31 December in German History – Frohes Neues Yahr 2019

Happy New Year from the HSOGMH! 2019!

 

Join the countdown party on the New Year’s Eve of 2019 with the colorful light background
Archbishop Ruthard of Mainz and Heinrich V.

1105

Heinrich V arrests his father Heinrich IV forces him to abdicate and himself becomes the Holy Roman Emperor and crowned in Rome in 1111.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1851

The chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Felix Fürst zu Schwarzenberg induces the Emperor, Franz Joseph I, to abolish the constitution of 1851 and replace it with one of his own design, strengthening the absolutist authority of the emperor.

1950

Death of Karl Renner in Doebling, Austria. Renner was the first chancellor of the Austrian Republic after WWI. On September 10, 1919, he signed the Treaty of Saint Germain which specifically prohibited a union with Germany. In 1938 he was a leading supporter of Germany’s annexation of Austria. In 1945 he worked closely with Soviet officials to reestablish an Austrian government and became the first post-war chancellor in April 1945. On December 20, 1945, he was elected president by the Austrian Reichsrat.

1961

During 1961 about 200,000 people had fled from East to West Germany.

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30 December in German History

1777

Death of Maximilian III Joseph in Munich, Germany. Maximilian was the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Karl VII. He was the Elector (Holy Roman Empire) of Bavaria. He gained his position in Bavaria by the Peace of Fussen of April 22, 1745. He was a progressive and enlightened ruler who did much to improve the development of his country. He fostered science and industry in Bavaria and founded the Academy of Sciences in Munich. During the severe famine in 1770, Maximilian sold crown jewels to pay for corn shipments.

In December of 1777 Maximilian Joseph rode in his carriage through Munich; on the ride, as he passed one of the tower clocks, the mechanism broke, and the clock struck 77 times. Commenting to the passengers, Max Joseph decided this was an omen, and that his years had run out. Within days, he was stricken with a strange disease. None of his 15 doctors could diagnose it, but by Christmas, it had become clear that it was a particularly virulent strain of smallpox, called by contemporaries purple smallpox.

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28 December in German History

1233

The Charter of Culm (Culmer Handfeste) is issued by the Teutonic Knights as a part of their efforts to colonize Prussia. The charter granted settlers civic freedoms which were quite beyond expectations of the times. Hermann Balke was the Grand Master of the Knights at this time. Among the rights granted by the charter were the right to elect local judges, the right to free travel, and the right to hereditary possession of land and buildings. The charter further offered guarantees against excessive taxation, and against quartering troops in private homes.

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27 December in German History

1936

Death of Hans von Seeckt in Berlin, Germany. General von Seeckt was the head of the German army from 1920-1926 during the time of the Weimar Republic. Although the Versailles Treaty forbade Germany an up-to-date army, through an agreement to train Russian troops, von Seeckt was able to have his own personal experiment with up to date weapons. He resigned from the army in 1926 and became a member of the Parliament.

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26 December 1943 – The Scharnhorst is sunk in Battle of the North Cape

The Scharnhorst at her commissioning in 1939, smaller than the Bismarck class, she was classified as a ‘pocket’ battleship or battlecruiser.

Hitler had become disillusioned by his navy. Before the war, the Kriegsmarine had had ambitious plans for a surface fleet with impressive capital ships. The building programme had produced the Bismarck, the Tirpitz and a number of smaller ‘pocket’ battleships. The Germans had powerful ships – yet not so overwhelming a force that they could not be contained by the Royal Navy.

And the only real use Hitler had for his warships was as surface raiders that could sink merchant shipping. The demise of the Bismarck had demonstrated how hopeless they were in this role – the German ships were so big and such a threat that they were closely monitored by the Royal Navy, who would put to sea in force to sink them whenever they ventured out.

And so it happened again. Goaded by Hitler’s latest rage about the uselessness of his navy the ‘pocket’ battleship the Scharnhorst had been sent out to do her worst. On Christmas Day 1943, the Scharnhorst and several destroyers sailed out from Norway to attack Russia bound Arctic convoys.

By this time the British were easily reading German radio traffic so no such attack could be a surprise. In fact, the Royal Navy was actively awaiting it and had two strong forces ready to attack, one sailing from Murmansk and the other from Scapa Flow in Scotland, including the battleship HMS Duke of York – ‘the Duke’. Ever since the sinking of HMS Glorious in 1940 they had a score to settle. There had also been the embarrassing debacle of the ‘Channel Dash’ in 1942.

It was going to need the combined firepower of several ships to sink the Scharnhorst, a battle that was fought amidst snow storms in the freezing seas north of Norway, played out in the twilight world of a Boxing Day afternoon.

Ernest Reeds was on board the heavy cruiser HMS Belfast:

14:00 a message was received from the Duke which read “We are closing in on the Scharnhorst and our combined speed is 53 knots and are expecting to open fire in an hours time”.

14:27 We sighted “Scharnhorst” on the horizon and opened up with Starshell followed by 6” tracer. We fired 203 rounds of 6” and salvos from Scharnhorst fell just astern. Again she altered course and this time she almost got away. She would have done had not the Destroyers gone in and attacked with torpedo’s – 3 of which scored direct hits. In the attack, the Destroyers were traveling at 38 knots. That slowed the Scharnhorst down to 24 knots and gave the “Duke” and “Jamaica” a chance to close in on her.

