Tuesday, February 11, 2020

How Was Hitler's Invasion of Poland Different Than That of Austria and Czechoslavakia?

One Domino After the Other - Until You Run Out of Dominos

Hitler in Prague worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler looks out over his new conquest of Prague in 1939.
How was the invasion of Poland differently from the almost peaceful occupations of Austria and Czechoslovakia of just months earlier? Why did the German plan to invade Poland result in a world war when the previous two invasins did not? We'll come to a definite answer to that question here.

As everyone familiar with the war knows, Adolf Hitler ran out of luck in Poland. Before that, he skillfully played a game of bluff and intimidation that resulted in virtually costless conquests for his armies. However, Poland turned out to be quite a different matter. Let's compare the German annexations of Austria and Czechoslovakia with his attempt to do the same with Poland.

Hitler in Vienna with Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich. worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Adolf Hitler in Vienna with (left to right) Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich.


Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg was no match for Hitler. He met with Hitler in hopes of accommodating the Fuhrer. Instead, Hitler threatened to invade and coerced Schuschnigg into naming supporters of the Third Reich to his cabinet. Austria did not have nearly enough armed forces to resist militarily. The appointees included hard-core Hitler supporter Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Minister of the Interior. This was the beginning of the end of an independent Austria.

Schushnigg pleaded with Great Britain and France for help. Since Austria did not have any defense treaties with other major powers, there was nobody to come to its aid.

Hitler and Austrian leader Schushnigg worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The negotiations between Hitler and Schuschnigg were big news.
Finally, Schushnigg realized his support within the country was slipping, so he called a binding plebiscite regarding annexation for 9 March 1938. Hitler was furious at this attempt to deny him victory. He put all sorts of pressure on him and moved troops to the border. Schuschnigg resigned two days later, on 11 March 1938, and gave a vapid resignation speech in which he advised the country not to resist a German invasion.

That was all that Hitler needed. He accompanied his troops into Austria the very next day, and the Anschluss was officially declared on 13 March 1938. Austria was alone and defenseless and the Allies really didn’t care what happened to it.

Women cheering Hitler in Czechoslovakia worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Czech women and girls cheer the arrival of German troops.


Czechoslovakia was a slightly different matter than Austria, but not by much. Hitler planned an invasion of Czechoslovakia, which he discussed with his generals on 20 May 1938 (Case Green). He also ramped up military production of things like U-boats and battleships to show that he “meant business.” Case Green was planned for 1 October 1938. Perhaps hearing about Hitler’s plans, the Czechs ordered a partial mobilization on 21 May 1938.

The Allies were divided about supporting Czechoslovakia. The Polish ambassador to France, fearing an invasion of his own country, told the French they would not help. Not only that, they might block any attempt by Soviet forces to cross their territory to help the Czechs (unlikely as that was). The French didn’t trust the Poles and thought they might switch sides to join with Germany. There were massive confusion and distrust on the Allied side.

Sudetendeutsches Freikorps paramilitary organization troops worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Ethnic Germans of the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps paramilitary organization in Czechoslovakia that was affiliated with the SS-Totenkopfverbände.
The British acted as a sort of indifferent middleman. They told Czech president Edvard Beneš to work things out with Hitler. Beneš, however, had his own problems. The key defense area facing Germany, the Sudetenland, was populated with a high proportion of ethnic Germans. During World War II, “ethnic Germans” in other nations were often quite loyal to Germany and Hitler. Hitler inflamed their passions with highly questionable tales of supposed “atrocities” against them. These ethnic Germans, no doubt buttressed with actual Germans who simply drove across the border, began organizing demonstrations in support of Hitler and could cause Beneš and his military a lot of problems. A Czech "Freikorps" paramilitary organization, Sudetendeutsches Freikorps, was organized by ethnic Germans to cause trouble. It was similar to ones organized immediately after World War I that Hitler and his cronies remembered vividly.

Hitler meets Chamberlain in Berchtesgaden worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German leader Adolf Hitler greets British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (with Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop on the right) on the steps of "The Berghof," near Berchtesgaden, on September 15, 1938 (Federal Archive Figure 183-H12478).
Hitler continued applying pressure on Beneš. He sent a massive force of troops to the border on “maneuvers” and ramped up the propaganda war. By September, things were beginning to get dicey, so British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden. Hitler made a big speech about the “right of self-determination” of the ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland. Chamberlain was non-committal and flew back to England without any agreements.

Hitler in Prague with SdP founder Konrad Henlein worldwartwo.filminspector.com
SdP founder Konrad Henlein with Adolf Hitler.
Beneš could see what was happening and tried to fight back. He issued an arrest warrant for the Sudetenland leader of the ethnic Germans, Konrad Henlein, who had founded the Sudeten German Party (SdP). However, Henlein was in Germany at the time, so that was an exercise in futility.

Finally, the British and French reached a decision. They told Beneš to just give Hitler the Sudetenland in exchange for military guarantees. Beneš resisted, but Hitler now had what he wanted. He ramped up the agitations of the SdP, which began outright terrorist activities on 17 September 1938. This brought matters to a head, and once again Chamberlain flew to Germany. He told Hitler that he could have the Sudetenland. Poland later chipped in that, since Czechoslovakia was giving away free land, it also wanted the disputed Těšín district.

