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Eighth day of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation from Dunkirk. 26,256 men reach Britain.
The War at Sea, 1939-1945, Volume I: The Defensive, S. W. Roskill. This first volume in the British official history of the war at sea covers the period from the outbreak of the war through to the first British disasters in the Pacific in December 1941. Amongst other topics it covers the Norwegian campaign, the evacuation from Dunkirk and the first two years of the Battle of the Atlantic. The text is meticulously researched, and is rooted in a detailed study of wartime records, both British and German. [see more]
Italy During WWII
Benito Mussolini (left) and Adolf Hitler (right)
Please look at the excellent article Italians in WWII, by Justin Demetri
The years from 1940 to 1945 in Italy, as well as in many other countries of the world, were those of the Second World War. The Italian military effort in those years has been often criticized: while the army of Italy was thought to have poorly performed during the war, this was mainly because of the circumstances at the time.
For Italy, it all began in June 1940, when the French government declared Paris an open city after German armies invaded the country. At the time, Mussolini felt the war would not have lasted long, and declared war on France and Britain. Mussolini had the aim of expanding colonial holdings of Italy in North Africa, by taking colonies from France and Britain.
The Attack on France
The Italians launched their first attack on France in June, 1940. After being successful initially, they stalled at the Alpine Line. France surrendered to Germany in the same month, and Italy captured a few areas of France along the Italian–French border.
In November 1942, the Italian army invaded again South-eastern France and Corsica. From the following month, an Italian military government was established on the east side of Rhone River. This continued until September when Italy decided to quit the war against France.
North African Campaign
Italy never really experienced any achievements in North Africa. Within a week of declaring war in 1940, the British had seized Fort Capuzzo in Libya. Throughout its permanence on North African soil, the Italian army experienced several sets back and numerous logistic issues, often solved only by the intervention of better equipped and better lead German troops.
Battle of Britain
Italian FIAT CR32 – Photo courtesy of Elwood/wikipedia
Dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, intended to support the German effort on the British front during the Battle of Britain. The contingent from the Italian Royal Air Forces (La Regia Aeronautica) set to participate to the Battle of Britain were known as CAI, il Corpo Aereo Italiano, or Italian Air Corps. The CAI travelled to Belgium in 1940 and first attacked in October of that year. Italian aircrafts had joined fights towards the end of the battle.
All of the equipment used by the Italian Air Corps was obsolete and could not match to that of Britain or Germany. Due to this, Italy did not gain much success during the battle.
Along with several other well known battles in 1940, the Italians also started their East African campaign in June. The front had been opened from their colonies in East Africa: Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. Like in Egypt, the Italian forces joined hands with the native army and outnumbered the British troops. However, Italian East Africa was far away from the mainland: this resulted in the forces being cut off from their supply, causing the ultimate halting of operations in the area.
Alpini on the Russian Front
During the early East African attacks, two different methods were adopted: first, attacks were held both towards Kenya and Sudan. Later, in August, Italian troops advanced in Somalia, a land once owned by the British. After a few casualties, British troops were evacuated from the region by the Italian forces.
Even before Italy declared war, Mussolini had shown great interest to the lands of Albania. At the beginning of 1939, while the other countries were only focused on Hitler’s advances on Czechoslovakia, Italian troops attacked Albania in April. In spite of a strenous resistance from the natives, Italy was able to quickly take control of the country.
Invasions of Italy
Operation Husky – Landing beach on the invasion of Sicily
In July 1943, the British and American troops joined hands and attacked Sicily in an operation known as Operation Husky. The German troops took up the cause and helped Italy defend the attacks. Though they lost Sicily to the allies, they did succeed in sending a large number of Italian and German forces to safety from Sicily onto the mainland.
Later that same month, an air raid on Rome caused havoc in the city, provoking destruction on military as well as civil and historical sites. With these attacks, the people of Italy, demoralised and hungry, felt less and less to support the war effort of their country. In July 1943, the Italian dictator Mussolini was ousted by the Grand Council of Fascism. The new government, which had been led jointly by the popular King, Victor Emmanuel III and Pietro Badoglio, took over the power, after having abandoned, however, the capital.
The Royal Italian government based in Puglia (not to be mistaken with the Fascist Republic of Salò ruling the North of the country) soon began secret negotiations with the allies to bring an end to the war. This was mostly dedided because of the dire situation of Italian population and because of the achieved awareness the army was not in a state fit to fight a war. In September 1943 an armistice was secretly signed between Italy and the allies at the Fairfield Camp located in Sicily. This had been announced a few days later. By this time the allies were already in mainland Italy.
Winston Churchill had always regarded southern European countries to be military and politically weak: during the First World War, he advocated in favor of the Dardanelles operation and then later, during the Second World War he supported the idea of creating a main operative area in the Balkans. Churchill had called Italy the soft underbelly of the continent and had therefore decided to invade the country.
However, Italy proved not to be an easy target for the forces. Due to the rugged mountain terrain the Italian troops had excellent positions for defense however, it did ignore the advantage that the allies had in terms of mechanized and motorized weapons and units.
The Yalta Summit in 1945.From left to right Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Josef Stalin
The final victory of the allies over the axis in Italy did not happen until the spring of 1945. This happened when the allies had crossed the Gothic Line. This resulted in the surrender of all German forces on Italian soil. With this, the Second Word War finally ended for Italy.
Rennes, Brittany, France, June 1940. After Dunkirk, escaping to the west,. Chapter 2 sequel.
Leading Aircraftman Thomas William Ross (617913) Royal Air Force, killed Sunday 16th June 1940 aged 21. Thomas was the son of Patrick and Teresa Ross of Cabra, Dublin, Ireland.
Rennes Monday 17th June 1940, Chapter 2.
This contribution is dedicated to the memory of Leading Aircraftman Thomas Ross (617913) Royal Air Force, of Cabra, Dublin Ireland, who was killed, aged 21, on Sunday 16th June 1940 and is buried in Eastern Communal Cemetery, Rennes, Brittany, France.
Sequel 18th July 2005
In my further research into the Luftwaffe bombing attack on the railway complex in Rennes Monday 17th June 1940, I had come across maps of the Department Ille-et-Villaine and noticed a small town named Guichen located approximately 20kms south of Rennes. By co-incidence Guichen is ‘twinned’ with my home town of Skerries, Fingal, North County Dublin, Ireland. Having contacted the local twinning association and told the story of Serjeant George Fitzpatrick and the bombing attack, which in turn was relayed to their counterparts in France, I was amazed to receive a reply from a local Frenchman, Jean Rocher, now living in Rennes and 11 years old in 1940, whose father was a rail worker in Rennes, witnessed the attack and survived by taking shelter under a bridge. Furthermore the twinning group had organized a visit to Guichen this year and I was invited to participate. A visit to the CWGC section of Rennes cemetery was included in the programme of events for the twinning visit together with a visit to a location overlooking the railway where the bombing took place. My brother and I laid a poppy wreath on Serjeant George’s grave, he played the last post and together with a large group of people, both from Ireland and France, we conducted a small commemorative service and concluded by singing Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover, which must rank as one of the best hope for peace songs ever.
In my search of CWGC records for Rennes I had discovered only one named serviceman from Ireland, Leading Aircraftman Thomas Ross. To my further amazement one of the people involved in the ‘twinning’ is a work colleague of a nephew of Thomas and the group also included him in our commemorative service on the day.
