Sunday, May 29, 2016

Third Reich: Appropriate Name?

Third Reich
An ancient Roman mosaic from Lyon, France. The Swastika is nothing new, but Hitler was good at appropriating former symbols and even empires.

We are so accustomed to speaking of "The Third Reich" that the term has become synonymous with Adolf Hitler's empire of 1933-1945. However, that term may be popular, but it is not accurate. There was an actual name for Germany (and its conquests) for the period, and "Third Reich" is not it.

Origins of the Term "Third Reich"

In order to understand what the term "Third Reich" meant, it is helpful to have a little background on why it was the "third." There were two previous "reichs," though they may not have thought of themselves as part of any kind of succession. Below are quick summaries.

The First Reich

The first reich was the Holy Roman Empire, aka the Heiliges Römisches Reich. It derived from an empire created by Charles Martel, who took over a previous agglomeration of Frankish tribes in northern Gaul and the middle Rhine River valley area. This earlier grouping, the Merovingians of Clovis I, had formed order out of the chaos that resulted from the fall of the western Roman Empire.

Martel, "The Hammer," was not really a king, but more a power-behind-the-throne type. His family became known as the "Carolingians." Martel had two sons, Pepin and Carloman, between whom he split up the kingdom upon his death (the Hammer was a real power behind the throne). Everyone remembers Pepin; nobody remembers Carloman, because he essentially lost a power struggle with Pepin (he retired to monastic life "voluntarily," and eventually Pepin imprisoned him; it was not how Carloman wanted it to play out at all).

Pepin, unlike his father, became an actual king in 751, when Pope Stephen II travelled across the Alps to crown him in Paris. The Pope made him "patricius Romanorum (Patrician of the Romans)," and it was the first time a Pope had crowned anyone. Pepin had his first son, Charles, probably around 742. Pepin died in 768, and Charles was supposed to share Pepin's kingdom with his younger brother, also named Carloman. However, Carloman died "of natural causes" in December 771, and Charles essentially took over everything and began calling himself "Charles the Great" (Charlemagne), which also happened to be a traditional French baby name.

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Charlemagne (742–814) receiving the submission of Witikind at Paderborn in 785, by Ary Scheffer (1795–1858). Versailles. Charlemagne would have been confused at his own kingdom being lumped in with later German empires. In fact, it was Widukind, conquered by Charlemagne, who became an iconic figure for Hitler.

Charlemagne was the most powerful man in Europe, and had great military success. The current Pope, Leo, on the other hand, was absolutely powerless and hated by the people in Rome. He travelled to see Charlemagne to get help, and Charlemagne took him back to Rome to set things straight. He stayed there through the winter of 800, and what came next was a bit of a mystery to everyone, including both Charlemagne and later historians. While Charlemagne was at mass on Christmas Day, he knelt at the altar in St. Peter's. Pope Leo came over and, apparently on his own initiative, cropped a crown on his head and called him Imperator Romanorum ("Emperor of the Romans").

This was a bit tricky, because there already was an emperor - or rather, an empress, Irene in Constantinople. Since Irene was a woman, Pope Leo decided that the position of emperor was vacant, and thus he could give it to whomsoever he pleased. There is a great deal of agreement that Charlemagne in fact was behind the whole thing and had tasked Leo to crown him emperor in exchange for Charlemagne restoring Leo to power in Rome.

Third Reich
One does not have to look very hard to find direct borrowings by the Germans from the various incarnations of the Roman Empire.

Naturally, the Byzantines were not too thrilled about this. They were the true Roman Empire, unbroken from the time of Julius Caesar. The west, though, had only been giving lip service to the idea of the Byzantine ruler being an actual emperor for centuries. Charlemagne simply took advantage of a loophole - the supposed vacancy of the throne - and this created the argument that he now was the actual emperor, not just of the west, but also of the east. The Byzantines and the west now each had an emperor, and each could claim with more or less sincerity that theirs was the "true" emperor.

This, incidentally, is a subject which even people in the field habitually get wrong. Charlemagne's ascension had absolutely nothing to do with succeeding to Romulus Augustulus, the previous western Roman emperor deposed in 476. There was no "western emperor" slot except by agreement between both halves of the empire. That had been an administrative convenience and practical reality, but in 800, there was one and only emperor - Irene. She was the legitimate successor in the continuous line of Roman Emperors. That is, unless you decided that a woman could not be emperor, in which case the throne was vacant and the Pope was the one with authority to fill it.

