Praetorian Guards and Authoritarian States: the KMT and the SS

praetorian units collage

One accurate and sensitive barometer of Authoritarianism within a given state structure is the ceremonial lavishness bestowed on the Monocrat’s self-defense forces. From Imperial Rome to Imperial France and (in the 20th century) the neo-authoritarian states born from the 20th century’s “total war” episodes, self-appointed autocrats inevitably and correctly perceive that their personal power (thus “order” in general) depend on solving the ancient problem of “who shall guard the guards”?

Such forces must, by their existential logic, be better equipped and have tougher recruitment standards than the mass of conscripts that make of the overwhelmingly greater portion of all standing armies, the more so as the scale of mobilization expands with the expansion of war itself. But the same phenomenon is already apparent in the 18th century, if not within individual armies, then between them when they take the field in multi-state alliances. Nor is it confined to non-Anglophone armies: even in Great Britain (as far back as the 17th century Civil War) the Royalists (taking their cue from Louis XIV) were led by Prince Rupert’s elite heavy cavalry, who (for a while correctly) believed that expensive cavalry arms reflective of feudal heraldic glory could overcome the larger masses of “plain” Protestants that Parliament mobilized against them. Later on the Coldstream Guards(originally Scottish Highlanders), one of the seven regiments in the Household Division – the personal troops of Her Majesty the Queen – broke the association with heavy cavalry (cuirassiers), since they coalesced from the Cromwellian “New Model” infantry, but that dismounting did not prevent them from defecting to Charles II as one of 7 “King’s Own” guards units. The “inner” ring that was deployed to protect the Monarchy still survives on the Horseguard parade units the tourists all want to see – perhaps because it is a last living relic of the days/times when the outfitting of “Royal” units was a no-expense-spared dress affair and expertise in parade-ground marching maneuvers took up most of their daytime labors. But nowadays, of course, they are given the cachet “Queen’s Own”.

Prince Rupert’s Charge at Edgehill

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Its pre”modern” apotheosis was of course the (usually mounted) Garde Imperiale who famously charged Wellington’s “riff-raff” squares in the final act of the Battle of Waterloo.


The Zhongzheng Rifle (1935): The gun that DIDN’T win the East….. but helped lose it

(left) 陈逸飞《黄河颂》Chen Yifei, Encomium to the Yellow River (1972),
oil on canvas 143 mm * 297 mm, CAFA: an 8RA soldier with a scavenged and repaired Hanyang 88 rifle: as a lookout/sharpshooter.
He might, if the enemy blunders, kill only one or two enemy from his position, but he will keep them off the roads and bridges, and will probably live after the fray. His training and his rifle will remain useful, if not to him, then to his unit. He will not dent the bullet supply. Much.

(right) German trained infantrymen of KMT elite unit carrying the “Zhongzheng” Rifle on the eve of the 1937 (2nd) battle of Shanghai- as defensive line re enforcement for the trenches. He will (statistically) kill or wound .25 Japanese before himself falling – probably even less – but he will reveal his unit/fortification to murderous artillery or air counter attack, and neither he nor his comrades-in-line will survive. All that training and expensive weaponry will be go for naught.

(Below): Comparison of the KMT vs CCP “party-brand” weaponries designed for political eclat: (1) three receiver-ring model-name plates from the KMT G-mo series (1935-44): Hanyang Arsenal (Hubei, relocated to Chongqing, 1943), Gong xian Arsenal (Hebei, 1935), and the mysterious “1933” (w swastika), possible a relabelled import) (2) a rare “Red” (non-8RA) model-name/plate from E Shandong (Jiaodong) “Arsenal”, 1947: a “Red” refurb from Shandong, a rebuild of the Hanyang 88.

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