Tag Archives: World War II

Remembering History: Rome Bombed by United States (19 Jul 1943)

[Editors note: This has been updated from 2023 with updated source information.]

Daily News, Los Angeles- Headline on Bombing of Rome
Source: RareEarlyNewspapers.com All Rights Reserved

By 1943, Italians had seen shortages in basic goods and supplies requiring rationing as their merchant marine had been decimated by the war. This led to a lot of grumbling about the war and its effects on Italy. Mussolini’s popularity had begun to wane. He had convinced Italians that the Allies would never bomb the eternal city of Rome. Then on 19 July 1943, the U.S. bombed the Rome railway yards.

Both President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made a public appeal for Italians to reject Mussolini and save their country. The Allies by this time had invaded Sicily, and thanks to a clever deception, Hitler thought it initially a diversion. The Axis had been furthered weakened by its defeat in North Africa which had seen losses by both German and Italian forces. The advance of the Allied troops shook the Italian government. The bombing of Rome really caused panic in Rome as people went out into the streets.

It was much worse though as panic gave way to anger at Mussolini. People started destroying effigies of the dictator. And oddly, there was actually celebration of the attack as it was seen as leading to Mussolini’s demise. Hitler met with Mussolini to shore up his confidence after the attack. The attack had shaken him as well. Mussolini appeared unusually quiet in the meeting (he spoke poor German) and relied on the transcript later. Hitler tried to restore his confidence worried he might cave in and seek an armistice with the Allies. In the end, Mussolini agreed to continue the war though by this time he knew the truth. The Italian army was beaten and there was no way they could win the war. He could not tell that to Hitler fearing what he might do in response.

Hitler for his part was concerned that either Mussolini would surrender, or his own people might remove him. He quietly ordered Rommel to take control of the Greek islands in case something went wrong in Rome. The Germans would be ready to pounce when it did. And events happened faster than expected. Within a week the Fascist Grand Council would relieve Mussolini and he was put under arrest by the King.

Sources

Mullen, M. (2020, July 16). America bombs Rome. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/america-bombs-rome

This day in History: The Americans Bomb Rome (1943) – History collection. (n.d.). History Collection. https://historycollection.com/day-history-americans-bomb-rome-1943/

Americans bomb Rome in 2-hour daylight raid – UPI Archives. (1943, July 19). UPI. https://www.upi.com/Archives/1943/07/19/Americans-bomb-Rome-in-2-hour-daylight-raid/6801563205263/

MarshallV. (2022, May 22). The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-45: A Timeline, Part one. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/allied-campaign-italy-1943-45-timeline-part-one

 

Himmler Orders Medical Experiments on Auschwitz Prisoners (7 Jul 1942)

Heinrich Himmler, 1942
German Federal Archives (via Wikimedia Commons)

On 7 July 1942, Heinrich Himmler orders that experimentation on women at the Auschwitz concentration camp begin and also to investigate extending this to males. How and why did this happen? Let’s find out.

Himmler, as head of the Schutzstaffel (SS), believed in exterminating all European Jews. As head of the SS and the assistant chief of the Gestapo, he controlled all the police forces in Germany. This allowed him the power to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution and why he was the one who called for a conference that would devise how these experiments would be conducted. The conference attendees included SS General Richard Glueks (hospital chief), SS Major-General Karl Gebhardt, and Professor Karl Clauberg (a leading German gynecologist) and members of the Concentration Camp Protectorate.

Gate to Auschwitz I with its Arbeit macht frei sign (“work sets you free”), 2010
Image credit: xiquinhosilva
Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

The conference decided that medical experimentations would take place but also done in a way that the women would not know what was being done to them. The experiments would be to devise methods of sterilizing Jewish women using massive doses of radiation and uterine injections. It was also decided to examine if X rays could be used to castrate men and use it on male Jewish prisoners. Adolf Hitler agreed to this, but it was kept top secret as they were concerned many would object (it had happened before when they tried exterminating disabled and those in hospitals with severe mental conditions). This program would further the Nazi’s aims to rid the world of Jews outside of their extermination camps. They knew that in time they would get control of countries where setting up extermination camps would not be practical, so developing means to sterilize Jewish men and women (and others they didn’t like as well) would allow them to continue eliminating Jews but under the guise of using medicine to eliminate them.

Sources

Himmler decides to begin medical experiments on Auschwitz prisoners.
History.com
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/himmler-decides-to-begin-medical-experiments-on-auschwitz-prisoners
Original Published Date: November 16, 2009
Last Accessed on: July 8, 2024

Nazi Medical Experiments
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/nazi-medical-experiments
Last Accessed on July 8, 2024

The Holocaust: Nazi Medical Experiments
JewishVirtualLibrary.org
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nazi-medical-experiments
Last Accessed on July 8, 202

 

Remembering History: Anne Frank’s Family Takes Refuge (6 Jul 1942)

May 1942 photo for passport
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam.
Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

After receiving word that they would be deported to a Nazi work camp, Ann Frank and her family take refuge in a secret annex of an Amsterdam warehouse. Her family was from Germany and fled in 1933 to Holland to escape Nazi persecution. The Netherlands declared its neutrality but that did not stop the Germans from invading on 10 May 1940. After the bombing of Rotterdam, its military forces surrendered, and its government and royal family fled to London. Germany would occupy the country until the German surrender in May 1945.

The initial phase of the occupation was mild and often called the “velvet glove” where Germans under Arthur Seyss-Inquart did not impose the harsher rules of occupation found in other countries. The economy was doing well, and repression of the Jewish population was light. Starting in June 1941, that changed as Germany started demanding more from the occupied territories which lowered the standard of living. Repression of Jews began now in earnest as many were now deported to extermination camps.

Otto Frank had come to Amsterdam from Germany in 1933 with his wife Edith and their two daughters Margot and Anne. He worked for Opetka, which sold pectin and spices for jam production. A second company he started, Pectacon, sold wholesale spices, pickling salts, and herbs for sausage production. As things got more tense with Germany, he tried, unsuccessfully to move his business to Britain. When the occupation came and German laws about making businesses Aryan, he transferred ownership to his employees to keep it out of German hands. He unsuccessfully sought to emigrate to the United States.

Otto approached his bookkeeper, Miep Gies, to see if she could help hide his family. He also asked other employees to assist as well in bringing food to them in the secret annex hidden behind on a movable bookshelf. Another family, Van Pels would join them later as would Fritz Pfeffer making 8 people in total hiding in the Secret Annex.

