spook

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  1. On this day in 1940, the German army in northern France reaches the English Channel. In reaching Abbeville, German armored columns, led by General Heinz Guderian (a tank expert), severed all communication between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the north and the main French army in the south. He also cut off the Force from its supplies in the west. The Germans now faced the sea, England in sight. Winston Churchill was prepared for such a pass, having already made plans for the withdrawal of the BEF (the BEF was a home-based army force that went to northern France at the start of both World Wars in order to support the French armies) and having called on the British Admiralty to prepare "a large number of vessels" to cross over to France if necessary. With German tanks at the Channel, Churchill prepared for a possible invasion of England itself, approving a plan to put into place gun posts and barbed wire roadblocks to protect government offices in Whitehall as well as the prime minister's dwelling, 10 Downing Street.
  2. On this day in 1944, the Polish Corps, part of a multinational Allied Eighth Army offensive in southern Italy, finally pushes into Monte Cassino as the battle to break German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's defensive Gustav Line nears its end. The Allied push northward to Rome began in January with the landing of 50,000 seaborne troops at Anzio, 33 miles south of the Italian capital. Despite having met very little resistance, the Allies chose to consolidate their position rather than immediately battle north to Rome. Consequently, German forces under the command of Field Marshal Kesselring were able to create a defensive line that cut across the center of the peninsula. General Wladyslaw Anders, leader of the Polish troops who would raise their flag over the ruins of the famous Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, commenting on the cost of the battle, said, "Corpses of German and Polish soldiers, sometimes entangled in a deathly embrace, lay everywhere, and the air was full of the stench of rotting bodies."
  3. On this day in 1943, the crew of the Memphis Belle, one of a group of American bombers based in Britain, becomes the first B-17 crew to complete 25 missions over Europe. The Memphis Belle performed its 25th and last mission, in a bombing raid against Lorient, a German submarine base. But before returning back home to the United States, film footage was shot of Belle's crew receiving combat medals. This was but one part of a longer documentary on a day in the life of an American bomber, which included dramatic footage of a bomber being shot out of the sky, with most of its crew parachuting out, one by one. Another film sequence showed a bomber returning to base with its tail fin missing. What looked like damage inflicted by the enemy was, in fact, the result of a collision with another American bomber. The Memphis Belle documentary would not be released for another 11 months, as more footage was compiled to demonstrate the risks these pilots ran as they bombed "the enemy again and again and again-until he has had enough." The film's producer, Lieutenant Colonel William Wyler, was known for such non-military fare as The Letter, Wuthering Heights, and Jezebel. A fictional film about the B-17, called Memphis Belle, was released in 1990, starring John Lithgow, Matthew Modine, and Eric Stoltz.
  4. On this day in 1943, U.S. and Great Britain chiefs of staff, meeting in Washington, D.C., approve and plot out Operation Pointblank, a joint bombing offensive to be mounted from British airbases. Operation Pointblank's aim was grandiose and comprehensive: "The progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people." It was also intended to set up "final combined operations on the continent." In other words, it was intended to set the stage for one fatal blow that would bring Germany to its knees. The immediate targets of Operation Pointblank were to be submarine construction yards and bases, aircraft factories, ball bearing factories, rubber and tire factories, oil production and storage plants, and military transport-vehicle factories and stores. Ironically, the very day planning for Pointblank began in Washington, the Germans shot down 74 British four-engine bombers as the Brits struck a munitions factory near Pilsen. Joseph Goebbels, writing in his diary, recorded that the biggest setback about the British raid on the factory was that the drafting room was destroyed.