Third Reich

The Holy Roman Empire, as it was not styled, lasted through 45 official monarchs and a number of other claimants. It increasingly became more of a fiction than a reality - just as Byzantine claims over western Europe had been in 800. By the time of Napoleon, it was relegated to power in Austria. When Napoleon for all intents and purposes defeated the Hapsburgs, Francis II decided that it was better to do away with the whole thing than to be forced to give the Corsican tyrant added legitimacy. Accordingly, on 6 August 1806, Francis sent a herald decked out in full Imperial court regalia to a medieval church in the center of Vienna, where he ascended to a balcony, blew on a silver trumpet, and announced the end of the Holy Roman Empire after 1005 years.

The Second Reich

Napoleon, of course, came and went. His family, though, hung around, and eventually his nephew Napoléon Bonaparte became, in 1852, the Emperor of the Second French Empire. It wasn't much of an empire - he was just ruler of France - but this gave the next reich something to build upon.

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Portrait de l'empereur Napoleon III (1808-1873) (artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter).

After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the multitudinous German baronies and duchies and so forth (the "Kleinstaaterei") began to realize that they needed to organize in order to fend off the era's great powers such as France and Great Britain. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, rather than try to reinstate the Holy Roman Empire, created something new out of whole cloth: the German Confederation. This became a military state dominated by Prussia, and had a lot of success. The German Confederation ended in 1866, when it was replaced by the North German Confederation as a result of the Austro-Prussian war of 1866.

Napoleon III was a popular ruler, and he stirred the pot in various places around the world, including Mexico. However, the French military was in a state of decline, and the Germans noticed. Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck decided to instigate a crisis, and he used an opening on the Spanish throne to goad the French into war (the "Ems Dispatch," which was calculated to offend Napoleon III. It did, and he very unwisely declared war on the Prussians on 19 July 1870.

Third Reich
William I is proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, France (painting by Anton von Werner).

After a series of humiliating defeats, capped by his own capture at Sedan on 2 September 1870, Napoleon III lost his empire due to an uprising in Paris. Basically, the Germans occupied most of France except for Paris itself. The Germans were militarily ascendant, so the North German Confederation's legislature, called the Reichstag, decided to rename its state the German Empire. The new German Emperor (styled the "Kaiser," a corruption of "Caesar") was William I, the King of Prussia, who also was the President of the Confederation. He was crowned at Versailles, which the Germans then occupied. This is considered by many to be the military high point of post-medieval German history.

The German Empire lasted only about 48 years. Defeat in World War I led to the abdication and banishment of the current Kaiser, Wilhelm II. The Second Reich was not much, especially compared to the first Reich's 1005 years of history, but it had one advantage in the memory of Germans of the 1920: it was recent.

The Third Reich

The Germans by now had gotten used to the idea of empire, even though they no longer had one (and the one that they had had was hardly worthy of the name). Once again, as in the post-Holy Roman Empire era, the German people felt at loose ends, as if they needed something to unite around.

Third Reich
Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, who committed suicide in 1925.

A German "cultural historian," Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, saw this longing. He wrote a book, Das Dritte Reich ("The Third Reich"), in 1923. Van Den Bruck, like most historians, was just compiling and regurgitating various nineteenth-century Volkisch philosophical writings. It did not seem to trouble anyone that Charlemagne himself was as much French as German, or that the Holy Roman Empire only acquired a Germanic flavor over time as its center of gravity shifted eastward. In fact, one could say the whole idea was more Italian than either French or German. In essence, Van Den Bruck and the others were almost stealing another nation's empire and calling it their own. The term "Third Reich," though, resonated with Germans the way that, say, the term "Manifest Destiny" resonated with Americans of the nineteenth century. It stuck.

Third Reich

This book had nothing to do with Hitler, who was just one of many rabble-rousers at the time. However, it firmly established the order of succession of the Holy Roman Empire as the First Reich and the Bismarck creation as the Second Reich. The thesis of Bruck's book was that a third and final Reich would build on the first two and, after a right-wing revolution, finally get things right.