For the next two years Ann would record in her diary her thoughts, humor, insight, and what was going on inside the annex. There were a lot of disagreements between the various people living together and Anne records how her father acted as a peacemaker. For two years they kept quiet during the day as people worked below and Nazi patrols were out on the streets. It all came to an end on 4 August 1944 when Dutch police officers with a member of the SS in charge raided the Secret Annex and arrested them all. Two employees were also arrested. They were all sent to Auschwitz, including the two men who had helped them. When Otto got off the train in Auschwitz, it was the last time he saw his wife and children. He would learn after the war his wife died in Auschwitz. Both Margo and Ann were moved to the Bergen-Belson concentration camp in Germany, where they both perished of typhus.

Otto would be the only one to survive and returning to Amsterdam he was given Anne’s diary by Miep Gies. After reading it, he was advised by others who had read it to have it published. It took a while, but it was first published in 1947 and into English in 1952. It has since then been translated into 70 languages and became a best seller and acclaimed movie. The diary stands as a testament to the six million Jews whose lives were taken by the Holocaust.

 

Sources

Anne Frank. (2024, February 27). Anne Frank Website. https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/

Andrews, E., & Andrews, E. (2023a, August 3). Who betrayed Anne Frank? HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/who-betrayed-anne-frank

Sullivan, M. (2024d, July 1). Anne Frank’s family takes refuge. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/frank-family-takes-refuge

Suggested Reading

Frank, A. (1993). The Diary of Anne Frank (B. M. Mooyart, Trans.). Bantam.

Gies, M., & Gold, A. L. (2009). Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. Simon & Schuster.

Sullivan, R. (2022). The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation. Harper.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: Night of the Long Knives (30 June 1934)

On 30 June 1934 Hitler purged his own party of members he feared would become his enemies. Why did this happen? Let’s dive in and find out.

The National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische deutsche Arbeiterpartei Or NSDAP) was formed in the early 1920’s by Adolf Hitler hoping to draw people away from Marxist groups that were attracting many followers. The NSDAP (later to be called simply Nazi) fused elements of Socialism with nationalism creating something similar to what Benito Mussolini did in Italy with Fascism. Both Fascists and Nazis believed in a strong central state, a single party and a strong leader, and that citizens serve the national will in all that they do. They both reject democracy as weak, disdain for civil liberties, and capitalism that seeks profit over that of the state. The agree with Communists and Socialists about the political structure of the state but disagree over nationalism, worker’s rights, and its private ownership. Fascists and Nazis both believe in nationalism as a cornerstone of their ideology, unlike Communists and Socialists who believe they have to be torn down.

Hitler’s party targeted those who felt betrayed by the stinging defeat of World War I. It meant the end of both the German Empire and Austria-Hungary. Austria would be reduced down to its present size of what Austria is today and no longer a major power in the world. On top of that, the hated Versailles Treaty of 1919 levied huge reparations on Germany and stripped her of land and its overseas territories. His party absorbed other parties, some more extreme, as well. Antisemitism would also be a major draw for this party. Many in Germany believed, or were convinced, that Jews had conspired to bring down what happened. Jews owned banks, newspaper and other key businesses were profiteers and grifters who betrayed the German people. It would become a major feature of the party in the years to come.

Inspired by Mussolini’s Black Shirts, Hitler created his own paramilitary called Sturmabteilung (Storm Troops) or SA or simply called Brown Shirts to be used to threaten and intimidate enemies of the party and Germany. It was composed in the early days with war veterans and those that had been members of the Free Corps (Freikorps) which had been formed to counter left wing groups. In 1923 under the leadership of General Erich Ludendorff there was the famous Beer Hall Putsch to seize control of the Bavarian State. It failed and Hitler was imprisoned. While in jail, he composed his seminal book that told the world what his beliefs were and what the Nazi Party would do. Mein Kampf would, when published, become popular reading. It still is today in many parts of the world influenced by elements of fascism and antisemitism.

1932 Berlin
SA-Propagandamarsch in Spandau
Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P049500 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The Nazi Party would continue to grow through the 1920’s and as economic conditions got worse, found many willing to hear about rebuilding Germany and tossing out the current ruling elites that had made a mess of things. Mussolini made the same type of appeal much earlier and was swept into power after his march on Rome where the king appointed him prime minister even though there had not been a vote to put his party into full power. The Nazi Party, though it used the SA to bully and intimidate, used the ballot box to gain seats in the Reichstag. By 1928, it had gained lots of members but only held 12 seats. Its support came primarily from those who had served in the war, the disillusioned, and many who felt Germany was on the wrong path. Despite its name of being a worker’s party, most industrial workers were not drawn to Nazis. Hitler was not worried about this as he was building a national movement that would draw people into counter those who feared Communism and Socialism. Nazis used posters, slogans, parades, and other things to convey their message to the masses, which was we are to hear to fix Germany and toss out the weak Weimar government.

By the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, both the Nazis and Communists were popular. Both sought to fix the problems but in strikingly different ways. The SA got more active and soon fights were breaking out in the streets, assassinations were occurring. All of this convinced many that a strong central figure was needed to end the chaos, which was what Hitler sought to achieve. The antisemitic leanings were downplayed in general elections but anyone who attended their meetings knew that hatred of Jews was deeply ingrained in its leadership. In the July 1932 elections they got 37% of the vote and 230 seats in the Reichstag. It was a great victory for Hitler, but the November elections saw their fortunes had dissipated. The Nazi Party lost seats (down to 196) while the Communists gained. The other conservative and moderate political parties did well but no one had a clear majority to govern leaving it without a government for a time. President Hindenburg had defeated Hitler who had run for the same position.

The reasons that the Nazis lost votes has been debated, but by this time the Germany economy seemed better, and the Weimar government looked better as a result. This stung the Nazi leadership because the last thing they wanted was Weimar to stay in power. Hitler and those that supported him worked hard to negotiate with the other conservative parties to gain their support. They appealed to the old military aristocracy, the industrialists, and other leaders they needed to get support from. They played up the fear that the Communists would gain power. Most of the other conservative parties were wary of Hitler and his Nazis but ultimately decided to join with him to create a majority so that government could be formed.

And on 30 January 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor. Hindenburg and the others who had allied with him though they could control him. That would prove to be a disastrous miscalculation on their part. Hitler moved quickly to solidify the power of the Nazi party. While technically a coalition government, they quickly began suppressing and abridging press freedoms and individual liberties. All those who opposed the Nazis now had the SA, now part of the government, being given police powers. Jews would be dismissed from government posts. Hitler convinced Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag, a clever move so that when elections would be held only his party would be seated. They quickly worked to suppress all other parties except the ones that had supported them.

