profound source of German grievance. The economic burden does not prove quite as crippling as is often implied. But the injury to a nation's pride is of a different order.

Extremes of chaos: AD 1920-1923

The coalition government of the Weimar republic, which in June 1919 reluctantly accepts the terms of the treaty of Versailles, is centrist in its politics, being led by the Social Democrats. Its leaders have little option, for it is made all too plain that the alternative is an Allied invasion of Germany. But these events leave a poisonous legacy in the theory, held in right-wing circles, that the German army was never defeated. Instead it was stabbed in the back, first in the Armistice and then in the treaty, by republicans and socialists - a group to which rabble-rousers glibly add the Jews.

From the start, therefore, the new republic is strongly opposed by enemies on the right. Indeed a military putsch seizes control in Berlin for a few days in March 1920.

The Berlin putsch fails in the face of determined resistance from the left. The trade unions call a general strike, after which lawful authority is restored. But the extreme left is no more inclined that the extreme right to support the new republic.

It appears evident to Marxists that Germany is the most likely nation to follow Russia into a communist future, and postwar discontent seems to give them cause for optimism. In the Ruhr, in the spring of 1920, Communists lead a workers' rising which is only suppressed after ferocious encounters with German army units and volunteer militias, mainly recruited from the right. Both right and left see themselves as competing, in a struggle to the death, for Germany's future.

The ability of both sides to recruit support is much enhanced by the behaviour of the Allies - particularly France, which on three occasions marches troops into German cities on the grounds that Germany is failing to meet her treaty obligations.

The most serious intrusion by France, and the one with the most disastrous consequences, is the occupation of Germany's industrial base in the Ruhr in January 1923 (on the grounds that Germany is failing to deliver the amounts of timber, coal and coke specified in the treaty). The result is an immediate escalation of political and economic chaos.

The German government orders passive resistance to the French (and to their Belgian partners in this invasion), so as to prevent them benefiting from the mines and factories of the region. The occupying forces respond with mass arrests. Meanwhile the German economy collapses, both from the removal of its industrial base and from the resulting loss of confidence. The government takes the disastrous short-term option of printing money. Inflation is already a major problem in postwar Germany. It now reaches levels which beggar the imagination.

One of the most pervasive images of the 20th century is of banknotes being pushed along the street in a wheelbarrow in Germany in 1923. But the bare statistics tell the story even more starkly.

At the start of the year the German mark is already at the very depressed level of 7000 to the dollar. Six months later, on July 1, it stands at 160,000 to the dollar. By October 1 a dollar buys 242 million marks. On November 20 it purchases 42,000 billion. But these are fantasy figures, of interest only to speculators. In everyday life people lose their savings and resort to barter. And extremists seize their chance, amid the fear and unrest.

In October 1923 there are Communist uprisings in Saxony, Thuringia and Hamburg. In early November there is an attempted putsch in Munich, capital of Bavaria, the most resolutely right-wing of German states. This failed putsch would be little more than a footnote in history, were it not also an ominous prologue.

Hitlew's putsch: AD 1923

The events in Munich on November 8-9 in 1923 would seem like a comic sketch about a brilliant confidence trickster, were they not also tinged with the foretaste of tragedy. Adolf Hitler, the central character, is a self-dramatizing obsessive who dreams of restoring the great German reich, now so cruelly betrayed by the men he calls the 'November criminals' (the political leaders who accepted the armistice in November 1918).

Born in Austria, he has moved to Munich in 1913. He has served with distinction in the war as a corporal in the Bavarian infantry. On his return to Munich he joins a tiny German Workers' party (he is its 55th member). He soon becomes its propaganda chief.

In 1920 the party changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazionalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NAZI for short). During 1921 Hitler and Ernst Röhm recruit squads of thugs to protect party meetings and to beat up Communists and Socialists. With this private army at his command (his 'Storm troopers', or Brownshirts), Hitler becomes in 1921 the president of the party, which by now has about 3000 members.

In the Chaos of 1923 Hitler conceives a bold plan. The right-wing regime in Bavaria is under the control of Gustav von Kahr (prime minister), Otto von Lossow (military commander) and Hans von Seisser (police chief). Hitler intends to abduct the three men and force them to front a new national government on his behalf.

His chance comes on November 8, when all three are attending a large political meeting in a Munich beer cellar. Hitler is in the audience. After twenty minutes his colleague Hermann Goering bursts into the hall with twenty-five armed brownshirts.

Hitler jumps on a chair, fires a shot from his pistol at the ceiling and declares that the national revolution has begun. There are, he says, six hundred armed men surrounding the hall (true); moreover the local army and police are at this moment marching here from their barracks under the banner of the swastika (false). Everyone is to remain in their seats while he talks with Kahr, Lossow and Streisser in a neighbouring room.

In the privacy of the next room he tells the three men that they will die if they do not cooperate. Then, in the bold move of the confidence trickster, he returns to the hall to declare the existence of a new national government with Kahr as regent, Lossow in command of the army, Streisser as police chief, and - as director of national policy - Hitler himself.

Astonishingly, the bluff works. The audience, until now apprehensive, breaks into wild applause. The three men in the side room, hearing this response, consider it wise to go along with it. The meeting ends in high excitement. Hitler declares that the November criminals are about to be overthrown. A new and glorious Germany will arise. Everyone joins in singing Deutschland über Alles.

But the outcome proves that at this early stage in his career it is Hitler who is naive. The three men of power slip away into the night. The next day their offices are not returning calls. Hitler (joined now by his most distinguished supporter, Ludendorff, one of the heroes of the war) leads the storm-troopers in a march to the centre of Munich. They are met by a hail of bullets. Ludendorff marches straight ahead. Hitler turns and flees.

Both men are arrested and put on trial. Ludendorff is pardoned. Hitler, with much clandestine support in this right-wing city, is given five years in gaol, the minimum sentence for treason. He serves only nine months and uses the time to start writing his political credo, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) - dictating the text to the fellow Nazi, Rodolf Hess, who shares his prison cell.

Published in two volumes (1925,1926), the book is a turgid but fateful tract which few at the time bother to read. It contains a vivid forewarning of Hitler's heady brew of obsessions . He views the world as a conflict to the death between the nordic Aryan race (a spurious concept) and the Jews - seen as a virus, dedicated to corrupting the purity of the Aryans through interbreeding.

The Jews are blamed for Germany's humiliation at Versailles, and for the rise of communism. Hitler presents himself as the leader who will end these twin threats and unite all Germans in a greater Germany. In the coming years this remains his theme in speeches around the country. But meanwhile mainstream politicians are themselves making headway in winning justice for the nation.

Two plans and a pact: AD 1924-1929

From the lowest point in Germany's postwar economic and political chaos, in November 1923, the country makes a remarkable recovery over the next six years - largely thanks to the energy and diplomatic skills of Gustav Stresemann, who as foreign minister achieves a new level of cooperation between Germany and her wartime enemies.

The first success is the acceptance of the Dawes Plan, put forward by a committee under the chairmanship of a US financier, Charles G. Dawes, and accepted by Germany in August 1924. The plan temporarily defuses the controversial issue of Germany's Reparations, by providing US loans to ease the situation and placing the system of payments under international control.

In the same month the trauma of runaway inflation is forcefully solved. The national bank (the Reichsbank) is made an independent institution and introduces a new unit of currency, the Reichsmark. For those who still have any devalued currency to change, the rate is one new mark for a trillion of the old.

