Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Well, it’s been a month again…this little endeavor hasn’t gone so well the last year or two.  This month, it was a project at work that took nearly every waking minute (and several minutes that should have been non-waking).  Regardless, it seems that when I want to write, things conspire against me.  I think it’s “decision time”.  I need to figure out if I want to continue, or maybe go in another direction, or simply stop.  I’ll use the next month to work it out.  By the end of February, if I haven’t picked it up, I’ll call it a day.

But since I’m here this evening, let’s at least share something.

Stutthof concentration camp isn’t nearly as well-known as several of its more famous counterparts (say, Treblinka or Auschwitz), but as I soon as mention it in concert with those others, students of history will immediately see images come into their minds.  They include the rows of huts, the emaciated prisoners, gas chambers (yes, Stutthof had one), and crematoriums.  The images will also include those of incredible suffering and death.

This particular camp was located in a rather marshy forested area, roughly 20 miles from Gdansk, Poland and a 20-minute walk from the Baltic Sea.  It was the first camp built in Polish territory, and it grew large enough to house more than 50,000 prisoners.  Conditions there were probably typical of most camps, which is to say appalling.  And while it wasn’t strictly a “death camp” like the six biggies, there was suffering and pain and death aplenty there.

Like most of these camps, Stutthof’s existence lasted while the fortunes of war were in Germany’s favor.  When things turned sour and the Russians began pushing the Germans back, it was time to vacate.  Many of the camps were razed in an effort to hide the crime, while others were simply abandoned.  And by January of 1945, the retreat was running at full speed, thanks to the Russian offensive that began on the 12th.

Stutthof was abandoned on the 25th, with nearly 50,000 prisoners beginning a death march of nearly 90 miles…it’s cold in Poland in January.  As they marched, those that fell were executed.  Eventually, the Russians cut off the German escape, so the prisoners were forced to retrace their steps back to Stutthof.  Nearly half of the prisoners would die.

But for several thousand – the numbers, depending on the source, range from 3,000 to 5,000 – the end came more quickly, and just as brutally.  They were the survivors of more than 13,000 prisoners that had fled one of Stutthof’s sub-camps.  On the evening of January 31, 1945 (the night after the Wilhelm Gustloff was torpedoed), they were marched to the edge of the frigid Baltic Sea and forced into the water under rifle and machine-gun fire.  There were only a handful of survivors.

Recommended Reading:  The Holocaust Research Project – A lot of good information and a detailed write-up of Stutthof.

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Rudolf Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff was a man with a mission.  But I suppose that, for a Colonel in the German Army, having “a mission” was pretty obvious, especially in the spring of 1943.  Hitler’s forces had just suffered devastating defeat along the Volga, and things were not going well in the African desert.  So there were plans to make, and troops to move, and battles to fight (and from this point on, mostly battles to lose).

But this specific mission was different.  For von Gersdorff, it was life-changing.  In fact, it was life-ending.

You see, von Gersdorff was a conspirator.  He was one of many involved in the numerous plots to assassinate Der Fuhrer.  Officially, he was an intelligence officer in the Abwehr and part of Army Group Center, having been transferred there for the start of Operation Barbarossa.  Army Group Center was commanded by another conspirator, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.  One of von Bock’s officers was Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, yet another conspirator who happened to be von Gersdorff’s cousin…you now see how Gersdorff ended up where he did.

These men, who correctly believed that Hitler was leading the nation to humiliation and defeat, had put together several plans to either arrest or kill Adolf Hitler.  To this point, none of them had succeeded.

On March 21, 1943 (which happened to be Germany’s Memorial Day to those killed in WWI), they tried again.  Each year, the German leader attended a memorial service.  But rather than arrest him or – what was tried on other occasions – place a bomb where Hitler would be, it was decided to carry the bombs right to the man.  Von Gersdorff volunteered to a suicide mission.  He placed bombs, each with a ten-minute fuse, in his pockets.  During Hitler’s stroll among the memorials, von Gersdorff would get close and detonate the bombs.

It was a good plan, until he arrived at the museum.  He got near Hitler, started the fuses, and waited for the bang.  Unfortunately, the German dictator was in a tremendous hurry and stayed at the museum for just eight minutes before being whisked off.  With the opportunity gone, and not wishing to blow himself to smithereens for nothing, Von Gersdorff quickly excused himself to the restroom, where he worked feverishly and successfully defused the bombs.

Freiherr von Gersdorff escaped detection and arrest.  But even more miraculous than that, he was not implicated in the famous July 20 assassination plot, which nearly succeeded.  His role in that attempt was to hide the explosives that Count von Stauffenberg eventually carried in his briefcase.

One other interesting note about Col. von Gersdorff.  Less than one month after he successfully defused the bombs in his pockets, he discovered the remnants of the Russian massacres in the Katyn Forest.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler

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Happy New Year!!

I hope you all had a relaxing time between the holidays and will head back to work refreshed.  I ate way more than I should have, but fortunately for me, the weather remains relatively warm…30s and 40s.  That means I can ride my bike to work and burn off some of the extra calories I packed on.

If we had been around Nuremberg, Germany on January 2, 1945, New Year’s celebrations would not have been in order.  It was on this evening that more than 500 British Lancasters flew overhead and plastered the medieval city back to, well, the Middle Ages.

The attack itself wasn’t a huge surprise to the city’s population had experienced bombing before.  During the Second World War, Nuremberg was the headquarters of one of Germany’s military districts, which alone made it an allied target of some value.  Furthermore, there was some military production going on there, particularly aircraft and tank engines.

But Nuremberg was also something of a spiritual center of National Socialism.  The Nuremberg rallies of the 20s and 30s were a pretty big deal, and numerous other Nazi Party gatherings had been held there over the years.  Like Adolf Hitler’s desire to crush Leningrad (named after the first Bolshevist leader) and Stalingrad (named after the current leader), it’s at least plausible that Allied planners might consider making Nuremberg a target for more than just strictly military reasons.

Nuremberg, already damaged by previous attacks, was devastated.  The pathfinders were very accurate in marking their targets with the aid of a full moon, and the Lancasters (though not speedy, could carry a significant bombload) did their job with fiery efficiency.  Nuremberg’s center was almost completely destroyed.  Thousands of buildings were reduced to smoldering rubble, including age-old churches, homes, museums, and the like.  More than 100,000 townspeople were left homeless, and another 1,800 were left lifeless.

This was the age of area bombing, so discrimination between military and civilian targets was pretty badly blurred.  And for many other German cities, like Hamburg before and Dresden just a month later, this is how their wars would end.

