Tag Archives: France

Remembering History: Charge of the Light Brigade (25 October 1854)

 

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr, 1894
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals, but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava. The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan,thought the order meant both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley. Lord Lucan conferred with his brother in law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it.  670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive. Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly. Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking and orders unclear. The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855. Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Cronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces. The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet. Tennyson’s Poem The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!   

Sources:

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Remembering History: Germans Take Paris (14 June 1940)

German Troops in Paris, 14 June 1940
Photo: Heinz Fremde (1907-1987)
German Federal Archives:Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-126-0350-26A / Fremke, Heinz / CC-BY-SA 3.0

On 14 June 1940, the open city of Paris was taken by the German army. There was no opposition. Le Havre in the north fell as to German control. The Maginot Line in the east was broken by the German 1st Army under General Erwin von Witzleben near Saarbrucken. The French government had relocated to Bordeaux and appealed to the United States to enter the war. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had asked the French to hold on and not surrender.

In the United States, the fall of France was seen as a catastrophe but there was hesitation on what to do. The French premier Paul Reynaud asked President Roosevelt for aid in either a declaration of war or, if not possible, any help they could provide. Roosevelt was sympathetic but advisors such as Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State, argued any open support for the French would be seen as a declaration of war by the Germans. Public opinion was still in support of the U.S. staying out of the European war, and the Congress would not wholly support it either.

Parisians had been fleeing the approaching German troops. It has been estimated that over 2 million Parisians fled ahead of the German arrival in Paris. Parisians awoke that morning with messages blaring over loudspeakers that a curfew would begin at 8 pm that night. The Germans took quick control raising the German swastika on the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. The Gestapo quickly began to start rounding up those already on lists for arrest, interrogation, and execution or deportation to Germany. While the United States did not offer any formal support for France, it implemented a freeze on Italian and German assets in the country (meaning they had no access to funds in U.S. banks or to any property they owned).

By this time, the formal relationship between had already deteriorated. As a response to Kristallnacht in 1938, the U.S. ambassador had been withdrawn. Only a Charge d’Affairs*represented the U.S. from that point on. Germany withdrew its ambassador in response. This would remain unchanged until Germany formally declared war on 11 December 1941.

*A charge d’affairs is a diplomat who handles the ordinary duties of an ambassador when they are not present (whether temporary or permanent). Often this will occur when an ambassador has ended his tour and they are awaiting a new one to be posted. A person acting in this capacity has the same immunities that the ambassador does. In formal ceremonies, a charge d’affairs is treated with a lesser precedence than an ambassador.

Sources:

History.com
History.net
World War II Database


Remembering History: Britain & France Sign Entente Cordiale (8 April 1904)

In the early years of the 20th century, the colonial powers of Britain and France became increasingly concerned with Germany’s military growth. France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and was concerned about its growing military power. Britain was concerned as well about Germany’s growing navy bringing both countries together in an agreement. Africa was the main point of contention with British, French, Belgium and Germany all having colonial territories. Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain also had territory in Africa.

Colonial Africa, 1914
Image Credit: Whiplashoo21/Creative Commons

 

On 8 April 1904, both countries declared that they recognized certain territorial claims of the other in Africa. The British agreed that France had control over Morocco and France agreed to recognize Egypt as under British control. The declaration became known as the Entente Cordial and the beginnings of an alliance between the two powers. Although there was an agreement to diplomatically support the other, there was no requirement they provide military assistance if they were attacked.

Why This is Important

While not a formal alliance, it put the world on notice and in particular Germany that Britain and France recognized each other’s colonial territories. Germany saw the agreement exactly for what it was and would take steps to challenge it. Germany supported the Sultan of Morocco in 1905 against France. Britain however sided with France and resulted in an international conference that confirmed France’s control over Morocco. Germany decided to send troops to Morocco in 1911 precipitating another crisis. This forced both Britain and France into an informal military alliance to counter Germany. Rather than break up the two parties, Germany’s actions only brought them closer together. And it would result in more formal military agreement that would include Russia as well. By 1912, Europe was divided into two main blocks: Britain, France and Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary.

Sources:

Britannica.com
History. Com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Napoleon Defeated and Seward’s Folly (March 30)

Napoleon Defeated (30 March 1814)

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Napoleon Bonaparte, who rose to power during the French Revolution and became emperor of France, was defeated when allied troops entered Paris on 30 March 1814. Since 1803, the Napoleonic War had inflamed Europe. England and other powers had united against France during this period. France had expanded its power into the heart of Europe, Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean. His failed foray into Russia and his forces being ejected from Portugal and Spain, weakened his once powerful forces allowing for the invasion of France and the taking of Paris.

