Polish general fighting for justice dies Tragically

July 4, 1943:

Polish general fighting for justice dies Tragically

On this day in 1943, Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski dies when his plane crashes less than a mile from its takeoff point at Gibraltar. Controversy remains over whether it was an accident or an assassination.

Born May 20, 1888, in Austrian Poland (that part of Poland co-opted by the Austro-Hungarian Empire), Sikorski served in the Austrian army. He went on to serve in the Polish Legion, attached to the Austrian army, during World War I, and fought in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920-21. He became prime minister of Poland for a brief period (1922-23).

When Germany invaded and occupied Poland in 1939, Sikorski became leader of a Polish government-in-exile in Paris. He developed a good working relationship with the Allies-until April 1943, when Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin broke off Polish-Soviet diplomatic relations after Sikorski requested that the Red Cross investigate the alleged Soviet slaughter of Polish officers in the Katyn forest of eastern Poland in 1942.

After Germany and the USSR divided up Poland in 1939, thousands of Polish military personnel were sent to prison camps by the Soviets. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, Stalin created a pact with the Polish government-in-exile to cooperate in the battle against the Axis. Given the new relationship, the Poles requested the return of the imprisoned military men, but the Soviets claimed they had escaped and could not be found. But when Germany overran eastern Poland, the part that had previously been under Soviet control, mass graves in the Katyn forest were discovered, containing the corpses of over 4,000 Polish officers, all shot in the back. The Soviets, apparently, had massacred them. But despite the evidence, the Soviet government insisted it was the Germans who were responsible.

Once news of the massacre spread, a formal Declaration of War Crimes was signed in London on January 13, 1943. Among the signatories was General Sikorski and General Charles de Gaulle. But Sikorksi did not want to wait until after the war for the punishment of those responsible for the Katyn massacre. He wanted the International Red Cross to investigate immediately.

It is believed that Britain considered this request a threat to Allied solidarity and some believe that in order to silence Sikorski on this issue, the British went so far as to shoot down his plane. There is no solid evidence of this.

After the war, the communist Polish government officially accepted the Soviet line regarding the mass graves. It was not until 1992 that the Russian government released documents proving that the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, had been responsible for the Katyn slaughter-backed up by the old Soviet Politburo.

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Operation Catapult is Launched

Jul 3, 1940:

Operation Catapult is Launched

On this day in 1940, British naval forces destroy the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, a port in Algeria, in order to prevent Germany from co-opting the French ships to use in an invasion of Britain.

With the occupation of France, the German aggressor was but a Channel away from Britain. In order to prevent the Germans from using French battleships and cruisers in an attack on Britain, Operation Catapult was conceived: the destruction or capture of every French ship possible. The easiest stage of Catapult was the seizure of those French ships already in British ports. Little resistance was met. But the largest concentration of French warships was at the Oran, Algeria, port of Mers-el-Kebir, where many warships had fled to escape the Germans. This stage of Catapult would prove more difficult.

Britain gave the French ships four choices: join British naval forces in the fight against Germany; hand the ships over to British crews; disarm them; or scuttle them, making them useless to the Germans. The French refused all four choices. Britain then made a concession: Sail to the French West Indies, where the ships would be disarmed or handed over to the United States. The French refused again. So the Brits circled the port and opened fire on the French fleet, killing 1,250 French sailors, damaging the battleship Dunkerque and destroying the Bretagne and the Provence.

On July 4, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the House of Commons that he would leave Britain’s actions to “history.” On July 5, Vichy France broke off diplomatic relations with Britain.

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Mohammed V, sultan of Turkey, Dies

Jul 3, 1918:

Mohammed V, sultan of Turkey, Dies

On this day in 1918, with Turkish forces in the final months of fighting against the Allied powers during World War I, Mohammed V, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, dies at the age of 73.

Born in 1844 in Constantinople, Mohammed ascended to the throne in 1909 after the forced abdication of his elder brother, Abdul Hamid, under pressure from the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), a rising political party known as the Young Turkey Party, or the Young Turks. Bent on modernizing the fading Ottoman Empire and stopping European powers from taking Ottoman territory, the Young Turks fomented a rebellion within the Ottoman Third Army in 1908 and forced the sultan to meet their demands and restore the Turkish constitution. The army, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk, he became the first president of Turkey) consolidated power for the CUP the following year, forcing the sultan to abdicate in favor of his brother Mohammed.