By 1934 the Nazi’s had swept away the old order and through elections (which in many cases were fraudulent) got all the seats they needed to fill the Reichstag. Things looked good but there were some problems. Internal corruption was an issue but so was the issue of continued violence the SA was doing. The SA, like the Black Shirts, served a vital role but also tended to be more purist about their doctrines than most in the party were. The SA had swelled in size to 4.5 million making it a very large paramilitary organization. As revolutionaries know, the greatest threat is not from outsiders but from those inside who build powerful groups internally that might topple ?you. Stalin had purged most of the early revolutionaries because they wanted more radical ideas and threatened his power. Mussolini had issues. Now Hitler was facing it as well.

The German army also was worried. There was a fully armed paramilitary organization that ran parallel to it. That would inevitably cause friction, especially in times of war when you needed clear operational structures. The SS, by contrast, was both a bodyguard for Hitler and oversaw the administration of specific areas designated to them by Hitler. They did not act as a paramilitary organization. Also, the public began to complain as well. That seems odd in a dictatorship they would care about public opinion, but the Nazis knew if they lost support of the populace, it would be an even bigger issue to contend with. The violence of the SA was getting loud feedback from the local Nazi leaders. In short, it had to be curtailed. Some saw its leader Ernst Rohm as the German equivalent of the Roman Sejanus who had become very powerful under Emperor Tiberius and threatened his reign. Both Himmler and Goering played on this fear when trying to convince Hitler that its leader, Ernst Röhm, was planning a coup.

Photo of Ernst Roehm, probably taken in Munich (München), Germany (Weimar Republic) on 1 April, 1924 National Archives and Records Administration (NAID) 162122137 Public Domain

And so, on the night of 30 June 1934, called the Night of the Long Knives came about. Rohm and all the leaders of the SA were arrested and ultimately executed (often brutally). Nazis took advantage of this event to also to eliminate other political opponents including former chancellor Kurt von Schleicher.

Aftermath

The SA was downsized and a new leader, Viktor Lutze, was appointed as Stabschef (the equivalent of chief of staff) to the SA. The SA would continue to be used to go after those opposing Hitler and later the Jews. The SA was used in Kristallnacht in November 1938 to destroy over 7,500 glass storefronts on Jewish shops and businesses along with ransacking Jewish homes. The also helped destroy nearly all the Jewish synagogues (the only ones that were spared were ones next to important buildings-they could be ransacked but not burned). The SA also carried out mass beatings of Jews and arrested many who were taken to concentration camps. They became overshadowed by the SS that now handled policing and security. By

1939 it had lost significance in the Nazi Party. It was converted into a training school for the armed forces. Once war began, it lost its members to the Wehrmacht (German armed forces). It continued to exist though and when the SS and the Foreign Office had major issues, he appointed SA members to diplomatic posts to counter the SS. When Lutze died in a car accident in 1943, the new leader tried to smooth out the tensions between the SS and the SA. The SA would formally cease to exist when the war ended in 1945.

Sources

Mullen, M. (2021, June 28). Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/night-of-the-long-knives

The Night of Long Knives – The Holocaust Explained: Designed for schools. (1933, June 22). https://www.theholocaustexplained.org/the-nazi-rise-to-power/how-did-the-nazi-gain-power/night-of-long-knives/

The SA. (n.d.). https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-sa

 

Suggested Reading

Allen, W. S. (1984). The Nazi seizure of power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945. Franklin Watts.

Engelmann, B. (1986). In Hitler’s Germany: Daily Life in the Third Reich. Pantheon.

Shirer, W. L. (2011). The rise and fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon and Schuster.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: Napoleon Invades Russia (24 June 1812)

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

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia on 24 June 1812 in retaliation for Czar Alexander I not accepting Bonaparte’s Continental System. Napoleon assembled the largest fighting force up to that time called the Grande Armee. With over 500,000 soldiers and staff, it marched into Russia seeking a quick victory. It was not to be. The Russian Army under General Mikhail Kutuzov was in retreat refusing a full-scale engagement against the powerful French. As Russia troops retreated, they burned everything leaving nothing for the French to find.

 

IV corps of the Grande Armeé in the invasion of Russia (1812)
Albrecht Adam (1786 – 1862)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

By September, Napoleon had engaged the Russians at Battle of Borodino. The battle was indecisive but resulted in large losses on both sides. On 14 September he arrived in Moscow to find it empty as the people had evacuated. The Russian Army too had left leaving the city to Napoleon. With winter approaching, Napoleon decided to rest and use it for his winter quarters. Russian partisans though set fires in the city the next day resulting in the quarters he had selected destroyed. He waited for a month hoping for a surrender which never came. Now with winter closing in, Napoleon decided to leave. The retreat though was more difficult than they could have imagined.

Fire of Moscow (1812)
Viktor Mazurovsky (1859–1944)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

An early winter set in making it harder on his troops and food was rationed. The Russians, it seems, had not fully retreated, and began attacking the troops in the rear. Cossacks with very sharp lances attacked ruthlessly. They made it to the Berezina River in November but found Russians waiting for them. Using makeshift bridges, Napoleon and his troops started crossing but the Russians attacked. Napoleon burned the bridges stranding over 10,000 on the other side to be captured or killed by the Russians. Napoleon, in a hurry to return to Paris, would eventually leave his troops behind. The remaining force would eventually return home but fewer than a 100,000 made it back home. The loss of over 400,000 was staggering and called into question his leadership of the French Empire.

Napoleon’s withdrawal from Russia by Adolph Northen (1828-1876)
Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Aftermath

The disastrous invasion of Russia has long been studied by historians and military strategists. His basic idea of invading was sound, but he underestimated how long it would take and the will of the Russians to make him pay dearly for every inch he gained. Napoleon thought it would be a quick victory, but it turned into a long painful retreat with an early winter, few food supplies, and his army being attacked by Russians. If you read accounts of those who survived, it is truly horrific the conditions they had to retreat under. Dead animals used for fuel; bodies stacked in windows for insulation. If you recall Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back scene where Han Solo rips open his now dead ride so they can crawl inside it for warmth, this happened for real here.