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Joachim Peiper was getting a bit frustrated, because he was getting further and further behind schedule.  Operation Watch on the Rhine (which we know so well as the Battle of the Bulge) had gotten off to a good start for him and his German compatriots.  Having achieved complete surprise with a 30-division offensive in the dead of winter in the Ardennes Forest, the Allied forces (comprised mostly of American troops in this area) were forced to retreat in the face of the onslaught.

The German objectives were simple.  Reach Antwerp, create a divide in the British and American forces, and hope for a peace deal.  Once that was accomplished, the German High Command could move all its arms and men eastward and try to slow down the Russians.

But the American troops hung in desperately, in many places fighting with a tenacity that surpassed even that of the desperate Germans.  And Peiper was seeing the results of that first-hand.  The offensive was just two days old, and already he was running late.  His final objective, the Meuse River, was taking too long to reach.

Peiper had lost time as he neared the village of Malmedy.  The next town on the road, Stavelot, had seen resistance slow him even more.  On December 18, 1944, he arrived at the village of Trois Ponts, which presented him with a chance to make up some lost time.  If he could cross the Ambleve River using the town’s three bridges (hence the name…Trois Ponts), there was good road ahead, which would allow his tanks to rip through the Belgium countryside and reach the Meuse in a just a couple of hours.

The Americans, however, had other plans.

As Peiper’s lead tanks rolled toward the bridges, they were met by opposing tanks.  The two enemies had barely begun their engagement when, to Peiper’s dismay, the sound of a blast and the rumble of a bridge falling into the Ambleve was heard.  Shortly after, the second major bridge at Trois Ponts was detonated.

This was disastrous.  The German commander now had to move his charges north to the bridge at Cheneux (a tiny village near La Gleize), which meant yet another delay and more precious fuel wasted.

An exasperated Peiper finally reached Cheneux in the last light of day.  He rounded the bend and watched in horror as, just two hundred yards away, the bridge (this time crossing the Lienne River) disappeared in a flash and a crash.

Joachim Peiper’s advance to the Meuse had been stopped.

The Battle of the Bulge, from a German perspective, was all about advancing and covering tons of ground in a very short time.  The German war machine had precious little fuel to use, so rapid movement and the capture of enemy depots was vital before the weather cleared and the Allies’ unbelievable advantage in the air could be used to its fullest.

The dedication of American engineers and sappers, like the ones Peiper faced, played a key role in blunting the German advance and eventually turning the German advance into a retreat and rout.

Recommended Reading: The Longest Winter

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For Richard Howard and Jock Forbes, this night would be a lot like preceding nights, and that meant little sleep, a lot of stress, and constant vigilance.  Howard was the provost of St. Michael’s Cathedral and Jock was the caretaker.  It was November 14, 1940, it was Coventry, it was England, and it was the middle of the Blitz.  And their job, along with a couple of other younger fellows, was to protect the church, now 600 years old.

British intelligence had received word that an air attack was coming.  A German prisoner had let it be known that aircraft would be bombing either Coventry, Wolverhampton, or Birmingham.  But for the inhabitants of Coventry, bombers and bombs were nothing new.  Since the Blitz had begun some months before, Coventry (with its many factories and other industry) had been a regular stop for the Luftwaffe.

And as it turned out, tonight would be no different.  So Howard and Jock would, once again, stand watch with their water hoses, ready to jump on any fire that threatened the church.

The early evening darkness was shattered when, shortly after 7:00pm, the air raid sirens began wailing.  As women and children headed for cover, those protecting St. Michael’s looked skyward.  The “pathfinder” aircraft (there were only a dozen or so) dropped their flares and a few incendiaries in order to light the path for the bomber force.

A short time later, the Heinkels of Luftflotte 3 began arriving.  They dropped their bombs, returned to their bases in France to rearm and refuel, and made the trip again.  The raid lasted most of the night and into the early morning hours.

The devastation from the bombs of more that 500 enemy aircraft was complete.

Henry Brooks has written a book for young adults called True Stories of the Blitz, and his description of the aftermath is worth plagairizing.  “There was no all-clear signal given on the morning of November 15.  The sirens had either been blasted to pieces or had no power supply for their electric motors.  The gas, water and electricity services for the city were in disarray.  Around 06:30, wardens began hurrying through the shell-holed streets, calling to people in their shelters that the raid was finally over. … They came up to the surface to find their beautiful city a smoking ruin. … The fires had consumed 70% of the city’s factories.  People described bizarre sights and smells in the aftermath of the blaze.  A cloud of cigar smoke hung around a charred tobacco stand; sides of pork and beef were stacked in a butcher’s shop, perfectly roasted.”

The known deaths in the attack numbered 568 and nearly 1,000 more were injured.  More than 60,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed, including, as Brooks mentioned, three quarters of the factories.

And St. Michael’s Cathedral?  She, too, was numbered with the victims.

The first fires that started in the church were quickly extinguished, but early in the attacks, the water supplies were disrupted and the hoses ran dry.  Richard Howard, Jock Forbes, and their helpers were quickly reduced to spectators as the fires returned, spread, and eventually consumed the aged church.  The morning light presented little more than a burned out shell (shown above) of the once-magnificent Gothic structure…a shell you can still visit today.

Recommended Reading:  True Stories of the Blitz – It’s one for the youngsters, but the stories are interesting enough for anyone to read.

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In the madness and chaos that is war, there have been many, many times when soldiers have shot at their own comrades, mistaking them for the enemy.  With his head down in a foxhole at night, it’s hard to know for sure if the guy approaching is on the same side.  Maybe a fellow Marine is out of position and his buddies open fire.  A fighter pilot may accidentally drop his bombs a little short of the target, spraying death among his own.  A tank may look, from a distance, like one belonging to the enemy.

We call these “friendly fire” incidents, and they drive commanders, politicians, and the general population crazy.

Back on September 6, 1939, the British called it The Battle of Barking Creek.

Having declared war on Germany for their invasion of Poland, the British war was now just three days old.  And since the war was being fought in Poland, British pilots hadn’t really seen the enemy, they hadn’t seen an enemy plane, they weren’t familiar with their own planes in combat, and they weren’t really used to air combat at all.

Not good.

So when the air raid sirens sounded, the Spitfires scrambled, looking for an enemy that, as it turns out, didn’t exist.  It was a false alarm.  But unbeknownst to the inexperienced pilots, some Pilot Officers flying Hawker Hurricanes were also sent up and followed from a distance.

