World War II in Pictures: January 2016

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Fuhrer Gets A Kiss

Make Love, Not War

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics

It was an ordinary summer day. In Berlin, the 1936 Olympic Games were in full swing. Chancellor Adolf Hitler, dressed in full uniform despite the heat, was in the front row, watching the men's 1500 meter freestyle.

Next to him was venerable General Anton Ludwig August von Mackensen, one of only five men to earn the Gold Cross of the Iron Cross in World War I. There were 20,000 people in the stadium, and the German team was doing well.

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics
The 1936 Olympic swimming pool.
A woman walking by decided to take the Fuhrer's picture. Bored, the Fuhrer gave her a nice pose. The woman, encouraged, then stepped forward and asked for an autograph. The Fuhrer allowed the guards to let her through, and he signed her swimming ticket.

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics

Suddenly, the woman leaned in. The Fuhrer, startled, backed off. Then, she tried again. Hitler, now amused, playfully pretended to evade her and then allowed her to succeed. Below is a video of the incident.

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics
The Sydney Morning Herald, August 17, 1936.
After that, the crowd roared. A German police officer came and escorted the lady away - not out of the stadium, but back to her seat. Everything then returned to normal, with the Fuhrer clapping his hands in delight as the lady returned to anonymity. Rather than take advantage of the incident for publicity, Hitler let it pass, and the German press never reported the odd incident.

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics

Hitler might have re-thought that decision if he had known that the woman was an American. Months later, her local press in the States caught wind of the incident upon her return home, and it ultimately became a worldwide story.

Wife of Californian Surprised at Stir She Caused.
Norwalk, Calif., November 2
The Milwaukee Sentinel, November 3, 1936

Admitting surprise at comments caused by her stolen kiss from Chancellor Hitler during the Olympic games in Berlin, Mrs. Carla de Vries returned to her home here today.

"Why, I simply embraced him because he appeared so friendly and gracious," said Mrs. De Vries, wife of George de Vries, dairyman.
"People sitting near Der Fuehrer's box began to cheer and applaud so loudly that I ran back to my husband and told him we had better leave. 
I don't know why I did it. Certainly I hadn't planned such a thing. It's just that I'm a woman of impulses, I guess. 
It happened when I went down to take Hitler's picture with my small movie camera. Hitler was leaning forward, smiling, and he seemed so friendly that I just stepped up and asked for his autograph, which he wrote on my swimming ticket. He kept on smiling and so I kissed him."
Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics

Her brother-in-law was quoted saying that:
"She wanted to meet Hitler but I'm surprised at the way she did it!" 
Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics
Nevada State Journal, August 24, 1936.

The Sydney clip above reads as follows:

HERR HITLER Kissed by Excited Woman During Olympic Swimming
Berlin, Aug. 15.
The Sydney Morning Herald, August 17, 1936
Shortly before the finish of the men's 1500 meters free-style swimming to-day, a plump woman, conspicuous in a red hat whom Black Guards repeatedly prevented from photographing Herr Hitler at close range, broke the cordon during the excitement of the finish of the race, shook Herr Hitler by the hand and then kissed him, while the crowd of 20,000 rocked with laughter. Herr Hitler, who was in high spirits, joined in the fun, clapping his hands as the woman returned triumphantly to her seat.

Herr Hitler arrived Just before the race and sat with Field-Marshal Mackensen on a plain hard seat. He showed great excitement during the race, swaying from side to side, and rarely taking his eyes off the German swimmer, Arendt, till it was clear he would be beaten. Herr Hitler rose to his feet, applauding an exciting fight for second place.

Terada (Japan) made a new Olympic record and won by 20 yards from Medica (U.S.A.), who beat Uto (Japan) by a touch.

After the kissing incident, the aquatic events continued amusingly. The water polo final between Germany and Belgium was prefaced by the incongruous spectacle of the German team, clad only In slips, bobbing up In the water and shouting: "Heil, Hitler."

The match was played in a bedlam of whistling and Jeering. There were shouts to the French referee to send out players. Fouls were frequent, and three players of either side were temporarily suspended.

Herr Hitler shared the excitement of the crowd. He was never still and looked as grim as any onlooker as incidents developed or a goal threatened. Herr Hitler remained to the end. He received farewell aquatic "Heils" from the victorious Germans and departed through a lane of extended arms.

