Today in WWII Historytoday in history
Posted 16 November 2006 - 05:30 PM
On this day in 1941, Joseph Goebbels publishes in the German magazine Das Reich that "The Jews wanted the war, and now they have it"-referring to the Nazi propaganda scheme to shift the blame for the world war onto European Jewry, thereby giving the Nazis a rationalization for the so-called Final Solution.
Just two days earlier, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, having read more than a dozen decoded messages from German police which betrayed the atrocities to which European Jews were being subjected, had written in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle that "The Jew bore the brunt of the Nazis' first onslaught upon the citadels of freedom and human dignity.... He has not allowed it to break his spirit: he has never lost the will to resist." And active Jewish resistance was increasing, especially in the USSR, where Jews were joining partisans in fighting the German incursions into Russian territory.
But it was proving too little too late, as Goebbels, Himmler, and the rest of Hitler's henchmen carried out with fanatical glee the "elimination of the Jews," using propaganda and anti-Bolshevik rhetoric to infuse SS soldiers with enthusiasm for their work. As Goebbels wrote in Das Reich: "[T]he prophecy which the Fuhrer made...that should international finance Jewry succeed in plunging the nations into a world war once again, the result would not be the Bolshevization of the world...but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe. We are in the midst of that process.... Compassion or regret are entirely out of place here."
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Posted 17 November 2006 - 02:19 PM
On this day in 1887, Bernard Law Montgomery, British general and one of the most formidable Allied commanders of the war, as well as one of the most disliked, is born in London.
A graduate of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Montgomery fought in World War I with distinction, leading an infantry platoon in an attack at Ypres, Belgium, the site of three major battles and many British casualties. Between wars, Montgomery stayed in the army as an instructor, rising in reputation as a tough-minded leader.
During the Second World War, Montgomery took command of the 3rd Army Division as part of the British Expeditionary forces in France, but had to be evacuated at Dunkirk. Two years later, in August 1942, Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave Montgomery command of the British 8th Army, which had been pushed across North Africa into Egypt by German General Erwin Rommel. Needless to say, British morale was low-but not for long. "We will stand and fight here. If we can't stay here alive, then let us stay here dead," Monty declared in his typical braggadocio style, and proceeded to push Rommel into retreat at the Battle of el-Alamein--all the way to Tunisia. Rommel was finally recalled to Europe, and the Germans surrendered their position in North Africa altogether in May 1943.
It was during preparations for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of France, that Montgomery's prickly personality ran straight into Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the operation. Montgomery and his 21st Army Group performed admirably in France, keeping the Germans turned in one direction as American forces attacked from the other. But Eisenhower often rejected many of Monty's strategic proposals, deeming them overly cautious (he was unwilling to move until all the resources and men necessary for optimum results were in place). Ike also thought Montgomery unable and unwilling to strain every last bit of advantage from every strategic gain.
Monty, for his part, did little to hide a haughty disdain for Eisenhower-not to mention his desire to take complete control of land forces. After receiving the surrender of the German northern armies in 1945, Monty held a press conference in which he all but took credit for salvaging a disintegrating American-led operation. He was almost removed from his command for this outrageous, and groundless, contention. By war's end, virtually no American commanding officer, including Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton, was speaking to Montgomery.
After the war, Monty was made a viscount and a knight of the garter. Among the offices he held was deputy commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe. He also went on to write a number of treatises on warfare, as well as his Memoirs (1958). He died in 1976 at the age of 88. He would be remembered as one of the most gifted British commanders of the war-but more by his troops than by his American counterparts.
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Posted 20 November 2006 - 01:37 PM
Nuremberg Trials Begin On this day in 1945, a series of trials of accused Nazi war criminals, conducted by a U.S., French, and Soviet military tribunal based in Nuremberg, Germany, begins. Twenty-four former Nazi officials were tried, and when it was all over, one year later, half would be sentenced to death by hanging.
These trials of accused war criminals were authorized by the London Agreement, signed in August 1945 by the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the provisional government of France. It was agreed at that time that those Axis officials whose war crimes extended beyond a particular geographic area would be tried by an international war tribunal (a trial for accused Japanese war criminals would be held in Tokyo). Nineteen other nations would eventually sign on to the provisions of the agreement.
The charges against the 24 accused at Nuremberg were as follows: (1) crimes against peace, that is, the planning and waging of wars that violated international treaties; (2) crimes against humanity, that is, the deportation, extermination, and genocide of various populations; (3) war crimes, that is, those activities that violated the "rules" of war that had been laid down in light of the First World War and later international agreements; and (4) conspiracy to commit any and all of the crimes listed in the first three counts.