And while you’d think the Spitfire guys would know what other planes in their own arsenal looked like, you’d be wrong in the thick of the first “air attack” of the war.  The guys flying the Hurricanes got mistaken for Germans flying Messerschmitts and were summarily attacked.  Both were shot down and one of the pilots was killed…the first British pilot to be killed in “combat” in World War II.

But as is the case with many of these tragic occurances, much was learned.  The British learned that some of their pilots were woefully inept at aircraft identification, and they learned that their radar systems weren’t nearly as good at identifying enemy aircraft formations as originally thought.  These lessons, brought about by unfortunate death, better prepared them for the time when enemy formations were really coming in anger…during the Battle of Britain.

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The German advance through France and the Low Countries in May of 1940 was, without question, one of the more remarkable operations of the Second World War.  Yeah, the wrong side (at least from my perspective) planned it, prepared it, and executed it.  And the right side (at least from my perspective) had no answer, relying on static fortifications and a real lack of will to fight.  But still, from a military standpoint, we have to be impressed by how well the Wehrmacht carried it off…it was brilliant.

Within weeks, German Panzers had pinned their French and English opponents against the English Channel, their choices reduced to either surrender or slaughter.  They were out-gunned, out-manned, and out-planned.  It was over.

Well, for the port city of Calais, it was over.  On May 26, 1940, Brigadier Claude Nicholson and his few remaining holdouts gave up the fight.  They had been been holed up in a 16th-century citadel for the better part of four days, subjected to relentless artillery fire and bombing.  When the Germans finally gained the bridges to the citadel, Nicholson knew the battle was lost and gave it up.

If there was any remaining delusion that the French and British Expeditionary Forces could stop the German advance, it vanished at this point.  The call went out from Dunkirk to Number 10 Downing Street that desperate help was needed.  And, of course, we know that it arrived just 15 or 20 miles to the north and west at another port city.


The bravery and tenacity of Nicholson and his men at the citadel in Calais should not be understated, but to credit their holdout with permitting the evacuation is to push reality.

They certainly did their part, but the evacuation should mostly be credited to Adolf Hitler, who, two days before, ordered his Panzers to halt.

Recommended Reading: Lightning War

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Happy May Day!!  It’s hard to believe we’re already beginning 2011’s fifth month.  For Today’s History Lesson, this year has been really out-of-sorts as compared to years past.  Pieces have been few and far between.  Where most months would see 15 to 20+ articles, the last 3 months have seen 10 or fewer.  A heavy workload at the office, slow progression through Madison’s biography, and maybe even a bit of burnout have all combined to create something of a writing drought.  But May is here and the big project at work is nearing completion.  I finished the year-long slog through Madison’s bio, and “refreshed” myself with a bit of fiction, so hopefully things can get back on track.

Joseph Goebbels’ tenure as Chancellor of Germany was incredibly short, easily measured in hours.  The world around him was crumbling in more than one sense.  Literally, the incredible rain of bombs, bullets, and artillery pieces were turning the heart of Berlin (and much of the rest of Germany) to dust.  Figuratively, the last vestiges of the Third Reich and its National Socialist platform were being blown to smithereens.  His boss, Adolf Hitler, was now mostly ashes outside the Chancellery, having committed suicide with his new wife.

But still, in the flickering light of May 1, 1945, Germany’s new Chancellor was able to conduct business, though there were just a couple of tasks to complete.  First, there was ordering General Krebs to take a message to Russian General Vasily Chuikov informing him that Hitler was dead and requesting a ceasefire.  That probably wouldn’t have taken too terribly long since the Russians were, at this point, just down the street.

And second, there was settling his own disposition and that of his family.  He had decided to follow Hitler’s example and commit suicide.  His wife had decided to do the same.  But their children?  The parents reasoned that, as survivors of the parents, the kids would be subject to all sorts of terrible things.  So Frau Goebbels, with help from Hitler’s doctor, injected the children with morphine as they slept and then crushed cyanide capsules in their mouths.

And then husband and wife took care of their last act.  It gets a little fuzzy here since, in the confusion of battle (and the remaining Germans attempting to escape), the true account has been lost.  But the best evidence points to Joseph Goebbels shooting himself while his wife took cyanide, duplicating the deaths of Hitler and Eva Braun.  An attempt to burn their bodies was made, but poorly executed, and they were identified within days.

But of course, the next day would see (and hear) the gunfire end at 3:00pm.  For the Allies (and the Russians in particular) however, the biggest prizes had escaped the hangman’s noose.

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In April of 1945, the Second World War was winding down in both the European and Pacific theaters.  Now don’t get me wrong, there was plenty of bloodshed left in both areas.  Way out west, the Battle of Okinawa, commenced in the quiet Easter morning of April 1st, was now turning into the true fight-to-the-death for which Japanese encounters had become known.  Back in the battered, blasted, and bombed-out remnants of Germany, the Russian armies were extracting four years of pent up revenge against their enemy the streets of Berlin.  For Germany, it was only a matter of time.  For Japan, it was much the same.

It strikes me as somewhat strange that these two “partners in war” never really partnered at all during the war.  Sure, they had signed up to fight as a team, but on the field of battle, it never played out like that.  Germany and Japan ran their own schedules, never coordinated any activity and, as far as I know, never once engaged an enemy on the same battlefield.  Part of the reasoning is obvious.  Japan’s interests were in the Pacific, Germany’s lay in Eastern and Western Europe.  In between were thousands of miles of reasons keep things separate.  But even over the distances, the two could have attempted to coordinate attacks, worked to stretch their enemies more thinly, or something…anything.  But to my limited knowledge, it didn’t happen.

Of course, by the time both Germany and Japan were fully engaged, both Russia and the United States were fully engaged as well, and there was no way Germany and Japan could match the war-making capabilities of either foe.  Each of the Axis powers couldn’t handle its own main enemy, much less give thought to really assisting in another theater.

It’s against this backdrop that we come to Berlin and April 15, 1945.  Amid the fire and bombs and slaughter, Japanese Vice-Admiral Katsuo Abe was granted a meeting with German Admiral Karl Donitz.  Finally granted, I should probably say…he (and other emissaries) had been trying to interview (surviving) members of the German High Command for a while.  And when Abe entered Donitz’s presence (which was well underground), he finally asked about coordinating some attacks…no, I kid.