Germany's international relations are further improved by the Locarno Pact, signed in 1925 with Belgium, France, Great Britain and Italy. This is in effect a new European peace treaty, with guarantees of international boundaries and with Germany now an equal and willing partner (in contrast to the duress involved in the Treaty of versailles). In the following year Germany joins the League of nations, with a permanent seat on the council.

The third in this sequence of agreements is the Young Plan, devised in 1929 by a committee chaired by an American lawyer, Owen D. Young. Its primary purpose is to establish the total amount of the Reparations to be paid by Germany. The figure fixed upon is too high to please many in Germany, but in accepting it Stresemann secures a highly significant concession. The Allies will withdraw their occupying forces from the Rhineland in June 1930, five years ahead of the scheduled date.

With this much accomplished, Germany should be well placed to advance in prosperity and to take her natural place as the major power at the heart of Europe.

The past few years have already seen great strides in national prosperity, hastened by generous foreign investment and loans in the new mood of international cooperation. But in this very year, the world economy is about to deal Germany a blow from which she will not recover until after another disastrous war.

In October 1929 the stock market crashes in New York, triggering a world-wide depression. Nowhere does it hit harder than in the newly recovered Germany. As foreign money is withdrawn, businesses crash, wages are slashed, unemployment soars. Coming a mere six years after the horrors of inflation, this is a situation in which extremist parties are certain to flourish - on both left and right of the political spectrum.

Hindenburg and Hitler: AD 1929-1933

During four years of economic turmoil, as the unemployment figure rises to 4.3 million in September 1931 and more than 6 million in 1932 (and Nazi seats in the Reichstag make comparable gains), Hitler jockeys for position with Germany's political establishment. At the head of the nation is Hindenburg, the war veteran who has been elected president of the republic in 1925. He and Hitler are the two most significant figures during the mounting crisis.

Elections in 1930 bring the first indication that the Nazis are now a power to be reckoned with. The campaign is marred by violence from both Nazis and Communists, but it brings the two extremist parties unprecedented success. Nazi representation in the Reichstag rises from 12 to 107, while the Communists win 77 seats

The success of the Communists helps Hitler in his grassroots campaign, as the man who can save Germany from this Jew-inspired foreign creed. But at the same time his own appeal to the masses causes the political establishment in the centre to close ranks against him. In the next three years a succession of schemes are hatched by Hindenburg and the established politicians to form alliances which will keep Hitler out of power.

As their various coalitions crumble in disagreement, a more dangerous policy comes under consideration. Perhaps the best way forward may be to smother Hitler's ambitions by giving him a little power within a government controlled by others?

Hitler himself is adamant in any negotiation. He will only take power if it is legitimately conferred. And he will accept nothing less than the role of chancellor.

Meanwhile his share of the vote continues to rise. When Hindenburg's first term of office as president comes to an end, in March 1932, Hitler stands against him. In the first round he wins 30% of the vote, in the second 36.7%. This is not sufficient to prevent the re-election of the 85-year-old field marshal, but it is more than enough to establish Hitler in the public's mind as a potential leader in waiting.

Rivalries among the politicians favoured by Hindenburg prompt the second Reichstag election of the year, in July 1932. This time the Nazis achieve another breakthrough, becoming with 230 seats the largest party (the Social Democrats are second, the Communists third). Yet the Nazis cannot find partners to form a ruling coalition - a situation which results in yet another election, in November 1932.

For the first time, in what has been until now a crescendo of success since 1930, the Nazi vote slips (by 2 million). In the circumstances Hitler becomes slightly more willing to compromise in his negotiations with a weary political establishment, though he still demands nothing less than the office of chancellor for himself.

In January 1933 Hitler comes to an agreement with Franz von Papen, a political amateur who has been appointed chancellor by Hindenburg in June 1932. Papen attempts to persuade Hindenburg that his agreement with Hitler is the safest way out of the present impasse. If Hindenburg will appoint Hitler chancellor and Papen vice-chancellor, Papen will form a cabinet in which, with Hitler's agreement, the Nazis will hold only three out of eleven portfolios. From that position they can do little harm. Hindenburg agrees.

So, on 30 January 1933, the 43-year-old Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany - legally rather than by revolution, unlike the despised Marxists in Russia. His revolution, at least as ruthless as theirs, is to be put in place after achieving power.

Hitler in power

Hitler's revolution: AD 1933-1934

Hitler moves swiftly to consolidate his hold on power. At his first cabinet meeting, on the day of his appointment as chancellor, he argues that new elections must be held if the coalition fails to command an immediate majority in the Reichstag. He overcomes the qualms of Papen and his colleagues by promising that whatever the result of the election, the present balance within the cabinet will be maintained (the three Nazi members are Hitler, Goering and Wilhelm Frick).

The election is fixed for 5 March 1933. The campaign is one of unprecedented violence. Gangs of Hitler's Brownshirts are unleashed on the streets to break up the meetings of opposition parties. The police are instructed not to intervene.

During the election campaign, on the night of February 27, the Reichstag building burns down. Many assume at the time that this was contrived by the Nazis, but it seems probable that it was an isolated act of arson by a mentally disturbed Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe. Whatever the precise origin of the fire, it provides Hitler with a heaven-sent opportunity. Proclaiming it as part of a Communist plot to seize control, he passes a decree suspending all rights of the individual and giving the government emergency powers.

In spite of these circumstances, the Nazis and their coalition allies fail by a narrow margin to win an overall majority within the Reichstag. Steps are immediately taken to remedy this.

On March 23, at the first session of the newly elected Reichstag (using a a Berlin opera house as a temporary home), the 81 Communist members and about 20 Social Democrats are conspicuous by their absence. They are either in hiding or are already in the hands of Hitler's police.

Even without their hostile votes, Hitler cannot immediately muster the two-thirds majority which he requires for the business scheduled for the day - an 'enabling act' which will give his government the power to pass decrees independently of the Reichstag and without any restriction by the president.

In the event, with gangs of threatening Brownshirts mustered outside the building, only the Social Democrats have the courage to oppose the Enabling Act. The most significant measure in Hitler's political career is passed by the comfortable margin of 441 to 94. With this constitutional step achieved, he is an elected dictator.

Subsequent decrees, passed with this new authority, tidy up Hitler's mechanism for controlling the nation. In May 1933 trades unions are brought under Nazi control. In July 1933 the Nazi party is declared to be the only legitimate political organization within Germany. In January 1934 the powers of Germany's proudly independent regions, the Länder, are transferred to the central government.

Meanwhile the apparatus of state is being rapidly equipped to cope with personal dissent. In March 1933 the Nazis establish their first Concentration camp, organized by Heinrich Himmler at Dachau near Munich. The pattern is soon followed in other parts of the country. By that summer as many as 30,000 Germans are being held without trial in these punitive establishments.

The two main groups of victims are Communists and Jews, the twin targets of Hitler's long-standing obsession.

Hitler and the Jews: AD 1933-1938

Immediately after the Enabling Act is passed, the world is given clear warning that the anti-Semitism of mein kampf is not merely the raving of a theorist. It is a basis for action. The German government declares an open-ended boycott of all Jewish shops. The announcement receives wide international attention. On March 27 (just four days after the passing of the act) a mass rally is held in New York. A resolution is taken to boycott all German goods if Hitler's measure is put into effect.