Post-war nationalists loved the idea of another Reich in the offing, so the book was fairly popular. Bruck was particularly interesting to Hitler's party, the National Socialist German Workers' Party (the NSDAP), because he had written a book in 1918, Das Recht der jungen Völker ("The Right Of Young Nations"), which posited Russia/Soviet Union as representing the extreme of communism and the United States as representing the extreme of capitalism. The clear implication of that book is that Germany could create a successful middle road between those two extremes, which seemed tailor-made for the National Socialist party.

Frederick the Great Otto von Bismarck Paul von Hindenburg Hitler Third Reich
German propaganda, such as this postcard depicting Hitler as a successor to Frederick the Great, Otto von Bismarck and Paul von Hindenburg, often tried to place the current leadership as a continuation of previous governments. The line reads: "What the king conquered, the prince formed, the Field Marshal defended, was saved and united by the soldier."

The Germans adopted "The Third Reich" as a political slogan, but it never really fit. Bruck met Hitler and didn't like him, noting his "proletarian primitiveness." Hitler also was not a huge fan of the term "Third Reich" itself, feeling that "third" implied impermanence. Anti-regime propaganda had taken to referring to a "Fourth Reich" and used that as a wedge to promote overcoming the Third. Christian groups also sneered at the inclusion of the Holy Roman Empire as part of the lineage of the current distinctly atheistic Hitler regime (though, as Voltaire pointed out, there was never anything particularly holy about the Holy Roman Empire). There also was something just so, oh, puerile about naming an entire empire after some unknown historian's book.

Hitler preferred the term "Thousand-Year Reich," which signified a sort of eternal quality. The official name of the German state beginning in 1933 actually was Deutsches Reich.

Third Reich
Hitler did not want there to be any more "Reichs," so he took the term "Third Reich" out of official useage. However, after the war and the realization that Hitler's empire was, after all, just another reich, the term seemed to fit again even to his loyal henchmen.

The term "Third Reich" remained so popular that even German state agencies, not knowing Hitler's view of the term, used it repeatedly. Hitler grew increasingly dissatisfied with the term; his idea was something bigger than just another short-lived German military dictatorship like the Second Reich. His goal was to unite the Germanic peoples around the world, not just govern a country. His conquests of Austria and Czechoslovakia were key steps in that plan, and he had his eyes on the ethnic Germans in Poland and the Baltic States. With his gaze wandering to more distant shores, he looked to break out of the limiting "Third Reich" term.

Kassel and Großdeutsches Reich

Hitler's chance to make a clean break with the term "Third Reich" came in mid-1939. On 2-4 June 1939, the city of Kassel hosted the First Greater German Reich Warrior Meeting. While this sounds kind of silly, sort of like a bunch of guys going off in the woods and beating their chests, this was a big deal in pre-war Germany. A total of 300,000 Wehrmacht troops attended, along with about 200,000 civilians. Hitler, as usual, flew in at the last minute to review the military parade and give a big speech. He invited the foreign ambassadors of Japan, Finland, Hungary and other nations that he wanted to impress.

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Hitler in Kassel.

The Kassel event was a rousing success. The crowd was assembled using 119 special trains, and the visitors were quartered in local homes and anywhere else that room could be found (including tents). The crowd was fed using huge kettles which dished out 360,000 meals at a time. Hitler flew in, reviewed the troops, gave his speech (which was distinctly anti-British and focused on that perennial staple of inter-war German angst, the lost colonies) and left in his custom Junkers Ju 52 promptly by 19:00. Less is more, as the saying goes.

Third Reich

Hitler used the meeting to demark his new emphasis on pan-Germanism. Upon returning to Berlin, he crafted a new directive to all state agencies: as of 13 June 1939, they were no longer to use the term "Third Reich." Instead, henceforth, the proper way to refer to Hitler's Germany was "Großdeutsches Reich," or Greater German Empire. That certainly sounded more imposing.

The reorientation away from this "Third Reich" business took some subtle forms. The Holy Roman Empire's creator, Charlemagne, was used as the name for a Wehrmacht unit of French collaborators, Brigade Charlemagne/33 Waffen-Grenadier Division der SS "Charlemagne." This subtly showed that Hitler's German state was not a true heir to that earlier "reich," whose founder's name could be best applied to collaborators.

As Hitler's own empire crumbled, he finally began using the term "Third Reich" again. By that point, Goebbels' propaganda also was showing nuns in his newsreels, so things most definitely had changed. The names used to describe Hitler's rule were just there to express a certain viewpoint, so there is nothing sacrosanct about them.

