Category Archives: Today in History

14 December – Today in German History


  • Birth of Karl Renner in Unter-Tannowitz, Austria-Hungary (now in the Czech Republic). Renner was the first chancellor of the Austrian Republic after WWI. On September 10, 1919, he signed the Treaty of Saint Germain which specifically prohibited a union with Germany. In 1938, he was a leading supporter of Germany’s annexation of Austria. In 1945, he worked closely with Soviet officials to reestablish an Austrian government and became the first post-war chancellor in April, 1945. On December 20, 1945 he was elected president by the Austrian Reichsrat.


  • Birth of Kurt von Schuschnigg in Riva del Garda, Austria-Hungary (now in Italy). Von Schuschnigg was the Austrian chancellor at the time of the annexation by Germany. He had struggled against the growing Nazi influence in Austria and the coming annexation but ultimately failed. He was forced to resign on March 11, 1938 as Germany entered the country and was imprisoned until the end of WWII.

Battle of the River Plate – 13 Dec 1939 – 17 Dec 1939

While German submarines stole most of the attention in the Battle of the Atlantic, the German surface fleet shared a similar success during the early days of the battle as well. Since the end of September 1939, the pocket battleships (later re-classified as heavy cruisers) Admiral Graf Spee and Deutschland (later renamed Lützow) hunted merchant traffic. Graf Spee, in particular, haunted the Allied merchant fleet, sinking nine British cargo ships to the bottom of the Atlantic without losing a single German life. As a response, Britain and France organized eight task forces, each known by a letter, to hunt down the German ships. That decision in itself tied up over twenty Allied warships, including the carrier Ark Royal, the battlecruiser Renown, and the battleship Strasbourg, all badly needed elsewhere, but the livelihood of Britain preceded all other demands.

Royal Navy Commodore Henry Harwood and his South Atlantic Fleet was the commander who found one of the German pocket battleships. At 0552 on 13 Dec 1939, flagship light cruiser Ajax, heavy cruiser Exeter, and light cruiser Achilles spotted Graf Spee near Rio de la Plata at the border of Argentina and Uruguay off South America. With his heavy ships elsewhere, Harwood knew he was no match for the German capital ship, but made a dash at her nevertheless. Exeter was the first to come within range of Graf Spee’s guns and was the first to be hit by one of the German 670lb shells. Exeter returned fire, straddling the German pocket battleship without hits, meanwhile sustaining two more hits from the German ship. While Exeter drew fire, however, Ajax and Achilles were now in position. The two smaller cruisers’ 6in shells punished Graf Spee for over an hour. After 90 minutes of combat, Harwood, injured by shrapnel himself, withdrew his three ships. Exeter was sent to the Falkland Islands for emergency repairs. The commander of the Admiral Graf Spee, Captain Hans Langsdorff, was also injured in the battle. His damage control officer informed him that Graf Spee was hit 18 times, and 37 men were killed during the battle. Several guns were disabled, ammunitions were low, and the crew was working hard to close many holes made by British shells. Langsdorff, under direct orders from Berlin not to engage Allied surface forces, decided to let Harwood’s ships withdraw, and headed for the neutral port of Montevideo. Langsdorff requested Montevideo for two weeks’ time for repairs, but he was only granted 72 hours. When the time came, the ship was in no position to combat the large British fleet that must have assembled outside the port, waiting for him. After berthing the crew aboard German freighters at Montevideo, he scuttled the pocket battleship on 17 December. Like captains of old, he committed suicide to go down with his ship. Before pulling the trigger, he wrapped himself in the colors of Imperial German, not the Nazi swastika. “For a captain with a sense of honor,” he wrote in his suicide note, “it goes without saying that his personal fate cannot be separated from that of his ship.”

Though the battle was now over, the closure did not come until 16 Feb 1940 when the Altmark, Admiral Graf Spee’s former supply ship, was found by Royal Navy Captain Philip Vian’s flotilla in Norway. 299 British captives taken by Graf Spee during her hunt were freed from the Altmark when Vian’s destroyers captured her.


13 December – Today in German History


  • A powerful avalanche kills hundreds of Austrian soldiers in a barracks near Italy’s Mount Marmolada on December 13, 1916. Over a period of several days, avalanches in the Italian Alps killed an estimated 10,000 Austrian and Italian soldiers in mid-December. The avalanches occurred as the Austrians and Italians were fighting World War I and some witnesses claim that the avalanches were purposefully caused to use as a weapon. Though there is little evidence that this was the case with these avalanches, it is possible that avalanches were used as weapons at other times during the war.


  • Hans-Joachim Marseille was born at Berliner Straße 164, Berlin, Germany.