Why this Is Important

Napoleon was a major figure in European and French history. He reformed the French state after French Revolution, established and streamlined the justice system under the Napoleonic Code, and sought better relations with the Catholic Church. His military tactics (wins and loses) are still studied today in military academies around the world. The Napoleonic Code laid the basis for legal administration in France today and many of its former colonies.

Sources:

Britanica.com
Biography.com
History.com

Seward’s Folly

William H. Seward, Secretary of State 1861-69
Date Unknown
Public Domain/U.S. Library of Congress, digital id cph.3a23003

In a purchase ridiculed at the time, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for $7 million. While it only cost 2 cents an acre, it was widely jeered in the press and politicians alike. It was nicknamed “Seward’s Folly” and other names as well. Russia had tried to sell it to the U.S. prior to the Civil War, but talks stopped when the war began. Seward believed the landmass was important for the country. Others were not so sure and took a lot of convincing to get the Senate to ratify the treaty. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty on 9 April 1867 and the formal transfer was at Fort Sitka on October 18, 1867.

At first settlement was slow (getting there required taking a ship on the Pacific side and sailing up to a port) but in 1898 gold was discovered causing a rapid influx of prospectors and of course businesses to support them. Other resources were found in due course allowing Alaska to grow into a prosperous territory (albeit a cold one). Alaska would become the 49thstate when it was admitted to the union on 3 January 1959. The folly turned out to be golden instead.

Why this is Important
The purchase of Alaska expanded the territory of the United States substantially. The West Coast borders of the country were now forming up. California and Oregon were now states and Washington would soon follow in 1889. The rich resources of Alaska would also contribute as well. By the end of the 19th century, the United States had grown across a continent with cities and settlements on each end and within it.

Sources:

American.historama.org
History.com
Wikipedia


Remembering History: Post-World War I Conference Leads to Versailles Treaty

World War I came to an end in November 1918. The next step was to hammer out a formal agreement that would end the war. The major allied powers-France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States-would meet to begin this process on 18 Jan 1919. The European powers, particularly Britain and France, wanted Germany punished. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States argued for a peace without victory strategy where Germany would not be treated to harshly. Unfortunately, the major powers wanted Germany punished for the costs of the war. Wilson eventually compromised in order to get an international peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations, established.

Aftermath

Map of Europe, 1923, with territorial changes under Treaty of Versailles
Image credit: Fluteflute (Wikipedia)

Germany was excluded until May and presented with a draft of the Versailles Treaty. That is when they learned that Wilson’s promises were not included. The draft required Germany and Austria-Hungary to forfeit a lot of territory and pay reparations. It also made Germany solely responsible for the war. This disillusioned the Germans and for many a bitter pill to swallow. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919 on the five year anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand that had sparked the war. Anger and resentment over the treaty would cause problems in Germany. And it would lead to extreme parties in Germany agitating against it. The Nazi Party would use the anger to achieve power, resulting in a second world war. Exactly what Wilson and others had hoped to avoid in 1919.

Sources
Treaty of Versailles (Britannica.com)
This Day in History (History.com)
Treaty of Versailles (History.com)


CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (25 October 1854)

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr, 1894
Public Domain (Wikimedia)

From 1853-1856, Britain and France were at war with Russia. Russia had sought to pressure Turkey in supporting its goals, but sent troops to take control. This threatened British commercial and strategic assets in the Middle East (and to a smaller extent France). France used the tension to bolster an alliance with Britain and to bolster its military power. The allies landed in the Crimea in September 1854 to destroy both Sevastopol and the Russian fleet. The Allies, after taking two weeks to set things up, started bombarding Sevastopol on 17 October. The Russians were well prepared but tried to break the siege attacking the British supply base in the fishing village of Balaclava.

The Russians were repelled but occupied the Causeway Heights outside of the town. Lord Raglan, the British Commander-In-Chief, wanted to send in both Heavy and Light Calvary supported by infantry to get to the Russians and get back any British artillery they may have taken. Raglan wanted them to move immediately (meaning send in the calvary with the infantry to follow later). However the calvary commander George Bingham, the earl of Lucan,thought the order thought he meant with both calvary and infantry together. This caused a delay as they had to wait for infantry to arrive. Raglan issued a new order to advance rapidly to stop the Russians from taking any guns away. Bingham did not see this happening. He asked Raglan’s aide where to attack, and he pointed in the general direction of the Russian artillery at the far end of the valley.

