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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Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece

Year
1941
Month Day
April 06

The German air force launches Operation Castigo, the bombing of Belgrade, on April 6, 1941, as 24 divisions and 1,200 tanks drive into Greece.

The attack on Yugoslavia was swift and brutal, an act of terror resulting in the death of 17,000 civilians—the largest number of civilian casualties in a single day since the start of the war. Making the slaughter all the worse was that nearby towns and villages had emptied out into the capital city to celebrate Palm Sunday. All of Yugoslavia’s airfields were also bombed, destroying most of its 600 aircraft while still on the ground.

As part of a comprehensive Balkan offensive, German forces also bombed the Greek port city of Piraeus as army divisions swept south and west, en route to Salonica and the eventual occupation of Greece.

Also on this day: British General Alan Cunningham’s troops enter Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, formally expelling the Italian occupiers and setting the stage for the return of Ethiopia’s emperor, Haile Selassie.

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U.S. troops recapture Philippine island of Corregidor


Year
1945
Month Day
February 26

On February 26, an ammunition dump on the Philippine island of Corregidor is blown up by a remnant of the Japanese garrison, causing more American casualties on the eve of U.S. victory there.

In May 1942, Corregidor, a small rock island at the mouth of Manila Bay, remained one of the last Allied strongholds in the Philippines after the Japanese victory at Bataan. Constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment attacks ate away at the American and Filipino defenders. 

Although still managing to sink many Japanese barges as they approached the northern shores of the island, the Allied troops could not hold the invader off any longer. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, commander of the U.S. armed forces in the Philippines, offered to surrender Corregidor to Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma, but Homma wanted the complete, unconditional capitulation of all American forces throughout the Philippines. Wainwright had little choice given the odds against him and the poor physical condition of his troops—he had already lost 800 men. He surrendered at midnight. All 11,500 surviving Allied troops were evacuated to a prison stockade in Manila.

But the Americans returned to the Philippines in full strength in October 1944, beginning with the recapture of Leyte, the Philippines’ central island. It took 67 days to subdue, with the loss of more than 55,000 Japanese soldiers during the two months of battle, and approximately another 25,000 mopping up pockets of resistance in early 1945. The U.S. forces lost about 3,500.

Following the American victory of Leyte was the return of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the struggle for Luzon and the race for Manila, the Philippine capital. One week into the Allied battle for Luzon, U.S. airborne troops parachuted onto Corregidor to take out the Japanese garrison there, which was believed to be 1,000 strong, but was actually closer to 5,000. Fierce fighting resulted in the deaths of most of the Japanese soldiers, with the survivors left huddling in the Malinta Tunnel for safety. 

Ironically, the tunnel, 1,400 feet long and dug deep in the heart of Corregidor, had served as MacArthur’s headquarters and a U.S. supply depot before the American defeat there. MacArthur feared the Japanese soldiers could sit there for months. The garrison had no such intention, though, and ignited a nearby ammunition dump—an act of defiance, and possibly of mass suicide. 

Most of the Japanese were killed in the explosion, along with 52 Americans. Those Japanese who survived the blast were forced out into the open and decimated by the Americans. Corregidor was officially in American hands by early March.

READ MORE: Douglas MacArthur – General, WWII & Korean War

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Americans hold a Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden

Year
1939
Month Day
February 20
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Six and a half months before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, New York City’s Madison Square Garden hosted a rally to celebrate the rise of Nazism in Germany. Inside, more than 20,000 attendees raised Nazi salutes toward a 30-foot-tall portrait of George Washington flanked by swastikas. Outside, police and some 100,000 protestors gathered. 

The organization behind the February 20, 1939 event—advertised on the arena’s marquee as a “Pro American Rally”—was the German American Bund (“Bund” is German for “federation”). The anti-semitic organization held Nazi summer camps for youth and their families during the 1930s. The Bund’s youth members were present that night, as were the Ordnungsdienst, or OD, the group’s vigilante police force who dressed in the style of Hitler’s SS officers.

Banners at the rally had messages like “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans” and “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism.” When the Bund’s national leader, Fritz Kuhn, gave his closing speech, he referred to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “Rosenfield,” and Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey as “Thomas Jewey.”

“We, with American ideals, demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it,” declared Kuhn, a naturalized American who lost his citizenship during World War II. “If you ask what we are actively fighting for under our charter: First, a socially just, white, Gentile-ruled United States. Second, Gentile-controlled labor unions, free from Jewish Moscow-directed domination.”