Vice Admiral Abe pretty much begged his German counterpart to send the surviving German fleet to Japan so it could be used in the Pacific against America.  At first glance, it’s not so unreasonable a request.  Germany’s days of fleet actions were finished.  She didn’t even have enough ammunition for all the guns defending Berlin, and ships and U-boats couldn’t defend the Chancellary.  But from the German point of view, Abe was basically saying, “You guys are toast, give us your goodies so we can delay our own defeat a bit longer.”  The response from Donitz was predictable and emphatic.  Abe tried his luck with Ribbentrop and Keitel a couple of days later, but was again flatly refused.  The Japanese Admiral persisted and tried to meet with Hitler, but the now-deranged dictator was too busy playing with pretend armies on his maps deeper in the bunker and refused to even grant Abe an audience.

So two countries that now had no chance of victory gave up their last chance to work together.  And based on how they had carried out the war to that point, it was fitting.

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“They formed a pitiful spectacle:  eight hundred POWs who had spent forty-five days being shuffled across Germany from camp to camp during the coldest winter in living memory.  They carried rough wool Wehrmacht blankets rolled around their emaciated bodies, backpacks made from old Hessian sacks, homemade portable stoves, and each other as they hobbled into the American compound at Hammelburg. … They were veteran Kriegies from Oflag 64 in Szubin, Poland, who had walked more than three hundred miles to reach Hammelburg.”

That’s the introduction given us in The Longest Winter by Alex Kershaw as he prepares us for the subject of Today’s History Lesson.

Leading these men was Colonel Paul Goode, who had been captured in July of 1944 in Normandy after surviving the heavily contested landings of Overlord’s Omaha Beach.  Conditions for the men in Stalag XIII (no, not this Stalag XIII) were terrible.  Poor sanitation led to dysentery as surely as the poor diet led to malnutrition.  Mix in the brutal cold that often left the men’s barracks at around 20°F, and it’s easy to see that these men were ripe for rescue.

And that’s what General George Patton decided he wanted done.  Recent rescue missions carried out in the Philippines at places such as Los Banos and Cabanatuan (which we’ll discuss next year) had seen remarkable success, and the often irascible general believed he could do better.  He bragged that “this is going to make MacArthur’s raid on Cabanatuan peanuts!”

The mission ended up an unmitigated disaster, though it really wasn’t the fault of Captain Abe Baum, who had overall command of the operation.  Task Force Baum (as it came to be called) had to travel 70 miles behind enemy lines with a relatively undersized force of 16 light and medium tanks, two dozen half-tracks, and about 300 men.

The mission began on March 27, 1945, which was just a few days after the idea was hatched.  That meant “minute” logistical details didn’t get worked out.  Little things like the actual location of the camp (locals would have to provide that information), how many prisoners were actually in the camp, and assembling a force big enough to deal with a local German counterattack.  But other than that…

Task Force Baum actually made it to the Stalag that afternoon, but arrived at just half strength because the time required to find the camp meant it was exposed to more enemy fire than expected.  And once the remnants arrived, they found not just the 300 officers they were supposed to rescue, but hundreds of additional prisoners, most too weak and sick to walk.  They loaded up as many of the officers as possible, and told the rest to follow as best they could.

The task force didn’t begin its return trip to American lines until after dark, by which time the Germans had begun to descend on Task Force Baum.  And then came the worst possible outcome, as the Germans eventually surrounded Baum’s forces.  The resuce mission scattered, losing all of its tanks and having most of its men captured (or in the case of the freed POWs, recaptured).

And of course, it wouldn’t have been a Patton-sized mission without some level of controversy, and this had that aplenty.  There is solid evidence that Patton knew one of the prisoners in Stalag XIII was Lt. Colonel John Waters, his own son-in-law.  The logical conclusion is that Patton ordered this rescue mission, putting the lives of hundreds of men in danger, simply for the sake of one man.

In the end, no one was rescued, a bunch of good men were killed or captured, and Colonel Waters (who was wounded in the rescue attempt) couldn’t even leave the POW camp and had to be left behind.  And what’s more, elements of the 14th Armored Division arrived in the area less than two weeks later, freeing many of the men.

It was just a bad decision by a General known for taking risks that sometimes worked really well and occasionally didn’t.  He had promised Captain Baum a Medal of Honor for pulling off the mission.  Of course, once the mission failed, Patton (desirous of avoiding the investigation a Medal of Honor required) gave his Captain a Distinguished Service Cross.  He also earned a stern rebuke from an angry General Eisenhower for himself.

Recommended Reading: The Longest Winter

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Well, it’s been a week…actually, longer than that.  But sometimes things just work out that way. We’ve covered half the month of February, and I’ve written just two times.  The “calendar of events” is, except for two days, completely full for the remainder of the month.  So I’ll see how many I can get churned out.

Max Hastings is a brilliant historian.  At least I think he is.  And by the number of books he’s sold, a great many people agree with me.  The last two books of his that I read (Armageddon and Retribution) are what I would call “personal” history…telling a larger story while focusing on individuals who were intimately involved with it, making it more tangible and real for the reader.  Maybe his long experience as a journalist honed his skills, or maybe he possessed the ability from the get-go.  Whichever, it works.

The city of Dresden, Germany was bombed by the Allies as the Second World War was winding down in Europe.  But “bombed” is the 20,000-foot view.  Hastings’ “man-on-the-street” for this event, which began on February 13, 1945, was Gotz Bergander.  For much of the last war’s last months, rumor had come to Bergander (and the other Dresdeners) that their city would be spared due to the tremendous cultural value it possessed.  There was even talk of it being used as the occupation capital.

Shortly after 9:00pm, all the talk and all the rumors were drowned out by the wailing of the air-raid sirens.  Young Bergander and his family descended to the reinforced shelter in the basement (his father’s office comprised the ground floor of the building where they lived) and waited, enduring 25 minutes worth of pounding.  They came out to find that no bombs had fallen in their neighborhood.  Gotz climbed to the roof of the home/factory and put out a couple small fires started by burning debris, and looked out to see everything on the horizon burning.

The residents of Dresden barely had time to collect their wits when the alarms sounded again.  The 244 Avro Lancasters from the first raid had been merely an appetizer to the main course…529 Lancasters.  And as you may remember from eons ago, Lancasters weren’t tremendously fast, but they carried a substantial payload.  Forty minutes later, Gotz Bergander emerged again from his shelter to find his home just about the only undamaged building he could see amidst a massive firestorm.