The tribunal had the authority to find both individuals and organizations criminal; in the event of the latter, individual members of that organization could then be tried. Each of the four original signatories of the London Agreement picked one member and an alternate to sit on the tribunal. The chief prosecutor was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who was asked by President Harry S. Truman to create a structure for the proceedings. The defendants were arrayed in two rows of seats; each of the indicted listened to a simultaneous translation of the arguments through a headset.
There were 216 court sessions. On October 1, 1946, verdicts on 22 of the 24 defendants were handed down (two were not present; one had committed suicide in his prison cell, another was ultimately deemed mentally unfit): 12 of the defendants were sentenced to be hanged, including Julius Streicher (propagandist), Alfred Rosenberg (anti-Semitic ideologue and minister of the occupied eastern territories), Joachim von Ribbentrop (foreign affairs minister), Martin Bormann (Nazi Party secretary), and Herman Goering (Luftwaffe commander and Gestapo head). Ten of the 12 were hanged on October 16. Bormann was tried and sentenced in absentia (he was thought to have died trying to escape Hitler's bunker at the close of the war, but was only declared officially dead in 1973). Goering committed suicide before he could be hanged. The rest of the defendants received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. All of the defenses offered by the accused were rejected, including the notion that only a state, not an individual, could commit a war crime proper.
Posted 21 November 2006 - 01:39 PM
On this day in 1941, Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler's chief architect and minister for armaments and war production, asks for 30,000 Soviet prisoners of war to use as slave laborers to begin a massive Berlin building program.
Speer was born March 19, 1905, in Mannheim, Germany. At the age of 22, he received his architectural license, having studied at three German technical schools. He became an ardent Nazi after hearing Hitler orate at a rally in late 1930, and joined the party in January 1931. Hitler, always impressed by academic credentials and any kind of artistic or technical talent, made Speer his personal architect. Among the projects with which the Fuhrer entrusted Speer was the design of the parade grounds for the Nuremberg Party Congress in 1934, which Leni Riefienstahl made famous in her famous propaganda film Triumph of the Will.
As minister of armaments and munitions, Speer's job description expanded to include not only armament production and transportation, but also the direction of raw material use and finally the conscription of slave labor, culled from concentration camps, for war material production. These slave laborers would come in handy for Hitler's "new" Berlin. Speer wanted to begin construction even as the war waged. Despite the drain on resources Hitler agreed. Speer beguiled the Fuhrer with models of a Great Hall for the Chancellery and a grand office for Goering.
But as the war turned against Nazi Germany, the rebuilding plans were scrapped. When the war was over, Hitler was dead, and Speer was tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg, the site of his grand parade, and sentenced to 20 years in Spandau prison in Berlin.
Posted 22 November 2006 - 01:40 PM
On this day in 1942, a Soviet counteroffensive against the German armies pays off as the Red Army traps about a quarter-million German soldiers south of Kalach, on the Don River, within Stalingrad. As the Soviets' circle tightened, German General Friedrich Paulus requested permission from Berlin to withdraw.
The Battle of Stalingrad began in the summer of 1942, as German forces assaulted the city, a major industrial center and a prize strategic coup, if it could be occupied. But despite repeated attempts, the German 6th Army, under Paulus, and part of the 4th Panzer Army, under Ewald von Kleist, could not break past the adamantine defense by the Soviet 62nd Army, commanded by Gen. Vasily I. Chuikov, despite having pushed the Soviets almost to the Volga River in mid-October and encircling Stalingrad.
Diminishing resources, partisan guerilla attacks, and the cruelty of the Russian winter began to take their toll on the Germans. On November 19, the Soviets made their move, launching a counteroffensive that began with a massive artillery bombardment of the German position. The Soviets then assaulted the weakest link in the German force-inexperienced Romanian troops; 65,000 were ultimately taken prisoner by the Soviets.
The Soviets then made a bold strategic move, encircling the enemy, launching pincer movements from north and south simultaneously, even as the Germans encircled Stalingrad. The Germans should have withdrawn, but Hitler wouldn't allow it. He wanted his armies to hold out until they could be reinforced. By the time those fresh troops arrived in December, it was too late. The Soviet position was too strong, and the Germans were exhausted. It was then only a matter of time before the Germans would be forced to surrender.
Posted 22 November 2006 - 04:29 PM
On this day in 1940, Romania signs the Tripartite Pact, officially allying itself with Germany, Italy, and Japan.
As early as 1937, Romania had come under control of a fascist government that bore great resemblance to that of Germany's, including similar anti-Jewish laws. Romania's king, Carol II, dissolved the government a year later because of a failing economy and installed Romania's Orthodox Patriarch as prime minister. But the Patriarch's death and peasant uprising provoked renewed agitation by the fascist Iron Guard paramilitary organization, which sought to impose order. In June 1940, the Soviet Union co-opted two Romanian provinces, and the king searched for an ally to help protect it and appease the far right within its own borders. So on July 5, 1940, Romania allied itself with Nazi Germany-only to be invaded by its "ally" as part of Hitler's strategy to create one huge eastern front against the Soviet Union.
