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President of the Weimar Republic Hindenburg Dies

Aug 2, 1934:

President of the Weimar Republic Hindenburg Dies

On this day in 1934, Paul von Hindenburg, president of the Weimar Republic of Germany, dies, opening the door for the tyranny of Adolf Hitler, whom he had appointed chancellor in 1933.

Hindenburg’s life was one immersed in the Prussian military tradition. His father was a Prussian officer, and Hindenburg fought in the Seven Weeks’ War (with Austria) at age 19, and later in the Franco-Prussian War. He was eventually promoted to the rank of general before retiring from the military in 1911.

But it was during World War I that Hindenburg came to national prominence. He was asked to serve as the superior to Major General Erich Ludendorff, a prominent army strategist. Ludendorff succeeded in driving Russian invaders from East Prussia-but it was Hindenburg who was given the credit. As the war progressed, Hindenburg’s stature grew to epic proportions, even influencing Emperor Wilhelm II to make him commander of all land forces, despite Hindenburg’s rather dubious strategic skills. In fact, severe miscalculations on Hindenburg’s part resulted in Germany’s defeat, which Hindenburg then blamed on Ludendorff. (And which Ludendorff and the generals then blamed on the politicians.)

A monarchist fond of authoritarian regimes, Hindenburg nevertheless took the reigns of the postwar republican government as president in 1925. Fearful of social unrest (from both the far right and far left), in light of the Depression and the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which demanded heavy reparations from Germany as the terms of its surrender, Hindenburg authorized his chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, to dissolve the Reichstag (parliament) if necessary and call for new elections—which he did. Those new elections ushered in the Nazi Party as the second largest party in the Reichstag.

Re-elected as president in 1932, Hindenburg had already lost the support of many of the more conservative elements in the government, who were flocking to Hitler’s party, which they saw as the key to renewed German prestige and the bulwark against Bolshevism. After a succession of chancellors proved ineffectual in reversing Germany’s economic slide, and gaining the Nazi support necessary to keep a coalition together, Hindenburg reluctantly named Hitler chancellor of Germany. Hindenburg was never an ardent Hitler supporter, but he did little to impede him as Hitler began employing terror tactics in his drive to consolidate power for the Nazis.

When Hindenburg died, he was still a respected figure nationwide and was buried, with his wife, at Tannenberg, the sight of the great victory against the Russians during World War I. As World War II was came to a close, their bodies were removed so that the advancing Russians would not get at them. They were ultimately reburied by Americans at Marburg.

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Mutiny breaks out on German Battleship

Aug 2, 1917:

Mutiny breaks out on German Battleship

On August 2, 1917, with British forces settling into new positions captured from the Germans in the much-contested Ypres Salient on the Western Front of World War I, Germany faces more trouble closer to home, as a mutiny breaks out aboard the German battleship Prinzregent Luitpold, anchored at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven.

During the August 2 mutiny, some 400 sailors marched into town calling for an end to the war and proclaiming their unwillingness to continue fighting. Although the demonstration was quickly brought under control by army officials and the sailors were persuaded to return to their ships without real violence that day, some 75 of them were arrested and imprisoned and the ringleaders of the mutiny were subsequently tried, convicted and executed. “I die with a curse on the German-militarist state,” one of them, Albin Kobis, wrote his parents before he was shot by an army firing squad at Cologne. As Willy Weber, another convicted sailor, whose death sentence was later commuted to 15 years in prison, put it: “Nobody wanted a revolution, we just wanted to be treated more like human beings.”

Discontent and rebellion within the German Imperial High Seas Fleet continued throughout the following year, as things went abysmally for Germany on the battlefields of the Western Front after the initial success of their spring offensive in 1918. It was rumored that naval commanders were plotting a last-ditch attempt, against the orders of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Reichstag government, to confront the mighty British navy and break the Allied blockade in the North Sea. The force of this rumor, combined with sinking morale, led to an even more significant mutiny at Wilhelmshaven on October 29, 1918, sparked by the arrest of some 300 sailors who had refused to obey orders.

The unrest soon spread to another German port city, Kiel, where on November 3 some 3,000 German sailors and workers rose in revolt, taking over ships and buildings and brandishing the red flag of communism. The following day, November 4, the rebels at Kiel formed the first Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council in Germany, defying the national government and seeking to act in the spirit of the Russian soviets. On the same day, the government of the Austro-Hungarian Empire asked the Allies for an armistice, which they were granted. An isolated and internally divided Germany was forced to sue for its own armistice barely a week later, and the First World War came to an end.

