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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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First U.S. troops arrive in France

Jun 26, 1917:

First U.S. troops arrive in France

During World War I, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops land in France at the port of Saint Nazaire. The landing site had been kept secret because of the menace of German submarines, but by the time the Americans had lined up to take their first salute on French soil, an enthusiastic crowd had gathered to welcome them. However, the “Doughboys,” as the British referred to the green American troops, were untrained, ill-equipped, and far from ready for the difficulties of fighting along the Western Front.

One of U.S. General John J. Pershing’s first duties as commander of the American Expeditionary Force was to set up training camps in France and establish communication and supply networks. Four months later, on October 21, the first Americans entered combat when units from the U.S. Army’s First Division were assigned to Allied trenches in the Luneville sector near Nancy, France. Each American unit was attached to a corresponding French unit. Two days later, Corporal Robert Bralet of the Sixth Artillery became the first U.S. soldier to fire a shot in the war when he discharged a French 75mm gun into a German trench a half mile away. On November 2, Corporal James Gresham and privates Thomas Enright and Merle Hay of the 16th Infantry became the first American soldiers to die when Germans raided their trenches near Bathelemont, France.

After four years of bloody stalemate along the Western Front, the entrance of America’s well-supplied forces into the conflict was a major turning point in the war. When the war finally ended on November 11, 1918, more than two million American soldiers had served on the battlefields of Western Europe, and more than 50,000 of these men had lost their lives.

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Germans release statement on use of poison gas at Ypres

Jun 25, 1915:

Germans release statement on use of poison gas at Ypres

On this day in 1915, the German press publishes an official statement from the country’s war command addressing the German use of poison gas at the start of the Second Battle of Ypres two months earlier.

The German firing of more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915, had shocked and horrified their Allied opponents in World War I and provoked angry outbursts against what was seen as inexcusable barbarism, even in the context of warfare. As Sir John French, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), wrote heatedly of the German attacks at Ypres: “All the scientific resources of Germany have apparently been brought into play to produce a gas of so virulent and poisonous a nature that any human being brought into contact with it is first paralyzed and then meets with a lingering and agonizing death.”

The German statement of June 25, 1915, was a response to this outraged reaction by the Allies; they considered it hypocritical, claiming that their opponents–namely the French–had been manufacturing and employing gas in battle well before the Second Battle of Ypres. “For every one who has kept an unbiased judgment,” the statement began, “the official assertions of the strictly accurate and truthful German military administration will be sufficient to prove the prior use of asphyxiating gases by our opponents.” It went on to quote from a memorandum issued by the French War Ministry on February 21, 1915, containing instructions for using “these so-called shells with stupefying gases that are being manufactured by our central factories?[that] contain a fluid which streams forth after the explosion, in the form of vapors that irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.”

This memo, the Germans concluded, proved that “the French in their State workshops manufactured shells with asphyxiating gases fully half a year ago at least” and that they must have manufactured sufficient numbers for the War Ministry to issue directions on how to use the shells. “What hypocrisy when the same people grow indignant because the Germans much later followed them on the path they had pointed out!”

Though the French were, in fact, the first to employ gas during World War I–in August 1914 they used tear-gas grenades containing xylyl bromide to confront the initial German advance in Belgium and northeastern France–Germany was undoubtedly the first belligerent nation during the war to put serious thought and work into the development of chemical weapons that were not merely irritants, like xylyl bromide, but could be used in large quantities to inflict a major defeat on the enemy. In addition to chlorine gas, first used to deadly effect by the Germans at Ypres, phosgene gas and mustard gas were also employed on the battlefields of World War I, mostly by Germany but also by Britain and France, who were forced to quickly catch up to the Germans in the realm of chemical-weapons technology. Though the psychological impact of poison gas was undoubtedly great, its actual impact on the war–like that of the tank–is debatable, due to the low rate of fatality associated with the gas attacks. In total, the war saw some 1.25 million gas casualties but only 91,000 deaths from gas poisoning, with over 50 percent of those fatalities suffered by the poorly equipped Russian army.

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Update 6-24 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New Pictures have been added to the Pages:

  • Luftwaffe Pilots
  • Fuhrer’s Headquarters and Other Official Sites
  • Tiger 1
  • SS – Schutzstaffel
  • Order of Battle – Waffen-SS Divisions
  • Battle of Greece
  • Battle of Normandy
  • Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler
  • SS Officers, NCOs, Etc.
  • Modern Germany
  • Self-propelled Anti-aircraft Weapon
  • Military Ceremonies and Rallys of the Third Reich
  • Leading Figures of Nazi Germany
  • Fuhrer Adolf Hitler
  • WW2 U-Boats

Enjoy!

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Largest Collection of Photos and Images of German History in the World with a focus on World War II.