Hitler shakes Neville Chamberlain's hand in Munich worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A grateful Adolf Hitler shakes the hand of Neville Chamberlain upon the signing of the Munich Pact.
That led directly to the infamous Munich Pact. Realizing that he had been sold out, Beneš agreed on 25 September 1938 to what Chamberlain and Hitler, later joined by France, had decided. Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain met on 30 September 1938 and signed the Munich Agreement. Beneš, disgusted, resigned on 5 October 1938.

Czech fortifications in the Sudetenland worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Sudetenland contained massive Czech fortifications that were designed to stop an invasion from Germany. Without those defenses, Czechoslovakia was virtually defenseless.
The Munich Pact gave Czechoslovakia’s entire defense region, with its massive forts and defensive structures, to Hitler. Czechoslovakia then began to break up, with Slovakia breaking off on 14 March 1939 and pledging allegiance to the Third Reich.

Hitler with Emil Hácha worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Hitler talks with Emil Hácha, Edvard Beneš's successor.
Hitler quickly sent troops into the defenseless rump state of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939, defying the Allies military guarantees to it, which, as Hitler expected, were not honored.

Pre-war Polish PZL-P-37 planes worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Unlike Austria and Czechoslovakia, Poland was ready, willing, and able to defend itself - or so it thought. Here, pre-war Polish PZL-P-37 planes are lined up.


The German plans for Poland were not that much different than for Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hitler always had his eyes on the lands of the East for “Lebensraum,” or the natural area of expansion of the Germanic peoples. He thought he might be able to pick Poland off as he did his earlier conquests. However, the Poles, having seen what had happened to Austria and Czechoslovakia, took precautions. On 31 March 1939, it established tight military alliances with France and the United Kingdom.

However, the alliances were only as strong as the will to honor them, and that was quite uncertain. Chamberlain in particular thought he could still make acceptable deals with Hitler. However, Hitler’s appetite had grown and he wanted to fulfill Germany’s manifest destiny as he had outlined it in the 1920s in “Mein Kampf.”

Polish 7TP light tanks in 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Polish 7TP light tanks in 1939.
As in previous instances, Hitler began planning an invasion. However, he held out hopes until the very end that he could work another deal like the Munich Pact over Poland. On 14 August 1939, he set a date for the invasion of late August (later pushed back to 1 September 1939). He basically disregarded the Allied guarantees to Poland. However, he was very worried about the Soviet reaction. So, he had his Foreign Minister, Joachim Ribbentrop, reach a quick deal with the Soviets where they would also invade Poland after the German invasion and then split it and the Baltic states among them.

Birger Dahlerus worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Birger Dahlerus was an amateur diplomat who practiced shuttle diplomacy between the Reich and Great Britain in the months leading up to World War II.
Hitler negotiated with the British and French right up until the day of the actual invasion and beyond. In fact, as Chamberlain went on the radio on 3 September 1939 and affirmed that Britain would honor its guarantees to Poland and declare war, the Germans’ unofficial emissary, Swedish businessman Birger Dahlerus, was waiting on the phone on hold for him from Germany.

German and Soviet troops at the 22 September 1939 military parade worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German and Soviet troops combined to invade Poland. Here, members of the Wehrmacht converse with Red Army soldiers at the 22 September 1939 joint military parade in Brest-Litovsk, Poland.


I went through all of that to show that the invasion of Poland was different simply because of the attitude of the Allies. That was basically all that changed. The positions of France and Great Britain, and in a sense that of the Soviet Union, was the only difference. They decided to stand up for Poland when they had not lifted a finger to defend either Austria or Czechoslovakia. Sometimes, your fate is not in your own hands, and that was the case for Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland in the late 1930s. That is why World War II began with the invasion of Poland and not with the invasions of Austria and Czechoslovakia.

I also pointed out that Poland’s own position about Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia was quite deferential. In fact, Poland not only accepted it, but Poland even chose to profit from it as well. Not exactly a profile in courage. The Soviet Union later did exactly the same thing regarding Poland. Things are much different when it is not one’s own head on the block, though, that's when you go screaming for help. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Auschwitz concentration camp worldwartwo.filminspector.com
By not standing up to Hitler earlier, and even trying to profit from his political adventurism, Poland wound up with institutions like this - Auschwitz concentration camp.


Monday, February 10, 2020

German Success Relied on Trains and Horses During World War II

The Wehrmacht Advanced with Panzers and Armored Cars? No, Horses and Trains

German train worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A German train of the World War II era.
The German Army (Heer) acquired a fearsome reputation during the early years of World War II. It conquered numerous countries in lightning campaigns (Blitzkrieg) and then valiantly defended the Reich as the world turned on it.

This reputation, however, was based on a secret that all the flashy tanks and artillery pieces camouflaged. The secret was that the Heer was, at its core, a 19th-Century army whose mobility was based upon trains and horses. It was lacking in virtually every material necessary to equip a modern army. It made do with what it had to the best of its ability while the Allies had enough oil and steel to make trucks in abundance. So, German troops relied on railroads and horses.