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First World War erupts in Europe

Aug 1, 1914:

First World War erupts in Europe

On August 1, 1914, four days after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, two more great European powers—Russia and Germany—declare war on each other; the same day, France orders a general mobilization. The so-called “Great War” that ensued would be one of unprecedented destruction and loss of life, resulting in the deaths of some 20 million soldiers and civilians and the physical devastation of much of the European continent.

The event that was widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I occurred on July 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was shot to death with his wife by the Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. Over the weeks that followed, Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the attack, hoping to use the incident as justification for settling the problem of Slavic nationalism in the tumultuous Balkans region once and for all. However, as Russia supported Serbia, an Austria-Hungary declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention. This assurance came on July 5; Austria-Hungary subsequently sent an ultimatum to the Serbian government on July 23 and demanded its acceptance within two days at the risk of war. Though Serbia accepted all but two of the ultimatum’s terms, and Russia declared its intention to back Serbia in the case of such a conflict, Austria-Hungary went ahead with its war declaration against Serbia on July 28, one month after the assassinations.

With that declaration, the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers was shattered: Germany warned Russia, still only partially mobilized, that to continue to full mobilization against Austria-Hungary would mean war with Germany. While insisting that Russia immediately halt mobilization, Germany began its own mobilization; when the Russians refused the German demands, Germany declared war on the czarist empire on August 1. That same day, Russia’s ally, France, long suspicious of German aggression, began its own mobilization, urging Great Britain—the third member, along with France and Russia, of the Triple Entente alliance—to declare its support. A divided British government declined to do so initially, but events soon precipitated Britain’s move towards war as well. On August 2, the first German army units crossed into Luxembourg as part of a long-planned German strategy to invade France through neutral Belgium. France and Germany declared war against each other on August 3; that night, Germany invaded Belgium, prompting Great Britain to declare war on Germany.

For the most part, the people of Europe greeted the outbreak of war with jubilation. The great majority of people—within government and without—assumed that their country would be victorious within months, and could not envision the possibility of a longer conflict. By the end of 1914, however, well over a million soldiers of various nationalities had been killed on the battlefields of Europe, and there was no final victory in sight for either the Allies or the Central Powers. On the Western Front—the battle line that stretched across northern France and Belgium—the combatants settled down in the trenches for a terrible war of attrition, which would continue, in Europe and other corners of the world, for the next four years.

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Update 7-30 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New pictures have been added to the website:

  • Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler
  • Leading Figures of Nazi Germany
  • SS Officers, NCOs, Etc.
  • Battle of France – 1940
  • World War 2 Generals
  • General Heinz Guderian
  • General Hasso von Manteuffel
  • December 44 Historical Museum – La Gleize, Belgium
  • Special Collection of Photos from Boelcke’s Grandfather
  • Annexation of the Sudentenland

Enjoy!

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Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas of Russia Exchange Telegrams

Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas II circa 1913

Jul 29, 1914:

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Czar Nicholas of Russia Exchange Telegrams

In the early hours of July 29, 1914, Czar Nicholas II of Russia and his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, begin a frantic exchange of telegrams regarding the newly erupted war in the Balkan region and the possibility of its escalation into a general European war.

One day prior, Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia, one month after the assassination in Sarajevo of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian nationalist. In the wake of the killings, Germany had promised Austria-Hungary its unconditional support in whatever punitive action it chose to take towards Serbia, regardless of whether or not Serbia’s powerful ally, Russia, stepped into the conflict. By the time an ultimatum from Vienna to Serbia was rejected on July 25, Russia, defying Austro-German expectations, had already ordered preliminary mobilization to begin, believing that Berlin was using the assassination crisis as a pretext to launch a war to shore up its power in the Balkans.

The relationship between Nicholas and Wilhelm, two grandsons of Britain’s Queen Victoria, had long been a rocky one. Though Wilhelm described himself as Victoria’s favorite grandson, the great queen in turn warned Nicholas to be careful of Wilhelm’s “mischievous and unstraight-forward proceedings.” Victoria did not invite the kaiser, who she described to her prime minister as “a hot-headed, conceited, and wrong-headed young man,” to her Diamond Jubilee celebration in 1897, nor her 80th birthday two years later. Czar Nicholas himself commented in 1902 after a meeting with Wilhelm: “He’s raving mad!” Now, however, the two cousins stood at the center of the crisis that would soon escalate into the First World War.

