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1940 Marshal Petain becomes Premier of Occupied France

On this day in 1940, Marshal Henri-Philippe Petain, World War I hero, becomes prime minister of the Vichy government of France.

As Germany began to overrun more French territory, the French Cabinet became desperate for a solution to this crisis. Premier Paul Reynaud continued to hold out hope, refusing to ask for an armistice, especially now that France had received assurance from Britain that the two would fight as one, and that Britain would continue to fight the Germans even if France were completely overtaken. But others in the government were despondent and wanted to sue for peace. Reynaud resigned in protest. His vice premier, Henri Petain, formed a new government and asked the Germans for an armistice, in effect, surrendering.

This was an ironic position for Petain, to say the least. The man who had become a legendary war hero for successfully repelling a German attack on the French city of Verdun during the First World War was now surrendering to Hitler.

In the city of Vichy, the French Senate and Chamber of Deputies conferred on the 84-year-old general the title of “Chief of State,” making him a virtual dictator–although one controlled by Berlin. Petain believed that he could negotiate a better deal for his country–for example, obtaining the release of prisoners of war–by cooperating with, or as some would say, appeasing, the Germans.

But Petain proved to be too clever by half. While he fought against a close Franco-German military collaboration, and fired his vice premier, Pierre Laval, for advocating it, and secretly urged Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco to refuse passage of the German army to North Africa, his attempts to undermine the Axis while maintaining an official posture of neutrality did not go unnoticed by Hitler, who ordered that Laval be reinstated as vice premier. Petain acquiesced, but refused to resign in protest because of fear that France would come under direct German rule if he were not there to act as a buffer. But he soon became little more than a figurehead, despite efforts to manipulate events behind the scenes that would advance the Free French cause (then publicly denying, even denouncing, those events when they came to light).

When Paris was finally liberated by General Charles de Gaulle in 1944, Petain fled to Germany. He was brought back after the war to stand trial for his duplicity. He was sentenced to death, which was then commuted to life in solitary confinement. He died at 95 in prison. The man responsible for saving his life was de Gaulle. He and Petain had fought in the same unit in World War I and had not forgotten Petain’s bravery during that world war.

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German Insignia of World War II

German Insignia of World War II

by Chris Bishop and Adam Warner

Illustrated with hundreds of color and black and white photographs, this book is the definitive guide to the symbols, both military and civilian, of the the Third Reich, which served to inspire Germany’s war effort in World War II.

Only 3 Iron Crosses for this book since it was a very misleading title. German Insignia should be changed to Third Reich or Nazi German Insignia of WW2. This book features tons of material on the Nazi insignia, but barely touches anything on the Wehrmacht. Unfortunately like most picture books it is a poor for reference use since it does not cover every piece of insignia. More for the novice or average WW2 reader. It does have some good points with colorful, wonderful pictures and nice amount of information.

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1914 Austrian Investigation into Archduke’s Assassination Concludes

On July 13, 1914, Friedrich von Wiesner, an official of the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Office, reports back to Foreign Minister Leopold von Berchtold the findings of an investigation into the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife Sophie the previous June 28, in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary had long feared its waning influence in early 20th-century Europe, and was particularly threatened after the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13 confirmed the growing influence and ambition of Serbia, backed by its mighty Slavic ally, Russia. In fact, even before Franz Ferdinand’s death, Berchtold’s office had been preparing a memorandum for the archduke, as well as for Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, proposing an alliance with Bulgaria to shore up Austrian influence and isolate Serbia in the tumultuous Balkans region. When Gavrilo Princip, a young Bosnian Serb nationalist, shot Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range in their car in Sarajevo on June 28, Berchtold—along with most in Vienna and the rest of the world—assumed the Serbian government had some complicity in the plot. Two days after the assassination, Berchtold proposed a “final and fundamental reckoning with Serbia” to the Austrian emperor, 84-year-old Franz Josef, who agreed to send a personal note to Kaiser Wilhelm, along with a revised and more aggressive version of the memorandum. On July 5, the kaiser gave Berchtold’s ambassador what has become known as carte blanche or “blank check” assurance that Germany would back Austria-Hungary in any punitive action it chose to take against Serbia.

By July 8, both Berchtold and Conrad von Hotzendorff, the bellicose chief of staff of the Austrian army, had come to believe that a military invasion of Serbia was both desirable and necessary to capitalize on the situation and crush the upstart rival. Even as Austrian investigators worked to sort through the evidence in Sarajevo, then, Austria-Hungary, with German encouragement (in fact, Berlin was pressing Vienna to act more quickly) plotted the next step: the presentation of an ultimatum to Serbia that would be worded in such a way as to make it practically impossible for the other country to accept.

On July 13, Wiesner reported the findings of the Austrian investigation: “There is nothing to prove or even suppose that the Serbian government is accessory to the inducement for the crime, its preparation, or the furnishing of weapons. On the contrary, there are reasons to believe that this is altogether out of the question.” The only evidence that could be found, it seemed, was that Princip and his cohorts had been aided by individuals with ties to the government, most likely members of a shadowy organization within the army, the Black Hand. Realizing he would have to go ahead without evidence of Serbian guilt, Berchtold declined to share these findings with Franz Josef, while his office continued the drafting of the Serbian ultimatum, which was to be delivered on July 23 in Belgrade.

