This week in the War, 22–28 February 1943: Sophie Scholl: “Somebody had to make a start.”

Memorial to Sophie Scholl, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany [Wiki Creative Commons Share Alike, author: D Krieger]

Memorial to Sophie Scholl, Baden-Wurttemburg, Germany [Wiki Creative Commons Share Alike, author: D Krieger]

The White Rose was a non-violent resistance movement formed by a handful of Munich University students who were opposed to Hitler and the Nazis. The movement’s main activity was to pass out leaflets that were critical of the regime.

Sophie Scholl and her brother Hans were prominent members of the group. Sophie, like many girls in Germany, had previously belonged to the Bund Deutscher Mädel—the girls’ equivalent of the Hitler Youth. But she was too much of a free spirit and had disliked the regimentation. She liked children and so, after leaving secondary school, she found work as a kindergarten teacher.

In 1942, she enrolled at Munich University to study biology. Her brother, Hans, was already a medical student there.

After The White Rose was formed, Sophie became increasing active in her opposition to Hitler. Her boyfriend, Fritz, was fighting on the Eastern Front and gave her firsthand accounts of the atrocities he had seen committed by German troops. He was one of the lucky ones. He was wounded and evacuated from Stalingrad in January 1943, shortly before the city fell to the Soviets.

Fritz never saw Sophie again. Before he could return to Germany, she and other members of The White Rose were arrested. This week in the war, on 22 February 1943, Sophie Scholl and the other members of the group were brought to trial before the infamous and fanatically pro-Nazi judge, Roland Freisler.

“Somebody had to make a start,” she told the court, when she and her friends were found guilty of treason.

At 5.00pm that same day, Sophie Scholl was beheaded at Stadelheim Prison in Munich.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

This week in the War, 15–21 February 1943: STO—le Service du travail obligatoire, Vichy’s labour service law

French mechanic working at a Siemens factory in Germany, 1943 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S68015, wiki]

French mechanic working at a Siemens factory in Germany, 1943 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S68015, wiki]

This week in the war, on 16 February 1943, the law concerning the Service du travail obligatoire (STO)—the compulsory labour service law—was put into action by the government of Vichy France. It applied to young French males born between 1920 and 1922 and required them to move to Germany to work in factories.

The photograph to the left shows a Frenchman gainfully employed at a Siemens factory and was likely taken by the Nazis and distributed in France to encourage compliance with the new law.

The law was unpopular with the French and even with the German administration in France. The latter saw it as competing with their own needs to recruit French workers to help the German war effort by working in munitions factories in France. The Todt Organization was also attempting to hire French workers to build coastal defenses, notably Hitler’s so-called Atlantic Wall.

Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation-----by Robert Gildea (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, NY, 2002) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Marianne in Chains: Daily Life in the Heart of France During the German Occupation—–by Robert Gildea (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, NY, 2002) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Robert Gildea’s book, Marianne in Chains, discusses the STO in detail. He describes how the German authorities in France protected French factory workers from STO recruiters and how even German armaments minister, Albert Speer, believed it would be more useful to have French workers continue working in German factories in France.

There was much corruption in the administration of the STO, and many exemptions. The exemption granted to university students was done away with by the summer of 1943, by which time French police had started raiding cafés to check the papers of young men in case they were avoiding the STO.

On 1 February 1944, which was nearing the close of the German occupation, the labour service law was broadened to include the registration of men between 16 and 60 years of age and, for the first time, the law included women (aged 18 to 45).

Posted in Book | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This week in the War, 8–14 February 1943: Wingate’s Chindits

A Chindit column crosses a river in Burma, 1943 [Public domain, Imperial War Museum/wiki]

A Chindit column crosses a river in Burma, 1943 [Public domain, Imperial War Museum/wiki]

This week in the war, on 8 February 1943, the British Army’s 77th Indian Brigade left Imphal in India and crossed into the Arakan region of Burma. They were nicknamed ‘the Chindits’ and were under the command of Brigadier Orde Wingate.

The brigade was divided into two parts. The southernmost group had to cross the River Chindwin and distract the Japanese while Wingate personally led the northern group deep into Burma. Their purpose was to conduct guerilla operations in enemy territory and to cut the essential railway line that connected Myitkyina with Mandalay.

The operation gave the British forces in India a much-needed boost in morale. However, the Chindits suffered heavy losses in killed and wounded and, by the end of April, Wingate had withdrawn almost his entire force.

The operation served as a model for more ambitious undertakings. In later Chindit operations, as in the first, Wingate’s columns were supplied by air.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 1–7 February 1943: Jobs for generals

Frank M. Andrews, 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

Frank M. Andrews, 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, two American generals were named to their new commands.

On 5 February 1943, Lieutenant-General Frank Maxwell Andrews was named as commander of all US forces in the European theatre.

On 6 February 1943, Lieutenant-General Dwight D. Eisenhower was named as commander of all Allied forces in the African theatre. (Eisenhower had commanded the Anglo-American landings in North Africa, Operation Torch.)