‘For our todays they gave all of their tommorrows’
After 65 years this was an amazing series of co-incidences, with way leading on to way and culminating at the gravesides in Rennes.
11th November 2005.
The text of our commemorative service is here reproduced.
Monday 18th July 2005, Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery
Let us all join together to remember those who have died for the cause of our freedom and lie here in eternal rest. On this day let us particularly remember Serjeant George Fitzpatrick who was killed here in Rennes, with so many of his comrades, on Monday 17th June 1940. Let us also remember Leading Aircraftman Thomas Ross who was killed on Sunday 16th June 1940 and also lies here at rest.
For our todays they gave all of their tomorrows.
They shall grow not old, as we that are here grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them
Let us be hopeful for the reconciliation that has been established between nations once opposed in war, for the people of all nations and their leaders that those divisions that remain may be healed.
Let us cherish the treasure of peace, let us remember all who now live amid conflict and those who live in fear of violence and oppression.
Let us wish that our remembrance on this day may be for good and practical service and the world be better for our children and our children’s children.
And finally let us all pray together as we have been taught as Christians
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy name, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever and ever. Amen.
Following the return to Ireland of the Skerries twinning group the local newspaper The Fingal Independent, with circulation in North Co. Dublin, Co. Meath and Drogheda, featured a three page, including photographs, article on events in Rennes Monday 17th June 1940 and our more recent commemorative visit on Monday 18th July 2005.
This article was written by the paper’s editor Hubert Murphy and is reproduced with editor’s permission
In remembrance of Serjeant George Fitzpatrick and Leading Aircraftman Thomas Ross.
Monday June 17th 1940, on a fine summer morning at 10:30a.m. death rained from the sky on stationary trains, packed with refugees and soldiers bottlenecked in the railway complex at Rennes, Brittany in western France. Over 800 people died, men, women and children together with British and French servicemen, when German dive bombers blasted train after train. One of those struck was a munitions trai, its destruction caused fierce explosions, which ripped through the morning air and spiralled bodies and debris in all directions.
Amongst those killed were servicemen left behind after the mass evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, which had ceased two weeks previously. Contrary to popular myth the BEF was not totally evacuated by that time. There remained a dispersed and straggling army of about 150,000 men, now fleeing westwards in groups of various sizes and in the forlorn hope of making their escape as best they could, the grim alternatives being death or prisoner of war camp. But on this day in Rennes, the hope of escape for one group, would die. One of those killed with this group was Serjeant George Fitzpatrick, a 30-year-old member of the Royal Engineers.
Today, his white gravestone stands proudly with so many others in a little section of a cemetery close to the spot where they all died as comrades exactly 65 years ago. Recently, David Grundy from Red Island in Skerries, visited this grave and stood and shed a silent tear for a man he never knew but deeply respected, a grand-uncle who died in the ultimately successful struggle to free Europe of the Nazi threat.
‘It was strange really, I’d never been to Rennes but from what I’d researched on George I knew exactly where his grave was. It was a special moment’ he states. The recent trip to France was the climax to decades of family stories of past days. David, his brother Alan and sister Susanne always knew about George, he was one of many in the family who served but he was the only one who never returned. ‘George was my maternal grandfather’s youngest brother and was born in Cheshire in England in 1910. My Mum Joan and her brother Leo knew him very well as he often visited Ireland prior to the war. They both spoke highly of him and were the last living link to George. If they were alive today they would be so proud of the recent events to commemorate his memory. We were told growing up that George was killed at Dunkirk in a train blast and as young people we never thought too much about it after that.’ Then more recently one day, an article in the Fingal Independent, caught his attention. There was a report on Fingallians who were killed in the two world wars and it was mentioned that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had a web site dedicated to the memory of the casualties of both wars. ‘In a moment of idleness, I decided to enter George’s name in the search page and to my astonishment it returned details of only one man, my grand uncle George. But the site disclosed that George had not died at Dunkirk as believed. He had been killed in Rennes, 800 kms away to the west and two weeks after the evacuation. It was then I decided
to find out, as best I could, what had happened to him’, A copy of a commemorative edition of a French newspaper, Ouest France, published in 1960, sourced by my son Douglas’ girl friend Frederique Piedfert, revealed the full horrors of that June day in 1940, when as the invading German army advanced across France, civilian refugees and allied troops fled westwards, the Luftwaffe bombers blitzed the railway at Rennes. So fierce were the fires, they blazed for a full week’. He also discovered that Skerries’ twinned town in France, Guichen, is located just 18km south of Rennes and the Skerries twinning group had planned a trip to the area this summer to celebrate a decade of successful twinning with Guichen. He made contact with Brendan Friel and Marie Stafford of the twinning group and they got in touch with a contact there, Jean Rocher, who immediately knew all about the incident in 1940. His family had fled from the invaders as refugees from Rouen a short while before and had been living with relatives near Rennes. Jean’s father, who worked with the railway, had been there the morning of the attack but managed to hide under a bridge and lived. But it was into the darkness of the following night before he could return to his anxious family to say he had survived. With the support of the Skerries Twinning Association, David, his wife Denise and brother Alan headed to France with the group and met Jean and other locals and in a poignant ceremony laid a poppy wreath at the grave of Serjeant George Fitzpatrick. However their visit not only commemorated George but also another man with a strong association to Fingal and buried in the same cemetery.—Thomas William Ross. Dominic and Geraldine McQuillan, friends of the family, laid a bouquet of flowers on Tom’s grave.
Although a native of Cabra in Dublin, Tom had a Balbriggan link. Harry Reynolds, the famed cyclist, had a son called Frank and he married Tom’s sister Nora. Tom was reportedly killed in a train station but that was on Sunday June 16, the day before the mass bombing. He was 21 and a Leading Aircraftman with the RAF and like his comrades, was making his way to the coast. ‘I’ve met with a nephew of his, Dermot Reynolds, who like me feels these men who died for our freedom should never be forgotten because they gave the ultimate sacrifice for the future generations and our freedom. their lives’.
For our todays they gave all of their tomorrows.
They shall grow not old, as we that are here grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
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Soviet-Romanian War-June 1940
While Churchill would undoubtedly want to prosecute the war with Germany vigorously, if the Luftwaffe pulls out for the most part to head to Romania I'm not sure the British people do. They won't have experienced the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, so there is some possibility that British political opinion would go toward letting the Soviets and Germans fight it out while Britain recovered militarily and economically. Britain was in no shape to fight, and getting ready to fight would (and historically did) bankrupt them in six to nine months. Of course historically the US bailed them out with Lend Lease.
Without a blitz/Battle of Britain, the US probably wouldn't feel anywhere near as threatened, which might make US weapons and eventually money much less forthcoming for the Brits.
It never ceases to amaze me how many people think their own ancestors were a bunch of [obscene female anatomically explicit epithets]. Letting them "fight-it-out" is all very well if you're at peace and 3rd Republic France is sitting across the Channel. But with the last friendly ally in the west gone and the U-Boat War wiping out Britain's merchant marine, it's hardly "someone else's war now". Also, the new ally is demanding a Second Front Now! Not something to be totally ignored when Britain wants them to keep fighting. And there is relatively easy pickings in Ethiopia and Libya. Also occupying where possible the French Empire. Especially with no distractions in Greece/Crete.
