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Showing posts from June, 2022

Eighty years ago the fall of Tobruk brings Churchill humiliation and the promise of better tanks

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  Churchill travelled again to Washington to talk to President Roosevelt. Unlike their other meetings no codename was given to this one as the discussions between delegations of military leaders were the principal forum and the summit conversation was treated as informal. The talks focused on helping the Soviet Union; there was no firm conclusion on coordinating military strategy. Churchill resisted US enthusiasm for an invasion of the Continent even as early as later that year. Churchill steered the Americans towards joint operations in the Mediterranean. Whilst he was in Washington Churchill had the mortification of learning that Tobruk had fallen to Rommel's advancing Axis troops after they had breached the British Gazala line leaving the fortress isolated. The South African and British garrison held out for only three days before surrendering with  33,000 men. It was the last and, possibly, the most bitter in the string of military humiliations suffered by Britain since the sta

Eighty years ago a German reprisal for the killing of Reinhard Heydrich gives the world a shorthand for Nazi evil

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  The Germans enacted an especially atrocious reprisal for the killing of Reinhard Heydrich on direct orders from Hitler. The target was a mining village with 500 inhabitants, Lidice, near Prague. All the males over 15 were shot by ordinary German policemen; most women and children were sent to concentration camps but a few children were adopted by SS families. The other children were gassed and only about half the women survived. The village was razed to the ground. The evidence that anyone from Lidice was involved in Hydrich's death was tenuous and probably inaccurate, but the Germans wanted a conspicuous deterrent to any support for the resistance. The crime was announced publicly, establishing the name Lidice as a byword for Nazi evil. The transportation of 3,000 Jews to extermination camps in trains marked "AaH" ( Attentat auf Heydrich ) in revenge for the killing was a matter almost of routine and passed largely unremarked. Under the overall codename Operation Juliu

Eighty years ago the US Navy inflicts a crippling defeat on the Japanese fleet six months after Pearl Harbour

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  The US Navy defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) decisively at the Battle of Midway. The battle marked a number of milestones: code-breaking gave the Americans a clear advantage, cryptanalysis had truly come of age; the significant action was undertaken by carrier-based aircraft, the major surface units never saw each other; the last major thrust of the Japanese attack on the US and its possessions was utterly defeated; the IJN did not merely lose more carriers than the USN, Japan did not have the industrial capacity to replace them quickly, in an illustration of the fatal economic disparity between the two nations. The US Navy's code-breakers had revealed that the IJN planned to seize Midway Island from which it would have been able to menace Hawaii, so Admiral Nimitz could confidently concentrate his carriers to oppose it. All four Japanese carriers with 300 aircraft and 200 invaluable pilots were lost, whilst only the USS Yorktown was sunk. Only six months after Pearl Har

Eighty years ago the RAF's cherished project of winning the war by bombing comes of age

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      RAF Bomber Command launched Operation Millennium , an attack on Cologne by just over one thousand bombers, a force almost three times as large as it had deployed on a single operation before. To field this number of aircraft the head of the Command 'Bert' Harris had to use training units; to Harris's fury the Royal Navy refused to allow Coastal Command aircraft to be used. Harris failed to recognize the vital importance of the Battle of the Atlantic and was to describe Coastal Command as an "obstacle to victory." Millennium had a double propaganda purpose: to give the British public, inured to a series of military reverses, news of a massive offesnsive operation against the Germans; to demonstrate at the highest level of military command that the RAF was finally capable of accomplishing the strategic bombing mission with which the service had been obsessed for almost its entire existence. Cologne city centre was devastated but the damage to military or war i