On this day in 1940, after 18 days of ceaseless German bombardment, the king of Belgium, having asked for an armistice, is given only unconditional surrender as an option. He takes it.
German forces had moved into Belgium on May 10, part of Hitler’s initial western offensive. Despite some support by British forces, the Belgians were simply outnumbered and outgunned from the beginning. The first surrender of Belgium territory took place only one day after the invasion, when the defenders of Fort Eben-Emael surrendered.
Disregarding the odds, King Leopold III of Belgium had tried to rally his forces, evoking the Belgian victory during World War I. The Belgian forces fought on, courageously, but were continually overcome by the invaders.
By May 27, the king of Belgium, realizing that his army was depleted and that even retreat was no longer an option, sent an emissary through the German lines to request an armistice, a cease-fire. It was rejected. The Germans demanded unconditional surrender. Belgium’s government in exile, stationed in Paris, repudiated the surrender, but to no avail. Belgium had no army left to fight. In the House of Commons, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill defended King Leopold’s decision, despite the fact that it made the British troops’ position, attempting to evacuate Dunkirk, in northern France, more precarious.
King Leopold refused to flee the country and was taken prisoner by the Nazis during their occupation, and confined to his palace. A Belgian underground army grew up during the occupation; its work including protecting the port of Antwerp, the most important provisioning point for Allied troops on the Continent, from destruction by the Germans.
On this day in 1941, Germany’s largest battleship, the Bismarck, sinks the pride of the British fleet, HMS Hood.
The Bismarck was the most modern of Germany’s battleships, a prize coveted by other nation’s navies, even while still in the blueprint stage (Hitler handed over a copy of its blueprints to Joseph Stalin as a concession during the days of the Hitler-Stalin neutrality pact). The HMS Hood, originally launched in 1918, was Britain’s largest battle cruiser (41,200 tons)-but also capable of achieving the relatively fast speed of 31 knots. The two met in the North Atlantic, northeast of Iceland, where two British cruisers had tracked down the Bismarck. Commanded by Admiral Gunther Lutjens, commander in chief of the German Fleet, the Bismarck sunk the Hood, resulting in the death of 1,500 of its crew; only three Brits survived.
During the engagement, the Bismarck‘s fuel tank was damaged. Lutjens tried to make for the French coast, but was sighted again only three days later. Torpedoed to the point of incapacity, the Bismarck was finally sunk by a ring of British war ships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.
On this day in 1941, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, second cousin of King George VI of Britain and the only man other than the king to hold rank in all three military services simultaneously, is among those thrown into the Mediterranean Sea when his destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk.
Mountbatten’s ship was among several British cruisers, destroyers, and battleships sunk off Crete by German dive-bombers. The Kelly was attacked by 24 bombers alone; 130 crewmembers were killed. Mountbatten was still on the bridge of the ship when it finally flipped over; nevertheless, he managed to swim to shore and take control of the rescue operation. He would ultimately accept, as senior Allied officer present, the surrender of Japanese land forces within Southeast Asia by General Sieshiro Itagaki.
Side note: Just a day before the sinking of the Kelly, the battleship Valiant was damaged but not sunk during an equally vicious German air attack, also off Crete, which succeeded in sinking two cruisers and four destroyers. Among the crewmen of the Valiant was Lord Mountbatten’s nephew, Prince Philip of Greece.
Mountbatten survived the terror of war against the Axis powers, only to be killed by an Irish Republic Army bomb, planted on his boat, on August 26, 1979.
Windsor, England (CNN)The masses roared, as they always do on such occasions, and under a cloudless English sky in the historic town of Windsor, there was a new beginning.
It was a royal wedding like no other; a gospel choir sang, Dr. Martin Luther King was quoted in a rousing address and a young couple was united in a marriage that will change a venerable institution forever.
Greeted by cheering crowds, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex emerged from St. George’s Chapel and kissed on the steps as the sun shone down.
The marriage of the sixth in line to the throne to Meghan Markle, a biracial American, saw the British monarchy transform into something more representative of its people than it has been before.
On the cobbled streets of Windsor, among the snaking river of people who turned out to celebrate, there was a sense from many that the newest member of the royal family had reinvigorated “The Firm.”
“It’s good there’s diversity in the royal family, it means a lot,” said Abha Trivedi, a Californian who had relocated to London two weeks ago and slept overnight on a chair for a prime spot of the royal procession.
