This week in the War,22–28 January 1945: Soviet troops enter Auschwitz

Soviet soldiers talk with children just liberated from Auschwitz concentration camp, January 1945 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 27 January 1945, Soviet troops arrived at Auschwitz.

Belsen would eventually be liberated by British troops and Dachau by the Americans, and both of those camps would become well known to the public in Britain and America. But Auschwitz and its numerous satellite camps was destined to stand out by virtue of the enormity of scale.

Of Jews murdered in the Third Reich during World War II, a million were murdered in Auschwitz alone. So were many thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of Soviet POWs, Poles, gay men, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others whom the Nazis saw as enemies or undesirables.

27 January is now commemorated as International Holocaust Memorial Day.

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This week in the War, 15–21 January 1945: Renault factories are nationalized

Louis Renault, Washington, 1940 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 16 January 1945, the newly formed French government under Charles de Gaulle nationalized the factories belonging to the French car manufacturer, Louis Renault.

The nationalization was in retaliation to Renault’s perceived collaboration with the German forces of occupation—although the case was never proven. (Plus he had visited Washington in 1940 to meet with President Roosevelt and hold discussions around tank production in the Renault factories.)

Louis Renault died under unclear circumstances while he was in Fresnes prison, waiting for his trial.

French aviatrix Helene Boucher at the wheel of a Renault Vivasport, 1934 [Public domain]

He had the reputation of being somewhat of a tyrant and was ill-regarded by the working classes in France.

Under the new legislative act, the firm became a government corporation—Régie nationale des usines Renault. In 1947, the 4 CV, produced in Renault’s Billancourt plant, became a huge success.

 

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This week in the War, 8–14 January 1945: Captain Hunt and the Filipino resistance

Poster depicting the Philippine resistance movement [Public domain]

This week in the war, on the morning of 9 January 1945, American troops landed in force on Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. They were soon contacted by a runner sent by Captain Ray C. Hunt of the US Army Air Corps.

Hunt had escaped from the Bataan Death March and, for over two years, had been fighting behind enemy lines with the Filipino resistance movement.

Hunt had been a staff sergeant when captured by the Japanese but was promoted to captain by the Filipinos and went on to lead a large and effective unit of resistance fighters.

 

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This week in the War, 1–7 January 1945: Operation Bodenplatte

Germany’s Arado 234B Blitz bomber, the world’s first jet-powered bomber [Public domain]

This week in the war, 1 January 1945, saw Germany’s jet powered Arado Ar 234 Blitz bombers (manufactured by the Arado aircraft company) launch their first night attack. The raid, which was against targets around Brussels, was part of Operation Bodenplatte, the Luftwaffe’s last major air offensive.

The launch of Operation Bodenplatte had been planned for mid-December and was meant to support Hitler’s Ardennes offensive (The Battle of the Bulge). However, the operation was delayed by bad weather and was launched a few minutes after the start of the new year, 1 January 1945, when almost a thousand Luftwaffe fighters attacked airfields in France, Belgium, and Holland.

Allied losses were mostly in planes destroyed on the ground. German losses were in the air and so included pilots. The Luftwaffe lost over 200 pilots, killed, missing, or captured. Viewed in this light, the operation was a failure.

 

 

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This week in the War, 25–31 December 1944: Christmas Day in Athens

Winston Churchill leaving HMS Ajax in Piraeus harbour, Greece, to attend a conference ashore, December 1944 [Public domain]

Winston Churchill was enjoying a family Christmas Eve—which included the gift of a Christmas tree from President Roosevelt—when, after reading the last of the day’s telegrams, the Prime Minister realized that the situation in Greece required his urgent attention.

This week in the war on 25 December, Christmas Day 1944, Winston Churchill flew into Kalamaki airfield near Athens, after a brief refueling stop in Naples.

Churchill and his delegation spent the night on board the British cruiser HMS Ajax (of Battle of the River Plate fame), which was anchored in Piraeus harbor.

Archbishop Damaskinos, of the Greek Orthodox Church, came on board to discuss the threat of an armed Communist takeover in Greece—a threat which had prompted Churchill’s dramatic flight from England in the middle of winter.

The following day, the Communists (notably ELAS–the Greek People’s Liberation Army) were invited to a conference at the Greek Foreign Office in Athens. It was agreed that the King of Greece would be asked to appoint the Archbishop as Regent, with the understanding that Damaskinos would form a new government for the country.

Fighting between Greek Communists and non-Communists did not completely end until a truce was accepted on 11 January 1945. [See: The Second World War, Abridged One-Volume Edition by Winston S. Churchill (Cassell, London, 1959).]

 

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This week in the War, 18–24 December 1944: The Siege of Bastogne

Bastogne, Belgium: Troops of the 101st Airborne Division watch C-47s drop supplies to them [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 18 December 1944, the US 101st Airborne Division was ordered to Bastogne in Belgium to defend that town’s important crossroads against the recently launched German offensive in the Ardennes.

By 20 December, the town was completely surrounded. The Siege of Bastogne had begun.

Low lying fog kept Allied aircraft grounded until 23 December. Meanwhile, the outnumbered Americans fought off assaults by Germany’s elite SS panzer divisions.

Shoulder patch of the US 101st Airborne Division [Public domain]

The siege lasted through Christmas and the town was not fully secured until the US 3rd Army’s counteroffensive on 14 January 1945.

The German army’s Ardennes offensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge, was meant to push through the Allied lines and reach Antwerp. Hitler’s intention was to prevent the Allies from using the port for landing supplies to support their armies that were poised to advance into Germany.

On 15 January 1945, it was clear that Hitler’s plan had failed and the Fuehrer left his headquarters on the Western Front and returned by train to Berlin.

 

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This week in the War, 11–17 December 1944: Deaths of painter Wassily Kandinsky and band leader Glen Miller

'Black & Violet' by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923 [Public domain]

‘Black & Violet’ by Wassily Kandinsky, 1923 [Public domain]

This week in the war saw the deaths of one of the world’s great artists, Wassily Kandinsky, and one of the world’s great performers, Glen Miller. They died within a two days of each other.

As a student, Moscow-born Kandinsky abandoned his study of law to go to Munich to become a painter.

He went back to Russia at the beginning of the First World War but returned to Germany in 1921 and subsequently became a professor at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture in Weimar. After the Nazis closed the Bauhaus in 1933, he moved to France. He was one of the pioneers of modern abstract art.

Kandinsky died on 13 December 1944 at Neuilly-sur-Seine.

Glen Miller in his uniform as a major in the US Army Air Corps [Public domain]

Glen Miller in his uniform as a major in the US Army Air Corps [Public domain]

American band leader, Glenn Miller, formed his first jazz group in the 1920s and became famous for his song Moonlight Serenade.

During the war, Miller enlisted in the US Army (later transferring to the US Army Air Forces) and organized numerous concerts for Allied troops. His song In the Mood became a popular wartime hit.

Miller died on 15 December 1944 when his plane went missing in bad weather over the English Channel.

 

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