29 June – Today in German WW II History

1941

  • One week after launching a massive invasion of the USSR, German divisions make staggering advances on Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev.

Aided by its far superior air force, the Luftwaffe, the Germans raced across the USSR in three great army groups, inflicting terrible casualties on the Red Army and Soviet civilians. On June 29, the cities of Riga and Ventspils in Latvia fell, 200 Soviet aircraft were shot down, and the encirclement of three Russian armies was nearly complete at Minsk in Belarus. Assisted by their Romanian and Finnish allies, the Germans conquered vast territory in the opening months of the invasion, and by mid-October, the great Russian cities of Leningrad and Moscow were under siege.

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28 June – Today in German History

1519

  • Charles I of Spain, who by birth already held sway over much of Europe and Spanish America, is elected the successor of his late grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Charles, who was also the grandson of Ferdinand II and Isabella of Spain, had bribed the princes of Germany to vote for him, defeating such formidable candidates as King Henry VIII of England, King Francis I of France, and Frederick the Wise, the duke of Saxony.

Crowned as Emperor Charles V, the new Holy Roman emperor sought to unite the many kingdoms under his rule in the hope of creating a vast, universal empire. However, his hopes were thwarted by the Protestant Reformation in Germany, a lifelong dynastic struggle with King Francis, and the advance of the Ottoman Turks into Europe. In 1558, after nearly four decades as Holy Roman emperor, Charles abdicated the throne in favor of his brother, Ferdinand. He had already granted much of the other European territory under his rule to his son Philip.

1914

  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie are shot to death by a Bosnian Serb nationalist during an official visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. The killings sparked a chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I by early August. On June 28, 1919, five years to the day after Franz Ferdinand’s death, Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, officially marking the end of World War I.

The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908. The annexation had angered Serbian nationalists, who believed the territories should be part of Serbia. A group of young nationalists hatched a plot to kill the archduke during his visit to Sarajevo, and after some missteps, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip was able to shoot the royal couple at point-blank range, while they traveled in their official procession, killing both almost instantly.

The assassination set off a rapid chain of events, as Austria-Hungary immediately blamed the Serbian government for the attack. As large and powerful Russia supported Serbia, Austria asked for assurances that Germany would step in on its side against Russia and its allies, including France and possibly Great Britain. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the fragile peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed, beginning the devastating conflict now known as the First World War.

After more than four years of bloodshed, the Great War ended on November 11, 1918, after Germany, the last of the Central Powers, surrendered to the Allies. At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that was safe from future wars of such an enormous scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, tragically failed to achieve this objective. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s grand dreams of an international peace-keeping organization faltered when put into practice as the League of Nations. Even worse, the harsh terms imposed on Germany, the war’s biggest loser, led to widespread resentment of the treaty and its authors in that country. A resentment that would culminate in the outbreak of the Second World War two decades later.

John Maynard Keynes.

1919

  • At the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, Germany signs the Treaty of Versailles with the Allies, officially ending World War I. The English economist John Maynard Keynes, who had attended the peace conference but then left in protest of the treaty, was one of the most outspoken critics of the punitive agreement. In his The Economic Consequences of the Peace, published in December 1919, Keynes predicted that the stiff war reparations and other harsh terms imposed on Germany by the treaty would lead to the financial collapse of the country, which in turn would have serious economic and political repercussions on Europe and the world.

By the fall of 1918, it was apparent to the leaders of Germany that defeat was inevitable in World War I. After four years of terrible attrition, Germany no longer had the men or resources to resist the Allies, who had been given a tremendous boost by the infusion of American manpower and supplies. In order to avert an Allied invasion of Germany, the German government contacted U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in October 1918 and asked him to arrange a general armistice. Earlier that year, Wilson had proclaimed his Fourteen Points, which proposed terms for a just and stable peace between Germany and its enemies. The Germans asked that the armistice be established along these terms, and the Allies more or less complied, assuring Germany of a fair and unselfish final peace treaty. On November 11, 1918, the armistice was signed and went into effect, and fighting in World War I came to an end.

It soon became apparent that the treaty would bear only a faint resemblance to the Fourteen Points that had been proposed by Wilson and embraced by the Germans. Wilson, a great idealist, had few negotiating skills, and he soon buckled under the pressure of Clemenceau, who hoped to punish Germany as severely as it had punished France in the Treaty of Frankfurt that ended the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Lloyd George took the middle ground between the two men, but he backed the French plan to force Germany to pay reparations for damages inflicted on Allied civilians and their property. Since the treaty officially held Germany responsible for the outbreak of World War I while in reality, it was only partially responsible, the Allies would not have to pay reparations for damages they inflicted on German civilians.

