This week in the War, 28 Aug–3 Sept 1944: Liberation of Brussels

British troops enter Brussels, September 1944 [Public domain]

British troops enter Brussels, September 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 3 September 1944, Brussels was liberated by the Welsh Guards (part of Lieutenant General Brian Horrock’s XXX Corps, British 2nd Army) amid widespread jubilation.

The 1st Belgian Infantry Brigade (known as the Brigade Piron after its commander, Colonel Jean-Baptiste Piron) followed the Welsh Guards into Brussels and played a major role in the liberation of Belgium.

 

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This week in the War, 21–27 August 1944: Liberation of Paris

Crowds line the Champs Elysees to watch the Free French tanks and halftracks of General Leclerc's 2nd Armoured Division, 25 August 1944 [Public domain]

Crowds line the Champs Elysees to watch the Free French tanks and halftracks of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division, 25 August 1944 [Public domain]

The Free French 2nd Armoured Division of General Philippe Leclerc reached Paris this week in the war, on 24 August 1944.

The next day, the German commandant of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, disobeyed the Fuehrer’s order to destroy the city and surrendered to Leclerc.

On the 26 August 1944, General de Gaulle led a victory procession down the Champs-Élysées. Afterwards, he attended a Te Deum at the cathedral of Notre Dame.

Following the success of Operation Overlord and of Operation Dragoon, the Allies were established in both the north and the south. For France, the days of German rule were clearly numbered.

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This week in the War, 14–20 August 1944: Allies invade the South of France

Operation Dragoon: US troops come ashore on the southern coast of France, 15 August 1944 [Public domain]

Operation Dragoon: US troops come ashore on the southern coast of France, 15 August 1944 [Public domain]

Operation Dragoon: This week in the war, on 15 August 1944, General Patch’s US 7th Army landed on the southern coast of France, between Toulon and Cannes. Parachute troops from the US 1st Airborne dropped further inland in support of the amphibious assault.

General De Lattre de Tassigny’s Free French II Corps disembarked one day later.

Realizing that they were in no position to offer serious opposition, the Germans withdrew north.

Operation Dragoon had been an American proposal and was not favoured by Churchill, who preferred invading the Balkans so that British and American troops would join with the Soviets further to the east. At the 1943 Tehran conference, Stalin was in favour of Operation Dragoon (probably for the same reason that Churchill was opposed).

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This week in the War, 7–13 August 1944: Americans recapture Guam

A stream flows down from the highlands of Guam in the Marianas [Author: David Burdick, Public domain]

A stream flows down from the highlands of Guam in the Marianas [Author: David Burdick, Public domain]

This week in the war, on 10 August 1944, American forces completed their recapture of the island of Guam in the Marianas. Organized Japanese resistance came to an end, although isolated groups of Japanese soldiers continued to hold out and survived for many months.

Guam had been a US territory prior to its capture by the Japanese in 1941. Although little more than 200 square miles in area, the island would provide an air base from which B-29 bombers could strike the Japanese homeland.

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This week in the War, 31 July–6 August 1944: Author-Aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery dies on reconnaissance mission

Petit Prince hot air balloon [Public domain]

Petit Prince hot air balloon [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 31 July 1944, French author and pilot Antoine Saint-Exupéry was flying his plane on a reconnaissance mission for the Free French. He flew from an airbase in Corsica to gather information on German troop movements for the upcoming Allied invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon. His aircraft never returned.

It has long been a theory, never substantiated, that his plane was shot down by a Luftwaffe fighter.

Saint-Exupéry became a commercial pilot and a pioneer of airmail services in the 1920s and joined the French air force at the outbreak of war.

Petit Prince/Saint-Exupery 50 franc banknote [Public domain]

Petit Prince/Saint-Exupery 50 franc banknote [Public domain]

After the fall of France, he spent some time in the United States, where he published the now world-famous children’s novel The Little Prince (Le petit prince).

Later, after the Allied landings in North Africa, Operation Torch, he rejoined his former unit (which by then was under US command) and flew for the Free French.

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This week in the War, 24–30 July 1944: Heil Hitler salute is made compulsory for the German armed forces

Hitler Youth bicyclists give the Hitler salute, 1932 [Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P049482/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Hitler Youth bicyclists give the Hitler salute, 1932 [Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P049482/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

To confirm their loyalty following the 20 July bomb plot, from 24 July 1944 onwards, members of the German armed forces were required to use the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute, the  Hitlergruss.

The salute had long been a common form of greeting throughout Germany and Austria, and was also used as a form of ‘goodbye.’ It had been compulsory for German public employees since 1933 and was commonplace in schools, in the Hitler Youth (see photo on the left) and, of course, for the SS. (Jews were forbidden from using it.)

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The week in the War, 17–23 July 1944: The July Bomb Plot

Secret Germany: Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade against Hitler ----- by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (Penguin, 1995) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Secret Germany: Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade against Hitler —– by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (Penguin, 1995) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

This week in the war, on 20 July 1944, a German officer named Claus von Stauffenberg carried a bomb from Berlin to the Wolf’s Lair (Wolfsschanze) headquarters in Rastenburg, East Prussia, with a view to putting paid to Hitler once and for all.

Von Stauffenberg had been wounded in Tunisia, losing an eye, his right hand, and two fingers of his left hand. (Colonel Radl, a character in Jack Higgins’s novel The Eagle Has Landed, is loosely based on von Stauffenberg.) During his convalescence, von Stauffenberg became convinced that Germany needed to be rid of Hitler and the Nazis. Despite the strong likelihood of failure for any attempt on Hitler’s life, von Stauffenberg believed that the attempt should be made—if only to show the world that decent Germans had tried to resist.

On 20 July, after arriving in Rastenburg, von Stauffenberg activated the bomb’s delayed-action detonator and carried his briefcase, with the bomb inside, into the meeting hut where Hitler was scheduled to meet his generals. Von Stauffenberg excused himself, leaving his briefcase behind, and the bomb exploded soon after.

Four of those present would die of their wounds but, apart from a perforated eardrum, Hitler was unscathed.

In the confusion, von Stauffenberg was able to returned to Berlin but was shot by a firing squad soon afterwards—as were many that were accused of being implicated in the plot.

Erwin Rommel was another casualty of the July plot. He was offered a choice between suicide on the one hand and a public trial and retribution against his family and staff on the other. Rommel chose to shoot himself.

For a highly readable account of the German resistance movement, earlier attempts on Hitler’s life, and von Stauffenberg and the 20 July Bomb Plot, read Secret Germany: Stauffenberg and the Mystical Crusade against Hitler by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh (Penguin, 1995).

 

 

 

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