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by John Helmer, Moscow 

It’s near-certain that no Russian general, nor member of the Stavka,  nor President Vladimir Putin has read Biggles.* If one of them had, he would accept that now, after a long time of forgetfulness, the Germans are again the enemy who can and must be defeated by Biggles or his successors — if civilization is to be saved in Europe.

They are the original Germans, with their headquarters in Berlin. Not the new Germans – they are the Americans who occupy Germany, and direct it from their headquarters in Ramstein, Mons, Brussels, and Washington.

“Look out, there is a Hun” – this is the first line of a warning Biggles sang to alert his partner to a guard on patrol at a castle operated as headquarters and prison by the German Secret Service.  Biggles was singing to the tune of the British national anthem, God Save the King. “Look out, there is a Hun/Quite near you with a gun.”

The war that is now accelerating to its climax on the Ukrainian battlefield requires the same alert and wit; the words are the same, the tune is now the Russian national anthem. And the Huns are not the only ones approaching with a gun. So are the Frogs, Limeys, and Doughboys.  When Biggles was fighting his war, it was his clear understanding that the Germans were the principal enemy in Europe and worldwide. He regarded the French and the Americans as necessary but weak, unsteady, and incompetent allies.

What is an intrepid mind like Biggles to think and to do now?

At the moment the approval ratings and voter preference polls show that the alliance against Russia is ruled by the weakest governments in their post-war histories: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government is down to 17% preference, Scholz to 20% approval; French President  Emmanuel Macron is down to 30% approval, and his successor would lose to the Rassemblement National (“National Rally”); Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s approval is 9%, and his Conservative Party is trailing the Labour Party by 23%; President Joseph Biden is at 39.5% approval, losing to candidate Donald Trump by 2% nationally, more in the key states.

These politicians are threatening to escalate their war against Russia with long-range, nuclear-capable missiles and more forces on the ground in the Ukraine; as Macron has suggested, the plan is to reinforce Ukrainian defences either west of Kiev, along the Belarus, Polish, and Romanian borders, or in a line for the defence of Odessa and Kiev.    If the calculation of these politicians is that their talk will trigger a rally-round-the incumbent effect in the electorate, they already know from their polls this will fail.  

The military calculation has been rejected by reserve or retired French and German generals who point out that additions to the command, technical,  and special forces they have already deployed in the Ukraine would survive for less than a week because they have no effective air cover;  no ground-to-air defence;  no survivable ground weapon of any kind;  and no fortification or bunker that cannot be penetrated and destroyed by the Russian Kinzhal and Iskander missiles and the heavy FAB-1500 bunker-busting bomb.

“The enemy [of France] is not Vladimir Putin but Emmanuel Macron,” retired General André Coustou  said on March 7. “He is the liquidator, the destroyer of France. He’s the one who should go!” Coustou, who has been at war with Macron since 2018,    added that “our weakness, our vulnerability” makes for “a concrete impossibility for the time today.”  

This is not the German generals’ view. That was revealed by Ingo Gerhartz, chief of the Luftwaffe, when he thought he was speaking in secret with his deputies, one of them a general on the airforce plans and operations staff.  “I will be grateful to you if you tell me not only what problems we have, but how we can solve them,” Gerhartz said.   “We are now fighting a war that uses much more modern technology than our good old Luftwaffe. This all suggests that when we are planning deadlines, we should not overestimate them…There are certain concerns if we have direct communication with the Ukrainian armed forces. Therefore, the question arises: can we use such a trick and second our people to MBDA [German arms maker]? Thus, direct communication with Ukraine will only be through MBDA, this is much better than if such a connection exists with our Air Force…I think that our people will find an option. We just need to be allowed to try first, so that we can give better political advice. We need to be better prepared so we don’t fail because the KSA [Kommando Strategische Aufklärung, “Strategic Reconnaissance Command”, a German intelligence organization] may have no idea where the [Russian] air defence systems actually are.”

Trick and try first — this is what the German generals are doing.  They and the Berlin ministers supporting Gerhartz have been contradicted in public by Scholz who claims: “I am the chancellor and that is why it is like this.” A scheme to implement the Gerhartz plan and preserve Scholz in his camouflage is in discussion with the Sunak government.  

Moscow sources are divided. There are those who believe the political and military calculation of these allies is cynical: they realize their war is lost to Russia – the Ukrainian battlefield as a territory and also the weapons, intelligence, command and control they have supplied – and they are preparing to avoid taking the blame at the next election and defence budget votes.  