But it still wasn’t over.  The next day, as survivors were getting a view of the charred remains of their devastated city, destruction rained down again, this time courtesy of 311 B-17 Flying Fortresses of the USAAF.  And through it all, the Berganders survived a bombing and subsequent firestorm that killed 35,000 of their fellow residents.

As an old man, Bergander looked back on the events with sixty years of perspective, and Hasting records his words.  “The bombing of Dresden was an extravagance.  Even in war, the ends must relate to the means.  Here, the means seemed wildly out of proportion to the ends.  I will not say that Dresden should not have been bombed-it was a rail centre, and thus an important target.  I will not say Dresden was an exceptional case as compared to other German cities.  But I do not understand why it had to be done on such a huge scale.”  His words are especially weighty when compared with post-attack photos of the railways, which were mostly undamaged and running again within a couple days.

The debate over Dresden, and quite frankly, the bombing of many of the other German (and Japanese) cities in 1945, has consumed enormous amounts of ink.  Germany was clearly beaten.  Her offensive capabilities had been reduced to burning hulks and rotting corpses in the west and, in greater numbers, to the east.  Her defensive capabilities and wartime production had been pulverized from the air.  The fact that the Allies were attacking with massed formations in broad daylight is a testament not only to the power the Allies possessed, but also to the lack of resistance from their enemy.

In 2009, we talked about the idea of “sowing the wind, and reaping the whirlwind“.  I believe this is clearly a continuation in that theme.  London had been bombed heavily earlier in the war and, now that the Allies were firmly in control, their response would not only equal what had been done to them, but far outweigh it.  For Air Marshal Arthur Harris, Dresden was just another instance of payback, called by Hastings a target on “his notorious schedule of unfinished business in Germany.”

Recommended Reading: Armageddon: The Battle For Germany, 1944-1945

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As the sun rose over Aschen Field, Lt. Col. John Meyer sat in the cockpit of his P-51 Mustang.  Yet another morning, yet another dawn patrol.  Recent weeks had seen a flurry of frustration, as low clouds and snow had made it nearly impossible for pilots like him to assist the ground forces in their fight against a desperate German offensive.  But things had changed dramatically as the weather had cleared, turning the attackers into helpless defenders against an Allied aerial assault that completely dominated the enemy.

For Meyer, an ace with thirty-five and a half kills to his credit, it seemed that the tide had turned, and maybe things were returning somewhat to the more mundane normal.  Preparing to head for St. Vith (now recaptured by the Germans), his Mustang’s windscreen was suddenly filled with the silhouette of a Focke Wulf Fw-190 as it came screaming at him head-on.  This was not mundane, and this was decidedly not normal.  And it wasn’t Meyer’s experience alone.

It was Adolf Hitler’s New Year’s Day surprise.

On 1944’s final night, nearly every German pilot on the Western Front had been sent to bed early and awakened at 5am on New Year’s day.  Charles Whiting gives us more background in his book Ardennes – The Secret War“German intelligence had worked out the locations of every Allied air base, and now every pilot was given a large-scale map on which these bases were clearly marked, together with return course, landmarks and detailed routing instructions.  They were going to ‘take out’ every one of those bases…in the greatest German aerial attack since the Battle of Britain…”

The surprise experienced by Lt. Col. John Meyer in the cockpit of his plane reverberated all the way up the Allied chain of command.  Field Marshal Montgomery’s Chief of Staff was holding his usual morning briefing at an airfield in Brussels when an Fw-190 ripped by the window.  For the second time in two weeks, Allied forces had been caught completely off guard, as more than 1,000 German aircraft struck bases all over the place.

Col. Meyer stared death in the face, then rejoiced at his good fortune as the enemy 190 turned at the last second to shred a C-47 transport (which happened to be empty).  The stunned pilot tore down the runway and took off.  With his landing gear still retracting, he turned, gave his foe a burst of gunfire, and added another kill to his impressive tally.

He was one of the fortunate ones, as only about 30 other Allied pilots achieved kills.  The Germans lost roughly a hundred aircraft in the massed attack, but they succeeded in destroying hundreds of aircraft (most of them parked on runways in the New Year’s dawn), effectively shutting down Allied airpower for a week.

Simultaneously, eight German divisions launched another attack on the Western Front.  Operation North Wind, a much smaller and ultimately weaker version of Watch on the Rhine, may not have been anywhere near the scale of the offensive launched two weeks prior, but it achieved the same level of surprise.

New Year’s Day was no day of celebration for the Allies in Western Europe.

Recommended Reading: Ardennes: The Secret War

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As the Battle of the Bulge entered its second day, it was pretty clear that a lot of things were unclear.

For the Allies, confusion reigned as commanders struggled to come to grips with what was really happening on what was supposed to be a “Ghost Front.”  There was talk of English-speaking Germans in American uniforms…there were rumors that some of these men had already been captured.  Weather conditions and heavy cloud kept Allied reconaissance (in the best case) ineffective or (in the worst case) grounded altogether.  Communication lines with front-line officers had been cut in the initial bombardment, so giving and receiving orders was, in places, completely impossible.  And men not prepared to fight had suddenly been awakened from a “war-footing” slumber with a desperate enemy breathing down their necks.

The men wearing the other uniforms were not asleep.  On the contrary, they were ready to jump off.  But the fog of war served to make its own confusion.  The German High Command had laid out a series of simple goals:  make for Antwerp and Brussels and seek to divide the enemy.  But the implementation of those goals was largely dependent on good timing and good fortune.  Personnel had to achieve their goals within a certain time (and before the Allied forces could regain their footing) or, like a house of cards when the breeze kicks up, it would all come tumbling down.

And for the Germans, the “tumbling down” process was already happening, in just the offensive’s second day.

As a perfect example, consider paratroop Colonel Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte.  Less than two weeks before Watch on the Rhine (the German name for the Battle of the Bulge) began, he was informed that he would be receiving 1,200 elite paratroopers for a secret mission (he didn’t know what) against targets (he didn’t know where) to disrupt the enemy (he didn’t know who).  It wasn’t until the 14th (two days before the jumpoff) that he and his 1,200 men – which, far from elite, turned out to be mostly the rag-tags and troublemakers other commander didn’t want.  Only a couple hundred had any real jump experience at all – got word that their mission would be to drop into the Ardennes, capture the crossroads leading to Verviers, Eupen, and Malmedy, and tie up American reinforcements.