Third Reich
Kaiser Wilhelm

Kaiser Wilhelm had this to say about Hitler:
“There is a man alone, without family, without children, without God....He builds legions but he doesn’t build a nation. A nation is created by families, a religion, and tradition: it is made up out of the hearts of mothers, the wisdom of fathers, the joy and the exuberance of children. [Of Germany under Hitler he says] all-swallowing State, disdainful of human dignities and the ancient structure of our race, sets itself up in place of everything else. And the man, who, alone, incorporates in himself this whole State, has neither a God to honor nor a dynasty to conserve, nor a past to consult....
For a few months I was inclined to believe in National Socialism. I thought of it as a necessary fever. And I was gratified to see that there were, associated with it for a time, some of the wisest and most outstanding Germans. But these, one by one, he has got rid of or even killed....He has left nothing but a bunch of shirted gangsters....
This man could bring home victories to our people each year without bringing them...glory....But of our Germany, which was a nation of poets and musicians and artists and soldiers, he has made a nation of hysterics and hermits, engulfed in a mob and led by a thousand liars or fanatics....”
Kaiser Wilhelm disassociated himself from the Hitler regime over its treatment of Jews and other, and felt that the only proper course would have been the restoration of his own Reich. This really completes the case that the Third Reich had absolutely nothing to do with the first two, and thus Hitler was correct about this one thing: the term Third Reich was a complete misnomer.

Third Reich


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Battle of Dombås

Battle of Dombås
The Dombås drop.
Operation Weserübung, the invasion of Denmark and Norway, was one of the Wehrmacht's biggest successes. It solved numerous problems, such as protection of the Reich's iron ore supplies, and gave the Kriegsmarine numerous benefits. The operation took only a month before it essentially was over. However, Adolf Hitler was a nervous wreck at various points, and he issued some rash orders out of fear and paranoia. One of those orders resulted in the Battle of Dombås.

A Strategic Decision

Hitler, as always, had his eye on the map. A glance revealed that Dombås was a crucial road and rail link between southern Norway and the northern ports. A block at Dombås could bottle up the Norwegian government. It also, though it is unclear if Hitler had this in mind, prevent the escape of the Norwegian gold reserves.

Battle of Dombås Hitler Berghof map Generals
Hitler waged his war by standing over a 1:1000 map. Here, he is at the Berghof surrounded by Generals ready to execute his orders. Generals Jodl and Keitel look on.
The problem was that the Wehrmacht was nowhere near Dombås. It had troops at Trondheim and Kristiansund and Oslo in the north, but nothing in the heartland. The Norwegian government, led by King Haakon, as far south at Elverum, but they could hop a train and be at a northern port within a day. There, the British could pick them - and the gold - up, and they would no doubt form another of government-in-exile, the previous ones already being a nuisance to Hitler. The train, however, would have to pass through ... Dombås.

Fallschirmjäger in Action

Hitler had one ready tool available: airborne troops. He issued the appropriate orders, and the Battle of Dombås began on 14 April 1940 when Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft dropped elite paratroopers (Fallschirmjäger) of the 7th Flieger Division near the railroad junction at Dombås at about 18:00. Unknown to the Germans, the drop was in the middle of a temporary encampment of the 2nd Battalion of the Norwegian Army′s Infantry Regiment 11 (II/IR 11). The Junkers Ju 52 planes flying at treetop level came under fire from all directions, and the planes returned fire as best they can. The Junkers Ju 52s carrying the elite paratroopers loss 8 of their 15 number, and the remainder were shot up.

Battle of Dombås Junkers Ju 52 crashed
One of the Junkers Ju 52 lost during the Dombås drop.
It thus is an extremely hazardous drop in poor weather, completed just south of Dombås only because it was a Hitler order which must be obeyed. The paratroopers were spread out over a wide area, which was typical of such operations, and the majority never made it to the objective. Out of a force of 185 men, only 63 wound up with the commander, Oberleutnant Herbert Schmidt. The operation had been assembled so quickly that the men on the ground barely had any maps. It was a "wing it" type of operation - but sometimes that works.