Other Moscow sources caution the war in the east has been won, and lost by NATO, but not the war in the west and north. One close to the Defense Ministry warns that “too much is being read into battles won and troops defeated.” This source believes “the best trained Ukrainian reserves and battle groups are west of the Dnieper and in the north. The reserves on the eastern front are fodder, disposable. It’s been clear to the US and the others for some time that the eastern part will be lost. The real battle will be when the main offensive begins for Odessa and Kiev – if it does.” According to this source, the real meaning of the Macron remarks and of the public reaction to the Gerhartz plan is the coming Battle of WoD. “The West of Dnieper [WoD] is where the war will be fought. That’s where the Russian offensive will be met with the best-trained troops and equipment; they are still uncommitted, much still outside the Ukraine. They will be moved in large numbers, but only to defend WoD.”

In the Biggles stories, von Stalhein is far cleverer than any German in command or in power for a generation.  “Do you think you are in a position to dictate terms to me?” Von Stalhein says to Biggles inside the castle. “Whether I am or not, I’m doing it”, Biggles returned. “It’s time you knew me well enough to know that I’ll do what I say. I’m not given to threatening; but go your own way and you sign your death-warrant. I’ll see to that; I’ll hunt you down and kill you like a mangy wolf, if I have to spend the rest of my life doing it.”

The Russian president and the Stavka don’t need to read Biggles to say this. They have already  said it. What remains to be revealed — not said in advance — are their intrepid methods for defeating the Hun.

The Biggles stories are classified for children from nine years of age. This is another mistake.

Biggles’ creator, Captain William Earle Johns (1893-1968),  had fought as an infantryman in World War I, first against the Turks at the Battle of Gallipoli, which the Turks won; and then against the Germans and Bulgarians on the stalemated Salonika front. During the last year of the war he flew bombers over Germany before he was shot down, wounded, and imprisoned by the Germans.

He explained at the front of his very first Biggles book in 1932 that Hun “was used in this book as the common generic term for anything belonging to the enemy. It was used in the familiar sense, rather than derogatory.”  The disclaimer was intended to rebuff later allegations of racism, as it should.  

Left: Captain W.E.Johns. Right, the 1936 publication from which the National Anthem  quote has come. The disclaimer appears in The Camels Are Coming in 1932.

Biggles was the nickname of the Royal Air Force fighter pilot, Major James Bigglesworth. He was invented by Johns from his combat experience; he went on to publish ninety-seven book-length Biggles stories between 1932 and 1997; Johns himself died in 1968.

The one thing Biggles is, because Johns was, clear-eyed about is knowing who his enemy is and what solution for this there must be — killing him, preferably in a fair aerial dogfight, but since the outcome of the crash could never be certain,  with whatever method was at hand. The name of the enemy was Erich von Stalhein, a Luftwaffe flyer in World War I and then a secret service agent, who – Stalhein himself explains to Biggles after capturing him at gunpoint – “do not die so easily. It has been said that, like the cat, we have nine lives…when I was shot down and crashed following the ingenious coup planned by our mutual friend Bigglesworth was my eighth life. I had one left. I still have it.”

Von Stalhein was cleverer than Chancellor Scholz and Luftwaffe chief Gerhartz. The Russian race  hatred of the skin-headed Gerhartz (right) was displayed in a 38-minute telephone conference he held on February 19 on the subject of how quickest to prepare the Taurus missile for killing Russians – in their kindergartens if need be, as a deputy warned him to no effect. Out of his mouth in the crudest fashion, Gerhartz has declared war on Russia, and in consequence he is a reciprocal target. To be sure, Gerhartz thought he was speaking in secret on a highly secured line.  Von Stalhein was never so careless.

“The defeat by the Iskander missile of the Ukrainian S-300 air defence system in the area of Krasnoarmeysk. Pulling the SAM closer to the front line in order to somehow try to cover the troops from the flow of FABS from the UMPC led to the fact that in recent weeks a significant number of Patriot, NASAMS, C-300, Buk-M1 SAMs have been lost.” – March 9. Notwithstanding, the US continues to press Greece to transfer its S-300 batteries to the Ukraine in exchange for Patriots.  

This is not over-confidence or bluster. “With or without European troops and new supplies,” a Moscow military source believes, “the Ukrainians are preparing defensive lines more sturdy than Bakhmut and Avdeyevka, better armed, better manned. Where and what lines or pockets they have built, I don’t know. No one is saying.”

The daily Defense Ministry battlefield briefings and bulletins are signaling that those who do know are striking at the fallback Ukrainian positions in their dozens — without giving the geographic locations. The March 11 bulletin reported:  “two temporary locations of foreign mercenaries were hit, as well as concentrations of enemy manpower and military equipment in 142 districts.”    On March 12: “In addition, accumulations of enemy manpower and military equipment in 132 districts were hit.”  

