Eighty years ago a massive solar flare lights the sky


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 how to use the material to defeat the “panzer barbarians” and needed as much of it as they could get. The Soviets wanted Vickers Valentine tanks, by far the best of the otherwise poor British designs of the period.

As though to mark the intensification of the war, a solar flare created one of the most powerful electromagnetic storms ever experienced. It was powerful enough to interfere with electricity supply grids and also disrupted the radio based systems which were playing an ever larger part in warfare. Intense aurora borealis were observed across the northern hemisphere, much further south than normal. In the North Atlantic the aurora helped the U boats of the Brandenburg wolfpack by illuminating clearly the vessels in convoy SC-44 and its escorts that would otherwise have been hidden by night including a Canadian navy corvette HMCS Levis which was torpedoed and sunk by U-74.

King George II of Greece arrived in London to begin his second exile in Britain. In 1923 he had been expelled from Greece following a failed Royalist coup, one of the many twists in the conflict between Greek royalists and nationalists under Venizelos. He had remained in London living at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair until restored to the throne in 1935. Greece was dogged by instability through the inter-war period and it is an open question whether he would have remained king but for the German invasion, which paradoxically gave him international credibility as a deposed head of state. George had initially been exiled in Egypt but it is thought that King Farouk found his presence uncomfortable. The Greek government-in-exile also moved to London but the feuds continued.


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