18:15 “Scharnhorst” is now 15 miles ahead and the “Duke” and “Jamaica” are to our Starboard.

18:50 We opened fire again with Starshell and 6” firing to the port side. Our speed is over 32 knots and waves are breaking over continuous still making it hell but no-one takes much notice of it.

19:00 “Scharnhorst” is in sight and the Duke and her have started firing main armament.

19:05 “Scharnhorst” on our starboard beam and we fire again at a very long range.

19:10 Speed is now 34 knots.

19:14 “Scharnhorst” fires at us and her shells fall just ahead. We cant fire back as the range is too great for us.

19:16 “Duke of York” and “Scharnhorst” start firing at each other and Starshell lights them both up in the distance.

19:35 We are steering S.E. with the “Scharnhorst” on our Port bow and the “Duke” 10 miles ahead. The three cruisers are in line ahead astern of the battleships.

19:50 Course 140°. The “Duke” is between the “Scharnhorst” and her base and we are covering her from the North. She hasn’t much hopes. Our speed has been reduced to 31 knots and the “Sheffield” has dropped back owing to trouble with her propeller shaft.

20:00 “Scharnhorst” has decreased speed to 21 knots.

20:05 “Scharnhorst” is going ahead of the “Duke” at a distance of 13 miles and they are still exchanging salvos with occasional Starshell for illumination.

20:25 We have gained the speed of 34 knots on a course 060°.

20:45 Position still the same and the 2 battleships are still firing but it is probably blind as it is now total darkness. “Scharnhorst” has altered course to the East.

20:50 “Scharnhorst” is firing close range as the Destroyers have gone in again to attack. One of the destroyers got hit and received damage and 20 men killed.

20:59 “Duke of York” ceases fire because the Destroyers are in – “Scharnhorst” is on our Starboard beam.

21:05 Our speed has dropped to 31 knots.

21:06 “Duke of York” firing again and gives orders to “Jamaica” to go in and attack with torpedoes

21:10 Duke of York ceases fire.

21:15 “Scharnhorst” is on fire and is almost at a standstill. “Jamaica” fired 3 torpedo’s at her but were all misses.

21:20 The Admiral has volunteered to go in and torpedo the Scharnhorst and the C in C says alright. She is well on fire but still firing hard. Our own speed is 28.5.

21:30 Fired 3 torpedo’s out of Starboard tubes and scored hits with two of them. They are still fighting but they have dropped back to her 6” and 4”.

21:40 Scharnhorst ceases firing and is going down by the stern.

21:43 Scharnhorst at a standstill.

21:48 The C in C signals to say that it was the “Belfast” that fired the fatal torpedo that sent her to the bottom. On the news, they said it was the “Norfolk” that did.

21:50 “Scharnhorst” has just gone down. Strong smell of burning oil and a great cloud of smoke.

21:52 We fire Starshell to see if there is any wreckage that wants sinking. We turn our searchlights on so the Destroyers can pick up survivors. There are only 50 survivors out of 1600 crew. The Captain was climbing up a scrambling net and fell back into the sea and drowned. He was injured in the face. The “Scharnhorst” put up a wonderful fight.

he Sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943
by Charles David Cobb.

Lieutenant A.G.F. Ditcham was on one the destroyers, HMS Scorpion, that disabled Scharnhorst. His memoir reconstructs the whole battle and describes how the Scharnhorst was caught between two intersecting sets of torpedoes fired by the Destroyers. They were then able to watch the end of the battle:

We described a circle and followed Scharnhorst at about 3 miles, going much slower now. We were thus able to watch as Duke of York came up, reducing speed and at 1901 fired a broadside at an easy target. It was an awe-inspiring sight. At five miles, the trajectory was comparatively flat and the 14-inch ‘tracer’ shells leaped across the sea and all of them appeared to smash into her in a colossal explosion. Some of them may have gone over and hit the sea some miles further on, but they were not visible.

She continued to dish out this punishment in a series of broadsides and Scharnhorst became a burning shambles.

One of the 36 survivors (out of 1980) was the messenger to the Gunnery Officer at the top of the superstructure. He told me that when the shells hit, the order was broadcast:

‘Damage control parties to such & such position’.

The men would dutifully appear, more shells would arrive and ‘bits of them’ would go up past him in the gunnery tower.

Sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’, 26 December 1943
by Charles E. Turner
National Maritime Museum.
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25 December in German History

800

Karl der Große (Charlemagne) is crowned Emperor of the empire which would come to be called the Holy Roman Empire.

1046

Enthronment of Suidiger (Pope Clement II), the second German pope. Suidiger had been the bishop of Bamberg. He was installed as pope by the German king, Heinrich III on December 25, 1046. There had been three rivals claiming the office of pope when Heinrich III arrived in Rome. He deposed all three and installed Suidiger as Clement II.) Clement II is most noted for his efforts to eliminate simony (the buying and selling of church offices). He convoked the council of Rome in 1047. He died in 1047. He was buried at Bamberg and is the only pope to be buried in Germany.

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