Dunkirk 1940

After seeing the new movie DUNKIRK directed by Christopher Nolan last night, I wanted to recommend it to you readers. Like the top film critics, I found this film technically flawless and emotionally extremely powerful.

The film’s soundtrack by Hans Zimmer kept me on the edge of my seat.

 

In September 1939, Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland resulted in a declaration of war by France and Great Britain. A British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was sent to help with the defense of France. What followed was eight months of  “phoney war” with no major battles.  With protection of the fabled Maginot Line and the Ardennes forest, the Allied expectation was that Germany would initiate an attack against France through Belgium as it had in WWI.

German General Erich Manstein, however, decided to advance through the Ardennes Forest directly into Northern France on a route perceived by the Allies as as impenetrable. The unexpected, lightning movement by the Wehrmacht swiftly cut off hundreds of thousands of Allied troops. The only escape route was the sea.

On May 24, 1940, British and French troops were trapped between advancing German Panzer columns and the English Channel. Unexpectedly, the Germans halted their advance for an unexplained 48-hours, allowing the Allies to dig in, establish a defensive perimeter and initiate evacuation plans at Dunkirk. Over eight days, 338,226 soldiers were rescued by a make-shift fleet of >800 civilian and naval craft.

Reportedly, weather conditions limited both RAF and Luftwaffe air combat.

Britain’s limited deployment of naval vessels in the Dunkirk rescue may have been due to lack of available ships, the shallow draught of Dunkirk harbor–or possibly a reluctance, during a time when the invasion of England seemed imminent, to deploy precious capital ships to a dangerous rescue operation.

The most inspiring thing about the Dunkirk evacuation was the maritime response of  brave and courageous British civilians.

 

In the film, the Jericho Trompete sirens of the Luftwaffe Junker-87  Stuka (Sturzkampfflugzeug) emit a terrifying shriek that builds as the dive bomber approaches the target.

Some have criticized the failure of French generals during the Fall of France. Nevertheless, many ordinary Frenchmen fought bravely and honorably at Dunkirk. As British and French troops awaited evacuation on the beach, French soldiers 40 miles southeast of Dunkirk, put up stiff resistance against an overwhelming Wehrmacht force, allowing the Allies time to prepare.

 

Bomb Kills Oregon Picnickers – May 1945

Radiolab  just broadcast an excellent, detailed account of the Japanese balloon bomb incident at Bly, Oregon

LISTEN: http://www.radiolab.org/story/war-our-shore/  

 

My history-inspired novel Enemy in the Mirror: Love and Fury in the Pacific War includes a fictionalized account of the event that killed a minister’s wife and five adolescents on a church group outing in May 1945.

 

Buchenwald liberated – April 1945

WARNING: This post contains many graphic images.

The motto “Jedem das Seine  displayed over the entrance to the Buchenwald concentration camp, is an old German proverb derived from the Latin phrase “suum cuique  meaning “to each his own” or  “to each what he deserves.”

Built in the woods of Thuringia, above the municipality of Ettersberg, Buchenwald was one of the largest concentration camps established within the old German borders of 1937. By 1938, prisoners from all over Europe and the Soviet Union, mentally ill and physically-disabled people, gypsies, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, recidivist criminals, homosexuals, prisoners of war and ~10,000 Jews were interned in the camp.

 

Buchenwald inmates were deployed in forced labor, treated with extraordinary cruelty and frequent summarily executed by SS-Totenkopfverbände guards.

     

 

SS Totenkopfverbände Colonel Karl Otto Koch, the commandant of Buchenwald, with his wife, Ilse.

                          

 

Medical experiments performed on the prisoners included infecting them with contagious diseases such as typhus, typhoid, cholera and diphtheria in order to determine vaccine efficacy.

 

 

In January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced across Poland toward Germany, more than 10,000 prisoners (most of the Jews) were force-marched from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen  camps in Poland to Buchenwald.

 

 

In early April 1945, as U.S. forces approached, the Germans began to evacuate ~28,000 prisoners from the main camp and several thousand more from the sub-camps of Buchenwald. About a third of these prisoners died from exhaustion or were shot by the SS. Underground resistance leaders who held some administrative jobs within the camp were able to obstruct Nazi orders and delay the evacuation of many prisoners.

