Germans capture Lvov-and slaughter Ensues

Jun 29, 1941:

Germans capture Lvov-and slaughter Ensues

On this day in 1941, the Germans, having already launched their invasion of Soviet territory, invade and occupy Lvov, in eastern Galicia, in Ukraine, slaughtering thousands.

The Russians followed a scorched-earth policy upon being invaded by the Germans; that is, they would destroy, burn, flood, dismantle and remove anything and everything in territory they were forced to give up to the invader upon retreating, thereby leaving the Germans little in the way of crops, supplies, industrial plants, or equipment. (It was a policy that had proved very successful against Napoleon in the previous century.) This time, as the Germans captured Lvov, the Soviet NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB secret police, proceeded to murder 3,000 Ukrainian political prisoners.

Lvov had had a long history of being occupied by foreign powers: Sweden, Austria, Russia, Poland, and since 1939, the Soviet Union, which had proved especially repressive. The German invaders were seen as liberators, if for no other reason than they were the enemy of Poland and Russia—two of Lvov’s, and Ukraine’s, enemies. But release from the Soviet grip only meant subjection to Nazi terror. Within days, administrative control of Ukraine was split up between Poland, Romania, and Germany. Some 2.5 million Ukrainians were shipped to Germany as slave laborers, and Ukrainian Jews were subjected to the same vicious racial policies as in Poland: Some 600,000 were murdered. (Ukrainian nationalists also had blood on their hands in this respect, having gone on the rampage upon the withdrawal of Russian troops by scapegoating Jews for “Bolshevism,” killing them in the streets.)

Austria-Hungary protests shipment of U.S. munitions to Britain

Jun 29, 1915:

Austria-Hungary protests shipment of U.S. munitions to Britain

On June 29, 1915, Foreign Minister Istvan von Burian of Austria-Hungary sends a note to the United States protesting the U.S. sale and shipment of munitions in enormous quantities to Britain and its allies for use against the Central Powers–Austria-Hungary and Germany–on the battlefields of World War I.

When war broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, the United States maintained a position of strict neutrality. The commercial opportunities of the war, however, were enormous, and neutrality did not impede the U.S.–by 1910 the leading industrial nation, with 35.3 percent of the world’s manufacturing capacity, compared with 15.9 percent for Germany and 14.7 percent for Britain–from carrying on a brisk trade of munitions from the first months of the conflict. Beginning with guns and proceeding to boats and submarines, a steady flow of war materials soon began to travel across the Atlantic. Due to the naval blockade of the Central Powers by the mighty British navy, in place from the autumn of 1914, the great majority of these war materials were bought by Britain and France, a situation Burian considered intolerable and incompatible with the U.S. profession of neutrality.

In his note of June 29, 1915, Burian deplored “the fact that for a long time a traffic in munitions of war to the greatest extent has been carried on between the United States of America on the one hand and Great Britain and its allies on the other, while Austria-Hungary as well as Germany have been absolutely excluded from the American market.” He went on to make the case for a violation of neutrality, stating that “a neutral government may not permit traffic in contraband of war to be carried on without hindrance when this traffic assumes such a form or such dimensions that the neutrality of the nation becomes involved thereby.”

On August 15, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing issued the official reply to Burian’s note. In it, he vigorously refuted Burian’s suggestions of a violation of neutrality and claimed that a comparable situation had existed during the Boer War of 1899-1902, during which Austria-Hungary and Germany had sold munitions to Britain, even as British dominance of the seas prevented a similar trade with Britain’s enemies, the Boer population of South Africa. “If at that time Austria-Hungary and her present ally had refused to sell arms and ammunition to Great Britain on the ground that to do so would violate the spirit of strict neutrality,” Lansing pointed out, “the Imperial and Royal Government might with greater consistency and greater force urge its present contention.”

