Tag Archives: European history

Remembering History: Hitler Invades Poland (1939); Japan Surrenders Ending World War II (1945)

Hitler attends a Wehrmacht victory parade in Warsaw on 5 October 1939
Public Domain

On 1 September 1939, German forces using the pretext they were acting in self-defense against Poland, invaded. The German infantry was not fully mechanized but had Panzers and fast-moving artillery that included truck mounted artillery. The German strategy was to quickly concentrate forces and encircle an enemy quickly. Thanks to the relatively flat terrain of Poland, it made it easy to move mobile infantry about. The invasion came one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August. This non-aggression pact meant neither side could assist the enemy of the other. A secret protocol to the agreement defined German and Soviet spheres in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This protocol would not be proved until the Nuremberg Trials. So, when Germany invaded, Poland was already split with defined borders between the two countries. With this pact, Poland signed defense agreements with Britain and France. Talks between those powers and Germany did take place and the invasion was held up until they were concluded. Hitler did not believe they would declare war, and if they did would be willing to compromise after the invasion of Poland. Germany wanted the restoration of Danzig (in Polish Gdansk) as a free city (it had a large German population), the Polish Corridor, and the safeguarding of Germans in Poland. Germany demanded that a Polish representative with the power to sign such an agreement be present. The British, remembering what happened before when Czechoslovakia was forced to capitulate to the Germans, did not like that demand. When the Polish representative met with Ribbentrop on 31 Aug, he was dismissed when he had no power to sign. The Germans then claimed that Poland had rejected their demands and Hitler ordered the invasion for 1 September. The Germans were better prepared for war than the Polish. They had higher numbers of troops and had air superiority. Poland had older fighters while the bombers were more modern. They waited too late to upgrade so newer fighters and bombers would not be there when the Germany invaded. Poland had two armor brigades and its 7TP light tank was better armed than the German Panzer. But they only had 140 of those and 88 tanks they imported from Britain and France. The Polish Navy was a small fleet with destroyers, submarines and support vessels. Most of the surface vessels escaped and joined the British Royal Navy. Submarines did engage German shipping in the Baltic Sea but it was not successful. Polish merchant ships that did escape or elsewhere would join the allies and take part in wartime convoys. By 3 October both German and Soviet forces had secured their spheres ending the Second Polish Republic. Both German and Soviet governments quickly took control of their territories, organizing and annexing, and setting up regional controls. Government and military leaders who did escape would form a military force in support of the Polish government-in-exile. In response to the invasion of Poland, Britain and France formally declared war on Germany on 3 September but little else (France did invade the Saar but quickly withdrew). ==

Japan Surrenders

Surrender of Japan, Tokyo Bay, 2 September 1945: Representatives of the Empire of Japan on board USS Missouri (BB-63) during the surrender ceremonies.
Army Signal Corps, Public Domain

On the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese formally surrendered ending World War II. By this time Japan was no longer the military power it once was. The Battle of Midway in June 1942 had been the turning point when four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. Since then Japanese control over its captured territories were pushed back under massive effort of U.S. and Allied forces. By the summer of 1945, and with the capture of Okinawa, Japan was being blockaded and being bombed often. Plans for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up. After the bloody experience of capturing territory such as on Iwa Jima, it was expected to be a difficult invasion that would cost a lot of allied lives. However, the dropping of two atomic weapons on Japan in August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed things dramatically. Members of the Japanese War Council and Emperor Hirohito favored accepting the peace terms; some objected and acted to stop a surrender. On 15 Aug a coup was attempted against Prime Minister Suzuki, but it was crushed. At noon that day, and for the first time in Japanese history, Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation by radio. “We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” The US and the allies accepted the surrender.  

 

 

Remembering History: England Defeats Spanish Armada (29 July 1688)

 

Defeat of the Spanish Armada (Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1796)
Public Domain

On July 29, 1688 naval forces of England and Spain engaged in an 8-hour furious battle off the coast of France that determined the fate of both countries control of the seas. Spain had created the armada to not only gain control of the English Channel but also to land an invasion force in England. England since the early 1580s had been conducting raids against Spanish commerce and had supported Dutch rebels in Spanish Netherlands. The other reason was to restore Catholicism that had been outlawed since the reign of King Henry VIII

The invasion fleet was authorized by King Philip II and was completed in 1587 but delayed by a raid by Sir Francis Drake on the Armada’s supplies. It did not depart until May 19, 1588. The fleet consisted of 130 ships under the command of the Duke of Medina-Sidonia. It had 2,500 guns, 8,000 seamen, and 20,000 soldiers. The Spanish ships though were slower than their English counterparts and lighter armed as well despite their guns. Their tactic was to force boarding when their ships were close enough. They believed with the superior numbers of Spanish infantry they could overwhelm the English ships.

The English were commanded by Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham. Like his counterpart, he was an admiral with not much sea experience but proved to be the better leader. His second in command was Sir Francis Drake. The English fleet was at its height 200 ships but in the actual combat was at most 100. Only 40 were warships and the rest smaller, but they were armed with heavy artillery that were able to fire at longer ranges without having to get close to the enemy to be effective. The English strategy was to bombard their enemy from a distance and not give them the opportunity to get close and possibly board their ships (which had smaller number of soldiers aboard than the Spanish had).

As the Spanish Armada made its way, it would be harassed by English ships that bombarded them at a distance negating Spanish attempts to board. The Armada anchored near Calais, France on 27 July. The Spanish forces on land were in Flanders and would take time to get Calais. However, since there was no safe port and enemy Dutch and English ships patrolled the coastal shallows, it meant those troops had no safe way to get to the Armada.

Around midnight on 29 July, the English sent 8 fire ships into the anchored Spanish fleet. The Spanish were forced to quickly scatter to avoid the fire ships. This meant the Armada formation was now broken making them easier targets for the English to attack. They closed to effective range and attacked. Surprising to the English, the return fire was mostly small arms. It turns out most of the heavy cannons had not been mounted. And those that were did not have properly trained crews on how to reload. Three Spanish ships were sunk or driven ashore. Other ships were battered and moved away. The English also were low on ammunition, so they had to drop back and follow the Spanish fleet.

The Spanish fleet had to flee north and around Scotland and from there head back to Spain. The English fleet turned back for resupply. It was a long road back to Spain for the Armada. Autumn had arrived and gales in the North Atlantic made passage tough. Ships were lost to bad weather, navigational errors, foundered near Ireland, and possibly battle damage as well. Only 60 of the 130 survived with an estimated loss of 15,000 men. The English losses were much smaller with fewer men wounded or killed in battle. It appears most of the deaths that came later were due to disease (possibly scurvy). Damages to the English ships were negligible.

Significance

With the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England was made safe from invasion. The Dutch rebels the English backed in Spanish Netherlands were saved as well. Spain up to that point had been considered to be the greatest European power, so it was a major blow to their prestige that would have ramifications down the road for them. Also, it heralded a major change for naval battles. This was the first major naval gun battle where the combatants fought at a distance rather than closing and boarding. Warships that could move quickly and had artillery that fire at long range would become the norm on the seas from that point on. England would now become a major world power. Spain still was in the game for several decades (the English were not successful either in trying their own invasion) and was still a major colonial power. England and Spain formally ended their conflict in 1604. Spain, however, would eventually go into decline as England and other European powers would successfully expand into Asia and establish their own colonies and trade routes.

Sources:

This Day In History: Spanish Armada Defeated
Encyclopedia Britannica: Spanish Armada