Berlin Wall Built

Aug 15, 1961:

Berlin Wall Built

 

Two days after sealing off free passage between East and West Berlin with barbed wire, East German authorities begin building a wall–the Berlin Wall–to permanently close off access to the West. For the next 28 years, the heavily fortified Berlin Wall stood as the most tangible symbol of the Cold War–a literal “iron curtain” dividing Europe.

The end of World War II in 1945 saw Germany divided into four Allied occupation zones. Berlin, the German capital, was likewise divided into occupation sectors, even though it was located deep within the Soviet zone. The future of Germany and Berlin was a major sticking point in postwar treaty talks, and tensions grew when the United States, Britain, and France moved in 1948 to unite their occupation zones into a single autonomous entity–the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). In response, the USSR launched a land blockade of West Berlin in an effort to force the West to abandon the city. However, a massive airlift by Britain and the United States kept West Berlin supplied with food and fuel, and in May 1949 the Soviets ended the defeated blockade.

By 1961, Cold War tensions over Berlin were running high again. For East Germans dissatisfied with life under the communist system, West Berlin was a gateway to the democratic West. Between 1949 and 1961, some 2.5 million East Germans fled from East to West Germany, most via West Berlin. By August 1961, an average of 2,000 East Germans were crossing into the West every day. Many of the refugees were skilled laborers, professionals, and intellectuals, and their loss was having a devastating effect on the East German economy. To halt the exodus to the West, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev recommended to East Germany that it close off access between East and West Berlin.

On the night of August 12-13, 1961, East German soldiers laid down more than 30 miles of barbed wire barrier through the heart of Berlin. East Berlin citizens were forbidden to pass into West Berlin, and the number of checkpoints in which Westerners could cross the border was drastically reduced. The West, taken by surprise, threatened a trade embargo against East Germany as a retaliatory measure. The Soviets responded that such an embargo be answered with a new land blockade of West Berlin. When it became evident that the West was not going to take any major action to protest the closing, East German authorities became emboldened, closing off more and more checkpoints between East and West Berlin. On August 15, they began replacing barbed wire with concrete. The wall, East German authorities declared, would protect their citizens from the pernicious influence of decadent capitalist culture.

The first concrete pilings went up on the Bernauer Strasse and at the Potsdamer Platz. Sullen East German workers, a few in tears, constructed the first segments of the Berlin Wall as East German troops stood guarding them with machine guns. With the border closing permanently, escape attempts by East Germans intensified on August 15. Conrad Schumann, a 19-year-old East German soldier, provided the subject for a famous image when he was photographed leaping over the barbed-wire barrier to freedom.

During the rest of 1961, the grim and unsightly Berlin Wall continued to grow in size and scope, eventually consisting of a series of concrete walls up to 15 feet high. These walls were topped with barbed wire and guarded with watchtowers, machine gun emplacements, and mines. By the 1980s, this system of walls and electrified fences extended 28 miles through Berlin and 75 miles around West Berlin, separating it from the rest of East Germany. The East Germans also erected an extensive barrier along most of the 850-mile border between East and West Germany.

In the West, the Berlin Wall was regarded as a major symbol of communist oppression. About 5,000 East Germans managed to escape across the Berlin Wall to the West, but the frequency of successful escapes dwindled as the wall was increasingly fortified. Thousands of East Germans were captured during attempted crossings and 191 were killed.

In 1989, East Germany’s communist regime was overwhelmed by the democratization sweeping across Eastern Europe. On the evening of November 9, 1989, East Germany announced an easing of travel restrictions to the West, and thousands demanded passage though the Berlin Wall. Faced with growing demonstrations, East German border guards opened the borders. Jubilant Berliners climbed on top of the Berlin Wall, painted graffiti on it, and removed fragments as souvenirs. The next day, East German troops began dismantling the wall. In 1990, East and West Germany were formally reunited.

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Germans begin to evacuate Sicily

Aug 11, 1943:

Germans begin to evacuate Sicily

 

On this day in 1943, German forces begin a six-day evacuation of the Italian island of Sicily, having been beaten back by the Allies, who invaded the island in July.

