Category Archives: Today in History

23 January – Today in German History


  • Death of Otto III, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Viterbo, Italy (born in Germany in 980). As a child, Otto was crowned King of the Germans in Aachen in 983 following the death of his father, Otto II. In 996 he led his army to Rome to assist Pope John XV who was facing an insurrection by the forces of Crescentius. By the time Otto arrived the Pope had died but Otto was able to use his influence to secure the election of his cousin, Bruno von Kärnten, who took the name Gregory V and became the first German pope. In 996 Gregory V crowned Otto III as the Holy Roman Emperor. After Otto had left Crecentius challenged the papacy again, installing an anti-pope. Once again Otto led his troops to Rome and in 998 executed Crecentius and secured Gregory V in the office of the pope. At this time he determined to remain in Rome with the intention of ruling Europe as a theocracy with himself as the ruler and the pope only somewhat below him in power in the Christian Europe he planned.


  • On January 23, 1920, the Dutch government refuses demands by the Allies for the extradition of Wilhelm II, the former Kaiser of Germany, who has been living in exile in the Netherlands since November 1918. By early November 1918, things were looking dismal for the Central Powers on all fronts of the Great War. The kaiser was at German army headquarters in the Belgian resort town of Spa when news reached him, in quick succession, of labor unrest in Berlin, a mutiny within the Imperial Navy and what looked like the beginnings of a full-fledged revolution in Germany. From every direction, it seemed, came calls for peace, reform and the removal of the kaiser. Wilhelm II was told that the German General Staff would make a unified, orderly march home to Germany when the war ended, but it would not defend him against his internal opponents. Faced with this lack of support, the kaiser agreed to abdicate his throne on November 9, 1918. Shortly after that, Wilhelm, the last of the powerful Hohenzollern monarchs, traveled from Spa to Holland, never to return to German soil. In January 1920, Wilhelm headed the list of so-called war criminals put together by the Allies and made public after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The Netherlands, under the young, strong-willed Queen Wilhelmina, refused to extradite him for prosecution and Wilhelm remained in Holland, where he settled in the municipality of Doorn. Personal tragedy struck when his son, Joachim, committed suicide later in 1920. Augusta, his wife and the mother of his seven children died barely a year later. In 1922, Wilhelm remarried and published his memoirs, proclaiming his innocence in the promotion of the Great War. Unlike Wilhelmina and the rest of the Dutch royal family, Wilhelm turned down Winston Churchill’s offer of asylum in Britain in 1940, as Hitler’s armies pushed through Holland, choosing instead to live under German occupation. He died the following year.


  • Charles A. Lindbergh, a United States national hero since his nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Lend-Lease policy-and suggests that the United States negotiate a neutrality pact with Hitler.


  • The British captured Tripoli from the Germans.

21 January – Today in German History


  • Martin Luther is excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.


  • The East German party, the SED, changes its name to the PDS. The SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) was the name of the communist party of East Germany until 1990. In preparation for unification, the party, wishing to continue as a political party in the unified state, but realizing the negative implications of its identity with East Germany, changed its name to the PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism). The PDS has had seats in parliament after each election since the unification.



20 January – Today in German History


  • SS officials held the Wannsee conference, during which they arrived at their final solution of Europe’s Jews. In July 1941, Hermann Goering, writing under instructions from Hitler, had ordered Reinhard Heydrich, SS General, and Heinrich Himmler’s number-two man, to submit ‘as soon as possible a general plan of the administrative, material, and financial measures necessary for carrying out the desired final solution of the Jewish question.’ Heydrich met with Adolf Eichmann, chief of the Central Office of Jewish Emigration, and 15 other officials from various Nazi ministries and organizations at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin. The agenda was simple and focused: to devise a plan that would render a final solution to the Jewish question in Europe. Various gruesome proposals were discussed, including mass sterilization and deportation to the island of Madagascar. Heydrich proposed simply transporting Jews from every corner of Europe to concentration camps in Poland and working them to death. Objections to this plan included the belief that this was simply too time-consuming. What about the strong ones who took longer to die? What about the millions of Jews who were already in Poland? Although the word extermination was never uttered during the meeting, the implication was clear: anyone who survived the egregious conditions of a work camp would be treated accordingly.


  • The British RAF dropped 2,300 tons of bombs on Berlin.

19 January – Today in German History


  • On the morning of January 19th, 1915 two German Zeppelin airships, the L3 and L4 took off from Fuhlsbüttel in Germany. Both airships carried 30 hours worth of fuel, 8 bombs, and 25 incendiary devices. They had been given permission by Kaiser Wilhelm II to attack military and industrial buildings. The Kaiser had forbidden an attack on London due to concern for the Royal family to whom he was related. The air war against Britain began in WWI as Zeppelin dirigibles started a bombing campaign against Britain. There would be 18 additional attacks in 1915.