  5. On this day in 1941, Adolf Hitler sends two bombers to Iraq to support Rashid Ali al-Gailani in his revolt against Britain, which is trying to enforce a previously agreed upon Anglo-Iraqi alliance. At the start of the war, Iraqi Prime Minister General Nuri as-Said severed ties with Germany and signed a cooperation pact with Great Britain. In April 1941, the Said government was overthrown by Ali, an anti-British general, who proceeded to cut off the British oil pipeline to the Mediterranean. Britain fought back by landing a brigade on the Persian Gulf, successfully fending off 9,000 Iraqi troops. Ali retaliated by sealing off the British airbase at Habbaniya. Hitler, elated at the grief the British enemy was enduring in the Middle East, began sending arms, via Syria, as well as military experts to aid Ali in his revolt. On May 12, Hitler sent Major Axel von Blomberg, an air force officer who was to act as a liaison between Iraq and Germany to Iraq, along with the two bombers. Blomberg arrived in the middle of an air battle between Iraqi and British fighters and was shot dead by a stray British bullet. By the end of the month, Iraq had surrendered, and Britain re-established the terms of the original 1930 cooperation pact. A pro-British government formed, with a cabinet led by former Prime Minister Said. Iraq went on to become a valuable resource for British and American forces in the region and in January 1942 became the first independent Muslim state to declare war on the Axis powers
  6. On this day in 1944, Allied forces begin a major assault on the Gustav Line, a German defensive line drawn across central Italy just south of Rome. The Gustav Line represented a stubborn German defense, built by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, that had to be broken before the Italian capital could be taken; the attack on the line was also part of a larger plan to force the Germans to commit as many troops to Italy as possible in order to make way for an Allied cross-Channel assault-what would become D-Day. With the Eighth Army's 1,000 guns, the Fifth Army's 600, and more than 3,000 aircraft, the Allied forces, which included British, French, Indian, Moroccan, and Polish corps, opened fire in a barrage of artillery from Cassino to the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that the Allies outnumbered the Germans by a ratio of 3 to 1, it took seven days before the Gustav Line could be broken, with the Polish Corps occupying the famed Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino. The Germans withdrew, to the Hitler Line, but that too was penetrated. The Allies would be in Rome by June 4.
  7. On this day in 1940, Hitler begins his Western offensive with the radio code word "Danzig," sending his forces into Holland and Belgium. On this same day, having lost the support of the Labour Party, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigns; Winston Churchill accedes to the office, becoming defense minister as well. As British and French Allied forces attempted to meet the 136 German divisions breaking into Holland and Belgium on the ground, 2,500 German aircraft proceeded to bomb airfields in Belgium, Holland, France, and Luxembourg, and 16,000 German airborne troops parachuted into Rotterdam, Leiden, and The Hague. A hundred more German troops, employing air gliders, landed and seized the Belgian bridges across the Albert Canal. The Dutch army was defeated in five days. One day after the invasion of Belgium, the garrison at Fort Eben-Emael surrendered, outmanned and outgunned by the Germans. The Dutch and Belgian governments immediately appealed to Britain for help. Neville Chamberlain pleaded to Parliament that a coalition government, of Liberals and Labour, would be necessary to generate support for a war effort, especially given the lethargy that infected Britain, still reeling from World War I. Labour demonstrated no support for Chamberlain, preferring Churchill, who they thought better able to prosecute a war. As one member of Parliament put it: "Winston-our hope-he may yet save civilization." Great Britain had finally come to take the **** threat seriously. Also on this day, in 1941, Rudolf Hess parachutes into Scotland in an attempt to negotiate a truce between Britain and Germany On May 10, the day Hitler planned to invade Russia, and German bombs dropped on London in a spring "blitz," Hess parachuted into Scotland, hoping to negotiate peace with Britain, in the person of the Duke of Hamilton, whom Hess claimed to have met at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Such a peace would have prevented Germany from fighting on two fronts and greatly increased Hess's own prestige within the **** regime. He did, in fact, find peace-in the Tower of London, where the British imprisoned him, the last man ever to be held there under lock and key.
  8. On this day in 1945, the German High Command, in the person of General Alfred Jodl, signs the unconditional surrender of all German forces, East and West, at Reims, in northwestern France. At first, General Jodl hoped to limit the terms of German surrender to only those forces still fighting the Western Allies. But General Dwight Eisenhower demanded complete surrender of all German forces, those fighting in the East as well as in the West. If this demand was not met, Eisenhower was prepared to seal off the Western front, preventing Germans from fleeing to the West in order to surrender, thereby leaving them in the hands of the enveloping Soviet forces. Jodl radioed Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, Hitler's successor, with the terms. Donitz ordered him to sign. So with Russian General Ivan Susloparov and French General Francois Sevez signing as witnesses, and General Walter Bedell Smith, Ike's chief of staff, signing for the Allied Expeditionary Force, Germany was-at least on paper-defeated. Fighting would still go on in the East for almost another day. But the war in the West was over. Since General Susloparov did not have explicit permission from Soviet Premier Stalin to sign the surrender papers, even as a witness, he was quickly hustled back East-into the hands of the Soviet secret police, never to be heard from again. Alfred Jodl, who was wounded in the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, would be found guilty of war crimes (which included the shooting of hostages) at Nuremberg and hanged on October 16, 1946-then granted a pardon, posthumously, in 1953, after a German appeals court found Jodl not guilty of breaking international law.
