This week in the War, 29 March–4 April 1943: Rationing in the USA

US Office of War Information poster [Public domain]

US Office of War Information poster [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 29 March 1943, the United States introduced rationing for meat items such as beef, pork and mutton; and also cheese. Poultry remained exempt.

Sugar and coffee had been rationed since 1942, as had tires and gasoline. Measures to conserve the latter two items included the imposition of a national speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

A sticker with the letter A, B, C, T or (rarely) X had to be fixed to the inside of the windshield to indicate ones priority in buying gasoline.

A = Low priority, inessential to the war effort. Only 4 gallons of gas per week were allowed.

Stamps from US Government ration book, 1943 [Public domain, author: Bill Faulk]

Stamps from US Government ration book, 1943 [Public domain, author: Bill Faulk]

B = Essential to the war effort. (Workers in factories, for example.) Up to 8 gallons per week were allowed.

C = Doctors, ministers, mail carriers, etc.

T = Truckers. (Gasoline was unlimited.)

X = Members of Congress.

 

 

 

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This week in the War, 22–28 March 1943: The bazooka

US soldier holding a bazooka, 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

US soldier holding a bazooka, 1943 [Public domain, wiki]

The iconic hardware of World War II, items that took on a larger-than-life persona and captured the public’s attention both during and after the war included the Spitfire, the Jeep, even Germany’s MP-40 machine pistol.

This week in the war, on 27 March 1943, the US War Department added another such item to the list by revealing a new weapon: the bazooka.

Named after the musical instrument, the bazooka was designed as a portable anti-tank weapon. Unlike the PIAT, which was the nearest British equivalent and which fired its projectiles by means of a powerful spring (!),  the bazooka was essentially a tubular rocket-launcher. Once loaded into the tube, the rocket was ignited electrically and then propelled itself forward at high velocity. The bazooka could knock out most enemy tanks within a range of 100 yards.

German soldier aims 'Raketenpanzerbuchse', 1944 [Bundesarchiv Bild 101l-671-7482-08A, author: Lysiak]

German soldier aims ‘Raketenpanzerbuchse’, 1944 [Bundesarchiv Bild 101l-671-7482-08A, author: Lysiak]

Almost half a million bazookas were manufactured during the course of the war. The Germans captured some during the North Africa campaign and copied the design for their own Raketenpanzerbüchse.

 

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This week in the War, 15–21 March 1943: Trying to kill Hitler

Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51]

Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff [Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1976-130-51]

This week in the war, on 21 March 1943, Wehrmacht colonel, Rudolf Christoph von Gersdorff attempted to blow himself up beside Hitler, and alongside Goering, Himmler and Doenitz, too. It was not the first attempt on the Fuehrer’s life, and it would not be the last.

As part of Heroes Memorial Day, Hitler had planned to inspect a collection of captured Soviet weapons that were on display on Unter den Linden at the Zeughaus—–the old armory built by Frederick III and now the present-day location of the Deutsches Historisches Museum.

Only eight days before, a bomb contained in two bottles of Cointreau had been smuggled on to Hitler’s plane but failed to explode. It was thought afterwards that the cold weather was responsible for the explosive not igniting. (Hitler was flying to the Wolf’s Lair near Rastenburg. The two army officers, Major-General Henning von Tresckow and Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, escaped detection.)

Given that the attempt to blow up Hitler’s plane had failed, von Gersdorff’s decided upon a suicide mission. He obtained explosives from von Schlabrendorff—again with British fuses, like the Cointreau bomb. British fuses acted silently. German fuses hissed.

Ceremonies at the Zeughaus began at 1.00pm and Hitler made a brief speech. Von Gersdorff’s pockets were stuffed with high explosive and, because he had been given the official task of explaining the exhibits, he could be as close to Hitler as he chose. Von Gersdorff activated the fuses. He and Germany’s Fuehrer had exactly ten minutes to live.

But it was not to be. As if he’d had a premonition warning him of danger, Hitler rushed through the halls and exited the building without seeing any of the displays. With barely a minute to spare, von Gersdorff found a toilet and hastily defused his bomb.

Against all odds, von Gersdorff survived the afternoon of 21 March 1943 and went on to survive the war. (He played a role in another high profile incident while in Russia with Army Group Centre, namely the discovery of the graves of thousands of Polish army officers who had been murdered by the Soviets and buried in the Katyn Forest.)

Modern-day view of the Zeughaus, which currently houses the Deutsches Historisches Museum [Public domain, author: El Dirko]

Modern-day view of the Zeughaus, which currently houses the Deutsches Historisches Museum [Public domain, author: El Dirko]

Von Gersdorff’s plot was followed in little over a year by a more well known though equally unsuccessful plot against Hitler: the 20 July 1944 bomb plot that was spearheaded by Wehrmacht colonel, Claus von Stauffenberg.

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This week in the War, 8–14 March 1943: Italian workers stage a strike at the Fiat factories in Turin

Italian WWII poster encouraging citizens to work and fight for their country [Public domain, wiki]

Italian WWII poster encouraging citizens to work and fight for their country [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, 12 March 1943, tens of thousands of workers at the Fiat factories in the Italian industrial city of Turin went on strike. Other Italian workers followed their lead and war production across northern Italy ground almost to a standstill. These were the first protests to be staged against the Mussolini regime.

The poor provision of air-raid shelters in the face of the repeated bombing of Turin and other industrial centres, as well as ports, plus food shortages and the recent defeats in North Africa were all instrumental in causing the Italian population to lose confidence in the regime that had taken them to war in 1940. It was a war that many Italians had not wanted.

Hitler response was one of outrage. He could not understand the Italian authorities’ reluctance to deal with the strikers with the utmost harshness. Hitler would not tolerate any hold up in the war effort of his ally.

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This week in the War, 1–7 March 1943: Battle of the Bismarck Sea

Allied bomber attacks Japanese transport during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea [Public domain, wiki]

Allied bomber attacks Japanese transport during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea [Public domain, wiki]

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was fought, this week in the war, 2–4 March 1943.

After being alerted by their naval code breakers, the Americans and Australians launched air attacks against a Japanese convoy that was carrying reinforcements to New Guinea. All of the Japanese troop transports and half of their destroyer escort were sunk with heavy loss of life.

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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.

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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).

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