Dwight D. Eisenhower, December 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

Dwight D. Eisenhower, December 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

Both appointments had been agreed upon by Churchill and Roosevelt during the Casablanca conference in January.

Andrews had been instrumental in creating the US Army Air Forces—which later became the United States Air Force. He had the support of US Army Chief-of-Staff, General George Marshall.

After the appointment as commander for the European theatre of operations, it was believed that Andrews would be appointed to command the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe—the undertaking that would eventually be named Operation Overlord.

On 3 May 1943, Lieutenant-General Frank Maxwell Andrews was killed during an inspection tour of Iceland when his B-24 Liberator crashed into a mountainside.

The ‘Andrews air force base’ in Maryland is named in his honour and is well known for being the home base of ‘Air Force One,’ the plane used by the President of the United States.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 25–31 January 1943: Surrender at Stalingrad

Headquarters of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, Stalingrad [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B22531, wiki]

Headquarters of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, Stalingrad [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B22531, wiki]

This week in  the war, on 31 January 1943—one day after he had been promoted to Field Marshal—Paulus surrendered at his headquarters in Stalingrad. He became to the highest ranking German officer ever to be captured.

The Soviets were already in the centre of the city and had begun to surround the building when a young Russian lieutenant named Fyodor Mikhailovich Yelchenko was invited inside. Yelchenko and two of his comrades went indoors and down to the basement. It was crammed with German troops, sheltering from the shelling.

Yelchenko accepted Paulus’s surrender. A car was summoned and the Field Marshal was driven away under guard. The German forces, including fifteen generals, began to surrender en mass.

Russia at War 1941-1945-----by Alexander Werth (Barrie & Rockliff, London, 1964) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Russia at War 1941-1945—–by Alexander Werth (Barrie & Rockliff, London, 1964) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Much of what transpired is described in Russia at War 1941-1945 by Alexander Werth (Barrie & Rockcliff, London, 1964).

Two days later, the fighting in Stalingrad ended completely. Over 280,000 Germans, Romanians, Italians, and Hungarians had been surrounded at Stalingrad. Around 30,000 wounded were evacuated by air and 150,000 died in action. Of the 90,000 who surrendered and were marched to Siberia, barely 5,000 returned home. The Soviet losses were equally staggering. Paulus survived and eventually returned to Germany. He died in Dresden in 1957.

Following the defeat at Stalingrad, Germany went into a state of mourning. To Germans and Allies, both, the Soviet victory at Stalingrad signaled the turning point of the war. As for Hitler: He flew into a rage and declared that he would create no more field marshals.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 18–24 January 1943: The relief of Leningrad

Troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts meet near Workers Settlement #5 [Attr: RIA Novosti archive, image #602484/ Dmitriy Kozlov/ CC-BY-SA 3.0, wiki]

Troops of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts meet near Workers Settlement #5 [Attr: RIA Novosti archive, image #602484/ Dmitriy Kozlov/ CC-BY-SA 3.0, wiki]

This week in the war, on 18 January 1943, Soviet forces finally broke through the German lines. Troops on the Leningrad Front were united with troops from the Volkov Front. After 497 days of encirclement, a narrow corridor barely five miles wide was opened and Leningrad was no longer cut off.

Although the blockade was broken, the siege continued. The German defenses were four miles deep and strongly fortified. Trains and trucks passing along the route into Leningrad could only travel at night due to heavy bombardment from the German lines.

In his book Leningrad: State of Siege, Michael Jones reports how German artillery continued to bombard the city for many months and was at its worst as late as August and September.

The city was finally liberated on 27 January 1944 by a force of a million and a quarter men, commanded by Lieutenant-General Leonid Govorov. Later that year, he was promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union.

Posted in Book, World War II | Tagged , , | Comments Off

This week in the War, 11–17 January 1943: The Casablanca Conference

French General Giraud, FDR, de Gaulle, and Churchill at the Casablanca conference [Public domain, wiki]

French General Giraud, FDR, de Gaulle, and Churchill at the Casablanca conference [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, 14 January 1943, a conference of world leaders opened in Casablanca—a venue familiar to the American and British publics through the recently released Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman movie, Casablanca.

Churchill and Roosevelt attended, as did de Gaulle and Giraud. (General Henri Giraud had replaced Admiral Darlan as Vichy French governor for Africa.) Stalin could not attend because of the pressing military situation in the Soviet Union.

Stalin had sent a message advocating the opening of a second front in Europe at the earliest opportunity. Roosevelt favoured a landing in France (although, at the time, he was very focused on the Pacific) and Churchill favoured a landing in Italy: “the soft underbelly of Europe.”

Roosevelt got his way with France, although the D-Day landing in Normandy had to wait until 1944. Churchill got his way much earlier with Italy, and Allied forces landed in Sicily (Operation Husky) in July 1943.

Two controversial decisions that came out of the Casablanca conference were the decision to intensify the bombing of Germany and to demand the ‘unconditional surrender’ of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

Posted in World War II | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off