King Carol abdicated on September 6, 1940, leaving the country in the control of fascist Prime Minister Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard. Signing the Tripartite Pact was now inevitable. Originally formulated in Berlin on September 27, the pact formally recognized an alliance between Germany, Italy, and Japan, termed the "Axis." As more European nations became subject to fascist domination and invasion, they too were drawn into the pact, albeit as unequal partners (Hungary was made an Axis "power" on November 20). Now it was Romania's turn.
While Romania would recapture the territory lost to the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded Russia, it would also have to endure the Germans' raping its resources as part of the Nazi war effort. Besides taking control of Romania's oil wells and installations, Hitler would help himself to Romania's food crops, causing a food shortage for native Romanians.
Posted 22 November 2006 - 04:32 PM
On this day in 1944, 111 U.S. B-29 Superfortress bombers raid Tokyo for the first time since Capt. Jimmy Doolittle's raid in 1942. Their target: the Nakajima aircraft engine works.
Fall 1944 saw the sustained strategic bombing of Japan. It began with a reconnaissance flight over Tokyo by Tokyo Rose, a Superfortress B-29 bomber piloted by Capt. Ralph D. Steakley, who grabbed over 700 photographs of the bomb sites in 35 minutes. Next, starting the first week of November, came a string of B-29 raids, dropping hundreds of tons of high explosives on Iwo Jima, in order to keep the Japanese fighters stationed there on the ground and useless for a counteroffensive. Then came Tokyo.
The awesome raid, composed of 111 Superfortress four-engine bombers, was led by Gen. Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell, piloting Dauntless Dotty. Press cameramen on site captured the takeoffs of the first mass raid on the Japanese capital ever for posterity. Unfortunately, even with the use of radar, overcast skies and bad weather proved an insurmountable obstacle at 30,000 feet: Despite the barrage of bombs that were dropped, fewer than 50 hit the main target, the Nakajima Aircraft Works, doing little damage. The upside was that at such a great height, the B-29s were protected from counter-attack; only one was shot down.
One Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded as a result of the raid. It went to Captain Steakley.
Posted 22 November 2006 - 04:33 PM
On this day in 1941, Adm. Harold R. Stark, U.S. chief of naval operations, tells Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, that both President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull think a Japanese surprise attack is a distinct possibility.
"We are likely to be attacked next Monday, for the Japs are notorious for attacking without warning," Roosevelt had informed his Cabinet. "We must all prepare for trouble, possibly soon," he telegraphed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Kimmel's command was specifically at the mid-Pacific base at Oahu, which comprised, in part, Pearl Harbor. At the time he received the "warning" from Stark, he was negotiating with Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, commander of all U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, about sending U.S. warships out from Pearl Harbor in order to reinforce Wake and Midway Islands, which, along with the Philippines, were possible Japanese targets. But the Army had no antiaircraft artillery to spare.
War worries had struck because of an intercepted Japanese diplomatic message, which gave November 25 as a deadline of sorts. If Japanese diplomacy had failed to convince the Americans to revoke the economic sanctions against Japan, "things will automatically begin to happen," the message related. Those "things" were becoming obvious, in the form of Japanese troop movements off Formosa (Taiwan) apparently toward Malaya. In fact, they were headed for Pearl Harbor, as was the Japanese First Air Fleet.
Despite the fact that so many in positions of command anticipated a Japanese attack, especially given the failure of diplomacy (Japan refused U.S. demands to withdraw from both the Axis pact and occupied territories in China and Indochina), no one expected Hawaii as the target.
Posted 22 November 2006 - 04:34 PM
On this day in 1941, Adm. Chuichi Nagumo leads the Japanese First Air Fleet, an aircraft carrier strike force, toward Pearl Harbor, with the understanding that should "negotiations with the United States reach a successful conclusion, the task force will immediately put about and return to the homeland."
Negotiations had been ongoing for months. Japan wanted an end to U.S. economic sanctions. The Americans wanted Japan out of China and Southeast Asia-and to repudiate the Tripartite "Axis" Pact with Germany and Italy as conditions to be met before those sanctions could be lifted. Neither side was budging. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull were anticipating a Japanese strike as retaliation-they just didn't know where. The Philippines, Wake Island, Midway-all were possibilities. American intelligence reports had sighted the Japanese fleet movement out from Formosa (Taiwan), apparently headed for Indochina. As a result of this "bad faith" action, President Roosevelt ordered that a conciliatory gesture of resuming monthly oil supplies for Japanese civilian needs canceled. Hull also rejected Tokyo's "Plan B," a temporary relaxation of the crisis, and of sanctions, but without any concessions on Japan's part. Prime Minister Tojo considered this an ultimatum, and more or less gave up on diplomatic channels as the means of resolving the impasse.