Kuhn’s speech was interrupted by a Jewish-American man named Isadore Greenbaum who charged the stage in protest. Police and the vigilante force quickly tackled him, and proceeded to beat him up on stage. The crowd cheered as they threw him off stage, pulling his pants down in the process. Police charged Greenbaum with disorderly conduct and gave him a $25 fine, about $450 in 2019 dollars.

At the time the rally took place, Hitler was completing his sixth concentration camp; and protesters—many of them Jewish Americans—called attention to the fact that what was happening in Germany could happen in the U.S. “Don’t wait for the concentration camps—Act now!” proclaimed fliers advertising the protest. Outside the rally, people carried signs with messages like “Smash Anti-Semitism” and “Give me a gas mask, I can’t stand the smell of Nazis.”

In some cases, police responded to the protesters with violent attacks. In one instance, a protester escaped a mounted police officer who’d grabbed him by punching his horse in the face. As the rally broke up that night, some protesters were able to slip by police and punch departing Nazis in the face.

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Japan invades Hong Kong


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Year
1941
Month Day
December 18

Japanese troops land in Hong Kong on December 18, 1941, and slaughter ensues.

A week of air raids over Hong Kong, a British crown colony, was followed up on December 17 with a visit paid by Japanese envoys to Sir Mark Young, the British governor of Hong Kong. The envoys’ message was simple: The British garrison there should simply surrender to the Japanese—resistance was futile. The envoys were sent home with the following retort: “The governor and commander in chief of Hong Kong declines absolutely to enter into negotiations for the surrender of Hong Kong…”

The first wave of Japanese troops landed in Hong Kong with artillery fire for cover and the following order from their commander: “Take no prisoners.” Upon overrunning a volunteer antiaircraft battery, the Japanese invaders roped together the captured soldiers and proceeded to bayonet them to death. Even those who offered no resistance, such as the Royal Medical Corps, were led up a hill and killed.

The Japanese quickly took control of key reservoirs, threatening the British and Chinese inhabitants with a slow death by thirst. The Brits finally surrendered control of Hong Kong on Christmas Day.

The War Powers Act was passed by Congress on the same day, authorizing the president to initiate and terminate defense contracts, reconfigure government agencies for wartime priorities, and regulate the freezing of foreign assets. It also permitted him to censor all communications coming in and leaving the country.

FDR appointed the executive news director of the Associated Press, Byron Price, as director of censorship. Although invested with the awesome power to restrict and withhold news, Price took no extreme measures, allowing news outlets and radio stations to self-censor, which they did. Most top secret information, including the construction of the atom bomb, remained just that.

The most extreme use of the censorship law seems to have been the restriction of the free flow of “girlie” magazines to servicemen—including Esquire, which the Post Office considered obscene for its occasional saucy cartoons and pinups. Esquire took the Post Office to court, and after three years the Supreme Court ultimately sided with the magazine.

READ MORE: How Hong Kong Came Under ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Rule

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Germany declares war on the United States


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Year
1941
Month Day
December 11

Adolf Hitler declares war on the United States, bringing America, which had been neutral, into the European conflict.

The bombing of Pearl Harbor surprised even Germany. Although Hitler had made an oral agreement with his Axis partner Japan that Germany would join a war against the United States, he was uncertain as to how the war would be engaged. Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor answered that question. On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to nail the Germans down on a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time; he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. Von Ribbentrop feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort.

But Hitler thought otherwise. He was convinced that the United States would soon beat him to the punch and declare war on Germany. The U.S. Navy was already attacking German U-boats, and Hitler despised Roosevelt for his repeated verbal attacks against his Nazi ideology. He also believed that Japan was much stronger than it was, that once it had defeated the United States, it would turn and help Germany defeat Russia. So at 3:30 p.m. (Berlin time) on December 11, the German charge d’affaires in Washington handed American Secretary of State Cordell Hull a copy of the declaration of war.

That very same day, Hitler addressed the Reichstag to defend the declaration. The failure of the New Deal, argued Hitler, was the real cause of the war, as President Roosevelt, supported by plutocrats and Jews, attempted to cover up for the collapse of his economic agenda. “First he incites war, then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war,” declared Hitler-and the Reichstag leaped to their feet in thunderous applause.

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First meeting of the United Nations


Year
1946
Month Day
January 10

The first General Assembly of the United Nations, comprising 51 nations, convenes at Westminster Central Hall in London, England. One week later, the U.N. Security Council met for the first time and established its rules of procedure. Then, on January 24, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution, a measure calling for the peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.