Battle of Dombås Fallschirmjäger Oslo paratroopers
Paratroopers were a new military technique in 1940. In fact, their first use in combat had been in Oslo, Norway (shown here, to secure the airfields) only a few days before the Battle of Dombås.
The Norwegians heard about the paratrooper attack quickly. It led to the quick decision to evacuate the national gold reserves to Britain via British cruisers. The attack sowed terror and confusion throughout the Norwegian government and military - everyone throughout the country soon is talking about "German paratroopers" and looking over his or her shoulder. The Norwegian mobilization, which was very slow to start with, was further delayed by the inability of prospective soldiers to move through Dombås and get to their assigned units.

Battle of Dombås train station 1940
The main objective of the battle: the Dombås train station, a key juncture in the center of Norway.
The main objective at Dombås was the destruction of the railroad which runs through the town, along with the road junction that led south to Oslo and east to Sweden. Road junctions were vital objectives in Norway because the few roads ran along only a few long mountain defiles which were the only path for vehicles. Schmidt quickly blocked the main road in the area and cut the phone wires running alongside. Having collected his men, he then captured a passing taxicab. Piling as many men into it as possible, Schmidt and the men headed north to Dombås. He told the rest of his troops to follow on foot.

Battle of Dombås
The road near where the first firefight took place. It was covered in snow during the battle.
Not far up the road, Schmidt's taxi ran into two truckloads of Norwegian soldiers coming the other way. After some confusion, a firefight broke out, and Schmidt's advance was stopped. He took up a defensive position near the main road - thus blocking it - and waited for his other men coming along behind (walking) to catch up. Schmidt was badly wounded, shot twice in the guy, but retained command. The troops took up positions on a hillside overlooking the main road.

April 15

Oblt. Schmidt and his men began the next day, April 15th, at their position at Hågåvollen, a farm on the highway five kilometers south of Dombås. The men left behind on the road caught up during the night, so Schmidt again had over 60 men with him. Then, he had his men blow up the nearby railway line in three places, which closed the line for 24 hours.

Battle of Dombås Oberleutnant Herbert Schmidt
Oblt. Herbert Schmidt.
The Norwegians now knew there was a German force in the area, but knew little else. Kaptein Eiliv Austlid of the Norwegian army was tasked with clearing the road and rail line, which King Haakon and the rest of the government - and the gold - would have to use as an escape route. He brought two heavy machine gun platoons which had a total of 41 men. The Norwegians counterattacked quickly, but it failed in deep snow as the Germans had chosen an excellent defensive position on a hilltop. Austlid was killed while storming the dug-in Germans, shot through the chest. The Germans captured 28 of the Norwegians. The Fallschirmjäger remained at that location throughout the day as the Norwegians regrouped and assembled more forces.

Battle of Dombås Captain Austlid
Captain Austlid. He was given a posthumous medal in 2009.
Early the next morning on the 16th, two Norwegian companies arrived. One, I/IR 5, attacked the Germans from the south, while the other II/IR 11 attacked from the south. The Norwegians had brought two 81 mm (3.19 in) mortars and some Colt M/29s. The Norwegian firepower was overwhelming against men who only had submachine guns. There was a brief firefight, and then the Germans waved the white flag. The Germans sent over a Norwegian POW who (erroneously) represented that the Germans were demanding that the two Norwegian companies surrender or the Germans would shoot their prisoners. There may have been something lost in the translation. The Norwegians responded by sending over a German POW who stated that the Norwegians were demanding that they surrender. Neither side surrendered.

Battle of Dombås 81 mm mortar
A typical 81-mm mortar (8 cm Schwerer Granatenwerfer 34), probably very similar too the one used at Dombås. This weapon is the German equivalent of the U.S. 81-mm mortar M-1. It is a smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded weapon with a fixed firing pin. The elevating, traversing, and cross-leveling mechanisms are of conventional design.
Schmidt continued negotiating, waiting for darkness so he and his men could make a run for it. The Norwegians finally lost patience and attacked again. At that moment, fate struck, for a blizzard descended on the area. The Germans launched an unexpected attack through the snow, and it sent the Norwegians reeling back to Dombås. After dark, the Fallschirmjäger slipped away to the south.

Meanwhile, Norwegian troops nearby were rounding up the numerous Fallschirmjäger who had wound up far from the drop zone. Some 22 were captured at Kolstad and another 23 at Bottheim train station. They were not participating in the battle anyway, so their loss did not affect operations.