  • The first election of the Weimar Republic. For the first time, women have the vote. It is also considered the first truly free and fair all-German election, as it was the first to be held after the scrapping of the old constituencies that grossly over-represented rural areas. The voting age was lowered to 20 from 25 in the last Reichstag election of 1912. Social Democratic Party (SPD) won the election.


  • In Bolivia, Gestapo SS-Hauptsturmführer Klaus Barbie was arrested.

17 January – Today in German History


  • Soviet troops liberate the Polish capital from German occupation. Warsaw was a battleground since the opening day of fighting in the European theater. Germany declared war by launching an air raid on September 1, 1939, and followed up with a siege that killed tens of thousands of Polish civilians and wreaked havoc on historic monuments. Deprived of electricity, water, and food, and with 25 percent of the city’s homes destroyed, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27. After Stalin mobilized 180 divisions against the Germans in Poland and East Prussia, Gen. Georgi Zhukov’s troops crossed the Vistula north and south of the Polish capital, liberating the city from Germans—and grabbing it for the USSR. By that time, Warsaw’s prewar population of approximately 1.3 million had been reduced to a mere 153,000.


  • Helmut Kohl is formally elected chancellor of united Germany by the Bundestag. He receives 378 yes votes, 257 no votes and 9 abstain.

15 January – Today in German History


  • Cruiser Köln was commissioned into service with Fregattenkapitän Ludwig von Schröder at the helm.


  • Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein became a group leader (Kameradschaftsführer) in the Hitler Youth organization.


  • Hermann Göring met Benito Mussolini; when Göring brought up the topic of the German wish to annex Austria, Mussolini showed disapproval.


  • Kapitän zur See Ernst Kretzenberg took command of cruiser Köln.
  • German submarine U-44 torpedoed and sank Norwegian steamer Fagerheim in the Bay of Biscay at the early hours of the day, killing 15. The 5 survivors were taken to Vigo, Spain. At 0700 hours, U-44 fired shots at Dutch merchant freighter Arendskerk; realizing his ship could not outrun the German submarine, captain of the Arendskerk gave the abandon ship order. Arendskerk was subsequently torpedoed and sank, but all 65 of her crew members survived, rescued by Italian steamer Fedora.


  • Overnight, Wellington bombers of No. 57 Squadron RAF attacked Emden, Germany while 76 RAF bombers attacked Wilhelmshaven, Germany.
Erich Topp (r) on U-552 in St. Nazaire in October 1941.


  • The German Armeegruppe Mitte began to fall back from the Kaluga area, forming new defensive lines 20 miles to the west.
  • German submarine U-552 sank the ship Dayrose at 0138 hours with 38 dead and 4 survivors. To the south, German submarine U-123 sank British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, United States at 0941 hours with 36 dead and 10 survivors. At 1134 hours, again off Newfound, U-203 sank Portuguese trawler, Catalina, killing all aboard. Near the end of the day at 2317 hours, U-553 blew the bow off of the tanker Diala with 57 dead and 8 survivors and the wreckage of Diala remained afloat.
  • British destroyer HMS Hesperus rammed German submarine U-93 while the submarine attempted to attack Allied convoy HG78 580 miles west of Gibraltar, followed by gunfire and depth charge attacks, leading to the submarine being abandoned with 6 dead and 40 survivors. HMS Hesperus would reverse course for Gibraltar to receive repairs.
  • A British Swordfish aircraft sank German submarine U-577 with depth charges 60 miles north of Sollum, Egypt, killing all 43 aboard.


  • German aircraft raided Telepte Airfield in Tunisia three times and Youks-les-Bains Airfield in Algeria once. A total of 15 German aircraft were shot down during these attacks.


  • Soviet forces launched a new offensive near Leningrad, Russia.
  • German XIV Panzer Corps abandoned Monte Trocchio, Italy and fell back across the Rapido River while the US II Corps would capture Monte Trocchio later on the same day. Meanwhile, General Juin’s French troops captured Monte Santa Croce.


  • Adolf Hitler ordered Panzerkorps Grossdeutschland to move from East Prussia, Germany to Poland to counter the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive. This counterattack would be repulsed by the Soviet 1st Byelorussian Front.
  • Adolf Hitler departed the Adlerhorst headquarters in Wetterau, Germany, and returning to Berlin.
  • German V-2 rocket hit Rainham, London, England, United Kingdom at about 2345, killing 14 and seriously injuring 4.


  • Hellmuth Felmy was released from imprisonment.