His defeat in Russia strengthened his enemies. Austria, Britain, Prussia, and Sweden would now ally with Russia against Napoleon. British forces under Wellington were slowly but steadily pushing the French out of Spain. While Napoleon would have some victories, two defeats hurt his reign enormously. The Battle of Vittoria in Spain on 21 June 1813 would end French domination of Spain. His brother Joseph that he had put on the throne, was forced to flee for his life. Sadly, the royal crown worn by Spanish kings was lost in the melee of the retreat and never to be found again. And in October 1813, he suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of Leipzig. Paris would fall the following March forcing him into exile. He would briefly return in 1815 but be defeated again in the Battle of Waterloo

Invading Russia has not proven successful for any conquering general. You might get initial successes, as Hitler did, but it seems to always turn around against the invader. Hitler, like Napoleon, thought the campaign would be quick. Instead after their initial victories, Operation Barbarossa ran into real problems. General Franz Halder realized he had sorely underestimated how many divisions the Russians could field. And because of the long distances involved, it became very hard for Germans to hold their lines. Moscow was in at sight at one point, but they never got there due to the long expanse of territory, supply issues, and underestimating the strength of Russia. Like Napoleon, the German forces were stalled. Halder believed without a powerful lightning strike, there was little chance for success. Owing to policy and strategy differences with Hitler, he was dismissed. The damage was done and the losses substantial. The Russians would push eventually the Germans out of their country and follow them all the way back to Berlin.

Sources:

Sullivan, M. (2024b, June 20). Napoleon’s Grande Armée invades Russia. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/napoleons-grande-armee-invades-russia

Greenspan, J., & Greenspan, J. (2023, August 11). Why Napoleon’s invasion of Russia was the beginning of the end. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/napoleons-disastrous-invasion-of-russia

Knighton, A. (2017, July 15). 6 reasons why Napoleon invaded Russia. Warhistoryonline. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/napoleon/6-reasons-napoleon-invaded-russia.html

Suggested Reading

Allen, W. S. (1984). The Nazi seizure of power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945. Franklin Watts.

De Segur, P. (2008). Defeat: Napoleon’s Russian Campaign. New York Review of Books.

Foord, E. (2022). Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. Independently published.

Engelmann, B. (1986). In Hitler’s Germany: Daily Life in the Third Reich. Pantheon.

Gilbert, Martin. The Second World War: A Complete History. Macmillan, 2004.

Lieven, D. (2011). Russia against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace. National Geographic Books.

Titanic News Channel is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Remembering History: France Surrenders to Germany (21 June 1940)

Hitler (hand on side) and German high-ranked nazis and officers staring at WWI French marshall Maréchal Foch’s memorial statue before entering the railway carriage in order to start the negotiations for the 1940 armistice at Rethondes in the Compiègne forest, France. The armistice will only be signed the next day (June 22), Hitler being absent, by General Keitel on the German side and by General Huntziger on the French side. Screenshot taken from the 1943 United States Army propaganda film Divide and Conquer (Why We Fight #3) directed by Frank Capra and partially based on news archives, animations, restaged scenes and captured propaganda material from both sides.
Public Domain

On 21 June 1940 near Compiegne and in the same railway car Germany surrendered in 1918, France officially surrendered to Nazi Germany. For Adolf Hitler and his fellow Nazi leaders, this erased the shame of 1918 and the imposition of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler sat in the same chair that Marshal Ferdinand Foch had sat in 1918 to accept the German surrender in World War I.

France at the outset of the war was considered to have the best professional army in continental Europe. Aside from trained soldiers, they had tanks and heavy artillery. And, of course, the famous Maginot Line. This was a series of fortifications near the German border meant to deter an invasion force. The hills and woods of the Ardennes were considered impenetrable in the north but there was a caveat as General Philippe Petain noted. You had to destroy the invasion force before it exited that area. France and Germany had officially been at war since 3 Sep 1939 when France, allied with England, offered support to the Polish government.

French forces briefly entered the Saar on 7 September but withdrew after meeting a very thin line of German defense on the undermanned Siegfried line. With most of its forces concentrated in Poland at the time, Germany did not have the capacity to stand up to France’s 98 divisions and tanks that were being c0mmitted. However French hesitation and wanting to avoid total war had them withdraw forces starting on 17 September and done a month later. It began a time called the Phony War where both Germany and France were armed and ready, but nothing was happening. Hitler had hoped he could make peace with England and France but that was not to be.

On 10 May 1940, Germany attacked France. German armored units made a push through the Ardennes, and then through the Somme valley to surround the allied units in Belgium. British, Belgian and French forces were pushed to the sea. British forces were evacuated at Dunkirk, which is an exciting tale of its own. During the six-week campaign Germany conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. German troops marched unopposed into Paris on 14 June. By 18 June with the collapse of both the French government (which had fled) and the military, negotiations began between French and German military officers.

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

At the meeting on 21 June, Hitler read the preamble and like Marshal Foch left to leave Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht to handle the details. There were several objectives that the Germans wanted and got. They wanted French North Africa and the French Navy out of the war. Also, they wanted to deny the British use of French territories since they could not possibly defend them. Occupied France was 3/5ths of the country which included the key ports on the French Channel and Atlantic and to the Spanish border. The Free Zone was administered by a newly formed French government in Vichy with Marshal Petain as its president.

Vichy France, as it became known, was authoritarian and reversed the policies of previous administrations. The media became tightly controlled, anti-Semitism was propagated, and labor unions put under strict controls. Vichy France kept French territories and the navy under French rather than German control. With the German army elsewhere, unoccupied France was generally free from military control. However due to its neutrality forbidden to assist nations at war with Germany. Despite it being unoccupied, Vichy had to conform to German policies including identifying foreign nationals, deporting stateless persons, and of course assisting Germans in locating and ultimately deporting French Jews to murdered in the death camps.

Map of Vichy France
Rostislav Botev

The treaty was formally concluded on 22 June 1940 and went into effect on 25 June 1940. A separate treaty between France and Italy was signed as well. Italy initially only wanted a small portion of France (about 832 square miles with the largest town being Menton). In November 1942, after Germany seized a large portion of Vichy, Italy got control over Toulon and the eastern part of Provence up to the Rhone river. Corsica and Nice were also to become Italian occupied but that did not occur. During the period of Italian occupation, Jews were relatively safe as Italian authorities declined German requests to turn over Jews to them. Once Italy deposed Mussolini and later signed an armistice with the Allies in 1943, Germans quickly moved in and rounded up all Jews they could locate. Over 3,000 would be deported.

