Category Archives: Today in History

19 October – Today in German History

1914
  • First Battle of Ypres

On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War.

After the German advance through Belgium and eastern France was curtailed by a decisive Allied victory in the Battle of the Marne in late September 1914, the Race to the Sea began, as each army attempted to outflank the other on their way northwards, hastily constructing trench fortifications as they went. The race ended in mid-October at Ypres, the ancient Flemish city with its fortifications guarding the ports of the English Channel and access to the North Sea beyond.

After the Germans captured the Belgian city of Antwerp early in October, Antwerp’s remaining Belgian forces along with troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Sir John French, withdrew to Ypres, arriving at the city between October 8 and 19 to reinforce the Belgian and French defenses there. Meanwhile, the Germans prepared to launch the first phase of an offensive aimed at breaking the Allied lines and capturing Ypres and other channel ports, thus controlling the outlets to the North Sea.

On October 19, a protracted period of fierce combat began, as the Germans opened their Flanders offensive and the Allies steadfastly resisted while seeking their own chances to go on the attack wherever possible. Fighting continued, with heavy losses on both sides until November 22 when the arrival of winter weather forced the battle to a halt. The area between the positions established by both sides during this period from Ypres on the British side to Menin and Roulers on the German side became known as the Ypres Salient. A region, that over the course of the next several years, would see some of the war’s bitterest and most brutal struggles.

1951
  • U.S. President Truman signed an act officially ending the state of war with Germany.
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4 October – Today in German History

1918

  • In the early hours of October 4, 1918, German Chancellor Max von Baden, appointed by Kaiser Wilhelm II just three days earlier, sends a telegraph message to the administration of President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, D.C., requesting an armistice between Germany and the Allied powers in World War I.

By the end of September 1918, the Allies had made a tremendous resurgence on the Western Front, reversing the gains of the previous spring’s massive German offensive and pushing the German army in eastern France and western Belgium back to its last line of defenses being the Hindenburg Line. Stunned and despondent, German General Erich Ludendorff, chief architect of that final spring offensive, reversed his previous optimism about the German military situation and demanded at a crown council meeting on September 29, that Germany seek an immediate armistice based on the terms President Wilson had laid out in his famous Fourteen Points address in January 1918. Feeling that the army’s leadership had completely usurped the government, Chancellor Georg von Hertling immediately resigned. Kaiser Wilhelm subsequently appointed his second cousin, Prince Max von Baden, to the post.

As soon as von Baden arrived in Berlin to take office on October 1, he made it clear that he had no intention of admitting defeat until Germany had regained at least some ground on the battlefield. In this way, he hoped to retain some powers of negotiation with the Allies. On October 3, however, Paul von Hindenburg, the German army’s chief of staff and head of the Third Supreme Command, as Germany’s military leadership was known, reiterated Ludendorff’s advice, stating that “The German army still stands firm and is defending itself against all attacks. The situation, however, is growing more critical daily and may force the High Command to momentous decisions. In these circumstances, it is imperative to stop the fighting in order to spare the German people and their allies unnecessary sacrifices. Every day of delay costs thousands of brave soldiers their lives.”

Von Baden disagreed with Hindenburg, telling him that too early an armistice could mean Germany would lose valuable territory in Alsace-Lorraine and East Prussia, which had been implicit under the terms of the Fourteen Points, despite Wilson’s expressed desire for a peace without victory. Deciding to seek his own way apart from the Supreme Command, von Baden brought two Socialist members of the German Reichstag into his cabinet. They too, appraising the growing anti-war feeling on the home front and in the government, advised the chancellor to seek an armistice. On October 4, heeding their advice, von Baden telegraphed his request to Washington.

