D-Day is called off and postponed until June


Year
1944
Month Day
January 31

June 6, 1944 is considered one of the most pivotal moments in modern history. Better known by its codename, D-Day, the Allied assault on five beaches in Nazi-occupied France was the result of over a year of planning and jockeying amongst various military and political leaders. On January 31, 1944, several key leaders agreed to postpone the invasion over concerns that there would not be enough ships available by May, finally setting the stage for the June invasion.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began urging British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open a second front almost as soon as the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941. After the American entry into the war at the end of that year, the three nations agreed that such action was necessary but disagreed on how it should proceed. British leadership, for whom the slaughters and stalemates of World War I’s Western Front were still relatively recent memories, eventually prevailed upon the other Allies to first attack Italy, which Churchill called Europe’s “soft underbelly.” With plans to attack German-held North Africa and the Italian island of Sicily underway, the three leaders agreed in May of 1943 to assault the European mainland. In December of 1943, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower and British General Bernard Montgomery were presented with a detailed plan for the invasion, codenamed Operation Overlord.

READ MORE: D-Day’s Deadly Dress Rehearsal

Both generals argued for increasing the scope of Overlord from three divisions to five divisions supported by three airborne divisions. Eisenhower was eager to enact such a plan in May, but had concerns over the availability of landing craft. The Italian campaign, which provided the Allies with valuable experience in amphibious landings, was also taking up many of the boats that would be necessary for the Normandy invasion. By the 31st, all relevant commanders had come around to this way of thinking and signed off on an early-June invasion.

D-Day would be postponed once more, by a single day—high winds on June 4 forced Eisenhower to push the “great crusade” back one more day. Finally, on the morning of June 6, the long-awaited invasion of France began. By the time the sun set the Allies had established a foothold, the first step in a march that would lead them all the way to Berlin and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

READ MORE: D-Day: Facts About the 1944 WWII Invasion 

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Anne Frank writes her last diary entry

Year
1944
Month Day
August 01

Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl hiding out in Nazi-occupied Holland whose diary came to serve as a symbol of the Holocaust, writes her final entry three days before she and her family are arrested and placed in concentration camps.

Frank, 15 at the time, received the diary on her 13th birthday, writing in it faithfully during the two years she and seven others (including her parents, Otto and Edith, and sister, Margot; her father’s business associate Hermann van Pels, his wife, Auguste, and son, Peter; and Fritz Pfeffer, the dentist of Otto Frank’s secretary) lived in a secret annex behind her father’s business in Amsterdam during World War II.

In her final entry, Frank wrote of how others perceive her, describing herself as “a bundle of contradictions.” She wrote:

“As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, an off-color joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. ….”

READ MORE: How Anne Frank’s Private Diary Became an International Sensation

She continued that what she says is not what she feels, which is why, in her words, she had a reputation for being “boy-crazy as well as a flirt, a smart aleck and a reader of romances.”

“The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way. If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.”

Of the eight prisoners, Otto Frank was the only survivor. Anne Frank died in 1945 from typhus at Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her diary was published by her father in 1947; it has since become a worldwide bestseller.  

READ MORE: Who Betrayed Anne Frank?

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The U-505, a submarine from Hitler’s deadly fleet, is captured

Year
1944
Month Day
June 04

One of Adolf Hitler’s deadly submarines, the U-505, is seized as it makes its way home after patrolling the Gold Coast of Africa on June 4, 1944. The German submarine was the first enemy warship captured on the high seas by the U.S. Navy since the War of 1812.

If ever there was a submarine laden with bad luck it was Germany’s U-505.

Despite sinking eight Allied ships early in the war, the German WW II U-boat suffered repeated damages while on a number of patrols and was further marred by the suicide of its second commanding officer while on board.

Spotted during a sonar sweep 150 miles from the coast of Rio De Oro, Africa by a “hunter-killer” task group commanded by U.S. Navy Capt. Daniel V. Gallery that included the USS Chatelain, USS Guadalcanal, USS Flaherty, USS Jenks, USS Pillsbury and USS Pope, the submarine had been being tracked by Allied intelligence via radio waves.

After the surrendered German survivors were picked up from the U-boat (all but one lived), Lt. (junior grade) Albert L. David led a group of nine men down the hatch of the U-505, salvaging the U-boat and recovering invaluable code books and papers that were used by Allied forces to help in code-breaking.

