World War II Day by Day - Page 10 - Politics | PoFo

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The Second World War (1939-1945).
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By Doug64
February 15, Thursday

Hitler orders unlimited U-boat war

U-boat commanders have been ordered by Hitler himself to take the gloves off in the battle to stop essential supplies of food and war material reaching Britain. Any ship which is likely to come under British control can now be torpedoed without warning.

This directive means that any neutral ship which is sailing towards a British-controlled war zone—and one such is the English Channel, the world’s busiest shipping lane—can be attacked without warning. Any ship which is following a zig-zag course is also liable to be sunk without warning.

The policy is already in effect, as evidenced by the sinking of Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish ships in the last few days. Danish newspapers today are full of the sinking of the 5,277-ton Chastine Maersk by a U-boat.

Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish shipowners have been meeting at Copenhagen and have decided to press for urgent action by their governments; one possibility is that neutral ships should henceforth travel in convoys protected by naval vessels.

Last night the British admiralty announced the sinking of two more U-boats, including the one which sank a 12,000-ton meat ship in the Bay of Biscay. Any joy at the sinking needs to be countered by the news that German shipyards are now building U-boats faster than Britain can sink them.
By Doug64
February 16, Friday

Navy rescues seamen held by Germans

Some 299 British seamen held prisoner on the Altmark have been rescued tonight by the destroyer HMS Cossack. The Altmark was the supply ship for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spree, and the prisoners had been taken from merchant ships captured by her.

After the sinking of the Graf Spree, the Altmark sailed for Europe taking a route near the Arctic to avoid detection. Incredibly, the Norwegians who stopped and searched her found neither her concealed guns nor the prisoners. Two British destroyers then chased her into Jossingfjord. The Cossack lowered two boats, but they could not move through the ice.

The Altmark then made two attempts to ram the Cossack. As the two ships scraped together several members of a boarding party leaped aboard the German ship. The Altmark then ran aground and the rest of the Royal Navy party scrambled over the side, opening fire with their rifles and charging with fixed bayonets. Four German crewmen were killed. One prisoner says: “It was a hit and run affair along the decks and round corners, ... more of a rathunt than anything. You can imagine our joy when we heard an English voice shouting down ‘The Navy’s here!’”

The captain of the Altmark had denied the existence of prisoners right up to the end. One prisoner tells of how they had shouted, hammered, and blown SOS whistles to attract the attention of the Norwegian search party at Bergen. The Germans turned a fire hose on them to stop them, and to drown out the noise they turned on a winch. Even so the prisoners find it difficult to understand why the Norwegians hadn’t noticed something of their presence. Afterwards the Germans told them that their behavior was mutiny and put out a notice saying: “On account of today’s behavior of the prisoners, they will get bread and water tomorrow instead of the regular meals.”

To mount the rescue the Cossack had to violate Norwegian territorial waters, but since the Norwegians failed to find guns or prisoners most Britons will feel that this was justified.
By Doug64
February 17, Saturday

Russia breaches Mannerheim Line to force Finnish withdrawal

Marshal Mannerheim has ordered his weary, battered men to abandon the first line of the Mannerheim Line defenses and fall back to a second line of defenses up to ten miles away. The Finns have performed bravely, fighting off attack after attack for sixteen days under a storm of cannon fire and bombs.

Yet now, tied to their defenses, there is little they can do except hope to survive. Casualties are severe. Some regiments have lost two-thirds of their strength. Untrained recruits and veterans of the National Civil Guard have been thrown into line where men have literally disappeared, blown away by the force of the bombardment. General Timoshenko has cleverly chosen to concentrate his attack on the Summa area where the forest opens out into fields and there is room for his tanks to maneuver. The Russian soldiers, now well-led and well-trained, are showing themselves to be hardy and brave—and there are many more of them than of the Finns. A spokesman for the Finnish General Staff says tonight that there are enormous heaps of Russian dead in front of the Finnish positions. He adds, “Yet in spite of these losses we always feel that there are tens of thousands of Russians to be sent in. we need men and material, especially planes. So far the Finnish army has been able to hold its own, but we need the civilized nations to aid us to the utmost.”