Nagumo had no experience with naval aviation, having never commanded a fleet of aircraft carriers in his life. This role was a reward for a lifetime of faithful service. Nagumo, while a man of action, did not like taking unnecessary risks-which he considered an attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor to be. But Chief of Staff Rear Adm. Isoruku Yamamoto thought differently; while also opposing war with the United States, he believed the only hope for a Japanese victory was a swift surprise attack, via carrier warfare, against the U.S. fleet. And as far as the Roosevelt War Department was concerned, if war was inevitable, it desired "that Japan commit the first overt act."
Posted 27 November 2006 - 01:41 PM
On this day in 1942, French Admiral Jean de Laborde sinks the French fleet anchored in Toulon harbor, off the southern coast of France, in order to keep it out of German hands.
In June 1940, after the German invasion of France and the establishment of an unoccupied zone in the southeast, led by Gen. Philippe Petain, Adm. Jean Darlan was committed to keeping the French fleet out of German control. At the same time, as a minister in the government that had signed an armistice with the Germans, one that promised a relative "autonomy" to Vichy France, Darlan was prohibited from sailing that fleet to British or neutral waters. But a German-commandeered fleet in southern France, so close to British-controlled regions in North Africa, could prove disastrous to the Brits, who decided to take matters into their own hands by launching Operation Catapult: the attempt by a British naval force to persuade the French naval commander at Oran to either break the armistice and sail the French fleet out of the Germans' grasp-or to scuttle it. And if the French wouldn't, the Brits would.
And the British tried. In a five-minute missile bombardment, they managed to sink one French cruiser and two old battleships. They also killed 1,250 French sailors. This would be the genesis of much bad blood between France and England throughout the war. General Petain broke off diplomatic relations with Great Britain.
But two years later, with the Germans now in Vichy and the armistice already violated, Admiral Laborde finished the job the British had started. As the Germans launched Operation Lila, the attempt to commandeer the French fleet, Laborde ordered the sinking of 2 battle cruisers, 4 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 1 aircraft transport, 30 destroyers, and 16 submarines. Three French subs managed to escape the Germans and make it to Algiers, Allied territory. Only one sub fell into German hands. The marine equivalent of a scorched-earth policy had succeeded.
Posted 28 November 2006 - 01:36 PM
On this day in 1954, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, the first man to create and control a nuclear chain reaction, and one of the Manhattan Project scientists, dies in Chicago at the age of 53.
Fermi was born in Rome on September 1, 1901. He made his career choice of physicist at age 17, and earned his doctorate at the University of Pisa at 21. After studying in Germany under physicist Max Born, famous for his work on quantum mechanics, which would prove vital to Fermi's later work, he returned to Italy to teach mathematics at the University of Florence. By 1926, he had been made a full professor of theoretical physics and gathered around him a group of other young physicists. In 1929, he became the youngest man ever elected to the Royal Academy of Italy.
The theoretical became displaced by the practical for Fermi upon learning of England's Sir James Chadwick's discovery of the neutron and the Curies' production of artificial radioactivity. Fermi went to work on producing radioactivity by means of manipulating the speed of neutrons derived from radioactive beryllium. Further similar experimentation with other elements, including uranium 92, produced new radioactive substances; Fermi's colleagues believed he had created a new, "transuranic" element with an atomic number of 93, the result of uranium 92 capturing a neuron while under bombardment, thus increasing its atomic weight. Fermi remained skeptical, despite his fellow physicists' enthusiasm. He became a believer in 1938, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for "his identification of new radioactive elements." Although travel was restricted for men whose work was deemed vital to national security, Fermi was given permission to go to Sweden to receive his prize.
He and his wife, Laura, who was Jewish, never returned; both feared and despised Mussolini's fascist regime.
Fermi left Sweden for New York City, Columbia University, specifically, where he recreated many of his experiments with Niels Bohr, the Danish-born physicist, who suggested the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction. Fermi and others saw the possible military applications of such an explosive power, and quickly composed a letter warning President Roosevelt of the perils of a German atomic bomb. The letter was signed and delivered to the president by Albert Einstein on October 11, 1939. The Manhattan Project, the American program to create its own atomic bomb, was the result.
