This week in the War, 23–29 August 1943: The First Quebec Conference

The Quebec Conference, August 1943. With Churchill and Roosevelt are: Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (second row left) and Canadian Governor General the Earl of Athlone (front row right). Chateau Frontenac is in the background. [Public domain]

The Quebec Conference, August 1943. With Churchill and Roosevelt are: Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (second row left) and Canadian Governor General the Earl of Athlone (front row right). Chateau Frontenac is in the background. [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 24 August 1943, the eight-day conference in Quebec City drew to a close. Churchill, Roosevelt and the Canadian Prime Minister were in attendance.

Decisions made included giving priority to the British and US air offensives against German industry and coming up with a firm date for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Europe. The date chosen was 1 May 1944. Plans to invade the Italian mainland were also given the go-ahead. There was also agreement for closer collaboration in nuclear energy research, including the development of the atomic bomb.

Afterwards, Churchill spent a few days fishing in the Province of Quebec. He caught a number of speckled trout before heading to the United States for further conversations with Roosevelt.

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This week in the War, 16–22 August 1943: The Peenemunde raid

A man inspects the propulsion unit of a V-2 rocket that has devastated a neighbourhood in Limehouse, East London, March 1945 [Public domain]

A man inspects the propulsion unit of a V-2 rocket that has devastated a neighbourhood in Limehouse, East London, March 1945 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on the night of 17/18 August 1943, planes from RAF Bomber Command attacked the German Army Research Centre at Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.

The aim of the attack, which involved almost 600 planes, was to disrupt German plans to develop a long-distance rocket, the V-2.

After the failure of the Luftwaffe’s 1942 bombing campaign against British cities, the so-called Baedeker Raids, the Germans were planning to strike back with their ‘V-weapons.’

The first of these, the V-1 ‘flying bombs’ (sometimes called ‘buzz bombs’ or ‘doodlebugs’) were pilotless rocket-propelled planes that were designed to be launched from ramps. The V-1s did not become operational until June 1944, after D-Day. Although they flew straight and level, they were difficult to stop because of their high speed. They could sometimes be brought down by barrage balloon cables or shot down by anti-aircraft guns or intercepted by specially modified Spitfires.

V-2 rocket on its transport trailer [Public domain]

V-2 rocket on its transport trailer [Public domain]

The V-2s were first launched against London in September 1944. They could not be intercepted. They were liquid-oxygen powered rockets which, once underway, would arrive at their destination. They travelled faster than sound. Hence there would be no sirens, no warning.

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This week in the War, 9–15 August 1943: US air power

B-25 Mitchell of the USAAF 12th Bombardment Group, WWII [Public domain]

B-25 Mitchells of the USAAF 12th Bombardment Group, WWII [Public domain]

US air power was expanding on every front. On 13 August 1943 alone:

B-24 bombers of the US 380th Heavy Bomber Group flew from Australia to raid the Japanese-held oilfields in Borneo;

US bombers staged the first air raid of the war against an Austrian city by bombing Wiener Neustadt, 50 kilometers from Vienna;

and, in an attempt to force Italy’s Badoglio government (which had taken over from Mussolini) to sue for peace, over 250 bombers of the US 12th Air Force attacked Rome.

The following day, the Italians declared Rome an ‘open city’ to avoid further air raids.

 

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This week in the War, 2–8 August 1943: Italy at the crossroads

Section of the roof of Milan Cathedral, 1943 [Public domain]

Section of the roof of Milan Cathedral, 1943 [Public domain]

This week in the war saw Italy poised on the brink of changing sides.

On 6 August 1943, at the request of the Germans, representatives of Germany and Italy met at the Italian-Austrian border. The foreign ministers from both Germany and Italy were present, as were the respective chiefs-of-staff. The Italians assured their German allies that rumours of Italy entering into peace negotiations with Britain and the United States were unfounded.

Meanwhile, the RAF continued to pound the cities of northern Italy, notably Milan, Genoa and Turin. Much of Genoa was laid waste.

As for the former Duce, Benito Mussolini: The Italians were holding him in prison on the island of Maddalena, off the coast of Sardinia.

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This week in the War, 26 July–1 August 1943: Ba Maw assumes the leadership of Burma and declares war on Britain and the USA

Ba Maw (extreme left) at the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo, 5 November 1943; Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo is in the centre [Public domain, wiki]

Ba Maw (extreme left) at the Greater East Asia Conference in Tokyo, 5 November 1943; Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo is in the centre [Public domain, wiki]

This week in the war, on 1 August 1943, the French-educated Burmese political leader, Ba Maw, was appointed Head of State and Prime Minister of the newly formed State of Burma (effectively a puppet state, supported by the Japanese authorities). His first act was to declare war against Britain and the United States.

The Japanese had already promised to grant Burma independence, but they reasoned that granting independence early would further motivate the Burmese into supporting the war effort.

Thus Burma joined Thailand and other Asian states under Japanese control to become part of the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.’ It controlled 95% of the world’s rubber and all of the world’s production of quinine (used to treat malaria).

The Allies were working hard to create artificial substitute for both.

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This week in the War, 19–25 July 1943: Mussolini is fired by the King

Benito Mussolini with King Vittorio Emanuele III (centre), on friendly terms in 1941 [Public domain]

Benito Mussolini with King Vittorio Emanuele III (centre), on friendly terms in 1941 [Public domain]

This week in the war saw Rome bombed for the first time by the Allies (on 19 July 1943). The week also saw the Italian Grand Council of Fascism vote against Mussolini’s continued rule. (Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Ciano, was one of those present and voting against the Duce.)

On the following day, 25 July 1943, the Duce was summoned to the royal palace. King Victor Emmanuel told Mussolini that he had been replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio and Mussolini was arrested as he left. There was rejoicing in the streets of Rome.

The man who had sided with Hitler and taken Italy to war, first against Haile Selassie’s Abyssinia, then against France and Britain, then Greece, the Soviet Union and the USA, the man who had once eyed Egypt and planned to parade through Cairo in triumph, was no longer at the helm. Italian cities were being bombed. Italian workers were striking. Hitler’s promises were proving hollow and Sicily had been invaded.

To the Italians, the fall of Benito Mussolini meant peace was finally in sight.

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This week in the War, 12–18 July 1943: Hitler calls an end to the Battle of Kursk

Panzer VI (Tiger) tank of the Waffen-SS Division 'Das Reich' near Kursk [Bundesarchiv_Bild_Zschaeckel-207-12]

Panzer VI (Tiger) tank of the Waffen-SS Division ‘Das Reich’ near Kursk [Bundesarchiv_Bild_Zschaeckel-207-12]

This week in the war, on 12 July 1943, Hitler summoned two of his generals, Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein, to his headquarters in East Prussia (the Wolf’s Lair) and ordered them to end the massive tank battle raging near the Soviet town of Kursk, some 450 kilometers southwest of Moscow. The German plan had been to attack the bulge in the Soviet line, the ‘Kursk salient,’ simultaneously from the north and south, thereby cutting off and destroying the enemy infantry and armoured forces trapped within.

The Battle of Kursk had begun on 5 July and most Germans, particularly Hitler, had been expecting to win—in part because of the massive force of tanks they had assembled. These included the new Panthers and Tigers.

Within days, it became clear that the battle could end in failure. The German panzer force was suffering irreparable losses but still failing to advance deeply enough into Soviet territory. Despite the continued optimism of von Manstein, whose troops had been performing well, Hitler called an end to the offensive. He was already worried by the recent Allied invasion of Sicily and was intent on moving troops from the Eastern Front to Italy.

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