David was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The 58 captured Germans, deemed prisoners of war, were sent to a POW camp in Ruston, Louisiana, while the U-505 was towed 2,500 nautical miles to Bermuda.

The top-secret capture of the submarine was not made public until after Germany’s May 7, 1945 surrender, and the U-505 was eventually part of a military fundraising tour. On September 25, 1954, the submarine was named a war memorial and, in 1989, it received National Historic Landmark designation. 

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Warsaw Revolt begins

Year
1944
Month Day
August 01

During World War II, an advance Soviet armored column under General Konstantin Rokossovski reaches the Vistula River along the eastern suburb of Warsaw, prompting Poles in the city to launch a major uprising against the Nazi occupation. The revolt was spearheaded by Polish General Tadeusz Bor-Komorowski, who was the commander of the Home Army, an underground resistance group made up of some 40,000 poorly supplied soldiers. In addition to accelerating the liberation of Warsaw, the Home Army, which had ties with the Polish government-in-exile in London and was anti-communist in its ideology, hoped to gain at least partial control of Warsaw before the Soviets arrived.

Although the Poles in Warsaw won early gains—and Soviet liberation of the city was inevitable—Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered his authorities to crush the uprising at all costs. The elite Nazi SS directed the German defense force, which included the Kaminiski Brigade of Russian prisoners and the Dirlewanger Brigade of German convicts. In brutal street fighting, the Poles were gradually overcome by the superior German weaponry. As the rebels were suppressed, the Nazis deliberately razed large portions of the city and massacred many civilians.

Meanwhile, the Red Army gained several bridgeheads across the Vistula River but made no efforts to aid the rebels in Warsaw. The Soviets also rejected a request by the British to use Soviet air bases to airlift supplies to the beleaguered Poles. The rebels and the city’s citizens ran out of medical supplies, food, and eventually water. Finally, on October 2, the surviving rebels, including Bor-Komorowski, surrendered.

During the 63-day ordeal, three-fourths of the Home Army perished along with 200,000 civilians. As a testament to the ferocity of the fighting, the Germans also suffered high casualties: 10,000 killed, 9,000 wounded, and 7,000 missing. During the next few months, German troops deported the surviving population, and demolition squads destroyed what buildings remained intact in Warsaw. All of its great treasures were looted or burned. The Red Army remained dormant outside Warsaw until January 1945, when the final Soviet offensive against Germany commenced. Warsaw, a city in ruins, was liberated on January 17. With Warsaw out of the way, the Soviets faced little organized opposition in establishing a communist government in Poland.

READ MORE: How Did the Nazis Really Lose World War II? 

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U.S. approves end to internment of Japanese Americans


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Year
1944
Month Day
December 17

During World War II, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issues Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes.

On February 19, 1942, 10 weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any or all people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military in turn defined the entire West Coast, home to the majority of Americans of Japanese ancestry or citizenship, as a military area. By June, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were relocated to remote internment camps built by the U.S. military in scattered locations around the country. For the next two and a half years, many of these Japanese Americans endured extremely difficult living conditions and poor treatment by their military guards.

During the course of World War II, 10 Americans were convicted of spying for Japan, but not one of them was of Japanese ancestry. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to recompense each surviving internee with a tax-free check for $20,000 and an apology from the U.S. government.

READ MORE: These Photos Show the Harsh Reality of Life in WWII Japanese-American Internment Camps

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Fire engulfs circus big top in Hartford, killing 167

Year
1944
Month Day
July 06

In Hartford, Connecticut, a fire breaks out under the big top of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus, killing 167 people and injuring 682. Two-thirds of those who perished were children. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it spread at incredible speed, racing up the canvas of the circus tent. Scarcely before the 8,000 spectators inside the big top could react, patches of burning canvas began falling on them from above, and a stampede for the exits began. Many were trapped under fallen canvas, but most were able to rip through it and escape. However, after the tent’s ropes burned and its poles gave way, the whole burning big top came crashing down, consuming those who remained inside. Within 10 minutes it was over, and some 100 children and 60 of their adult escorts were dead or dying.