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1917 German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg Resigns

On July 10, 1917, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, chancellor of Germany, resigns his position after failing to control the divided German Reichstag (government) as World War I threatened to stretch into its fourth agonizing year.

A former Prussian minister of the interior and state secretary in the Imperial German Office, Bethmann Hollweg was appointed German chancellor by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1909. Though of a relatively liberal bent, Bethmann Hollweg from the beginning strove to satisfy both the right and left extremes within the Reichstag, with varying results. His efforts to pursue diplomacy within Europe were often undermined by the strength of the German military establishment, supported by the kaiser. One outstanding example of this dynamic was Bethmann Hollweg’s unsuccessful efforts to scale back Germany’s aggressive naval build-up in the first decade of the 20th century, in accordance with negotiations he entered into with Britain. In the end, the kaiser weighed in on the side of Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, and the naval arms race continued.

Though Bethmann Hollweg personally expressed hopes of avoiding Germany’s going to war in the summer of 1914, he nonetheless played a central role in the machinations between Austria-Hungary and Germany that occurred in the wake of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo in late June. Once the war was underway, Bethmann Hollweg struggled to make his influence felt with the kaiser and the military leaders of Germany, who effectively dictated policy from the first year of war and whose power was formally consolidated with the creation of the Third Supreme Command—effectively a military dictatorship—in August 1916. The chancellor, echoing more liberal elements within the Reichstag, including the socialists, spoke out for peace more than once and argued for limitation of Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, actions that earned him the contempt of the military and naval command, including Von Tirpitz and Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff.

The chancellor owed his final downfall, however, to his failure to manage the civil unrest within Germany, reflected in the feuding Reichstag. During the summer of 1917, as parliamentary debate raged over a proposed peace resolution, Bethmann Hollweg found himself unable to continue to balance the feuding elements of the German government, especially the majority Socialist Party—which was itself alienating its most radical leftist elements by aligning with a center-left coalition—and the conservative right, which predictably enjoyed the support of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Having previously committed—reluctantly—to an unrestricted naval policy that had led the United States to declare war on Germany the previous April, Bethmann Hollweg was seen by the center-left, the authors of the Reichstag peace resolution, as a warmonger and by the right as a weakling for supporting the efforts to broker a peace.

Exhausted, Bethmann Hollweg rose in the Reichstag on July 9 to respond to his critics: “My position does not matter…I myself am convinced of my own limitations…I am considered weak because I seek to end the war. A leading statesman can receive support neither from the Left nor the Right in Germany.” The following day, he resigned as chancellor. He was replaced by Georg Michaelis, a relatively obscure undersecretary of state in the Finance Ministry who served for less than four months, only to be replaced by the equally unobtrusive Count Georg von Hertling, who served until the last month of the war and was, like Michaelis, basically a puppet premier subject to the authority of the kaiser and the military.

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1940 The Battle of Britain Begins

On this day in 1940, the Germans begin the first in a long series of bombing raids against Great Britain, as the Battle of Britain, which will last three and a half months, begins.

After the occupation of France by Germany, Britain knew it was only a matter of time before the Axis power turned its sights across the Channel. And on July 10, 120 German bombers and fighters struck a British shipping convoy in that very Channel, while 70 more bombers attacked dockyard installations in South Wales. Although Britain had far fewer fighters than the Germans–600 to 1,300–it had a few advantages, such as an effective radar system, which made the prospects of a German sneak attack unlikely. Britain also produced superior quality aircraft. Its Spitfires could turn tighter than Germany’s ME109s, enabling it to better elude pursuers; and its Hurricanes could carry 40mm cannon, and would shoot down, with its American Browning machine guns, over 1,500 Luftwaffe aircraft. The German single-engine fighters had a limited flight radius, and its bombers lacked the bomb-load capacity necessary to unleash permanent devastation on their targets. Britain also had the advantage of unified focus, while German infighting caused missteps in timing; they also suffered from poor intelligence.

But in the opening days of battle, Britain was in immediate need of two things: a collective stiff upper lip–and aluminum. A plea was made by the government to turn in all available aluminum to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. “We will turn your pots and pans into Spitfires and Hurricanes,” the ministry declared. And they did.

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Eastern Front: The Unpublished Photographs 1941-1945

Eastern Front: The Unpublished Photographs 1941-1945

by Will Fowler

After securing the rights to this amazing Ukrainian state photo archive, the author traveled to Kiev with a translator, a bodyguard and several thousand used American dollar bills, the negotiated cost for the collection. According to Fowler, the risk of carrying that kind of cash – or 15 years’ salary to the average Kiev worker – through a city with a staggering crime rate was well worth it. This photographic record of the war on the Eastern Front is composed entirely of imagery taken and captioned by Red Army photographers. None of the images have previously been seen in the West. The result, which offers the perspectives of Soviet soldiers, as well as those of ordinary men, women and children, is a visually stunning account covering every aspect of one of history’s bloodiest chapters and the epic battles waged in Stalingrad, Kursk, Kharkov, and Leningrad. Almost 30 million people died during the course of the four years of conflict during World War II. In the aftermath, the whole of Poland, European Russia, and Germany lay in ruins as a result of the fighting.

3 Iron Crosses only for this book due to the amount of Russian photos versus German photos. It is overwhelmingly a book for the Russian photo collector versus the German. Beyond that there is nothing to special about the information. Good for Eastern Front and some WW II readers.

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