Hitler compromises, revealing his sure touch in international diplomacy. He announces that the boycott will be limited to one day. On the designated day Brownshirts stand outside every Jewish establishment in Germany, warning people not to enter.

But the underlying policy remains unaltered. On April 7 a law is passed ordering the immediate 'retirement' of all civil servants 'not of Aryan descent'. This requires the dismissal of Jewish teachers in schools and universities as well as all those employed in government departments. Some of the German towns, in their enthusiasm, develop the policy beyond the immediate demands of the law. They ban performances by Jewish actors and musicians.

A 'non-Aryan' is defined as anyone with one or more Jewish grandparents. At first some exceptions are made, because of the insistence of the president, Hindenburg, that the law should not apply to Jews who had fought in the 1914-18 war or had lost a father or son in that conflict. But the law of April 7 is amended in 1935, after Hindeburg's death, and by the end of the following year there are no 'non-Aryans' in public employment.

Meanwhile, in 1935, even harsher measures are imposed, in the so-called Nuremberg Laws. At a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in September of that year it is announced that Jews are to be deprived of German citizenship, and that any sexual relationship between a Jew and a German citizen is henceforth illegal. The penalty, where the Jew in question is male, is to be death.

As yet there is no systematic and coordinated violence against Jews, but this changes drastically in November 1938. The pretext is the murder by a Jew of a diplomat in the German embassy in Paris. This occurs on November 7. Two days later a nation-wide pogrom is unleashed on the Jews of Germany and Austria (recently annexed by Hitler in the Anschluss). Organized bands of Nazis rampage through the towns, burning synagogues, smashing the windows of Jewish shops and looting their contents.

The smashed windows provide Germans with a name for this night of terror - Kristallnacht, the night of cut glass. Hitler personally orders the violence to continue throughout the night, telling Goebbels (who notes it in his diary) that 'the Jews should be made to feel the wrath of the people' and ordering 20,000 or 30,000 Jews to be arrested immediately. Approximately 20,000 are sent to the concentration camps during the next few days.

To pile on the agony, it is decreed that insurance money due on the damaged buildings is to be paid to the state. The Jews themselves are to bear the cost of repairs to their premises. And for good measure a fine of one billion marks is imposed on the German Jewish community.

Some 7500 Jewish shops are looted during Kristallnacht. At first sight it seems an anomaly - in view of Hitler's anti-Semitism - that so many Jewish firms are still trading in 1938. Yet it is entirely consistent with his cautious economic policy.

Hitler is invariably careful not to damage Germany's economy or upset those with influence in commerce and industry. In this conservative approach he is at odds with the more radical members of the Nazi party, who are eager to unleash the power of the Brownshirts to sweep away all that remains of the fusty old Germany of pre-war days. Hitler, by contrast, has a romantic notion of Germany's past. He dreams of reviving the nation's ancient greatness, in the form of a New reich.

SA and SS: AD 1933-1934

Hitler and his colleagues are as one in seeing their Nazi movement as a revolution. The question is whether the revolution should end once power is achieved, or whether it should then evolve into a second revolution to create a radically new Germany.

The leading exponent of the second view is Ernst Roehm, the founder and commander of Hitler's thuggish support group, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or 'storm section'), commonly known as the Brownshirts. Roehm and his men have good reason to want a continuing revolution, because once Hitler is in power (in 1933) they are in danger of being sidelined. Uneducated and violent, in effect little more than gangsters, the Brownshirts could now be seen as a disreputable liability.

As such, they represent a major problem. By 1933 the SA consists of more than 2 million men. This is far larger than Germany's army. Roehm's solution is that the SA and the army should be merged under a single commander, with no prizes for guessing who he has in mind.

But the army, the most reactionary element in German life owing to Prussia's long military tradition, will entertain no thought of any cooperation with the upstart SA - except perhaps as a pool of useful young manpower when required. Moreover the army is directly answerable to the president (one of their own, being field marshal Hindenburg). And Hitler, as a condition of becoming chancellor, has promised Hindenburg that he will keep the army out of politics.

On his accession to power, Hitler proves adept at reassuring the army commanders that he has their interests at heart. He knows that he needs their support in the early years of his regime, and in 1934 he needs it for a very specific purpose. It becomes evident that the aged Hindenburg has only months or weeks to live. Hitler is determined to succeed him. He cannot be sure of doing so without the army's endorsement. The need to resolve the problem of Roehm and the SA becomes urgent.

In solving it, Hitler demonstrates his ruthlessness. After some painful deliberation, for Roehm is an old friend, he decides on a purge.

His agents in the purge are members of the SS (Schutzstaffel, or 'defence squadron'). Formed originally as a personal bodyguard for Hitler, and commanded since 1929 by Heinrich Himmler, the SS (whose members are known as the Blackshirts) is from 1931 a subsidiary part of the SA (the Brownshirts).

Hitler personally flies to confront Roehm, in the middle of the night of 29 June 1934, in the hotel bedroom near Munich where he is taking a cure. After being accused of attempting to stage a putsch (for which there is no evidence at all), Roehm is shot by SS men.

During the course of the same night (which becomes known as the Night of the Long Knives) some 150 SA commanders in Berlin are meeting the same fate, under the personal supervision of Goering and Himmler. Meanwhile some personal grudges are settled which have nothing to do with the SA.

The body of an old man, Gustav von Kahr, is found in a swamp near Munich. Long retired from political life, he has been hacked to death with a pickaxe. His offence is that he made a fool of Hitler, eleven years earlier, in the failed Brownshirts of 1923.

The international community is profoundly shocked when news of the night's slaughter echoes round the world. But Hitler brazens it out, maintaining that he has saved Germany from the dangers of a treacherous counter-revolution.

With the transfer of power from the SA to the SS, he has now a much more sophisticated means of suppressing future dissent. Under Himmler's command (which lasts until 1945) the SS expands to include the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, 'secret state police'), the Totenkopfverbände ('death's-head battalion', providing guards in the concentration camps) and the crack army units known as the Waffen SS (Weapons SS). The Night of the Long Knives refines the machinery of terror. All that is needed now is a final touch of legitimacy.

The Thousand-Year Reich: from AD 1934

Hitler's last step in achieving total control of Germany is eased by his willing accomplices, the senior army commanders. Indifferent to the naked evidence of criminality in the government, they welcome the taming of the SA. And when Hindenburg dies, on August 2, they immediately agree that Hitler will now combine the roles of president, chancellor and supreme commander of the armed forces.

Moreover the allegiance of the army is now to be personal. On the very day of Hindenburg's death, each officer and man in the German army swears by God to 'render unconditional obedience to the Führer of the German Reich and People, Adolf Hitler' and to 'be ready, as a brave soldier, to stake my life at any time for this oath'.

On August 19 a plebiscite is put to the German people, asking whether Hitler shall now become head of state as Führer (leader) and Reich Chancellor. More than 38 million voters say yes (and more than 4 million have the courage to say no). At the party rally in Nuremberg in September Hitler declares that the Nazi revolution is now complete; and 'in the next thousand years there will be no other revolution in Germany'.

Thus begins the heady concept of the Third Reich, the Thousand-Year Reich, completing the trio of the First Reich (the Holy roman empire) and the Second Reich (achieved by Bismarck for the Hohenzollern dynasty). In the event it will be the shortest of the three, lasting eleven years rather than a thousand.