German horses hauled supplies, artillery, and other equipment worldwartwo.filminspector.com

Germany's Strengths and Weaknesses

Germany had very few sources of oil, steel, rubber, and numerous other commodities that a military that is based around the internal combustion engine requires. Rubber was scarce because trade to its sources was cut off by the Royal Navy. There were simply inadequate sources of the other commodities (and the Reich had to import a lot of steel from “neutral” countries like Switzerland and Sweden). The Wehrmacht had to work within these limitations, and it did so by prioritizing systems that used materials that it had in abundance while limiting its scarce commodities to systems that absolutely required them.

German relied on their horses and wagons worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A common scene in the Wehrmacht: men tending to their horses and wagons.
What did Germany have in abundance? Besides millions of men willing to fight and die for the Fatherland, it had some excellent infrastructure, efficient farming communities with lots of horses, and an abundance of coal. Each of these was used to its maximum degree in the service of the Wehrmacht transport network.

Understanding the Reich’s infrastructure is absolutely critical to understanding the strengths and limitations of the Wehrmacht. Everyone knows about Hitler’s autobahns, and they were certainly extremely useful to his armies as they marched outward (and later to the Allies as they marched inward). However, what many people miss is the importance of the highly developed rail network of the Reichsbahn.

German train worldwartwo.filminspector.com

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the railways for the Wehrmacht. Coal was plentiful, one of the few things in relative abundance, and that was ideal for the use of trains. They carried virtually everything of importance: freight, soldiers, products and supplies. If you look carefully at maps of the Wehrmacht’s front lines in the Soviet Union, you may notice a curious aspect: the front often bulged outward along rail lines. This especially was the case during the retreat in 1943–45 as oil supplies ran tight. This is not a coincidence.

German armored train worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A German armored train. All those vital railway lines had to be protected.

German Strategy Revolved Around Rail Lines and Horses

German armies were absolutely dependent upon supplies and reinforcements brought to them by rail. Troops transferring from Germany to the front usually were brought to a railhead as close to the front as the lines ran and then got out and walked. Sure, the Germans had motor transport, but it was usually reserved for headquarters troops and the like.

German horses could haul in the depths of winter when motor vehicles without antifreeze had issues worldwartwo.filminspector.com
If there were no trains available, horses and wagons were the only options even in the dead of winter.
Once in place, the troops still had to be supplied. This was done using a tried and true method. Weapons, ammunition, and other supplies would be brought to the railhead and then they would be loaded into horse-drawn wagons., The number of horses was larger than the number of vehicles. They did not require scarce commodities like oil and rubber. The Wehrmacht began Operation Barbarossa with 600,000 motor vehicles and 625,000 horses. That gives you an idea of the importance of horses.

German railroad track destroyer Schienenwolf worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Realizing the critical importance of railroads to their own war effort, the Germans developed ways of denying those benefits to their enemies. Here, troops use the specially designed railroad track destroyer ("Schienenwolf") to rip up tracks in Italy during their retreat (Fraß, Federal Archive Bild 101I-308-0799R-11). 
It is easy to point to this military weakness or that of the Western European countries that the Wehrmacht subdued in its Blitzkrieg assaults as the cause of their defeats. However, their main vulnerability lay in their well-developed rail lines that interconnected with the German lines. This made them relatively easy places for the Wehrmacht to supply its troops with whatever they needed. The rail lines led directly into Belgium and the Netherlands and then south into France, past the Maginot Line. Given proper supply networks, the Wehrmacht supply network could operate efficiently and supply the rapidly advancing panzers and infantry with everything that they needed. However, the situation was much different in the Soviet Union, where often a single rail line serviced a huge swathe of territory.

Without available rail lines and horses, the Wehrmacht was immobile. That had a very big impact on the course of World War II.

Site of the bridge at Kalach then and now worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The site of the bridge at Kalach then (below) and now.

The Bridge at Kalach

Let me give you an example of how important the railroad-and-horse system was. When Stalingrad was surrounded, the Soviet objective in Operation Uranus was not Stalingrad itself. That could wait for later. The objective was the bridge at Kalach. Why was this bridge so important? Because it was over that one bridge that all the supplies for the Sixth Army and 3rd Romanian Army passed over.

However, if you know a great deal about the Stalingrad battle, you know that wasn’t a railroad bridge. So, what gives? Well, the rail line from the West stopped at the Don River. Then, all supplies for the German Sixth Army and Romanian 3rd Army had to be loaded to vehicles, which then crossed the bridge at Kalach. The supplies were then re-loaded onto captured Russian trains on the other side of the river. Those trains then carried everything - men, food, ammunition, cigars, Schnapps - the remaining 64 km (40 miles) to Stalingrad.

Germans using camels as pack animals at Stalingrad worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Germans even resorted to using local camels as pack animals at Stalingrad as shown here. Yes, there were camels on the steppe.
The reason why the nondescript bridge at Kalach was so important was that the rail line that had been converted to the German railway line gauge from the West that ran Gorlovka-Likhovskoy-Morozovsk-Tchir-Gumrak stopped at the Don. This was the only rail line in operation that could supply Stalingrad. At the Don, the supplies had to be loaded onto horse-drawn carts, taken across the bridge at Kalach. Then, they had to be reloaded onto Russian trains that could run on the slightly wider Russian railway line gauge for the final run into Stalingrad. Without the supplies crossing that bridge, those armies were helpless. The bridge was taken in a lightning assault on 23 November. Regardless of what happened elsewhere on the perimeter, once the bridge at Kalach fell, time was beginning to run out for the 300,000 men trapped in Stalingrad.

