In the news: Memorial Day 2017

Military working dog Astra, June 2009 [Public domain]

We honour our troops and veterans on Memorial Day, Monday 29 May 2017.

The photograph on the left shows Specialist Pamela Gibson and her military working dog, Sergeant Astra.

The US K-9 Corps was created on 13 March 1942 although the use of dogs in warfare goes back to ancient times.

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This week in the War, 21–27 May 1945: British troops arrest Grand Admiral Doenitz

British troops arrest Grand Admiral Doenitz in Flensburg, 23 May 1945; behind Doenitz in a civilian raincoat is Albert Speer and to his right is German Armed Forces Chief of Staff, Alfred Jodl [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 23 May 1945, British troops arrested Grand Admiral Doenitz, who had been leader of Germany since the death of Hitler on 30 April.

Doenitz and cabinet members of his government—known as the Flensburg government—were taken into custody in the German port of Flensburg.

Doenitz was known the world over as the Commander in Chief of the German U-boat fleet during the Battle of the Atlantic.

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This week in the War, 14–20 May 1945: Aung San helps the British

Aung San, 1940s [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 15 May 1945, Burmese revolutionary leader Aung San—who had previously sided with the Japanese—offered to help the British. The British welcomed him.

Originally a communist, he changed to being a social democrat and later became Premier of the British Crown Colony of Burma.

He dedicated his life to fighting for Burma’s independence but was assassinated several months before his country achieved self-rule.

His daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, would follow in her father’s footsteps, suffering persecution (including 15 years of house arrest) as an advocate of democracy.

US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Aung San Suu Kyi and her staff at her home in Rangoon, 19 November 2012 [Public domain]

She would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Peace and become her country’s head of state as First State Counsellor of Myanmar (Burma).

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This week in the War, 7–13 May 1945: VE-Day!

British VE-Day street party with bonfire, May 1945 [Public domain]

This week in the war saw an end to the war in Europe with the first Victory in Europe Day: 8 May. VE-Day has been celebrated on every 8 May since then.

On 8 May 1945, in a speech to the House of Commons that was also broadcast on the BBC, Winston Churchill declared that: “Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight (Tuesday 8 May) but in the interests of saving lives the cease fire began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.”

Churchill went on to speak about the war against Japan continuing until the final victory: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”

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Book review: A Rancher and a Warrior

In her book A Rancher and a Warrior: The life of Dale Robinson in Wyoming and WWII, Jessica Robinson describes the life of her grandfather-in-law, as a cattle rancher in Wyoming and as a soldier during World War II. Photographs, both of Dale and of the early days of ranching in Wyoming, abound throughout the book.

Born on 4 June 1925 on a ranch in Wyoming, Dale was raised in the rural way of life. It was the only way of life he believed to be worth living. Wyoming, at the time, was the least populated state in the USA.

Lance Dale Robinson, circa 1942 [ Courtesy of the American Heritage Center, ah12622_1_1]

By the time he was 10, he was working as a cook’s assistant at a local pig farm. By the time he was 16, the United States was plunged into war by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Dale’s brother was already in the navy but Dale had to bide his time before he could enlist. To complicate matters, he was employed in agriculture and hence his services were valuable at home. Dale removed the complication by training as a welder.

He was barely 18 when he joined the US Army: 313th Infantry, Company H. A Rancher and a Warrior describes basic training in Oklahoma, from handling haircuts to handling the Browning M2HB. Dale trained as a heavy machine gunner.

Dale had been transferred to the 79th Reconnaissance Troop by the time he left for New York City and boarded the British luxury liner, RMS Strathmore, for the voyage to Greenock, Scotland. More training, then France. Crammed with his fellow soldiers in a landing craft, Dale landed on Utah Beach in Normandy a few days after D-Day and was in action a few days later. He took part in the recapturing the French city of Cherbourg, which would become an important port for supplying the Allied Expeditionary Force.

Dale with his heavy machine gun [Courtesy of the American Heritage Center, ah12622_1_1]

Readers wanting to know more about the Normandy landings will find the section on the hedgerow countryside of Normandy and digging foxholes for the night quite fascinating, as well as the reaction of French civilians, greeting their liberators with cider and aprons full of apples. As expected, casualties among the troops were heavy and new replacements arrived each night. “Sadly, most of them were gone before he [Dale] even learned their first names.”

During Hitler’s Ardennes offensive, the Battle of the Bulge, Dale found himself fighting in the middle of winter, using his raincoat as a blanket and a tent, and enduring ice and frost when he woke each morning. A shell wound left him with pieces of shrapnel in his thigh that were never taken out.

After VE-Day, he was posted to Czechoslovakia rather than the Pacific. After that, and after three years in the army, Dale was posted home.

Marriage with childhood friend Jayne, then children and the fulfillment of Dale’s dream of ranching fill the remaining pages. Anyone interested in a window into the life of a country boy who became a soldier and a soldier who became a rancher and a family man will find this biography enlightening and enjoyable; the personal details and the copious illustrations—old photographs and drawing from World War II—make it so. Dale received the Silver Star and also the British Military Medal, the latter being presented in person by Field Marshal Montgomery. The start of the citation reads:

For gallantry in action against the enemy on 23 October 1944, in France. During a strong enemy counter-attack, Sergeant Robinson and his heavy machine gun crew were in a concealed position, helping to defend friendly territory. Noting an enemy armored vehicle approaching from the flank, Sergeant Robinson ordered the remainder of the squad to remain in place while he and his gunner (who volunteered) left their concealed position to take up one completely exposed to the enemy. Here they engaged the enemy vehicle in a point-blank duel . . .