And forget about the Blitz/BoB. It was the Fall of France that in America scared the fecal material out of all but the most ferocious isolationists. Hence, the nomination of Wendell Willkie, just about the only prominent (dark horse, really) interventionist in the Republican Party.
Lend-Lease was inevitable, and was a good deal for the US, as well. Those bases would be vital in going after u-boats later in the war.
At this point I'm agnostic on how long the Romanians could hold off the Soviets. I suspect that a week or two for the Soviets to overrun much of Romania is a major overestimation of Soviet capabilities for offensive action in June 1940, but I would be interested in seeing more details of how you arrived at that time frame.
My skepticism is based partly on the abysmal performance of the Soviets against the Finns, but mainly on their lack of anything equivalent to the Panzer divisions at this point. Essentially, large numbers of machine guns, rapid-fire rifle and artillery slowed the tempo of war, leading to the stalemates of World War I. Until the problem of firepower on the defensive was solved, it stayed slowed down. The Germans solved the slowdown with their Panzers, but that was because they perfected a combined arms team, not because they had a lot of tanks.
I don't see anything in the Soviet order of battle in June 1940 that would allow quick panzer-like offensives. They had a lot of tanks, but those tanks weren't organized into combined arms divisions, and they didn't have the number of trucks or radios to make deep offensives work at this point. Soviet tank formations at this point were like a heavy club, compared to the German Panzers' rapier. The Soviets were quite capable of offensives that broke through a line. They were probably not capable of then exploiting those breakthroughs to win quick strategic victories.
I said Moldavia the area the Soviets claimed, which is small and would fall in one or two weeks. To even a plodding Red Army advance. I never suggested the Red Army march to Budapest in that time-frame. Even so the Romanians Army wouldn’t stand up to the Soviets for long. OTL battles with the Soviets under better circumstances and with German support ended very badly for the Romanians. Whose army as I said wasn’t in good shape.
As for Finland. The Soviet performance was bad in the beginning, but the circumstances, mindset and likely leadership of the Soviet forces invading Romania are so different. You might as well try to compare the Italian campaign in Ethiopia to the Battle of Stalingrad.
Lastly even if the Soviets cant rapidly exploit breakthroughs. Their sheer firepower and numerous attack,s will grind the Romanian army to pulp, The Romanian army could start falling apart under constant pressure, even if the Soviets don’t manage any major encirclements.
The timing doesn't work for the Anglo-French to have their resistance stiffened. French armistice = June 22,1940. Soviet ultimatum = June 26, 1940. Soviet/Romanian fighting would have started roughly a week after the French surrender, at a point where the British had been driven off the continent and were obviously in no condition to come back. Italy had already entered the war against the British and French (on June 10, 1940). Romania was also Italy's only remaining source of oil, so Italy standing by while the Soviets overran the oilfields would not be in the cards.
Those oilfields would also be an issue if the Soviets made large-scale use of their air force. The Germans would not stand by while the Soviets bombed anywhere close to their main source of oil.
Ah, I didnt Notice the date on the thread title.
Of course the Germans might try to cut a deal with the Soviets, as for Italy they had their own problems and their army was a hopeless case. At least the Red Army had large numbers of good officers ready to step up. Italys officer corps was rotten aide from a handful of commanders who survived Mussolini's own much less known purges of the Italian army.
Some other aspects of this:
1) The Red Army is going to be losing planes over Romania, especially once the Luftwaffe arrives in force. The 'over Romania' part is significant because those pilots are dead or POWs. Pilots take longer to train than planes do to build.
2) While Churchill would undoubtedly want to prosecute the war with Germany vigorously, if the Luftwaffe pulls out for the most part to head to Romania I'm not sure the British people do. They won't have experienced the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, so there is some possibility that British political opinion would go toward letting the Soviets and Germans fight it out while Britain recovered militarily and economically. Britain was in no shape to fight, and getting ready to fight would (and historically did) bankrupt them in six to nine months. Of course historically the US bailed them out with Lend Lease.
3) Without a blitz/Battle of Britain, the US probably wouldn't feel anywhere near as threatened, which might make US weapons and eventually money much less forthcoming for the Brits.
4) If Germany intervenes in Romania, the Soviets cut off economic ties. That has a huge impact on the German economy. It doesn't help the Soviet economy much either. The Soviets got stuff from the Germans in return for those raw materials that the Germans regretted during Barbarossa.
5) No blitz means that the Luftwaffe isn't losing planes and pilots over Britain. It also isn't running down fuel stocks in the Battle of Britain.
1)The Soviets lost more pilots and planes during Barbarossa than they would during these war-time conditions. Also as the Red Airforce will be a going concern from day one of the war unlike OTL. German losses to the Red Airforce will also be greater than OTL.
2) British public opinion had hardened against Germany long before point. Seeing the U.S.S.R fighting Germany will be a cause for relief and raise morale. British attitude towards prosecuting the war will not change. Britain would tolerate a Nazi-dominated Europe even less than it would tolerate a Europe dominated by Napoleon.
200+ years of British foreign policy and OTL actions back up my argument. The fact that we’re dealing with the Nazis, only adds more weight to that.
3) Debateable, the USA will still be shipping goods to Britain and FDR will still be very hostile to Nazi Germany. He’ll find a pre-text to start shipping aid to Britain.
4) The Germans are hurt more, they’ve lost a lot of time, they used OTL to build up armaments and raise new troops. The Soviets had most of their OTL 1941 equipment already built and as they haven’t been caught by total surprise allowing ¾ of their army to be wiped out in a couple of weeks. With a properly organized mobilization underway…The Germans come out much worse.
5) Again debatable, the Germans will need to use a significant part of their airforce against Britain either way. And it’s unclear whither or not Goring will suggest to Hitler, that his Luftwaffe can handle the Soviets and beat the RAF at the same time. It wouldn’t be out of character for him to do so.
Yes because Benny the Moose was never jealous of Hitler or wanted to carve out his own empire.
Of course at this stage Italian armies in Africa are getting their arses handed to them by local British forces they grossly outnumbered.
Is It? For one the Romanian Army isn’t in great shape itself, and the kinds of battles we’re talking about favour the Soviets greatly. Yes the Finns did well but under much different circumstances that could no be repeated in this scenario.
The Romanian airforce would be quickly overwhelmed and the Soviets would overrun Moldavia within a week at most two. The Romanian Army his neither the supplies or numbers to resist a serious Soviet invasion. As to the casualty figures given at best the Romanians will get a 1 to 1 ratio, more if the Soviets try to cross major rivers. Assuming the Romanian army is in any shape to contest such an attempt.
Hitler can try to aid Romania but by doing so automatically has got himself a two-front war, which will stiffen Anglo-French resistance, and possibility cause other Axis powers like Italy and Hungary to remain neutral. Finland wont join the war on the German side either. Of course all that assumes Romania doesn’t sue for peace once it’s armies in Moldavia are mangled, their airforce wiped out and navy sunk.
If one considers how the Romanians performed OTL against the Soviets in Bessarbia July 1941, the Romanians were not in that bad shape. And the Soviets were on the defensive then.