“In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me,” Czar Nicholas wrote to the kaiser in a telegram sent at one o’clock on the morning of July 29. “An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war.” This message crossed with one from Wilhelm to Nicholas expressing concern about the effect of Austria’s declaration in Russia and urging calm and consideration as a response.

After receiving the czar’s telegram, Wilhelm cabled back: “I…share your wish that peace should be maintained. But…I cannot consider Austria’s action against Serbia an ‘ignoble’ war. Austria knows by experience that Serbian promises on paper are wholly unreliable. I understand its action must be judged as trending to get full guarantee that the Serbian promises shall become real facts…I therefore suggest that it would be quite possible for Russia to remain a spectator of the Austro-Serbian conflict without involving Europe in the most horrible war she ever witnessed.” Though Wilhelm assured the czar that the German government was working to broker an agreement between Russia and Austria-Hungary, he warned that if Russia were to take military measures against Austria, war would be the result.

The telegram exchange continued over the next few days, as the two men spoke of their desire to preserve peace, even as their respective countries continued mobilizing for war. On July 30, the kaiser wrote to Nicholas: “I have gone to the utmost limits of the possible in my efforts to save peace….Even now, you can still save the peace of Europe by stopping your military measures.” The following day, Nicholas replied: “It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria’s mobilization. We are far from wishing for war. As long as the negotiations with Austria on Serbia’s account are taking place my troops shall not make any provocative action. I give you my solemn word for this.” But by that time things had gone too far: Emperor Franz Josef had rejected the kaiser’s mediation offer, saying it came too late, as Russia had already mobilized and Austrian troops were already marching on Serbia.

The German ambassador to Russia delivered an ultimatum that night—halt the mobilization within 12 hours, or Germany would begin its own mobilization, a step that would logically proceed to war. By four o’clock in the afternoon of August 1, in Berlin, no reply had come from Russia. At a meeting with Germany’s civilian and military leaders—Chancellor Theobald Bethmann von Hollweg and General Erich von Falkenhayn—Kaiser Wilhelm agreed to sign the mobilization orders.

That same day, in his last contribution to what were dubbed the “Willy-Nicky” telegrams, Czar Nicholas pressed the kaiser for assurance that his mobilization did not definitely mean war. Wilhelm’s response was dismissive. “I yesterday pointed out to your government the way by which alone war may be avoided….I have…been obliged to mobilize my army. Immediate affirmative clear and unmistakable answer from your government is the only way to avoid endless misery. Until I have received this answer alas, I am unable to discuss the subject of your telegram. As a matter of fact I must request you to immediatly [sic] order your troops on no account to commit the slightest act of trespassing over our frontiers.” Germany declared war on Russia that same day.

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Update 7-28 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New pictures have been added to the pages:

  • Annexation of the Sudentenland
  • World War 2 Generals
  • WW2 Allies – Italy – Benito Mussolini
  • Afrika Korps
  • World War 2 Field Marshalls
  • WW2 Allies – Kingdom of Hungary
  • General Heinz Guderian
  • December 44 Historical Museum – La Gleize, Belgium
  • Deutsches Panzermuseum – German Tank Museum

Enjoy!

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Hamburg Suffers a Firestorm

Jul 28, 1943:

Hamburg Suffers a Firestorm

On this day in 1943, the worst British bombing raid on Hamburg so far virtually sets the city on fire, killing 42,000 German civilians.

On July 24, British bombers launched Operation Gomorrah, repeated bombing raids against Hamburg and its industrial and munitions plants. Sortie after sortie dropped fire from the sky, as thousands of tons of incendiary bombs destroyed tens of thousands of lives, buildings, and acreage. But the night of the 28th saw destruction unique in more than three years of bomb attacks: In just 43 minutes, 2,326 tons of bombs were dropped, creating a firestorm (a word that entered English parlance for the first time as a result of these events). Low humidity, a lack of fire-fighting resources (exhausted from battling blazes caused by the previous nights’ raids), and hurricane-level winds at the core of the storm literally fanned the flames, scorching eight square miles of Hamburg.

One British flight lieutenant recalled seeing “not many fires but one… I have never seen a fire like that before and was never to see its like again.” Despite the terrible loss of civilian life, there strange and awful irony: The horrific bombing runs affected Hitler’s war machine only marginally. It did more to wound the morale of the German people and its army officers than it did to the production of muniti

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