The Germans had maintained a presence in Sicily since the earliest days of the war. But with the arrival of Gen. George S. Patton and his 7th Army and Gen. Bernard Montgomery and his 8th Army, the Germans could no longer hold their position. The race began for the Strait of Messina, the 2-mile wide body of water that separated Sicily from the Italian mainland. The Germans needed to get out of Sicily and onto the Italian peninsula. While Patton had already reached his goal, Palermo, the Sicilian capital, on July 22 (to a hero’s welcome, as the Sicilian people were more than happy to see an end to fascist rule), Montgomery, determined to head off the Germans at Messina, didn’t make his goal in time. The German 29th Panzergrenadier Division and the 14th Panzer Corps were brought over from Africa for the sole purpose of slowing the Allies’ progress and allowing the bulk of the German forces to get off the island. The delaying tactic succeeded. Despite the heavy bombing of railways leading to Messina, the Germans made it to the strait on August 11.

Over six days and seven nights, the Germans led 39,569 soldiers, 47 tanks, 94 heavy guns, 9,605 vehicles, and more than 2,000 tons of ammunition onto the Italian mainland. (Not to mention the 60,000 Italian soldiers who were also evacuated, in order to elude capture by the Allies.) Although the United States and Britain had succeeded in conquering Sicily, the Germans were now reinforced and heavily supplied, making the race for Rome more problematic.

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Weimar Constitution adopted in Germany

Aug 11, 1919:

Weimar Constitution adopted in Germany

On August 11, 1919, Friedrich Ebert, a member of the Social Democratic Party and the provisional president of the German Reichstag (government), signs a new constitution, known as the Weimar Constitution, into law, officially creating the first parliamentary democracy in Germany.

Even before Germany acknowledged its defeat at the hands of the Allied powers on the battlefields of the First World War, discontent and disorder ruled on the home front, as the exhausted and hunger-plagued German people expressed their frustration and anger with large-scale strikes among factory workers and mutinies within the armed forces. Beginning in 1916, Germany had basically been operating under a military dictatorship, the Supreme Army Command, led by Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff. In late October 1918, however, with defeat looming on the horizon, Hindenburg pushed Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German government to form a civil government in order to negotiate an armistice with the Allies. The kaiser and Reichstagsubsequently amended the latter organization’s constitution of 1871, effectively creating a parliamentary democracy in which the chancellor of Germany, Prince Max von Baden, was responsible not to Wilhelm but to the Reichstag.

This was not enough, however, to satisfy the far leftist forces within Germany, who capitalized on the chaos of the last days of a losing war effort to lead a general workers’ strike that November 7, and call for the establishment of a socialist republic along the lines of the Bolshevik government in Russia. Hoping to pacify the radical socialists, von Baden transferred his powers to Ebert, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), on November 9. Over the next six months, the Reichstag, led by the SPD, worked to write a new constitution that would solidify Germany’s status as a parliamentary democracy. Meanwhile, many within Germany blamed the government for what they saw as the humiliating terms imposed on the country by the victorious Allies in the Treaty of Versailles, particularly the treaty’s demands for German war reparations, justified by a clause that placed blame for the war squarely on the shoulders of Germany.

Under vicious attack from both the militarist right and the radical socialist left and identified by both sides with the shame of Versailles, the Weimar government and its constitution—signed into law on August 11, 1919—seemed to have a dim chance of survival. In this atmosphere of confrontation and frustration, exacerbated by poor economic conditions, right wing elements began to take an ever more pervasive hold over the Reichstag. This process, intensified by the worldwide depression that began in 1929, would culminate in the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, who exploited the weakness of the Weimar system to lay the foundations for himself and his National Socialist German Workers’ (or Nazi) Party to dissolve the parliamentary government and take absolute control over Germany.

