Franco-Prussian War

The Franco Prussian War was a military conflict which primarily took place between France and Prussia, 19th July 1870 to the 10th May 1871, with Prussia being aided by the North German Confederation, as well as numerous south German states. The war ended with the formation of Germany as a unified nation, the toppling of Napoleon III as Emperor of France, and the formation of a French republic.

After the Austro-Prussian war of 1866, Prussia had emerged in a very powerful position. The formation of the North German Confederation, initially a military alliance, soon became an obvious vehicle for a political federation, as a precursor to the unification of all German states into a Germanic Empire (Austria excluded). Aside from the fact that this would represent a fundamental shift in the balance of power in Europe (which France would not tolerate), a unified Germany would clearly include large south German states such as Bavaria, Baden, Württemburg and Hesse-Darmstadt. These states were on the eastern borders of France. With Belgium and Holland in the north, and the relatively weak Italy and Switzerland in the south, France’s entire eastern frontier was secure. The absorption of south German states into a nation like Prussia would open up the centre of this frontier to attack by an emergent military power. This was unacceptable to France, and they were prepared to resort to war to prevent this taking place.

The Prussian chancellor, Bismarck, was aware that a war was likely, and that Prussian/German victory would allow Germany as a nation to come into being. He was also aware that the smaller German states were only likely to fight with him if it could appear that he was fighting a defensive war. The Ems Dispatch was used to achieve this. An angry letter written by the Prussian King to Bismarck detailing demands made by the French ambassador was published by Bismarck himself in order to inflame the tension on both sides. The resultant anger in France was a major factor in their declaration of war.

From the outset it was clear that the Germans had a technical advantage. The French still used muzzle-loaded cannons, whereas the Germans possessed Krupp-built breach-loading artillery. Germany as a whole also had a denser railway network than France (although this was largely concentrated in Prussia), which gave them an advantage in supplying their armies and mobilizing men. The French also used an ineffective strategy, staying on the defensive when their large standing army meant they should have had a short-lived advantage while the Prussians mobilized. This opportunity was missed.

The decisive battle of the war was the Battle of Sedan, which took place on the 1st September 1870, resulted in 104,000 French troops being encircled by the Germans. Among those captured was Napoleon III, who had personally been accompanying the army. With another major French army encircled at the Metz fortress, the war had effectively been decided in Prussia’s favour. Despite this, resistance would continue under the newly proclaimed French Republic, which also proclaimed the removal of Napoleon III as ruler. However, the loss of two armies in such a short time was too much for the French to cope with, and having been under siege since September 19th 1870, Paris (and France as a whole) surrendered in January 1871. On the 18th of January 1871 Wilhelm I was proclaimed the first Kaiser of a united Germany at Versailles.

The end of the war led to a Europe fundamentally unbalanced by a unified militarist Germany, and a France greatly angered by the loss of Alsace-Lorraine and the indemnities it had to pay. Europe also witnessed the power of railways, technology and industry in warfare. The aftermath of the war also resulted in a workers insurrection in Paris, leading to a short lived local government known as the Paris Commune. The Commune was praised by figures such as Marx, despite it not seeking a complete Marxist revolution, instead opting for an admittedly radical campaign of social and political reform. Paris was besieged by republican armies, and the Commune was crushed by the end of May 1871.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd


Cuba is a very interesting country. It is a communist state with a large amount of people living on very low wages, the average being just $3 a day. Despite this, there have been a number of benefits that Cuba has experienced since becoming communist. It now has a 99.8% literacy rate, just as high as a lot of developed countries, if not better. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than some developed countries, with 4.83 deaths per 1000 in 2012. The rate in the USA is 6.00 and the United Kingdom has a rate only marginally better than Cuba of 4.56. In fact, of 223 countries Cuba’s is 182nd. Therefore only 41 countries in the world have a lower infant mortality rate than Cuba.

Cuba also has an average life expectancy of 79.1, which is the 40th best in the world. This is very impressive, considering a lot of Cubans are actually living in poverty. Something else that is very interesting about Cuba, is that it is the only country that met that WWF’s definition of sustainable development. The criteria for this were having an ecological footprint of less than 1.8 hectares per capita and having a human development index of over 0.8. The fact that Cuba was the only country to achieve this is not only very impressive, although slightly worrying. This is because for the planet to survive, we really need every country meeting the first aim at least, if not the second. However, this does show that Cuba is a country that other countries should use as a model for their own sustainable development, especially some of the poorer ones.

All these benefits from the communist regime are all very well and good, but there are some huge problems. Cuba’s economy is in a mess and the communist government have effectively admitted this, by bringing in some capitalist measures to try and stop the country falling to pieces. For example, they are allowing people to own personal, small businesses, provided they register with the government and pay tax. This is definitely not a very communist idea, as it will mean some individuals will have the opportunity to become richer than others. As well as this, they are encouraging tourism as they currently get over 3 million tourists a year, all of whom contribute a large amount of money Cuba’s economy. It is not just people in the cities that are benefiting, as those living rural areas are seeing gains too. They can now lease land from the government and become their own boss. This is very important for a lot of Cuba’s population, as they can now produce as much food as they like and then sell it at a price they decide.