Meanwhile the fighting continues with the Finns, still resolute, making the Russians pay in blood for every yard they gain of Finnish territory.
By Doug64
February 18, Sunday

BBC to play dance music on Sundays

The BBC’s Forces Programme, which takes the air today, will broadcast dance music on Sundays, removing a ban which has been in force since the BBC was set up in 1922. The service has been brought in because troops in France are bored with the Home Service. They tuned in to Radio Fecamp, the French commercial station, before it closed down on January 4th. Home listeners can also hear the new service, from 11 am to 11 pm.
By Doug64
February 22, Thursday

Five-year-old boy is new Dalai Lama

Buddhists all over the Far East touch the floor with their foreheads at 4 pm today as they bow in the direction of the almost inaccessible Potala Palace above Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. In monasteries and temples across the Buddhist world they are celebrating the enthronement of the new Dalai Lama—the spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists.

The new representative of this holy line is a five-year-old peasant boy called Lhamo Dhondup, born in the village of Taktser northeast of Lhasa.

Lhamo, who was selected from three boys in his region, is the 14th in the line of Dalai Lamas which began in the 14th century.
By Doug64
February 23, Friday

Russia lays down Finnish surrender terms

The Soviet government today sends its “final” peace terms to Finland, with Sweden acting as intermediary. The terms are even harsher than the demands whose refusal led to the war. The USSR wants the whole of the Karelian isthmus including Viipuri, Finland’s second largest city; the naval base of Hango, which the Finns regard as the key to their country; and all the land around Lake Ladoga. The Russians will evacuate the territory they have seized around Petsamo in the far north if the Finns agree to a treaty guaranteeing the security of the Gulf of Finland against external threats. It is still not certain if the Finns will accept these demands, but there is one more card they can play: they can invite the Allies to intervene. But Sweden seems to rule that out today by banning Allied troops from moving across its territory.
By Doug64
February 24, Saturday

War work schemes “fail to hit target”

The British government is launching a big recruiting and training drive for the engineering and metal industries. At the same time it acknowledges that it will fail to meet the vast demand for skilled labor.

Unemployed men aged between 17 and 45 will be given up to six months’ training at 22 Ministry of Labour centers. Within a year 40,000 should be ready for work in the arms factories.

Unemployed men over 45 will be accepted “if fit and handy.” Men between 20 and 25 are excluded from the scheme. They will soon all be conscripted into the armed forces. All men in training will get free midday meals on each day of attendance at the centers.

Ardennes invasion strategy gets Hitler seal of approval

Hitler is considering a radical new plan for attacking western Europe by mounting a massive Panzer drive through the wooded Ardennes of Belgium into France near Sedan. If successful, the German forces will sweep towards Paris and the Channel coast, cutting off British forces from their French allies and bypassing the Maginot Line.

Details of an earlier plan fell into Allied hands when a Luftwaffe staff officer crash-landed in Belgium on January 10th; the Belgian government called the plan “most extraordinary and serious” and protested to Germany. The Belgian protest doesn’t worry Hitler, but the security leak does. He has ordered a rethink and General Erich von Manstein has suggested an assault through the Ardennes.
By Doug64
February 25, Sunday

Canadian forces arrive to back the Allies

The first battle squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force arrives in Britain today to join the RAF in the Allied cause against Hitler. They follow their fellow countrymen from the army, who are already in Britain.

“The men come from coast to coast, from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. No fewer than 146 cities, town and villages in every province of the Dominion are represented,” says Squadron-Leader W.D. van Vliet, a first-class rugby player and ice hockey champion. “About 20 percent of them are French-speaking Canadians, and they are all especially anxious to get to France.”

They are welcomed at the dockside by the Earl of Derby, who says to them: “It is not for me to wish you a good time. What I will do, if I may be pardoned the language, is to wish the Boche what I know he will get—and that is a hell of a time.”