Daljit Sidhu, of South Asian heritage but from Langley near Windsor, echoed such sentiments.
“As Asians it’s important,” the 41-year-old said. “I was born and bred here, but you were always different. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have thought this would happen.”
Pageantry with majesty
Much has been spoken and written about of the newest member of royal family shaking up the establishment.But for all that was different about this royal wedding there was still the pomp and circumstance of old royalty.
It was an impeccably choreographed wedding. A marching band paraded through the streets, aristocrats arrived and departed in supersized hats. Overseeing the service was the Archbishop of Canterbury.
No one does pageantry with the majesty of the British. It comes by virtue of hundreds of years of practice.
An estimated 100,000 had descended on this picturesque town 20 miles west of London on a glorious spring day to witness a wedding that has charmed not only the inhabitants of the UK but millions around the world.
From Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to Ghana, the United States, Switzerland and Australia, thousands were captivated by tradition and glamor.
They lined the cobbled streets, snacked on sandwiches drank Pimm’s and waited and waited — and waited — for a chance to say “I was there.”
There was joy, giddiness and much affection for the couple, now one of the world’s most powerful and influential pairings. In this part of England, for Saturday at least, everyone was a royalist and romantic.
Seventy-three-year-old Australian Carleen Quirk had been sleeping on the streets of Windsor for two nights to ensure she was in prime position to witness her eighth royal wedding.
Why does the British monarchy seduce and enchant so many? “Having a royal family as head of a country is stabilizing,” explained Quirk. “And Meghan is a breath of fresh air.”
For Histria Soler, from the Dominican Republic but in London visiting friends, it was an opportunity to experience something usually seen in Disney movies. “It’s not often that you see a prince get married,” she said. “She was just a normal girl.”
Love and Britishness
Prince Harry and William are also, of course, the sons of Princess Diana and much interest in them stems from memories of her, a woman loved by the people, but whose own fairytale wedding ended in divorce.Though living extraordinary unusual and privileged lives, it is the brothers’ ability to appear as regular men which has helped the family overcome the tumultuous final decades of the last century.
Images of the young princes walking solemnly behind their mother’s coffin remain strongly etched in the memory, so there has always been much goodwill for the boys who have now found love and married women considered unthinkable as prospective royal brides only a generation ago.
“My mum was a big fan of Diana and we got raised on that. Harry has his mother-like ways with the public. He’s a people’s person,” said Daljit Sidhu.
For all the ostentation, for all the millions spent, this was a day for all generations and all people. Windsor was filled with the sound of ecstatic cheers and jubilation in a celebration of love and Britishness.
Along the treelined Long Walk in front of the Castle, where the majority of the wedding watchers congregated, families and friends gathered to eat, drink and party. Even at 9 a.m. an orderly line had formed for chicken and french fries from one of the many food trucks.
Some wore dresses inspired by the UK flag, others donned paper crowns on their heads and simply waved flags towards the azure sky.
Polish-born Angelica Kasperska had brought a ladder and binoculars for the occasion, a wise move when necks had to be craned for a glimpse of the great and good.
Children played football and chased balloons, while bellowing traders peddled Harry and Meghan scarves and flags to a crowd thirsty for commemorative paraphernalia.
The sight of homeless men, some sleeping, some sitting on the streets, was a reminder of the problems still facing this society, as it was eight years ago when the public mood before Prince William’s wedding was weighed down by recession, unemployment and austerity.
Prince Harry has married in the age of Brexit and he and his new bride have offered respite from the division that that has created.
Gasps of delight
Ahead of the ceremony, there was applause from the throng on the Long Walk as big screens broadcast the first glimpse of Prince Harry arriving with his brother and best man Prince William. Both wore the frock coat uniform of the Blues and Royals regiment, made specially on London’s Savile Row. It was showtime.
Every familiar face was greeted warmly, with as much affection reserved for the mother of the bride, Doria Ragland, as the future king, and father of the groom, Prince Charles.
Wedding watchers gasped on first sight of the bride’s dress and there was an audible intake of breath when the train emerged. The crowd cooed as the cameras flicked to a nervous-looking Harry and clapped as Prince Charles took Meghan by the arm before presenting her to his son.
There was the glitz associated with any great royal wedding; the bride arrived in a Rolls-Royce and departed in a gilded carriage. She wore a Givenchy dress and Cartier earrings.
