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Eighty years ago Japan chooses war

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  The army won the latest and crucial round in the struggle for Japanese policy. The navy faction which supported the prime minister Prince Konoe and wished to avoid war with the US was defeated.   Konoe’s overtures to the US had failed to yield worthwhile results; President Roosevelt stuck to his hard line. German success in the East further strengthened the army’s hand. The Emperor swung behind the army. Konoe resigned, clearing the way for General Tojo to replace him. It became a matter of time for Japan to go to war. The German attack towards Moscow progressed, seemingly with remorseless success, but there were clear signs of military over-reach. Another two huge groups of Soviet troops were surrounded in the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets. Ultimately perhaps 0.5m would be taken prisoner, but in the meantime they fought on. This tied down over twenty German divisions in a battle of attrition, which weakened the thrust towards the Soviet capital. The loathsome farce of the Vichy g

Eighty years ago Hitler breaks cover into hubris

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  Hitler made his first speech since Operation Barbarossa was launched. It was perhaps the high-point of the Third Reich’s triumphalism. He was in confident mood and portrayed the thrust towards Moscow that had been launched a few days before as a decisive step in the defeat of the Soviet Union. He boasted of 2.5m prisoners taken. Curiously he spent more time attacking Churchill, whom he blamed for the war, than Stalin. He did accuse the Soviets of planning an attack but the best he could come up with to present Germany's policy towards the Soviet Union in a favourable light was to assert that no criticism of the Soviet Union had been allowed to appear in German media. He claimed that Germany was strong enough to meet any enemies, a faint warning shot across the bows of the US. Stalin at a stroke reversed decades of Soviet hostility to religion and declared that there would henceforward be full freedom of worship. In part this aimed a mobilizing the Orthodox church, which had n

Eighty years ago the SS wins the battle for control in Prague

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  German occupied Czechoslovakia had become a battleground between the terrorists of the SS and the conservatives. The latter were represented by Konstantin von Neurath, an old style diplomat who had been replaced as foreign minister by Ribbentrop in 1938, and had been installed as Reich protector in Prague in a cynical atttempt to persuade world opinion that Czechoslovakia would be ruled in a decent fashion. Von Neurath did not endorse Nazi plans to obliterate Czech culture and conducted a soft-touch policy through Czech collaborationists. To discredit him the SS staged attacks, supposedly the work of the Czech underground. With the war against the Soviet Union under way, security in Czechoslovakia had assumed a new dimension. When the SS forced the issue, Hitler took their side and sent von Neurath "on leave", installing as his effective replacement Reinhard Heydrich, the master secret policeman, architect of the Holocaust and one of the most effective and fightening figure

Eighty years ago a massive solar flare lights the sky

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  The British government launched an initiative to bring home to the public and to the Soviets its commitment to supporting the Soviet Union in its war with Nazi Germany. “Tanks for Russia ” was declared with the conceit that every armoured vehicle made in Britain during the seven days would be shipped to its new ally. The campaign was probably more aimed at the home front than towards Moscow. Much of the surrounding propaganda focused on issues of productivity; British workers were being exhorted to greater efforts supposedly to sustain a socialist state and implicitly asked to suspend the all-too-capitalist approach to wage negotiations that characterised wartime labour relations. It was an early step in the heroification of the Soviet people that helped conceal from the British public the true nature of the regime there. If the drive even registered on Stalin is doubtful; his ambassador in London Ivan Maisky gave no hint of gratitude and simply sated that the Red Army would know ho

Eighty years ago Colonel Lindbergh's mask slips

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    After months of being the most effective voice of isolationism and the leading figure in the America First movement against US involvement in the war, Colonel Lindbergh hero of the first solo flight across the Atlantic, let the mask slip to reveal publicly the hateful sub-text of his appeal. In a speech at Des Moines that was broadcast on the radio he denounced the “war agitators”: “three important groups have been pressing this country toward war: the British, the Jewish, the Roosevelt administration.” Some of his claims could have come from the mouth of Goebbels: the Jews’, “greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.” He claimed to admire both the British and Jewish races, but made it plain that he did not consider Jews to be American. He issued barely veiled threats, “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they

Eighty years ago Roosevelt's forward policy in the Atlantic starts to bear fruit.

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  After some weeks of pursuing a forward policy in the North Atlantic, President Roosevelt was finally rewarded with a German attack on a US warship that could be presented as an act of aggression and challenge to the freedom of the seas. The U-652 fired a torpedo at the USS Greer . The torpedo missed and the American ship responded with depth-charges. The US communique stated blandly that the Greer was carrying mail to Iceland. The Germans claimed the Greer had attacked first. In fact the Greer was in practice hunting the German submarine, vectored towards its target by a British aircraft, but this was not immediately disclosed. The British, too, enjoyed a success in the war with submarines when the U-570 was severely damaged by depth-charges from an RAF Hudson. She surrendered after diving briefly and prominently displayed a white sheet from her conning tower. RAF aircraft shadowed her until British warships could reach the scene. A grimly farcical episode then saw the British r

Eighty years ago the German campaign against the Jews gathers momentum

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    Jews in Germany and territories annexed directly by the Reich were ordered by the police to wear a yellow star of David as an identifying mark in public. This extended an ad hoc rules that had developed in Poland after the German invasion in 1939 and areas conquered from the Soviet Union after Barbarossa. The Nazis revived a practice that had died out during the middle ages in Europe. Jews had been murdered by the German invaders since the opening of Barbarossa, but genocide got fully under way with the massacre of over 20,000 Jews found in the Ukrainian city of Kamianets-Podilskyi. Many had recently been expelled from Hungary. The killings were perpetrated by dedicated SS units ( Einsatzgruppen ) assisted by a battalion of regular police. A showpiece of Soviet industrialization was sacrificed to frustrate the German invaders. The Dnieper hydro-electric dam had begun to produce electricity in 1932 and was the world’s largest outside the USA. It was blown up to stop it falling i

Eighty years ago, the German invaders head for the symbolic prize of Leningrad

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  It was unclear whether the German armies were going to push on to Moscow. No decision had been firmly taken and there was a vigorous debate as to whether German armies should concentrate on the symbolic conquest of the Soviet capital or to concentrate on more tangible objectives such as the oil fields in the south. The partisans of a symbolic move against an iconic Soviet city did, though, hold sway in the North. With Hitler’s enthusiastic backing it was decided to make an all-out attempt to take Leningrad, cradle of the communist revolution and the monument to its most revered leader. The city of Novgorod was captured which all but set the seal on the encirclement of Leningrad. The scene was set for one of the great set-piece engagements of the eastern front. Anglo-Soviet cooperation bore immediate practical fruit. Neutral Iran occupied a strategic location between the British dominated Middle East and the Soviet Union. German business interests had long been well-established ther