And in the early morning of December 17, 1944, Baron von der Heydte’s jumped off…one day later than scheduled and all over the place.  High winds and inexperienced pilots meant drop zones got badly missed.  More than 100 planes took paratroopers into the sky, but just 35 of them got their cargoes to the right spot.  Some missed by more than 100 miles, many dropping behind their own lines in Germany.  For the Colonel, this was far worse than the debacle he had experienced in Crete.  At least Crete was an island, and the men were confined to well-defined space.  But try to find your men when your search territory is Europe!  It was a pretty bad predicament.

As dawn broke, von der Heydte had gathered four privates, a lieutenant, and an injured sergeant.  When they reached the crossroads, another 20 men had joined them.  As they swapped stories and struggled to shake off the numbing cold, trucks filled with American infantry came around the corner and began passing the men.  With no time to think or even plan a defense, the Germans could do nothing but watch.  But rather than firing, the Americans simply waved as they passed, probably thinking they were friendly forces.

The slowly-growing group of Germans watched the first of many convoys pass, as the U.S. 7th Armored Division and 1st Infantry Division made their way east.  Had von der Heydte been equipped with his full 1,200-man roster, he could have done some serious impeding and delaying.  As it was, his group (which grew to over 100 men) was basically spectators.

Confused Germans, wondering what had happened to their comrades, watching confused Americans, wondering what was happening to theirs.

Recommended Reading: Ardennes: The Secret War

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Though he was just 29 years old, Joachim Peiper had lived a lifetime.  A Colonel in the SS Sixth Panzer Army, he had served with distinction on the Russian Front, which meant he had witnessed (and been a part of) scenes of violence rarely surpassed in a war full of terrible deeds.  Max Hastings, who I consider to be one of the finest historical writers of our generation, gives us a brief introduction to the man in his masterful book Armageddon.

He writes, “Peiper, a Knight’s Cross holder, was the archetypal brave, gifted Waffen SS commander just twenty-nine years old, with a record of brutality on the Russian Front which commanded respect even in SS circles.  In one advance, Peiper’s battalion claimed 2,500 Russians killed and just three captured.”

But in December of 1944, Peiper was no longer on the Russian Front.  As the Red Army bore down from the east, Peiper had been moved west…to the front facing the Americans.  It was hoped that Operation Watch on the Rhine (which we have come to know as the Battle of the Bulge) would push the Allies far enough westward to maybe divide them and get a separate peace deal done.  Our Colonel, his men, and his tanks had been secretly moved into place and were prepared to jump off.

And as we remember from last year, it was Peiper’s men who massacred the American soldiers at Malmedy.  It’s easy for us to understand how such an event happened.  A group of German soldiers, well-versed in a take-no-prisoners style of warfare, led by a take-no-prisoners battalion commander, and placed in a desperate, last-gasp situation.  It’s pretty cut and dried.

But I think there’s even more to it.  On December 12, 1944 (just four days before the Battle of the Bulge began), Peiper and his men were in Dueren, Germany when it was bombed by light bombers from the U.S. Ninth Air force.  Of course, it wasn’t the first time Dueren had been targeted.  On November 16th, the city had been absolutely plastered by British and American bombers.  More than 1,700 had set their sights on the “city of antiquities” and, in the space of two hours, dropped more than 9,000 tons of bombs on the city’s center.  And like Tokyo (and other Japanese cities) would experience a few months down the road, the bombs created a maelstrom of fire and destruction that left the city a complete ruin.  In fact, there is no building in Dueren today that dates prior to 1945.

Peiper and his men were witness not only to the aftermath of the November 16 attack, but witnessed first-hand the attack on the 12th.  In his biography of Colonel Peiper, Patrick Agte wrote, The widespread destruction, which lay before them, was worse than at the front. What was even worse was the feeling of powerlessness and helplessness, which came over them in the face of this catastrophe… Encouragement and orders were unnecessary. Everyone was filled with the desire to help and also filled with horror, sympathy and rage!…This isn’t war; it’s mass murder!”

The unarmed Americans slaughtered at Malmedy were victims of an offensive powered by desperation and fought by men seeking revenge…a very bad combination.

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I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving holiday…I know we did.  There was too much food, all of it good.  There was no Black Friday shopping, which was awesome!!  Well actually, there was a bit of shopping on Friday and Saturday, but Friday’s was in the early afternoon, well after all the diehards were pretty much done and back home in bed.

So let’s see, what do we have for today?…Well, it’s my wife’s birthday, so “Happy Birthday!!” to her.  I’m not sure she knows it, but her presents are all ready to go, so we’ll keep that a secret.

Let me check the official Today’s History Lesson spreadsheet…

Here we go…

The Tripartite Pact was an economic, military, and political alliance that was originally set up between three countries (hence the “Tri” in Tripartite).  Germany, Italy, and Japan were the original signers in September of 1940, but the Pact wasn’t strictly limited to them.

As 1941 approached, the Russians were approached about joining the Pact.  It’s a bit unusual, given the natural opposition that Hitler’s National Socialism felt for Russia’s Communism.  But Adolf Hitler’s designs on Russia were not strictly military in scope.  Russia’s tremendous natural resources had as big a target on them as did her military forces.  And if they could be taken peaceably, so much the better.

So Vyacheslav Molotov was invited to Berlin in mid-November and given the Tripartite Pact sales pitch.  And there was some hope that Molotov would listen.  The Russians and Germans had already done business on the Polish issue a couple of years before.  And Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia were all within days of joining the Tripartite Pact.

But those hopes proved fleeting, as the meetings did more to highlight Russo-Germans disagreements than they did to create common ground.  Molotov left Berlin having refused Germany’s “peaceful” overtures, and from the German perspective, the die was cast.  Or maybe “the die was confirmed” is a better phrase, since regardless of the outcome, Hitler had decided years before that Russian soil would be invaded at some point.

On November 29, 1940, the German High Command offered up a proposal for the invasion of the Soviet Union.  The draft included three massive Army Groups, setting off along an 1,800-mile front.  Army Group North would make for Leningrad.  Army Group Centre would have the capital of Moscow as its goal.  And Army Group South was tasked with the capture of Kiev, to be followed with a push to Stalingrad via Kharkov.

Within three weeks, the draft would be polished, planned, and finalized as Directive No. 18…Operation Barbarossa.

If Hitler couldn’t get what he wanted the easy way, he would get what he wanted by any means possible…

Recommended Reading:  WorldWar-2.net – One of the best World War II timelines available anywhere.  A wee bit clunky to navigate, but loaded with information.