Adolf Hitler Berlin Olympics


Friday, January 29, 2016

The Sicily Invasion

Sicily invasion World War II

Operation Husky

One of the truly overlooked campaigns of World War II was the invasion and conquest of Sicily. Invariably, it gets footnoted in between the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa and the invasion of Italy proper, as in, "After invading Sicily, which quickly fell, the Allies moved on to Italy." In fact, there was nothing quick or easy about the invasion of Sicily, and, truth be told, the 40-day Sicilian campaign was more important for the outcome of the war than the subsequent 17 months spent pounding against German defenses on the Italian peninsula.

Sicily invasion World War II
Sicily was dirty, poverty-stricken and dangerous. Here, a US medic of the 3rd Infantry Division tends to an injured soldier while four generations of a barefoot Sicilian family watches.
Sicily and the conquest of Italy first came onto the Allied radar screen at the Casablanca conference held in January 1943. This conference, held in newly conquered North Africa, basically set Western Allied strategy for the remainder of the war, though nobody realized it at the time. The choice was between an invasion of Italy or a frontal assault on northwestern France. The British, led by General Sir Alan Brooke, were adamantly opposed to any deviation from their "peripheral strategy" in the Mediterranean. Against weak American opposition led by General George C. Marshall, the British on 19 January 1943 fixed Sicily as the next major target. France was left for another day - at first, it was thought that an invasion of France might come up later in 1943, but that was completely unrealistic.

Sicily invasion World War II
General Montgomery travels in a DUKW, 12 July 1943, during the invasion of Sicily.
The date of the invasion was fixed for 10 July 1943. This date was not chosen randomly but was based on the very precise timing of the setting of the moon that day. Once again, the Americans wanted something different - Marshall would have preferred 10 June 1943 - and once again the Americans gave in. The British were in no mood to take shortcuts and risk setbacks against an enemy they felt they knew more about than the Americans at that point.

Sicily invasion World War II
Pantelleria has a forbidding coastline.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was placed in overall command of the operation. The first order of business, especially given a large amount of time available after the final conquest of North Africa on 15 May 1943, was pacification the Pelagian group, composed of the islands of Pantelleria, Lampedusa, Lampione and Linos. The Germans had Freyda radar on Pantelleria and Lampedusa, and, in keeping with the risk-averse feeling of the time, it was felt prudent to invade them rather than bypassing (as would have been done in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Pantelleria was known as a "fortified island," which gave it a lot more credit than it deserved. After a month of allied bombing raids on the island, during which some 4,844 tons of bombs were dropped, a final bombing raid on 10-11 June 1943, finished the job. The island's commander, Vice Admiral Gino Pavasi, to signal a surrender after many previous messages to Mussolini about continuing to resist.

Sicily invasion World War II
The surrender of Pantelleria was big news at the time.
Pantelleria revealed a problem for the Axis that was going to be decisive: aside from some highly political Fascist "Blackshirt" formations, ordinary Italian soldiers had no desire to fight. Thus, the large Italian troop concentrations which looked so impressive on Hitler's 1:1000 maps were deceptive and largely (but not entirely) ineffective. No solution to this ever was found, and Italian disaffection was a major cause of the ultimate Axis collapse. The other nearby islands received similar treatment, and all had surrendered and been occupied within a few days. The Allies now had a springboard to Sicily that, at its closest point, was only 53 air miles away.

Operation Mincemeat

Sicily invasion Operation Mincemeat World War II
Glyndwr Michael aka Major Martin in his final service to King and country.
The Allies also had a problem. Sicily was believed to be well-defended for political reasons. This would be the first major invasion of pre-war Axis territory (leaving aside Italian interests in Africa, including Ethiopia), and Mussolini would look like a fool if his promises of conquest wound up losing the Italians what they already had. Sicily also was a pretty obvious next objective (others were Sardinia and the Balkans), and in wartime, you never want to be too obvious about your intentions no matter how strong your forces. The British had a general plan of disinformation, Operation Barclay, intended to confuse Axis intelligence about British plans in the Mediterranean. To this, they added the notorious Operation Mincemeat. This ghoulish operation, originating with Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley and Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, involved releasing information to the Axis in the most innocuous way possible to make it appear legitimate and genuine.

Ewen Montagu
Ewen Montagu.
It would suggest that the Allies were not interested in Sicily, but rather the Balkans. The beauty of this plan was that it corresponded with a significant line of thinking in Axis circles (particularly Hitler), and that always makes for the best sort of deception campaign. "Secret documents" were prepared and placed in a briefcase attached by handcuffs to the corpse of a homeless man, one Glyndwr Michael. Michael had died from ingesting rat poison containing phosphorus (the identity has been disputed). The corpse had papers identifying it as Major William Martin, Royal Marines. "Major Martin" was then released just off the Spanish mainland near Huelva in Andalusia) by submarine (the Seraph, used in other spy missions as well). The intended implication was that Major Martin had been a casualty of a plane crash or shipwreck and obtaining the secret Allied plans was a windfall for the Axis. The Allies cynically assumed that the "neutral" Spanish would draw the obvious inferences and could not send this "vital" information to the Germans fast enough. They were right.