The economy and the nation: AD 1933-1938

There are three main planks to Hitler's economic and national policy: the reduction of unemployment, rearmament to make Germany strong again, and the restoration of the greater Germany diminished by the Treaty of versailles. Unspoken aspects of the third aim are the annexation of Austria and the eventual need to expand into Slav areas to the east in order to give the German people Lebensraum or 'living space' (both the phrase and the concept were probably suggested to Hitler by Rudolf Hess in their Shared prison cell in 1923).

By a policy of massive investment in public works such as road building (the German autobahns, the world's first motorways, bring widespread international admiration), Hitler achieves rapid success with unemployment. The figure of 6 million unemployed when he takes power, in January 1933, is down to 2.6 million by December 1934.

The following month brings him a great success in the rich mining district of the Saar. This region has been part of Germany from 1815. But a hundred years later the Treaty of versailles places it under the control of the League of Nations - with the output of the mines going to France as part of Germany's reparations. At the same time the treaty stipulates that the inhabitants shall vote in 1935 whether to merge with Germany or France or stay with the League.

Anti-French feeling in the district would no doubt have provided the same result, but powerful Nazi propaganda ensures a 90% majority for merging with Germany when the plebiscite is held in January 1935. Hitler acquires a valuable industrial region.

Two months later, in March 1935, Hitler takes his first calculated international gamble. In blatant violation of the terms of the Treaty of versailles he announces that he is reintroducing conscription in order to build up a peacetime army and navy. The great European powers duly register their protests but take no action.

A year later Hitler chances another equally bold step. The Treaty of versailles has specified that the Allies can occupy until 1935 the Rhineland, the important strategic area in the west of Germany bordering France. The Treaty of versailles have been withdrawn early, in 1930, but the treaty also states that the region shall be permanently demilitarized. In March 1936 Hitler moves troops into the Rhineland. Again he hears only verbal objections.

The build-up of an army requires a build-up of armaments. In further violation of the treaty, Hitler launches a massive rearmament programme. German expenditure on arms rises from 2 billion Reichsmarks in 1933 to 16 billion in 1938. Unemployment, and the attendant public unrest, becomes a thing of the past. And foreign governments seem strangely willing to believe Hitler's protestations that his army and navy will be for defensive purposes only. Britain even signs a Foreign divisions with Germany in 1935.

Even when Hitler first uses his army in a display of strength on foreign territory, he contrives to argue that his troops have been invited across the border, in March 1938, into neighbouring German-speaking Austria. And certainly there is cheering on the streets.

Germans abroad: AD 1938

From the start it has been part of Hitler's dream, expressed in mein kampf, that he will unite the German-speaking peoples of Europe in a recreation of the great Reich which once held them together. This first Reich, in the form of the Holy roman empire, was disbanded in 1806 when under threat from Napoleon. There was a chance to reconstitute it in 1871, with the creation of the Second german reich. But Bismarck, influenced by the long rivalry between Prussia and the Habsburgs, was determined to exclude Austria from his new Germany.

How satisfactory then if a new leader, born in Austria but rising to be head of state in Germany, should rectify Bismarck's failure of vision and bring Austria into the German fold.

By the time Hitler wins power, in 1933, there is already a sizable Nazi party in Austria. In July 1934 they overreach themselves in attempting a coup which has disastrous results. Although they seize the chancellery in Vienna and murder the chancellor, Engelbert Dollfuss, the putsch ends in their surrender and execution. Hitler, delighted at the first news of their action but not himself actively involved, finds himself compelled to disown them.

He shares their aim but must bide his time in achieving it. He begins a slow game of cat and mouse with Dollfuss's successor as chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg.

The first agreement between Hitler and Schuschnigg is ostensibly an attempt to bring relations between their two nations back to a state of normalcy two years after the failed Nazi putsch of 1934. In the Austro-German Agreement of July 1936 Hitler recognizes Austria's full sovereignty and both nations agree not to interfere in each other's internal affairs; but Austria does promise to maintain a foreign policy in keeping with her identity as 'a German state'.

Moreover, among other clauses about normalizing trade and border relations, there is an agreement by Schuschnigg to allow some Nazi sympathisers into his government. The Nazi party itself is still banned in Austria. But Hitler now has a toe in the door.

Two years later, leading a much stronger Germany, Hitler is in a very different mood. He effectively summons the Austrian chancellor to a meeting in his residence at Berchtesgaden on 12 February 1938. When Schuschnigg arrives, he is treated to a two-hour rant by Hitler about the perfidious behaviour of Austria.

It includes the open threat 'I can tell you here and now, Herr Schuschnigg, that I am absolutely determined to make an end of all this. The German Reich is one of the Great Powers, and nobody will raise his voice if it settles its border problems.' Schuschnigg is informed that unless he agrees to everything that Hitler demands, Germany will settle the matter by force.

Over the next few hours Schuschnigg is browbeaten into accepting an agreement which allows the Nazi party in Austria full freedom, together with a guaranteed role in developing economic and military collaboration between the two countries. Schuschnigg is then dismissed, to return home and put the agreement into effect.

But back in Vienna, after weeks of indecision, he gambles upon what seems his last practical chance. A central plank of Hitler's argument has been that a majority of Austrians want union with Germany. Schuschnigg now determines to put this to the test. On March 9 announces that a plebiscite will be held in four days' time, on Sunday March 13. The people will be asked to say whether they want an Austria which is free and independent.

Hitler is outraged at this act of defiance, but he also knows that he cannot allow the plebiscite to take place. On such occasions the people usually answer yes to whatever question is phrased for their own purposes by the politicians.

There is no immediate plan to invade Austria, for Hitler assumes that Schuschnigg will bend to his will. But arrangements are hurriedly put in place, and German tanks are ready to cross the border at the appointed time - dawn on Saturday March 12, the day before the plebiscite. Everything is in place for Hitler's long desired outcome, the Anschluss. It will be his first reunion with neighbouring Germans. But there are others to the north, in the Sudetenland, for whom he has similar intentions.

Hitler is outraged at this act of idefiance, but he also knows that he cannot allow the plebiscite to take place. On such occasions the people usually answer yes to whatever question is phrased for their own purposes by the politicians.

There is no immediate plan to invade Austria, for Hitler assumes that Schuschnigg will bend to his will. But arrangements are hurriedly put in place, and German tanks are ready to cross the border at the appointed time - dawn on Saturday March 12, the day before the plebiscite. Everything is in place for Hitler's long desired outcome, the Anschluss.

Steps towards war

Anschluss: AD 1938

On the morning of March 11 Germany closes the border with Austria. There follows a day of frantic last-minute diplomacy, conducted by telephone and telegram. Hitler is determined that the German army shall be invited into Austria. To this end a succession of ultimatums are made to the Austrians, with the threat of immediate invasion if each is not accepted.

The first is that the proposed plebiscite be postponed. The second is that Schuschnigg resign. He does so just before the deadline of 7.30 pm, declaring in a broadcast to the nation that he is yielding to force. The third, which the Austrian president (Wilhelm Miklas) resists until around midnight, is that Austria's leading Nazi sympathiser be appointed chancellor.

The man in question is Arthur Seyss-Inquart, whom Schuschnigg has taken into his government in 1937 under pressure from Hitler. Anticipating his new powers by an hour or two, Seyss-Inquart sends a message to Berlin during the evening of March 11, requesting the use of German troops to restore order in Austria.