It fell to Fermi to produce the first nuclear chain reaction, without which such a bomb was impossible. He created a jury-rigged laboratory, complete with his own "atomic pile," in a squash court in the basement of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. It was there that Fermi, with other physicists looking on, produced the first controlled chain reaction on December 2, 1942. The nuclear age was born. "The Italian navigator has just landed in the new world," was the coded message sent to a delighted President Roosevelt.
The first nuclear device, the creation of the Manhattan Project scientists, was tested on July 16, 1945. It was followed less than a month later by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war, Fermi, now an American citizen, became a Distinguished Service Professor of Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, consulting on the construction of the first large-particle accelerator. He went on to receive the Congressional Medal of Merit and to be elected a foreign member of the Royal Society of London.
Among other honors accorded to Fermi: The element number 100, fermium, was named for him. Also, the Enrico Fermi Award, now one of the oldest and most prestigious science and technology awards given by the U.S. government, was created in his honor.
Posted 29 November 2006 - 01:10 PM
On this day in 1942, coffee joins the list of items rationed in the United States. Despite record coffee production in Latin American countries, the growing demand for the bean from both military and civilian sources, and the demands placed on shipping, which was needed for other purposes, required the limiting of its availability.
Scarcity or shortages were rarely the reason for rationing during the war. Rationing was generally employed for two reasons: (1) to guarantee a fair distribution of resources and foodstuffs to all citizens; and (2) to give priority to military use for certain raw materials, given the present emergency.
At first, limiting the use of certain products was voluntary. For example, President Roosevelt launched "scrap drives" to scare up throwaway rubber-old garden hoses, tires, bathing caps, etc.--in light of the Japanese capture of the Dutch East Indies, a source of rubber for the United States. Collections were then redeemed at gas stations for a penny a pound. Patriotism and the desire to aid the war effort were enough in the early days of the war.
But as U.S. shipping, including oil tankers, became increasingly vulnerable to German U-boat attacks, gas became the first resource to be rationed. Starting in May 1942, in 17 eastern states, car owners were restricted to three gallons of gas a week. By the end of the year, gas rationing extended to the rest of the country, requiring drivers to paste ration stamps onto the windshields of their cars. Butter was another item rationed, as supplies were reserved for military breakfasts. Along with coffee, the sugar and milk that went with it were also limited. All together, about one-third of all food commonly consumed by civilians was rationed at one time or another during the war. The black market, an underground source of rationed goods at prices higher than the ceilings set by the Office of Price Administration, was a supply source for those Americans with the disposable incomes needed to pay the inflated prices.
Some items came off the rationing list early; coffee was released as early as July 1943, but sugar was rationed until June 1947
Posted 30 November 2006 - 01:34 PM
On this day in 1939, the Red Army crosses the Soviet-Finnish border with 465,000 men and 1,000 aircraft. Helsinki was bombed, and 61 Finns were killed in an air raid that steeled the Finns for resistance, not capitulation.
The overwhelming forces arrayed against Finland convinced most Western nations, as well as the Soviets themselves, that the invasion of Finland would be a cakewalk. The Soviet soldiers even wore summer uniforms, despite the onset of the Scandinavian winter; it was simply assumed that no outdoor activity, such as fighting, would be taking place. But the Helsinki raid had produced many casualties-and many photographs, including those of mothers holding dead babies, and preteen girls crippled by the bombing. Those photos were hung up everywhere to spur on Finn resistance. Although that resistance consisted of only small numbers of trained soldiers-on skis and bicycles!--fighting it out in the forests, and partisans throwing Molotov cocktails into the turrets of Soviet tanks, the refusal to submit made headlines around the world.
President Roosevelt quickly extended $10 million in credit to Finland, while also noting that the Finns were the only people to pay back their World War I war debt to the United States in full. But by the time the Soviets had a chance to regroup, and send in massive reinforcements, the Finnish resistance was spent. By March 1940, negotiations with the Soviets began, and Finland soon lost the Karelian Isthmus, the land bridge that gave access to Leningrad, which the Soviets wanted to control.
Posted 30 November 2006 - 03:12 PM
Posted 30 November 2006 - 03:13 PM
Posted 01 December 2006 - 01:25 PM
On this day in 1944, Edward R. Stettinius Jr. becomes Franklin Roosevelt's last secretary of state by filling the Cabinet spot left empty by the Cordell Hull.
Cordell Hull had served as FDR's secretary of state for 11 years and retired after Roosevelt's unprecedented election to a fourth term as president, in November 1944. Hull earned a reputation for negotiating extensive changes in U.S. tariff and trade practices, calling for the lowering of prohibitive tariff rates that choked U.S. foreign trade for decades and pushing Congress to pass legislation that would grant "most favored nation status" to qualified nations-a forerunner to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) agreement.