  9. On this day in 1942, U.S. Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrenders all U.S. troops in the Philippines to the Japanese. The island of Corregidor remained the last Allied stronghold in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan (from which General Wainwright had managed to flee, to Corregidor). Constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. Although still managing to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island, the Allied troops could hold the invader off no longer. General Wainwright, only recently promoted to the rank of lieutenant general and commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese General Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional capitulation of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops (he had already lost 800 men). He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila. General Wainwright remained a POW until 1945. As a sort of consolation for the massive defeat he suffered, he was present on the USS Missouri for the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on September 2, 1945. He would also be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman. Wainwright died in 1953-exactly eight years to the day of the Japanese surrender ceremony.
  10. On this day in 1941, Emperor Haile Selassie re-enters Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, exactly five years to the day of when it was occupied by Italy. Benito Mussolini had been eyeing Ethiopia (also known as Abyssinia) as an economic colony to be added to Italian Somaliland, in East Africa, since the 1920s. He hoped to resettle 10 million Italians in a unified East Africa. Despite Ethiopia's membership in the League of Nations, which provided it with recourse to other member nations in the event of invasion, Italy, also a League member, attacked on October 3, 1935. Selassie formally protested before the League Council, but the League responded with only mild sanctions, fearing that a more extensive embargo, or the closure of the Suez Canal, denying Italy needed supplies and reinforcements, would lead to war-and Italy simply getting its oil from the United States, which was not a party to League agreements. Britain and France, both fearing that a general war would be harmful to their collective security, proposed secret negotiations with Italy, wherein Italy would be offered territory in Ethiopia's northeast; in exchange, Mussolini would end his aggression. Ethiopia would only be told of this negotiation after the fact; should Selassie reject the terms, France and Britain were off the hook, having made a "good faith" effort at peace. They could then oppose further sanctions against Italy, even propose that the ones in place be removed, thereby sparing themselves a confrontation with Mussolini. But the plans for the secret negotiation were leaked to the press, and both Britain and France were humiliated publicly for selling out a weaker League partner.
  11. We appreciate the bumps mDundee, S!
  12. On this day in 1945, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov informs U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius that the Red Army has arrested 16 Polish peace negotiators who had met with a Soviet army colonel near Warsaw back in March. When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill learns of the Soviet double-cross, he reacts in alarm, stating, "There is no doubt that the publication in detail of this event...would produce a primary change in the entire structure of world forces." Churchill, fearing that the Russian forces were already beginning to exact retribution for losses suffered during the war (the Polish negotiators had been charged with "causing the death of 200 Red Army officers"), sent a telegram to President Harry Truman to express his concern that Russian demands of reparations from Germany, and the possibility of ongoing Russian occupation of Central and Eastern Europe, "constitutes an event in the history of Europe to which there has been no parallel." Churchill clearly foresaw the "Iron Curtain" beginning to drop. Consequently, he sent a "holding force" to Denmark to cut off any farther westward advance by Soviet troops.
  13. On this, the first day of the first modern naval engagement in history, called the Battle of the Coral Sea, a Japanese invasion force succeeds in occupying Tulagi of the Solomon Islands in an expansion of Japan's defensive perimeter. The United States, having broken Japan's secret war code and forewarned of an impending invasion of Tulagi and Port Moresby, attempted to intercept the Japanese armada. Four days of battles between Japanese and American aircraft carriers resulted in 70 Japanese and 66 Americans warplanes destroyed. This confrontation, called the Battle of the Coral Sea, marked the first air-naval battle in history, as none of the carriers fired at each other, allowing the planes taking off from their decks to do the battling. Among the casualties was the American carrier Lexington; "the Blue Ghost" (so-called because it was not camouflaged like other carriers) suffered such extensive aerial damage that it had to be sunk by its own crew. Two hundred sixteen Lexington crewmen died as a result of the Japanese aerial bombardment. Although Japan would go on to occupy all of the Solomon Islands, its victory was a Pyrrhic one: The cost in experienced pilots and aircraft carriers was so great that Japan had to cancel its expedition to Port Moresby, Papua, as well as other South Pacific targets.