Austria-Hungary was as entitled as Britain to purchase U.S. munitions, Lansing continued, but the U.S. required that the munitions be collected by Austro-Hungarian ships from American ports, as to transport war materials in U.S. ships would, in fact, violate the principles of neutrality. If the inability of Austro-Hungarian (or German) ships to do this was due to the overwhelming threat of the British navy, Lansing maintained, it was not the fault of the United States. He concluded the statement by thoroughly dismissing Burian’s claims, asserting that “The principles of international law, the practice of nations, the national safety of the United States and other nations without great military and naval establishments?are opposed to the prohibition by a neutral nation of the exportation of arms, ammunition, or other munitions of war to belligerent Powers during the progress of the war.”

Britain recognizes General Charles de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French

Jun 28, 1940:

Britain recognizes General Charles de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French

On this day in 1940, General Charles de Gaulle, having set up headquarters in England upon the establishment of a puppet government in his native France, is recognized as the leader of the Free French Forces, dedicated to the defeat of Germany and the liberation of all France.

For Charles de Gaulle, fighting Germans was an old story. He sustained multiple injuries fighting at Verdun in World War I. He escaped German POW camps five times, only to be recaptured each time. (At 6 feet 4 inches in height, it was hard for de Gaulle to remain inconspicuous.)

At the beginning of World War II, de Gaulle was commander of a tank brigade. He was admired as a courageous leader and made a brigadier general in May 1940. After the German invasion of France, he became undersecretary of state for defense and war in the Reynaud government, but when Reynaud resigned, and Field Marshal Philippe Petain stepped in, a virtual puppet of the German occupiers, he left for England. On June 18, de Gaulle took to the radio airwaves to make an appeal to his fellow French not to accept the armistice being sought by Petain, but to continue fighting under his command. Ten days later, Britain formally acknowledged de Gaulle as the leader of the “Free French Forces,” which was at first little more than those French troops stationed in England, volunteers from Frenchmen already living in England, and units of the French navy.

On August 2, a French military court sentenced de Gaulle to death in absentia for his actions. (No doubt at the instigation of the German occupiers.)

De Gaulle would prove an adept wartime politician, finally winning recognition and respect from the Allies and his fellow countrymen. He returned to Paris from Algiers, where he had moved the headquarters of the Free French Forces and formed a “shadow government,” in September 1943. He went on to head two provisional governments before resigning.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated

Jun 28, 1914:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated

n an event that is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on this day in 1914.

The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, the man most responsible for the unification of Germany in 1871, was quoted as saying at the end of his life that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” It went as he predicted.

The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation. The date scheduled for his visit, June 28, coincided with the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which medieval Serbia was defeated by the Turks. Despite the fact that Serbia did not truly lose its independence until the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, June 28 was a day of great significance to Serbian nationalists, and one on which they could be expected to take exception to a demonstration of Austrian imperial strength in Bosnia.

June 28 was also Franz Ferdinand’s wedding anniversary. His beloved wife, Sophie, a former lady-in-waiting, was denied royal status in Austria due to her birth as a poor Czech aristocrat, as were the couple’s children. In Bosnia, however, due to its limbo status as an annexed territory, Sophie could appear beside him at official proceedings. On June 28, 1914, then, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were touring Sarajevo in an open car, with surprisingly little security, when Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic threw a bomb at their car; it rolled off the back of the vehicle and wounded an officer and some bystanders. Later that day, on the way to visit the injured officer, the archduke’s procession took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel quay and Franzjosefstrasse, where one of Cabrinovic’s cohorts, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, happened to be loitering.

Seeing his opportunity, Princip fired into the car, shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range. Princip then turned the gun on himself, but was prevented from shooting it by a bystander who threw himself upon the young assassin. A mob of angry onlookers attacked Princip, who fought back and was subsequently wrestled away by the police. Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie lay fatally wounded in their limousine as it rushed to seek help; they both died within the hour.

The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Slav nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention–which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Britain as well. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.

U.S. troops liberate Cherbourg, France

Jun 27, 1944:

U.S. troops liberate Cherbourg, France

On this day in 1944, the Allies capture the fortified town and port of Cherbourg, in northwest France, freeing it from German occupation. Hitler had for all intents and purposes anticipated his own defeat when, in contrast with the analysis of his advisers, he accurately predicted that the D-Day invasion would be focused on Normandy. He knew the Allies needed to take a large port-and Cherbourg fit the bill. (The Brits had actually handpicked Cherbourg as the target for a “Cross-Channel” landing back in 1942.) Once the Allies actually landed on Normandy beaches June 6, the fall of Cherbourg was only a matter of time.