Soviet tanks and horses advancing during Operation Uranus worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Camouflaged Soviet tanks, accompanied by pack horses, advancing during Operation Uranus.
The Red Army Army did not direct Operation Uranus at Stalingrad itself because every German in Stalingrad was completely dependent on the bridge at Kalach. This was the weak link in the German position there. The standard tactic by both sides during World War II was the pincer movement where you bypass the enemy's strongholds and simply cut their lines of communication. This sometimes worked and sometimes it did not, but that was the objective behind Operation Uranus.

Germans marching toward Stalingrad with their horses and wagons worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Germans marching toward Stalingrad with their horses carrying their supplies. When the soldiers later had to eat the horses after the Soviets took the bridge at Kalach, they lost their mobility and were doomed.
If that sounds like a crazy supply system, well, then you and I are seeing the same thing. The weak link was the bridge. What carried all of the supplies across that one bridge? Well, you probably guessed it: horse-drawn carts, for the most part. It was hard enough getting oil for the troops that far east, let alone even more oil for trucks to cross a bridge. To keep tanks and other motor vehicles from freezing up in sub-zero weather, they had to be run throughout the day and night at intervals of at most a few hours. This burned up even more of the scarce gasoline and oil. Trucks and tanks also were difficult to use in the Russian winter due to the lack of antifreeze. Imagine trying to start your car in the dead of winter if it did not have anti-freeze and only used water in its radiator and you begin to understand the depth of the German supply problems. Using trains and horses was the only solution to this problem.

German train worldwartwo.filminspector.com

German operations usually depended on two critical factors: the availability of rail lines and of horses. The OKH worried a great deal about the lack of horses by 1942 and they had to be prioritized to Army Group South to support Case Blue, the advance toward Stalingrad. This helps to explain why the line in the Army Group North and Army Group Center sectors of the front barely moved that year.

I talk more about the use of horses during World War II here and the Battle of Stalingrad here.

German train with antiaircraft guns worldwartwo.filminspector.com


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Did the Atom Bombs Cause Japan to Surrender?

The Japanese Were in No Mood to Surrender

Japanese surrender delegation at Ie Shima worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Japanese peace delegation arrives on Ie Shima on 19 August 1945.
The question of whether Japan was ready to surrender before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima has been around ever since the end of World War II. This didn't even seem debatable at first. It was so obvious at the time that the Japanese were losing and were about to get devastated. This was the accepted viewpoint for many years. However, detailed information that came out long after the war revealed that the Japanese did not see it that way. Not at all.

Not only was Japan not about to surrender when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, but the bomb appears not to have been the cause of the Japanese surrender afterward, either. To believe that the Japanese surrendered because of the devastation in Hiroshima reflects a U.S.-centric viewpoint. We dropped the bomb, and then another on Nagasaki, and so that overwhelming demonstration of United States power forced the Japanese surrender. Right?

Well, not so fast. Let’s look at what really happened in the sequence that actually took place. In other words, let's start at the beginning and see how each event changed things.

The atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Hiroshima blast, taken a few minutes after the explosion.
United States Army Air Force B-29 “Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. This only *began* the Japanese surrender process, it did not *end* it.

The Japanese at the time weren’t sure about the new bombs or what they really meant. There was just a report of a massive bombing raid, but there had been a lot of those. It took some time to figure out that this one was completely different than previous ones.
There was nobody left on the ground to give a reasoned analysis of what had happened and all communications were out, so somebody had to go and learn the facts. The Japanese had no idea about the effects of radiation (neither, really, did anyone else), so they assembled a team to investigate. This team led by Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, the hero of Pearl Harbor (he led the first wave), flew to Hiroshima to report from the scene. He and the others retrieved a metal cylinder full of scientific instruments that the Americans had dropped along with the bomb and observed the devastation from the nearby mountains.

Devastation in Hiroshima following the atomic bomb blast on 6 August 1945 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Commander Fuchida flew to Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped and found a wasteland of ruins and charred trees.
This was an incredibly hazardous Japanese mission because Hiroshima and the surrounding area was still full of deadly radiation from the atomic bomb. Almost all of this team (aside from Fuchida himself, who somehow showed no ill effects) perished from radiation sickness, some within weeks. Even Fuchida’s report, however, did not decide matters because everything was uncertain. Japan had survived mass bombing raids for many months and this looked like just another one. They did not even know it had only been one bomb.

What the Japanese *did* know for a fact, however, was that the Soviet Union invaded Japanese-occupied territory in Manchuria during the early morning hours of 9 August 1945 (the same day as the Nagasaki atomic bomb, which happened many hours later). This invasion was something that could not be brushed off as “just another bombing.” It appeared unstoppable.

Soviet ground troops in Harbin, China worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Soviet troops in Harbin, China, during the 9 August 1945 invasion.
Even after all this, many in the Japanese high command did not want to surrender. After news came of the second nuclear attack on Nagasaki and the Soviet invasion, the Japanese high command - the people that actually decided what to do regardless of “public opinion” or anything like that - took a vote. The vote was evenly split at 3–3, meaning no surrender. Think about that - even after two nuclear attacks and an invasion they could not possibly resist, the Japanese still were not willing to surrender. These were some true bitter-enders. It was not until the next day, 10 August 1945, that Emperor Hirohito did the unthinkable. He stepped in and, in a dramatically unique Imperial intervention into public policy, broke the tie. He commanded his government to accept the Allied surrender proclamation. This had never happened before.