Lord Lucan conferred with his brother in law, James Brudenell, the earl of Cardigan who commanded the light brigade. Neither liked each other and apparently they were not respected by those under them. Both decided to follow Lucan’s order without checking first to confirm it.  670 members of the light brigade drew their sabers and lances and began the infamous mile and a quarter charge into the valley.

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

The Russians began shooting at them from three different angles (not at the same time though). Onward they rode though they took severe casualties. Descriptions of survivors reported horrors of horses covered in blood, arms and heads being carried off by gunfire or artillery, and human brains on the ground. The area was so thick with smoke from Russian gunfire that some said it resembled a volcano. Amazingly the Light Brigade reached its destination crashing the enemy lines and holding it for a brief time. They were forced back and Russian artillery fired from Causeway Heights. The Heavy Brigade had been turned around before it went further into the valley. When it was all over, 110 were dead and 160 injured and 375 horses were lost. 60 were taken captive.

Reaction from many was to admire the bravery and honor of the calvary who were in the charge, but not so much their commanders that had ordered the attack. It took three weeks for it to be reported in Britain and recriminations would fly. Raglan blamed Lucan and Lucan was angry at being made a scapegoat. Raglan would argue that Lucan should have used his discretion while Lucan argued he was obeying orders. Cardigan blamed Lucan for giving the orders. Cardigan returned home a hero and was promoted. Lucan continued to defend himself in public and parliament and escaped blame as well. However, he never saw active duty again though promoted to general and later field marshal. In short recalled, promoted, and sent to the rear where he could do the least harm. The charge is still studied today of what happens when military intelligence is lacking and orders unclear.

The Russians would claim victory despite never taking Balaclava and paraded the captured weapons in Sevastopol. However, the Allies in 1855 were able to cut Russian logistics and force them out of Sevastopol when it fell between 8-9 Sept 1855. Other battles in the Baltic in 1854 and 1855 had not gone well for the Russians either. The British appeared to be ready to destroy both Cronstradt and St. Petersburg in 1856 using naval forces.

The Russians accepted defeat and sought peace in early 1856. Russia had lost 500,000 troops in the war (not from battle but apparently from diseases and malnutrition amongst other things) and its economy was ruined. They also lacked the industrial infrastructure to build modern weapons. The Peace of Paris on 30 March 1856 formally ended the Crimean War. Britain got what it wanted: the independence of Ottoman Turkey. The Black Sea was made a neutral zone (no warships allowed to enter), and the Danube opened to all commercial shipping. Bessarabia became part of Moldavia along with Walachia to become autonomous states (later Romania). Russia in 1870 would repudiate the Black Sea neutrality to rebuild its naval fleet.

Tennyson’s Poem

The Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote an evocative poem called The Charge of the Light Brigade which was published on 9 December 1854. He praises the brigade while mourning the futility of the charge.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!” Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had blundered. Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of hell Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there,Charging an army, while All the world wondered. Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke;Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell. They that had fought so well. Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them,Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!

Sources:

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REMEMBERING HISTORY: BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR

Battle Of Trafalgar by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931)
Public Domain (US)
Wikimedia

The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) saw many battles on land but the most pivotal naval one was on 21 Oct 1805. It was the naval battle that established British naval supremacy for 100 years. It was fought west of Cape Trafalgar, Spain putting it between Cadiz and the Strait of Gibraltar. 18 French and 15 Spanish ships would fight a British fleet of 27 ships. Admiral Pierre de Villeneuve commanded the combined French/Spanish fleet while Admiral Horatio Nelson commanded the British fleet.

Villeneuve had hoped to avoid battle with the British when he slipped the fleet out of Cadiz on 19-20 October heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, Nelson caught him off of Cape Trafalgar on 21 October. Villeneuve ordered his ships to form a single line heading north. Nelson order his fleet into two squadrons and to attack from the west at right angles. He signaled his famous message at 11:50 am from his ship Victory: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

Nelson’s squadron attacked the van and center in Villeneuve’s line.*  Nelson’s squadron broke through ignoring six leading French and Spanish ships in the first attack. Those six ships under Admiral Pierre Dumanoir did turn around to help but were driven off. The rear of Villeneuve’s fleet was destroyed, and Villeneuve was himself captured.

