1916 German Cameroons surrenders to Allied forces

On this day in 1916, Allied forces complete their conquest of the Cameroons, a German protectorate on the coast of western Africa.

Drawn by the rich trade of slaves, ivory and rubber established in the 17th century, German and British settlers began to explore inland Africa beginning around 1860. In 1884, Germany established a protectorate over the Douala region; Britain did not dispute the claim. By the early 20th century, Germany had built roads, begun the construction of a railroad and cultivated large plantations of cacao, palm and rubber in the region. They had also built a city, Douala, on the Atlantic coast, which by 1914 served as the principal port and wireless station in the Cameroons.

The British launched their campaign in the German Cameroons in late summer 1914, just after the outbreak of World War I; it would last 18 months. The British failed to anticipate the German strategy: knowing the formidable strength of the British navy, the Germans decided not to concentrate on defending the coast, but instead to withdraw inland and use the rough interior of the continent to fortify their resistance. Thus, although British forces earned quick successes—they secured Douala by September 27, 1914, without firing a shot—they were not able to fully take control of the Cameroons until the following February.

The West African Frontier Force, fully committed in the Cameroons until March 1916, was one of two sets of “local” troops that the British turned to in Africa; the other was the South African Defense Force, which concentrated on the campaign in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia). African soldiers in World War I were generally compelled to enlist or were mercenaries. Some served on both sides during the war.

In 1919, during the Versailles peace conference, Britain was given a mandate over one-fifth of the former German Cameroons; the rest was assigned to France. A mandate was a commission granted by the newly created League of Nations allowing member states of the League to establish their own governments in former German territories. Both the British and French Cameroons were made trust territories of the United Nations after World War II. The French Cameroons gained their independence in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year, after a U.N. plebiscite was conducted in the British Cameroons, the southern half of the territory joined the Republic of Cameroon, while the Northern Cameroons became part of Nigeria.


German village votes to keep ‘Hitler bell’

by DW

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg in southwest Germany have voted to keep a controversial Nazi-era bell hanging at a local church. Some residents feared it could become a draw for far-right groups.

In a vote on Monday night, the local council in a small southwestern German village decided by 10 votes to 3 that a Nazi-era bell — complete with the inscription “Everything for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler” — should continue to hang in the local church and be put back in use.

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Heidelberg, said the bell, which also bears a swastika, should serve as a force for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice.

The council rejected calls by some residents for the bell to be dismantled or put in a museum. They also turned down an offer by the local Protestant church to bear the cost of installing a new one.

Herxheim am Berg Mayor Georg Welker told reporters that it was better the bell remained in the church “than if it would hang in some museum where someone could stand in front of the bell at any time and take a selfie.”

Resident spoke out

The contentious bronze bell has been in the church since 1934, where it was used until recently. Its existence only became known when a former church organist, Sigrid Peters, complained about the inscription.

Following the council vote, Peters told DW she was deeply concerned about the signal the council was sending about Germany to the rest of the world.

She said she was deeply saddened “that this could happen, that they allow a bell dedicated to a murderer to hang in the church.”

For Peters, the council’s decision to keep and use the Nazi-era bell and the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) aren’t a coincidence.

The Jakobskirche has stood in Herxheim am Berg for 1,000 years.

Put back to use

After Peters found out about the Nazi-era bell and informed local media last summer, the local authority ordered an outside assessment to help councilors decide its fate. Experts came to the conclusion that the bell should be classified as a memorial and either moved to a museum or kept in the church tower.

The council decided the bell will be put back into operation, and a commemorative plaque displayed in the church to point out its history.

Months before Monday’s decision, the church voted not to ring the bell any more, and would rely instead on its other two bells, which have no Nazi motif.

How to deal with Nazi past

The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols. Many residents were concerned the bronze relic would ruin the church’s reputation, or that its existence would encourage neo-Nazi groups to congregate in the village.

Others complained that its removal would mean the town’s history would be covered up.

The dispute intensified when the town’s then mayor, Roland Becker, argued that not everything was bad during the Nazi era — comments that forced his resignation.


1944 Test pilot Reitsch pitches suicide squad to Hitler

Hannah Reitsch, the first female test pilot in the world, suggests the creation of the Nazi equivalent of a kamikaze squad of suicide bombers while visiting Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden. Hitler was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

Reitsch was born in 1912 in Hirschberg, Germany. She left medical school (she had wanted to be a missionary doctor) to take up flying full time, and became an expert glider pilot–gliders were motorless planes that the Germans developed to evade strict rules about building “war planes” after WWI. In addition to gaining experience with gliders, Reitsch also did stunt flying for the movies. In 1934, she broke the world’s altitude record for women (9,184 feet). An ardent Nazi and admirer of Hitler, she was made an honorary flight captain by the Fuhrer, the first woman to receive such an honor. In 1937, the Luftwaffe, the German air force, put her to work as a test pilot. Reitsch embraced this opportunity to fly as part of what she called Germany’s “guardians of the portals of peace.” Among her signal achievements was the testing of a proto-helicopter in 1939.

