Archive for April 29th, 2009

The penultimate day in April of 1945 was pretty eventful.  Deposed Italian strongman Benito Mussolini was now one day dead (but still hanging around), German forces were in the process of ending all fighting in Italy, and there were wedding bells (well, sort of ) ringing below the Chancellery in Berlin.  Those things are pretty well-known.

But April 29, 1945 was also the start of Operation Manna, and that may be less familiar to you.  The operation was named for the food that God promised (and then delivered) to the Israelites in the Bible’s book of Exodus.  If you know that account, you now pretty much know about its Second World War counterpart.

Operation Manna actually had its roots in an earlier endeavor…Operation Market Garden (which we’ll address at some point).  Launched in September of 1944, it was a failed attempt to capture the city of Arnhem (and its bridge).  Dutch rail workers went on strike in an effort to aid the Allied forces, which caused the German occupiers to simply cut off all food distribution to the people.  And then the winter of 1944 came, which was especially nasty.  Add to that the normal destruction that came with German retreats – blown bridges, food warehouses, water and sewer systems, and dams which flooded large farming areas – and you have the petri dish from which the “starvation” culture would rapidly grow.

Operation Manna was the Allied response.  But, of course, the Netherlands was still at war at this late date, and there were negotiations with the Nazi head of the Netherlands…our friend Arthur Seyss-Irquart.  Since the Allies would be using bombers flying at very low level (a couple hundred feet), they wanted to be assured they wouldn’t be shot at while performing a humanitarian mission.  Seyss-Irquart, for his part, wanted guarantees that the bombers used were carrying only foodstuffs and not other things…like bombs.

The 29th arrived and both sides, with breath held, watched as the first two “test” planes, a pair of the ubiquitous Avro Lancasters, took off with their food parcels.  When the “mission accomplished” message came over the radio, a collective sigh of relief was raised.  De Havilland Moquitoes and Boeing B-17’s joined in and began dropping the first of more than 11,000 tons of “manna” to the starving Dutch.

It’s rather remarkable that this operation, which continued until the war ended 10 days later, was performed with basically just a hand-shake agreement between two warring armies.  There was no official ceasefire in place, which makes it something of a miracle.  Or maybe it’s just true that the way to a person’s stomach is through a little heart.

Recommended Reading: Operation Manna – A pretty solid website I found while doing a little research.

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