The battle ended around 5:00 pm with 19 or 20 French & Spanish ships surrendering with crews and prisoners of war around 14,000 men. Admiral Nelson died during the battle but knew before he died of British victory. The British lost no ships but 1,500 crewmen were either killed or injured. The Battle of Trafalgar ended forever any dreams Napoleon had to invade England.

Aftermath
Napoleon did not learn of the defeat for many weeks due to being involved in military battles on land. He censored news of the defeat in Paris for a month. And then in a brazen propaganda move had the French newspapers portray it as a great victory over the British. Villeneuve would return to France in 1806 but was found dead in an inn room with six stab wounds from a knife. It was ruled a suicide, but some suspect he was killed. The battle made it clear Britain was master of the seas, but it did not slow Napoleon down on his strategy to conquer and defeat the Third Coalition and Austria. Napoleon buttoned up the continent to deprive British trade. French and Spanish armies would occupy Portugal in 1807.

In 1808, Napoleon uneasy with his Spanish allies, invaded and took control of Spain. French troops and their supporters were disliked by many Spanish who took up arms. The British, after liberating Portugal, would drive out the French and used the Spanish guerrillas to harass the French. British forces under General Wellington would drive the Spanish out after the Battle of Salamanca in 1812. The French forces in Madrid would surrender ending the Peninsular War but starting the final campaign to drive Napoleon from power.

*During the age of sail, fleets were divided into van, center, or rear squadrons and named after each squadrons place in the line of battle. You can read about how this was developed here.

Sources:
Brittanica Online
Military.wikia.org
Wikipedia

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TODAY IN HISTORY: THE INFAMOUS MUNICH PACT

Nevile Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Count Ciano
29 Sep 1938 (German Federal Archives)

By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe: France and Great Britain, sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918.

In spring 1938, Hitler claimed that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany and began agitating that unless this was done it would be taken by force. Hitler claimed that this region was part of a Greater Germany. Needless to say, the Czechoslovakian government was concerned. Hitler had annexed Austria in 1938 and he might just do the same to Sudeten. Czechoslovakia had a pact with both France and Great Britain to come to its defense. Neither power was interested in having to defend Czechoslovakia on the battlefield. Both Britain and France sought to avoid a war and both agreed, without bothering to consult with the Czechoslovakians, they would give Hitler what he wanted. The deal was that in areas of fifty percent or more German Sudetens would go to Germany.

Hitler though, sensing he could get a lot more, wanted to put German soldiers in Sudeten and that Czechoslovakian army had to leave by 28 Sept 1938. This caused a crisis resulting in the Munich Conference of 29 Sep 1938. In attendance were British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French premier Édouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini presented a plan (that imitated a German proposal) which allowed German military occupation and an international commission to resolve disputes. It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Chamberlain would get Hitler to sign a treaty and proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”

Aftermath
Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.

Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise make preparations (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.

The lesson of the Munich Pact is that making short term deals with dictators to gain a moment of peace comes at a high cost. The Czechs were abandoned by Britain and France to their fate because neither one wanted to stand up to Hitler. Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out,  Chamberlain’s popularity fell and would resign on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin),had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.

REMEMBERING HISTORY: September 1 and 2: Germany Invades Poland; Titanic Found; Japan Formally Surrenders Ending WW II

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).

Titanic Found

Titanic Wreck Bow
Image: Public Domain (NOAA-http://www.gc.noaa.gov/images/gcil/ATT00561.jpg)

On 1 September 1985 history was made in the early morning hours. A combined expedition of Woods Hole Institute and the French national oceanographic agency IFREMER would locate the wreck of Titanic lying approximately 12,500 feet south-southeast off the coast of Newfoundland. Using a remote controlled deep-sea vehicle Argo equipped with sonar and cameras, it was towed by Knorr over the area. Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Institute had used this system to locate the sunken submarines Scorpion and Thresher. An earlier attempt by the French ship to locate by sonar had failed. So now he was focusing on finding a debris field, similar to how he found those submarines. Finally after a week of searching, at 12:48 am on Sunday, 1 September 1985 pieces of debris began to appear on Knorr’s screens. It brought both cheers and a somber moment of remembering Titanic’s sinking. The boiler found was identical to pictures from 1911. The next day the main part of the wreck was found showing Titanic had split in two.

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.

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