Sicily invasion Operation Mincemeat World War II
HMS Seraph, used in "Mincemeat."
The Germans did take the information as genuine; they had lost highly classified invasion information themselves in similar ways on both fronts early in the war (both from plane crashes). However, Operation Mincemeat was a detail to Operation Husky, the period at the end of a sentence. While beloved of "cloak and dagger" types for its cleverness and success, Operation Mincemeat's impact on the war is highly debatable. Those who believe that it was an important deception point to the Wehrmacht sending Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to the Balkans to take command just prior to the invasion of Sicily. They also point to certain related troop movements from the Russian front, including three Panzer Divisions.

Operation Mincemeat HMS Seraph
The officers of HM Submarine SERAPH upon her return to Portsmouth after operations in the Mediterranean, 24 December 1943. Lieutenant N L A Jewell, MBE, RN, center, had been the commanding officer during Operation Mincemeat. He said prayers before the body was delivered into the sea. They appear to have the appropriate devil-may-care attitudes suitable for the old false-mustache stuff.
While all that sounds very significant, Rommel was never intended to take over military operation in Sicily (he was widely considered to have become a pessimist worn out by his North Africa campaign) and was quickly re-routed to Northern Italy to take command. That was a quiet sector more important for diplomatic than military reasons, and there Rommel accomplished everything in a timely fashion. On the other front, the panzer divisions would not have altered the outcome at Kursk anyway, handy as they would have been (the German had severely underestimated Soviet strength on that sector), and of course, the panzer divisions were fully employed to good use later. The transfer induced the Wehrmacht to create a powerful reserve, which Hitler otherwise would not allow but which most would agree that the Heer badly needed.

Sicily invasion World War II
Still from "The Man Who Never Was."
Operation Mincemeat was not disclosed to the public until the 1950s. The 1956 Ronald Neame film "The Man Who Never Was" starring Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame gave it wide publicity, and it remains probably the most famous spy operation of the war.

German Dispositions

Sicily invasion World War II
The nature of the beaches at Gela required LSTs to use pontoon causeways in order to get equipment ashore. These were vulnerable to a Luftwaffe attack, so they had to move quickly.
The Germans in southern Italy were led by Field Marshall Albert Kesselring. Strategic planning, though, was hindered by the fact that Italy was an ally, not an occupied country where the Germans could do as they pleased. This also would prove an integral part of events throughout the Sicilian campaign. Mussolini had been resistant to German forces on Italian soil throughout the war, but the quick fall of the Pelagian chain made him change his mind. While Italian General Ambrosio remained in overall command of Sicily, and Commando Supremo had overall authority, additional German troops received authorization to move across to Messina to join the light Luftwaffe and garrison troops that had been there previously. The island's nominal commander was Alfredo Guzzoni of the Italian 6th Army.

Sicily invasion World War II
Plan Husky 8 called for British forces to take the short road to Messina, while the Americans occupied the majority of the island.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who had been recalled from North Africa before the final defeat there and briefly sent to Greece due in part to Operation Mincemeat, was placed in charge of Northern Italy. Rommel was well-known and liked in Italy, and he had established his fame there during World War I at the battle of Caporetto. He shepherded in numerous German forces which ultimately neutralized Italy as a back-door entrance to the Reich. A shooting war easily could have broken out between the Italians and the Germans at the border, but ultimately the Italians gave the Wehrmacht open access.

Sicily invasion World War II
Street scene in Gela during the invasion.
In Sicily itself, the Italian 6th Army was basically a static, garrison type of army. It received only a quarter of the supplies that it needed and had small detachments each covering many miles of the coast. There were a few relatively good formations, such as the Livorno (4th) Assault and Landing Division, but in general, the defenses were held by men who didn't want to be there and had little with which to fight. The 6th Army's large ration strength undoubtedly fostered misleading assumptions back at Commando Supremo.

