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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This week in the War, 10–16 July 1944: Liberation of Vilnius

A street scene in Vilnius, 1944 [Public domain]

A street scene in Vilnius, 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 13 July 1944, Soviet forces liberated Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The fighting was heavy and the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Army suffered considerable casualties.

Germany’s Army Group North was in danger of being cut off. Field Marshal Model and Army Group North commander, Colonel-General Johannes Friessner, had met with the Fuehrer a few days earlier to request permission to withdraw. Hitler had refused. He did not wish to jeopardize his supply of oil from Latvia and iron ore from Sweden.

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Book review: Spitfire Spies

Spitfire Spies --- by John Hughes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Spitfire Spies — by John Hughes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

There are two intertwining stories within the Second-World-War novel Spitfire Spies by John Hughes (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2016). One story could naively be labeled male, the other, female. The first concerns the men who are sent to England to spy for Germany. Not all of them are German. One, in fact, is English. The other story is about a pair of women pilots who ferry planes for Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary. Each storyline coils about the other, not quite touching until the novel’s final and dramatic end.

The spies include Otto von Osten (cover name Ulrich) and Erich Schneider (cover name Ernst). The latter is English and was born Eric Tomlin. His mother was German and he speaks both languages. He plays the trumpet and has moved to Germany to be with his fiercely National-Socialist musician wife, Renate. Eric has changed his first name to Erich and has switched ‘Tomlin’ for his wife’s last name, Schneider, as a gesture of solidarity with the German cause. The mission is to go to England and, by getting hired as factory workers or by other means, to discover the rate of production of Spitfire fighter planes and to pursue any opportunities for sabotage. An air battle between the Luftwaffe and the RAF is looming and both sides believe the Spitfire could affect the final outcome.

Having Germans (or those loyal to Germany) as main protagonists, even heroes, is a central element in Ken Follett’s spy novel, The Eye of the Needle and in Jack Higgins’s The Eagle Has Landed. Readers who have enjoyed those books will very likely enjoy John Hughes’s Spitfire Spies.

The principal women characters of Spitfire Spies are Alison Webb and Heather Norbury, both in the ATA. Both are experienced pilots. Alison was a stunt pilot before the war. Their job in the ATA is to fly aircraft—often biplanes like the Tiger Moth—between RAF storage depots and airfields. Alison dreams of flying a Spitfire but that, of course, is a job for men, for the ‘Brylcreem boys’ of the Royal Air Force. [The women pilots of the ATA have been celebrated in a series of recent books: Carol Gould’s Spitfire Girls, Giles Whittell’s Spitfire Women of World War II, Jackie Moggridge’s Spitfire Girl: My Life in the Sky, and Jacky Hyams’s The Female Few: Spitfire Heroines.]

Readers familiar with the period will appreciate the author John Hughes’s attention to detail such as the reference to British comedian Arthur Askey, to the long-vanished Wolseley cars, and to the well-known British traitor whose radio broadcasts became a feature of daily life and whose accent earned him the nickname Lord Haw-Haw. Hughes makes reference to Britain’s LDV (Local Defense Volunteers) being renamed the Home Guard, and to Field Marshal Goering being promoted to Reichsmarshall Goering (by Hitler on 19 July 1940). One of the novel’s earlier scenes deals with the Wormhout massacre when, during the British retreat towards Dunkirk, SS troops murdered some eighty British and French soldiers who had been taken prisoner.

Thus the novel traces the adventures of Eric and (the somewhat evil) von Osten from Germany to England. Eric gets there via France and the Dunkirk evacuation. The exploits of Alison and Heather are equally engaging. There is no shortage of tension and drama in the ups and down of Spitfire Spies. The love lives of the four protagonists are a source of fascination. Eric, who is having second thoughts about where his loyalties should lie, renounces the voluptuous Renate in favour of Marion Wakeley, a young woman living in the Midlands. She has two small children and no husband. He was one of the unlucky ones. He went to France but never made it home.

