1916 German Cameroons surrenders to Allied forces

On this day in 1916, Allied forces complete their conquest of the Cameroons, a German protectorate on the coast of western Africa.

Drawn by the rich trade of slaves, ivory and rubber established in the 17th century, German and British settlers began to explore inland Africa beginning around 1860. In 1884, Germany established a protectorate over the Douala region; Britain did not dispute the claim. By the early 20th century, Germany had built roads, begun the construction of a railroad and cultivated large plantations of cacao, palm and rubber in the region. They had also built a city, Douala, on the Atlantic coast, which by 1914 served as the principal port and wireless station in the Cameroons.

The British launched their campaign in the German Cameroons in late summer 1914, just after the outbreak of World War I; it would last 18 months. The British failed to anticipate the German strategy: knowing the formidable strength of the British navy, the Germans decided not to concentrate on defending the coast, but instead to withdraw inland and use the rough interior of the continent to fortify their resistance. Thus, although British forces earned quick successes—they secured Douala by September 27, 1914, without firing a shot—they were not able to fully take control of the Cameroons until the following February.

The West African Frontier Force, fully committed in the Cameroons until March 1916, was one of two sets of “local” troops that the British turned to in Africa; the other was the South African Defense Force, which concentrated on the campaign in German Southwest Africa (now Namibia). African soldiers in World War I were generally compelled to enlist or were mercenaries. Some served on both sides during the war.

In 1919, during the Versailles peace conference, Britain was given a mandate over one-fifth of the former German Cameroons; the rest was assigned to France. A mandate was a commission granted by the newly created League of Nations allowing member states of the League to establish their own governments in former German territories. Both the British and French Cameroons were made trust territories of the United Nations after World War II. The French Cameroons gained their independence in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year, after a U.N. plebiscite was conducted in the British Cameroons, the southern half of the territory joined the Republic of Cameroon, while the Northern Cameroons became part of Nigeria.

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German village votes to keep ‘Hitler bell’

by DW

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg in southwest Germany have voted to keep a controversial Nazi-era bell hanging at a local church. Some residents feared it could become a draw for far-right groups.

In a vote on Monday night, the local council in a small southwestern German village decided by 10 votes to 3 that a Nazi-era bell — complete with the inscription “Everything for the Fatherland – Adolf Hitler” — should continue to hang in the local church and be put back in use.

Councilors in Herxheim am Berg, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Heidelberg, said the bell, which also bears a swastika, should serve as a force for reconciliation and a memorial against violence and injustice.

The council rejected calls by some residents for the bell to be dismantled or put in a museum. They also turned down an offer by the local Protestant church to bear the cost of installing a new one.

Herxheim am Berg Mayor Georg Welker told reporters that it was better the bell remained in the church “than if it would hang in some museum where someone could stand in front of the bell at any time and take a selfie.”

Resident spoke out

The contentious bronze bell has been in the church since 1934, where it was used until recently. Its existence only became known when a former church organist, Sigrid Peters, complained about the inscription.

Following the council vote, Peters told DW she was deeply concerned about the signal the council was sending about Germany to the rest of the world.

She said she was deeply saddened “that this could happen, that they allow a bell dedicated to a murderer to hang in the church.”

For Peters, the council’s decision to keep and use the Nazi-era bell and the electoral success of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) aren’t a coincidence.

The Jakobskirche has stood in Herxheim am Berg for 1,000 years.

Put back to use

After Peters found out about the Nazi-era bell and informed local media last summer, the local authority ordered an outside assessment to help councilors decide its fate. Experts came to the conclusion that the bell should be classified as a memorial and either moved to a museum or kept in the church tower.

The council decided the bell will be put back into operation, and a commemorative plaque displayed in the church to point out its history.

Months before Monday’s decision, the church voted not to ring the bell any more, and would rely instead on its other two bells, which have no Nazi motif.

How to deal with Nazi past

The large bell sparked an intense debate about how Germany should deal with Nazi symbols. Many residents were concerned the bronze relic would ruin the church’s reputation, or that its existence would encourage neo-Nazi groups to congregate in the village.

Others complained that its removal would mean the town’s history would be covered up.

The dispute intensified when the town’s then mayor, Roland Becker, argued that not everything was bad during the Nazi era — comments that forced his resignation.

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1944 Test pilot Reitsch pitches suicide squad to Hitler

Hannah Reitsch, the first female test pilot in the world, suggests the creation of the Nazi equivalent of a kamikaze squad of suicide bombers while visiting Adolf Hitler in Berchtesgaden. Hitler was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

Reitsch was born in 1912 in Hirschberg, Germany. She left medical school (she had wanted to be a missionary doctor) to take up flying full time, and became an expert glider pilot–gliders were motorless planes that the Germans developed to evade strict rules about building “war planes” after WWI. In addition to gaining experience with gliders, Reitsch also did stunt flying for the movies. In 1934, she broke the world’s altitude record for women (9,184 feet). An ardent Nazi and admirer of Hitler, she was made an honorary flight captain by the Fuhrer, the first woman to receive such an honor. In 1937, the Luftwaffe, the German air force, put her to work as a test pilot. Reitsch embraced this opportunity to fly as part of what she called Germany’s “guardians of the portals of peace.” Among her signal achievements was the testing of a proto-helicopter in 1939.

Reitsch came closer than any other woman to seeing actual combat during World War II, depositing German troops along the Maginot Line in France during the Germans’ 1940 invasion by glider plane. She won an Iron Cross, Second Class, for risking her life trying to cut British barrage-balloon cables (the balloons were unmanned blimps, tethered in one place, from which steel cables dangled so as to foul the wings and propellers of enemy aircraft). Among the warplanes she tested was the Messerschmitt 163, a rocket-power interceptor that she flew 500 mph. While testing the ME 163 a fifth time, she spun out of control and crash-landed (even though she was injured during the crash, she nevertheless managed to write down exactly what happened before she passed out from her injuries). For this, Hitler awarded her an Iron Cross, First Class.

It was while receiving this second Iron Cross from Hitler in Berchtesgaden in 1944 that she pitched the idea of a Luftwaffe suicide squad of pilots who would fly specially designed versions of the V-1. Hitler was initially put off by the idea, only because he did not think it an effective or efficient use of resources. But Reitsch’s commitment persuaded him to investigate the prospect of designing such planes, at which point she put together a Suicide Group and was the first to take the following pledge: “I hereby…voluntarily apply to be enrolled in the suicide group as a pilot of a human glider-bomb. I fully understand that employment in this capacity will entail my own death.” The squad was never deployed.

Reitsch was one of the last people to see Hitler alive. On April 26, 1945, she flew to Berlin with Gen. Ritter von Greim, who was to be given command of the Luftwaffe. Greim was wounded when Reitsch’s plane was hit by Soviet antiaircraft fire. After saying farewell to the Fuhrer, tucked away in his bunker, she flew Greim back out of Berlin.

After the war, Reitsch was captured and interned by the U.S. Army. She testified to the “disintegration” of Hitler’s personality that she claimed to have witnessed during the last days of the war. When released, Reitsch continued to set records, including becoming the first woman to fly a glider over the Alps. In 1951, she published her autobiography, Flying Is My Life, and from 1962 to 1966 she was director of the national school of gliding in Ghana. She died in 1979, at 65 years old, only one year after setting a new women’s glider distance record. In her career, she set more than 40 world records for flying powered and motorless planes.

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