Japanese surrender delegation at Ie Shima worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The end of the war is in sight as the Japanese peace delegation is about to touch down on Ie Shima on 19 August 1945.
The military was unhappy with this and struggled to resist even the Emperor’s command. Negotiations within the government dragged on for days. There was even an abortive coup attempt on 14 August 1945. Meanwhile, the Japanese received the one assurance from the Allies that they needed - that the Emperor would remain in place under the Occupation, even if he was powerless. It was not until noon on 15 August 1945 that Emperor Hirohito put the matter to rest with an extraordinary radio address to the nation. This settled matters once and for all. On 19 August 1945, a Japanese peace delegation finally flew to Allied-controlled Ie Shima in a specially painted Mitsubishi G4M-1 “Betty” bomber.

Japanese surrender delegation on board USS Missouri worldwartwo.filminspector.com
The Japanese sign the surrender declaration aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.
So, the bottom line is that, no, the Japanese were not ready to surrender before the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. In fact, they were not ready to surrender after the *second *nuclear attack on Nagasaki three days later. It took both of those attacks and the Soviet invasion of Japanese territory to compel the Japanese surrender, which formally occurred aboard the USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.


Friday, February 7, 2020

Why Didn't the Allies Invade Spain During World War II?

Franco Was Crazy... Like a Fox

Franco worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Francisco Franco kept both sides unhappy just enough to keep from being invaded.
Spain played a very delicate game during World War II. It was in a geographically vital area, controlling the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar and potentially of great use to the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. Hitler felt that caudillo Francisco Franco “owed him” for Germany’s support during the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War. German troops were right across the border from Spain in France after mid-1940 and could have invaded at any time. Franco shrewdly used these facts to play both sides against the middle during World War II.

German Condor Legion troops in Spain during the Spanish Civil War worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German troops of the Condor Legion (standing) helped to bring Franco to power - and he returned the favor in equal measure by sending the Spanish Blue Division to help Hitler's futile war of conquest.
Franco, however, did little more than pay lip service to any support for Hitler. Spain did contribute a division, the famous Spanish Blue Division that served on the Eastern Front, to Operation Barbarossa. This repaid the Germans for sending the “Condor Legion” into Spain to help Franco in the 1930s. Doing so was arguably legal according to the practices of the day (the United States did the same thing with the "Flying Tigers" in Burma, as did many other powers). Spain also allowed some Kriegsmarine vessels to use Spanish ports in a clandestine fashion now and then. However, while those were useful to the German war effort, they were not what Hitler really wanted, and Franco never went any further.

These relatively little things that Franco did for Hitler were enough to keep Germany from invading Spain, which was Franco’s main strategic goal. Franco was helped in this plan by secret information from members of the German resistance to Hitler, principally Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr intelligence agency.

Franco meets Hitler at Hendaye worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Franco met Hitler at Hendaye. Hitler later described being so frustrated at Franco's refusal to commit to joining the Axis that it was like "having teeth pulled."
I went through that to show why Franco appeared from certain perspectives to favor Hitler. That was his goal, and he had good reasons to do so. He did just enough to remain neutral with Germany, not an easy task. Hitler eventually just accepted the little that he got from Franco and rationalized not getting more by stating that he didn’t want to start a guerilla war “in his rear” in Spain by invading it.

Churchill and Franco had secret dealings throughout World War II worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Francisco Franco knew how to play the hand that was dealt him and leave the table a richer man.
Now, on to the Allied side of the ledger. Why didn’t the Allies invade? There were a few reasons. First and foremost, of course, Spain was neutral. It never declared war on anyone even as it did a few aggressive things now and then. The Allies had enough problems without adding another unnecessary enemy to the list. Besides, Franco was secretly talking with the Allies throughout World War II while he was openly professing his devotion to Hitler.

Franco shielded Gibraltar from Hitler's tender mercies throughout World War II worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Gibraltar, shown here during World War II, was absolutely critical to British control of the Mediterranean - and Franco made that possible.
Second, Spain was not strategically vital to the Allies as long as it remained neutral. It effectively shielded Gibraltar from Hitler. Gibraltar was absolutely critical to British activities in the Mediterranean. Without it, General Erwin Rommel almost certainly would have taken Cairo. It also was vital for operations in the Atlantic. By Franco staying neutral and not beginning a war with either side, it assured that Gibraltar was safe.

Franco meets Heinrich Himmler and other top Germans at Hendaye worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Even as Franco was telling the Germans, such as Heinrich Himmler, Karl Wolff, and Joachim Peiper (shown to the left of Franco), what they wanted them to hear, he was absorbing Tangier and assuring the British their control of the entrance to the Mediterranean.
Third, Franco actually did some very quiet but extremely useful things for the Allies. The best example was his occupation of Tangier. This was a “condominium” controlled by four powers prior to and during the first year of the war. Hitler badly wanted Tangier because it was directly across from Gibraltar. By basing ships and planes there, with the cooperation of the Vichy French in the surrounding territory, he could have made life miserable for the British in Gibraltar.