14 Jan 1942 – 31 Aug 1942 – Start of the Second Happy Time

In mid-1940, German submariners enjoyed a period nicknamed the Happy Time (Die Glückliche Zeit) during which they were able to sink 282 Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean totaling 1,489,795 tons. As the British improved convoy techniques, the Happy Time in late 1940, but German submarines continued to pose a serious threat for Allied shipping in the Atlantic.

Long before the United States entered the war it had been violating its neutrality by sending supplies and surplus warships to the United Kingdom. American politicians claimed that transports of any nation docking at American ports could do trade without restriction, but they also knew that only British and French vessels made visits to the United States. With this policy in place, however, it was inevitable that attacks on American “neutral” shipping occurred. On 31 Oct 1941, while escorting a British convoy, the American destroyer USS Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-562; 115 of the 160 aboard were killed as the result of the first American naval vessel sunk by the Germans before the war started for the United States. Isolationist sentiments still ran strong in the US, however, and President Roosevelt could not rally enough support based on this event to declare an alliance with Britain; all he could do was, as he had already ordered months prior, to continue US Navy patrols across the Atlantic Ocean, going as far as Iceland.

The position of the United States changed when it declared war on Germany on 11 Dec 1941, three days after the declaration of war on Japan. German Admiral Karl Dönitz immediately planned for his long-range submarines to strike the American coastal waters. Codenamed Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat or Timpani Beat), five Type IX submarines departed Lorient, France on 18 Dec 1941. The British Y service picked up signals from these submarines; Rodger Winn of the London Submarine Tracking Room suspected that these submarines might be heading to the Western Atlantic, and warned the Canadians and the Americans of a “heavy concentration of U-boats off the North American seaboard”. Rear Admiral Frank Leighton of the US Combined Operations and Intelligence Center received the message and passed it on to, among others, Rear Admiral Adolphus Andrews who was in charge of coastal defense along the Maine to North Carolina coast, but he could do little against attacks by modern German submarines as his fleet only consisted of 7 US Coast Guard cutters, four yachts, and several WW1-vintage vessels. While Andrews’ inaction was due to lack of resources under his command, the fact that little other actions were taken could only be blamed on personal failure; American coastal shipping continued to continue with lights on, and lighthouses continued to operate and provide navigational aid to the enemy. On 12 Jan 1942, Andrews received another warning, but he refused to group coastal shipping into convoys (a sentiment shared by US Navy Admiral Ernest King). Two days later, on 14 Jan, German submarine U-123 struck within sight of Long Island, New York, United States, sinking Norwegian tanker Norness; the Andrews did not dispatch any of his 13 destroyers in New York harbor to investigate. On the night of 15 Jan, seeing no ships came to pursue, U-123 sank British tanker Coimbra off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, United States. U-123’s crew was pleasantly surprised to still see no actions taken against these attacks, and continued to operate off New Jersey with impunity, sinking five more ships before heading back to France. U-123’s sister ships U-130, U-66, U-109, and U-125 collectively sank 16 ships, making the grand total 23. When all five of the Type IX submarines returned to France, Dönitz actually criticized U-125’s commanding officer Ulrich Folkers for his lack of aggressiveness, having destroyed only one Allied ship. Dönitz later wrote that on this first expedition to the American coast each commander “had such an abundance of opportunities for an attack that he could not by any means utilize them all: there were times when there were up to ten ships in sight, sailing with all lights burning on peacetime courses.”

The success led to second and third waves of German submarines being sent to the American coast; around this time, the nickname Second Happy Time began to surface, with the initial 1940 success as the First Happy Time. In addition to the long-range Type IX submarines, shorter range submarines were being dispatched to North America as well, with all available space used for extra food, water, and fuel to extend the submarines’ range.

In Mar 1942, 24 British Royal Navy anti-submarine trawlers and 10 Corvettes were deployed on the east coast of the United States to help alleviate the situation. In the same month, Royal Canadian Navy expanded its area of operations so that it could escort convoys sailing between Boston, Massachusetts, the United States and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The first successful sinking of a German submarine would not occur until 14 Apr 1942 when the destroyer USS Roper sank U-85. In the same month, Andrews finally agreed to implement a limited convoy system and only allowing ships to travel in daylight. By mid-May 1942, full convoys were finally in operation and the number of Allied ships sunk off the American coast immediately decreased. Dönitz quickly noticed the change in American tactics and scaled-down submarine operations off the American coast. Starting in Jul 1942, the British RAF Coastal Command transferred No. 53 Squadron to various bases in North America to bolster anti-submarine defenses. Noting that the Americans and the Allies finally began to tighten defenses on the US coast, Dönitz called off this campaign. During the Second Happy Time which lasted more than seven months, the Germans sank 609 ships totaling 3,100,000 tons at the cost of only 22 submarines. This number would represent about 25% of all Allied shipping sunk by German submarines during this period.