Wilson’s response, in notes of October 14 and 23, made it clear that the Allies would only deal with a democratic Germany, not an imperial state with an effective military dictatorship presided over by the Supreme Command. Neither Wilson nor his even less conciliatory counterparts in Britain and France trusted von Baden’s declaration of October 5 that he was taking steps to move Germany towards parliamentary democracy. After Wilson’s second note arrived, Ludendorff’s resolve returned and he announced that the note should be rejected and the war resumed in full force. After peace had come so tantalizingly close, however, it proved even more difficult for Germans on the battlefield as well as on the home front to carry on. Within a month, Ludendorff had resigned, as the German position had deteriorated still further and it was determined that the war could not be allowed to continue. On November 7, Hindenburg contacted the Allied Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch, to open armistice negotiations. Four days later, World War I came to an end.

1940 

  • Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini meet in the Alps at Brenner Pass. Hitler was seeking help from Italy to fight the British.

1990 

  • The German Bundestag parliament has its first meeting since reunification.

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3 October 1943 – Start of the Allied Advance to the Gustav Line

In an attempt to delay the Allied advance toward Rome, Italy, German forces set up a series of defensive lines, collectively called the Winter Line, that began with the southern-most Volturno Line to the northern-most Rome Switch Line, with the Gustav Line intending to be the strongest. The Winter Line was mainly constructed by members of the German Organization Todt, featuring many gun pits, concrete bunkers, machine gun nests, minefields, and other defensive structures, manned by soldiers of 15 German divisions.

In the first week of Oct 1943, British infantry crossed the Biferno River on the Adriatic Sea coast of Italy, reaching the eastern end of the southern-most Volturno Line, also known as Viktor Line. A German armor counterattack on 4 Oct nearly pushed the infantrymen back across the river, but British engineers were able to set up a bridge in time to bring up Canadian and British tanks to the front to counter the German counterattack. By 6 Oct, the territory lost to the German counterattack was regained, and the British and Canadian troops would gradually push north toward the Barbara Line. On the western end of the Volturno Line, the US 5th Army crossed the Volturno River during the night of 12 Oct and advanced through a series of delay action engagements.

The next defensive line, Barbara Line, was reached by Allies on 2 Nov, near-simultaneously on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast by US 5th Army and on the Adriatic Sea coast by the British 8th Army. In early Dec, on the western side, German troops fell back to the intermediate Bernhardt Line, also known as Reinhard Line, while on the eastern side the Germans fell back to the main Gustav Line.
The US 5th Army attacked the Bernhardt Line on 1 Dec 1943, using both US and British troops. Monte Camino and the surroundings were captured after eight days of heavy combat. On 10 Dec, US troops captured the peaks surrounding the Mignano Gap; despite gaining the advantageous terrain, the Americans could not drive the Germans out of the valley until 16 Dec, and fighting in this general area would last until the end of the year.

The British 8th Army attack on the Gustav Line began on 28 Nov 1943, one week behind schedule due to heavy rains. On 5 Dec, the Canadian 1st Infantry Division under Major-General Christopher Vokes launched an attack at the German defenses along the Moro River; meanwhile, New Zealand 2nd Division marched toward Orsogna. Although the advance across the lines south of the Gustav Line had been costly in terms of casualties, the movement had been relatively swift, and the Allied leadership expected the same from the British 8th Army at the Gustav Line. As Route 5, the main highway linking Pescara on the east coast with Rome to the west was situated less than 30 miles from the Gustav Line, several German divisions, including the tough 1st Parachute Division and 5th Mountain Division, were prepared the stand their ground. At 0000 hours on 5 Dec, Canadian troops attacked toward Villa Rogatti, immediately engaging in heavy fighting, but were able to capture the town before dawn. The mid-morning counterattack by German panzers was repulsed, but the Canadians suffered high casualties and had to abandon Villa Rogatti. A similar scene played out at San Leonardo and San Donato on the following day. In the afternoon of 8 Dec, a renewed attack was launched at San Leonardo after a two-hour artillery bombardment, finally securing a bridgehead by sundown; overnight, troops of Royal Canadian Engineers built a bridge over the Moro River to allow tanks and supply trucks to reinforce the bridgehead. San Leonardo was captured by mid-morning on 9 Dec, and remaining German forces, after holding out in positions surrounding the town for the length of the day, fell back northward about 3 miles toward the area later to be nicknamed The Gully.