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This week in the War, 30 April–6 May 1945: Death of Adolf Hitler

The Stars and Stripes, the official US Army magazine, announces Hitler’s death [Public domain]

On the afternoon of 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler finished lunch in his bunker and, after sending everyone except Eva Braun away, he shot himself; Eva took cyanide.

Hitler’s Third Reich and the program he had laid out in Mein Kampf was over.

Munich had fallen that day, so had Turin in northern Italy. Mussolini was already dead, having been shot by partisans a few days earlier. By evening, the Soviet flag would be flying from the roof of the burned-out Reichstag.

Joseph Goebbels was quick to follow the example of his Fuehrer. Goebbels requested the SS to poison his young children and afterwards to shoot his wife and himself.

First edition of Mein Kampf, July 1925 [Public domain]

Martin Bormann, the other high-ranking Nazi who had been with Hitler until the final moments, was bent on escape.

On 2 May, German forces in Berlin surrendered to Marshal Zhukov.

Wernher von Braun, one of the leading rocket scientists from the German Army Research Centre at Peenemünde, surrendered to American forces in southern Germany. He was recruited and transported to the USA to work in America’s rocket program.

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This week in the War, 23–29 April 1945: A flying visit

Ritter von Griem, January 1939 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-204-1220-500/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

This week in the war, on 23 April 1945, as Adolf Hitler took personal charge of directing Berlin’s defenses, he received a telegram from Hermann Goering advocating that he, Goering, take full control of Germany.

Enraged, Hitler stripped Goering of all his offices and ordered Luftwaffe General Ritter von Griem to fly from Munich to Berlin so that the Fuehrer might appoint von Griem, in person, as the new head of the Luftwaffe.

A few days later, von Griem flew into Gatow aerodrome and then, piloting a Fieseler Storch, flew towards the beleaguered Chancellery in the centre of Berlin. His lover, the famous test pilot Hanna Reitsch, was squeezed into the back of the plane.

Happier times for all concerned. March 1941: Hanna Reitsch receives the Iron Cross from Hitler; Hermann Goering is in the background [Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F051625-02951/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Fire from Russian ground troops wounded von Griem as he prepared to land and it was left to Hanna to lean forward and land the plane only a few hundred meters from the Fuehrerbunker.

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This week in the War, 16–22 April 1945: Birthday in the bunker

Heinrich Himmler presents Hitler with a specially printed luxury edition of Mein Kampf to mark the Fuehrer’s 50th birthday on 20 April 1939 [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-H28988/ Hoffmann/ CC-BY-SA 3.0]

Hitler’s birthday, 20 April, was a special day in the Nazi calendar and normally a cause for parades and festivities across the German Reich. Not long before the beginning of the war, 20 April 1939, Hitler had celebrated his 50th birthday. The photograph to the left shows SS-Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler marking that occasion by presenting his Fuehrer with a specially printed edition of Mein Kampf.

This week in the war, on 20 April 1945, Hitler spent his birthday in the bleak concrete environment of the Fuehrerbunker, several meters beneath the surface of his capital.

Visitors included Keitel, Jodl, Ribbentrop, Speer, and Bormann. Hitler expressed his determination to remain in Berlin and fight to the end.

Göring was there, ready to head off to Karinhall where his butler had organized the shipping out of his boss’s art treasures. Himmler called by to pay his respects then left, secretly intent on negotiating a ceasefire with the Western Allies.

Hitler’s birthday dinner was a quiet affair that evening, with only Eva and himself and his secretaries attending.





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This week in the War, 9–15 April 1945: Death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s funeral procession, 14 April 1945 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 12 April 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia—the so-called ‘Little White House.’

America had lost the man who had steered the country through the Great Depression, and the world had lost the man who had taken centre stage in the most destructive war in history, one of the Big Three, and a man who had chosen sides from the outset with Lend-Lease and his famous ‘garden hose’ analogy.

Roosevelt died less than a month shy of seeing an end to the war in Europe, and four months before the Japanese would surrender and the world would enter the nuclear age.

‘The Little White House’—Roosevelt’s home in Warm Springs, Georgia [Public domain]

Ever suspicious, Stalin suggested an autopsy to see whether the president had been poisoned.

Churchill cabled Eleanor Roosevelt, expressing sorrow at losing ‘a dear and cherished friendship.’

In the Fuehrerbunker, Hitler was jubilant. He equated Roosevelt’s death to the death of the Russian czarina, Elizabeth, which had brought an end to the Seven Years’ War and given a last minute victory to Frederick the Great.

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This week in the War, 2–8 April 1945: Hitler settles scores with the Abwehr

20th century martyrs, Westminster Abbey, left to right: Mother Elizabeth of Russia, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer [Author: T. Taylor, GNU Creative Commons Share Alike 2.5 Generic]

This week in the war, on 8 April (some say 9 April) 1945, Hans von Dohnanyi was hanged at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

On the following day, 9 April 1945, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Major General Hans Oster, and Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer were hanged at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Hans von Dohnanyi, the son of a Hungarian composer and his pianist wife, had opposed the Nazis since the 1930s. During World War II, he served in the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, and was involved in the unsuccessful plot to smuggle a bomb onto Hitler’s plane, which was returning from Smolensk.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris headed the Abwehr, hated the Nazis, and secretly aided the Allied course throughout the war. He is thought to have provided behind-the-scenes support for the July bomb plot against Hitler.

Hans Oster belonged to the Abwehr and had conspired against Hitler even prior to the beginning of the war.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian and was fiercely anti-Nazi. His writings were banned by the Nazis and he was eventually forbidden to speak. He was recruited into the Abwehr (by von Dohnanyi) and, as a member of the German resistance movement, he was party to various plots against the regime.

“No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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