Of all the characters in Spitfire Spies, Marion is my favorite. She steals the show, like a ‘Best Supporting Actress’ who truly shines. “A young woman’s voice; a naïve sounding voice, like an adult imitating a girl,” is how Eric first experiences her and Hughes first describes her. And then later: “wild for a few boundless moments” during a tender love scene.

Spitfire Spies has a lot to offer. Readers, regardless of whether or not they are fans of the World War II genre, will find the book enjoyable.

 

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This week in the War, 3–9 July 1944: Liberation of Minsk

Soviet T34 tank entering Minsk, early July 1944 [Public domain]

Soviet T34 tank entering Minsk, early July 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 3 July 1944, troops of Marshal Rokossovsky’s 1st and General Chernyakhovsky’s 3rd Belorussian fronts entered Minsk, the capital city of Belorussia. The German occupation of Minsk, which had lasted for three years, was finally over.

Most of the 40 divisions of Germany’s Army Group Centre were encircled. Army Group North, located in the Baltic states, was at risk of being cut off.

Faced with the collapse of his armies on the Eastern Front, Hitler would soon leave the Berghof near Berchtesgaden and fly to his Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia, which was nearer to the centre of the action.

 

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This week in the War, 26 June–2 July 1944: Liberation of Cherbourg

Civilians cross a wrecked bridge in Cherbourg, 1944 [Public domain]

Civilians cross a wrecked bridge in Cherbourg, 1944 [Public domain]

After fighting its way along Normandy’s Cotentin peninsular, this week in the war, on 26 June 1944, troops of the 9th Division of the American VII Corps arrived at the edge of the Cherbourg dockyard.

Cherbourg had one of the most important harbours in northern France. Capturing it was a major objective for the Allied forces that had invaded Normandy. Unfortunately for the Allies, Germany’s commanding admiral in Cherbourg, Walter Hennecke had had the port facilities completely wrecked. Hitler reward him with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.

It was well into August before the port could service seagoing vessels.

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This week in the War, 19–25 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea

This week in the war, the last of the great carrier-versus-carrier battle took place near the Mariana Islands, on 19 and 20 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter returning to the USS Lexington (Flagship of Task Force 58) June, 1944 [Public domain]

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter returning to the USS Lexington (Flagship of Task Force 58) June, 1944 [Public domain]

The Japanese force under Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa included 5 fleet carriers. The US’s Task Force 58 included 7 fleet carriers and was commanded by Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher from his flagship carrier, the USS Lexington (with Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in overall command as commander of the US 5th Fleet).

The battle began above the Marianas on 19 June when US carrier-based aircraft engaged Japanese aircraft coming from both their carriers and their bases on land. The Americans had not yet located the position of the Japanese fleet.

On 20 June, the Americans found the Japanese fleet and attacked with bombers, dive-bombers and torpedo-carrying planes.

Three of the Japanese fleet carriers were sunk and losses in aircraft were over 600. One American battleship was damaged and over 100 aircraft were lost (most through running out of fuel or not being able to find their carriers in the dark).

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, it was clear to the Japanese High Command that the outcome of the war had been decided.

 

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This week in the War, 12–18 June 1944: V-1 flying bombs launched against London

V-1 flying bomb over London, 1944 [Public domain]

V-1 flying bomb over London, 1944 [Public domain]

One of Hitler’s secret weapons, the jet-propelled V-1 ‘flying bomb,’ which also went by the name of doodlebug or buzz-bomb (because of the sound it made), had been developed in the Germany Army Research Centre at Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.

This week in the war, on 13 June 1944, the first V-1s were launched against London from launching pads on the French coast. The ‘V’ stood for Vergeltung, meaning ‘reprisal.’

Ten V-1s were launched that day but only four of them reached Britain and only one of the four reached London. Six Londoners were killed.

Cutaway of V-1 flying bomb [Public domain]

Cutaway of V-1 flying bomb [Public domain]

The range of a V-1 was over 150 miles and the warhead contained over 1,800 pounds of explosive. The speed was around 400mph—faster than almost any aircraft of the day. Over 8,000 V-1s were launched during the course of the war.

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