So there is no opposition when German troops cross the border at dawn on March 12. Hitler decides to follow them, encouraged by reports of German Austrians lining the streets to cheer. That evening in Linz, a town where he went to school and where his parents are buried, he is greeted by an ecstatic gathering of Austrian Nazis.

He speaks to them in terms of a mission fulfilled: 'If Providence once called me forth from this town to be the leader of the Reich, it must, in so doing, have charged me with a mission - to restore my dear homeland to the German Reich. I have believed in this mission, I have lived and fought for it, and I believe I have now fulfilled it.'

In his enthusiasm he makes an abrupt change of plan. His intention has been to place Seyss-Inquart in control of the country. Now he decides, before moving on to spend a day in Vienna, that Austria is to be absorbed within a greater Germany. It is to be known simply as Ostmark, the eastern frontier. The Anschluss ('union' or 'annexation') is complete.

And there will be a plebiscite after all. On April 10 every citizen within the new borders will be asked to approve Hitler's action in creating Grossdeutschland, the greater Germany. Of those who vote, 99.08% in Germany say yes. In Austria the figure is even higher, at 99.75%.

Those non-citizens who have no vote, including Vienna's large population of Jews (one sixth of the city), have already had drastic evidence of what life in this greater Germany will mean. Himmler is in Vienna two days before Hitler's arrival, organizing the future activities of the SS and Gestapo. On the day of the Anschluss the first arrests are made.

The victims will include politicians, trade unionists, more than two thirds of the officers in the Austrian army and some 30,000 Jews. Most of them are despatched to concentration camps in Germany.

The Nuremberg laws, depriving Jews of their rights, now automatically apply in this eastern province of the Reich. Austria's Jewish community experiences, as if overnight, the full force of the persecution which in Germany has taken the five years of the Nazi regime to build up. In the very first days after the Anschluss Jewish shops and businesses are looted throughout Austria, and individual Jews are attacked and humiliated. By the time of Kristallnacht, later in this same year, Austria is merely one small part of the greater anti-Semitic Germany.

This History is as yet incomplete.

The Sudetenland: AD 1938

Two days before marching into Austria, Hitler assures the Czech ambassador in Berlin that he has no designs on his nation. But within a month he is developing a plan to annexe the western part of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland.

He is considerably helped in this ambition by the principles of the Treaty of versailles, for the region has a predominantly German population. Many of these Germans are already Nazi sympathisers. It is easy to argue that the notion of self-determination, so important at Versailles, gives them the right to merge with Germany. During the summer of 1938 Hitler threatens the Czech government at the diplomatic level, while massing troops on the border. But unlike his fait accompli in Austria, this challenge to Czechoslovakia prompts international concern.

Chamberlain flies from London to confer with Hitler, on September 15 and 22, but by September 27 it seems certain that Hitler's forces will cross the Czech border. France has a defensive treaty with Czechoslavakia. Britain would have to support France. The result would be war.

On September 27 Chamberlain broadcasts to the British people, expressing his appalled dismay at being dragged into the affairs of such a 'faraway country'. The next day he sends a telegram to Hitler, offering to fly again to Germany to discuss the peaceful transfer of the Sudetenland. Hitler postpones the invasion, planned for September 28, and invites Chamberlain, Daladier (the French premier since April) and Mussolini to an immediate meeting in Munich.

Munich and after: AD 1938-1939

The discussion in Munich between Hitler, Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini lasts a little over twelve hours, beginning in the middle of the day on September 29 and ending with the signing of an agreed document at 1.30 a.m. on September 30. Though the dismantling of their country is under discussion, Hitler refuses to allow any Czech representative to take part. Two Czech diplomats sit in a nearby hotel, effectively waiting to be told what has been decided.

The conclusion is all that Hitler would wish. The Sudeten areas are to be ceded to Germany during the next ten days. Thereafter plebiscites, organized by the four Munich powers and Czechoslovakia, will reveal exactly where the new border should run.

Before boarding his plane, later on September 30, Chamberlain has another meeting with Hitler in which he asks him to sign a joint declaration. This is the document which Chamberlain waves in the air for the cameras on his return to Britain, stating that he has brought back from Germany 'peace for our time... peace with honour'.

The text above Hitler's signature, on which Chamberlain bases his optimism, declares a determination to remove possible sources of difference between countries 'and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe'. Chamberlain's hope is that the sacrifice of the Sudetenland has preserved not only peace but the rest of Czechoslovakia.

The occupation of Sudetenland brings some 3.5 million people within Nazi Germany, 75% of them German and 25% Czech. But in the event these Czechs are no more unfortunate than their compatriots elsewhere. Three weeks after signing Chamberlain's document, Hitler orders the German army to prepare for a move into the rest of Czechoslovakia. The invasion comes in March 1939. Hitler, in Prague, declares that Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia are now under the protection of the German Reich.

But such a brutal betrayal of the Munich agreement transforms the appeasers. When it becomes evident that Poland is the next likely victim, Britain and France are suddenly resolute.

Danzig and the Polish corridor: AD 1938-1939

At the very moment of the Munich agreement the Polish government presents its own demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. There is logic to the claim. If the Sudetenland with its largely German population is to be annexed by Germany, then there is a clear case for the rich industrial area of Teschen Silesia, inhabited mainly by Poles, to be transferred to Poland. On the day the Munich agreement is announced, 30 September 1938, Poland asserts this claim - not for the first time, but now it is instantly acceded to by Czechoslavakia.

Unfortunately the ethnic-majority argument has dangerous implications for Poland herself, confronted by a Hitler increasing day by day in confidence.

The great port of Gdansk (in Polish) or Danzig (in German) has long been a bone of contention between Polish and German interests. Though first brought to prominence by the Hanseatic merchants, the city and its hinterland (eastern Pomerania, or in its Polish name Pomorze) have historically been part of Poland. But from time to time they have been seized by Germans - first by the Teutonic knights in 1308 - and in recent times they have again been German, from the late 18th-century Partitions of poland until the end of World War I.

In 1919 the treaty of Versailles restores Pomorze to Poland and gives Danzig, with its almost entirely German population, the status of a free city within the borders of Poland.

This arrangement is probably unworkable at the best of times, and more so from the mid-1930s when Danzig has an elected Nazi city council. Moreover in this area the provisions of Versailles provide a further cause for German grievance. In returning Pomorze to Poland, and restoring her historical access to the sea at Danzig, the treaty has the effect of severing the province of East Prussia from the rest of Germany.

Pomorze becomes known in the terminology of the 1920s as the Polish corridor, linking Poland and the sea. Hitler now demands a more literal German corridor - a narrow strip of German territory through Poland to East Prussia. Together with this goes his claim to bring Danzig within the Reich.

Both claims are pressed by Hitler with new vigour in October 1938, within days of his winning the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The Polish government firmly rejects the German demands. Unlike unfortunate Czechoslovakia, this stance wins a positive response from the western powers.

In March 1939 Neville Chamberlain, speaking with the approval of both France and the USSR, gaurantees help to Poland if her independence is threatened. In April Hitler abrogates his own ten-year nonaggression treaty with Poland, signed in 1934, and secretly orders his army to prepare for a Polish invasion. In May France commits herself to military action against Germany if a conflict begins. But then, in August, Hitler produces a diplomatic bombshell.

Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: AD 1939

In August 1939 a Franco-British military mission is in Moscow trying to persuade Stalin to commit to a treaty for the defence of Poland. Little progress is made, ostensibly because the Poles are refusing to allow Soviet troops to cross their territory to attack Germany. But there is another hidden reason which soon becomes apparent.

The Soviet Union and Communism have always been twin forces of demonic evil in Hitler's oratory, but he now proves himself happy to sup with the devil for a very real strategic advantage. It is important to his plans that he shall not be distracted by a major war on his eastern front. In August he opens negotiations with Stalin. Poland is his bait.

Stalin, invited by the western powers to join an alliance which will almost certainly involve him in a costly war against Germany for no very evident benefit, now finds himself offered a more attractive option - inactivity and a sizable increase in his territory.

It takes the Russian dictator little time to choose. The world is astonished on August 21 by the announcement from Berlin that Ribbentrop is flying to Moscow to sign a nonaggression pact with his opposite number, the Russian foreign minister Molotov. This sudden friendship of two implacable enemies would seem less inexplicable if people knew of the secret protocol which accompanies the pact.

The protocol agrees a new set of international boundaries. As modified slightly in a second visit by Ribbentrop to Moscow, in September, it acknowledges Germany's approval of the Russian annexation of the independent nations Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (should any such opportunity occur). And it establishes an agreed division of Poland between Germany and Russia.

With this much achieved, Hitler is ready to take his next step - launched, for propaganda purposes, with a Grisly little charade.

World War II

The act of war: AD 1939

During the night of August 31 a group of German soldiers, dressed as Poles, attack the German radio station in the border town of Gleiwitz. They have brought with them a German criminal, taken for the purpose from a concentration camp. They shoot him and leave his body as evidence of the night's dark deeds.

Berlin radio broadcasts to the world the news of this act of Polish aggression, together with details of the necessary German response. In the early hours of the morning of September 1 Hitler's tanks move into Poland. His planes take off towards Warsaw on the first bombing mission of a new European war.

After a final desperate day of diplomacy, attempting even at this late stage to find a peaceful solution, Chamberlain and Daladier each sends an ultimatum to Hitler. When no answer is received, both nations declare war on September 3.

The Polish army, airforce and civilian population put up a brave resistance to massive German force - increased, from September 17, by a Russian invasion from the east. Within a few weeks 60,000 Polish soldiers and 25,000 civilians die. By September 28 Warsaw has fallen. Poland is once again partitioned, with an eastern slice going to Russia (as so recently agreed in Moscow) and the lion's share to Germany.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Hitler's triumphs: AD 1939-1941

The rapid blitzkrieg against Poland is only the first of Hitler's extraordinary military successes during the opening eighteen months of the war. From the start he launches a vigorous and deadly U-boat campaign against Allied shipping in the Atlantic, but on land he allows his enemies and neutral neighbours a deceptive period of calm, in what becomes known as the Phoney war.

This is rudely shattered by his sudden attack on neutral Denmark and norway in April 1940. German troops come onshore from warships and rapidly overrun both countries. It is a foretaste of even more dramatic events in western Europe a month later.

From May 10 German panzer divisions smash their to the coast through neutral Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium. At the same time other divisions push west through northern France. British and French armies are trapped in a pincer movement at the coast. They escape only by means of the dramatic rescue achieved at Dunkirk.

Now the invasion force wheels south towards Paris. German troops enter the capital city on June 14. Two days later the French sue for peace. Hitler savours the moment of triumph, revenge for Germany's humiliation in 1918. He arrives in person to witness the signing of the armistice - and then goes sightseeing in Paris.

Britain is the next object of his attention. While German forces are assembled below for an invasion, Messerchmidts battle in the sky with British Spitfires and Hurricanes for control of the Channel. This encounter (the Battle of britain, lasting from June to September 1940) is the first in the war to go against Hitler. It is a defeat in the sense that he fails to prevail, and therefore has to cancel his invasion plans. But from September he merely diverts his might against Britain in a different context - in the nightly pounding of British cities, which becomes known as the Blitz.

At this same period Hitler's U-boats, refuelling now on France's Atlantic coast, are sinking an ever greater tonnage of Allied merchant shipping in the Atlantic.

The first half of 1941 brings continuing success. Rommel, despatched by Hitler to take over the campaign in north Africa, pushes the British ever further back towards Egypt. At the same time a rapid German thrust south through the Balkans overwhelms Yugoslavia and drives the British out of mainland Greece (in April 1941) and Crete (in May).

Less than two years after the world war was provoked by his invasion of Poland, Hitler can look around at a Europe dominated by Germany. The situation is, to say the least, satisfactory. But his sudden invasion in June 1941 of his ally, Russia, introduces an unpredictable element.

A turning point: June-December 1941

The nations of continental Europe are now either neutral (Switzerland, Sweden), neutral but Fascist (Spain, Portugal), merged with Germany (Austria), occupied by Germany (Czechoslovakia, Poland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, most of France), forcibly neutralized (Vichy France), allied to Germany (Italy, USSR), suppressed by the USSR (Finland), or a patchwork of such conditions (Hungary and the Balkans).

For a dictator who found himself at war with the world a year or two earlier than he would have wished, it is an impressive achievement. The only failure has been the Battle of Britain, frustrating his plans to cross the Channel - but these were anyway somewhat half-hearted.

Admittedly in the very month when this situation is achieved, May 1941, there is one major setback. Germany's newest and most magnificent battleship, the Bismarck, has been launched earlier this year at Kiel. On her first sortie out of the Baltic she is spotted by the British navy. After doing much damage to the pack pursuing her, the vast ship is sunk on May 27 with the loss of nearly all her crew of 2222 sailors.

The state of the navy is a sore point between Hitler and his naval commander in chief, Erich Raeder. In the mid-1930s Hitler has assured Raeder, responsible for building up the fleet, that the coming war will not begin until 1944. Raeder therefore regards Germany's strength at sea as inadequate. After the loss of the Bismarck, his naval campaign focuses largely on U-boats.

If this is one of the significant turning points of 1941, two more are to follow before the end of the year. The first is Hitler's own doing. The second he has regarded as inevitable sooner or later. But together they will have a decisive effect on the outcome of the war.

The first involves Hitler's eastern policy. The USSR, the proselytizing force of world communism, has always been seen by Hitler as his main enemy. And it is to the east, through Poland and into the Ukraine, that his policy of lebensraum and German expansion has been directed. An attack into these regions is part of his grand strategy. Hitler's skill has been to create the lull, with the Molotov-ribbentrop pact, which enables him to secure his western flank before turning his attention eastwards.

In this strategy he is, in effect, carrying out the Schlieffen plan which his predecessors in World War I had been unable to achieve. They failed in the first part of the plan, the conquest of France. With that behind him, Hitler is now ready to move on to stage two - the Attack on russia. His mistake, failing to learn the lesson of Napoleon's campaign, is to believe that this can be a quick affair (though he might reasonably expect the speed of motorized transport to make the difference).

When the first Russian winter is bringing home the harsh reality, the other great turning point of 1941 takes place without Hitler even being forewarned. His Japanese allies tell him nothing of their plan for a secret attack on the US fleet in Pearl harbor on December 7.

The events of the second half of 1941 add four major powers to the cast list of the world war. Hitler has dragged in the USSR, just as Japan's action forces the full involvement of the USA. Japan herself, until now engaged only in a regional conflict with China, also becomes a new player on the global scene. And China, as Japan's enemy, is automatically now an ally of the western powers.