The Canadians line up on the quayside—pilots, crewmen, gunners, fitters, riggers, and cooks are urged by their officers to cheer the Earl, though few appear to have any idea who the elderly gentleman is.
By Doug64
February 28, Wednesday

Divers capture key to U-boat secrets

Divers have recovered three rotors from the top-secret Enigma enciphering machine on board U-33. The U-boat, caught minelaying off Scotland, scuttled herself after being forced to surface by depth charges from the sloop HMS Gleaner, which marked the spot and sent for the divers.

The rotors have been rushed to Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire where codebreaking scientists are working furiously to solve the secrets of Enigma. The rotors can help break the vital U-boat code.
By Doug64
February 29, Thursday

Rationing and price freeze in France

Faced with a serious drop in industrial production, continual class conflict, and war apathy, Paul Reynaud, France’s Finance Minister, has ordered a price freeze and gasoline and food rationing. The aim is to create some sort of national unity and to win the support of the working class for the war by halting inflation and ensuring fair shares for all. But the Communists remain anti-war and the non-Communist Left remains unenthusiastic—almost as unenthusiastic as the Right, which fears the Left more than it fears Hitler.

Germans told to be good housekeepers

Good housekeeping with what is available is the message from the Reich Ministry of Food and Agriculture to the German consumer. The Nazis are keen to avoid the food shortages of the last war; since the introduction of rationing last August, propaganda has focused on self-sufficiency, with farmers told to make the best use of land and livestock, and householders urged to plant vegetables rather than flowers. Rations (about sixteen ounces of meat and ten ounces of fat a week per person) have led to black marketeering, for which stiff penalties were introduced last September.
By Doug64
March 1940

March 1, Friday

Sneering Haw-Haw has big following

Two-thirds of Britain’s adult population tunes in to Lord Haw-Haw’s broadcasts from Hamburg, according to BBC audience research just completed. One person in six is a regular listener to his propaganda. Some 16 million listeners hear the BBC 9 o’clock news every night, and about six million of them switch straight over to Lord Haw-Haw afterwards.

Speculation continues about the identity behind his superior drawl, which has been compared with Bertie Wooster’s. Norman Baillie-Stewart, the officer imprisoned in the Tower for passing information to Germany before the war, and William Joyce, a former member of Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, have been suggested.

After much debate the BBC has decided not to answer his broadcasts with direct refutation, but it has begun weekly broadcasts at the same hour by a commentator with the pseudonym “Onlooker,” believed to be Norman Birkett, the eminent King’s Counsel.

The war delivers blow to French stomachs

The Frenchman’s love affair with gastronomy takes a knock today with the publication of new restrictions on what can be eaten—and drunk. Meals in hotels and restaurants will be restricted to two, only one of which can be meat, and the sale of spirits will be limited to four days a week. Eating at home offers no escape: ration cards are to be distributed, with bread, pastries, and chocolates among foods either restricted or even banned.
By Doug64
March 5, Tuesday

Italian coal ships seized in Channel

Six Italian ships carrying German coal are arrested in mid-Channel by British warships today after a warning that Britain will seize all German coal found at sea. The ships are anchored off the Kent coast while the government decides whether their cargoes should be unloaded.

Four more Italian colliers sail from Rotterdam today, and a further six are loading with Rhineland coal destined for Italian ports. All are likely to be seized following an announcement by the Ministry of Economic Warfare that German coal exported to any foreign port will be regarded as contraband.

Severe weather in Germany has reduced normal supplies of coal to Italy, where rationing is now in force. Many Italians believe that the seizure of their ships is a deliberate attempt to force them to buy British coal on British terms.

British sources are insisting that the blockade of German produce applies to all neutral ships, and deny discrimination against Italy.
By Doug64
March 7, Thursday

Luxury liner in secret dash to New York

The Cunard Line’s newest ship, the Queen Elizabeth, is given a hero’s welcome when she docks at New York City at 5 pm today. The 83,673-ton liner, the biggest in the world, braved the menace of the U-boat war in the Atlantic in what must have been one of the most hazardous maiden voyages ever.

The liner’s dash across the Atlantic was kept a firm secret—until today, that is, when her immense bulk, shrouded in wartime grey, appears over the horizon moving towards Nantucket. Special planes carrying newspaper reporters, photographers, and broadcasters fly out in the small hours. One radio man gives his listeners an eyewitness report from above the liner at 7:45 this morning.