April 16

The Germans slept in the woods as best they could then set out along the road to Dombås at first light on 17 April. Oblt. Schmidt had captured three heavy machine guns from the Norwegian companies that had attacked on the 16th. The 60-odd men moved in a column, armed to the teeth. At the front were soldiers with hand grenades, followed by captured trucks carrying the wounded and POWs. Schmidt himself was badly wounded but remained in command.

Battle of Dombås Tofte Dovre manor
Tofte (Dovre) is an old manor in Dovre municipality in Gudbrandsdalen, 10 km (6 miles) southeast of the village of Dombås. Here it is pictured in 1940, and centuries earlier it had been a royal manor house. The battle of  Dombås entered into Wehrmacht lore, and SS Reichsfuhrer made a special point of visiting the site of the Battle of Dombås in January 1943.
The Fallschirmjäger ran into a Norwegian roadblock at Landheim bridge. The 25 Norwegians were no match for the desperate Fallschirmjäger troops and quickly withdrew to Dovre Church. The Germans blocked the road at Einbugga road bridge, between Toftemo and Dovre to the south and looked for somewhere to hold out.

April 17

The Fallschirmjäger force wound up on 18 April at the North and South Lindse Farm just south of Dombås. They took over the stone barn, which was quite formidable. The farmstead was on a hillside and overlooked both the main road (700 m (770 yd) away) and the vital rail line (250 m (270 yd) away). Oblt. Schmidt was carried to the barn on a door by Norwegian POWs. The Germans had taken 15 military personnel and 40 civilians as prisoners, which they keep at South Lindse.

The Germans, while obviously desperate and under attack, did not unduly harass the Ulateig family that owned the farm. Egils Ulateig, the grandfather of the farm, disregarded a command not to enter the barn, the heart of the defense, blithely stepping over a barricade to feed the cows, sheep and goats. The Germans smiled and let him go, saying "Du bist ein gute mensch."

Battle of Dombås 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun
A typical 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun and crew in France.
The Norwegians had to clear the road and rail line. They brought in troops to the north, a battalion of I/IR 11, and to the south, I/IR 5. There were several other Norwegian units helping out, and fenrik (Second Lieutenant) L. K. Løkken of the Raufoss Anti-aircraft Command had brought a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun. The 40 mm gun was positioned at Dovre Train station and used as artillery against the barn and other German positions, but not the farmhouse where the POWs and Ulateig family were located.

April 18

The Norwegians attacked from the south at dawn on 18 April, raking the stone barn with heavy fire. The Germans were trapped in the barn with ammunition running low.

Battle of Dombås Junkers Ju 52 air-drop
A Junkers Ju 52 dropping supplies in Russia.
The situation looked dire, but unexpectedly a Junker Ju 52 appeared overhead and dropped ammunition, warm clothing, provisions, medical supplies, and the radio frequency for communicating with headquarters. These were their first supplies of the operation. Later, a Norwegian officer approached demanding surrender. Schmidt rejected the demand. The Norwegians then resumed fire with the 40 mm gun. The barn became untenable, and at the end of the day, the Germans retreated to the farmhouse where the POWs were being held.

The Norwegians continued shelling the farm with their 40 mm antiaircraft gun throughout the night.

April 19

The Fallschirmjäger were surrounded by vastly superior Norwegian forces but still determined to hold out. The Norwegians brought up a rail-mounted howitzer manned by Royal Marines. The howitzer opened fire at 06:00 on 19 April with an opening barrage of 10 rounds.

Another Junkers Ju 52 then appeared overhead which, under different circumstances, might have been a stroke of good fortune. Schmidt, though, knew there was no hope, as there were no Wehrmacht troops advancing to link up with them which had any hope of arriving in time (the 196th Infantry Division occupied Dombås on 30 April). Schmidt told the Junkers pilot that he was going to surrender, and the transport left without dropping its supplies.

Schmidt then sent out his second-in-command, Leutnant Ernst Mössinger, with a white flag to see what kind of terms he could get. Norwegian Major Arne Sunde demanded unconditional surrender and gave Schmidt 10 minutes to send up flares to signify surrender before he would open fire again. Mössinger returned to the farm, and just before the deadline the Germans fired off the flares.