Reitsch came closer than any other woman to seeing actual combat during World War II, depositing German troops along the Maginot Line in France during the Germans’ 1940 invasion by glider plane. She won an Iron Cross, Second Class, for risking her life trying to cut British barrage-balloon cables (the balloons were unmanned blimps, tethered in one place, from which steel cables dangled so as to foul the wings and propellers of enemy aircraft). Among the warplanes she tested was the Messerschmitt 163, a rocket-power interceptor that she flew 500 mph. While testing the ME 163 a fifth time, she spun out of control and crash-landed (even though she was injured during the crash, she nevertheless managed to write down exactly what happened before she passed out from her injuries). For this, Hitler awarded her an Iron Cross, First Class.

It was while receiving this second Iron Cross from Hitler in Berchtesgaden in 1944 that she pitched the idea of a Luftwaffe suicide squad of pilots who would fly specially designed versions of the V-1. Hitler was initially put off by the idea, only because he did not think it an effective or efficient use of resources. But Reitsch’s commitment persuaded him to investigate the prospect of designing such planes, at which point she put together a Suicide Group and was the first to take the following pledge: “I hereby…voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as a pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death.” The squad was never deployed.

Reitsch was one of the last people to see Hitler alive. On April 26, 1945, she flew to Berlin with Gen. Ritter von Greim, who was to be given command of the Luftwaffe. Greim was wounded when Reitsch’s plane was hit by Soviet antiaircraft fire. After saying farewell to the Fuhrer, tucked away in his bunker, she flew Greim back out of Berlin.

After the war, Reitsch was captured and interned by the U.S. Army. She testified to the “disintegration” of Hitler’s personality that she claimed to have witnessed during the last days of the war. When released, Reitsch continued to set records, including becoming the first woman to fly a glider over the Alps. In 1951, she published her autobiography, Flying Is My Life, and from 1962 to 1966 she was director of the national school of gliding in Ghana. She died in 1979, at 65 years old, only one year after setting a new women’s glider distance record. In her career, she set more than 40 world records for flying powered and motorless planes.


1935 Hitler organizes Luftwaffe

On February 26, 1935, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler signs a secret decree authorizing the founding of the Reich Luftwaffe as a third German military service to join the Reich army and navy. In the same decree, Hitler appointed Hermann Goering, a German air hero from World War I and high-ranking Nazi, as commander in chief of the new German air force.

The Versailles Treaty that ended World War I prohibited military aviation in Germany, but a German civilian airline–Lufthansa–was founded in 1926 and provided flight training for the men who would later become Luftwaffe pilots. After coming to power in 1933, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler began to secretly develop a state-of-the-art military air force and appointed Goering as German air minister. (During World War I, Goering commanded the celebrated air squadron in which the great German ace Manfred von Richthofen–“The Red Baron”–served.) In February 1935, Hitler formally organized the Luftwaffe as a major step in his program of German rearmament.

The Luftwaffe was to be uncamouflaged step-by-step so as not to alarm foreign governments, and the size and composition of Luftwaffe units were to remain secret as before. However, in March 1935, Britain announced it was strengthening its Royal Air Force (RAF), and Hitler, not to be outdone, revealed his Luftwaffe, which was rapidly growing into a formidable air force.

As German rearmament moved forward at an alarming rate, Britain and France protested but failed to keep up with German war production. The German air fleet grew dramatically, and the new German fighter–the Me-109–was far more sophisticated than its counterparts in Britain, France, or Russia. The Me-109 was bloodied during the Spanish Civil War; Luftwaffe pilots received combat training as they tried out new aerial attack formations on Spanish towns such as Guernica, which suffered more than 1,000 killed during a brutal bombing by the Luftwaffe in April 1937.

The Luftwaffe was configured to serve as a crucial part of the German blitzkrieg, or “lightning war”–the deadly military strategy developed by General Heinz Guderian. As German panzer divisions burst deep into enemy territory, lethal Luftwaffe dive-bombers would decimate the enemy’s supply and communication lines and cause panic. By the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Luftwaffe had an operational force of 1,000 fighters and 1,050 bombers.

First Poland and then Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France fell to the blitzkrieg. After the surrender of France, Germany turned the Luftwaffe against Britain, hoping to destroy the RAF in preparation for a proposed German landing. However, in the epic air battle known as the Battle of Britain, the outnumbered RAF fliers successfully resisted the Luftwaffe, relying on radar technology, their new, highly maneuverable Spitfire aircraft, bravery, and luck. For every British plane shot down, two German warplanes were destroyed. In the face of British resistance, Hitler changed strategy in the Battle of Britain, abandoning his invasion plans and attempting to bomb London into submission. However, in this campaign, the Luftwaffe was hampered by its lack of strategic, long-range bombers, and in early 1941 the Battle of Britain ended in failure.

Britain had handed the Luftwaffe its first defeat. Later that year, Hitler ordered an invasion of the USSR, which after initial triumphs turned into an unqualified disaster. As Hitler stubbornly fought to overcome Russia’s bitter resistance, the depleted Luftwaffe steadily lost air superiority over Europe in the face of increasing British and American air attacks. By the time of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, the Luftwaffe air fleet was a skeleton of its former self.