The liner crossed the Atlantic at an average of 24.5 knots. She relied on her speed to evade the submarines, and dropped her escort destroyer after one day out. “It is unique to leave without trials and find yourself in New York,” says Captain Townley. His chief engineer is now confident that the Queen Elizabeth will prove the fastest as well as the biggest liner afloat. Today she passes her sister ship, Queen Mary, already docked here, and the two dip ensigns to each other. All the other ships in port sound their sirens in greeting. On the quayside a crowd of 10,000 have been waiting for most of the afternoon, and in the city office workers shower the streets with ticker tape in welcome.

Strict security is still being maintained, with no visitors allowed onboard. The ship is fitted with a new magnetic mine protector device. How much of the final fitting-out work has been done is not yet clear, but what is certain is that she will be prepared for war work, not luxury passengers.
By Doug64
March 9, Saturday

Finns edge towards reluctant surrender to Russian demand

The Finns, in danger of being overwhelmed by a Russian offensive all along the front, have today sued for peace despite the harshness of the Russian terms.

Events took on a certain inevitability after the Russian ultimatum for the acceptance of the final peace terms ran out on March 1st. Two days later Marshal Timoshenko launched another crushing attack and the town of Viipuri, shattered by Russian bombs and shells, came under direct attack; it became clear that the Finns could not hold out much longer.

On March 6th a delegation headed by the Prime Minister, Mr. Ryti, travelled to Moscow. Mr. Paasikivi, the minister in charge of the negotiations, hoped to force concessions from the Russians.

Coldly received by the Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, and denigrated in scornful language by the Soviet press, the delegation continued to negotiate until the shattering news came that Viipuri has fallen. The Finns ask for an armistice. Molotov says “nyet” and Ryti is forced to capitulate.

There are still many details to be settled and Ryti is in constant touch with his government in Helsinki. Meanwhile the fighting continues on all fronts and men are still dying, but it is all over now. Finland has been defeated.

Fiery Finnish cocktails harry Soviet forces

One legacy of Finland’s brave yet unavailing fight against the USSR is a simple but deadly projectile. It consists of a bottle—empty vodka bottles are preferred—filled with gasoline, or paraffin, and tar. Strips of rages are used as a stopper for the bottle. The rag is lit, causing the contents of the bottle to ignite on impact with the engine compartment of a tank, the usual target; the flaming tar seeps into the engine. In this way countless Soviet tanks have been wrecked, and the Finns have sardonically dubbed their new weapon the “Molotov cocktail.”
By Doug64
March 11, Monday

Britons face limit on meat spending

Meat rationing begins today with no sign of queues at butchers’ counters. Most people have stocked up in advance. Meat is rationed by price, the allowance being 1/10-worth (9p/37¢) per week. Children under six get half as much.

At current prices a family with two children over six can buy a six-pound joint of lamb at 1/4 a pound. Poultry, game, offal, sausages, and meat pies remain off the ration. Restaurants are allowed to serve meat without asking customers for their coupons.
By Doug64
March 14, Thursday

Poles reveal Nazi designs on Russia

The Polish government in exile publishes a white paper today giving a general view of Poland’s relations with Germany between May 1933 and October 1939. One of its most interesting revelations—which will not please Stalin—is that Hitler tried to involve Poland in a plot to attack the Soviet Union.

It was proposed by Goering during a visit to Warsaw in February 1935. In a discussion with the Polish leader, Marshal Pilsudski, he suggested that Poland and Germany should mount a joint invasion of the Ukraine. The Poles insist that they gave the Germans no encouragement whatsoever.
By Doug64
March 15, Friday

Finns ratify Russia pact

The Finnish Diet, meeting in secret session, tonight ratifies the Moscow peace agreement by 145 votes to 3. Speaking before the vote is taken, the Prime Minister, Mr. Ryti, says, “Finland, as well as the whole of Western civilization, is still in the greatest danger, and no one can say what tomorrow may bring. We believe that by choosing peace we have acted in the best way for the moment.”