On April 11, 1945, in expectation of liberation, starving prisoners stormed the watchtowers and seized control of the camp. Some guards were killed and the remainder forced to flee into the woods. Later that day, Patton’s 6th Armored Division arrived to liberate the camp,

 

One of the first American soldiers to enter the camp described the experience:

“We were tumultuously greeted by what I was told were 21,000 men, and what an incredible greeting that was. I was picked up by arms and legs, thrown into the air, caught, thrown again, caught, thrown, etc., until I had to stop it. I was getting dizzy.  How the men found such a surge of strength in their emaciated condition was one of those bodily wonders in which the spirit sometimes overcomes all weaknesses of the flesh. My, but it was a great day!” – Captain Frederic Keffer 

From 1937 to April 1945, the SS imprisoned ~250,000 persons in Buchenwald. Since camp authorities never registered a significant number of the prisoners, mortality figures are only estimates: but at least 56,000 male prisoners (~11,000 Jews) were murdered at Buchenwald by the SS.

 

 

After liberation of the camp, villagers of Namerin were forced to file past bodies of victims murdered by the SS on the forced march.

My Japan 1945

This propaganda film was produced by the U.S. Treasury Department in 1945 in an effort to promote War Bond sales.

My Japan might be described as a heavy-handed attempt to elicit angry responses from American citizens regarding Japan’s audacity as well as contempt for their own materialistic values.

Although it now seems ludicrous with a Caucasian narrator made up to look and sound stereotypically Japanese, it is interesting to note the emphasis on hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, austerity and the need to support the war effort financially.

Nazi Child Soldiers

In 1936 participation of boys and girls in Nazi youth groups became mandatory. At the onset of WWII older Hitler Jugend (HJ) boys were conscripted into the armed forces while younger boys functioned as air raid wardens and anti-aircraft gun assistants.

Also you…

Girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) offered refreshments to departing troops on railway platforms, cared for wounded soldiers in hospitals, helped in kindergartens and assisted households with large families.

Starting in January 1943, anti-aircraft batteries were officially manned solely by Hitler Youth boys. After a raid, Hitler Youth also assisted in neighborhood cleanup and the relocation of bombed-out civilians.

As military manpower dwindled in 1943, 16-17 year-old volunteers were recruited for the 12th SS Panzer HJ Division. In the summer of 1944, Hitler ordered Hitler Youth as young as fifteen to be trained as replacements and sent to the Russian Front. On D-Day June 6, 1945, the Hitler Youth Division was deployed in Normandy.By the end of its first month in battle, 20% of the HJ Division had been killed and 40 percent wounded or missing. By September 1944, only 600 HJ had survived. The diminished HJ Division continued to exist for the duration of the war, as even younger volunteers were recruited along with a mixture of conscripts.

In September 1944, anticipating the invasion of the Fatherland, every able-bodied male aged 16 to 60 was incorporated into the Volkssturm (People’s Army) and trained to use the Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon.

Hitler Youth reportedly fought against the Allies with fanatical and reckless behavior, often fighting until there were no survivors. Many committed suicide rather than being taken captive. Toward the end of the war, in addition to participating in major battles, they were deployed as guerrillas, spies and saboteurs in territory occupied by the Allies.


In the end, as Russian forces were nearing Berlin, Hitler made the disgraceful decision to order all German youth to fight to the death in a hopeless cause.

In April 1945, just ten days before his death, Hitler came out of his Berlin bunker to decorate twelve-year-old HJ soldiers with Iron Crosses for their heroism in the defense of Berlin.

 

 

Mussolini Executed – April 1945

After being freed from an Italian prison by German special forces in 1943, Benito Mussolini established the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy.

 

Although he claimed autonomy, the republic Mussolini ruled for 1 1/2 years as Head of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was essentially a puppet state of Nazi Germany. During his rule of the Italian Social Republic, Mussolini  orchestrated the executions of several fascist leaders who had betrayed him, including his own son-in-law, Galeazzo Ciano.

In 1945, Mussolini combined his memoirs with his autobiographical writings published in 1928 in a book entitled My Rise and Fall.

In April 1945, with Allied forces approaching, Mussolini, disguised as a Luftwaffe officer, attempted to escape to Switzerland. He and his entourage were stopped by Italian partisans at Dongo, Lombardy. On April 28, 1945, close to the northwestern shore of  Lake Como, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci were summarily executed in Giulino, Como. Their bodies were subsequently taken to Milan where they were desecrated by an angry crowd and hung upside down.