You seriously over-estimate the Red Army's offensive capabilities. Spain 1937-38 (the Republican Army was organised along the lines of and fought like the Red Army), Finland 1939-40 and Barbarossa 1941-42 showed the weaknesses of the Red Army. They lacked the communication and staff structure to handle their heavy divisions. Deep penetration had been abandoned and tanks spread out to support the infantry. The purges had removed some of the best higher officers, but above all it had stymied all initiative. Soviet officers looked over their shoulders and obeyed orders, nothing else. Regardless of how much casualties it caused - discipline and communist zeal was to replace flexibility an tactics, something which did not work in Spain, in Finland or in the first year of the German invasion.
What is more important is that the Soviets did not KNOW and UNDERSTAND this. They still tried to attack like they could control their forces - with heavy cacualties. In three wars they did this before they realised that they needed to centralise heavy weapons, reduce the power of the commisars and work out staff and communication structure - all other Soviet offensives with success before that were brute-force ones where they secured enough local superiority (through innovative tactics like maskirovka, sure, but anyway). The Soviets did not get good at understanding what they were bad at and compensate for it until Summer 1942 or so.
I see no reason why the invasion of Romania would be any different. The Soviets will blunder, a new commander will take over, build up enough resources for a brute-force offensive across Dnestr and Prut (yes, these rivers WILL be a major obstacle for the Soviets).
As for the air force, the Finns managed 120:11 in casualties against the Soviets (and this was just LLv 24) with Fokker D.XXI. The Romanians have Pzl P.11f which is about equilent, and Bf 109E, He 112 and Pzl P.24E that are clearly superior to Fokker D.XXIs.
The Finns started the Winter War with one fighter unit, LLv 24 with 36 Fokker D.XXI (plus reserves) and ended it with four fighter units with a total of 87 fighters (4 Brewster Buffalo, 25 Fokker D.XXI, 23 Fiat G.50, 23 Ms.406 and 10 Hurricane I).
The Romanians had on stock in June 1940
50 Pzl P.24E (2 cannons, 2 mg)
14 Pzl P.7A (2 mg)
50 P.11B (2 mg)
33 P.11C (2 mg)
95 P.11F (4 mg)
30 He 112 (2 cannons, 2 mg)
69 Bf 109E (2 cannons, 2 mg)
12 Hurricane Mk I (8 mg)
Bombers, army cooperation and recon planes
200 Potez 25
50 IAR 37
50 IAR 38
95 IAR 39
37 Blenheim Mk I
23 Potez 633
The Romanians also have a small but decent air industry themselves - IAR 39A and IAR 80 are just about to start rolling out from serial production in June 1940.
Even if the Romanians only do half as well as the Finns and only use the most modern of their fighters (Pzl P.11f and up), they will shoot down at least 1500 Soviet planes with their fighters.
I knew there had been a previous thread on the subject.
The Romanians pulled out without major fighting.
Basically, Romania didn't actually need assurances. The fact that, unless a peace treaty would somehow magically appear after the fall of Bessarabia, they would continue harassing the Soviets, forcing them to invade Romania proper (thus cutting off Germany and Italy from their oil, ending the whole military adventurism schtick) was more than sufficient for Romania to (accurately) consider Germany's (and Italy's) posturing a hollow façade. Unfortunately, in the matter of spinal columns, most of the political leaders and more than a few military ones resembled this reasonably accurate depiction:
It sure would require more balls than brains from the Romanian government.
Also, Stalin cared a lot for German friendship - even if he wanted to exact a price for his own friendship, he only wanted to push Hitler so far. Are we supposing truly extraordinary circumstances that make it impossible for Stalin to preserve Russo-German ties and have the issue settled diplomatically ?
Might be an interesting start for WW2's Eastern front, that's for sure.
If Rumania did fight, which is probably pretty unlikely under the circumstances, and start to fall, triggering a German intervention in force this would not only affect the BoB and possibly the Italian invasion of Greece. Under those circumstances are either Rome or Berlin going to be particularly bothered about Tripoli. [Berlin being more important here of course]. Especially since the wheels coming off with Operation Compass rearing the Italian armies apart being some way off. Think it's rather unlikely that the Afrika Korp would cross the Med under those circumstances. Could see Libya liberated fairly quickly provided no major butterflies. That would have huge impact on the shape of the future war, possibly especially in the Far East.
There is another factor to consider. I agree that under the circumstances Britain will still get substantial aid from the US, although hopefully it will need it less and see so without a BoB crisis. However will there be the same willingness to support Russia massive given that the trigger for the conflict here is a Russian assault on Rumania rather than a massive attack on Russia by Germany. It might take a little longer than OTL to get aid rolling, especially since the situation might look far less serious for Russia, or at least Stalin.
Possibly if Greece isn't attacked the initial aid to Rumania while Germany regroups would be the Italian forces that OTL attacked Greece? Not the best but better than nothing and possibly initially fairly decent moral. [No defeats in Libya yet and joining in a crusade against communist aggression]. That won't last but a number of Italian divisions and air support would help stiffen the Rumanian lines.
General opinion seems to be that the situation would be better for Russia. Probably but not necessarily. They will suffer far less losses if Germany counter-attacks and cuts off their spearheads in say Aug-Sep followed by scattered fighting in various places. However there is the danger that Stalin will assume he will be in a position to launch massive offensives in early 41, as he tried doing in early 42 OTL. If so the Red Army could suffer crippling losses near the front early next year. After that difficult to tell how things will go.
That would have mattered had the Romanians went on the offensive against the Soviets (like the Japanese did). The Romanians were on the defense, however (and the Soviets would only become good at large offensives after 1942).
What many forget is that the Romanians wouldn't have needed to actually win. They couldn't, they knew they couldn't, and everyone else knew they couldn't. What they could've/should've done would have been a real-life Xanatos Gambit (yes, yes, groan all you wish) to call Germany's and Italy's bluff. They just needed to suck not-bad-enough, for the USSR to want an assault on 'inner' Romania, so that Germany and Italy would be forced to make several hard (for themselves) choices (and bring the whole M-R charade tumbling down).
Several misconceptions here:
(1) I'm not British, so my ancestors were not involved.
(2) You're assuming that the Soviets are immediately accepted as Britain's new allies. Let's see if that works. Step One: The Soviets invade Romania, a country whose security the British (and French, though that doesn't matter at this point) have guaranteed. At this point the Germans and Italians have NOT yet intervened. The British government can't actually do anything about the attack, but they can and will ramp up the rhetoric against the Soviet, making comparisons to the Soviet invasion of Finland, etc. British (and US) public opinion puts the Soviets even more firmly in the aggressor camp. Step Two: There is a period of a week or two, maybe up to a month, where the Germans and Italians are putting pressure on the Romanians to just give up the provinces. British and US governments and public opinion sees this as the dictators ganging up on another victim. Step Three: When the Romanians don't back down and the Soviets threaten their oil sources, the Germans move airplanes and troops east, which the British and US perceive as the prelude to an attack on Romania, thus again putting the Soviets in the perceived role of part of the aggressor team. Step Four: If Stalin doesn't back down, the Germans intervene. Fighting starts.
The Brit and US public has been hearing for several weeks to a month about Soviet aggression and the Brits have been making ineffectual noises about helping the Romanians. When fighting breaks out, there is no guarantee that it is more than a minor skirmish over spoils of war. Given that political background, I would be interested in seeing your rationale for the British rushing to declare the Soviets their new ally. The more rational course would be to wait a while for the public to forget the Soviets as aggressors meme, and wait for developments. From a British and US perspective, the fighting over Romania may well fizzle out, and the two sides come to another agreement.