It was Hull who pursued closer relations with Latin America, promoting the Good Neighbor Policy that promised an end to U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of its southern neighbors. This had the effect of undoing decades of distrust between the United States and Central and South America and was essential to creating a united pan-American front against the fascist powers of Europe. Hull was less conciliatory toward Japan, refusing any relaxation of economic embargos against the Axis power until it had completely withdrawn from China and Southeast Asia.
In November 1944, having enjoyed the longest tenure of any secretary of state, and in ailing health, Hull retired to devote his time to the creation of an international peace organization, which would become the United Nations.
Needless to say, these were big shoes for Stettinius to fill. The industrialist, who had worked for General Motors and U.S. Steel, left private enterprise to join the war effort, accepting the chairmanship of the War Resources Board in 1939. In 1940, he went on to chair the National Defense Advisory Commission and a year later became supervisor of the Lend-Lease program, which distributed cash and war materiel to U.S. allies fighting the European war. In 1943, FDR appointed Stettinius undersecretary of state, and he finally replaced Secretary of State Hull upon Hull's retirement.
Stettinius' tenure in that Cabinet post was unremarkable, consisting mostly of implementing a foreign policy to which he contributed little in the way of original ideas. He did play an advisory role to FDR's participation at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Stettinius, like his predecessor, believed in the necessity of a postwar international peace organization and headed the U.S. delegation to the San Francisco conference that drafted the U.N. Charter.
Shortly after FDR's death, Harry S. Truman replaced Stettinius with James F. Byrnes, leaving Stettinius to become chairman of the first U.S. delegation to the United Nations. It was Cordell Hull, however, who would win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the creation of the United Nations.
Posted 04 December 2006 - 02:21 PM
On this day in Warsaw, a group of Polish Christians put their own lives at risk when they set up the Council for the Assistance of the Jews. The group was led by two women, Zofia Kossak and Wanda Filipowicz.
Since the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Jewish population had been either thrust into ghettos, transported to concentration and labor camps, or murdered. Jewish homes and shops were confiscated and synagogues were burned to the ground. Word about the Jews' fate finally leaked out in June of 1942, when a Warsaw underground newspaper, the Liberty Brigade, made public the news that tens of thousands of Jews were being gassed at Chelmno, a death camp in Poland-almost seven months after the extermination of prisoners began.
Despite the growing public knowledge of the "Final Solution," the mass extermination of European Jewry and the growing network of extermination camps in Poland, little was done to stop it. Outside Poland, there were only angry speeches from politicians and promises of postwar reprisals. Within Poland, non-Jewish Poles were themselves often the objects of persecution and forced labor at the hands of their Nazi occupiers; being Slavs, they too were considered "inferior" to the Aryan Germans.
But this did not stop Zofia Kossak and Wanda Filipowicz, two Polish Christians who were determined to do what they could to protect their Jewish neighbors. The fates of Kossak and Filipowicz are unclear so it is uncertain whether their mission was successful, but the very fact that they established the Council is evidence that some brave souls were willing to risk everything to help persecuted Jews. Kossak and Filipowicz were not alone in their struggle to help; in fact, only two days after the Council was established, the SS, Hitler's "political" terror police force, rounded up 23 men, women, and children, and locked some in a cottage and some in a barn-then burned them alive. Their crime: suspicion of harboring Jews.
Despite the bravery of some Polish Christians, and Jewish resistance fighters within the Warsaw ghetto, who rebelled in 1943 (some of whom found refuge among their Christian neighbors as they attempted to elude the SS), the Nazi death machine proved overwhelming. Poland became the killing ground for not only Poland's Jewish citizens, but much of Europe's: Approximately 4.5 million Jews were killed in Poland's death and labor camps by war's end.
Posted 05 December 2006 - 02:55 PM
On this day, the Lexington, one of the two largest aircraft carriers employed by the United States during World War II, makes its way across the Pacific in order to carry a squadron of dive bombers to defend Midway Island from an anticipated Japanese attack.
Negotiations between the United States and Japan had been ongoing for months. Japan wanted an end to U.S. economic sanctions. The Americans wanted Japan out of China and Southeast Asia and Japan to repudiate the Tripartite "Axis" Pact with Germany and Italy before those sanctions could be lifted. Neither side was budging. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull were anticipating a Japanese strike as retaliation-they just didn't know where. The Philippines, Wake Island, Midway Island-all were possibilities. American intelligence reports had sighted the Japanese fleet movement out from Formosa (Taiwan), apparently headed for Indochina.
The U.S. State Department demanded from Japanese envoys explanations for the fleet movement across the South China Sea. The envoys claimed ignorance. Army intelligence reassured the president that, despite fears, Japan was most likely headed for Thailand-not the United States.