Meanwhile, New Zealand troops attacked Orsogna starting on 7 Dec, with British paratroopers in support. This attack would fail to dislodge German defenders and would be called off on the following day.

Three Canadian battalions attacked The Gully on 10 Dec, capturing Vino Ridge, but over the next three days, they would suffer heavy casualties against stubborn defense by troops of the German 90. Panzergrenadier Division. On 13 December, however, German strength began to be dwindling, and the German 1st Parachute Division was moved up to relieve the 90. Panzergrenadier Division. At dawn on 14 Dec, Canadian troops attempted to flank The Gully by attacking Casa Berardi to the west, capturing the roads leading into the town by 0750 hours and then the town itself in the afternoon.

After sundown on 13 Dec, 17th Infantry Brigade of Indian 8th Division moved toward Caldari. The fighting lasted through the following day, capturing roads between Ortona and Orsogna. By the evening on 15 Dec, the Indian troops began to make considerable breakthroughs, complemented by New Zealand troops’ favorable progress at Orsogna. On 16 Dec, the Germans launched a counterattack at positions held by New Zealand at 0315 hours, which would be repulsed, exhausting both sides in the process.
On the morning of 18 Dec, Canadian artillery pieces mounted a heavy barrage on German positions in The Gully, followed by an assault by Canadian and Indian troops across the Ortona-Orsogna road. This attack saw initial successes, but it was ultimately repulsed with heavy losses. Two days later, in the afternoon, the Canadians mounted yet another attack, only to find that the Germans had already evacuated The Gully and had fallen back into Ortona. Although Ortona would be taken by the Allies by 26 Dec, by this time the British 8th Army had been exhausted. An attempt was made on the final day of 1943 to send a small party toward Pescara, but the heavy snowstorm that hindered this advance party only confirmed that the British 8th Army needed time to regroup before it could launch another offensive especially as weather conditions were about to change for the worse.

Toward the western coast of Italy, the US 5th Army was suffering from similar problems. Although the Germans were slowly being pushed back from the Bernhardt Line back toward the Gustav Line, and the Americans were indeed able to launch another offensive in the half of Jan 1944, capturing Monte Porchia, Monte Chiaia, Cervaro, and Monte Trocchio, the northward advance along the Tyrrhenian Sea coast were to be halted as well to regroup before challenging the western end of the German Gustav Line.

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3 October – Today in German History

1941

  • Adolf Hitler stated in a speech that Russia was “broken” and they “would never rise again.”

1942

  • On October 3, 1942, German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun’s brainchild, the V-2 missile, is fired successfully from Peenemunde, an island off Germany’s Baltic coast. It traveled 118 miles. It proved extraordinarily deadly in the war and was the precursor to the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) of the postwar era.

German scientists, led by von Braun, had been working on the development of these long-range missiles since the 1930s. Three trial launches had already failed; the fourth in the series, known as A-4, finally saw the V-2, a 12-ton rocket capable of carrying a one-ton warhead, successfully launched.

The V-2 was unique in several ways. First, it was virtually impossible to intercept. Upon launching, the missile rises six miles vertically. Then proceeds on an arced course, cutting off its own fuel according to the range desired. The missile then tips over and falls on its target at a speed of almost 4,000 mph. It hits with such force that the missile burrows itself into the ground several feet before exploding. It had the potential of flying a distance of 200 miles, and the launch pads were portable, making them impossible to detect before firing.

The first launches as part of an offensive did not occur until September 6, 1944, when two missiles were fired at Paris. On September 8, two more were fired at England, which would be followed by more than 1,100 more during the next six months. More than 2,700 Brits died because of the rocket attacks.

After the war, both the United States and the Soviet Union captured samples of the rockets for reproduction, the scientists responsible for their creation.

1944 

  • During World War II, U.S. troops broke through the Siegfried Line.

1990

East and West Germany reunite after 45 years
  • Less than one year after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, East, and West Germany come together on what is known as Unity Day.

