13 December – Today in German History


  • A powerful avalanche kills hundreds of Austrian soldiers in a barracks near Italy’s Mount Marmolada on December 13, 1916. Over a period of several days, avalanches in the Italian Alps killed an estimated 10,000 Austrian and Italian soldiers in mid-December. The avalanches occurred as the Austrians and Italians were fighting World War I and some witnesses claim that the avalanches were purposefully caused to use as a weapon. Though there is little evidence that this was the case with these avalanches, it is possible that avalanches were used as weapons at other times during the war.


  • Hans-Joachim Marseille was born at Berliner Straße 164, Berlin, Germany.


  • Cruiser Köln returned from a screening mission for minelayers.
  • At the Battle of the River Plate, three British cruisers damaged German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, forcing her to enter the neutral port of Montevideo for repairs.


  • Führer Directive 20 was issued to prepare for Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece.
  • German Army units began redeployment in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.
  • German submarine U-43 torpedoed and damaged British ship Orari 450 miles west of Land’s End, the United Kingdom.


  • New Zealand and Indian troops of the British Eighth Army launched an attack on the Gazala Line in Libya while the Germans launched a counterattack. British tanks exploited the gap opened by Indian troops, but the advance was soon halted by German panzers. Both sides incurred heavy casualties in men and equipment after the day’s fighting.
  • General Timoshenko’s Southwest Front assaulted German lines at the junction of 2. Panzergruppe and 2. Armee.  2. Armee withdrew, leaving 2. Panzergruppe’s flank unprotected.
  • Feldmarschall von Bock secretly ordered Armeegruppe Mitte to withdraw to a winter line 90 miles west of current positions, without informing Hitler.
  • The German Gestapo arrested Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) radio operator Mikhail Makarov in the Rue des Atrebates, Brussels, Belgium. There followed a year-long series of arrests of Soviet Agents across Europe including the complete elimination of the Red Orchestra espionage group. By 1943, the Soviets would have no active agents still operating within greater Germany.
  • Hans-Joachim Marseille scored his 33rd and 34th kills, both South African P-40 fighters, when he shot down Flying Officer Thomas Trimble and either Lieutenant Connel or Lieutenant Meek northeast of Tmimi, Libya.


  • Kapitän zur See Hans Meyer took command of cruiser Köln.


  • German Armeegruppe Mitte was heavily engaged in defensive combat in and around Vitebsk, Byelorussia.


  • Cruiser Köln’s power stations and starboard engines were destroyed by Allied aerial attacks.
  • German 7. Armee withdrew to fortified positions on the Westwall on the French-German border.

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