- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.