Germans get Enigma

Jun 27, 1940:

Germans get Enigma

On this day in 1940, the Germans set up two-way radio communication in their newly occupied French territory, employing their most sophisticated coding machine, Enigma, to transmit information.

The Germans set up radio stations in Brest and the port town of Cherbourg. Signals would be transmitted to German bombers so as to direct them to targets in Britain. The Enigma coding machine, invented in 1919 by Hugo Koch, a Dutchman, looked like a typewriter and was originally employed for business purposes. The German army adapted the machine for wartime use and considered its encoding system unbreakable. They were wrong. The Brits had broken the code as early as the German invasion of Poland and had intercepted virtually every message sent through the system. Britain nicknamed the intercepted messages Ultra.

Colonel House meets with British foreign secretary in London

Jun 27, 1914:

Colonel House meets with British foreign secretary in London

On June 27, 1914, Colonel Edward House, close adviser to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, meets with Foreign Secretary Edward Grey of Britain, over lunch in London.

The meeting, part of a diplomatic tour of Europe that House made during the early summer of 1914, took place several weeks after House’s arrival in London, the previous June 9, after visiting Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France. The purpose of House’s trip was to persuade Germany and Britain to join with the United States in a diplomatic alliance in order to preserve peace, not only in Europe but in the world. House had long believed that, due to the mass amount of military and naval might the great powers of Europe had accumulated, they, along with America, could work together to prevent major wars. On his trip to Europe, he sought an agreement between Britain and Germany to limit the size of their respective navies and cease the naval build-up that had been occurring over the past decade, in order to preserve the tenuous balance of power and avoid major conflict between the two great power blocs that had lined up in Europe by 1914: France, Russia and Great Britain on one side, and Germany, Austria-Hungary and a tentative Italy on the other.

In Berlin, House had achieved his primary goal of the visit, a private audience with Kaiser Wilhelm II, which he was granted on June 1. As House recorded in his diary, the two men discussed “the European situation as it affected the Anglo-Saxon race.” The kaiser was of the opinion that Britain, Germany and the U.S.—as the best representatives of Christian civilization—were natural allies against the semi-barbarous Latin and Slavic nations (including France and Russia), but that all the Europeans should ally in defense of Western civilization “as against the Oriental races.” House worked to persuade Wilhelm that Britain would not seek to ally itself with Russia if Germany would cease the challenge to its naval power. Both men agreed that American moderation—from House, for example, or from Wilson himself—might aid in bringing the great European powers together.

House left Germany after promising the kaiser to attempt to secure Britain’s agreement to an American initiative. From Paris on June 3, he wrote to President Wilson that “both England and Germany have one feeling in common and that is fear of one another.” If the two nations could get together and work to solve their misunderstandings, House believed, future war in Europe could be averted.

The meeting with Grey on June 27 was arranged by Walter Hines Page, the U.S. ambassador to Britain. House and Grey discussed at length the tense political situation in Europe: France’s desire to take revenge on Germany for taking their territories of Alsace and Lorraine in 1871; Britain’s need to maintain good relations with Russia; and Germany’s aggressive naval program. House in turn warned Grey of “the militant war spirit in Germany and of the high tension of the people” that he had witnessed during his recent visit, and expressed his opinion that “the kaiser himself and most of his immediate advisors did not want war because they wished Germany to expand commercially and grow in wealth, but the army was military and aggressive and ready for war at any time.” Nonetheless, the two men both agreed, by the end of the meeting, that “Neither England, Germany, Russia, nor France desire war.”

Less than 24 hours later, however, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were killed by bullets fired at point-blank range by a 19-year-old Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, during an official visit to Sarajevo, Bosnia. Vienna, like the rest of the world, blamed their upstart nemesis in the Balkans, Serbia, for the crime, and entreated Germany to stand behind it in the case of war with Serbia and its powerful ally, Russia. A stunned and outraged Kaiser Wilhelm gave this assurance, and by the end of July, Europe was at war.