Aftermath

Three days after the signing of the treaty, the armistice site was destroyed on Hitler’s orders. The railway car was sent to Germany as a trophy of war. A monument depicting the French victory over the Germans was destroyed. The only thing left standing was the large statue of Marshal Foch. Hitler ordered it left there to stare out over a wasteland. The railway carriage would later be destroyed by the SS in 1945. An exact copy of the original railway car was made. French manufacturer Wagons-Lits donated a car from the same series to the Armistice Museum (in Compiegne) in 1950. Identical and was part of Foch’s private train during the 1918 signing. Remains of the original car were dug up using German POW’s. The railway car is parked beside the display of those remains.

The fall of France to Germany in 1940 demonstrated that the leaders in many European capitols had misjudged Hitler. Hitler understood early on neither the British or French would go to war over Czechoslovakia nor Austria as they wanted to avoid a general war. In this way, he understood them better than they did knowing that while many would oppose what he would do, in the end they would cave in and agree to terms. In both Britain and France, the desire to avoid total war at any cost was quite strong. The policy of appeasement flowed from this. That is why both the British and French, despite having signed peace treaties with Czechoslovakia, would betray and then force them to give into German demands. And why France, when it had the upper hand to go into Germany to stop it when it was invading Poland, made a quick march in and then left Germany. With most of the German army to the east, they could have really put Hitler into a bind.

Hitler, for his part, did misjudge their reactions to invading Poland. He assumed they would denounce it but do nothing more. Things had changed in Britain with Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement now judged a failure resulting in Churchill being brought into the government. Churchill had warned for years about Hitler. France had been a supporter of appeasement as well but wanted more British support before fully committing to war. There was also an arrogance which assumed that the British and French were better militarily than the Germans. To some degree, that is true since Germany was defeated in World War I and prior to that had been checked by the European powers. Both Britain and France, which had excellent intelligence gathering abilities, were not streamlined so a lot of important information about Germany’s intentions didn’t get up to the top right away. And France thought Germany would be deterred by the Maginot Line, which turned out not to be the case. They would use the Belgium invasion as a decoy to swing into France.

Some argue that Germany was simply lucky, but I disagree. Hitler played both the British and French knowing they would give in to avoid total war. He knew that the political left in France would never allow them to strike Germany without Britain committing to it as well. Britain was also unprepared for war having not enough planes, ships, or infantry to take them on directly. They were trying to get second-hand equipment from the United States, which so far was staying out of the conflict. And Hitler knew the British would try operations to keep Germany from controlling sea access and control resources (which was true by the way). And by the end of 1940, Hitler had achieved what the Kaiser failed to do in World War. He had conquered nearly all of Europe: Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and swallowed up the small principalities in-between. Only Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden were untouched but neutral. And fascist Italy was on their side as well, unlike the last war. He also had made peace with Stalin, so he did not have to worry about the Soviet Union.

The lesson, aside from the military ones, is that when a leader of another nation says that without reservation he will invade and take your country, you should take it seriously. And prepare for it. Because if you don’t, you might very well live just long enough to see his troops marching down your capitol’s streets as they celebrate their victory.

Sources

Byron, H. (2024, January 20). The French Riviera under Italian Rule during WW2 — HANNAH BYRON. HANNAH BYRON. https://www.hannahbyron.com/blog/the-french-riviera-under-italian-rule-during-ww2

Hart, B. L. (2024, June 17). Battle of France | History, summary, maps, & Combatants. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-France-World-War-II/The-fall-of-France-June-5-25-1940

Hughes, T. A., & Royde-Smith, J. G. (2024, June 17). World War II | Facts, summary, history, dates, combatants, & Causes. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/event/World-War-II/Italys-entry-into-the-war-and-the-French-Armistice

Sullivan, M. (2024, June 13). France signals intention to surrender to the Nazis. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/france-to-surrender

Videos

Smithsonian Channel. (2017, June 15). The moment France surrendered to German soldiers [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLrZi5udyIc

British Pathé. (2014, April 13). French Surrender to Hitler (1940) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADUcjRc5p3k

Suggested Reading

Bloch, M. (1999). Strange defeat: A Statement Of Evidence Written In 1940. W. W. Norton & Company.

Churchill, W. (1948). Their finest hour. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Keegan, J. (2005). The Second World War. Penguin Books.

Lord, W. (2017). The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo. Open Road Media.

Shirer, W. L. (2022). The collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry Into the Fall of France in 1940. Rosetta Books

Historical Movies or Television

Wouk, H. (2018, December). Winds of War [Special Collector’s Edition]. Paramount. This excellent six-part miniseries is based on the Herman Wouk novel of the same name. And he wrote the script for this, so it hues close to the book (but does compress or eliminate some characters or situations). Through the Henry family, we get to see the scope of the looming war approaching and their involvement in it. The acting is superb, though the actress Ali MacGraw is miscast as Natalie Jastrow. Aside from that, this is a riveting depiction of the events leading up to World War II. It is one of the best miniseries ever made, and it shows with the high production quality and attention to detail.

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Remembering D-Day, 6 June 1944 When The Allies Began Liberation of Europe

[Note this has been updated with new source information and the inclusion of Eisenhower’s message to troops on the eve of the invasion. MT 2024]

“Into The Jaws of Death”
U.S. troops from Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division disembarking landing craft on 6 June 1944.
Photo:Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent
Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration)

In June of 1944, Nazi Germany held total control over Western Europe except for Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland who remained neutral. However its invasion of Russia had collapsed at this point with the German army now forced to retreat. It had already been forced out of North Africa and Allied troops had landed in Sicily in 1943 and by 1944 were in Italy. Mussolini had been deposed in 1943, rescued by German paratroopers, and put in charge of a German supported puppet state in Northern Italy. The Germans knew the allies were planning a major invasion along the coast of France. The question was when and where.

Crossing the English Channel was going to be an enormous challenge. Despite what some want to believe, it was easier in concept that actual implementation. While cries of a second front had been going on for years, it required a vast amount of resources to pull off. You not only needed the men, but they all had to be trained, fed, and properly outfitted. Not just the foot soldiers but also the special units. Then you needed ships not only to bring them over to England, but camps to house them and continue their training. The Army Air Corp needed runways and facilities. The list goes on and on. Imagine a list of needed items that stretches, when laid out flat, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and you get an idea of how enormous an operation this was going to be. And that is just on the planning and supply side.

Then the problem of getting men over to France was a major hurdle. Landing craft at the start of the war were not very good and unreliable. New ones would have to be devised (they were, the Higgins boats) that would allow troops to be dropped off as close to shore as possible. Then you needed accurate intelligence to tell you what the troops were going to face. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had put up every possible fortification on the beaches and the area around. From mines in the water to barbed wire to turrets filled with guns and German troops. Hitler wanted an Atlantic wall and Rommel was pretty darn close in getting it done.