The Lexington never made it to Midway Island; when it learned that the Japanese fleet had, in fact, attacked Pearl Harbor, it turned back-never encountering a Japanese warship en route or employing a single aircraft in its defense. By the time it reached Hawaii, it was December 13.
Posted 05 December 2006 - 06:20 PM
Posted 06 December 2006 - 01:46 PM
On this day, President Roosevelt-convinced on the basis of intelligence reports that the Japanese fleet is headed for Thailand, not the United States-telegrams Emperor Hirohito with the request that "for the sake of humanity," the emperor intervene "to prevent further death and destruction in the world."
The Royal Australian Air Force had sighted Japanese escorts, cruisers, and destroyers on patrol near the Malayan coast, south of Cape Cambodia. An Aussie pilot managed to radio that it looked as if the Japanese warships were headed for Thailand-just before he was shot down by the Japanese. Back in England, Prime Minister Churchill called a meeting of his chiefs of staff to discuss the crisis. While reports were coming in describing Thailand as the Japanese destination, they began to question whether it could have been a diversion. British intelligence had intercepted the Japanese code "Raffles," a warning to the Japanese fleet to be on alert-but for what?
Britain was already preparing Operation Matador, the launching of their 11th Indian Division into Thailand to meet the presumed Japanese invasion force. But at the last minute, Air Marshall Brooke-Popham received word not to cross the Thai border for fear that it would provoke a Japanese attack if, in fact, the warship movement was merely a bluff.
Meanwhile, 600 miles northwest of Hawaii, Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, announced to his men: "The rise or fall of the empire depends upon this battle. Everyone will do his duty with utmost efforts." Thailand was, in fact, a bluff. Pearl Harbor in Oahu, Hawaii was confirmed for Yamamoto as the Japanese target, after the Japanese consul in Hawaii had reported to Tokyo that a significant portion of the U.S. Pacific fleet would be anchored in the harbor-sitting ducks. The following morning, Sunday, December 7, was a good day to begin a raid.
"The son of man has just sent his final message to the son of God," FDR joked to Eleanor after sending off his telegram to Hirohito, who in the Shinto tradition of Japan was deemed a god. As he enjoyed his stamp collection and chatted with Harry Hopkins, his personal adviser, news reached him of Japan's formal rejection of America's 10-point proposals for peace and an end to economic sanctions and the oil embargo placed on the Axis power. "This means war," the president declared. Hopkins recommended an American first strike. "No, we can't do that," Roosevelt countered. "We are a democracy and a peaceful people."
Posted 07 December 2006 - 01:44 PM
On this day, in an early-morning sneak attack, Japanese warplanes bomb the U.S. naval base at Oahu Island's Pearl Harbor-and the United States enters World War II.
President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull knew a Japanese attack was imminent. Having received intelligence reports of intercepted coded messages from Tokyo to the Japanese ambassador in the United States, the president anticipated Japanese reprisals for his government's refusal to reverse economic sanctions and embargoes against Japan. The Roosevelt administration had remained firm in its demand that the Japanese first withdraw from China and French Indochina, which it had invaded in 1937 and July 1941, respectively, and renounce its alliance with fascist Germany and Italy.
But Japan refused, demanding that the United States first end the embargo on oil shipments vital for Tokyo's war machine. Although negotiations between the two nations continued up to the very last minute, Roosevelt was aware of a secret November 25 deadline, established by Tokyo, that confirmed military action on the part of the Japanese should they not received satisfaction from the negotiations. While forewarned, Washington could not pinpoint the time or place of an attack.
Despite initially objecting to war with America, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto believed that if Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was determined to go to war, it was Japan who had to make a preemptive strike. Yamamoto studied the devastating November 1940 British attack against the Italian fleet at Taranto, and planned and led the sneak attack against the United States. Approximately 360 Japanese warplanes were launched from six aircraft carriers, reinforced by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. The first dive-bomber was spotted over Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time. It was followed by 200 aircraft, which decimated the American ships anchored there, most of which were only lightly manned because it was Sunday morning. Among the 18 U.S. ships destroyed, sunk, or capsized were the Arizona, Virginia, California, Nevada, and West Virginia. More than 180 planes were destroyed on the ground and another 150 were damaged (leaving but 43 operational). American casualties totaled more than 3,400, with more than 2,400 killed (1,000 on the Arizona alone). The Japanese lost fewer than 100 men.
In the short term, the Japanese goal of crippling U.S. naval strength in the Pacific, and thereby giving Tokyo free reign to gobble up more of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific in its dream of imperial expansion, was successful. But the war had only just begun.
Posted 11 December 2006 - 01:25 PM
On this day, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, bringing America, which had been neutral, into the European conflict.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor surprised even Germany. Although Hitler had made an oral agreement with his Axis partner Japan that Germany would join a war against the United States, he was uncertain as to how the war would be engaged. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor answered that question. On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to nail the Germans down on a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. Von Ribbentrop feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort.