An investigation revealed that the tent had undergone a treatment with flammable paraffin thinned with three parts of gasoline to make it waterproof. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eventually agreed to pay $5 million in compensation, and several of the organizers were convicted on manslaughter charges. In 1950, in a late development in the case, Robert D. Segee of Circleville, Ohio, confessed to starting the Hartford circus fire. Segee claimed that he had been an arsonist since the age of six and that an apparition of an Indian on a flaming horse often visited him and urged him to set fires. In November 1950, Segee was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 22 years in prison, the maximum penalty in Ohio at the time.

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D-Day landing forces converge

Year
1944
Month Day
June 11

Five days after the D-Day landing, the five Allied landing groups, made up of some 330,000 troops, link up in Normandy to form a single solid front across northwestern France.

READ MORE: D-Day: An Interactive 

On June 6, 1944, after a year of meticulous planning conducted in secrecy by a joint Anglo-American staff, the largest combined sea, air, and land military operation in history began on the French coast at Normandy. The Allied invasion force included 3 million men, 13,000 aircraft, 1,200 warships, 2,700 merchant ships, and 2,500 landing craft.

Fifteen minutes after midnight on June 6, the first of 23,000 U.S., British, and Canadian paratroopers and glider troops plunged into the darkness over Normandy. Just before dawn, Allied aircraft and ships bombed the French coast along the Baie de la Seine, and at daybreak the bombardment ended as 135,000 Allied troops stormed ashore at five landing sites. Despite the formidable German coastal defenses, beachheads were achieved at all five landing locations. 

At one site—Omaha Beach—German resistance was especially strong, and the Allied position was only secured after hours of bloody fighting by the Americans assigned to it. By the evening, some 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops were ashore, and the Allies held about 80 square miles. 

During the next five days, Allied forces in Normandy moved steadily forward in all sectors against fierce German resistance. On June 11, the five landing groups met up, and Operation Overlord—the code name for the Allied invasion of northwestern Europe—proceeded as planned.

READ MORE: How D-Day Changed the Course of WWII

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Volkswagen halts production during World War II

Year
1944
Month Day
August 07

On August 7, 1944, under the threat of Allied bombing during World War II, the German car manufacturer Volkswagen halts production of the “Beetle,” as its small, insect-shaped automobile was dubbed in the international press.

Ten years earlier, the renowned automotive engineer Ferdinand Porsche had signed a contract with Germany’s Third Reich to develop a prototype of a small, affordable “people’s car.” The German chancellor, National Socialist (Nazi) leader Adolf Hitler, called the car the KdF (Kraft-durch-Freude)-Wagen (or “Strength-Through-Joy” car), after a Nazi-led movement ostensibly aimed at helping the working people of Germany. Porsche didn’t like that moniker; he preferred Volkswagen (meaning “people’s car”), the name under which the car had originally been developed. In 1938, the government built a factory to produce the car in the city of KdF-stat. The first production-ready Beetle debuted at the Berlin Motor Show in 1939. Several months later, Germany invaded Poland, sparking the conflict that would explode into world war.

During the war years, the German army’s need for a lightweight utility vehicle took precedence over the production of affordable passenger cars. The result was the Type 62 Kubelwagen, a convertible vehicle with a modified Beetle chassis, four doors and 18-inch wheels (compared with the Beetle’s 16-inch ones) to give it better ground clearance. Though production at the KdF-stat factory was dedicated primarily to the Kubelwagen and its amphibious counterpart, the Schwimmwagen, the factory did continue to produce Beetles from 1941 to August 7, 1944, when production was halted under threat of Allied bombing.

In the war’s aftermath, a devastated Germany was divided into four sectors. Those under British, French and American control would combine to form West Germany, while the region under Soviet control became East Germany. KdF-stat (soon renamed Wolfsburg), which was in the British sector, and its auto factory remained in relatively good shape for having been a target of Allied bombs. Volkswagen, then under the control of the British military, began turning out Beetles again in December 1945. By 1949, the company (now called Volkswagen GmbH) was back in German hands, and in 1972 the Beetle passed the iconic Ford Model T as the top-selling car in history.

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FDR signs G.I. Bill

On June 22, 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the G.I. Bill, an unprecedented act of legislation designed to compensate returning members of the armed services–known as G.I.s–for their efforts in World War II.