That's actually the most likely result of this scenario. The Soviets don't want war with Germany in the summer of 1940, and will want it a lot less after they get a taste of it. The Germans want war with the Soviets, but not starting in mid-July 1940 with no preparations. Likely outcome: A couple of weeks to a month of fighting that leads to the Germans taking back the disputed provinces, plus a few dozen miles of Soviet territory along the border, followed by a ceasefire and pullback to the original Romanian border, with fighting restricted to Romania.
(3) I wasn't as precise as I should have been on Britain's course of action. When I said, "Let them fight it out while Britain recovers militarily and economically" I wasn't saying that Britain would suddenly accept German hegemony over Europe. What I had in mind was a more rational rebuilding of British forces at a somewhat more sustainable pace rather than a panic-driven and wasteful "throw money at it to get capability now!" approach. In late June/July 1940 the Brits were obviously incapable of offensive action anyway, even against the Italians, so why not take advantage of the situation to be a bit more rational in their buildup?
And forget about the Blitz/BoB. It was the Fall of France that in America scared the fecal material out of all but the most ferocious isolationists. Hence, the nomination of Wendell Willkie, just about the only prominent (dark horse, really) interventionist in the Republican Party.
Lend-Lease was inevitable, and was a good deal for the US, as well. Those bases would be vital in going after u-boats later in the war.
You're right to a point here. Fall of France did scare the US. But why did it scare the US? If you look at what US leaders were saying privately and to some extent publicly, the concern was that the Fall of France would be quickly followed by the fall of Britain, with the possibility of the British fleet falling into German hands. The fall of France was shocking and unwelcome, but not in and of itself a national crisis. The US perception that it was likely to be followed by the fall of Britain was what made it a national crisis.
As to Lend Lease being inevitable: I have to disagree on that one. In less desperate circumstances I don't see the Brits agreeing to give up their export markets and key bases. Lend Lease said essentially "The US saves Britain. Britain gives up any possibility of being a great power at the end of the war." That's only something a proud great power would accept if it had no other choice.
Italian Forces and Industry in Early World War 2 (1939-1940)
Prior to World War 2 both Hitler and Mussolini were boasting about their military forces to each other. Mussolini announced in 1934 that he can mobilize 6 Million soldiers, in 1936 he increased the number to 8 million and in 1939 to 12 million. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 54, in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3) If those numbers sound a bit off, well, Operation Barbarossa was largest military invasion in history and it was conducted by around 4 million soldiers. Nevertheless, the Italians managed to mobilize around 3 million soldiers, yet these soldiers were basically worse equipped than the Italian troops in World War 1. Quite in contrast to the German and Japanese forces, the Italian forces were not ready for a war against any major force.(Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 54, in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
The question is why the Italian Armed Forces were not ready, there are several reasons for this, in general the Italian and Fascists system was quite inefficient. First, the Italy had a limited amount of industries, which weren’t properly prepared for arms production. Second, the allocation of resources and organization was limited, additionally similar to Germany and Japan, Italy also had a severe lack of resources. Third, the wars in Ethiopia and Spain required resources that the Italians couldn’t spare, after all those conflicts dragged on far longer than anticipated. As a result the Italian forces were not ready when the war started in 1939. Mussolini was quite aware of this problem, after all, he insisted on a period of peace during the negotiations of the Pact of Steel – “Stahlpaket” with Germany and didn’t join the war until June 1940 by declaring a war on France. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 54-56, in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Organization before the war
At first, some word about the general organization of Italian Army before the war. Like other countries Italy drew lessons from experiences in Spain and Ethiopia, yet their forces were still in reorganization when the war started and the industry couldn’t match the requirements for the required motorization or even the basic equipment that was needed.
In 1937 the Italian Army restructured its divisions from the common system of tripartite to a bipartite system, the so called “binary” system, where each infantry division only consisted of 2 infantry regiments instead of 3. Something that is also portrayed in Hearts of Iron III and Hearts of Iron IV, as you can see here for the division builder of an Italian division in 1939 and a British division in 1939, but be aware though that the Hearts of Iron IV basic divisions layouts lack artillery regiments, furthermore the so called support companies historically usually were battalions, as you can see here with a basic German infantry division from 1940. Yet, from a game design perspective it makes sense to call them companies, because so you can’t mix them up with your regular battalions when writing about division compositions on the forums. Anyway, if you want to learn more about unit organizations, check out the playlist on my various organization videos.
Now, the intention of the binary system was to make the units more capable for mobile warfare, the units should be easier to command and be more mobile. The lack in manpower should be countered with modern equipment, yet, this was wishful thinking because the Italian industry couldn’t even provide basic equipment in sufficient numbers. On the outside the binary system created more divisions, but basically this was only useful for propaganda and didn’t increase the capabilities of the Italian Army. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S.56-57 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Next up, is a brief look at the Situation in September 1939 and then a more detailed look at the state in June 1940.
Situation in September 1939
Let’s look at the state of the Italian forces in the beginning of the War in September 1939, when Italy was still at peace. In short the Situation of the Italian Armed forces in September 1939 was abysmal. Yet, you need to keep in mind that Italy didn’t enter the war before June 1940.
At first the Army, it had had 67 divisions without the units in Ethiopia, these divisions consisted of
3 Fast division
5 Alpini, and
11 other division for special purposes.
Yet, only 16 of these division were completely restructured, furthermore there was a lack of artillery, tanks, transport-vehicles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Even basic supplies like quality food was lacking, so basically the Army had a severe lack of almost everything. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S.58-59 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
The Navy was better equipped in terms of basic supplies like food and ammo, but it also lacked anti-aircraft capabilities on its ships and in its bases. Yet, there was severe lack of fuel. Still, in comparison with the other branches the Navy was the best equipped and prepared.
The Italian Airforce the “regia aeronautica” also had major problems, there was a vast amount of different aircraft types and additionally the ground crews were of limited quality, this lead to low number of operational aircraft of less than 50 % in September 1939, when only 1190 planes were operational out of 2586. Furthermore, most aircraft were usually underpowered and under-armed. [Something most War Thunder players are highly aware off “Spaghetti guns”.] (Schreiber, Gerhard: S.58-59 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
As a result of that dire state of the Armed forces and the severe lack of ammo, weaponry, fuel, transport capacity and personnel, the ministry for war production in December 1939 advised Mussolini that only an army of 73 division would be feasible instead of the originally planned number of 126. Yet, still the industry wasn’t capable in equipping those units sufficiently til the entry of Italy in into the war in June 1940, but nobody assumed that Italy would enter the war that early. Well, seems like Mussolini had a tendency for premature – declarations. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 58-59 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
The Situation in June 1940
Now, after the Italian declaration of war in June 1940 the situation was a bit different, but not much, but let’s take a more detailed view.
First the Army, in June 1940 Italy entered the war with a total of a bit less than 1.7 million soldiers (1 687 950) and a total of 73 divisions..