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Update 8-8 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New Pictures have been added to the website:

  • World War 2 Field Marshalls
  • The Tank Museum (Formerly Bovington Tank Museum) – England
  • Tiger 1
  • Tiger 2 – King Tiger
  • Hetzer
  • Replica Uniforms made for Reenacting or Collecting
  • Self-Propelled Tank Destroyers

 

New Pages have been added to the website:

  • Field Marshall Walter Model
  • Baugnez 44 Historical Center

 

Enjoy!

 

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German Saboteurs Executed in Washington

Aug 8, 1942:

German Saboteurs Executed in Washington

During World War II, six German saboteurs who secretly entered the United States on a mission to attack its civil infrastructure are executed by the United States for spying. Two other saboteurs who disclosed the plot to the FBI and aided U.S. authorities in their manhunt for their collaborators were imprisoned.

In 1942, under Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s orders, the defense branch of the German Military Intelligence Corps initiated a program to infiltrate the United States and destroy industrial plants, bridges, railroads, waterworks, and Jewish-owned department stores. The Nazis hoped that sabotage teams would be able to slip into America at the rate of one or two every six weeks. The first two teams, made up of eight Germans who had all lived in the United States before the war, departed the German submarine base at Lorient, France, in late May.

Just before midnight on June 12, in a heavy fog, a German submarine reached the American coast off Amagansett, Long Island, and deployed a team who rowed ashore in an inflatable boat. Just as the Germans finished burying their explosives in the sand, John C. Cullen, a young U.S. Coast Guardsman, came upon them during his regular patrol of the beach. The leader of the team, George Dasch, bribed the suspicious Cullen, and he accepted the money, promising to keep quiet. However, as soon as he passed safely back into the fog, he sprinted the two miles back to the Coast Guard station and informed his superiors of his discovery. After retrieving the German supplies from the beach, the Coast Guard called the FBI, which launched a massive manhunt for the saboteurs, who had fled to New York City.

Although unaware that the FBI was looking for them, Dasch and another saboteur, Ernest Burger, decided to turn themselves in and betray their colleagues, perhaps because they feared capture was inevitable after the botched landing. On July 15, Dasch called the FBI in New York, but they failed to take his claims seriously, so he decided to travel to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. On July 18, the same day that a second four-man team successfully landed at Ponte Verdra Beach, Florida, Dasch turned himself in. He agreed to help the FBI capture the rest of the saboteurs.

Burger and the rest of the Long Island team were picked up by June 22, and by June 27 the whole of the Florida team was arrested. To preserve wartime secrecy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a special military tribunal consisting of seven generals to try the saboteurs. At the end of July, Dasch was sentenced to 30 years in prison, Burger was sentenced to hard labor for life, and the other six Germans were sentenced to die. The six condemned saboteurs were executed by electric chair in Washington, D.C., on August 8. In 1944, two other German spies were caught after a landing in Maine. No other instances of German sabotage within wartime America has come to light.

In 1948, Dasch and Burger were freed by order of President Harry Truman, and they both returned to Germany.

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Battle of Amiens

Aug 8, 1918:

Battle of Amiens

On this day in 1918, the Allies launch a series of offensive operations against German positions on the Western Front during World War I with a punishing attack at Amiens, on the Somme River in northwestern France.

After heavy casualties incurred during their ambitious spring 1918 offensive, the bulk of the German army was exhausted, and its morale was rapidly disintegrating amid a lack of supplies and the spreading influenza epidemic. Some of its commanders believed that the tide was turning irrevocably in favor of Germany’s enemies; as one of them, Crown Prince Rupprecht, wrote on July 20, “We stand at the turning point of the war: what I expected first for the autumn, the necessity to go over to the defensive, is already on us, and in addition all the gains which we made in the spring—such as they were—have been lost again.” Still, Erich Ludendorff, the German commander in chief, refused to accept this reality and rejected the advice of his senior commanders to pull back or begin negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Allies prepared for the war to stretch into 1919, not realizing victory was possible so soon. Thus, at a conference of national army commanders on July 24, Allied generalissimo Ferdinand Foch rejected the idea of a single decisive blow against the Germans, favoring instead a series of limited attacks in quick succession aimed at liberating the vital railway lines around Paris and diverting the attention and resources of the enemy rapidly from one spot to another. According to Foch: “These movements should be exacted with such rapidity as to inflict upon the enemy a succession of blows….These actions must succeed each other at brief intervals, so as to embarrass the enemy in the utilization of his reserves and not allow him sufficient time to fill up his units.” The national commanders—John J. Pershing of the United States, Philippe Petain of France and Sir Douglas Haig of Britain—willingly went along with this strategy, which effectively allowed each army to act as its own entity, striking smaller individual blows to the Germans instead of joining together in one massive coordinated attack.