Germany recorded record budget surplus of €36.6 billion last year

By The Local DE

Germany’s federal statistics authority on Friday revised down its reckoning of the country’s government budget surplus in 2017, but the overshoot remained at record levels.
Inflows into federal, state and municipal coffers outweighed spending by €36.6 billion in 2017, Destatis said in a statement.

That was smaller than the statisticians’ January estimate of €38.4 billion, but still the highest-ever surplus since German reunification in 1990.

The extra cash amounted to around 1.1 percent of Germany’s €3.26-trillion GDP last year.

In a separate release, Destatis confirmed that GDP grew 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 and 2.2 percent over the whole year, the fastest rate since 2011.

Feeling flush, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and prospective junior partners the Social Democratic Party (SPD) have planned to loosen the purse strings over the coming four years – as long as SPD members approve their coalition deal in an internal referendum.

If Merkel is sworn in for a fourth time next month, higher spending on areas like healthcare and care for the elderly, infrastructure investment and contributions to the European Union budget could follow.

But with both parties committed to maintaining a balanced budget, slightly increased largesse from Berlin is unlikely to satisfy Germany’s partners abroad or international organisations like the International Monetary Fund.

They have called on Europe’s largest economy to reduce its massive trade surplus by spending more at home.


1917 Germans begin withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line

The Hindenburg Line

On this day in 1917, German troops begin a well-planned withdrawal—ordered several weeks previously by Kaiser Wilhelm—to strong positions on the Hindenburg Line, solidifying their defense and digging in for a continued struggle on the Western Front in World War I.

One month after Paul von Hindenburg succeeded Erich von Falkenhayn as chief of the German army’s general staff in August 1916, he ordered the construction of a heavily fortified zone running several miles behind the active front between the north coast of France and Verdun, near the border between France and Belgium. Its aim would be to hold the last line of German defense and brutally crush any Allied breakthrough before it could reach the Belgian or German frontier. The British referred to it as the Hindenburg Line, for its mastermind; it was known to the Germans as the Siegfried Line.

In the wake of exhausting and bloody battles at Verdun and the Somme, and with the U.S edging ever closer to entering the war, Germany’s leaders looked to improve their defensive positions on the Western Front. The withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line meant that German troops were removed to a more uniform line of trenches, reducing the length of the line they had to defend by 25 miles and freeing up 13 army divisions to serve as reserve troops. On their way, German forces systematically destroyed the land they passed through, burning farmhouses, poisoning wells, mining abandoned buildings and demolishing roads.

The German command correctly estimated that the move would gain them eight weeks of respite before the Allies could begin their attacks again; it also threw a wrench into the Allied strategy by removing their army from the very positions that British and French joint command had planned to strike next. After the withdrawal, which was completed May 5, 1917, the Hindenburg Line, considered impregnable by many on both sides of the conflict, became the German army’s stronghold. Allied armies did not break it until October 1918, one month before the armistice.


1778 Friedrich von Steuben arrives at Valley Forge

Friedrich Wilhelm Rudolf Gerhard August, Freiherr von Steuben, a Prussian military officer, arrives at General George Washington’s encampment at Valley Forge on this day in 1778 and commences training soldiers in close-order drill, instilling new confidence and discipline in the demoralized Continental Army.

Baron von Steuben, as he is better known, was the son of a military engineer and became a Prussian officer himself at the age of 17. He served with distinction and was quickly promoted from infantry to Frederick the Great’s General Staff. In 1763, at age 33 and with the rank of captain, he was discharged for unknown reasons. His title of freiherr, or baron, came with his subsequent post as chamberlain (or palace manager) to the petty court of Hohenzollern-Hechingen in Swabia, or the southwestern Holy Roman Empire, in what is now Baden-Wuerrtemberg. Employed by an indebted prince, von Steuben searched for more lucrative employment in foreign armies. The French minister of war recommended von Steuben to Benjamin Franklin as a resource to the Continental Army in 1777. Franklin in turn passed on word of Steuben’s availability to George Washington, and by February 23, 1778, he was among the desperate Continentals camped at Valley Forge.

Von Steuben, who did not speak English, drafted a drill manual in French, which Alexander Hamilton and Nathanael Greene then translated into English. The Prussian drill techniques he shared were far more advanced than those of other European armies, let alone those of the ragtag Patriots. The ego-crushing methods of modern boot camp were practiced among the shoeless soldiers of Valley Forge with remarkable efficacy. Most important for 18th-century battle was an efficient method of firing and reloading weapons, which von Steuben forced the Patriots to practice until it became second nature.

Before von Steuben’s arrival, colonial American soldiers were notorious for their slovenly camp conditions. Von Steuben insisted on reorganization to establish basic hygiene. He demanded that kitchens and latrines be put on opposite sides of the camp, with latrines facing a downhill slope. (Just having latrines was novelty to the Continental troops who were accustomed to living among their own filth.)

On the merit of his efforts at Valley Forge, Washington recommended that von Steuben be named inspector general of the Continental Army; Congress complied. In this capacity, von Steuben propagated his methods throughout the Patriot forces by circulating his Blue Book, entitled Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.