Sicily invasion World War II
A US Army map showing Axis dispositions prior to the Allied invasion. The Naval Defense Areas along the East Coast are clearly marked and greatly impeded the British advance.
That said, there also were some quite good troops on Sicily. The best defenses were in Naval Fortress Areas. These zones, like medieval castles, had ample supplies and equipment, along with fixed defenses and, most importantly, strong morale. These fortified areas were at Trapani, Messina-Reggio, and Syracuse-Augusta. These positions could act as "hedgehogs" to provide defense strongpoints even as the rest of the island was virtually defenseless. These areas greatly slowed the British advance up the east coast.

Sicily invasion World War II
The 10th Engineer Battalion moved up to restore a highway bridge for vehicular traffic after it was blown by the retreating 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. By hanging "a bridge in the sky" the engineers were able to permit a jeep carrying General Truscott to cross it within 18 hours.
German troops on Sicily were the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, under Major General Eberhard Rodt, and The Hermann Goering Panzer Division under Lieutenant General Paul Conrath. General Rodt was infamous for his failure to prevent mice from eating the electrical insulation from his tanks outside of Stalingrad, which incapacitated them and contributed to the encirclement there. He was, however, a very capable defensive tactician. Conrath was a Goering crony who had little combat experience, but his troops were elite. In addition, there were scattered survivors from the North African campaign, some of whom had been destined to go there before the final collapse.

Sicily invasion World War II
A US Army Sherman tank moves past Sicily's rugged terrain in mid-July 1943.
The Americans and the British had difficulty coming up with an invasion plan. It went through numerous drafts. Finally, under Plan Husky 8, it was decided that the British would land in the extreme south and head straight toward Messina, while the Americans would land in the southwest and occupy the rest of the island. Ultimately, the two forces each would be wholly self-supporting and divided by Mount Etna. The plan left who would get to Messina first - the closest city to the Italian mainland, and occupation of which was sure to conclude the campaign - an open question. This resulted in "the race to Messina." The British had the shortest and most direct route, but the Americans potentially faced lighter opposition.

D-Day for Sicily, 10 July 1943

The invasion forces set out late on 9 July 1943. There was a combination of airborne troops and sea-borne landings. Taking off from near Kairouan, Tunisia, 147 tow planes and gliders carried 2,075 men and their equipment, including jeeps and artillery. Their objectives were various key points inland, such as bridges. They were to hold until relieved. Due to effective antiaircraft fire and sheer confusion in the dark night (as had, of course, been planned), only 12 of the gliders hit their landing zones. The rest (65) crashed into the sea, were shot down, or landed (59) at random spots far from their objectives.

Sicily invasion World War II

The British sea-borne troops fared better. British 8th Army had no difficulty landing south of Syracuse, led by the 30th Corps at Avola and the 51st Highland Division and 1st Canadian Infantry Division further south at Pachino. The 5th Infantry Division further north found Syracuse almost abandoned, but finally ran into some Germans at Priolo midway between Syracuse and the real prize, Augusta. As was often the case with the Wehrmacht, this effective defense was mounted by scratch troops designated Brigade Schmalz which hurried down from Catania. Without them, the battle for the island might have taken only days rather than weeks.

Sicily invasion World War II

The American 7th Army landing at Gela, under command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., also had trouble with its airborne troops, but the seaborne invasion went smoothly. The dispersal of the US airborne forces of the 505th Regimental Combat Team saw many men landed at random spots, but it had the fringe benefit of causing mass confusion behind Axis lines - something that would be repeated on D-Day in Normandy. The seaborne Western Task Force, with a full array of landing craft that would later be used in Normandy, landed the 45th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One") under Terry Allen, and 3rd Infantry Division under Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. By nightfall on the 10th, all Allied objectives had been taken against very light resistance.

Axis Counter-Attacks

The Italians on Sicily obviously weren't fighting. There were reports of Italian soldiers quickly defecting, helping the Allies unload their equipment, and asking to be taken to Brooklyn. The Germans, however, had better resources. The Luftwaffe staged very effective interdictions against the LSTs (tank landing craft), causing the Americans, in particular, to be low on armor early in the campaign. Conrath in command of the Hermann Goering attacked the American right flank, hoping to prevent a link-up with the British. On the Americans' north flank, Italian Mobile Group E at Niscemi hoped to catch the Americans in a giant pincer attack. These Axis forces were not particularly strong, but they did have good equipment and good morale.

Sicily invasion World War II
The Luftwaffe blows up a US munitions ship off of Gela during the invasion.
The Italians attacked first, on time early in the morning of the invasion and in a disciplined fashion. Using cast-off French tanks and even some from World War I, the Italians made it all the way into Gela, an astonishing feat. They were only stopped by naval gunfire and combat engineers firing bazookas from rooftops. It was a tremendous illustration of what the Italian Army could have been capable of given proper equipment, training, and leadership.