The treaty that began to emerge was a thinly veiled Carthaginian Peace, an agreement that accomplished Clemenceau’s hope to crush France’s old rival. According to its terms, Germany was to relinquish 10 percent of its territory. It was to be disarmed, and its overseas empire taken over by the Allies. Most detrimental to Germany’s immediate future, however, was the confiscation of its foreign financial holdings and its merchant carrier fleet. The German economy, already devastated by the war, was thus further crippled, and the stiff war reparations demanded ensured that it would not soon return to its feet. A final reparations figure was not agreed upon in the treaty, but estimates placed the amount in excess of $30 billion, far beyond Germany’s capacity to pay. Germany would be subject to invasion if it fell behind on payments.

The Germans initially refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles, and it took an ultimatum from the Allies to bring the German delegation to Paris on June 28. It was five years to the day since the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, which began the chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I. Clemenceau chose the location for the signing of the treaty: the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles Palace, site of the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt that ended the Franco-Prussian War. At the ceremony, General Jan Christiaan Smuts, soon to be president of South Africa, was the only Allied leader to protest formally the Treaty of Versailles, saying it would do grave injury to the industrial revival of Europe.

Germany soon fell hopelessly behind in its reparations payments, and in 1923 France and Belgium occupied the industrial Ruhr region as a means of forcing payment. In protest, workers and employers closed down the factories in the region. Catastrophic inflation ensued, and Germany’s fragile economy began quickly to collapse. By the time the crash came in November 1923, a lifetime of savings could not buy a loaf of bread. That month, the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler launched an abortive coup against Germany’s government. The Nazis were crushed and Hitler was imprisoned, but many resentful Germans sympathized with the Nazis and their hatred of the Treaty of Versailles.

A decade later, Hitler would exploit this continuing bitterness among Germans to seize control of the German state. In the 1930s, the Treaty of Versailles was significantly revised and altered in Germany’s favor, but this belated amendment could not stop the rise of German militarism and the subsequent outbreak of World War II.

In the late 1930s, John Maynard Keynes gained a reputation as the world’s foremost economist by advocating large-scale government economic planning to keep unemployment low and markets healthy. Today, all major capitalist nations adhere to the key principles of Keynesian economics. He died in 1946.

1940 

  • Britain recognized General Charles de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French.

1942 

  • Operation Case Blue was launched on June 28 1942 against the Volga Region and the Caucasus. This offensive objectives was to seize Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus but due to constant inference from Hitler, the city of Stalingrad became the objective and the first major defeat of German forces.
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25-26 Jun 1942 – Terror Bombing of Bremen

The British launched the third Thousand Bomber Raid against the German city of Bremen during the night of 25-26 Jun 1942. 1,067 aircraft, most of which from the Bomber Command but also with participation from Coastal Command and Army Cooperation Command, were launched against Bremen. Although only 696 successfully reached the city, they were able to damage the capacity of the Focke-Wulf factory and destroy 572 houses. 85 were killed on the ground, with a further 497 wounded, at a cost of 48 Bomber Command and 5 Coastal Command aircraft.

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25 June – Today in German History

1915

  • On June 25, 1915, the German press publishes an official statement from the country’s war command addressing the German use of poison gas at the start of the Second Battle of Ypres two months earlier.

The German firing of more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres in Belgium on April 22, 1915, had shocked and horrified their Allied opponents in World War I and provoked angry outbursts against what was seen as inexcusable barbarism, even in the context of warfare. As Sir John French, commander in chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), wrote heatedly of the German attacks at Ypres: “All the scientific resources of Germany have apparently been brought into play to produce a gas of so virulent and poisonous a nature that any human being brought into contact with it is first paralyzed and then meets with a lingering and agonizing death.”

The German statement of June 25, 1915, was a response to this outraged reaction by the Allies; they considered it hypocritical, claiming that their opponents–namely the French–had been manufacturing and employing gas in battle well before the Second Battle of Ypres. “For everyone who has kept an unbiased judgment,” the statement began, “the official assertions of the strictly accurate and truthful German military administration will be sufficient to prove the prior use of asphyxiating gases by our opponents.” It went on to quote from a memorandum issued by the French War Ministry on February 21, 1915, containing instructions for using “these so-called shells with stupefying gases that are being manufactured by our central factories?[that] contain a fluid which streams forth after the explosion, in the form of vapors that irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.”

This memo, the Germans concluded, proved that “the French in their State workshops manufactured shells with asphyxiating gases fully half a year ago at least” and that they must have manufactured sufficient numbers for the War Ministry to issue directions on how to use the shells. “What hypocrisy when the same people grow indignant because the Germans much later followed them on the path they had pointed out!”