There is some bitterness here towards those countries, especially Sweden, thought by the Finns to have let them down. Sweden refused to allow Allied troops to cross its territory, although by then it might have already been too late.

Finland’s immediate thoughts, however, are concentrated on the evacuation of people from those areas which are being occupied by the Russians. Many refugees are already trudging along the icy roads with their livestock. All transport in the southeast has been mobilized to cope with the migration of the 470,000 people, one-eighth of the population, who will lose their land and homes.
By Doug64
March 16, Saturday

Mussolini has talks with US peace envoy

Sumner Welles, the US Under-Secretary of State, today has talks with Mussolini, Count Ciano, the Foreign Minister, and King Victor Emmanuel III on the last leg of his mission to discuss conditions for mediation or peace talks in Europe. He receives a cordial but noncommittal welcome from the Italians which contrasts with the cool response he got from Goering and Hess in Berlin on March 3rd, at the start of his trip. He left Germany via Switzerland for talks with French and exiled Polish leaders in Paris, and was in London from the 10th to the 13th before leaving for Rome, via Paris again.

First British civilian killed in Scapa Flow raid

The first British civilian to be killed in an air raid during the present war dies today during a German raid on the naval base at Scapa Flow.

James Isbister, aged 27, who lived in the village of Bridge of Waithe on Loch Stenness, was standing in the doorway of his home. An enemy aircraft that had turned tail dropped nineteen bombs wounding seven civilians and killing Mr. Isbister. Apparently he had been about to run across the road to help a neighbor, Mrs. McLeod, whose cottage had been hit. He leaves a widow and an infant son. According to an admiralty communique, the raid on Scapa Flow began about 7:50 pm. “About 14 enemy aircraft reached the objective. A considerable number of bombs was dropped, one hitting a warship [HMS Norfolk] which sustained only minor damage.” Six crew are killed in the raid and seven injured. The raid is the first on Scapa Flow since October 17th when the old battleship Iron Duke was hit.

None of the enemy aircraft are shot down, although several are claimed to have been damaged in fights with RAF machines. It is reported, but not confirmed, that the raiders also tried to reach Forth Bridge, but failed.

Doing the Blackout Stroll with girls in taffeta gowns

Long evening dresses are making a comeback in London, particularly in the restaurants and clubs frequented by young British soldiers on their way to France. In contrast to the utilitarian wear of the early war months, luxury fabrics such as chiffon, lace, tulle, and taffeta are now favored for a night on the town. Far from their wives and girlfriends, the soldiers are happy to find places where partners are provided. The latest new dance, a great favorite among soldiers and their dancing partners, is “The Blackout Stroll” during which the lights go out and everyone changes partners.
By Doug64
March 18, Monday

Hitler and Mussolini meet at Brennero

Under a leaden sky, with a snowstorm whipping down from the Alps, Europe’s two most prominent dictators shake hands on the railway station at the Austrian border today—and set the world speculating on the possibility of a peace plan. Nothing can be further from the truth. In two hours of discussion, Hitler extracts a promise from his Italian counterpart that Italy will—eventually—come into the war.

Mussolini is the first to arrive, in his armored train. Thirty minutes later Hitler steams in to a fanfare of trumpets and two national anthems, the Deutschlandlied and the Horst Wessel song. The two men exchange fascist-style salutes and walk the length of the platform to Mussolini’s saloon car for talks over a small table behind drawn blinds. They are joined later by their foreign ministers, Count Ciano—Mussolini’s son-in-law, who, it is understood, is strongly opposed to Italian intervention—and von Ribbentrop. The atmosphere at the talks is described as “cordial.”
By Doug64
March 19, Tuesday

RAF raids Sylt to avenge Scapa Flow

Fifty RAF bombers—thirty Whitleys and twenty Hampdens—tonight attack a German seaplane base at Hornum, at the southern end of the North Sea island of Sylt. The crews report many hits, but the extent of any damage isn’t known. The raid, publicly disclosed in the Commons by the Prime Minister as it is happening, is a reprisal for the German bombing of Scapa Flow three days ago, in which sailors and a civilian were killed.
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