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In July of 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg came within an eyelash of assassinating German dictator Adolf Hitler.  His briefcase bomb was planted under the table around which Hitler and some of his military leaders were gathered, and it detonated just as planned.  But Hitler’s position at the table meant he was shielded from much of the blast.  Hitler was given another 9 months of life.  Stauffenberg?…another 9 hours or so before a firing squad ended his.

But of course, the plotters behind Stauffenberg weren’t the only ones who wanted the hated head of state gone.  Since 1921 (when Hitler’s ascendancy had barely begun), there had been plots and plans against him.  Some had stayed just plans.  Others had progressed further.  A handful were actually attempted.  And as we know, the attempt on July 20, 1944 gets the most face time because, of all the attempts, it came the closest to actually succeeding.  It also had the biggest fallout.

But other attempts nearly succeeded as well.  On November 8, 1939, Johann Georg Elser’s shot at Hitler came within minutes of success.  This young man was dismayed by the increasing influence the Nazi Party was having in daily life.  The restrictions placed on workers and businesses, the aggressive discrimination against Jewish people and others, and just the overall brutishness of the Party’s minions convinced Elser that the Nazi party was peopled largely by thugs.  He also believed that if they were capable of this kind of violence, it would take little more to drive the nation into a war with catastrophic results.

He decided to take matters into his own hands.

Hitler returned to Munich each November to commemorate the Beer Hall Putsch.  And each November Hitler gave a speech in the basement of the beer hall (the Bürgerbräukeller).  Elser’s plan was to plant a bomb in a pillar behind the rostrum where Hitler would be speaking.  For a month leading up to the celebration, Elser managed to sneak into the building and remained hidden until it closed.  He would then come out and work on hollowing out the pillar.  As the time for Hitler’s big speech neared, Elser planted the bomb in the pillar and set its timer for 9:20pm, when the Fuhrer would normally be at full rant.

But weather conditions would lay waste to all of Elser’s daring.  Hitler wanted to head straight back to Berlin that evening.  Normally he flew, but heavy fog caused him to take the train, which is much slower than an airplane.  He wrapped up his speech early and left promptly at 9:07pm.  At 9:20pm, Elser’s bomb went off exactly as planned, making a wreck of the place and causing eight deaths and dozens of injuries.  But the primary target had left the building.

Elser was arrested later that evening as he tried to cross the border into Switzerland, and pictures of the Beer Hall were found on his person.  He immediately fell under suspicion and eventually confessed to the Gestapo.  Elser was sent to prison and very nearly survived the war.  But with the Allies bearing down on Germany in 1945, the Nazis began tying up loose ends.  One of those loose ends was Johann Georg Elser, who was shot in early April.

Recommended Reading: Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler – Though this focuses mostly on the Stauffenberg plot, Elser’s story gets some discussion time as well.

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1943 had not been very kind to Hitler’s military.  His army, navy, and air force had, in the space of 11 months, suffered a series of crushing defeats.  In the east, Stalingrad had been lost in dramatic fashion early on.  Then the German armies were forced to call it quits in North Africa in May.  Then there was the expensive battles around Kursk coupled with Allied landings in Sicily and then Italy.  All in all, pretty bad.

And as the year drew to a close, a new threat was emerging…the Allied second front.  The Allies were desperately trying to keep any operations a secret, and the Germans badly wanted to know.  But most everyone guessed that this invasion would be opened on the northwest coast of France.

There is little doubt that the far-flung battles fought over Russia’s vast expanses had been the clear focus of Hitler for a couple of years, but with the turning of the tide in ’43, eyes began to turn elsewhere.  Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt had been pushing for more attention to be given to the western theater, where increased Allied activity was seen as a prelude to bigger operations.  He didn’t feel that current manpower and equipment levels were adequate to check a concerted effort by the enemy.

His report, submitted in late October, reached the Fuhrer’s hands.  Less than a week later, von Rundstedt got his response.  On November 3, Hitler issued Directive No. 51, which largely backed his Field Marshal’s assessments and recognized the need for an increased western presence.

In his book The Atlantic Wall, Alan Wilt records that Adolf Hitler recognized that some ground could be given in the east without sacrificing the Third Reich’s chances for survival.  He then recounts Hitler’s words concerning the west.  “Not so the West!  Here, if the enemy succeeds in breaching our defenses along a wide front, consequences of staggering proportions will follow within a short time.  All signs point to an offensive against the western front of Europe, at the latest in the spring, perhaps even earlier.  For that reason, I can no longer justify the further weakening of the West in favor of other theaters…”

And to emphasize the importance of Directive No. 51, the Fuhrer took another important step.  On this day in history (November 5, 1943), Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was ordered to begin inspecting “the defensive readiness of the German-occupied coasts.”

As we know, Rommel was one of Germany’s most capable field commanders.  Having gained fame (and the respect of his adversaries) in the deserts of North Africa, he had spent much of the first half of 1943 fighting illness.  But having convalesced, his service to his country was renewed.  And all up and down the coasts, from Denmark to Brittany, Rommel would inspect and call for improved defenses.

And in the succeeding months, he would work to build up the Atlantic Wall (a series of coastal fortifications) to greater strength, hoping to stop an expected Allied invasion.

Recommended Reading:  The Atlantic Wall – Written by a military history professor of mine…I really enjoyed the class.  And his book’s pretty good, too.

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General Student left Hitler’s presence with his mind in a blur.  Hitler’s proposal, the capture of Fort Eben Emael, was a bombshell.  To say it was a fortress was to grossly understate just how well-defended it was.  Massively thick concrete, steel-reinforced doors, and large artillery pieces made it the most impenetrable bunker on the planet.  This would not be easy, and Hitler wanted an answer quickly.

He did some good hard thinking and picked up his conversation with Hitler the next morning.  The Fuhrer had said nothing about the corresponding invasion of the Low Countries, so Student still didn’t have a very good context from which to work.  But he was ready with his answer anyways…and that answer was “yes”…with conditions.

Kurt Student told Hitler that such a difficult mission could not be done at night.  Rather, it would have to be done in daylight or (at the least) in morning twilight.  Hitler agreed quickly.  What Student had not yet voiced was his other major concern – firepower.  Eben Emael was incredibly strong.  Breaking through its outer shell would not be the work of artillery pieces, but rather of massive siege cannon, firing huge shells and point-blank range.  Siege guns couldn’t be carried on gliders, and conventional trucks or trains would immediately tip off the Belgians, ruining the surprise.