Haig’s part of the plan called for a limited offensive at Amiens, on the Somme River, aimed at counteracting a German victory there the previous March and capturing the Amiens railway line stretching between Mericourt and Hangest. The British attack, begun on the morning August 8, 1918, was led by the British 4th Army under the command of Sir Henry Rawlinson. The German defensive positions at Amiens were guarded by 20,000 men; they were outnumbered six to one by advancing Allied forces. The British—well assisted by Australian and Canadian divisions—employed some 400 tanks in the attack, along with over 2,000 artillery pieces and 800 aircraft.

By the end of August 8—dubbed “the black day of the German army” by Ludendorff—the Allies had penetrated German lines around the Somme with a gap some 15 miles long. Of the 27, 000 German casualties on August 8, an unprecedented proportion—12,000—had surrendered to the enemy. Though the Allies at Amiens failed to continue their impressive success in the days following August 8, the damage had been done. “We have reached the limits of our capacity,” Kaiser Wilhelm II told Ludendorff on that “black day.” “The war must be ended.” The kaiser agreed, however, that this end could not come until Germany was again making progress on the battlefield, so that there would be at least some bargaining room. Even faced with the momentum of the Allied summer offensive—later known as the Hundred Days Offensive—the front lines of the German army continued to fight on into the final months of the war, despite being plagued by disorder and desertion within its troops and rebellion on the home front.

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Volkswagen halts production during World War II

Aug 7, 1944:

Volkswagen halts production during World War II

On this day in 1944, under the threat of Allied bombing during World War II, the German car manufacturer Volkswagen halts production of the “Beetle,” as its small, insect-shaped automobile was dubbed in the international press.

Ten years earlier, the renowned automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche had signed a contract with Germany’s Third Reich to develop a prototype of a small, affordable “people’s car.” The German chancellor, National Socialist (Nazi) leader Adolf Hitler, called the car the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy” car), after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany. Porsche didn’t like that moniker; he preferred Volkswagen (meaning “people’s car”), the name under which the car had originally been developed. In 1938, the government built a factory to produce the car in the city of KdF-stat. The first production-ready Beetle debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939. Several months later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the conflict that would explode into world war.

During the war years, the German army’s need for a lightweight utility vehicle took precedence over the production of affordable passenger cars. The result was the Type 62 Kubelwagen, a convertible vehicle with a modified Beetle chassis, four doors and 18-inch wheels (compared with the Beetle’s 16-inch ones) to give it better ground clearance. Though production at the KdF-stat factory was dedicated primarily to the Kubelwagen and its amphibious counterpart, the Schwimmwagen, the factory did continue to produce Beetles from 1941 to August 7, 1944, when production was halted under threat of Allied bombing.

In the war’s aftermath, a devastated Germany was divided into four sectors. Those under British, French and American control would combine to form West Germany, while the region under Soviet control became East Germany. KdF-stat (soon renamed Wolfsburg), which was in the British sector, and its auto factory remained in relatively good shape for having been a target of Allied bombs. Volkswagen, then under the control of the British military, began turning out Beetles again in December 1945. By 1949, the company (now called Volkswagen GmbH) was back in German hands, and in 1972 the Beetle passed the iconic Ford Model T as the top-selling car in history.

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HSOGMH – Largest Collection of Photos and Images of German History in the World with a focus on World War II.

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