But Hitler thought otherwise. He was convinced that the United States would soon beat him to the punch and declare war on Germany. The U.S. Navy was already attacking German U-boats, and Hitler despised Roosevelt for his repeated verbal attacks against his Nazi ideology. He also believed that Japan was much stronger than it was, that once it had defeated the United States, it would turn and help Germany defeat Russia. So at 3:30 p.m. (Berlin time) on December 11, the German charge d'affaires in Washington handed American Secretary of State Cordell Hull a copy of the declaration of war.
That very same day, Hitler addressed the Reichstag to defend the declaration. The failure of the New Deal, argued Hitler, was the real cause of the war, as President Roosevelt, supported by plutocrats and Jews, attempted to cover up for the collapse of his economic agenda. "First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war," declared Hitler-and the Reichstag leaped to their feet in thunderous applause.
Posted 12 December 2006 - 01:21 PM
On this day, the U.S. Navy takes control of the largest and most luxurious ocean liner on the seas at that time, France's Normandie, while it is docked at New York City. Shortly thereafter, the conversion for U.S. wartime use began.
The Normandie was unique in many ways. It was the first ship built, in 1931, in accordance with the guidelines laid down in the 1929 Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. It was also huge, measuring 1,029 feet long and 119 feet wide. It displaced 85,000 tons of water. It offered passengers seven accommodation classes (including the new "tourist" class, as opposed to the old "third" class, commonly known as "steerage") and 1,975 berths. It took a crew of more than 1,300 to work her. But despite its size, it was also fast: capable of 32.1 knots. The liner was launched in 1932 and made its first transatlantic crossing in 1935. In 1937, it was reconfigured with four-bladed propellers, which meant it could now cross the Atlantic in less than four days.
When France surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, and the puppet Vichy regime was installed, the Normandie was in dock at New York City. Immediately placed in "protective custody" by the Navy, it was clear that the U.S. government was not about to let a ship of such size and speed fall into the hands of the Germans, which it certainly would upon returning to France. In November 1941, Time magazine ran an article stating that in the event of the United States' involvement in the war, the Navy would seize the liner altogether and turn it into an aircraft carrier. It also elaborated on how the design of the ship made such a conversion relatively simple. When the Navy did take control of the ship, shortly after Pearl Harbor, it began the conversion of the liner-but to a troop ship, renamed the USS Lafayette (after the French general who aided the American Colonies in their original quest for independence).
The Lafayette never served its new purpose. On February 9, 1942, the ship caught fire and capsized. Sabotage was originally suspected, but the likely cause was sparks from a welder's torch. Although the ship was finally righted, the massive salvage operation cost $3,750,000--and the fire damage made any hope of employing the vessel impossible. It was scrapped--literally chopped up for scrap metal--in 1946.
Posted 13 December 2006 - 01:22 PM
On this day, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels records in his journal his contempt for the Italians' treatment of Jews in Italian-occupied territories. "The Italians are extremely lax in their treatment of Jews. They protect Italian Jews both in Tunis and in occupied France and won't permit their being drafted for work or compelled to wear the Star of David."
Joseph Goebbels had made the persecution, and ultimately the extermination, of Jews a personal priority from the earliest days of the war, often recording in his diary such statements as: "They are no longer people but beasts." "Their destruction will go hand in hand with the destruction of our enemies." "[T]he Jews ... are now being evacuated eastward. The procedure is pretty barbaric and is not to be described here more definitely. Not much will remain of the Jews." It was on his recommendation that all Jews in occupied Paris be forced to wear a yellow star on the left side of their coats or jackets in order to identify and humiliate them.
His vituperative anti-Semitism, which included blaming the war itself on the Jews in a screed published in the German magazine Das Reich, could not be contained within the boundaries of Germany. He expected the same of his allies. But, truth be told, in the earliest days of fascism, Mussolini had denied any truth to the idea of a "pure" race and had counted Jews among his close colleagues-and was even a Zionist!
But with Italy's failing fortunes militarily, Mussolini needed to stress the Italians' "superiority" in some sense, and so began to mimic many of the racial and anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazis. Nevertheless, Mussolini never had the stomach-or the conviction-for the extremes of Goebbels, Goering, and Hitler. And certainly the majority of the Italian people never subscribed to the growing anti-Semitic rhetoric of the regime. In fact, the Italians refused to deport Jews from Italy-or from Italian-occupied Croatia or France-to Auschwitz.
The majority of Italians' courage to reject the worst of fascist ideology--its anti-Semitism--remains one bright spot in Italy's otherwise appalling World War II record.
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