As the last of its sweeping New Deal reforms, Roosevelt’s administration created the G.I. Bill–officially the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944–hoping to avoid a relapse into the Great Depression after the war ended. FDR particularly wanted to prevent a repeat of the Bonus March of 1932, when 20,000 unemployed veterans and their families flocked in protest to Washington. The American Legion, a veteran’s organization, successfully fought for many of the provisions included in the bill, which gave returning servicemen access to unemployment compensation, low-interest home and business loans, and–most importantly–funding for education.

By giving veterans money for tuition, living expenses, books, supplies and equipment, the G.I. Bill effectively transformed higher education in America. Before the war, college had been an option for only 10-15 percent of young Americans, and university campuses had become known as a haven for the most privileged classes. By 1947, in contrast, vets made up half of the nation’s college enrollment; three years later, nearly 500,000 Americans graduated from college, compared with 160,000 in 1939.

As educational institutions opened their doors to this diverse new group of students, overcrowded classrooms and residences prompted widespread improvement and expansion of university facilities and teaching staffs. An array of new vocational courses were developed across the country, including advanced training in education, agriculture, commerce, mining and fishing–skills that had previously been taught only informally.

The G.I. Bill became one of the major forces that drove an economic expansion in America that lasted 30 years after World War II. Only 20 percent of the money set aside for unemployment compensation under the bill was given out, as most veterans found jobs or pursued higher education. Low interest home loans enabled millions of American families to move out of urban centers and buy or build homes outside the city, changing the face of the suburbs. 

Over 50 years, the impact of the G.I. Bill was enormous, with 20 million veterans and dependents using the education benefits and 14 million home loans guaranteed, for a total federal investment of $67 billion. Among the millions of Americans who have taken advantage of the bill are former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, former Vice President Al Gore and entertainers Johnny Cash, Ed McMahon, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood.

READ MORE: How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans

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D-Day: Allies storm Normandy’s coast

Year
1944
Month Day
June 06

On June 6, 1944, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the go-ahead for the largest amphibious military operation in history: Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of northern France, commonly known as D-Day

By daybreak, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground. An additional 13,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion. At 6:30 a.m., American troops came ashore at Utah and Omaha beaches

The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches; so did the Americans at Utah. The task was much tougher at Omaha beach, however, where the U.S. First Division battled high seas, mist, mines, burning vehicles—and German coastal batteries, including an elite infantry division, which spewed heavy fire. Many wounded Americans ultimately drowned in the high tide. British divisions, which landed at Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and Canadian troops also met with heavy German fire.

But by day’s end, 155,000 Allied troops–Americans, British and Canadians–had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches and were then able to push inland. Within three months, the northern part of France would be freed and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

READ MORE: What Hitler Got Wrong About D-Day

Before the Allied assault, Hitler’s armies had been in control of most of mainland Europe and the Allies knew that a successful invasion of the continent was central to winning the war. Hitler knew this too, and was expecting an assault on northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. He hoped to repel the Allies from the coast with a strong counterattack that would delay future invasion attempts, giving him time to throw the majority of his forces into defeating the Soviet Union in the east. Once that was accomplished, he believed an all-out victory would soon be his.

For their part, the Germans suffered from confusion in the ranks and the absence of celebrated commander Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was away on leave. At first, Hitler, believing that the invasion was a feint designed to distract the Germans from a coming attack north of the Seine River, refused to release nearby divisions to join the counterattack and reinforcements had to be called from further afield, causing delays.

He also hesitated in calling for armored divisions to help in the defense. In addition, the Germans were hampered by effective Allied air support, which took out many key bridges and forced the Germans to take long detours, as well as efficient Allied naval support, which helped protect advancing Allied troops.

Though D-Day did not go off exactly as planned, as later claimed by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery–for example, the Allies were able to land only fractions of the supplies and vehicles they had intended in France–the invasion was a decided success. By the end of June, the Allies had 850,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy and were poised to continue their march across Europe.

READ MORE: How Many Were Killed on D-Day?

The heroism and bravery displayed by troops from the Allied countries on D-Day has served as inspiration for several films, most famously The Longest Day (1962) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). It was also depicted in the HBO -series Band of Brothers (2001).

D-Day Interactive on HISTORY.com

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