Sicily invasion World War II
General Conrath with his division's namesake, Hermann Goering.
Conrath, on the other side of the American invasion beaches, took his sweet time attacking invasion morning. As was the case with SS units (the Goering was the top Luftwaffe unit, but had all the trappings of an SS formation), his elite division was determined to get everything just-so before entering the fray. Divided up into two columns, the Hermann Goering Division did not attack until hours after the Italians, well into the afternoon. This lost the advantages of a coordinated attack that may have carried the day. As it was, the Luftwaffe troops made some progress, but once again, naval gunfire proved decisive. General Guzzoni, a good tactician even if his own troops were largely useless, tried to get Conrath to attack again that day, but by 4 p.m. Conrath had had enough and, in a somewhat high-handed manner, refused. Meanwhile, confusion in the Axis command left the nearby 15th Panzer Grenadier Division virtually inactive that entire day.

Sicily invasion World War II
The USS Savannah (CL-42) was instrumental in the invasion of Sicily. Here, it is hit by a German radio-controlled bomb while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943.
The Italians and the Goering Division tried again on the morning of the 11th. The Italians had just about the same amount of success as the previous day, getting barely into Gela but no further. Conrath's men, however, fared much better. The Goering Division actually made it to the invasion beaches and threatened the entire invasion. If there was one German counter-attack that could have changed the course of the entire war, this was it. July 11, 1943, a day that is long forgotten by the public, was the day that the Axis could have turned things around and solidified their hold on Europe for perhaps years longer.

Sicily invasion World War II
General Patton on the beach at Gela, 11 July 1943.
The Axis forces thought they had defeated the invasion, and messages were sent over the radio (one or two apparently by the Americans themselves) saying that the invasion forces were re-embarking. The naval artillery from the American cruisers parked offshore, though, took their toll. The USS Savannah and Boise used their 6-inch guns to blast the German Tigers and Panzer IIIs and IVs as they approached the shore. Dozens of panzers were knocked out in a vicious barrage. Perhaps if the Goering unit had coordinated the attack better with the Italians, or if there had been one more panzer division available, or if the Luftwaffe had superiority, things would have turned out differently and the American half of the invasion repelled. Ultimately, though, after extremely heavy losses, Conrath again had to withdraw. His forces remained in the vicinity for a while, but never again threatened the invasion. It had been a very close call for the Americans.

Hard Battles

After that, the campaign basically was decided, but there was a lot of hard fighting left to do. Hitler accepted that the invasion could not be defeated at the beaches, but he only sparingly sent in additional forces because he knew the real battle would be on the mainland (this also undercuts the ultimate value of Mincemeat). He grudgingly sent in the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division on 12 July (the same day that he called off the Kursk operation) to create a continuous defensive line. The Americans under General Patton raced to occupy western Sicily, against steady resistance Rodt's troops, while the British hammered away at the growing German defenses south of Messina. A bitter battle developed for the key town of Troina, which took almost a week to overcome. A new German commander arrived who, while technically subordinate to General Guzzoni, in fact, controlled all Axis operation.

Sicily invasion World War II
General Hans Hube was one of the last men out of Stalingrad, taken out at gunpoint by the SS when he refused to leave his men. He later saved the 1st Panzer Army after it was encircled in Russia by making a desperate retrograde movement. 
General Hans Valentin Hube was one of the most capable commanders in the Wehrmacht, and the German forces on the island now became the XIVth Panzer Corps. Hube quickly realized that the island could not be defended indefinitely, which was Mussolini's only hope. He implemented a plan of phased withdrawals by his remaining forces, centered around Mount Etna so that he would get his troops to Messina intact before any of the Allies. This would allow their retreat to the Italian mainland for the inevitable battle there.

Sicily invasion World War II
British General Montgomery and US General Patton, commanders of their respective armies, did not like each other and engaged in a bitter race to capture Messina first.
Hube's plan worked perfectly, but two German divisions were not enough. Hitler helpfully, after much indecision due to competing demands in the Mediterranean and Ukraine, authorized a third German division, the 29th Panzer Grenadier, to enter Sicily on 21 July. That gave Hube enough forces to build a continuous line against the Allies in an arc around Messina. General Patton, meanwhile, swiftly occupied all of western Sicily, perhaps unnecessarily because the Germans weren't really defending it anyway. His forces closed near the Germans north of Mount Etna, while the British ground forward slowly against the dug-in Germans to the southeast of the volcano. The narrow coast roads on both sides of the volcano had numerous bridges which the Germans blew up as they retreated, slowing the Allies greatly. It became a matter of honor as to which Allied army would take Messina and end the campaign, the Americans or the British. The strain began wearing on the Allied commanders, leading to the infamous Patton "slapping incident" on 3 August 1943.