The leaders of the CUP, particularly Enver Pasha, effectively dictated the course of events over the next decade, as the new sultan, a gentle man, was little able to exert much of his own will on the throne. The results were not good for the empire: over the course of 1912-13, it lost virtually all of its remaining European territory during the two Balkan Wars and an unsuccessful war with Italy over Tripoli. In November 1914, Turkey entered the First World War on the side of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, against Britain, France and Russia. Though he had initially opposed his country’s participation in the war, Sultan Mohammed now exhorted his army–as well as all Muslims, including those living in Allied countries–to fight exhaustively against the empire’s enemies, proclaiming that “Right and loyalty are on our side, and hatred and tyranny on the side of our enemies, and therefore there is no doubt that the Divine help and assistance of the just God and the moral support of our glorious Prophet will be on our side to encourage us. I feel convinced that from this struggle we shall emerge as an empire that has made good the losses of the past and is once more glorious and powerful.”

By the time Mohammed V died, on July 3, 1918, Turkish forces had endured nearly four exhausting years of war, including a full-scale Allied land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula and aggressive Allied incursions into Mesopotamia, and were teetering on the brink of defeat. Within six months of the sultan’s death (he was succeeded by his brother, Mohammed VI), Constantinople itself was occupied by the Allies, and the once-great Ottoman Empire was in shambles.

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American bombers deluge Budapest, in more ways than One

Jul 2, 1944:

American bombers deluge Budapest, in more ways than One

On this day in 1944, as part of Operation Gardening, the British and American strategy to lay mines in the Danube River by dropping them from the air, American aircraft also drop bombs and leaflets on German-occupied Budapest.

Hungarian oil refineries and storage tanks, important to the German war machine, were destroyed by the American air raid. Along with this fire from the sky, leaflets threatening “punishment” for those responsible for the deportation of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers at Auschwitz were also dropped on Budapest. The U.S. government wanted the SS and Hitler to know it was watching. Admiral Miklas Horthy, regent and virtual dictator of Hungary, vehemently anticommunist and afraid of Russian domination, had aligned his country with Hitler, despite the fact that he little admired him. But he, too, demanded that the deportations cease, especially since special pleas had begun pouring in from around the world upon the testimonies of four escaped Auschwitz prisoners about the atrocities there. Hitler, fearing a Hungarian rebellion, stopped the deportations on July 8. Horthy would eventually try to extricate himself from the war altogether—only to be kidnapped by Hitler’s agents and consequently forced to abdicate.

One day after the deportations stopped, a Swedish businessman, Raoul Wallenberg, having convinced the Swedish Foreign Ministry to send him to the Hungarian capital on a diplomatic passport, arrived in Budapest with 630 visas for Hungarian Jews, prepared to take them to Sweden to save them from further deportations.

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Greece declares war on Central Powers

Jul 2, 1917:

Greece declares war on Central Powers

On this day in 1917, several weeks after King Constantine I abdicates his throne in Athens under pressure from the Allies, Greece declares war on the Central Powers, ending three years of neutrality by entering World War I alongside Britain, France, Russia and Italy.

Constantine, educated in Germany and married to a sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was naturally sympathetic to the Germans when World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, refusing to honor Greece’s obligation to support Serbia, its ally during the two Balkan Wars in 1912-13. Despite pressure from his own pro-Allied government, including Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, and British and French promises of territorial gains in Turkey, Constantine maintained Greece’s neutrality for the first three years of the war, although he did allow British and French forces to disembark at Salonika in late 1914 in a plan to aid Serbia against Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces.