Since 1945, when Soviet forces occupied eastern Germany, and the United States and other Allied forces occupied the western half of the nation at the close of World War II, divided Germany had come to serve as one of the most enduring symbols of the Cold War.

Some of the most dramatic episodes of the Cold War took place there. The Berlin Blockade from June 1948 to May 1949, during which the Soviet Union blocked all ground travel into West Berlin, and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 were perhaps the most famous. With the gradual waning of Soviet power in the late 1980s, the Communist Party in East Germany began to lose its grip on power. Tens of thousands of East Germans began to flee the nation, and by late 1989 the Berlin Wall started to come down.

Shortly thereafter, talks between East and West German officials, joined by officials from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSR, began to explore the possibility of reunification. Two months following reunification, all-German elections took place and Helmut Kohl became the first chancellor of the reunified Germany. Although this action came more than a year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, for many observers the reunification of Germany effectively marked the end of the Cold War.

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28 September – Today in German WWI & WWII History

1918

  • On September 28, 1918, in an incident that would go down in the lore of World War I history although the details of the event are still unclear. Private Henry Tandey, a British soldier serving near the French village of Marcoing, reportedly encounters a wounded German soldier and declines to shoot him ad sparing the life of 29-year-old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler.

As Tandey later told sources, during the final moments of battle, as the German troops were in retreat, a wounded German soldier entered Tandey’s line of fire. “I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” Tandey remembered, “so I let him go.” The German soldier nodded in thanks and disappeared.

Hitler during WWI.

Though sources do not exist to prove the exact whereabouts of Adolf Hitler on that day in 1918, an intriguing link emerged to suggest that he was in fact the soldier Tandey spared. A photograph that appeared in London newspapers of Tandey carrying a wounded soldier at Ypres in 1914 was later portrayed on canvas in a painting by the Italian artist Fortunino Matania glorifying the Allied war effort. As the story goes, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain traveled to Germany in 1938 to engage Hitler in a last-ditch effort to avoid another war in Europe, he was taken by the Führer to his new country retreat in Bavaria. There, Hitler showed Chamberlain his copy of the Matania painting, commenting, “That’s the man who nearly shot me.”

The authenticity of the Tandey-Hitler encounter remains in dispute, though evidence does suggest that Hitler had a reproduction of the Matania painting as early as 1937 which is a strange acquisition for a man who had been furious and devastated by the German defeat at Allied hands in the Great War. Twice decorated as a soldier, Hitler was temporarily blinded by a mustard gas attack in Belgium in October 1918 and was in a military hospital in Pacewalk, Germany, when he received news of the German surrender. The experiences of battle from glory and ultimately disillusion and despondency would color the rest of Hitler’s life and career. He admitted in 1941, after leading his country into another devastating conflict: “When I returned from the War, I brought back home with me my experiences at the front; out of them I built my National Socialist community.”

1939

  • During World War II, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed upon a plan on the division of Poland.
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26 September – Today in German Military History

1918

  • Meuse-Argonne offensive begins. At 5:30 on the morning of September 26, 1918, after a six-hour-long bombardment over the previous night, more than 700 Allied tanks, followed closely by infantry troops, advance against German positions in the Argonne Forest and along the Meuse River.

Building on the success of earlier Allied offensives at Amiens and Albert during the summer of 1918, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, carried out by 37 French and American divisions, was even more ambitious. Aiming to cut off the entire German 2nd Army, Allied Supreme Commander Ferdinand Foch ordered General John J. Pershing to take overall command of the offensive. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was to play the main attacking role, in what would be the largest American-run offensive of World War I.

After some 400,000 U.S. troops were transferred with difficulty to the region in the wake of the U.S.-run attack at St. Mihiel, launched just 10 days earlier, the Meuse-Argonne offensive began. The preliminary bombardment, using some 800 mustard gas and phosgene shells, killed 278 German soldiers and incapacitated more than 10,000. The infantry advance began the next morning, supported by a battery of tanks and some 500 aircraft from the U.S. Air Service.