A NATO military veteran comments that the Russian methods for these strikes are “drone, missile, glide bomb, artillery and, we can bet, sabotage/partisan operations.” He adds: “You can’t tell where Germany, France and the US start and where they end, or the inverse. It’s tiresome to hear about NATO, French, Pole, whatever deployments in the Ukraine as they’ve been an accomplished fact for years. The real news is that the Russians are getting better by the day at identifying and killing these personnel.”

“The Ukrainians are so concerned about a Russian offensive in the north that they launched their version of a spoiling attack this week. They’re reacting, but the timing is off. The Russian General Staff has been, in effect, goading them, striking rear areas and conducting commando raids along the northern border for months now.”

The source is dismissive of the deterrent effect of NATO planning for a reinforced battle to defend Odessa and Kiev. “For a start, the Russians won’t move an army against Kiev. As for an operation to save Odessa, backed up by German Taurus on board F-16s based in Romania, “those countries couldn’t organize a one-car funeral, let alone an operation like that.  And they certainly don’t have the stomachs for it. Not now.”

Now looks like this:

The last poll was recorded in mid-December 2023. Source:  https://www.politico.eu/
Macron’s approval level was at its all-time low (24%) between December 2018 and July 2019, when the Gilets Jaunes protests were at their peak. Since then Macron and his successors have slipped further in the polling of French voter preferences for the second presidential vote round.

Source: https://yougov.co.uk/
The election preference polls in January show a massive lead by Labour over the Conservatives whose vote share is now the lowest the party has recorded since Sunak became prime minister in October 2022.

Source: https://www.realclearpolling.com/
Biden’s lowest approval rating was 37.4% on July 26, 2022. At current approval of 39.8%, nine months before Election Day, Biden is running lower than his three predecessors in the job at the same point on the political calendar.

The picture for Germany and Chancellor Scholz is worse, as Deutsche Welle, the state propaganda organ, reported last December. “For Scholz, the only way is down. The representative poll, carried out by the research group Infratest-dimap  surveyed 1,364 eligible voters between December 4-6 by phone and email. Of them, just 17 percent said they are satisfied with the SPD-led government. For Scholz himself, that figure is one-fifth. It’s the lowest approval rating of a German chancellor in the history of the poll, which has been tracking monthly sentiment since 1997.”  Scholz’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) has not sunk to its 15% current election vote before; at 13% the Greens in Berlin have dropped to the level of 2009.   

As the SPD-Green coalition is sinking, they and the defeat in the Ukraine are taking public confidence down with them. According to this current poll from Infratest-dimap, German trust in the Americans and the Ukrainians is slipping most; trust in Russia is gaining.

Key: blue= who can be trusted. Grey=who cannot be trusted. Source: https://www.infratest-dimap.de

Captain Johns doesn’t let Biggles say much about politics until the wars against Germany are over, Berlin capitulates, and von Stalhein turns into an ally against Soviet Russia. That’s when the series turns into fiction for children.*

Johns was clear at the beginning: “Biggles is not entirely a fictitious character. True he did not exist under that name, but the exploits with which he has been credited have nearly all been built on a foundation of truth, although, needless to say, they were not all the efforts of a single individual…Finally, I hope – and I say this in all sincerity – that something may be learned from the combat tactics employed by Biggles and his friends, who may one day find themselves in the cockpit…”

That’s the Biggles message for adults. This time in the cockpit, it’s the Germans, French, British,  and Americans who are the children playing at war fiction.  

[*] The first Biggles translation into Russian, Бигглз во Франции (“Biggles in France”) appeared in 2016, sixteen years into President Putin’s administration. A Russian review of that book at the time explained that “one of the classics of English adventure literature, William Earle Johns, has never been
published in Russia. He was just unlucky. He began publishing his novels, short stories and novels about Biggles, the pilot of the Royal Air Force, in the 1930s, when the USSR had its own hero pilots. Therefore, Biggles was simply overlooked, although Johns’ name stands among such giants as [Robert Louis] Stevenson and [Rider] Haggard. But it's time to correct this mistake of history. Captain Johns is the real Indiana Jones of English and world literature.”  

NOTE: The lead image shows the German Navy frigate Hessen, which is currently operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to escort Israel-owned cargo vessels or vessels heading for Israeli ports such as Eilat, in defiance of the Houthi campaign to blockade Israel until it ends the genocide in Gaza. On February 27, the Hessen demonstrated the incompetence of its equipment and crew by firing its missiles at an approaching drone and missing on two attempts; the drone was a friendly US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper. The Houthis have been more accurate, shooting down two Reapers. They have also sunk one cargo vessel, the bulker Rubymar, on March 2. No Houthi air, sea drone or missile has yet struck and sunk a vessel belonging to the navies supporting Israel in the area.

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