Operation Torch took a lot of pressure off of Franco worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Soldiers struggle ashore during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of northwest Africa. Until Operation Torch, the only person protecting the critical British base at Gibraltar was... Francisco Franco.
Franco invaded Tangier on 14 June 1940 while everyone was distracted by the fall of Paris the same day, absorbed it into Spanish Morocco (after previously claiming that he had no intention of doing so) on 4 November 1940, and officially annexed Tangier on 18 March 1941. This gave Franco possession of all of the most critical territories at the mouth of the Mediterranean and effectively “took them off the map.” Hitler could do nothing effective to close the western end of the Mediterranean without provoking war with Franco - and, as we have seen, he did not want to do that.

HMS Seraph released a corpse off the Spanish coast to deceive Hitler worldwartwo.filminspector.com
HMS Seraph, shown, released a corpse just off the Spanish coast as part of Operation Mincemeat. This was one of the great deception operations of World War II.
Also, let's not forget Operation Mincemeat. This was a classic deception operation mounted by the Royal Navy prior to the invasion of Sicily. A corpse dressed as a British officer was released into the sea just off the Spanish coast. The corpse had a set of "secret plans" in a briefcase handcuffed to its wrist. The papers, of course, were completely phony and misleading. As expected, Spain immediately gave them to the Germans, who thereby were duped by information received from a "trusted source." Was Franco deceived, too? Or was he part of the deception. It really didn't matter. Either way, using Spain to dupe Hitler was brilliant.

Troops fleeing across the Pyrenees in March 1938 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Spanish Republican fighters crossing the Pyrenees to reach safety in France in March 1938. The Pyrenees formed a formidable obstacle for anyone trying to invade France from Spain.
Fourth, Spain is not a good invasion spot for Europe. Northwest France is much more convenient from a base of operations in Great Britain. Spain is very mountainous, and it narrows down from a broad front to a narrow one at the Pyrenees which form the entrance to the rest of Europe. That was ideal for standard German defensive strategy, where the defensive line continually narrows and the attackers can bring less and power to bear. The Pyrenees were basically a castle wall protecting France, and a Spanish campaign would have been as unproductive for the Allies as the invasion of Italy turned out to be. There really was no benefit to repeating Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign of Napoleonic times which dragged on year after dreary year. Plus there were resistance forces in northern Spain that would have fought both Axis and Allied troops.

The Germans deeply appreciated the minimal help that Franco was willing to give them worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Spain contributed just enough to the German war effort to win their appreciation and avoid invasion, but not a step further.
So, the Allies actually greatly benefitted from Franco’s double game. This was true even as Franco appeared to be backing Hitler by sending him some troops (which he withdrew as soon as he could in 1943 and early 1944). Franco mouthed the right words and granted Hitler small favors but never gave him the real help that he was capable of. This played a key role in undermining the German position in the Mediterranean.

Franco died in his sleep from natural causes thirty years after World War II worldwartwo.filminspector.com

One must remember that Franco had nothing against the Allies. He was non-ideological, being more interested in his Catholic religion than in conquest. He never really thought about attacking the Spanish government until others started the Civil War. The Allies actually had played a key role in bringing him to power in the first place (he was flown to Africa from his post in the Canary Islands at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War by members of British Intelligence). Plus, it turned out that Franco's secret dealings with the British involved various payoffs to him and his generals to keep him out of the war. Thus, making occasional indications that he was leaning toward Hitler was an effective way of upping the payments in pounds sterling to his secret bank accounts. And, who knows... maybe he was taking payments from Hitler, too. Why not?

Franco died in his sleep from natural causes thirty years after World War II worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Which of the "Axis leaders" stayed in power until his death from natural causes in the 1970s? It wasn't Hitler or Mussolini.
Strangely enough, Hermann Goering seems to have been the only top German who saw through Franco. After his surrender to the Americans in May 1945, he was asked what Germany's biggest mistake of the war had been. Goering didn't mention invading the Soviet Union or not invading England or anything to do with his own Luftwaffe. Instead, he said the biggest mistake of the war was... not invading Spain.


Ten Top Songs of World War II

Music to Wage War By

Vera Lynn worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Vera Lynn entertaining the troops in England.
Music was very important during World War II. Some of the top songs of the era still rank among the top sellers of all time. So, no discussion of World War II would be appropriate without a sample of the music people bought and paid for on the jukebox down at the local diner. Here I am presenting my choice of the top ten songs of World War II.

There are lots of ways to rank songs. I did not stick to a strict list. Instead, I picked what seemed to be the most significant and enduring songs of the war years. So, this is a selection that, if you listened to the radio from 1940-1945, you undoubtedly would have heard over and over and over.

They are in no particular order. You will hear them as the people of the time heard them, including the little record noises that were part of the experience in the days before digital music.

Our Countdown

Bing Crosby worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Bing Crosby.
Bing Crosby debuted "White Christmas" on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. Written by Irving Berlin, it was an immediate sensation. He recorded it as a single with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records on May 29, 1942. Released on July 30, 1942, "White Christmas" spent 11 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Crosby's various versions of the song went on to sell over 50 million copies. It is the best selling single of all time.

"White Christmas" - Bing Crosby with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers and for Decca Records.