Sicily invasion World War II
A badly defaced portrait of Mussolini, pierced by a bayonet and with several pistol shots to the head, hangs from a tree along the road from Messina to the Sicilian ferry crossing to the Italian mainland following the liberation of Sicily on 17 August 1943.
General Hube, meanwhile, was a veteran of Stalingrad and knew not to overplay his own hand. He retreated in methodical fashion, losing as few troops as possible while delaying the Allies but not trying to defeat them. The collapse of Italian resistance on Sicily, though, was too much for Mussolini to withstand; he was removed from office in a coup on 25 July 1943 due to the Italian Army's ineffectiveness. The new Badoglio government professed loyalty to the Axis cause, but pretty much everyone surmised that the Italians would either surrender or change sides soon. This gave new urgency to Hube's plan to escape with his troops through Messina.

Operation Lehrgang

Operation Lehrgang was the German withdrawal across the Straits of Messina. It was accomplished using Siebel ferries, which were double-ended pontoon-supported motorized rafts, along with some other naval barges and a couple of Italian ferries.

Sicily invasion World War II
A German Siebel ferry, here at anchor carrying four 88 mm Flak 36 anti-aircraft and two 20 mm FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns. Used in coastal waters, the Siebel ferry could carry heavy loads. It evacuated just about everything from Sicily.
The XIVth Panzer Corps escaped to the mainland in methodical fashion from August 11-17. The operation, commanded by Baron von Liebenstein who had performed similar work in the Black Sea, was a huge success. Not only did the Germans evacuate their 39,569 troops, they also took 9,605 vehicles, 94 artillery pieces, and 47 tanks, along with ammunition and other supplies. Basically, they retained everything except some railroad cars. The Italians, using their own ferries, evacuated 62,182 men, 41 artillery pieces, and 227 vehicles. It was an unusual feat for either side, wherein the evacuating troops got out not only with their lives but also with their equipment and fighting strength intact.

Sicily invasion World War II
General Patton won the race for Messina.
General Patton's troops were the first enter Messina, around 7 a.m. on 17 August 1943. It was about an hour after General Hube had left. General Patton rode into town about 10 a.m. - with enemy shells still falling nearby from the mainland - to end the campaign once and for all. Sicily was now in Allied hands, but the much harder battle for the Italian mainland still lay ahead.

In summary, the Sicily campaign was of huge importance to the course of the war even though it is given short shrift in the history books. Sicily itself was not strategically vital, but it set up some of the most far-reaching consequences of the war. Primarily and most significantly, the invasion caused the downfall of Mussolini. This was no small matter, as his downfall eventually led Italy to change sides to join the Allies, which was much more important than many people think due to economic as well as political ramifications. More subtly, but also of tremendous importance, the invasion of Sicily served as almost a dress rehearsal for the ultimately more decisive invasion of Normandy 11 months later. Aside from simply getting used to the equipment (much of which was re-used on D-Day), Allied soldiers learned to keep the British and American sectors of an invasion front connected rather than separated, had a chance to practice re-supply techniques, saw the trouble that the Luftwaffe could cause if not properly contained, suffered the consequences of not getting armored support on the beaches quickly, and learned valuable lessons about how to coordinate airborne assaults with contested beach landings. Sicily also provided an ideal launching pad for operations against the Italian mainland that began only a few weeks later.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