Thanks to cunning deceptions, the Germans were led to believe the attack would be at Calais. They also did not figure the Allies would attack without a long clear window. And the North Atlantic is a tricky place where weather can be a good one day and stormy the next. Despite all the planning and training, nearly all the top leaders including Eisenhower knew how risky the operation was. And that once begun, it would not go to plan. And they had to consider the possibility the Germans would be able to repel and push back the invasion.

What made the difference was the sheer martial weight thrown at the Germans. With most field officers incapacitated or killed approaching beaches or not long after arrival, it was up to noncoms and ordinary soldiers to put their training and discipline to work. Unlike what was shown in movies, most of the troops did not land on beaches but in the water. Many drowned because the weight of the gear sunk them. Others were killed by gunfire, mortars, mines striking the craft. Yet despite all these odds especially when they landed on the wrong places, allied troops managed to push in and take on the Germans.

It was a bloody day and casualties were high (sometimes 70-80% in some units). One of the big blunders were not understanding the famous hedgerows. These were not hedges like you think of but thick and gnarly. Germans could hide in them and fire on soldiers below. And they were impassible even to tanks. Special ones had to be fitted out to go through the hedges to drive German soldiers out.

Although the term D-Day is used routinely as military lingo for the day an operation or event will take place, for many it is also synonymous with June 6, 1944, the day the Allied powers crossed the English Channel and landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning the liberation of Western Europe from Nazi control during World War II. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

With Hitler’s armies in control of most of mainland Europe, the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.

On the morning of June 5, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe gave the go-ahead for Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious military operation in history. On his orders, 6,000 landing craft, ships and other vessels carrying 176,000 troops began to leave England for the trip to France. That night, 822 aircraft filled with parachutists headed for drop zones in Normandy. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion.


“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower message to troops on 6 June 1944. It was sent out with the Order of the Day and distributed to 175,000 on the eve of the invasion. He also recorded the message so that others involved with D-Day would hear it as well. You can listen to it here.


By dawn on June 6, 18,000 parachutists were already on the ground; the land invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where 2,000 troops were lost and it was only through the tenacity and quick-wittedness of troops on the ground that the objective was achieved. By day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches.

For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays. He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.

Though it did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery–for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France–D-Day was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.

National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia
Photo:Public Domain

The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers (2001).

Further Information & Suggested Reading

  1. Books

Ambrose, Stephen E. Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. 1992.

—. D-Day: June 6, 1944 — The Climactic Battle of WWII. Simon and Schuster, 1994.

—. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. 1998.

Gilbert, Martin. The Second World War: A Complete History. Macmillan, 2004.

Keegan, John. Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris; June 6 – Aug. 5, 1944; Revised. Penguin Books, 1994.

Ryan, Cornelius. Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D Day. Simon and Schuster, 1994.

2) Websites

McGrath, John. Normandy. history.army.mil/brochures/normandy/nor-pam.htm.
Accessed 3 June 2024.

Normandy Landings, Operations Overlord and Neptune. www.naval-history.net/WW2CampaignsNormandy.htm.
Accessed 3 June 2024.

World War II: D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy | Eisenhower Presidential Library. www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/research/online-documents/world-war-ii-d-day-invasion-normandy.
Accessed 3 June 2024.

Heijink, Eric. “Veterans Remember Normandy Invasion 1944.” Eric Heijink, normandy.secondworldwar.nl/index.html.
Accessed 3 June 2024.

3) Films & TV

The Longest Day. Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, 1962.
This is an excellent adaptation of the book. It is mostly accurate though there are some places where they decided to cut short what really happened or altered it for the film. Many of the actors who were in the movie served in World War II and at least one actor was actually part of the invasion.

Ambrose, Stephen. Band of Brothers. DreamWorks, HBO Films, Playtone, BBC, 9 Sept. 2001. HBO, www.hbo.com/band-of-brothers.
This miniseries is based on the book of the same name and includes interviews by the real people who were there. It does follow the book accurately though there are some small differences between the book and miniseries. The actors were in contact with their real counterparts and learned from them how they reacted to the battles they were in. I highly recommend you read both the book and watch the miniseries. The book goes into details not covered in the miniseries. Note for parents: There is a lot of violence depicted and uses very foul language at times (though it was toned down considerably from what was really used).

Saving Private Ryan. Directed by Steven Spielberg, DVD, Amblin Entertainment, Mutual Film Company, 1998.
While the story is fictional, it is based on real events that took place during World War II. This movie really shows graphically what happened on D-Day as the troops landed. Many movies shy away from showing the true horror of the day, so be warned as what is depicted is very graphic to show what happened to our brave soldiers who came under withering German fire.

 

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Remembering History: Battle of Midway (4-7 June 1942)

[This post has been updated for 2024 with better sources, links, and some punctuation corrections. MT]

Midway Atoll, 24 November 1941
Public Domain (Official U.S. Navy photo)

In June 1942 the Empire of Japan had become the dominant power in Asia and ruled a sizable empire. It acquired Formosa (Taiwan) in 1895, Korea in 1905, and Manchuria (renamed Manchukuo) in 1931. It invaded China in 1937 seizing control of key cities such as Shanghai, Nanking and Peking (Beijing). French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand) were invaded after the fall of France in 1940 to prevent it from being used by the Chinese to funnel arms. A treaty with German backed Vichy France made French Indochina neutral but within the Japanese sphere of power. British Hong Kong fell to the Japanese after 18 days of heavy fighting on Christmas Day in 1941. Fortress Singapore, so-called because it seemed impregnable to attack, would fall to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942. The Japanese avoided a frontal assault by coming through the less protected jungle at its rear. The Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) was conquered by March 1942 and The Philippines would fall in May. Burma would also be taken over as well. To protect their position in Dutch West Indies they began attacking northern Australia to prevent it from being used as a staging area. With the old imperial powers gone and Japan firmly in charge, nothing seemed to be in the way of Japan. The Battle of Midway changed that.

Although the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941 was considered a success in Japan, the United States was still in the game. The unexpected bombing of Tokyo on 18 April 1942 (The Doolittle Raid) and its ability to fight as shown at the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942) convinced Japanese leaders they needed to so demolish American morale they would not want to fight any further. They choose a small virtually unknown atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Midway to draw out the American fleet to be destroyed. Midway is aptly named and 1300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor and nearly halfway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States. Its strategic importance meant it was valuable for both sides. A military base was already there and seizing it from the United States would draw out their remaining carriers along with support craft to be destroyed. The plan was to send four carriers and support craft for the initial attack. Then a larger task force comprised of destroyers, support craft and troops commanded by Admiral Yamamoto would follow up to destroy the American ships than came to liberate Midway. A feint of attacking American outposts in the Aleutian Islands was used to distract the U.S. while it attacked Midway.