Mills Brothers worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Mills Brothers.
"Paper Doll," written by Johnny S. Black in 1915, was intended by the Mills Brothers as the B-side to "I'll Be Around." After "I'll Be Around" got played out, radio stations suddenly and unexpectedly began to play the other side of the single. "Paper Doll" wound up spending 12 weeks at No. 1 beginning on 6 November 1943. It also sold 11 million records, which places it among the top 40 selling singles of all time. Black, who passed away in 1936, wrote the song after being dumped by his girlfriend.

"Paper Doll" - Mills Brothers

Doris Day and Les Brown worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Doris Day singing with Les Brown's band in 1941.
Les Brown and Ben Horner together wrote the music for "Sentimental Journey," while Bud Green added the lyrics. Brown and his Band of Renown played the song at his concerts and got a good response from audiences. So, he decided to record it for Columbia Records immediately following a long musicians' strike that lasted from 1942 to 1944. He used a young singer he had been working with who had changed her name from Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff to Doris Day. After first appearing on the charts on 29 March 1945, the single built slowly but finally hit No. 1 on 26 May 1945, staying there for nine weeks. In all, "Sentimental Journey" stayed on the charts for a phenomenal 23 weeks. As with "It's Been a Long, Long Time," which we will see below, "Sentimental Journey" had the perfect theme for a time when World War II soldiers were looking forward to returning home. "Sentimental Journey" has become a jazz standard and is still recorded regularly by top artists, such as by Bob Dylan on his 2017 album Triplicate. It was Doris Day's first big hit - incidentally, she outlived almost all of her contemporaries and passed away in 2019 at the age of 97.

"Sentimental Journey" - Les Brown and His Band of Renown (Doris Day, vocal)

Harry James and Helen Forrest worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Helen Forrest and Harry James from the introduction to "Private Buckaroo" (1942).
"I've Heard That Song Before," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn, was recorded by Harry James and his Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocal for Columbia on July 31, 1942. It topped the charts for 13 weeks beginning on March 6, 1943. "I've Heard That Song Before" since has become an American standard and was used by Woody Allen in his 1986 movie "Hannah and Her Sisters."

"I've Heard That Song Before" - Harry James and his orchestra (Helen Forrest, vocal)

Artie Shaw worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Artie Shaw.
Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (with an arrangement by William Grant Still) recorded "Frenesi" for Victor Records on 3 March 1940. Alberto Domínguez had composed "Frenesi for his marimba band - it means "frenzy" in Spanish. "Frenesi" hit number one on the Billboard pop chart on December 21, 1940, and stayed there for 13 weeks. It has been used in several films about that era, including "Raging Bull" and "1941."

"Frenesi" - Artie Shaw and his Orchestra

Jimmy Dorsey and Helen O'Connell worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Jimmy Dorsey and Helen O'Connell.
"Amapola" was composed in 1920 by Spanish-American composer José María Lacalle García (later Joseph Lacalle). Several other acts released singles of the song, but it did not become a breakout hit until the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra with vocalists Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly recorded it for Decca Records. Entering the Billboard charts on March 14, 1941, as "Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy), the song rocketed to No. 1 on March 29, 1941, and stayed there for ten weeks.

"Amapola (Pretty Little Poppy)" - Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly, vocals)

Bing Crosby worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Bing Crosby.
Composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and with lyrics by Johnny Burke, "Swinging on a Star" was sung by Bing Crosby in "Going My Way" (1944).  Crosby recorded "Swinging on a Star" with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra in Los Angeles on February 7, 1944. Released by Decca, it spent nine weeks atop the singles chart and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

"Swinging on a Star" - Bing Crosby with John Scott Trotter and His Orchestra

Glenn Miller and Ray Eberle worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Glenn Miller and Ray Eberle in the studio.
Glenn Miller had a number of big hits during World War II, so it is a question of sifting through them and finding his biggest hit at the time. I could have populated this list with just Glenn Miller songs, but variety is the spice of life! Miller's most popular song during the war turns out to be "Moonlight Cocktail," which he recorded on 8 December 1941 - the day after Pearl Harbor. With vocals by Ray Eberle and The Modernaires, "Moonlight Cocktail" hit No. 1 on  February 28, 1942, and stayed there for ten weeks - longer than any other Glenn Miller single. The song had been around since 1912 when Charles Luckeyeth Roberts composed it. James Kimball "Kim" Gannon added the lyrics. Miller just applied his genius to it and made "Moonlight Cocktail" into a massive hit.

"Moonlight Cocktail" - Glenn Miller and his Orchestra

Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra performing "I'll Never Smile Again" in "Las Vegas Nights" (1941).
If you ever wondered what was Frank Sinatra's first mega-hit, you've come to the right place! It was "I'll Never Smile Again" with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and The Pied Pipers. In only his fourth chart appearance, Sinatra hit No.1 on July 27, 1940, and "I'll Never Smile Again" stayed there for 12 weeks. Sinatra re-recorded "I'll Never Smile Again" in 1965.

"I'll Never Smile Again" - Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and The Pied Pipers, vocals)

Harry James and Kitty Kallen worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Harry James and Kitty Kallen (left).
Written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, "It's Been A Long, Long Time" was a very hot song in 1945. As was customary at the time, several top acts recorded "It's Been A Long, Long Time" and had hits with it. The most successful version was by Harry James and his Orchestra featuring Kitty Kallen on vocals. The Harry James version hit No. 1 on 24 November 1945, then was replaced by Bing Crosby's version of the same song, which then was topped by another song - and then the Harry James version of "It's Been A Long, Long Time" returned to the top for a third and final week. The song was very fitting for the time, with GI's returning from overseas. "It's Been A Long, Long Time" recently has been featured in the Marvel Avengers film franchise.