Though the French were, in fact, the first to employ gas during World War. In August 1914, they used tear-gas grenades containing xylyl bromide to confront the initial German advance in Belgium and northeastern France–Germany was undoubtedly the first belligerent nation during the war to put serious thought and work into the development of chemical weapons that were not merely irritants, like xylyl bromide but could be used in large quantities to inflict a major defeat on the enemy.

In addition to chlorine gas, first used to deadly effect by the Germans at Ypres, phosgene gas and mustard gas were also employed on the battlefields of World War I, mostly by Germany but also by Britain and France, who were forced to quickly catch up to the Germans in the realm of chemical-weapons technology. Though the psychological impact of poison gas was undoubtedly great, its actual impact on the warlike that of the tank–is debatable, due to the low rate of fatality associated with the gas attacks. In total, the war saw some 1.25 million gas casualties but only 91,000 deaths from gas poisoning, with over 50 percent of those fatalities suffered by the poorly equipped Russian army.

1948 

  • The Soviet Union tightened its blockade of Berlin by intercepting river barges heading for the city.

1987 

  • Austrian President Kurt Waldheim visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The meeting was considered controversial by Allied nations due to allegations that Waldheim had hidden his service in the German Army of the Third Reich. Allegations of him participating in war crimes were proven invalid as they did not occur.

1999 

  • Germany’s parliament approved a national Holocaust memorial to be built in Berlin.
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24 June – On This Day in German Cold War History

1948

  • One of the most dramatic standoffs in the history of the Cold War begins as the Soviet Union blocks all road and rail traffic to and from West Berlin. The blockade turned out to be a terrible diplomatic move by the Soviets, while the United States emerged from the confrontation with renewed purpose and confidence.

Following World War II, Germany was divided into occupation zones. The United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and, eventually, France, were given specific zones to occupy in which they were to accept the surrender of German forces and restore order. The Soviet Union occupied most of eastern Germany, while the other Allied nations occupied western Germany. The German capital of Berlin was similarly divided into four zones of occupation. Almost immediately, differences between the United States and the Soviet Union surfaced. The Soviets sought huge reparations from Germany in the form of money, industrial equipment, and resources. The Russians also made it clear that they desired a neutral and disarmed Germany.

The United States saw things in quite a different way. American officials believed that the economic recovery of Western Europe was dependent on a strong, reunified Germany. They also felt that only a rearmed Germany could stand as a bulwark against Soviet expansion into Western Europe. In May 1946, the Americans stopped reparations shipments from their zone to the Soviets. In December, the British and Americans combined their zones; the French joined some months later. The Soviets viewed these actions as a threat and issued more demands for a say in the economic future of Germany. On June 22, 1948, negotiations between the Soviets, Americans, and the British broke down. On June 24, Soviet forces blocked the roads and railroad lines into West Berlin.

American officials were furious, and some in the administration of President Harry S. Truman argued that the time for diplomacy with the Soviets was over. For a few tense days, the world waited to see whether the United States and the Soviet Union would come to blows. In West Berlin, panic began to set in as its population worried about shortages of food, water, and medical aid. The United States response came just two days after the Soviets began their blockade. A massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin was undertaken in what was to become one of the greatest logistical efforts in history. For the Soviets, the escapade quickly became a diplomatic embarrassment. Russia looked like an international bully that was trying to starve men, women, and children into submission. And the successful American airlift merely served to accentuate the technological superiority of the United States over the Soviet Union. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets officially ended the blockade.

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23 June – This Day in German History

1940

  • On June 23, 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, and 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.”

1948

  • Berlin was divided into two different currency zones.
  • Just before midnight, the Soviets cut power to West Berlin and then began a blockade of the city.
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21 June – Today in German WWII History

1942

On June 21, 1942, General Erwin Rommel turns his assault on the British-Allied garrison at Tobruk, Libya, into victory, as his panzer division occupies the North African port.

Britain had established control of Tobruk after routing the Italians in 1940. But the Germans attempted to win it back by reinforcing Italian troops with the Afrika Korps of Erwin Rommel, who continually charged the British Eighth Army in battles around Tobruk, finally forcing the Brits to retreat into Egypt. All that was left to take back the port was the garrison now manned by the South African Division, which also included the Eleventh Indian Brigade. With the use of artillery, dive-bombers, and his panzer forces, Rommel pushed past the Allies.

Unable to resist any longer, South African General Henrik Klopper ordered his officers to surrender early on the morning of the 21st. Rommel took more than 30,000 prisoners, 2,000 vehicles, 2,000 tons of fuel, and 5,000 tons of rations. Adolf Hitler awarded Rommel the field marshal’s baton as a reward for his victory. “I am going on to Suez,” was Rommel’s promise.

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