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Showing posts from June, 2021

Eighty years ago, Hitler launches the largest military operation ever to destroy the Soviet regime

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  After weeks of news headlines dominated almost exclusively by domestic sport and industrial output, Moscow radio turned its attention to military matters and reported exercises across the Soviet Union devoted to getting the army into “fighting trim.” The previous rather unexciting editorial line had been determined by the desire of the Soviet leader not to do anything that might be taken as a provocation by Hitler. Rather like Neville Chamberlain in August 1939, Stalin clung to the hope that there would be peace with Germany until the very end. Unlike Chamberlain, Stalin had the power to exterminate any of his citizens who threatened this delusion, so the rule was rather more widely and fully respected. When Britain passed on entirely reliable intelligence that an attack was imminent, Stalin treated this as a malicious attempt to set him at the throat of his fellow dictator. German deserters who warned the Soviets of the coming attack were shot as provocateurs. The build-up of German

Eighty years ago, real battles and diplomatic fencing in Britain's undeclared war with France

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    The British attacked Rommel’s forces in the western desert in an operation codenamed Battleaxe in their first significant offensive operation against the Germans. After weeks on the defensive as other commitments in the theatre, notably Greece and Crete sucked away resources, the move intended to relieve the garrison of Tobruk besieged since April. The British had been received over 200 fresh tanks brought by the Tiger convoy, replacing the bulk of the tanks lost in the advance into Libya and the subsequent retreat.   Churchill was especially attached to these tanks, which he referred to as his “Tiger cubs”, but over half were unreliable and poorly armoured cruiser class tanks, armed with only 2lb guns; there were also worthless MkVI light tanks. Churchill had high hopes of Battleaxe , but it was abandoned after three days with the loss of half of the tanks and 1,000 casualties. The British tanks were completely outclassed by the Germans’. Vichy French forces put up stiff resis

Eighty years ago, Britain and France again come into open conflict

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  The oil spot of war continued to broaden, reaching the eastern end of the Mediterranean. With the Germans now securely lodged in Crete, the British feared a further extension of their power towards Egypt and the Suez Canal even though the intelligence was now pointing very firmly to an attack on Russia. The complicity of the Vichy French authorities in the Levant in German air support for the Golden Square revolt in Iraq created acute fears that the next step would be to admit a significant German military presence which could attack Egypt from the North. To pre-empt this British led forces launched an invasion of Syria and Lebanon. Any hope that the French colonial forces would abandon Vichy en masse were wide of the mark and the attackers encountered stiff resistance. Little more than a year after the Royal Navy’s partial destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, British and French forces were in full scale combat against each other. The defenders were no less resolute i

Eighty years ago, the British face a new challenge in tightening their belts further

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  The British led forces gave up the attempt to hold Crete and the evacuation of the island was ordered. The Royal Navy suffered severe losses to German aircraft but Admiral Cunningham would not be deflected and ordered, “It takes three years to build a ship but 300 years to build a tradition. The evacuation will continue.” Of the 32,000 defenders rather more than half were successfully carried off the island. One of these was Colonel Robert Laycock, commander of the commando force that included Evelyn Waugh. Partly because of Waugh’s fictional account, there has long been controversy over whether Laycock disobeyed orders in leaving the island. If there was any truth in the story, the powers that be were either unaware or tolerant, as he remained fully employed, rising to head Combined operations. In the wake of the German conquest of Crete Hitler and Mussolini met on the Brenner Pass, once again. It was not a constructive meeting; Hitler ranted on various topics including Rudolf H