Cuba is a very interesting example of a country that, on one hand can have crippling problems in terms of its economy, despite having remarkable figures of infant mortality rate, life expectancy and literacy rate. Gradually, if its economy improves, we could see Cuba becoming a developed country. If it does achieve economic success, it would not be surprising to see the USA to end the long running feud between the two countries.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd.

The American Revolutionary War: The Story of Two Victors

During the American Revolutionary War, France and America fought Great Britain. After five years of fighting together, they had defeated Britain in America. But this military victory had very different results for the two countries.

America gained many benefits from the war. First, and foremost, it gained its independence from Britain and it was given larger borders than it had at the end of the war. Furthermore, America drew up the ten articles of the Treaty of Paris which stated that Britain would never claim to have any control of America . Not only Britain had to leave American soil, it was banned from taking any supplies and such out of the country. Both sides also had to return any prisoners of war and various trade links were established for both sides such as fishing rights.

Overall, it is now agreed that America did very well out of the Treaty of Paris, especially in terms of its enlarged borders. Britain did not do too badly itself with several other territories that it lost during the war being returned to it. Finally, both countries established trade links with each other.

The real losers of the war, however, appeared to be France who fought as an ally of America. They officially joined the war in 1778 until the end in 1793. But they had been bankrolling the Americans right from the start in 1775 with various supplies like munitions. One of the main reasons that France joined the war was an attempt to halt the power of Britain and to exact revenge on them after the defeat of the seven year war. But this compulsion to be involved had a detrimental impact on France and most importantly, on its economy. France spent 1.3 billion livres on direct support for America; this figure did not include other skirmishes occurring outside the USA. This meant that at the end of the war, after receiving no compensation, France was severely in debt. This crippling debt led to possibly the biggest event in French history happening;the French Revolution. But France did make some small gains at the end of the war. All the territory that it lost to Britain was returned to it. In addition, they were given the island of Tobago and Senegal, but these were hardly gains considering how much money France put into fighting the war. The only other real gains for France was the guarantee of fishing rights of Newfoundland, which did provide another way for France to try and very, very slowly recoup cost. France’s biggest gain was actually a psychological one. This was the conformation that France was a military power and the national pride at beating the British.

To conclude, despite being crucial in winning the war for America, the French did very poorly out of it. Whilst America obtained its independence, large borders and many trade agreements, France only obtained crippling debt and a vague sense of pride all of which lead to a revolution in the country. Some thanks for helping America win the war and gain independence.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd

Vasily Zaitsev

Hero of the Soviet Union, Vasily Zaitsev, is the most famous sniper to make his name from the Battle of Stalingrad. With 225 confirmed kills and an estimated total of 400, none would have predicted this legendary feat when he joined the Red Army in 1937.

He entered the fray of the infamous Stalingrad when he crossed the River Volga on 22nd September 1942, joining the 1047th Rifle Regiment of the 284th Rifle Division of the 62nd Army. His career as a sniper began when he was awarded the Medal for courage and a sniper rifle for shooting three Germans from 800 meters away, when instructed by his commanding officer. His career soon took off, scoring his 225 kills between 10th November and 17th December, of whom 11 were enemy snipers. His sniping ability presented him with the opportunity to run a training school for snipers in a metal hardware factory. His 28 students were known as Zaichata and during the war they killed an estimated 1000-3000 enemy troops.

The most famous moment of his life as a sniper was an epic duel between him and Major Erwin König, which was immortalised in the 2001 film, Enemy at the Gates. Despite the fame of this tale, there is not actually any evidence the König even existed. He was supposedly the head of the Berlin sniper school, sent to find and kill the notorious Zaitsev. According to his memoirs and Russian propaganda, Vasily managed to track down König and tricked him into revealing his position by using a helmet on a stick. König fired and when he looked to see if his target was dead, Zaitsev shot him through the head. While it is unlikely that this actually happened, the Armed Forces Museum in Moscow claims to have the rifle of König in their possession.

In January 1943, a mortar blinded him and he was wounded heavily. In a Moscow hospital, his sight was restored by Professor Filatov and he soon returned to the front after being awarded the honour Hero of the Soviet Union. He continued his work with his sniping school as well as becoming a Regiment Commander. He then fought in Ukraine at the Dniestr river, again as a sniper, and ended the war fighting at Seelow heights, 90 kilometres east of Berlin, as a Captain. Some of the greatest awards he received that haven’t already been mentioned include the Order of Lenin, Order of the Patriotic War and Order of the Red Banner (which he earned twice).

After the war he made his home in Kiev, where he studied at a textile university, prior to working as an engineer and eventually as a director of a textile plant. He passed away in 1991 and was buried in Kiev, despite his wishes for his body to lie in Stalingrad. He was reburied on 31st January 2006, with full military honours, in Volgograd (once Stalingrad).

Vasily Zaitsev has been celebrated as an iconic figure of the war for Russians and it is arguable that his work as a sniper and training his students helped the Soviets hold onto Stalingrad, stopping the onslaught of the German army. He will be forever remembered as one of the greatest snipers ever.

Contributed by Matthew Rudd