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Eighty years ago the scene is set for decisive struggles in the Pacific, Russia, the desert and over the future of India

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  US forces seized an airfield newly constructed by the Japanese at the southwesterly limit of their expansion. It would have helped them dominate the Solomon Islands which lay astride access from the East to New Guinea which was being bitterly fought over. It was on a hitherto almost unknown island called Guadalcanal. The allied naval forces covering the landing almost immediately suffered a severe defeat in a night engagement, called the Battle of Savo Island, but the US Marines held on. More important, the US could afford to lose ships, whilst the Japanese could not. Savo Island was only the first of the many fights that gave the patch of the sea the nickname "Ironbottom Sound" from the number of ships that would be sunk there. After a series of set-piece naval fights, the Pacific War now featured a ferocious battle of sea, land and air attrition.   German forces too a set a new south-easterly limit to the pentration of the USSR when they reached the city of Stalingrad whi

Eighty years ago relics of the Chamberlainite régime receive tardy burials

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In a quaint nod towards a remote past and its customs, combined with an enthusiasm for selling a bear's skin long before it had been killed, Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, announced formally that the Munich Treaty of 1938, by which the Sudetenland had been transferred to Germany from Czechoslovakia, would not be taken into account when a settlement was reached for Czechoslovakia's borders after the war. He explained this by saying that the Germans had destroyed the agreement; this rather begged the question of why the treaty had not been repudiated in March 1939 when Hitler flagrantly ignored its provisions by seizing the remainder of the country. Neville Chamberlain, then still prime minister, was still bent on appeasing Germany at the time and would have fought shy of so bold a denunciation of Germany. Repudiating the treaty would also have repudiated Chamberlain's beloved side-deal with Hitler at Munich, the Anglo-German Declaration better known as "Peace for

Eighty years ago Bert Harris diversifies into propaganda

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  In the wake of a heavy RAF raid on Hamburg the head of Bomber Command  Bert Harris diversified into propaganda. Speaking on the BBC he promised the German people unremitting bombing but invited them to prevent this by ridding themselves of the Führer. He pointed to the industrial resources of the US  and warned that they too  would be deployed in his campaign; the first B-17s had just arrived in Britain.  In the event the Americans declined to join whole heartedly in Harris's programme of bombing cities and the Germans declined to remove Hitler. When the broadcast was questioned in Parliament, the government stood by Harris albeit without explicitly  endorsing his statements. The Soviet forces west of the Don river were defeated in the battle of Voronezh. On the face of it this was yet another defeat for the Red Army but the fighting was hard with heavy German casualties and the German advance towards the Volga and the key city of Stalingrad was delayed for two weeks. The sheer s

Eighty years ago the Vichy authorities do their bit for the Final Solution

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  Vichy collaboration with the Germans reached a new low point with a mass round-up of some 13,000 Jews in the Paris region. They were divided roughly equally between men, women and children. The operation was launched on German orders but executed entirely by the French authorities so as to preserve the fiction of autonomy. The victims were held at the former cycling arena, the Velodrome 'd'Hiver, and the crime is known as the 'Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv'. From there they were taken to concentration camps including Pithiviers and Drancy and thence to camps deeper in the Reich. Almost none returned alive. The chief architect of the operation, civil servant Rene Bosquet, was convicted in 1949 on a minor charge but almost instantly rehabilitated for supposed help to the resistance and went on to a successful career in politics until his guilt became too obvious to ignore. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding retired from the RAF at the standard retirement age of sixty. Aft

Eighty years ago Allied sailors pay the price of supplying Stalin

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    Britain suffered one of its worst maritime defeats of the war when convoy PQ17 carrying supplies to the Soviet Union suffered huge losses at the hands of German aircraft and U Boats: 24 out of 35 merchant ships were sunk. The disaster occurred because of a misjudgement of intelligence and German intentions which created a firm belief that the battleship Tirpitz would sortie and attack the convoy. This led to the Admiralty sending orders for the covering force of cruisers to be withdrawn and then for the convoy to scatter. The orders came directly from Dudley Pound, the First Sea Lord, an old tired and desperately ill man.  with almost no night at the high latitudes the German forces had little difficulty picking off the isolated merchantmen.  Tirpitz never made her sortie. Stalin believed that the British were lying over the scale of losses to excuse sending fewer supplies than they claimed; only recently has any kind of monument been erected to the effort of britain and other all

Eighty years ago a Chamberlainite hardliner sabotages his own motion of censure on Churchill

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  Churchill faced the most severe challenge to his wartime government when Chamberlainite hardliner Sir John Wardlaw-Milne tabled a vote of censure in the House of Commons over the conduct of military operations in North Africa; in practice Churchill was being taken to task for the uninterupted string of defeats that Britain had suffered since Japan entered the war, together with discontent at his supposedly autocratic style of government. His critics were scoring good points against him, but then Wardlaw-Milne made an insane suggestion for a way in which Churchill's power could be diluted: the Duke of Gloucester, the King's brother and a professional soldier, should be made commander-in-chief. Gloucester was notoriously stupid and considered competent to command an infantry company and no more although he held the active rank of Lieutenant-General. Churchill was observed to smile and the heart went out of the debate. The vote was less crushing to Churchill's opponents than

Eighty years ago the swansong of the Thousand Bomber Raid

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    RAF Bomber Command launched its third - and as it proved, last - one thousand bomber raid; the target was the port city of Bremen. This time Bert Harris took the precaution of pleading his case for the use of Coastal Command aircraft to Churchill beforehand and the prime minister duly bullied the First Sea Lord into diverting resources from the Batttle of the Atlantic. The first one thousand bomber raid had devastated Cologne but the second, on Essen, had been entirely thwarted by bad weather; the Bremen raid was hampered by bad visibility but the bombing was tolerably accurate because of the recently deployed Gee radio navigation aid; Harris had overcome his initial scepticism of such tools. One assembly building at the Focke-Wulf aircraft factory was wrecked although this did not disrupt output significantly. Otherwise only civilian housing was hit. The attackers suffered 5% losses, worse than either of the other raids, which was unsustainably high. Harris also found that he had