But Student didn’t have to bring it up, because Hitler already had the answer.  German munitions experts had developed an amazing new technology – the Hohladung (hollow charge).  Unlike typical shells and bombs that exploded outward, hollow charges focused their explosive potential on a central point.  The Fuhrer explained that even the super-thick concrete of Eben Emael’s cupolas could not withstand the power of these new devices.  Best of all, each one weighed just 110 pounds.  It would require the efforts of 2 or 3 men to position it, but if that could be done, it would do the job.

Kurt Student was, once again, stunned.  Here was the answer to his most pressing armaments question.  Hitler needed surprise (provided by Student’s gliders) and Student needed firepower (provided by the work of Hitler’s specialists).  Student was ready and asked, “My Fuhrer, may I now have your order?”  To which Hitler replied, “Yes.  I order you to take Fort Eben Emael!”

And so, on October 28, 1939, the plan to capture the world’s toughest military installation began.  General Student’s men would spend months in rigorous training under a blanket of utmost secrecy.  And when the time came, Adolf Hitler’s mission would be carried out in spectacular fashion.

Recommended Reading: The Fall of Eben Emael

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Kurt Student turned toward the door as it opened and glowered at the aide who entered through it.  The General, now approaching 50 years old and having just been given command of the 7th Flieger (airborne) Division, had given strict orders that no one was to disturb this meeting.  But when he read the note the aide handed him, his demeanor changed.  The single sentence read, “Marschall Goering is on the telephone about a matter of utmost urgency.”

Field Marshal Hermann Goering and General Student knew each other quite well.  The Marshal was in charge of the Luftwaffe, and Student had enjoyed a long association with aircraft as well.  In his book The Fall of Eben Emael, James Mrazek notes especially Student’s “experiments with parachuting and the transportation of units and supplies by aircraft.”  This Student was also something of a pioneer.

Anyways, Goering told Student to fly to Berlin as quickly as possible, because Adolf Hitler had requested a meeting with him at the earliest possible moment.  No, he had no idea of the subject matter, just that Student needed to get to Berlin.

And that’s how General Kurt Student found himself, twenty minutes later, in the cockpit (he was an accomplished pilot) of a plane, bound for the German capital.  And while the plane he flew was no screamer, it didn’t hold back his brain, which was probably running at warp speed in an attempt to figure out what could be so pertinent to require this kind of rapid response.

It was October 27, 1939, and the war in Poland was already over.  Things had quieted down a bit.  Was there an upcoming operation?…a clandestine mission?  Just a high-level meeting?  He had no clue…but he didn’t have long to wait.

Arriving in Berlin shortly before 2pm, he was whisked into Hitler’s presence, who dispensed with any small talk and got straight to the point.  He noted that Student had some experience with gliders and that 7th Flieger had gliders.  Student nodded in confirmation.

Hitler continued (as recorded by Mrazek), “I have a job for you.  I want to know if you can do it.  The Belgians have a fort here.”  Hitler pointed at a map.  “Do you know it?”

Student’s response:  “Yes, my Fuhrer, I know it well.  It is a tremendous fortification.”

Hitler proceeded to describe some of the particulars of the fort, and then said, “I have an idea.  I think some of your attack gliders could land on top of Fort Eben Emael and your men could storm the works.  Is that possible?”

General Student was stunned, not only by the idea’s audacity, but also by it’s almost ridiculous simplicity.  He requested a bit of time to think it over, which the Fuhrer granted.  Student returned the next day and…

Well…let’s tackle that tomorrow…

Recommended Reading: The Fall of Eben Emael

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I needed to give a quick shout-out of congratulations to Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.  Called up from the Rays’ AAA affiliate to spot-start a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy did just more than just give the regular starters a night off…the 23-year-old’s first major-league start was a 7-inning thing of beauty, resulting in his first win.  Immediately optioned back to AAA, he was called up again eight days later, this time to shut down the Detroit Tigers for 7 innings.  And today?…6 innings, a 3rd quality start, and his 3rd win.  He’s now the first Rays pitcher to win his first 3 decisions as a pro.  And Jeremy is from the Des Moines area…it’s a feel-good, local-boy-makes-it story.  Way to go, Jeremy!!

August 15, 1940 later came to be known as “Black Thursday.”  But this important date in the Battle of Britain wasn’t named as such by the British, who had been defending their homeland against Luftwaffe bombers and fighters for weeks on end.

The term “Black Thursday” came from the German side, the side that since the fall of France in June had been preparing to invade England.  And it wasn’t named for the damage the Germans inflicted, but rather for that which they received.

The German plan was a coordinated attack aimed at airfields in the northern part of England and, on the surface, it made good sense.  Send fighters and dive-bombers across the Channel (from the east) to draw the Royal Air Force into the skies, where they would be shot down.  Then follow up with the heavier bombers (from Norway and Denmark to the north) to take out the airfields themselves.  It was nothing less than a full-out attempt to destroy Fighter Command.

German intelligence believed that recent attacks south of London would have drawn off significant forces, leaving the north less protected.  German intelligence was wrong.

But more than that, intelligence badly underestimated the number of airplanes left in the British inventory.  In his book With Wings Like Eagles, Michael Korda writes, “…despite Beppo Schmidt’s optimistic estimate that the British were down to about 200 fighters, Fighter Command in fact began August 15, at 0900 hours, with 672 serviceable fighters, of which 233 were Spitfires and 361 were Hurricanes.  These were not a lot with which to hold off more than 1,000 enemy aircraft, but a lot more than Goring supposed.”

The German planes came in bigger and bigger waves throughout the day.  RAF pilots in the north, jealous of their southern comrades who “got all the action”, were now suddenly presented with an unbelievable sight…the sky was filled with German bombers.  And even more tantalizing?…they were almost completely unescorted.

The RAF lads had a field day, slicing through bomber formations, blasting one heavy after another from the sky.  Most of the bombers simply dropped their bombs in the water and turned tail for home.  Hitting targets from 20,000 feet was their game.  Dodging fighters with no fighter protection at all was suicide.

The RAF flew 974 sorties that long day, losing 30 aircraft.  The Luftwaffe lost 75 aircraft.  Korda continues, “Even not counting the number of German aircraft that arrived home seriously damaged or obliged to crash-land on return, losses among the bombers and the twin-engine escorts were so high – approaching 10 percent, or twice what the RAF Bomber Command would consider an “acceptable” rate of loss – that Luftflotte 5 never again attempted a mass attack in daylight.”

These terrible results, combined with the poor results of Eagle Day (which we’ll cover someday) made it readily apparent that the German “softening up” for Operation Sealion wasn’t going nearly as well as hoped.

Recommended Reading:  With Wings Like Eagles

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