"It’s Been A Long, Long Time" - Harry James and his Orchestra (Kitty Kallen, vocal).

Marlene Dietrich worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Marlene Dietrich.

Two Special Bonus Tracks

There are some songs that are so associated with World War II that I couldn't leave them out even though they weren't actually huge hits in the standard sense. I include these two classics here.

"Lili Marlene" was a favorite during World War II among German soldiers - and also many British ones. It was composed by Norbert Schultze, who set a 1915 poem of three verses by Hans Leip to music. The original was sung by unknown singer Lale Andersen (that was her stage name, her actual name was Elisabeth Carlotta Helena Berta Bunnenberg). Lale Andersen's version is the one that the soldiers during World War II would have listened to the most.

The original title of the song as sung by Andersen was "Das Mädchen Unter der Laterne" ("The Girl under the Lantern"). It was more familiarly known simply as "The Lantern Song." Some of the earliest pressings had the title ""Song of a Young Sentry." However, ultimately it became known as "Lili Marlene" (with a variety of spelling of both "Lili" and "Marlene") because of the name of the girl in the song. "Lili Marlene" is a bit odd because it is a story told by a man but traditionally sung by a woman, but the formula worked.

The song, whatever it was called, was not a hit at first. However, after two years, the Soldatensender Belgrad (Belgrade Soldier's Radio), the radio station of the German armed forces in newly occupied Yugoslavia, was looking for something to play. Lieutenant Karl-Heinz Reintgen received an old copy of "Lili Marlene" from Vienna and began broadcasting it in 1941. Belgrade had a powerful station that could be heard throughout the Mediterranean and far into Russia. Reintgen would play "Lili Marlene" over and over because he had very few other popular German songs available, and people began to notice it. Eventually, due to its growing popularity, the station began playing it every night at the same time as a sort of "end of the day" song. "Lili Marlene" caught on due to its wistfulness and the female presence it created in otherwise drab circumstances and many on both sides stopped and listened if they could.

It is very important to note that "Lili Marlene" was not written as propaganda. In fact, the Reich Ministry of Propaganda viewed "Lili Marlene" with great suspicion and actually ordered it re-recorded with a more martial tone (fiercer drums and so forth). It was just a song that touched a nerve.

Vera Lynn worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Lale Andersen (left) and Marlene Dietrich.
While popular on the British side as well, it also became somewhat of a cliché. "Lili Marlene" was one of the very few German songs that Allied soldiers heard enough times to recognize, as in, "Oh geez, here's that Kraut song on the radio again." Despite her popularity, Lale was put under house arrest because she was having an affair with Rolf Liebermann, a Jewish resident of Switzerland. She also corresponded with other Jewish people, a big no-no under the Third Reich. However, Lale survived the war. The British tried to capitalize on Lale's disappearance from public view in 1943 by claiming Lale had been sent to a concentration camp, but that was simply false propaganda. Lale Andersen received a Gold Record for "Lili Marlene" after the war. She had a few more hits in Germany before passing away in 1972, but "Lili Marlene" remained her signature song.

Marlene Dietrich, a refugee from Hitler, also recorded the song in German during 1944 for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor of the CIA). Dietrich's version laid on the pathos in an attempt to demoralize Axis soldiers. There is no evidence that it did that, but it probably did make some homesick. Marlene Dietrich's version now is the more famous of the two because of her movie star fame, but the more upbeat Lale Andersen record is the definitive version that was treasured during the war itself.

Oh, and Vera Lynn, who we'll meet below, also recorded a version in English, as did Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and other top artists. That's how popular the song was and, to a certain extent, still is.

"Lili Marlene" - Lale Andersen

"Lili Marlene" - Marlene Dietrich

And now, we get to the song that is most associated with World War II for many people who lived through it.

Vera Lynn worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Vera Lynn.
Vera Lynn recorded "We'll Meet Again" on 28 September 1939. Written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, "We'll Meet Again" did not make much noise on the charts, perhaps because of its arrangement. It featured Arthur Young on the Novachord and did not have the upbeat spirit of later versions. However, "We'll Meet Again" gradually sank into the consciousness of Great Britain as the war years ground on and the theme became more personally poignant to a lot of people.

The song led to the release of a motion picture built around the song, "We'll Meet Again," released on 18 January 1943. It starred Vera Lynn, who by now had become closely associated with the song, and Geraldo and Patricia Roc. Vera Lynn recorded various versions of "We'll  Meet Again" over the years, including one recorded in 1953 that Stanley Kubrick used in the conclusion to his 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove." That is the version most people now recognize, not the one with the Novachord. Dame Vera Lynn (who is still alive as of this writing in 2020) has returned to "We'll Meet Again" again and again over the years, including singing it on the 60th anniversary of D-Day on 6 June 2004.

If you wish, you may listen to the 1939 version and the later, much more popular 1953 version that was used in "Dr. Strangelove." Draw your own conclusions on why one did better than the other.

Vera Lynn - "We'll Meet Again" (1939 Version)

Vera Lynn - "We'll Meet Again" (1953 Version)