Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri (1874–1944), painted by artist Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931) [Public domain]
This week in the war, Italian opera singer Lina Cavalieri was killed on the night of 7/8 February 1944 during an Allied bombing raid on Florence. She and her husband were running from her house to the air raid shelter in the grounds but did not reach the shelter before the bombs landed.
Lina Cavalieri was born in 1874, orphaned as a girl, and raised by nuns. She ran off and eventually found her way to Paris. She began singing in cafés and music halls and finally decided to train as an opera singer.
In the course of her career, she sang in many well-known opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and she performed opposite many of the famous opera stars of her day, including such greats as Enrico Caruso.
Street scene in Helsinki after the bombing, 1944 [Public domain]
This week in the war, on the night of 6 February 1944, the Soviet air force bombed Helsinki in an attempt to bring the Finns to the negotiating table and remove yet another of Germany’s allies. (Stalin had obtained British and American support for a bombing campaign against Finland during the Tehran conference
Two more raids followed later in the month, but the raid on the 6th was the most destructive.
The Finns had suffered air raids during the Winter War in 1939 and their air defenses, which included setting dummy fires in the countryside, were well worked out. Finnish planes (of British and German manufacture) sometimes followed the Soviet planes heading back after the raids and attacked their home bases in Russia.
Finland did not make serious overtures for peace until August—by which time, Romania, too, was looking to end the fighting.
The siege is over: Citizens of Leningrad paint out a sign warning of the danger of enemy artillery; Leningrad 1944 [Public domain]
The siege of Leningrad
effectively ended, this week in the war. On 27 January 1944, the Soviets announced the recapturing of the railway line between Tosno and Lyuban. Leningrad was now connected by rail to the rest of Russia, including Moscow.
The success came as a result of the new Soviet offensive against the German Army Group North. Over 800,000 Soviet soldiers and sailors (from the Baltic Fleet) took part in the operation, which would last until March and would see Soviet troops enter Estonia.
Artist Edvard Munch, 1933 [Public domain]
The Scream (1893) by Edvard Munch (1863–1944) [Public domain]
This week in the war, on 23 January 1944, the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch died in Oslo.
As he evolved as an artist, his work became more violent, emotional, and filled with symbolism. The public was sometimes shocked. His 1892 exhibition in Berlin was closed on the day after opening day. The Scream is his most well-known work.
Throughout the Second World War, Edvard Munch steadfastly refused to collaborate with Norway’s pro-Nazi (Quisling) government.
British troops bring equipment ashore at Anzio; an American DUKW is floating alongside the jetty; January 1944 [Public domain]
This week in the war, on 22 January 1944, US and British troops landed at Anzio and Nettuno, which were behind the German Gustav Line
and well on the way to Rome. The force was under the command of US Army Major General John P. Lucas. The landings caught the Germans by surprise. The harbours at Anzio and Nettuno were quickly captured and, within 24 hours, the Allies had landed over 35,000 men.
That night, the RAF dropped millions of leaflets over Rome, announcing that the city would soon be liberated. (The Allied landing force was only 50 kilometres away.)
Unfortunately, liberation would have to wait. Lucas failed to press inland. Instead, he waited to bring up his armour and artillery. The German Commander-in-Chief in Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, quickly reorganized his troops and hemmed in the Allied landing force. The anticipated Allied breakout was no longer possible.
US soldiers carry back wounded after an attempted crossing of the Rapido River, Italy 1944 [Public domain]
This week in the war, on 14 January 1944, the Americans bombarded German forces defending the Gustav Line—the last obstacle before the Italian town of Cassino and the famous Monte Cassino abbey.
The following day, the US II Corps mounted an attack towards the Rapido River and captured Mount Trocchio. The Americans seemed poised to break through the Gustav Line and, from there, to advance on Rome.
Dans Paris occupe: Journal d’Helene Pitrou—–by Paule du Bouchet (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]
This week in the war, the fictional French schoolgirl, Hélène Pitrou, makes another entry in her journal Dans Paris occupé
. The entry is dated 5 janvier 1944
As in her entry of a year earlier, she remarks that everyone is awaiting the Allied landing (D-Day) and anticipating that it will happen in the coming weeks.
Hélène remarks that the Germans control all of the newspapers (Les Boches contrôlent tous les journaux) which report all kinds of rubbish: that Germany is winning on all fronts, etc.
Hélène Pitrou is the creation of French writer Paule du Bouchet.