Battle of Dombås Herbert Schmidt book
Oblt. Schmidt survived the battle and wrote a book about it. He was KIA on 16 June 1944 in Normandy.
At that point, there were 45 Fallschirmjäger left, of whom 6 were wounded. The captured Germans were transported by train for incarceration at Dombås (ultimately to be freed by advancing Wehrmacht troops). The elimination of the Germans at Dombås cleared the vital rail line and road junction. This facilitated the escape route for King Haakon and the rest of the Norwegian government to England via the port of Andalsnes.

Norwegian Gold

With the conclusion of the Battle of Dombås, the gold reserves of the Norges Bank (Bank of Norway) could be secured. They had been in Oslo at the beginning of the war, then taken to Lillehammer. The journey further north, however, had been blocked by the Germans at Dombås. Once the Fallschirmjäger company surrendered on 19 April, the path finally was clear to get it out of the country. The gold, contained in 820 large boxes and 725 smaller crates, was sent by train via Dombås to the British base at Åndalsnes during the afternoon of the 19th, arriving at the port late in the evening - along with King Haakon and the rest of the Norwegian government.

Battle of Dombås Norwegian gold book 1940
The rescue of the Norwegian gold in 1940 is the subject of a Robert Pearson book.
The whole shipment weighed 49 tons, and ultimately it was shipped beginning on 26 April 1940 in small chunks to minimize the risk of loss. The first chunk, 8 tons, was loaded onto the cruiser HMS Galatea on the night of 25/26 April and taken to England. With it went Norwegian Director of Shipping Oyvind Lorentzen, who was to arrange for the Norwegian merchant fleet to be placed at the Allies' disposal.

The remainder of the gold followed King Haakon and the government, who hitched a ride on HMS Glasgow from Molde to Tromso on 29 April 1940. The Glasgow also took Crown Prince Olav, Prime Minister Nygaardsvold, and much of the rest of the Norwegian government. The Battle of Dombås caused serious inconvenience to the Norwegians and Allies but ultimately proved not to be a factor in the outcome of the campaign. King Haakon escaped, and so did the gold.

Battle of Dombås Norwegian gold King Haakon 1940
King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav while under British protection.


Vintage P-47 Thunderbolt Crashes, Recovered

P-47 Thunderbolt Hudson River
© (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) The P-47 is pulled out of the Hudson on Saturday, 28 May 2016.

World War II is very much alive, or at least its artifacts are. It can be jarring to be pulled from events of 1940 to 2016 all of a sudden, but this is a living, breathing subject with relevant events happening today and tomorrow.

P-47 Thunderbolt Hudson River
© (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) This shot gives a good idea of the plane's size.

As most readers of my blog probably know already, the Republic Aviation P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the primary fighters of World War II. It served on all fronts and also with allied air forces in France, Britain, and Russia. There were Mexican and Brazilian squadrons who operated squadrons. The Thunderbolt is one of the least-appreciated fighters of the war, because the Supermarine Spitfire, P-51, the Mitsubishi Zero, and a bunch of Luftwaffe fighters get all the press. It helped win the war.

P-47 Thunderbolt Hudson River
© (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Riverside Park in the background, this shot is taken from the direction of New Jersey.

Republic Aviation designed the P-47, and it is based on Long Island. One could argue that the P-47 was the best fighter for its time that Long Island ever produced, though Grumman would certainly have something to say about that. The bottom line is that the P-47 is associated with Long Island, and Long Island is associated with New York City, so the P-47 is as close as New York may ever get to having a home-town fighter to call its own. This plane you are looking at, in fact, flew out of Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

P-47 Thunderbolt Hudson River
© (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) The search for the plane on the night of the 27th.

Anyway, William Gordon, a veteran show pilot, was flying this plane in formation with two other pilots on 27 May 2016 when it developed some sort of mechanical issue over New York City. A witness said that he saw the plane smoking. The P-47 made a U-turn and crash-landed in the Hudson near the George Washington Bridge, not far from Riverside Park. The authorities were right on it, but the pilot perished. A barge recovered the plane on Saturday, 28 May 2016 in what appears to be pristine condition.

P-47 Thunderbolt Hudson River
The plane before it crashed. RIP brave pilot!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Women Factory Workers in World War II

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"Winnie the Welder." Florence “Woo Woo” DiTullio Joyce, aka “Winnie the Welder.” She was the first woman to be hired at the Fore River Shipyard in 1942. She was called "Woo Woo" because of the catcalls she got from men. "I was a curvaceous 119 pounds," said Flo of the years in the Forties when she worked as a welder at the Fore River Shipyard.