By the morning of the following day, the Allies had captured more than 23,000 German prisoners; by nightfall, they had taken 10,000 more and advanced up to six miles in some areas. The Germans continued to fight, however, putting up a stiff resistance that ultimately forced the Allies to settle for far fewer gains than they had hoped.

Pershing called off the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 30; it was renewed again just four days later, on October 4. Exhausted, demoralized, and plagued by the spreading influenza epidemic, the German troops held on another month, before beginning their final retreat. Arriving U.S. reinforcements had time to advance some 32 kilometers before the general armistice was announced on November 11, bringing the First World War to a close.

1944

  • On September 26, 1944, Operation Market Garden, a plan to seize bridges in the Dutch town of Arnhem, fails, as thousands of British and Polish troops are killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.

British Gen. Bernard Montgomery conceived an operation to take control of bridges that crossed the Rhine River, from the Netherlands into Germany, as a strategy to make “a powerful full-blooded thrust to the heart of Germany.” The plan seemed cursed from the beginning. It was launched on September 17, with parachute troops and gliders landing in Arnhem. Holding out as long as they could, waiting for reinforcements, they were compelled to surrender. Unfortunately, a similar drop of equipment was delayed, and there were errors in locating the proper drop location and bad intelligence on German troop strength. Added to this, bad weather and communication confused the coordination of the Allied troops on the ground.

The Germans quickly destroyed the railroad bridge and took control of the southern end of the road bridge. The Allies struggled to control the northern end of the road bridge but soon lost it to the superior German forces. The only thing left was retreat-back behind Allied lines. But few made it: Of more than 10,000 British and Polish troops engaged at Arnhem, only 2,900 escaped.

Claims were made after the fact that a Dutch Resistance fighter, Christiaan Lindemans, betrayed the Allies, which would explain why the Germans were arrayed in such numbers at such strategic points. A conservative member of the British Parliament, Rupert Allason, writing under the named Nigel West, dismissed this conclusion in his A Thread of Deceit, arguing that Lindemans, while a double agent, “was never in a position to betray Arnhem.” Superior German arms and response was the main reason for the defeat. With two Waffen-SS divisions resting and refitting in the area, Montgomery’s silly plan was soundly defeated.

Winston Churchill would lionize the courage of the fallen Allied soldiers with the epitaph “Not in vain.” Arnhem was finally liberated on April 15, 1945. Of course, this action was in vain, Churchhill had to cover for the arrogance of Montgomery in thinking he was always superior since his victory in Afrika. He never did consider superior amounts of supplies and arms and a second American front in Afrika won the day, not his false skills as a general.

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21 September – Today in German History

1522

  • The first publication of Martin Luther‘s translation of the New Testament.

1792

  • Birth of Johann Peter Eckermann in Winsen, Germany. Eckermann was Goethe‘s secretary in Weimar. He published Goethe’s posthumous works and participated in the publication of the first complete edition of his works. He wrote Gespräche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren sieines Lebens, which provides detailed insight into the mind of the genius.

1812

  • Death of Emanuel Schikaneder in Vienna, Austria. Schikaneder wrote the text to Mozart’s opera, Die Zauberflöte.

1860

  • Death of Arthur Schopenhauer in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Schopenhauer was possibly the most pessimistic of all philosophers. He encountered Indian philosophy while living in the intellectual atmosphere of Weimar in 1813-14. In building his own philosophy he would draw on the Indian as well as those of Plato and Kant which he had studied at the university. His greatest work was Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung in 1819. Schopenhauer’s writings had extensive influence on the thinking of Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Jacob Burckhardt, Gerhart Hauptmann, and Thomas Mann.

1921

  • Death of Eugen Dühring in Nowawes, Germany. Düring was a political philosopher. He practiced law and later taught at the University of Berlin. His optimistic view of human nature and its ramifications in economics led him to conflicts with the Marxists of his day. He was the negative subject of a book by Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring. Dührings books include Captial und Arbeit in 1865, Kritische Geschichte der Philosophie in 1869, and Cursus der National- und Socialökonomie from 1873-92.
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