  • Cruiser Köln returned from a screening mission for minelayers.
  • At the Battle of the River Plate, three British cruisers damaged German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, forcing her to enter the neutral port of Montevideo for repairs.


  • Führer Directive 20 was issued to prepare for Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece.
  • German Army units began redeployment in preparation for Operation Barbarossa.
  • German submarine U-43 torpedoed and damaged British ship Orari 450 miles west of Land’s End, the United Kingdom.


  • New Zealand and Indian troops of the British Eighth Army launched an attack on the Gazala Line in Libya while the Germans launched a counterattack. British tanks exploited the gap opened by Indian troops, but the advance was soon halted by German panzers. Both sides incurred heavy casualties in men and equipment after the day’s fighting.
  • General Timoshenko’s Southwest Front assaulted German lines at the junction of 2. Panzergruppe and 2. Armee.  2. Armee withdrew, leaving 2. Panzergruppe’s flank unprotected.
  • Feldmarschall von Bock secretly ordered Armeegruppe Mitte to withdraw to a winter line 90 miles west of current positions, without informing Hitler.
  • The German Gestapo arrested Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) radio operator Mikhail Makarov in the Rue des Atrebates, Brussels, Belgium. There followed a year-long series of arrests of Soviet Agents across Europe including the complete elimination of the Red Orchestra espionage group. By 1943, the Soviets would have no active agents still operating within greater Germany.
  • Hans-Joachim Marseille scored his 33rd and 34th kills, both South African P-40 fighters, when he shot down Flying Officer Thomas Trimble and either Lieutenant Connel or Lieutenant Meek northeast of Tmimi, Libya.


  • Kapitän zur See Hans Meyer took command of cruiser Köln.


  • German Armeegruppe Mitte was heavily engaged in defensive combat in and around Vitebsk, Byelorussia.


  • Cruiser Köln’s power stations and starboard engines were destroyed by Allied aerial attacks.
  • German 7. Armee withdrew to fortified positions on the Westwall on the French-German border.

11 December – Today in German History


  • German submarine U-38 sank Greek freighter Garoufalia off Norway; 4 were killed, 25 survived.
  • Vidkun Quisling met with Erich Raeder in Germany.


  • German freighter Rhein, already being monitored by American destroyers Simpson and MacLeish, was intercepted by Dutch destroyer Van Kinsbergen near the Florida Straits; her crew scuttled the ship to avoid capture.
  • German submarine U-96 attacked Allied convoy HX-92 125 miles northwest of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, United Kingdom, sinking British liner Rotorua at 1512 hours (21 were killed, including HX-92 commodore Rear Admiral Fitzgerald; 108 survived) and Norwegian ship Towa at 2242 hours (18 were killed, 19 survived).
  • German submarine U-94 sank British ship Empire Statesman 225 miles west of Ireland at 1912 hours, killing the entire crew of 31.
  • 278 German aircraft attacked Birmingham, England, United Kingdom, dropping 277 tons of high explosives and 685 incendiary bombs.


  • Germany and Italy declare war on the United States. – On this day, Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, bringing America, which had been neutral, into the European conflict. The bombing of Pearl Harbor surprised even Germany. Although Hitler had made an oral agreement with his Axis partner Japan that Germany would join a war against the United States, he was uncertain as to how the war would be engaged. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor answered that question. On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to nail the Germans down on a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. Von Ribbentrop feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort. But Hitler thought otherwise. He was convinced that the United States would soon beat him to the punch and declare war on Germany. The U.S. Navy was already attacking German U-boats, and Hitler despised Roosevelt for his repeated verbal attacks against his Nazi ideology. He also believed that Japan was much stronger than it was, that once it had defeated the United States, it would turn and help Germany defeat Russia. So at 3:30 p.m. (Berlin time) on December 11, the German charge d’affaires in Washington handed American Secretary of State Cordell Hull a copy of the declaration of war. That very same day, Hitler addressed the Reichstag to defend the declaration. The failure of the New Deal, argued Hitler, was the real cause of the war, as President Roosevelt, supported by plutocrats and Jews, attempted to cover up for the collapse of his economic agenda. “First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war,” declared Hitler-and the Reichstag leaped to their feet in thunderous applause.
  • In North Africa, the Italians reformed the line running south from the coast at Gazala with their armor on the right flank. Rommel’s Afrika Korps, reduced to just forty operational tanks after the Operation Crusader battles, protecting the open southern flank.
  • North of Moscow, Russia, Soviet 16th Army captured Istra while Soviet 20th Army reached Solnechnogorsk. South of Moscow, Soviet troops captured Stalinogorsk.
  • German submarine U-374 sank British anti-submarine trawler HMS Lady Shirley in the Strait of Gibraltar at 0421 hours, killing all 33 aboard. 21 minutes later, U-374 sank British patrol yacht HMS Rosabelle, which attempted to locate U-374; 30 were killed, 12 survived and rescued by patrol yacht HMS Sayonara.
  • Adolf Hitler announced that since the start of the war against the Soviet Union, the German forces had captured 3,806,865 Soviet prisoners of war.
  • Hans-Joachim Marseille shot down the British P-40 fighter piloted by Canadian Flight Sergeant M. A. Canty southeast of El Adem, Libya. It was his 32nd kill.


