- Adolf Hitler ordered the preparations to begin on the invasion of England, known as Operation Sea Lion.
- Soviet troops occupied Vilna, Lithuania, in their drive toward Germany.
The Spanish flu, an unusually powerful strain of influenza, spread throughout North America, Europe, and eventually around the world during 1918, claiming millions of lives. The First World War, with its massive movements of men in close quarters, under harsh conditions, undoubtedly acted as a factor in the epidemic. The soldiers fighting for the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were hit especially hard by the virus beginning in the early summer of 1918, just as the Allies prepared to counter the German spring offensive on the Western Front.
With Austria-Hungary virtually eliminated as a military force by the third year of World War I, Vienna looked to Germany as the Dual Monarchy’s last chance for survival. People have only one more hope, the German Front, the German ambassador to Austria-Hungary reported to Berlin on July 11. Even a hope in a separate peace does not exist anymore. That same day, the German army’s High Command, which had previously considered pushing back their plans for a renewed offensive due to the flu epidemic’s effect on their troops, decided instead to push ahead. The German attack on July 15, near the Marne River in the Champagne region of France would be the final German offensive of World War I.
As the war started to turn against the Germans, and the atrocities being committed at Hitler’s behest grew, a growing number of Germans within the military and without began conspiring to assassinate their leader. As the masses were unlikely to turn on the man in whose hands they had hitherto placed their lives and future, it was up to men close to Hitler, German officers, to dispatch him. The leadership of the plot fell to Claus von Stauffenberg, newly promoted to colonel and chief of staff to the commander of the army reserve, which gave him access to Hitler’s headquarters at Berchtesgaden and Rastenburg.
Stauffenberg had served in the German army since 1926. While serving as a staff officer in the campaign against the Soviet Union, he became disgusted at his fellow countrymen’s vicious treatment of Jews and Soviet prisoners. He requested to be transferred to North Africa, where he lost his left eye, right hand, and two fingers of his left hand.
After recovering from his injuries, and determined to see Hitler removed from power by any means necessary, Stauffenberg traveled to Berchtesgaden on July 3 and received at the hands of a fellow army officer, Major-General Hellmuth Stieff, a bomb with a silent fuse that was small enough to be hidden in a briefcase. On July 11, Stauffenberg was summoned to Berchtesgaden to report to Hitler on the current military situation. The plan was to use the bomb on July 15, but at the last minute, Hitler was called away to his headquarters at Rastenburg, in East Prussia. Stauffenberg was asked to follow him there. On July 16, a meeting took place between Stauffenberg and Colonel Caesar von Hofacker, another conspirator, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Hofacker informed Stauffenberg that German defenses had collapsed at Normandy, and the tide had turned against them in the West. The assassination attempt was postponed until July 20, at Rastenburg.
During a number of wartime conferences, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed that following the defeat of Germany, that nation would be divided into three zones of occupation. Berlin, the capital city of Germany, would likewise be divided. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, however, Soviet troops were in complete control of eastern Germany and all of Berlin. Some U.S. officials, who had come to see the Soviet Union as an emerging threat to the postwar peace in Europe, believed that the Soviets would never relinquish control over any part of Berlin. However, on July 11, 1945, the Russian government announced that it would hand over all civilian and military control of West Berlin to British and American forces. This was accomplished, without incident, the following day. The United States and Great Britain would later give up part of their zones of occupation in Germany and Berlin to make room for a French zone of occupation.
In the years to come, West Berlin became the site of some notable Cold War confrontations. During 1948 and 1949, the Soviets blocked all land travel into West Berlin, forcing the United States to establish the Berlin Airlift to feed and care for the population of the city. In 1961, the government of East Germany constructed the famous Berlin Wall, creating an actual physical barrier to separate East and West Berlin. The divided city came to symbolize the animosities and tensions of the Cold War. In 1989, with communist control of East Germany crumbling, the Berlin Wall was finally torn down. The following year, East and West Germany formally reunited.
After the occupation of France by Germany, Britain knew it was only a matter of time before the Axis power turned its sights across the Channel. And on July 10, 120 German bombers and fighters struck a British shipping convoy in that very Channel, while 70 more bombers attacked dockyard installations in South Wales.