The Japanese, however, did not know that its code had been broken. A special naval intelligence unit called HYPO had broken it in March resulting in much of the plan becoming known to the U.S. A task force was assembled of three carriers (Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown) seven heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 15 destroyers, and 16 submarines would go out to meet the Japanese fleet. The Yorktown, already in badly need of repair, was patched up and its depleted aircraft and pilots scrounged up from whatever was available. In overall command was to have been Vice Admiral William Halsey but fell sick prior to the mission. Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, who headed up the escorts under Halsey, would command Enterprise and Hornet. Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher was in command of Yorktown.

On 4 June 1942, Admiral Nagumo aboard the carrier Akagi launched the initial air attack on Midway comprised of dive and torpedo bombers escorted by Zeroes. PBYs launched that morning from Midway would sight two Japanese carriers and radar picked up incoming Japanese fighters. Midway sent up unescorted bombers to delay the attack while the fighters remained behind to defend Midway. Midway came under heavy attack and its air interceptors took a heavy beating fighting the Japanese. Anti-aircraft fire from ground personnel proved to be more precise. Midway took a beating but was still functional and could launch planes.

The pilots of the U.S. Navy Torpedo Squadron 8 (VT-8) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), circa mid-May 1942, shortly before battle of Midway. They flew unescorted by fighters to attack the Japanese aircraft carriers. The slow moving planes were no match for the fast Zeros that attacked them. Not one torpedo they launched did any damage. However because of their bravery, the Zeros were out of position when the American dive-bombers arrived allowing them to bomb the Japanese carriers. Ensign George Gay was the only survivor.
Photo: May 1942
Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, digital ID NH 93595
Public Domain

Meanwhile scouting reports flying ahead of the American carriers placed the Japanese carriers at the extreme range for air attack. Making matters more difficult was the fact that Japanese scout planes had sighted the American fleet. Despite the extreme range, Spruance ordered the planes to be launched and increased the speed of the task force to close the distance. The torpedo squadrons left first but due to mechanical problems in launching the dive-bombers, had to fly unescorted. They would reach the Japanese and be quickly shot out of the sky by Japanese Zeroes and anti-aircraft fire. Not one torpedo launched did any serious damage.

Admiral Nagumo had a problem. His planes returned from Midway and were being re-armed for the next bombing run. But he had just gotten a report that the American navy was in the area. Its exact composition was unknown. So, he ordered a change in the ordnance for the attack planes. Instead of attacking land-based targets they would arm to destroy ships. The result was there was a lot of ordnance out on the deck on the carriers where this was being done. With the Japanese combat air patrol out of position having dealt with the torpedo squadrons they were not able to intercept the next wave of attack. American dive-bomber squadrons from Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown would seemingly arrive nearly at the same time. It was one of the greatest coincidences in military history. Three Japanese carriers–Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu–would be sunk that day.

Japanese aircraft carrier Hiryu, photographed by a Yokosuka B4Y aircraft from the carrier Hosho shortly after sunrise on 5 June 1942.
Photo: Public Domain ( U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation)

The surviving carrier Hiryu counter-attacked by sending our air squadrons to attack any American carrier they could find. They found Yorktown and dropped three bombs heavily damaging the ship but not sinking it. Admiral Fletcher moved over to cruiser Astoria while it was being repaired. A second air attack an hour later would further damage Yorktown. She would later sink when being towed on 6 June by a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine, which also sank the destroyer Hamman.

The Japanese believed they had turned the tide and would be able to go on with the Midway plan. They knew a huge fleet of destroyers and support craft was on the way. However, the Hiryu was found late in the afternoon. An air attack by Enterprise and Yorktown bombers resulted in four or possibly five bombs seriously crippling her. The fires prevented any planes taking off or landing. The crew would evacuate and later Hiryu would sink. Spruance, not wanting to risk exposure to Japanese forces and wanting to protect Midway would retire to the west. Admiral Yamamoto still wanted to invade Midway and proceeded on course. Had Spruance not changed course, the remaining two carriers of the American fleet would have been exposed to Yamamoto’s destroyers. Spruance would go after the stragglers. Yamamoto ultimately ordered the fleet back to Japan not knowing the full composition of the American forces that might be pursuing.

The U.S. Navy lost 1 carrier, 1 destroyer, 150 aircraft and 307 killed. Many of those killed were from the torpedo squadrons that lost 80% or more of their pilots. The Japanese lost 4 carriers, 1 heavy cruiser, 248 aircraft and 3,057 killed. It was a major victory for the U.S., but most Japanese would never learn the full details until after the war was over. The survivors of the sunken carriers and those aboard the ships that survived would be quarantined or sent on duty assignments far away from home. None of the senior officers would face any serious repercussions. Only those at the very top were informed as to what really happened. Only the Emperor and the top naval officers knew the full details. The public was told it was a great victory and the Imperial Japanese Army believed the navy was in good condition. However, Admiral Yamamoto and the other senior leaders of the Japanese Navy knew the truth. The United States would soon come out stronger than it had been before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

For the United States it would prove the value of intelligence gathering and codebreaking. It would continue to be an important part of the war effort and would yield even more useful information down the road with dire consequences for Admiral Yamamoto. The code breaking led directly to his plane being shot down in 1943 as payback for Pearl Harbor.

(Please note this is a very condensed description of the Battle of Midway and had a lot more stages in it than reflected in this writing).

Sources:

Books

Lord, Walter Incredible Victory. First Edition, New York, Harper and Row, 1967.

Prange, Gordon William, et al. At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor. McGraw-Hill Companies, 1981.

Websites

Battle of Midway. www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/wars-conflicts-and-operations/world-war-ii/1942/midway.html.

Significance, Battle of Midway-Location Outcome &. “Battle of Midway – Location, Outcome and Significance.” HISTORY, 17 Dec. 2019, www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-midway.)

Michal. “The Battle of Midway.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, 22 June 2017, www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/battle-midway.

Battle of Midway: June 4 – 6, 1942. www.cv6.org/1942/midway.