Whereas in 1915 the Italian army joined the war with more men, it was also an army that had similar quality weapons and equipment like other majors, but in 1940 this was clearly not the case. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 59 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Of the 73 divisions only 19 had the required amount of personnel, equipment,weapons and transport capacity. Another 34 division were operational, but lacked personnel (25 %) and transport capacity. The last 20 divisions lacked more than 50 % personnel, a significant amount of equipment and 50 % of transport capacity. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 59-60 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
The infantry formed the mainstay of the Italian army, but the firepower of an Italian infantry division was according to Gerhard Schreiber only about 25 % of a French Infantry division or around 10 % of a German infantry division. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 61 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3) Now, I don’t know how the author determined those numbers, but here is a direct comparison on the numbers of a Italian and German Infantry division with the intended equipment and personnel:
Comparison between an Italian and German Infantry Division in 1940
Ital. ID (1940) German ID (1940)
449 Officers 518 Officers
614 NCOs 2573 NCOs
11916 Men 13667 Men
12 Heavy howitzers (sFH) 15 cm
6 Heavy infantry support guns 15cm
12 100mm howitzer 36 Light howitzers (lFH) 10,5 cm
24 75mm guns 20 Light infantry support guns 7,5 cm
8 65 mm mountain guns
8 47mm anti-tank gun 75 3,7cm anti-tank guns
8 20mm anti-air guns
30 Mortar 81mm 54 mortar 8,1 cm
126 Mortars 45mm 84 mortar 5cm
80 Heavy machine guns 110 Heavy machine gun
270 Light machine gun 425 Light machine guns
(Source for the German Division: Alex Buchner: Handbuch der Infanterie 1939-1945)
The most important differences here are the low number of NCOs in the Italian division, NCO form the backbone of every army, thus this lack of leadership definitely didn’t improve the overall quality of the division. Furthermore, the biggest Italian gun had 100mm and only 12 were assigned to a division, whereas the Germans had 3 times that and additional 18 guns with 150 mm of caliber. Now, the Italians had a variety of guns ranging from 75mm to 20mm, but almost all in low numbers and of various types this is basically a logistical nightmare with limited firepower, especially in combination with the severe lack of transport capacity and weak industry. Also in terms of infantry support weapons like mortars and machine guns the Germans had an advantage.
Based on that data, I assume the firepower difference was calculated based on how much shell weight each division could deliver for a specified amount of time. At first you can’t spot a 1 to 10 difference, but you need to consider the weight differences of higher caliber guns. Let’s take a look at the weight of a 15 cm howitzer shell, it was about 50 kg whereas the 10,5 cm howitzer could only deliver a shell of around 15 kg. The shell weight and thus the resulting firepower can easily missed, if one looks only at the caliber alone. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15_cm_Kanone_16 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10.5_cm_leFH_18 )
Yet, this comparison assumes that the division was fully equipped with artillery, but Italy had a severe lack of modern artillery and anti-aircraft guns, it lacked about 15 000 modern artillery guns and the industry could only put out less than 100 per month. This meant that the Italians had a limited amount of modern artillery and since that wasn’t bad enough there was also a lack of ammo. The situation with tanks was not much better and those tanks were also to a large degree simple light tanks of limited combat capabilities. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 61-65 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Furthermore, the Italian industry had a lack of resources, how dire the situation was can be best expressed with some numbers. These are the percentages on the Italian estimate for meeting the requirements of 1940:
Artillery (all types) 6 %
Ammo, small caliber 25 %
Ammo, medium caliber 7 %
Ammo, heavy caliber 10 %
Rifles (Model 1891) 35 %
Machine Guns 10 %
Mortar 81mm 70 %
Ammo, Mortar grenades 81mm 10 %
Planes 42 %
Engines 40 %
Bombs under 1000 kg 40 %
(Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 66 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
One can assume that Mussolini would get führious from the “insufficient resources” icon popping up all the time, if he would play Hearts of Iron.
One can assume Mussolini would have gone mad from the “insufficient resources” icon popping up all the time, but he was probably already mad already.
Now, the Italian Navy was by far the strongest part of the Armed Forces. For the Mediterranean the numbers of the Italian fleet were quite considerable: (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 77 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3) Here is a comparison between the Italian, British and French Fleets assigned to the Mediterranean.
Italy UK France
Type Number Tonnage Number Tonnage Number Tonnage
BB 4 117240 5 148350 5 116165
CV 0 0 1 22600 0
CA 7 70000 0 0 7 70000
CL 12 74630 9 51000 7 51723
DD & TP 125 120335 35 48200 57 67250
Submarine 113 88000 12 13000 46 49000
Note that 2 of these 4 Italian battleships weren’t fully operational yet in June 1940. Also, due to the lack of the Italian industry these numbers can be a bit misleading from strategic point of view, because the British had way better capabilities to construct new ships in contrast to the Italians, thus losses on the Italian side had a greater strategic impact. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 75-78 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Furthermore, these numbers don’t represent the quality of the ships, its crews nor other important factors. Nevertheless the Italian ships meet the international standards unlike their army units. Although, there was some major problems. First the lack of air coverage by land based aircraft due to range and insufficient coordination with the air force, of course the aforementioned missing naval air arm was also a major flaw in the Italian Navy structure. Second, the power plants of the ships had limited reliability and there was a general lack of anti-aircraft weapons for the ships and harbors. Third, the lack of a radar on Italian ships had a crucial impact during the Battle of Matapan against the British. The Germans had their own radars, but only after the loss at Matapan informed the Italians about their radar and provided assistance. (Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 75-78 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
Now, let’s take a brief look at the Air Force. In June 1940 the “regia aeronautica” had 1796 operational planes and 554 non-operational ones (total 2350), thus it clearly had a higher readiness ratio than in September 1939, the total number of planes is actually a little lower than in 1939, this is probably due to the fact that this number doesn’t include training planes. Yet, a major problem was the lack of a proper naval aviation, which is quite problematic for a country that has a quite extensive coastline. Although Italy had some good air frame designs it lacked mostly powerful engines and also its production capabilities were not the best to put it very mildly, well, time for an international comparison. Schreiber writes about the Italian aircraft industry the following:
“Italy basically achieved between 1940 and 1943 an average output per year that was slightly above the British monthly average of produced aircraft in 1943.”
(Translated & cited from the German version of Germany and the Second World War – Volume III)
“Italien erreichte also zwischen 1940 und 1943 im Durchschnitt eine jährliche Fertigungsquote, die etwas über dem lag, was die britische Luftfahrtindustrie 1943 in einem Monat ausstieß.”
(Schreiber, Gerhard: S. 71 , in Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg, Band 3)
There is a strong tendency to give the Italian soldiers a bad reputation for being cowards and unreliable, which certainly is influenced by the fact that in World War 1 the Italians turned against their former Allies the German and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Nevertheless, in World War 2, Italian soldiers fought as brave as their allies and foes, thus there is no reason for the continuous disrespect about their combat capabilities, which was mostly a result of the poor state of their industry, equipment, weaponry and supply situation.
As said before soldiers deserve our respect, even if we don’t share their side and/or views.
PICTURES FROM HISTORY: Rare Images Of War, History , WW2, Nazi Germany
1940. June. France has been defeated. Crestfallen French representatives arrive to 'discuss' surrender treaty with Nazi Germany
German and French offocials at the talks.
France hands over formally the Maginot Line to Germany.
Handing over the Belfort Fortress
German troops march at the elaborate ceremony of the surrender of France. Hitler wanted France to sign the surrender in the same rail coach in which representatives of a defeated Germany had been forced to sign the surrender in 1918. Rubbing it in, one could say.