But it was the zeal of the Most Rev. Michael Curry’s stirring address which ensured that those watching were left in no doubt that this was now not the British monarchy as they knew it only yesterday. It felt different. It was different.
The African-American bishop began and ended with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, he talked of discovering the “redemptive power of love,” he compared the power of love to the power of fire, mentioned Instagram and caused a chuckle when he promised to wrap up his lengthy oration so “we can get you two married.”
There was a sense that the crowd on the Long Walk did not know what to make of the groundbreaking moment, but they reserved some of their loudest cheers for Curry upon the conclusion of his sermon.
‘This is history’
“Thank God the world is watching this,” tweeted black British TV presenter Ore Oduba. “Never seen or heard a ceremony like it. This is history.”
As the gospel choir sang “Stand By Me” the hordes lining the Long Walk sang along to the chorus of the 1961 classic. It was another unexpected moment. British royal weddings are usually packed full of hymns. Never before have they been a multicultural celebration.
Sleep-deprived and jaded, the crowd’s energy understandably abated until returning to full voice and renewed vigor when Prince Harry walked out of the chapel arm-in-arm with Meghan and embarked on a procession through Windsor’s streets and park.
The sound of clapping rippled through the town as a captivated public was given its opportunity to see husband and wife in the flesh.
“That was so cool,” said a young American as the couple passed in a horse-drawn Ascot Landau carriage, flanked by the household cavalry soldiers, Prince Harry’s former regiment.
The new Duchess perhaps needs to practice her royal wave. It must be from the wrist, always from the wrist. But scorn cannot be poured on an occasion such as this. As the Most Rev. Curry said in his sermon: “Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up.”
On this day in 1940, the German army in northern France reaches the English Channel.
In reaching Abbeville, German armored columns, led by General Heinz Guderian (a tank expert), severed all communication between the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in the north and the main French army in the south. He also cut off the Force from its supplies in the west. The Germans now faced the sea, England in sight. Winston Churchill was prepared for such a pass, having already made plans for the withdrawal of the BEF (the BEF was a home-based army force that went to northern France at the start of both World Wars in order to support the French armies) and having called on the British Admiralty to prepare “a large number of vessels” to cross over to France if necessary. With German tanks at the Channel, Churchill prepared for a possible invasion of England itself, approving a plan to put into place gun posts and barbed wire roadblocks to protect government offices in Whitehall as well as the prime minister’s dwelling, 10 Downing Street.
On this day in 1943, Adolf Hitler launches Operation Alaric, the German occupation of Italy in the event its Axis partner either surrendered or switched its allegiance.
This operation was considered so top secret that Hitler refused to issue a written order. Instead, he communicated verbally his desire that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel should assemble and ultimately command 11 divisions for the occupation of Italy to prevent an Allied foothold in the peninsula.
The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) becomes a sovereign state when the United States, France, and Great Britain end their military occupation, which had begun in 1945. With this action, West Germany was given the right to rearm and become a full-fledged member of the western alliance against the Soviet Union.
In 1945, the United States, Great Britain, and France had assumed the occupation of the western portion of Germany (as well as the western half of Berlin, situated in eastern Germany). The Soviet Union occupied eastern Germany, as well as the eastern half of Berlin. As Cold War animosities began to harden between the western powers and Russia, it became increasingly obvious that Germany would not be reunified. By the late-1940s, the United States acted to formalize the split and establish western Germany as an independent republic, and in May 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was formally announced. In 1954, West Germany joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the mutual defense alliance between the United States and several European nations. All that remained was for the Americans, British, and French to end their nearly 10-year occupation. This was accomplished on May 5, 1955, when those nations issued a proclamation declaring an end to the military occupation of West Germany. Under the terms of an agreement reached earlier, West Germany would now be allowed to establish a military force of up to a half-million men and resume the manufacture of arms, though it was forbidden from producing any chemical or atomic weapons.
The end of the Allied occupation of West Germany meant a full recognition of the republic as a member of the western alliance against the Soviet Union. While the Russians were less than thrilled by the prospect of a rearmed West Germany, they were nonetheless pleased that German reunification had officially become a dead issue. Shortly after the May 5 proclamation was issued, the Soviet Union formally recognized the Federal Republic of Germany. The two Germany’s remained separated until 1990, when they were formally reunited and once again became a single democratic country.