In 1944, at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in Washington, D.C., the groundwork was laid by Allied delegates for an international postwar organization to maintain peace and security in the postwar world. The organization was to possess considerably more authority over its members than the defunct League of Nations, which had failed in its attempts to prevent the outbreak of World War II. In April 1945, with celebrations of victory in Europe about to commence, delegates from 51 nations convened in San Francisco to draft the United Nations Charter. On June 26, the document was signed by the delegates, and on October 24 it was formally ratified by the five permanent members of the Security Council and a majority of other signatories.

READ MORE: 10 Memorable Moments in United Nations History

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General MacArthur leaves Corregidor


Year
1942
Month Day
March 11

After struggling against great odds to save the Philippines from Japanese conquest, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur abandons the island fortress of Corregidor under orders from President Franklin Roosevelt. Left behind at Corregidor and on the Bataan Peninsula were 90,000 American and Filipino troops, who, lacking food, supplies, and support, would soon succumb to the Japanese offensive.

After leaving Corregidor, MacArthur and his family traveled by boat 560 miles to the Philippine island of Mindanao, braving mines, rough seas, and the Japanese Navy. At the end of the hair-raising 35-hour journey, MacArthur told the boat commander, John D. Bulkeley, “You’ve taken me out of the jaws of death, and I won’t forget it.” On March 17, the general and his family boarded a B-17 Flying Fortress for Northern Australia. He then took another aircraft and a long train ride down to Melbourne. During this journey, he was informed that there were far fewer Allied troops in Australia than he had hoped. Relief of his forces trapped in the Philippines would not be forthcoming. Deeply disappointed, he issued a statement to the press in which he promised his men and the people of the Philippines, “I shall return.” The promise would become his mantra during the next two and a half years, and he would repeat it often in public appearances.

For his valiant defense of the Philippines, MacArthur was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and celebrated as “America’s First Soldier.” Put in command of Allied forces in the Southwestern Pacific, his first duty was conducting the defense of Australia. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Bataan fell in April, and the 70,000 American and Filipino soldiers captured there were forced to undertake a death march in which at least 7,000 perished. Then, in May, Corregidor surrendered, and 15,000 more Americans and Filipinos were captured. The Philippines–MacArthur’s adopted home–were lost, and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had no immediate plans for their liberation.

After the U.S. victory at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, most Allied resources in the Pacific went to U.S. Admiral Chester Nimitz, who as commander of the Pacific Fleet planned a more direct route to Japan than via the Philippines. Unperturbed, MacArthur launched a major offensive in New Guinea, winning a string of victories with his limited forces. By September 1944, he was poised to launch an invasion of the Philippines, but he needed the support of Nimitz’s Pacific Fleet. After a period of indecision about whether to invade the Philippines or Formosa, the Joint Chiefs put their support behind MacArthur’s plan, which logistically could be carried out sooner than a Formosa invasion.

On October 20, 1944, a few hours after his troops landed, MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippine island of Leyte. That day, he made a radio broadcast in which he declared, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!” In January 1945, his forces invaded the main Philippine island of Luzon. In February, Japanese forces at Bataan were cut off, and Corregidor was captured. Manila, the Philippine capital, fell in March, and in June MacArthur announced his offensive operations on Luzon to be at an end; although scattered Japanese resistance continued until the end of the war in August. Only one-third of the men MacArthur left behind on March 11, 1942, survived to see his return. “I’m a little late,” he told them, “but we finally came.”

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Spanish Civil War ends

Year
1939
Month Day
March 28

In Spain, the Republican defenders of Madrid raise the white flag over the city, bringing to an end the bloody three-year Spanish Civil War.

In 1931, Spanish King Alfonso XIII approved elections to decide the government of Spain, and voters overwhelmingly chose to abolish the monarchy in favor of a liberal republic. Alfonso subsequently went into exile, and the Second Republic, initially dominated by middle-class liberals and moderate socialists, was proclaimed. During the first five years of the Republic, organized labor and leftist radicals forced widespread liberal reforms, and the independence-minded Spanish regions of Catalonia and the Basque provinces achieved virtual autonomy.

The landed aristocracy, the church, and a large military clique increasingly employed violence in their opposition to the Second Republic, and in July 1936 General Francisco Franco led a right-wing army revolt in Morocco, which prompted the division of Spain into two key camps: the Nationalists and the Republicans. Franco’s Nationalist forces rapidly overran much of the Republican-controlled areas in central and northern Spain, and Catalonia became a key Republican stronghold.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About the Spanish Civil War

During 1937, Franco unified the Nationalist forces under the command of the Falange, Spain’s fascist party, while the Republicans fell under the sway of the communists. Germany and Italy aided Franco with an abundance of planes, tanks, and arms, while the Soviet Union aided the Republican side. In addition, small numbers of communists and other radicals from France, the USSR, America, and elsewhere formed the International Brigades to aid the Republican cause. The most significant contribution of these foreign units was the successful defense of Madrid until the end of the war.

