this day in 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive
order 9066 which allowed the military to relocate Japanese-Americans to
internment camps. A climate of paranoia descended on the US following the attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, which prompted the US to join the Second World War. Americans of Japanese ancestry became targets for persecution, as there were fears that they would collude with Japan and pose a national security threat. This came to a head with FDR’s executive order, which led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being rounded up and held in camps. The constitutionality of the controversial measure was upheld by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States (1944). Interned Americans suffered great material and personal hardship, with most people
losing their property and some losing their lives to illness or the
violence of camp sentries. The victims of internment and their families eventually received
an official government apology in 1988 and reparations began in the
1990s. This dark episode of American history is often forgotten in the narrative of US involvement in the Second World War, but Japanese internment poses a stark reminder of the dangers of paranoia and scapegoating.
On this day in 1943, three members of the peaceful resistance movement in Nazi Germany, the White Rose, were executed. The White Rose, comprising students from the University of Munich and their philosophy professor, began in June 1942. The group secretly distributed leaflets protesting against the regime of Adolf Hitler and the war being waged in Europe, highlighting the repressive nature of the Nazi police state and drawing attention to the mistreatment of Jews. The group took precautions to avoid capture by keeping the White Rose group very small. However, on 18th February 1943, the siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl were discovered distributing leaflets by a university janitor, who informed the Gestapo. Hans and Sophie were arrested and immediately admitted guilt, hoping to avoid being coerced into implicating their fellow members of the White Rose, but after further interrogation were forced to give up the names. Four days later, the Scholls and Christoph Probst - some of the founding members of the group - were put on trial and found guilty of treason; they were sentenced to death. That same day, February 22nd, the three were executed by beheading at Stadelheim Prison. After their executions, the remaining members were arrested and killed, thus ending the White Rose resistance movement. The White Rose, alongside other groups like the Edelweiss Pirates, are an important example of Germans speaking out against Hitler’s regime, and their deaths are yet another in the litany of Nazi crimes.
“We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”
day in 1944, a group of Allied prisoners of war staged a daring escape
attempt from the German prisoner of war camp at Stalag Luft III. This
camp, located in what is now Poland, held captured Allied pilots mostly
from Britain and the United States. In 1943, an Escape Committee under
the leadership of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell of the RAF, supervised
prisoners surreptitiously digging three 30 foot tunnels out of the camp,
which they nicknamed ‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’. The tunnels led to
woods beyond the camp and were remarkably sophisticated - lined with
wood, and equipped with rudimentary ventilation and electric lighting.
The successful construction of the tunnels was particularly impressive
as the Stalag Luft III camp was designed to make it extremely difficult
to tunnel out as the barracks were raised and the area had a sandy
subsoil. ‘Tom’ was discovered by the Germans in September 1943, and
‘Dick’ was abandoned to be used as a dirt depository, leaving ‘Harry’ as
the prisoners’ only hope. By the time of the escape, American prisoners
who had assisted in tunneling had been relocated to a different
compound, making the escapeees mostly British and Commonwealth citizens.
200 airmen had planned to make their escape through the ‘Harry’ tunnel,
but on the night of March 24th 1944, only 76 managed to escape the camp
before they were discovered by the guards. However, only three of the
escapees - Norwegians Per Bergsland and Jens Müller and Dutchman Bram
van der Stok -
found their freedom. The remaining 73 were recaptured, and 50 of them,
including Bushell, were executed by the Gestapo on Adolf Hitler’s
orders, while the rest were sent to other camps. While the escape was
generally a failure, it helped boost morale among prisoners of war, and
has become enshrined in popular memory due to its fictionalised depiction
in the 1963 film The Great Escape.
“Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!” - Roger Bushell
Photograph of KV-5 prototype “Победа” shortly before it tipped over and exploded during pre-production trials, 1943. After the German seizure of Leningrad and subsequent two-pronged advance toward Moscow, Soviet industry went into overdrive, creating increasingly bizarre stopgaps as supplies of raw materials began to dry up.
The KV-5 was one of these. Intended to be a mobile artillery battery, it instead proved to be a massive failure. The first prototype, shown here, fell over during maneuver testing. Poor design of the ammunition storage racks caused the vehicle to explode, killing the crew as well as the photographer.
The second KV-5, “Родина” survived maneuver testing, but the recoil of the upper main guns broke the turret in half during weapons testing. By that time, 50 KV-5s had already been produced. Most saw success, laid on their sides, as roadblocks during the 1945 Battle of Moscow.
this day in 19423 during the Second World War, German troops surrendered to the Soviet Red Army in Stalingrad, thus ending five months of fighting. The battle began in August 1942 during the Nazi invasion of Russia
- codenamed Operation Barbarossa - and Adolf Hitler ordered an attack
on the major city of Stalingrad. Stalingrad became a major playing field
of the war, as Soviet leader Stalin was determined to save the city
which bore his name. Under the leadership of General Paulus, German
bombing destroyed much of the city and troops captured areas through
hand-to-hand urban warfare. In November, Marshal Zhukov assembled six Russian armies
to surround Stalingrad and trap the Germans in the city, barring
provisions and troops from reaching them. Many German soldiers died of
starvation and frostbite following the onset of the harsh Russian
winter, with temperatures down to -30°C, but Hitler insisted they fight
until the last man. After five months, the Russian Red Army claimed
victory when the remaining German troops surrendered in February 1943. 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner, including twenty-two
generals; this was all that remained of the 330,000 strong German force
who arrived at Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad is among the
bloodiest battles of the Second World War, causing nearly two million
casualties. The disaster depleted the
German army’s supply of men and equipment, allowing the Allies to gain
which enabled them to invade Germany and win the war.
“The God of war has gone over to the other side” - Adolf Hitler upon hearing of the German surrender at Stalingrad
this day in 1945, the bombing of Tokyo by the United States Air Forces
began. There had
been raids by B-29 bombers since November 1944, but this was one of the most destructive in history. The raid on the night of
March 9th saw 334 B-29s take off in Operation Meetinghouse, with 279 of
them dropping around 1,700 tons of bombs. 16 square miles of the
Japanese capital were destroyed, around a million were left homeless and
around 100,000 people died as a result of the firestorm. Tokyo saw many
raids such as this, with over 50% of Tokyo being destroyed by the end
of the Second World War. However the firebombing on the night of March
9/10th was the single deadliest air raid of the war; the immediate
deaths were higher than seen at Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki as single
didn’t bother me very much at that time… I suppose if I had lost the
war, I would have been tried as a war criminal…. Every soldier thinks
something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.“ - Curtis LeMay, the American general behind the firebombing campaign
Towards the end of the the Second World War a British soldier encountered a German. He believed he was about to be taken prisoner. In fact, the war-weary Wehrmacht infantryman merely asked how the Glasgow Rangers were doing.
The Dunkerque evacuation was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkerque (Dunkirk), between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during the Battle of France.
By the end of the eighth day, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats called into service for the emergency. The British Expeditionary Force lost 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign and had to abandon nearly all of their tanks, vehicles, and other equipment (enought to equip about eight to ten divisions).
Between 30,000 and 40,000 men were left behind and forced to surrender to the Germans.