I admit that this is a very male-heavy blog. I would wager that well over 95% of the pictures that include depictions of people are of men, or they at the least are the dominant people featured. Nothing wrong with that: war pictures are what they are.

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Men fought and died and thus they are in most of the photos. However, women also contributed to the war effort, and they deserve their due just like guys that drove tanks and commanded ships.

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A Boeing worker assembles wires used in panels put into new airplanes. Seattle, Washington State, USA. 1942.

We've all heard the cliché about Rosie the Riveter. Of course, she wasn't just that - she was a real war worker. I've featured the woman behind that iconic image elsewhere. She worked at the famous Ford Willow Run plant in Michigan, along with many other hard-working women.

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Jane Wanley and her sister Martha Rohder riveting at the Willow Run Plant, 1943. (Source: The Henry Ford/Flickr).

So, on this page, let's take a look at some unknown women (at least at the time) of World War II who built all those shiny machines that won the war: the women who won World War II.

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President Roosevelt coined the phrase "arsenal of democracy" to describe the primary role of the United States during World War II.

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Fee Perez inspects .30 caliber rifle and machine gun bullets at Remington Arms Company's Bridgeport, Connecticut, plant alongside a photo of her husband, Melburn, who was serving overseas.

It was a throwaway line in one of his fireside chats, but it stuck.

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Women riveting a B-24 at the Ford Willow Run Plant, 1944. They were all "Rosie the Riveters." (Source: The Henry Ford/Flickr).

Women made the United States the Arsenal of Democracy as much as men did.

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Image: Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress.

The United States certainly was the arsenal of democracy during the war. It produced enough equipment to equip many, many more divisions than the States actually fielded during the war.

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It is estimated that the US produced enough equipment and related products to equip some 600 divisions. It may have been more than that, but that is the figure that I have seen.

women workers Rosie the Riveter
The real Rosie the Riveter.

Since the US only fielded 90 divisions itself, the vast majority of that equipment went overseas to equip Great Britain and the Soviet Union. And, a division requires a lot of equipment, so the amount produced is staggering.

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Norma Jeane Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe at a radioplane (drone) factory in suburban Los Angeles.

The equipment was not just produced in bulk. The Soviet Union did that also, and did it well. The genius of American industry was that, at least in most areas, its equipment was cutting edge and often of much greater effectiveness than that of other nations. For instance, the picture above shows the first drone in military history - along with the pretty lady. Nobody even knows about a lot of the US advanced equipment, that illustrates how many industries it led.

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The Kansas City B-25 Factory.

Certainly, there were some areas where the United States did not produce the best equipment. Its armored vehicles were behind the times and no match for the best German or Soviet tanks. A Sherman tank was a death trap when facing a Tiger tank.

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Working on rivets in Burbank, California.

The United States' mass-produced planes, though, essentially won the war. While the Luftwaffe had some more advanced models, its mass-produced bombers were no match for USAAF bombers; its fighters were at the very best, and with a bit of a stretch, only the equal of the best US fighters like the North American P-51 Mustang. The combined power of clouds of heavy bombers protected by effective fighter escorts was overwhelming.

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Oyida Peaks riveting. Photographed by Howard R. Hallem in August 1942.

Thus, if there was one area of warfare that the United States absolutely dominated, it was aerial bombing. There wasn't a nation on earth that had better bombers in the quantities that United States factories could churn out. The Ford factory at Willow Run, Michigan was cranking out 600 B-24 Liberators a month, 9,000 total. They were stunningly effective bombers, and no other nation's bomber production even came close. And that was just one factory for one bomber! There were many other dominating US bombers such as B-17s, B-29s, and B-25s.

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Woman aircraft worker, Vega Aircraft Corporation, Burbank, Calif. Shown checking electrical assemblies, June 1942. Photographed by David Bransby for the Farm Security Administration.

All that production won the war. It made the US the arsenal of democracy. And, that only came about because of the efforts of the women behind the scenes doing the dirty work on factory floors.

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Women workers install fixtures to B17F at Douglas Plant in Long Beach, CA

So, here's to the ladies who won World War II!

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Woman Worker Assembling a B-25 Bomber
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A woman working on a radial engine at North American.