In June 1938, the Nationalists drove to the Mediterranean Sea and cut Republican territory in two. Later in the year, Franco mounted a major offensive against Catalonia. In January 1939, its capital, Barcelona, was captured, and soon after the rest of Catalonia fell. With the Republican cause all but lost, its leaders attempted to negotiate a peace, but Franco refused. On March 28, 1939, the victorious Nationalists entered Madrid in triumph, and the Spanish Civil War came to an end. Up to a million lives were lost in the conflict, the most devastating in Spanish history.

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London is devastated by German air raid


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Year
1940
Month Day
December 29

On the evening of December 29, 1940, London suffers its most devastating air raid when Germans firebomb the city. Hundreds of fires caused by the exploding bombs engulfed areas of London, but firefighters showed a valiant indifference to the bombs falling around them and saved much of the city from destruction. The next day, a newspaper photo of St. Paul’s Cathedral standing undamaged amid the smoke and flames seemed to symbolize the capital’s unconquerable spirit during the Battle of Britain.

In May and June 1940, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and France fell one by one to the German Wehrmacht, leaving Great Britain alone in its resistance against Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s plans for world domination. The British Expeditionary Force escaped the continent with an impromptu evacuation from Dunkirk, but they left behind the tanks and artillery needed to defend their homeland against invasion. With British air and land forces outnumbered by their German counterparts, and U.S. aid not yet begun, it seemed certain that Britain would soon follow the fate of France. However, Winston Churchill, the new British prime minister, promised his nation and the world that Britain would “never surrender,” and the British people mobilized behind their defiant leader.

On June 5, the Luftwaffe began attacks on English Channel ports and convoys, and on June 30 Germany seized control of the undefended Channel Islands. On July 10–the first day of the Battle of Britain according to the RAF–the Luftwaffe intensified its bombing of British ports. Six days later, Hitler ordered the German army and navy to prepare for Operation Sea Lion. On July 19, the German leader made a speech in Berlin in which he offered a conditional peace to the British government: Britain would keep its empire and be spared from invasion if its leaders accepted the German domination of the European continent. A simple radio message from Lord Halifax swept the proposal away.

Germany needed to master the skies over Britain if it was to transport safely its superior land forces across the 21-mile English Channel. On August 8, the Luftwaffe intensified its raids against the ports in an attempt to draw the British air fleet out into the open. Simultaneously, the Germans began bombing Britain’s sophisticated radar defense system and RAF-fighter airfields. During August, as many as 1,500 German aircraft crossed the Channel daily, often blotting out the sun as they flew against their British targets. Despite the odds against them, the outnumbered RAF fliers successfully resisted the massive German air invasion, relying on radar technology, more maneuverable aircraft, and exceptional bravery. For every British plane shot down, two Luftwaffe warplanes were destroyed.

At the end of August, the RAF launched a retaliatory air raid against Berlin. Hitler was enraged and ordered the Luftwaffe to shift its attacks from RAF installations to London and other British cities. On September 7, the Blitz against London began, and after a week of almost ceaseless attacks several areas of London were in flames and the royal palace, churches, and hospitals had all been hit. However, the concentration on London allowed the RAF to recuperate elsewhere, and on September 15 the RAF launched a vigorous counterattack, downing 56 German aircraft in two dogfights that lasted less than an hour.

The costly raid convinced the German high command that the Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over Britain, and the next day daylight attacks were replaced with nighttime sorties as a concession of defeat. On September 19, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler postponed indefinitely “Operation Sea Lion”–the amphibious invasion of Britain. The Battle of Britain, however, continued.

In October, Hitler ordered a massive bombing campaign against London and other cities to crush British morale and force an armistice. Despite significant loss of life and tremendous material damage to Britain’s cities, the country’s resolve remained unbroken. The ability of Londoners to maintain their composure had much to do with Britain’s survival during this trying period. As American journalist Edward R. Murrow reported, “Not once have I heard a man, woman, or child suggest that Britain should throw her hand.” In May 1941, the air raids essentially ceased as German forces massed near the border of the USSR.

By denying the Germans a quick victory, depriving them of forces to be used in their invasion of the USSR, and proving to America that increased arms support for Britain was not in vain, the outcome of the Battle of Britain greatly changed the course of World War II. As Churchill said of the RAF fliers during the Battle of Britain, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

READ MORE: Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night

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