German Propaganda Posters

Priming the Pump of Evil

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Fight for the cause."
Paul Joseph Goebbels, often shortened to Josef Goebbels, was a close friend of Adolf Hitler. Unlike with some other Hitler cronies, this relationship lasted until the day both men died. Joseph Goebbels shaped the propaganda of the Third Reich, and it was quite effective.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"The German Navy in action."
Goebbels was a good student and graduated at top of the class at his Gymnasium (roughly, high school). He went on to study literature in various colleges and earned his doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in 1921. Thus, he is known to history as Dr. Goebbels.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Two people, one war."
Goebbels may have had his doctorate, but what he didn't have was a job. He wrote for the local newspaper and dated a Jewish girl, Else Janke.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Goebbels tried to become a published author, writing plays and novels, but was unsuccessful. He took a series of odd jobs to support himself, including as a bank clerk and a runner on the local stock exchange.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Tanks, your sword!"
Throughout the 1920s, he read the classics, such as Dostoyevsky and Spengler. He became interested in political philosophy, and early on showed a marked anti-Semitism.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Behind the enemy forces: the Jew."
Goebbels was one of Hitler's few true cronies who met him after the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler tended to venerate people like Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering who had marched with him that day in Munich, and Goebbels was not one of them. This seemed to give Goebbels a slight sense of unease throughout their relationship, and he was notable for extravagant displays of loyalty that the others found ostentatious and overbearing.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Goebbels joined the Party (NSDAP) in 1924, and was number 8762. This wasn't a particularly impressive number, to be one of the early birds you would want as low a number as possible, certainly below 1000. Some other bigwigs had relatively high numbers, too, but "traded down" over time when early Party Members passed away. Things like your party number were very important in the Third Reich, and even when you got a new, lower number, people (or at least rivals for power) remembered. This also probably contributed to Goebbels' sense of unease.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Hitler recognized that Goebbels was educated and spoke well. Such men were necessary in the Party, which otherwise was largely composed of uneducated roughnecks. Hitler had Goebbels give some speeches shortly after Hitler got out of Landsberg Prison, and Goebbels showed a talent for giving them.

German Nazi propaganda posters
SA and SS.
Naturally, all this depended upon absolute and complete loyalty by Goebbels, which he gave at every opportunity.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"This hand leads the country."
In August 1926, Hitler appointed Goebbels to be Gauleiter (party boss) of Berlin. It was a very prestigious posting, and Goebbels had control over everything. He reorganized the party there, including finding new ways of raising money. This included charging for admission to Party events. In order to drive demand to these paid events, Goebbels studied advertising techniques and began creating posters.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"The only result is victory!'
Among Goebbels' innovations were the use of large type, red ink (which was distinctive and also reflected the Party colors), and the use of general slogans that invited the reader to wonder what was meant by the phrase in question. Often, but not always, there was an explanation in a much smaller type that drew the viewer closer to the poster and made for a more intimate relationship.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Degenerate music." (Promo for a pre-war exhibition of decadent culture).
Not everyone was a fan of Goebbels. Early NSDAP member Gregor Strasser, for instance, was the official Party propaganda chief and thought that Goebbels' posters were not working in the cities, where people tended to be more educated and were not taken in by simplistic slogans. However, the posters proved extremely effective in rural areas, justifying Goebbels' techniques.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Officer of tomorrow."
Goebbels took propaganda opportunities when they presented themselves. For instance, a local SA leader, Horst Wessel, was shot by two communists in 1930. While normally such an incident would pass almost unnoticed, Goebbels elevated him to the status of martyr. Goebbels went so far as to turn a very clunky marching anthem favored by Wessel, "Raise the Flag," into the official NSDAP anthem. The name Horst Wessel became one of the most recognized in Germany throughout the Third Reich even though he had been nobody special, and all due to Goebbels' propaganda.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"This German woman was tormented by Polish beasts protected by the British. How do you explain this, Mr. Chamberlain?"
Gregor Strasser and his brother, meanwhile, were pushing their luck with Hitler. They viewed Hitler as just another follower who had come along after the party was formed. The Strasser brothers began veering off into a different direction from Hitler and even began publishing a newspaper in Berlin that was independent of Hitler, with different ideas. Hitler always viewed internal dissent as more dangerous than external, so he replaced Strasser as the Reich's leader of propaganda with Goebbels. Goebbels promptly banned the Strassers' newspaper, and the Strasser brothers, miffed, left the Party (Strasser was among those eliminated in the 30 June 1934 Night of the Long Knives, Hitler had a long memory).

German Nazi propaganda posters

It was the time of the Great Depression, and scapegoats were needed. Hitler had to garner public support one way or another to win elections, and Goebbels began focusing more on the Jews as the cause of Germany's problems. He began emphasizing phrases such as "Jewish wire-pullers" and "International High Finance," an obvious code for Jewish bankers. Naturally, this all fit into Hitler's philosophy as set forth in "Mein Kampf," and it appealed to a certain subset of the population.