Goering arrives. On his right is Petain, the head of the puppet regime of Vichy France.
Hitler arrives. One can see, he is full of pride.
(Hitler's face) "is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph."
William Shirer was a radio reporter for CBS News. We join his story as he stands in a clearing in the forest of Compiegne next to the railroad car where the ceremony will take place. Hitler and his entourage arrive just moments before the ceremony:
"The time is now three eighteen p.m. Hitler's personal flag is run up on a small standard in the centre of the opening.
Also in the centre is a great granite block which stands some three feet above the ground. Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it, steps up, and reads the inscription engraved in great high letters on that block. It says:
"HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE. VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE."
Hitler reads it and Goring reads it. They all read it, standing there in the June sun and the silence. I look for the expression on Hitler's face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry - angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his high Prussian boot. He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too - revengeful, triumphant hate. Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire.
. It is now three twenty-three p.m. and the Germans stride over to the armistice car. For a moment or two they stand in the sunlight outside the car, chatting. Then Hitler steps up into the car, followed by the others. We can see nicely through the car windows. Hitler takes the place occupied by Marshal Foch when the 1918 armistice terms were signed. The others spread themselves around him. Four chairs on the opposite side of the table from Hitler remain empty. The French have not yet appeared. But we do not wait long. Exactly at three thirty p.m. they alight from a car. They have flown up from Bordeaux to a near-by landing field. . Then they walk down the avenue flanked by three German officers. We see them now as they come into the sunlight of the clearing.
. It is a grave hour in the life of France. The Frenchmen keep their eyes straight ahead. Their faces are solemn, drawn. They are the picture of tragic dignity. They walk stiffly to the car, where they are met by two German officers, Lieutenant-General Tippelskirch, Quartermaster General, and Colonel Thomas, chief of the Fuhrer's headquarters. The Germans salute. The French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call "correct." There are salutes, but no handshakes.
Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise as the French enter the drawing-room. Hitler gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. Ribbentrop and Hess do the same. I cannot see M. Noel to notice whether he salutes or not.
Hitler, as far as we can see through the windows, does not say a word to the French or to anybody else. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We see General Keitel adjusting his papers. Then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble to the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Goring glance at the green table-top.
The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop. The French, like figures of stone, remain at the green-topped table. General Keitel remains with them. He starts to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice.
Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour."
German planes fly over an occupied Paris
Top German generals with the French delegation.
The Miracle of Dunkirk
On June 4, 1940, over 338,000 Allied troops were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk after being cut off and surrounded there for weeks.
After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the United Kingdom sent the British Expeditionary Force to help defend France. There they fought alongside the Belgian Army and the French First, Seventh, and Ninth Armies.
US #907 was issued to raise US support for the war.
On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands as part of the Manstein Plan to invade France. While one part of the German force attacked Belgium, another drove toward the English Channel. As the Germans closed in on the Allies, their governments began planning what to do next. Upon discovering that the French didn’t have any troops stationed between the Germans and the sea, they realized that the best option would be to evacuate them across the English Channel. This meant they would need to start withdrawing to Dunkirk because it was the closest spot with good ports and the longest sand beach in Europe.
The British began planning the evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, on May 20. That same day, they sent a commander to Dunkirk to start evacuating some of the men. Low on food and water, the troops at Dunkirk were desperate to leave, and many officers that were ordered to stay behind snuck onto the boats.
US #907 – Classic First Day Cover.
By May 24, the Germans captured the port of Boulogne and surrounded Calais and just one British battalion stood between them and Dunkirk. That same day, the German Fourth Army commander issued a halt order for the panzer units, as he worried they would get stuck in the marshes around Dunkirk. Hitler supported the order, which many consider to be one of the greatest German mistakes of the war. With the German advance halted, the Allies had time to build up defenses and finish preparing for the evacuation. On May 26, Hitler ordered the panzers to advance, but several units waited an additional 16 hours before they started their attack.
Item #MXM006 – Collection of US and Worldwide stamps and First Day Covers honoring World War II.
Just before 7 p.m. on May 26, Winston Churchill gave the order for Operation Dynamo to begin (28 men had already been evacuated in the days before). On that first day, 7,669 men were evacuated. The next day, one cruiser, eight destroyers, and 26 other craft arrived to aid in the first full day of evacuations. Naval officers searched nearby boatyards to find smaller boats that could transport the men from the beach to the larger ships. They also put out a request for more boats, and by May 31 another 400 small boats arrived to aid in the evacuation.
Throughout the early days of the evacuation, the German Luftwaffe bombed the town and docks. These knocked out the water supply and claimed 1,000 civilian lives. The Luftwaffe’s orders had been sent out without being coded, so the British knew of the attack and sent in the Royal Air Force to fight back. Meanwhile, in other areas, pockets of French and Belgian troops were surrounded and forced to surrender as they ran out of food, water, and ammunition.
Item #M7930 pictures the legendary aircraft of WWII.
The evacuations continued for several days, until June 4, when the last of the 338,226 soldiers were evacuated. During the course of the battle, over 61,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded and 35,000 were captured. The same day the evacuation ended, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons. In his famed speech, he said, “We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills we shall never surrender.”
Item #M12177 was issued for the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death.
Forgotten Fights: Malta's Faith, Hope, and Charity, 1940
The courageous volunteer pilots of three obsolete British biplanes nicknamed Faith, Hope, and Charity engaged enemy raiders in combat over Malta in June 1940.
Top Image: Gloster Gladiator in flight over Egypt, 1941. Courtesy Imperial War Museums.
Malta is a tiny archipelago situated between Sicily and Tunisia. Sitting astride the sea lanes between the western and central Mediterranean Sea, it has been strategically important since ancient times. When World War II began in 1939, Malta was a British possession, and an important post linking Gibraltar in the west to Egypt and the Suez Canal in the east. It also could serve as a stepping stone—or a significant barrier—between Sicily and the Italian colony of Libya in North Africa.
Hoping to keep Italy out of the war, the British government strongly considered handing over Malta to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as a bribe. Prime Minister Winston Churchill helped quash that idea, and fortunately so, for when Italy entered the war on the side of the Axis on June 10, 1940, just as France was falling to German invasion, Malta immediately became vital to British efforts to hold onto the Suez Canal and the Middle East.
Mussolini’s air force—the Regia Aeronautica—launched its first assaults on the Maltese islands on June 11. The harbor of Valletta received special attention. Unfortunately for the Maltese people and the small British garrison, nothing seemed available to counter the constant Italian air attacks. What planes were available had been relegated to the defense of Great Britain, or to Egypt.
Scrounging around, however, Air Commodore Foster Maynard discovered a number of packing crates that had been left behind by a visiting aircraft carrier earlier in the war. Inside, disassembled, were some Gloster Gladiator biplanes. With a design dating all the way back to 1934, this single-seater fighter was by 1940 already obsolete. With a maximum speed of only 257mph, the plane was much slower than the monoplane fighters that dominated most air combat in Europe. Still, the Gladiator was a durable aircraft, and it was maneuverable while also being easy to fly.
Maynard’s mechanics eventually were able to assemble six of the Gladiators, but this only allowed them to put three aircraft in the air at any one time, with the other three being used as backups and for spare parts. Still, the British were desperate to be able to put anything into the air against the Italians—not just to interfere with their bombing raids, but to prove to the people of Malta that somebody was fighting to defend them against enemy bombs.