Thus by the end of 1941 the final alignment of the war is established, in terms of the major powers involved. The Allies are Britain and the Commonwealth, France, the USA, the USSR and China; the Axis powers are Germany, Italy and Japan. (In fact even this alignment is not yet quite final - in 1943 Italy changes sides.)

Ominous signs: AD 1941-1943

The failure to clinch the Russian campaign before the onset of winter in 1943 profoundly alarms Hitler's generals and would put the idea of a tactical withdrawal into the mind of anyone less obsessively obstinate than the Nazi leader. Yet Hitler's refusal to give an inch seems vindicated when the German armies are still in place to launch an aggessive new campaign on the eastern front during the summer of 1942.

By contrast in 1942-3 there are unmistakable reverses. In October 1942 the French forces in North africa join the Allies. In January 1941 the entire German Sixth Army is captured at Stalingrad. In May, with the Fall of tunis, the Germans and Italians are driven out of North africa. In September Italy surrenders unconditionally to the Allies.

Yet these disasters have the paradoxical effect of bringing Hitler even greater swathes of western Europe. The French action in North africa enables him to sweep aside the Armistice. His occupation of Vichy france brings the whole country into German hands. Similarly the Italian surrender, when the Allies are not yet much beyond Naples in their drive up the peninsula, leaves the whole of the rest of Italy under German control.

Although the tide of war has now turned, the autumn of 1943 gives Hitler the broadest canvas so far on which to create his vision of a new order. In his ideal world Germans will rule as a master race, inferior groups such as Slavs will be made use of as slave labour, and undesirables (Jews, Gypsies and Communists) will be exterminated.

Hitler's vision for Europe

These principles underlie the gradual development of the Nazis' murderous schemes. The appalling story unfolds in three separate stages.

Before the outbreak of war, with Germany and Austria exposed to the eyes of the world, persecution of Hitler's hated groups is limited to intimidation and violence. His underlying aim is to rid German territory of Jews by terrifying them into moving elsewhere. Visas to leave Germany are freely available, and the willingness to do so can even be enough to bring release from a concentration camp. By 1939 more than half the Jews in Germany and Austria have moved to other countries.

With the outbreak of war and the closing of borders, escape by emigration becomes difficult (though not at first absolutely impossible). And the German authorities are now free to carry out atrocities unobserved by the wider international community.

At first they largely refrain from doing so, at any rate on a systematic basis (the exception is Poland in 1939-40). After Germany's first conquests in the west, in the summer of 1940, the newly occupied countries (Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, northern France) experience the horrors of an alien police state and the anti-Semitic measures long familiar within Germany. But German rule here is less brutally repressive than in the east. And the explanation lies in Hitler's theories.

Germans are to rule the united Europe of Hitler's dreams, but they will need assistance. This can only be provided, he believes, by 'Aryans' in the countries to the west of Germany, in those regions settled in the distant past by Germanic peoples such as Franks, Goths, Angles, Saxons and Vikings. He expects, ultimately, cooperation from the west. And he likes to emphasize that the future belongs not to a dominant nation, but a dominant race.

By contrast the regions to the east of Germany, inhabited by the Slavs whom he categorizes as Untermenschen ('subhumans'), are suitable only for subjugation. This explains the treatment of the Poles in 1939, and the sudden gear-change in German brutality with the invasion of Russia in 1941.

German treatment of Russian prisoners of war symbolizes the change. On June 27, five days after the invasion, the town of Minsk is surrounded. More than 100,000 Russian soldiers are captured and are herded into open fields, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. They are given no food, and so over the next few weeks they starve to death. When winter comes, hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners captured elsewhere on the front are even more easily got rid of. They freeze.

Subsequently the Germans realize that this policy is losing them a valuable reserve of slave labour. It is better that such people should die working for the Reich. In a speech to SS leaders Himmler emphasizes that there is no need to be concerned about 'what happens to a Russian'.

The invasion of Russia provides the same turning point in the German treatment of the Jews. In planning the campaign, Hitler and Himmler set up four Einsatzkommando (Special Task Commandos) to follow in the wake of the army. The special task for these SS men is to exterminate two groups of people, the most potent figures in Hitler's demonology, Communist officials and Jews.

The work is carried out with ruthless efficiency. Victims are rounded up in villages and towns, are herded into the countryside, are forced to dig long trenches and then are machine-gunned to fall into the ready-made graves. Within the first few weeks of the German presence in Russia tens of thousands of Jews are murdered in this systematic way. It is the beginning of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust: AD 1941-1942

The term holocaust, originally meaning a sacrifice consumed by fire in a Greek temple, has been used since the early 19th century for the murder of a large number of people. In recent decades it has acquired a much more specific significance. It now defines, almost exclusively, the systematic attempt by Hitler and the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish people. In the 20th century, which far outstripped all others in the horrors perpetrated by humans on their own kind, the Holocaust has come to stand as the defining atrocity.

It is also the atrocity, in the whole of world history, most deliberately planned as the fulfilment of a theory. A flawed and fanatic theory, but one of fatal potency.

The theory, articulated by Hitler in mein kampf and in frequent ranting speeches, taps into a deep-rooted European tradition of Anti-semitism, blends in some 19th-century fantasies about ethnic identity and racial purity, and finally adds a dash of 20th-century neurosis about socialism. The troubles of Germany and Austria are thereby blamed on a conspiracy of Jews , working like a virus in all spheres of national life to take over the economy and even, through sexual intermingling, to degrade the pure Aryan stock.

The misfortune underlying the tragedy of the Holocaust is that someone with these views succeeds in becoming the leader of a powerful nation and then, for a brief while, the conqueror of Europe.

From achieving power in 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939 (an event for which he holds the Jews responsible), Hitler's ambition is to rid Germany and Austria of the nations' long-resident Jews by making them move elsewhere. But with his invasion of Russia in 1941 he begins to conceive a more drastic outcome. The 'final solution of the Jewish problem' (a phrase used in Nazi documents from early in 1942) will be death.

Within the first few days of the Russian campaign Hitler's Special task forces round up and shoot large numbers of Jews. In two weeks of continual executions in early July, in the city of Kishinev alone, one such task force kills 10,000 people.

On June 27, in Bialystok, German soldiers chase Jews through the narrow streets around a blazing synagogue, like devils in a medieval scene of the Last Judgement. Hundreds of Jews have been locked into the synagogue before it is set on fire. Once it is blazing, the doors are broken down and others are shoved into the cauldron.

But the Nazis are already working on a less visible and more efficient method of achieving their purpose. It is first employed at Chelmno, in Poland, during 1941. Three vans are specially adapted for the killing of people through exposure to lethal gas. During the first six months 97,000 Jews die in these vans. The scheme is considered highly successful. So steps are taken to provide larger-scale death camps with permanent buildings.

These death camps are built on Polish or Russian soil. One of the first and largest is Treblinka (in Poland) where more than 750,000 Jews are killed during 1942, most of them brought there from the Warsaw ghetto.

The placing of the concentration camps in the east, relatively out of sight, is a practical measure of discretion by the Nazi high command. On 20 January 1942 a meeting is convened at Wannsee, a lakeside villa near Berlin, by Himmler's second-in-command in the SS, Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich has been put in charge of the 'final solution'. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the practical arrangements.

