Erich Maria Remarque Born

All Quiet on the Western Front
All Quiet on the Western Front

Jun 22, 1898:

Erich Maria Remarque Born

On June 22, 1898, Erich Maria Remarque, the author of the great World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, is born in Osnabruck, Germany.

A student at the University of Munster, Remarque was drafted into the German army at the age of 18. He fought on the Western Front during World War I and was wounded no fewer than five times, the last time seriously. After the war, he worked various jobs—teacher, stonecutter, race-car driver, sports journalist—while working to complete the novel he had had in mind since the war. Published in Germany in 1929 as Im Westen Nichts Neues, it sold 1.2 million copies within a year; the English translation, All Quiet on the Western Front, published the same year, went on to similar success. It was subsequently translated into 12 languages, and made into a celebrated Hollywood film in 1930.

The smashing success of All Quiet on the Western Front was due in large part to its reflection of a widespread disillusionment with the war that took hold of many during the 1920s. Praised as a novel of unyielding realism, All Quiet on the Western Front described in stark detail the physical trauma of war. Remarque also articulated the numbing frustration and anger of the conscript soldier, sent into battle by government and military leaders for reasons of politics and power that he struggled to understand. In the words of his protagonist, Paul Baumer: I see how peoples are set against one another and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one anotherI see that the keenest brains of the world invent weapons and words to make it yet more refined and enduring.

The celebrated American journalist H. L. Mencken called All Quiet on the Western Front “unquestionably the best story of the World War.” Both the book and the 1930 film version were banned by the Nazis after their rise to power in Germany in 1933 as prejudicial to German national prestige. Remarque went on to write nine more novels, all dealing with the horror and futility of war and the struggle to understand its purpose; his last novel, The Night in Lisbon, was unsparing in its condemnation of World War II as Adolf Hitler’s attempt to perpetrate the extermination of Jews and other nonpeople on behalf of the master race.

Though he became a naturalized American citizen and was during the 1930s a frequent participant in New York City nightlife and a companion for several years in Hollywood of the actress Marlene Dietrich, Remarque lived for most of his later life at Porto Ronco, on the shore of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. He died at Locarno in 1970 with his wife, the actress Paulette Goddard, at his side.

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Allies surrender at Tobruk, Libya

Jun 21, 1942:

Allies surrender at Tobruk, Libya

On this day in 1942, General Erwin Rommel turns his assault on the British-Allied garrison at Tobruk, Libya, into victory, as his panzer division occupies the North African port.

Britain had established control of Tobruk after routing the Italians in 1940. But the Germans attempted to win it back by reinforcing Italian troops with the Afrika Korps of Erwin Rommel, who continually charged the British Eighth Army in battles around Tobruk, finally forcing the Brits to retreat into Egypt. All that was left to take back the port was the garrison now manned by the South African Division, which also included the Eleventh Indian Brigade. With the use of artillery, dive-bombers, and his panzer forces, Rommel pushed past the Allies. Unable to resist any longer, South African General Henrik Klopper ordered his officers to surrender early on the morning of the 21st. Rommel took more than 30,000 prisoners, 2,000 vehicles, 2,000 tons of fuel, and 5,000 tons of rations. Adolf Hitler awarded Rommel the field marshal’s baton as reward for his victory. “I am going on to Suez,” was Rommel’s promise.

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Britain launches Operation Bellicose

467_Sqn_RAAF_(UK1792)

Jun 20, 1943:

Britain launches Operation Bellicose

On this day in 1943, British bombers perform the first “shuttle bombing” raid of the war, attacking sites in Germany and Italy.

Taking off from airbases in Britain, bombers made for the southwestern German city of Friedrichshafen, at one time the home to Zeppelin airship construction. It now was the site of steel construction works, which were heavily damaged in the British attack. The Brits then flew, not back to Britain, but to airbases in Algeria. Refueled, they then headed north for the Italian naval base in La Spezia, in Liguria. This “shuttle” strategy enabled the bombers to kill two enemies with one operation-Bellicose.

The damage done to the steel works in Germany was so extensive that the assembly line had to be completely abandoned. Unbeknownst to Britain, that assembly line included the manufacture of more than just steel, but also new V2 rockets, to be spun out at the rate of 300 a month. The Brits unwittingly spared themselves retaliation-at least from V2s.

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German cabinet resigns over Versailles Deadlock

Demonstration against the Treaty in front of the Reichstag.
Demonstration against the Treaty in front of the Reichstag.

Jun 20, 1919:

German cabinet resigns over Versailles Deadlock

On this day in 1919, during the final days of the Versailles Peace Conference held in Paris, France, the German cabinet deadlocks over whether to accept the peace terms presented to its delegation by the other nations at the peace conference–most notably the Council of Four: France, Britain, the United States and Italy–and ratify the Versailles Treaty.

Presented with the terms of the treaty on May 7, 1919, the German delegation was given two weeks to examine the document and submit their official comments in writing. The Germans, who had put great faith in U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s notion of a so-called “peace without victory” and had pointed to his famous Fourteen Points as the basis upon which they sought peace in November 1918, were greatly angered and disillusioned by the treaty. By its terms, Germany was to lose 13 percent of its territory and 10 percent of its population; it would also have to pay reparations, a punishment justified in the treaty by the infamous Article 231, which placed the blame for the war squarely on Germany.

Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Germany’s foreign minister and leader of the German delegation at Versailles, was furious about the treaty. “This fat volume was quite unnecessary. They could have expressed the whole thing more simply in one clause–Germany renounces its existence.” The country’s military leaders were similarly against the treaty; as Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg saw it, “as a soldier I can only prefer honorable defeat to a disgraceful peace.” Some members of the coalition government that had taken power in Berlin, however, were of a different view, believing that Germany, in its weakened state, would benefit by signing the treaty in order to put the war behind it and begin rebuilding its manufacturing and commerce operations.

After Brockdorff-Rantzau’s delegation passed a unanimous recommendation to reject the treaty, the German cabinet, which had previously been leaning towards signing, deadlocked in its vote on June 20 and subsequently resigned en masse. Brockdorff-Rantzau followed suit, leaving Paris, and politics, altogether. Friedrich Ebert, the German president since late 1918, was persuaded to stay on, however, and as the Allied deadline of June 23 approached, he managed to assemble another cabinet to put the issue to a vote. After a last-minute flurry of activity, the German National Assembly voted to sign the treaty and its answer was delivered to the Council of Four at 5:40 p.m. on June 23. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, five years to the day after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife at Sarajevo.

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German Military History with a focus on World War 2 History including other areas of German History