Although Britain had far fewer fighters than the Germans being 600 to 1,300, it had a few advantages such as an effective radar system, which made the prospects of a German sneak attack unlikely. Britain also produced superior quality aircraft. Its Spitfires could turn tighter than Germany’s ME109s, enabling it to better elude pursuers. The German single-engine fighters had a limited flight radius, and its bombers lacked the bomb-load capacity necessary to unleash permanent devastation on their targets. The Germans also suffered from poor intelligence.
The Germans lost the battle for two main reasons with the first due to Hitler interfering with his order to bomb London after the British bombers attacked Berlin. At this point in the war, the sides were being respectful and not bombing the capitals. Unfortunately, a German bomber off course dropped his load on London thus provoking the British attack. Hitler then was emotional and ordered the London attack in which his Luftwaffe was close to breaking the Royal AirForce. This respite gave the RAF time to regroup and rebuild to beat off the German bombers plus the flight time to London was longer for German bombers thus increasing the casualty rate for the Germans.
Hitler’s complete lack of interest in invading Britain was the main reason for the loss of the battle. Hitler was busy planning the invasion of the Soviet Union for this was his main focus. If he would have directed all the energy of the Wehrmacht into invading the British Isles as he did for France then the outcome might have been different.
Granted many historians argue the British Navy would have stopped the German invasion or made resupply impossible for the invasion forces but this assessment is based only on the small number of ships in the Kriegsmarine versus the Royal Navy. They do not account for the amount of land-based coastal artillery Germany had and could have built up if all energy was placed into this and not the Russian border build-up. Germany would have only needed invasion and supply ships. It would have had one large ship called the coast of France. This ship would have been unsinkable. Another similar failure thanks to Hitler’s impatience was the same in North Afrika. The energy used in Russia could have defeated the British there also.
Italian leader Benito Mussolini envisioned building Fascist Italy into a new Roman Empire, but a string of military defeats in World War II effectively made his regime a puppet of its stronger Axis partner, Germany. By the spring of 1943, opposition groups in Italy were uniting to overthrow Mussolini and make peace with the Allies, but a strong German military presence in Italy threatened to resist any such action.
Meanwhile, German leader Adolf Hitler knew that an Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe was imminent, but because Germany’s vast conquests stretched from Greece to France, Hitler was unable to concentrate his forces in any one place. In an elaborate plot to divert German forces away from Italy, a British submarine off Spain released the corpse of an Englishman wearing the uniform of a British major and carrying what appeared to be official Allied letters describing plans for an invasion of Greece. The body washed ashore, and the letters were sent by the Spanish to the German high command, who reinforced their units in Greece. The Axis had only 10 Italian divisions and two German panzer units on Sicily when Allied forces attacked in the early-morning hours of July 10.
First to land were American and British paratroopers and glider-borne troops, and at dawn, thousands of amphibious troops came ashore. Coastal defenses manned by disaffected Sicilian troops collapsed after limited resistance, and the Anglo-Americans moved quickly to capture Sicily’s southern cities. Within three days, the Allies had cleared the southeastern part of the island. In a pincer movement aimed at Messina in the northeast, the British 8th Army began moving up the southeast coast of the island, with the U.S. 7th Army moving east across the north coast. The Allies hoped to trap the Axis forces before they could retreat to the Italian mainland. In the so-called “Race to Messina,” Montgomery’s advance up the southeast coast was slowed by German reinforcements, but Patton and the U.S. 7th Army moved quickly along the north coast, capturing Palermo, the Sicilian capital, on July 22.
In Rome, the Allied invasion of Sicily, a region of the kingdom of Italy since 1860, led to the collapse of Mussolini’s government. Early on the morning of July 25, he was forced to resign by the Fascist Grand Council and was arrested later that day. On July 26, Marshal Pietro Badoglio assumed control of the Italian government. The new government promptly entered into secret negotiations with the Allies, despite the presence of numerous German troops in Italy.
Back in Sicily, Montgomery and Patton advanced steadily toward Messina, prompting the Germans to begin a withdrawal of Axis forces to the mainland. Some 100,000 German and Italian troops were evacuated before Patton won the race to Messina on August 17. Montgomery arrived a few hours later. The Allies suffered 23,000 casualties in their conquest of Sicily. German forces sustained 30,000 casualties, and the Italians 135,000. In addition, some 100,000 Axis troops were captured.