It is taken for granted by now in these high Nazi circles that the solution must apply to Jews in all the nations occupied by the Germans. But death camps in France or the Netherlands will be more exposed to view. So it is decided that Jews from such countries must be brought to the Polish camps.

Thus begins one of the abiding images of the holocaust - trains of cattle trucks into which Jews are crowded, heading for an unknown destination. The programme is described as 'transportation of the Jews towards the Russian East'. Early in 1942 the prospect facing these people is immediate death. But later there are two possibilities - immediate death by gas, or slow death by hard labour and deprivation.

The Holocaust: AD 1942-1945

During 1942 it occurs to the Nazis that, as with the Soviet prisoners of war, they are wasting valuable slave labour in their policy of automatic murder of the Jews. So a new form of camp is planned in which those on the trains will be classified, on arrival, as 'fit' or 'unfit' to work. The fit go one way, to the prison huts where they will live for a while as unpaid and underfed labourers. The unfit go the other way, to the gas chambers.

The first camp of this kind, ready for use in March 1942, is built at Auschwitz in Poland. An unknown number of people (certainly well in excess of a million) die in this camp in the next three years. More than half of them - the unfit, the elderly, the children - are killed in the four gas chambers within a day or two of their arrival.

Those judged fit 'to be worked to death' (a phrase used by Himmler) are put to the service of Germany's war production. Factories are moved from the vulnerable Ruhr, in the west, to the neighbourhood of Auschwitz - beyond the range of Allied bombers. Several of Germany's great industrial enterprises tarnish their reputation by benefiting during these years from Jewish slave labour.

By the end of 1942 knowledge of what is going on is not limited to those actively involved on the German side. On December 17 Anthony Eden tells the House of Commons in London that reliable reports have been received 'regarding the barbarous and inhuman treatment to which Jews are being subjected in German-occupied Europe'.

Eden is putting before the House an international declaration, published on that day, which is more direct in its account of what is actually going on. Issued jointly by the USA, the USSR, Great Britain and the governments in exile of nine occupied European countries, the declaration condemns in the strongest possible terms Germany's 'bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination'.

This is straightforward language, in stark contrast to the terms used in Nazi documents about a solution to the Jewish question and journeys to the east. But it is this veil of German euphemism which has enabled a few extreme right-wing historians to argue the preposterous theory that Hitler did not know what the terms meant and so was perhaps personally unaware of the Holocaust.

This History is as yet incomplete.

Although by far the largest group of victims to die because of Hitler's theories (about 6 million), the Jews are not alone. Gypsies too are considered a polluting threat to an Aryan society. Rounded up and sent to the camps, most of them are marked down for Sonderhandlung ('special treatment' - another Nazi euphemism, meaning murder). It is calculated that in all some 400,000 Gypsies are killed.

Even 'Aryans' are not immune from the obsession with purity and perfection. In 1939 Hitler signs an ultra-secret decree authorising the death of any German judged 'incurably ill'. This covers mental illness, and the victims (probably about 100,000 in the next two years) are later described as 'useless defectives'. They too should be considered victims of the Holocaust.

Fighting on four fronts: AD 1944

Since 1941 Stalin has in vain urged the Allies to open up a new front in the west to relieve German pressure on Russia. Now finally, by 1944, he is supported on two other fronts - both of them directly threatening the Nazi heartlands of Germany and Austria.

From November 1943 the Allies are pushing north in an Italy now hostile to Germany, though it is nine months before they reach Florence and not until the spring of 1945 that they make any further progress. More effective by far is the second front, the one which Stalin always had in mind - an attack through France and Belgium aimed directly at Germany's industrial base in the Ruhr.

The British and American Landings in normandy take place in June 1944. Initial progress is slow, but Paris is liberated in August and Brussels in September. Thereafter there is another long delay caused by an Allied failure to cross the Rhine (at Arnhem) and a German counter-attack (Battle of the bulge).

Meanwhile the Russians have been making rapid progress on the original front, in the east. They advance steadily from January 1944, and by early 1945 Russian forces are in control of Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria. And on a fourth front, at home, German cities have been suffering the Blitz previously inflicted on Britain. Berlin is bombed almost nightly from November 1943. Dresden is flattened in February 1945.

The noose tightens: AD 1945

During the spring of 1945 the collapse of Germany comes, after so long, with surprising speed. German commanders in the field, no longer feeling any enthusiasm for a fight which is clearly lost, begin to disregard the stream of hysterical instructions from Hitler to stand firm whatever the cost. To the armies defending the Rhine his order includes the statement that the battle shall be conducted 'without consideration for our own population'.

A scorched earth policy within Germany is now the order of the day. All public utilities in the path of the Allies (water, gas, electricity) are to be destroyed. To protests from within his inner group, Hitler replies that if the war is lost, the German nation is lost. There is no need to consider the future requirements of a vanquished people.

In this situation, and with Hitler's final reserves sent to the eastern front, the Allies meet little opposition when they cross the Rhine at various points on March 22-4 (first the Third US Army led by George Patton in the south, followed by the British and Canadians in the north). Both groups, pressing on east, reach the Elbe in mid-April. On the way they discover the horrors which bring home to the west, more powerfully than ever before, the true nature of the Nazi regime.

On April 10 the Americans reach the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Five days later the British come across Belsen, where there are 35,000 unburied bodies and as many emaciated prisoners still just alive. And these are not even the Death camps - merely places where prisoners are subjected to hard work, little food and Nazi indifference.

Meanwhile the Russians, pushing westwards, have entered Vienna on April 6. Within three weeks, by April 25, they reach and encircle Berlin, where Hitler is at last beginning to recognize that there can be no miraculous outcome.

News of the death of Roosevelt, on April 12, has been enough to make him hope for a sudden reversal of fortune. But on April 29, against his specific orders, the German army in Italy surrenders to the Allies. Hitler also knows that Himmler, his trusted SS commander, has been making peace overtures behind his back. Livid with anger at this betrayal, he now recognizes the end and prepares to meet it. In the elaborate bunker beneath the Chancellery he puts his affairs in order.

The traitor Himmler is formally expelled from the party. Admiral Dönitz is appointed as Hitler's successor and the names of his cabinet are selected. Hitler then retires for a while to dictate his last will and testament, a tract of self-justification in which the Jews are still blamed for the war and the Nazi party is urged to continue the necessary campaign against them.

On this same day, April 29, in the early hours of the morning, Hitler rewards a woman who has always been quietly faithful to him. He marries his mistress, Eva Braun, following the ceremony with a small champagne party at which Goebbels (the Nazi minister of propaganda) and Martin Bormann (Hitler's secretary and close adviser) are the principal guests.

On April 30 Hitler holds his usual daily conference while the Russians, in the streets above, are only two blocks away from the Chancellery. Then Hitler and Eva Braun retire to their quarters. She takes poison, he shoots himself in the mouth. On the following day Goebbels orders SS men to give his six children lethal injections and to shoot his wife and himself.

Hitler was appalled that his nation had surrendered in World War I without a single foreign soldier setting foot on German soil. His own unbreakable resolve results in the opposite extreme. When he dies, the enemy is in the heart of Berlin. A week later, on May 7, the unconditional surrender of all the German forces is signed at General Eisenhower's headquarters. May 8 is celebrated by the Allies as V-E Day - victory in Europe.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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