Hitler’s Tour of Paris

Jun 23, 1940:

Hitler’s Tour of Paris

On this day in 1940, Adolf Hitler surveys notable sites in the French capital, now German-occupied territory.

In his first and only visit to Paris, Hitler made Napoleon’s tomb among the sites to see. “That was the greatest and finest moment of my life,” he said upon leaving. Comparisons between the Fuhrer and Napoleon have been made many times: They were both foreigners to the countries they ruled (Napoleon was Italian, Hitler was Austrian); both planned invasions of Russia while preparing invasions of England; both captured the Russian city of Vilna on June 24; both had photographic memories; both were under 5 feet 9 inches tall, among other coincidences.

As a tribute to the French emperor, Hitler ordered that the remains of Napoleon’s son be moved from Vienna to lie beside his father.

But Hitler being Hitler, he came to do more than gawk at the tourist attractions. He ordered the destruction of two World War I monuments: one to General Charles Mangin, a French war hero, and one to Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was executed by a German firing squad for helping Allied soldiers escape German-occupied Brussels. The last thing Hitler wanted were such visible reminders of past German defeat.

Hitler would gush about Paris for months afterward. He was so impressed, he ordered architect and friend Albert Speer to revive plans for a massive construction program of new public buildings in Berlin, an attempt to destroy Paris, not with bombs, but with superior architecture. “Wasn’t Paris beautiful?” Hitler asked Speer. “But Berlin must be far more beautiful. [W]hen we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow.”

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First Battle of the Isonzo

Jun 23, 1915:

First Battle of the Isonzo

On June 23, 1915, exactly one month after Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, the Italian army attacks Austro-Hungarian positions near the Isonzo River, in the eastern section of the Italian front; it will become the first of twelve Battles of the Isonzo fought during World War I.

Of all the fronts of the Great War, the Italian was the least well-suited not only for offensive operations but for any form of warfare at all. Four-fifths of Italy’s 600-kilometer-long border with Austria-Hungary was mountainous, with several peaks rising above 3,000 meters. Despite this, the Italian chief of staff, Luigi Cadorna, desperately wanted to satisfy the demands of his government–as well as the other Allies–by making substantial gains of territory against Austria-Hungary upon Italy’s declaration of war on May 23, 1915.

For its part, Austria-Hungary was surprisingly unconcerned with the Italian entry into the war, despite the fact that it opened a third front for an army whose resources were already stretched dangerously thin. In the years before the war, the Austrian commander in chief, Conrad von Hotzendorff, had often suggested a pre-emptive strike against Italy, as well as against Serbia; in 1915, the prospect of confronting an inferior Italian army seemed to lend a new burst of energy to the Dual Monarchy. Germany, though, pressured Austria-Hungary to fight defensively in Italy and not to divert resources from the Eastern Front against Russia. As a result, while the Italians plotted ambitious offensive operations, including surprise attacks across the Isonzo River, the Austrians settled into their positions in the mountains along the rapid-flowing Isonzo and planned to mount a solid and spirited defense.

After a series of preliminary operations on various sections of the front, Italian forces struck the Austrian positions at the Isonzo for the first time on June 23, 1915, after a one-week bombardment. Despite enjoying numerical superiority, the Italian forces were unable to break the Austro-Hungarian forces, Cadorna having failed to assemble adequate artillery protection to back up his infantry troops–a mistake similar to those made early in the war by commanders on the Western Front. Two Austro-Hungarian infantry divisions soon arrived to aid their comrades at the Isonzo and the Italians were prevented from crossing the river; Cadorna called off the attacks on July 7.

In the four battles fought on the Isonzo in 1915 alone, Italy made no substantial progress and suffered 235,000 casualties, including 54,000 killed. Cadorna’s plans for a highly mobile Italian advance had definitively failed, and battle on the Italian front, as in the west, had settled into slow, excruciating trench warfare.

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