The Italian aircraft soaring over Malta may not have been up to German standards, but they were nevertheless effective and far more modern than the Gladiators. They included the Macchi C.200 monoplane fighter, with a maximum speed of 313mph, and the tri-engine Savoia-Marchetti 79 bomber, which with a maximum speed of 290mph could also outrun or, with a full payload, at least match the speed of the lumbering Gladiators. To do any damage at all to the Italians, the British pilots would have to employ their aircraft creatively, to say the least.
Gloster Gladiator “Faith,” as refitted later in the war before being presented to the people of Malta. Courtesy Imperial War Museums.
Still, the Gladiators gave all they had. As Maltese civilians gathered to watch the air combat in the clear blue Mediterranean skies, they were delighted to see the biplanes swoop fearlessly to engage the Italians. The biplanes were immediately recognizable because of their shape, and soon seemed to take on personalities of their own to those watching from below. Somewhere along the way they acquired the nicknames of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
Over the 10 days from June 11-21, 1940, these three Gladiators (really six aircraft used interchangeably) and their dedicated volunteer pilots formed Malta’s only defense against enemy bombing raids. Later in June a few Hurricane fighters bolstered the island’s defense but still the old Gladiators had to take to the air. "You would take off in a Gladiator with some of the few Hurricanes we had on the island and head up towards the Italians," Flight Lieutenant James Pickering remembered many years later. "Sometimes there would be a hundred plus—clouds of bombers and fighters swarming above. And then, in a moment, you would be on your own—everything else had overtaken you."
Incredibly, the Gladiators managed to shoot down several Italian aircraft against the loss of only one British plane shot down at the end of July. The intrepid British pilots managed to disrupt the Italian raiders, forcing them to emphasize self-protection rather than accuracy, and sometimes to drop their bombs off-target. The Gladiators’ most important role, however, was in bolstering the confidence of the people of Malta and their small, ragged crew of British defenders. They would need that confidence in the years ahead, as the German Luftwaffe joined in the bombing to the point that by 1942 Valletta became the single most heavily bombed place on earth. In April of that year, King George VI awarded the George Cross to the entire island "to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.”
British liner ETTRICK (11,279grt) embarked 2000 troops and King Zog of Albania from St Jean De Luz
British Trinity House Light Vessel VESTAL evacuated light house personnel and civilians from Alderney
French light cruiser EMILE BERTIN departed Halifax with the 300 tons of gold brought there from Brest to proceed to Fort de France.
Heavy cruiser DEVONSHIRE shadowed the French light cruiser, but lost touch with her.
Light cruiser EMILE BERTIN arrived at Martinique on the 24th.
At 1700, aircraft carrier EAGLE and destroyers HYPERION, HOSTILE, HASTY, HEREWARD, HAVOCK, HERO, IMPERIAL, ILEX of the 2nd Destroyer Flotilla of Force C departed. At 2000, battleships ROYAL SOVEREIGN and RAMILLIES, also of Force C, departed Alexandria.
Force B with light cruisers ORION (VAD), LIVERPOOL, GLOUCESTER with destroyers JUNO and JANUS departed Alexandria at 2130.
At 2200, battleship WARSPITE, light cruisers NEPTUNE and SYDNEY, destroyers NUBIAN, MOHAWK, DAINTY, DEFENDER, DECOY of Force A were to sail.
However, at 2153 the operation was cancelled due to the French Armistice.
French heavy cruisers TOURVILLE and DUQUESNE (VAX), light cruiser DUQUAY TROUIN, destroyers STUART and VAMPIRE of Force D did not cast off.
Force A returned to Alexandria immediately. Forces B and C returned to Alexandria the next day.
Heavy cruiser DORSETSHIRE departed Freetown and joined Aircraft carrier HERMES off Dakar to watch French battleship RICHELIEU, escorted by destroyer FLEURET, which arrived at Dakar on the 23rd.
- Armed merchant cruiser MALOJA was already patrolling off Dakar.
French destroyers FORTUNE, BASQUE, FORBIN departed Haifa for Alexandria.
The next day, Amiral Godfroy at Alexandria was ordered to take his force to Beirut, but Admiral Cunningham informed Amiral Godfroy that he would not be allowed to comply.
Destroyer VELOX entered Vendres at 0600/23rd.
Destroyer KEPPEL arrived Sete at 0740/23rd and found French destroyers TARTU, CHEVALIER PAUL, CASSARD in harbour.
At 1345, the French destroyers departed Sete. At 1830, French destroyer PALME and tanker LA RANCE arrived.
During the afternoon of 24 June, British steamers OAKCREST (5407grt), BRITANNIC (26,943grt), LORD COCHRANE (4157grt) arrived at Sete.
Involved in the evacuation of Port Vendres and Sete were British steamers APAPA (9333grt), COULTARN (3759grt), GARTBRATTAN (1811grt), VICEROY OF INDIA (19,627grt), ASHCREST (5652grt), SALTERSGATE (3940grt), NORTHMOOR (4392grt), NEURALIA (9182grt) and Egyptian steamers MOHAMED ALI EL KEBIR (7290grt) and ROD EL FARAG (6369grt) . Thirty nine ships in all were employed.
12,832 troops were evacuated from Sete, Vendres, Marseilles.
Destroyer KEPPEL departed Sete with Egyptian steamer MOHAMED ALIEL KEBIR and joined destroyer VELOX which departed Vendres at 0300/26th with British steamer APAPA. The ships travelled in company to Gibraltar. They arrived at Gibraltar later on the 26th.
Late on the 23rd, light cruiser GALATEA evacuated British and Canadian diplomatic personnel from Bordeaux.
The warships arrived at Plymouth on the 24th.
- Destroyer WATCHMAN was to consult with British consul and impress upon the French the British intention of continuing the war.
Countries that were attacked, occupied, or switched sides during the war (Most countries below had declared their neutrality before being assaulted.)
- Albania (occupied by Italy April 7th 1939, by Germany September 26th 1943)
- Belgium (invaded by Germany May 10th 1940)
- Czechoslovakia(1) (Bohemia and Moravia occupied by Germany March 15th 1939)
- Denmark (occupied by Germany April 9th 1940, Greenland occupied by USA April 9th 1941)
- Estonia (occupied by the Soviet Union from June 18th 1940, by Germany September 5th 1941, re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944)
- Finland (attacked by the Soviet Union November 30th 1939 and June 26th 1941)
- France (surrendered to Germany June 22nd 1940)
- Greece (invaded by Italy October 28th 1940, German occupation from April 6th 1941)
- Iceland (occupied by Great Britain May 10th 1940, by USA from July 1941)
- Latvia (occupied by the Soviet Union from June 18th 1940, by Germany June 25th 1941, re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944)
- Lithuania (occupied by the Soviet Union from June 18th 1940, by Germany June 22nd 1941, re-annexed by the Soviet Union in 1944)
- Luxembourg (invaded by Germany May 10th 1940)
- The Netherlands (invaded by Germany May 10th 1940)
- New Guinea
- Norway (invaded by Germany April 9th 1940)
- Poland (invaded by Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939)
- Tunisia (Occupied by USA in 1943)
- Yugoslavia(3) (German occupation from April 6th 1941)
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