Movies & Documentaries

“Midway Is East.” Archive.org, 1952, archive.org/details/VAS_04_Midway_Is_East. This is episode 4 from the excellent Victory at Sea series which was shown in 1952-1953. Using archived footage along with excellent music, the series conveyed the scope of naval warfare in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Watch the entire series if you can.

“The Battle of Midway (Short 1942) ? 6.1 | Documentary, Short, War.” IMDb, 14 Sept. 1942, www.imdb.com/title/tt0034498. This is a documentary made in 1942 right after the battle with John Ford directing. It uses actual footage and uses actors to voice over parts of accounts of the sailors and aviators that participated. It is available (for free) from some streaming services like Tubi. You can also view it on YouTube (the version linked here is the colorized version, not the original Black & White).

The Federal File. “Destination Point Luck Voices From Midway – Battle of Midway WWII Documentary.” YouTube, 24 Apr. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vqpk4Rmfbm8.

Midway. Directed by Jack Smight, The Mirisch Corporation, Universal Pictures, 1976. This 1976 movie starring Charlton Heston uses old stock footage and pushes the real historical figures in the background while pushing a fictional story line. While entertaining, many will find it lacking in a lot of real historical depth. The subplot involving Heston’s son in the movie makes it more of a soap opera at times. Worth watching to see some great actors but not so much if you are looking for something that will relate the real story of the battle.

Midway. Directed by Roland Emmerich, Summit Entertainment and others, 2019. This 2019 version significantly was better in terms of better effects and depicting events leading up and the Battle of Midway itself. Most of the characters are based on historical ones. Reviews were mixed on this one. Some thought it was a decent movie but the story itself was not compelling. Rotten Tomatoes has it as 42% like it and IMDB users rate it as 6.7. It is certainly more historically accurate and shows the Japanese side (with actual Japanese actors speaking Japanese).

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Remembering History: German & Italy Sign Pact of Steel (22 May 1939)

The signing of the Pact of Steel on 22 May 1939 in Berlin
Photographer unknown
Public Domain/WIkimedia Commons

On 22 May 1939, Germany and Italy signed the Pact of Friendship and Alliance that became known later as the Pact of Steel. This began the formal military and political alliance between the two countries. Initially Japan was to be part of the agreement but there was disagreement on the focus of the pact. Germany and Italy wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France, while Japan wanted the Soviet Union to be the focus. The agreement was signed without Japan but would later join in September 1940.

Shop for books on Mussolini at Amazon

The agreement brought together two countries that opposed each other in World War I. It also required each country to come to the aid of the other if it were in armed conflict with another nation. Neither party could make peace without the agreement of the other. One of the assumptions of the agreement was that war would start in three years at the latest. Italy needed the time to get its war production into high gear. The agreement was for ten years but there was some concern within the Italian government the agreement would suppress Italian autonomy. The agreement was still signed despite these objections, which also came from Mussolini’s son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Read Count Ciano’s War Diaries

Hitler, however, would soon declare his intentions of invading Poland. Mussolini was not happy he was not consulted on this, nor about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement. Italian forces did not commit fully to war until June 1940 when German forces had defeated British and French forces with lightning speed. Italy seized Nice as its prize. Other countries it tried to invade proved more difficult. Greek partisans brought the Italian force to a halt. Germany would intervene to help there and in Yugoslavia where Italian troops also pushed back by partisans. A disastrous attack on British Egypt from Italian Libya required German assistance as well. The economic consequences of the war were bad for most Italians generating widespread resentment that would lead one day to Mussolini’s fall from power in 1943.

Sources:

—. “The Pact of Steel Is Signed; the Axis Is Formed.” HISTORY, 19 May 2021, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-pact-of-steel-is-signed-the-axis-is-formed.

—. germanhistorydocs.org/en/nazi-germany-1933-1945/the-pact-of-steel-the-signing-of-the-german-italian-military-alliance-in-the-new-reich-chancellery-may-22-1939.

Axis Alliance in World War II. encyclopedia.ushmm.org/index.php/content/en/article/axis-powers-in-world-war-ii.

—. “Pact of Steel.” Wikipedia, 17 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pact_of_Steel.

World War II Ends in Europe (8 May 1945)

German Instrument of Surrender signed on 7 April 1945 effective 8 May 1945.
Original source: U.S. Government Employee
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

It was a day long anticipated for both Great Britain and the United States. After years of hard fighting on both land and sea, the war against Germany was at an end. 8 May 1945 all German troops in Europe laid down their arms and surrendered. In formerly occupied cities and throughout Britain and the United States, celebrations broke out. Flags and banners were hung, people gathered in the streets, many went to church to give thanks to God for this wonderful day to finally arrive. Nazi flags, banners, and reminders of their former occupiers were quickly taken down and destroyed. The hard work of rebuilding would begin soon and for many countries that had suffered under Nazi occupation, it would take time. Germany in many areas would have to be rebuilt from the bombardment that had destroyed many cities. American and German prisoners of war were released and sent back home.

VE Day in London, 8 May 1945. Crowd is at Whitehall waiting to hear from Winston Churchill.
Source: Imperial War Museum
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

German troops tried, if possible, to surrender to British or American forces. They believed they would be better treated and a better chance of living. The Soviets had a reputation for being particularly nasty to captured German officers and soldiers. In Salzburg, Austria the two oldest sons of Captain Georg von Trapp, later to be immortalized in The Sound of Music, found their home they left behind when the family fled Austria to Italy (their tale, to be recounted later, is a fascinating one). They learned their home had been occupied by none other than Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the hated SS and under whose leadership the Final Solution had been carried out. The Trapp family would later give their home to a religious order that lives there to this day.

The war would linger a day longer in the East. The Soviets continued to battle small pockets of resistance in Silesia until they surrendered. This marked the end of hostilities in Europe for the Russians, who consider 9 May 1945 their day to celebrate the defeat of Germany. Stalin announced the end on a radio broadcast: “Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over.”

 

Sources:

—. “Allied Nations Worldwide Celebrate V-E Day.” HISTORY, 7 May 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/victory-in-europe.

Chen, C. Peter. “Germany’s Surrender.” WW2DB, ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=152.

Imperial War Museums. “What You Need to Know About VE Day.” Imperial War Museums, www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-you-need-to-know-about-ve-day.

Swick, Gerald, and Gerald D. Swick. “V-E Day 1945: The Celebration Heard ’Round the World.” HistoryNet, 4 Oct. 2021, www.historynet.com/v-e-day-1945-the-celebration-heard-round-the-world.

—. “Victory in Europe Day.” Wikipedia, 9 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_in_Europe_Day