German Nazi propaganda posters
Propaganda encouraged women to join the Labor Service.
Hitler's accession to the position of Reich Chancellor on 30 January 1933 was a turning point for everyone, including Goebbels. Goebbels engaged in one of his customary showy displays of loyalty to Hitler by organizing a torchlit parade through Berlin by some 60,000 SA and SS men. However, Hitler was not yet fully behind Goebbels and did not appoint him to the Cabinet. This no doubt increased his sense of unease about his standing within the hierarchy.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Events were moving quickly, however. The 27 February Reichstag Fire, followed by the 5 March election which was not quite as impressive as Hitler had hoped, suggested that propaganda efforts needed to be intensified in order to shape public opinion and take advantage of events that could inflame the masses. Accordingly, Hitler, using his authority under the Enabling Act, created the position of Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda on 14 March for Goebbels. This was the main post that Goebbels held for the remainder of his life.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Goebbels set up shop in the 18th-century Leopold Palace near the Reich Chancellery. It was handy for gaining quick access to Hitler across the street. Goebbels quickly went to work to increase party support among the masses, though no more elections were held. Since there were no longer elections, there was no quantitative way to know how well Goebbels' techniques were working - which no doubt suited him just fine.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"The inhuman crimes of 'gangster pilots' will forever bar the United States from civilized society." 
Goebbels intensified his persecution of the Jews. He quickly drafted a Hitler decree authorizing a boycott of Jewish businesses. When Hindenburg died in August 1934, Goebbels broadcast that Hindenburg's position as President and Hitler's as Chancellor were now combined. Hitler was now titled Führer und Reichskanzler, or Leader and Chancellor.

German Nazi propaganda posters
A 1940 Italian poster showing the Germans kicking the British John Bull character.
Goebbels was a philanderer, routinely cheating on his very loyal wife, Magda. Rumor had it that Hitler himself liked Magda Goebbels, and prevailed upon Joseph to marry her to keep her nearby. Thus, Goebbel's cheating on the little woman (who managed to produce six offspring anyway) was frowned upon by Hitler, who did not want his minions' attention straying in other directions. As the years passed, this disharmony caused Goebbels a great deal of anxiety.

German Nazi propaganda posters

To deflect attention and once again show his utter loyalty - which was the one thing that Hitler required above all else - Goebbels organized Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938. Goebbels also ramped up the propaganda campaign against the Jews in general. This restored Goebbels' place of favor within Hitler's inner circle, to the consternation of others who resented Goebbels' ability to cause problems and enhance his own position via his control of public opinion. Some people date the beginning of the Holocaust to this spurious act by Goebbels.

German Nazi propaganda posters
Posters encouraged Italians and citizens of other German allies and conquered lands to join the German military. "For honor, for life." 
As the Third Reich spread across Europe, so did Goebbels' propaganda. Different propaganda efforts were created for different countries. In Italy, for instance, the emphasis was on reinforcing the idea that the Germans and Italians were allies fighting together against barbaric (and Jewish) enemies.

German Nazi propaganda posters
This poster combines outrage at Allied bombings with the old Goebbels stand-by, anti-Semitism.
Thus, Goebbels created a lot of images of smiling Germans with outstretched hands and the like, conveying an image of both friendliness and underlying intimidation.

German Nazi propaganda posters

Standard propaganda themes used by all countries, such as not talking indiscreetly and thereby revealing secrets to spies, followed similar themes. Whereas Allied propaganda on the same themes tended to play on the viewers' sense of patriotism and desire not to harm the soldiers, Goebbels' posters instead had an air of menace - as in, you had better do what we say, because if you don't, you won't like the consequences any more than we do.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Quiet! You put me in danger."
The war began turning badly, and Goebbels compensated. For instance, at first, he created posters showing that Stalingrad was the victory destined to seal Germany's dominion over Europe. This was in keeping with repeated Hitler assurances that Stalingrad was going to fall any day, and that "nothing will ever make me leave there."

German Nazi propaganda posters
"Stalingrad is taken!" Well, not quite.
However, Stalingrad, of course, was a disaster. Goebbels pivoted and made it a rallying cry in his call for Total War in 1943 - an old idea from World War I, but one which became an effective rallying crying in the second, too.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"The battle of Stalingrad. The military needs you to defend the homeland."
As the war turned sour, the propaganda became increasingly dark. Instead of 1930s visions of young maidens holding flowers and the like, now there were pictures of skeletons flying Allied aircraft to rain death and destruction on Germany. Once again, the propaganda turned to fear and intimidation, playing on base impulses, rather than the more optimistic tone of Allied propaganda.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"The enemy sees your light! Dim it!"
While it is easy to find fault with this German propaganda, one must admit that it somehow kept the German people fighting long after all hope for victory was lost. In that sense, it was a great success, even as it induced the German people to subject their homeland to death and destruction.

German Nazi propaganda posters
"And you?"