24 May – Today in German History

1917

  • On May 24, 1917, driven by the spectacular success of the German U-boat submarines and their attacks on Allied and neutral ships at sea, the British Royal Navy introduces a newly created convoy system, whereby all merchant ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean would travel in groups under the protection of the British navy.

    The introduction of the convoy system finally marked the beginning of a sharp decline in the scale of German submarine damage and the death of German hopes to starve Britain into submission. Between May 1917 and November 1918, a total of 1,100,000 American troops were transported across the Atlantic in convoy, and only 637 of them were drowned as a result of German attacks.

1941

  • On May 24, 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 at 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 warships. Admiral Lutjens was one of the 2,300 German casualties.

1943

  • Admiral Doenitz ordered a halt to sub warfare due to heavy losses to the Axis since March.
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Günther Prien – Picture of the Day

U-boat ace Korvettenkapitän Günther Prien in a Hoffmann Postcard nr. R001. This is the first of the Ritterkreuzträger postcard series published by the Photo-Hoffmann company in Münich (owned by Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann).
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23 May – Today in German History

1915

  • On May 23, 1915, Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary, entering World War I on the side of the Allies—Britain, France, and Russia.

    When World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, Italy declared itself neutral in the conflict, despite its membership in the so-called Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary since 1882. Over the course of the months that followed, Italy and its leaders weighed their options; wooed by both sides, they carefully considered how to gain the greatest benefit from participation in the war. The decision to join the fray on the side of the Allies was based largely on the assurances Italy received in the Treaty of London, signed in April 1915. By its terms, Italy would receive the fulfillment of its national dream: control over territory on its border with Austria-Hungary stretching from Trentino through the South Tyrol to Trieste. In addition, the Allies promised the Italians parts of Dalmatia and numerous islands along Austria-Hungary’s Adriatic coast; the Albanian port city of Vlore (Italian: Valona) and a central protectorate in Albania; and territory from the Ottoman Empire.


    On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. The Italian declaration opened up a new front in World War I, stretching 600 kilometers with most of them mountainous along Italy’s border with Austria-Hungary. Italy which had become a unified nation only as recently as 1859 was, like Russia, not yet a fully industrialized power. It was certainly not prepared for large-scale warfare, and although it managed to mobilize 1.2 million men in the spring of 1915, it possessed equipment for just 732,000. Upon declaring war, the Italian army immediately advanced into the South Tyrol region and to the Isonzo River, where Austro-Hungarian troops met them with a stiff defense. The snowy and treacherous terrain made the region poorly suited to offensive operations, and after several quick Italian successes, combat settled into a stalemate.

1941

  • On May 23, 1941, Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, the 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.

1945

  • On May 23, 1945, Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, dies by suicide one day after being arrested by the British.

    As head of the Schutzstaffel, Himmler was able over time to consolidate his control over all police forces of the Reich. The power he would ultimately wield would rival that of the German army; it would also prove highly effective in eliminating all opposition to Hitler and the party, as well as in carrying out the Fuhrer’s Final Solution. It was Himmler who organized the creation of death camps throughout Eastern Europe and a pool of slave laborers.


    Himmler sent a plan to surrender to the Western Allies late in the war in order to pursue the fight against Russia unimpeded, caused Hitler to strip him of all his offices and order his arrest. Himmler attempted to slip out of Germany disguised as a soldier but was caught by the British. He swallowed a cyanide capsule a day later.

1949

  • The Federal Republic of Germany popularly known as West Germany is formally established as a separate and independent nation. This action marked the effective end to any discussion of reuniting East and West Germany.

    In the period after World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, with the British, French, Americans, and Soviets each controlling one zone. The city of Berlin was also divided in the same fashion. This arrangement was supposed to be temporary, but as Cold War animosities began to harden, it became increasingly evident that the division between the communist and non-communist controlled sections of Germany and Berlin would become permanent. In May 1946, the United States halted reparation payments from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In December, the United States and Great Britain combined their occupation zones into what came to be known as Bizonia. France agreed to become part of this arrangement, and in May 1949, the three zones became one.


    On May 23, the West German Parliamentary Council met and formally declared the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany. Although Konrad Adenauer, the president of the council and future president of West Germany, proudly proclaimed, “Today a new Germany arises,” the occasion was not a festive one. Many of the German representatives at the meeting were subdued, for they had harbored the faint hope that Germany might be reunified. Two communist members of the council refused to sign the proclamation establishing the new state.


    The Soviets reacted quickly to the action in West Germany. In October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was officially announced. These actions in 1949 marked the end of any talk of a reunified Germany. For the next 41 years, East and West Germany served as symbols of the divided world, and of the Cold War animosities between the Soviet Union and the United States. In 1990, with Soviet strength ebbing and the Communist Party in East Germany steadily losing its grip on power, East and West Germany were finally reunited as one nation.

1960

  • Israel announced the illegal kidnapping and capture of SS-ObersturmbannführerAdolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, in Argentina.
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17 May – Today in German History

M108/9
14.5.1940
1. Panzer Reg. geht auf Pontonbrücke in Floing über die Maas, bei Sedan
[Heeresfilmstelle Spandau-Ruhleben]
1940

  • Germany occupies Brussels, Belgium, and officially begins the Invasion of France.

1941

  • German planes bomb British forces in Iraq.
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