By the end of 1915, with Allied operations bogged down in Salonika and failing spectacularly in the Dardanelles, Constantine was even less inclined to support the Entente, believing Germany clearly had the upper hand in the war. He dismissed Venizelos in October 1915, substituting him with a series of premiers who basically served as royal puppets. Meanwhile, civil war threatened in Greece, as Constantine desperately sought promises of naval, military and financial assistance from Germany, which he did not receive. After losing their patience with Constantine, the Allies finally sent an ultimatum demanding his abdication on June 11, 1917; the same day, British forces blockaded Greece and the French landed their troops at Piraeus, on the Isthmus of Corinth, in blatant disregard of Greek neutrality. The following day, Constantine abdicated in favor of his second son, Alexander.

On June 26, Alexander reinstated Venizelos, who returned from exile in Crete, where he had established a provisional Greek government with Allied support. With a pro-Allied prime minister firmly in place, Greece moved to the brink of entering World War I. On July 1, Alexander Kerensky, the Russian commander in chief and leader of the provisional Russian government after the fall of Czar Nicholas II the previous March, ordered a major offensive on the Eastern Front, despite the turmoil within Russia and the exhausted state of Kerensky’s army. The offensive would end in disastrous losses for the Russians, but at the time it seemed like a fortuitous turn of events for the Allies, in that it would help to sap German resources. The following day, Greece declared war on the Central Powers.

The new king, Alexander, stated the case for war dramatically in his official coronation address on August 4: “Greece has to defend her territory against barbarous aggressors. But if in the trials of the past Greece has been able, thanks to the civilizing strength of the morale of the race, to have overcome the conquerors and to rise free amidst the ruins, today it is quite a different matter. The present cataclysm will decide the definite fate of Hellenism, which, if lost, will never be restored.” Over the next 18 months, some 5,000 Greek soldiers would die on the battlefields of World War I.

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Update 7-2 : New Pictures Added to the Website

New pictures have been added to the pages:

  • Afrika Korps
  • Field Marshall Erwin Rommel
  • Warsaw Uprising
  • Panther
  • Junkers Ju 87 Stuka Dive Bomber
  • SS – Schutzstaffel
  • Fuhrer Adolf Hitler
  • Invasion of Poland
  • Battle of Stalingrad
  • Heinkel He 115 Recovery
  • Eastern Front
  • WW2 Allies – Romania
  • Tiger 1 Replica
  • Other Museums, Artifacts, and Vehicles
  • Deutsches Panzermuseum – German Tank Museum
  • Marder 1, 2, & 3  Tank Destroyer
  • Panzer IV
  • Specialized Vehicles or Odd Devices and Equipment
  • Oorlogsmuseum Museum – Overloon, Netherlands
  • Sd.Kfz. 2, 4, 6-11, 222, 231-232, 234, and 250-254
  • Movies
  • Special Collection of Photos from Boelcke’s Grandfather
  • Panzer II
  • Tiger 1

A new page has been added to the website:

December 44 Historical Museum – La Gleize, Belgium

Enjoy!

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The Battle of El Alamein Begins


Jul 1, 1942:

The Battle of El Alamein Begins

On this day in 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is brought to a standstill in the battle for control of North Africa.

In June, the British had succeeded in driving Rommel into a defensive position in Libya. But Rommel repelled repeated air and tank attacks, delivering heavy losses to the armored strength of the British, and finally, using his panzer divisions, managed to force a British retreat—a retreat so rapid that a huge quantity of supplies was left behind. In fact, Rommel managed to push the British into Egypt using mostly captured vehicles.

Rommel’s Afrika Korps was now in Egypt, in El Alamein, only 60 miles west of the British naval base in Alexandria. The Axis powers smelled blood. The Italian troops that had preceded Rommel’s German forces in North Africa, only to be beaten back by the British, then saved from complete defeat by the arrival of Rommel, were now back on the winning side, their dwindled numbers having fought alongside the Afrika Korps. Naturally, Benito Mussolini saw this as his opportunity to partake of the victors’ spoils. And Hitler anticipated adding Egypt to his empire.

But the Allies were not finished. Reinforced by American supplies, and reorganized and reinvigorated by British General Claude Auchinleck, British, Indian, South African, and New Zealand troops battled Rommel, and his by now exhausted men, to a standstill in Egypt. Auchinleck denied the Axis Egypt. Rommel was back on the defensive—a definite turning point in the war in North Africa.

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