  • The USAAF bombed Emden, Germany, while 18 RAF Mosquito aircraft attacked Duisburg, Germany.


  • Adolf Hitler held a meeting with top German military commanders at the Adlerhorst headquarters in Wetterau, Germany, stressing the importance of the upcoming Ardennes Offensive.
  • Kurt Fricke stepped down as the commanding officer of Naval Group Command South.


  • It was forbidden to leave East Germany without permission. Violations were prosecuted with prison for up to three years.
  • Heinrich Hoffmann passed away in München, Germany.


  • West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and Czech Prime Minister Lubomir Strougal formally nullified the 1938 Munich pact when they signed a treaty sanctioning Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland.



10 December – Today in German History


  • Erwin Rommel was awarded the Pour le Mérite.


  • Paul Wenneker was released from Dutch internment even though he had officially been released in Jan 1918.


  • Soviet 7th Army, while attacking Finnish defense fortifications, received flanking fire from coastal batteries on the island of Saarenpää; in response, Soviet battleship Oktjabrskaja Revolutsija bombarded the island but failed to hit the batteries due to heavy fog. In the Gulf of Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia, Soviet submarines sank three ships going in and out of Finnish ports; two of them actually flew German flags.


  • Georg von Bismarck was named the commanding officer of the 20th Rifle Brigade.
  • A shell fired randomly across the English Channel from one of Germany’s massive 280mm rail guns fell within a few feet of the British 13.5in Peacemaker rail gun at Martin Mill, England, the United Kingdom severely damaging one of its bogies and mortally wounding one of the Royal Marine gunners.


  • German spy Karel Richter was executed at Wandsworth Prison in Britain.
  • Soviet troops encircled three German divisions at Livny, south of Moscow, Russia.
  • German submarine U-130 attacked Allied convoy SC-57 200 miles southwest of Ireland just before midnight at the end of the day, sinking British transport Kurdistan, British transport Kirnwood, and Egyptian transport Star of Luxor.


  • Adolf Hitler arrived at the Adlerhorst headquarters in Wetterau, Germany.

9 December – Today in German History


  • Death of Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor from 1433-1437, in Znojmo, Bohemia (born near Nürnberg, Germany). He was the last emperor of the House of Luxembourg. In 1396, he assembled and led an army against the Turks, who had penetrated as far as Serbia, but he was badly defeated in the campaign. It was Sigismund who invited Jan Hus to the Church Council of Constance to defend his views. After his appearance, Hus was burned for heresy. In 1428, he led another crusade against the Turks but was defeated again.


  • German Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee sailed toward the River Plate estuary on the border of Uruguay and Argentina to attack a reported convoy departing from Montevideo, Uruguay. Meanwhile, Royal Navy Force G consisting of light cruisers HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles, soon to be joined by the heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was already en route toward the area in search of Admiral Graf Spee.
  • German merchant freighter Kurmark, acquired by the German Navy in the fall of 1939, was commissioned into service as auxiliary cruiser Orion.


  • German submarine U-103 sank British ship Empire Jaguar 250 miles west of Ireland at 0132 hours, killing the entire crew of 37.
  • Battleship Bismarck arrived at Hamburg, Germany.


  • China declares war on Japan, Germany, and Italy in WWII.
  • Soviet troops recaptured Tikhivin in northern Russia.
  • German submarine U-652 sank French ship Saint-Denis 50 miles south of the Balearic Islands at 1400 hours, killing 3. The ship was sunk in a case of misidentification, as she flew the flag of Vichy France.
  • German submarine U-134 mistakenly sank German ship Steinbek 20 miles off of northern Norway at 2100 hours; 12 survived.
  • Adolf Hitler arrived in Berlin, Germany at 1100 hours. He decided to declare war on the United States on this date but decided to withhold the announcement until 11 Dec in order to have enough time to draft his speech.
  • Soviet 30th Army attacked north of Moscow, Russia, capturing many trucks and field guns abandoned by the German 3rd Panzer Army. South of Moscow, Soviet troops captured Venev and Yelets. Despite the victories, the Soviet logistic situation was extremely poor largely due to the destruction of many vehicles at the hands of the Germans in the past few months; for example, Viktor Abakumov reported on this day that on 25 Nov 1941 Soviet 18th Ski Battalion went without any food.


