This week in the War, 18–24 September 1944: Finland makes peace

Refugees drive cows between Sodankyla and Rovaniemi, northern Finland, 1944 [Public domain]

Refugees drive cows between Sodankyla and Rovaniemi, northern Finland, September 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 19 September 1944, the Moscow Armistice was signed between Finland, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. As a result, Finland would no longer fight on the side of Germany.

The conditions of the armistice required the Finns to cede some border areas in the north and south of Finland to the Soviet Union, to pay reparations, and to expel German forces from Finnish territory. Germany had lost another ally.

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This week in the War, 11–17 September 1944: Operation Market Garden

Operation Market Garden: Parachutes of the 1st Allied Airborne Army over Holland, September 1944 [Public domain]

Operation Market Garden: Parachutes of the 1st Allied Airborne Army over Holland, September 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, 17 September 1944, saw the opening of Operation Market Garden. Allied parachute and glider troops landed behind German lines in three locations in Holland. The object was to seize the bridges near Arnhem, Eindoven and Nijmegen.

The plan was conceived by Montgomery who hoped its success would persuade Eisenhower to support a push in the north, aimed towards the Ruhr.

The operation was carried out by the First Airborne Army, with over 1,000 aircraft carrying parachute troops and almost 500 aircraft towing gliders:

The British 1st Airborne Division landed close to Arnhem; the US 101st Parachute Division landed north of Eindhoven; and the US 2nd Parachute Division landed south of Nijmegen.

The idea was that, once the Eindhoven-Nijmegen-Arnhem corridor had been secured, the British XXX Corps would stage a rapid advance from Belgium. Unfortunately for the Allied side, the enemy proved too strong at Arnhem and the Arnhem bridge remained in German hands. (The 9th SS Panzer Division was stationed in the area.)

The story was told in the 1974 book A Bridge Too Far by Irish author Cornelius Ryan and in the 1977 movie of the same name.

 

 

 

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This week in the War, 4–10 Sept 1944: First V-2 rockets are launched

V2 rocket in flight [Public domain]

V2 rocket in flight [Public domain]

This week in the war saw the first V-2 rockets launched against Paris and London and, soon after, Antwerp.

Unlike the much slower V-1 flying ‘bombs,’ which RAF Spitfires could sometimes chase and shoot down, the liquid-oxygen powered V-2 was capable of exceeding the sound barrier and was essentially unstoppable once it had been launched. Both V-weapons were developed at the German Army Research Centre at Peenemünde on the Baltic Sea.

Before the war was to end, V-2s were to hit London (over 1,300), Antwerp and its important port facilities (over 1,600), Paris (over 20), and various other cities in Europe, including Remagen in Germany, after the Allies had seized an important bridge there across the Rhine.

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Book review: A Chill Wind Blows

A Chill Wind Blows ----- by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

A Chill Wind Blows —– by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

The Second World War ended more than seventy years ago and there is no shortage of photographs of jubilant crowds celebrating the liberation of cities such as Brussels or Paris. The German occupation was over. The Nazis had left. Yet for cities such as Warsaw, Minsk, or Smolensk, although the ousting of the Nazis represented victory after a horrific struggle, there was no liberation of the kind that was experienced in Western Europe. In the East, the tyranny of Hitler’s Nazis was replaced by the tyranny of Stalin and by decades of Soviet repression. Life under the Soviets is the subject of the recent novel A Chill Wind Blows by Jack Limes (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2016).

The novel begins in 1929, near the onset of Stalin’s collectivization program in which individual ownership of tracts of lands was forcibly phased out in favour of large ‘collective farms’ which were owned by the state. Love and its ability to survive in the most brutal of surroundings is the theme of A Chill Wind Blows.

Yuri Kazakof is a peasant: he works the land on his father’s tiny farm. Existence is hand to mouth. Yuri is powerfully built and he is a fighter in the fullest sense: he knows how to use his fists (and play chess, too!). Nadya Reinhardt is destined to become the love of his life. She is “a beautiful young woman of eighteen with long black hair and intense brown eyes.” She lives with her family in Leningrad and is studying violin at the Academy of Arts. Her father, Gustav, lectures on politics at the university and he is German by birth. His country of origin will eventually pose a problem.

However, it is not Nadya’s father Gustav, but Yuri’s father, Ivan Kazakof, who first falls victim to state oppression. For his connection to a protest meeting, he is sentenced to the gulag for twenty-five years—by command of the new local commissar, General Nikita Sidorov. Since they are related to a ‘criminal,’ Yuri’s family is thrown off their farm. (Later, in a telling act of compassion that stands out in the dehumanizing world that Limes has painted, Ivan forgives the neighbour that brought the original accusation.)

General Nikita Sidorov is a credible villain and there would have been thousands exactly like him: self-serving, ruthless, with no regard for justice or human life. At this stage of the novel, Yuri has been smitten by Nadya and is deeply in love. (Think Lady Chatterley’s Lover: a workingman in a relationship with an upper/middle-class young woman, but postpone the sex till later.) Yuri’s life is laid out for him and he has three quests: free his father, marry Nadya, and kill Sidorov.

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Hitler entered into a competition with Stalin for who could kill the most of the Soviet Union’s hapless citizens. Being German, Nadya’s father is arrested and the family is evicted from their Leningrad apartment.

After a series of arrests and escapes, Yuri and Nadya find each other in Leningrad at the worst time imaginable: the German army has the city surrounded. The siege of Leningrad would last for 872 days and more than a million people would die from bombs, bullets, shells, or starvation. This is not the place to disclose the fate of the lovers or of Nikita Sidorov but only to say that A Chill Wind Blows offers a window on a terrible time in history. Readers will find the content informative and moving.

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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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