  • Germany agreed to cede to Italy the French warships captured at Bizerte, Tunisia in the previous month. They included sloop La Batailleuse, sloop Commandant Rivière, torpedo boat Bombarde, torpedo boat La Pomone, torpedo boat L’Iphigénie, submarine Phoque, submarine Saphir, submarine Requin, submarine Espadon, submarine Dauphin, submarine Turquoise, submarine Circé, submarine Calypso, and submarine Nautilus.


  • The Doctors’ Trial began in Nuremberg before a United States military court against 20 doctors and 3 Nazi officials who were accused of involvement in human experimentation. The trial ended on 20 Aug 1947 while 7 were acquitted, 7 were given death sentences, and 9 were given prison sentences.


  • A plebiscite approves the merger of 3 states to form the new state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany.Württemberg became a state (Land) in the new Weimar Republic. After the excitements of the 1918–1919 revolution, its five election results between 1919 and 1932 show a decreasing vote for left-wing parties. From 1934, the Gau of Württemberg-Hohenzollern added the Province of Hohenzollern. After World War II in 1945, Württemberg was split between Württemberg-Baden in Bizonia and Württemberg-Hohenzollern in the French zone. Both of these finally became part of the land of Baden-Württemberg in 1952. After World War II, Allied forces established three federal states: Württemberg-Hohenzollern, Baden (both occupied by France), and Württemberg-Baden (U.S.-occupied). In 1949, these three states became founding members of the Federal Republic of Germany. Article 118 of the new German constitution, however, had already prepared a procedure for those states to merge. After a referendum held in December 1951, Württemberg-Baden, Württemberg-Hohenzollern, and Baden voted in favor of a merger. Baden-Württemberg officially became a state on April 25, 1952.


  • Adolf Eichmann is found guilty by a court in Israel and sentenced to death.

8 December – Today in German History


  • The Kaiser called a meeting of his military and naval leaders, telling them that if Russia came to the aid of Serbia then Germany must be prepared to fight. He assumed that Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Turkey would all side with the Triple Alliance leaving Austria-Hungary free to concentrate against the Russians. Tirpitz, the head of the German Naval Office, declared that the Navy was not yet ready for war. Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, who was anxious to maintain détente with the British, was not invited to the meeting thus leaving the political viewpoint out of the discussions.
German Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee.


  • In World War I, the German Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee is defeated by a British naval group near the Falkland Islands. Spee’s flagship is sunk and Spee dies.


  • Unable to prevent the growing importance of Hitler within the National Revolution he had wanted for Germany, Gregor Strasser abruptly resigned and withdrew almost entirely from politics.
Graf Zeppelin.


  • Graf Zeppelin, Aircraft Carrier, was launched.


  • Battleship Bismarck exited the Kiel Canal.
  • German armed merchant cruiser Orion sank the ships Triadic (1 killed, 11 captured) and Triaster (64 captured) off Nauru.
  • German submarine U-103 sank British liner Calabria 295 miles west of Ireland at 2058 hours. 360 were killed, 230 of whom were Indian sailors who were being ferried to Britain to crew other ships; 21 survived.
  • German submarine U-140 sank Finnish sail ship Penang 75 west of Ireland at 1226 hours, killing the entire crew of 18. At 2025 hours, U-140 struck again, sinking British ship Ashcrest, killing the entire crew of 37.
  • German armed merchant cruiser Komet sank Komata off Nauru, killing 2 and capturing 33.


  • Soviet offensive broke through German Armeegruppe Mitte near Moscow, Russia, cutting the Klin-Kalinin road. German units began making hasty withdrawals to prevent encirclement, abandoning large numbers of immobilized equipment in the process. Adolf Hitler issued Führer Directive 39 which called for German troops to hold their ground.
  • Adolf Hitler ordered the German Navy to begin attacking American shipping.
  • Galeazzo Ciano called Joachim von Ribbentrop to discuss the American entry into the war. Ciano later noted that Ribbentrop was happy with this latest development.
  • German bombers sank British minesweeping trawlers HMT Milford Earl (5 killed) and HMT Phineas Beard off the east coast of Scotland, United Kingdom.
  • The Japanese ambassador in Germany Hiroshi Oshima sent a note to Joachim von Ribbentrop, requesting Germany to declare war on the United States.


  • U-869 departed Norway for the Atlantic Ocean for her first and only war patrol.