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1940 continued

Hitler finally achieved the goal that neither Otto von Bismarck in 1863 nor Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1914 could achieve: he had defeated the nemesis of Germany. He had not only defeated her, but pillaged her as well. The northern 2/3 of France was absorbed into the Reich (complete with German divisions to occupy it) while the southern 1/3 was set up as an unoccupied puppet government, called "Vichy France," led by an old French WWI hero, Marshal Henri Phillipe Pétain. To humiliate the French, the Germans forced severe reparations on them, even more than the costly fees imposed on Germany after WWI. The final crushing blow came from Adolf Hitler himself, who had the armistice signed in the very same railcar that the Treaty of Versailles was signed by the defeated Germans in 1918. The surrender was filmed in its entirety for the Nazi propaganda machine. The Germans, still bitter over their years of poverty and suffering, bled France of her resources and labor. This included deporting 2 million French POWs to concentration camps, along with other French men, to lower the birth rate and keep France meek and obedient. In spite of their losses, the Allies had roughly the same manpower as the Germans. The problem was that they were poor mobilizers and could not organize well enough with each other. Winston Churchill saw this and wanted to expand Allied relations with the Soviet Union, because he expected Germany to invade the USSR sometime soon, as well as Britain, and wanted to unite the few remaining free European countries.

The "channel islands" are a group of nine small islands in the English Channel, 80 miles south of England and about 30 miles west of France. The last remnant of the British empire in France, these islands caught the eye of Hitler after the French surrender, and thought they would make excellent platforms for the impending invasion of England. The British knew it was impractical to divert resources to their defense, so in mid-June 1940 King George VI sent out an official notice: "For strategic reasons it has been found necessary to withdraw the Armed Forces from the Channel Islands. I deeply regret this necessity and I wish to assure My people in the Islands that, in taking this decision, My Government has not been unmindful of their position. It is in their interest that this step should be taken in present circumstances. The long association of the Islands with the Crown and the loyal service the people of the Islands have rendered to My ancestors and Myself are guarantees that the link between us will remain unbroken and I know that My people in the Islands will look forward with the same confidence as I do to the day when the resolute fortitude with which we face our present difficulties will reap the reward of Victory." Two weeks later on 30 June, the islands were captured by the Germans and would become the only British territory under Nazi rule. The relationship was a strange one; the takeover was peaceful and it seemed that neither the Germans nor the natives wanted to stir up trouble. However, from the beginning the Germans wanted to establish who was the master.

On 1 July the German commandant ordered the local newspaper to print up a front page article defining all the new regulations under German authority. These laws included an 11pm to 6am curfew, alcohol prohibition, mandatory relinquishing of weapons, surrender of military personnel, nightly black-out, and a ban on selling fuel. No boat could leave the harbor without permission, and owning a pigeon was punishable by death because they could be used to send messages to England. While the occupation remained relatively uneventful, the Germans continued their standard methods of propaganda by prominently featuring swastikas, Nazi posters, German movies, and pictures of Hitler. The British government seemed to largely ignore the invasion because they were more concerned with Hitler invading their own island. However, the Germans went to great lengths to set up island defenses, even though the Royal Air Force only bombed them to raise morale of the locals. The islands never became a brilliant staging area for a cross-channel invasion and Hitler only wasted valuable men and resources for their protection. The islands remained in German hands until 9 May 1945, 2 days after the German surrender.

With the Allied morale dangerously low, several groups sprung up to combat the mental victories the Germans had won. Churchill ordered the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to "set Europe ablaze" with resistance groups in every part of the continent. The biggest weapon that could be used against the German occupation was the radio, and soon the BBC and British Foreign Office worked to create the European Service. This became a weapon of optimism, something to spread news from occupied countries to Britain and vice versa, and let occupied Europe know that they would not be under Germany's heel for long, if they could keep their mental and physical resistance up. The European Services' director was named Noel Newsome, and he became responsible for broadcasting positive Allied propaganda in 20 different languages, encouraging resistance against the Germans at any level. He also implored his listeners not to give up in the face of adversity, claming that the Germans were not nearly as invincible as they made themselves out to be. His messages boasted of a "moral core" that sought to expose the Nazi Reich for the "fraudulent system it was, being "fake to its very core; a sham which by its very nature cannot endure."

It was Newsome who first coined the phrase "V for Victory" with the infamous "V" sign of two upright fingers. In early 1941 the BBC had spread the campaign in Belgium and within weeks it had "set Europe ablaze" with its momentum. "V"s could be seen painted on buildings, men and women of all ages proudly waved the "V" sign and even automobiles honked 3 short and 1 long honk, Morse code for "V." In Germany, Minister of Propaganda Goebbels tried to put a spin on the "V" campaign by claiming it really stood for Viktoria and even hung a large "V" from the Eiffel Tower, but the counter-attack failed miserably. Even the European Service retorted by saying if the "V" was German for anything, it was Vergeltung, or persecution. The Victory propaganda campaign did wonders for Allied morale in its darkest days, and while it may not have won any battles or saved lives, it gave Allied resistance on every level a sense of hope and determination to achieve the goal of liberation, freedom and victory.

French life under the Nazis was not nearly as bad as it was for the Poles or Russians, but it was still a terrible existence. The Germans routinely searched, harassed and arrested innocent citizens, took whatever they wanted (including slave labor) and rationed any valuable good. German soldiers were often housed in French homes, especially towards the end of the occupation, and a common question asked of many French familes was "do you have a horse?" If the answer was "yes," the horse would soon be conscripted into the German military. As in other countries in the Reich, streets were renamed in German, historic artifacts were stolen or destroyed and Nazi paraphernalia choked the streets. Much of the propaganda was against the Jews and they even set up exhibits to teach the French of the Jewish "misdeeds" and their "influence" on politics. Even so, with all things considered, the Germans treated the French much better than the majority of the people they conquered. The Nazi ideology viewed the French as a cultured people, therefore for the most part they were treated with respect.

The French, however, had the utmost hatred for their invaders and intentionally ignored the German soldiers and all their ceremonious presence. In most cases they banded together as a nation in defiance against the Germans. In the town of Lyons, before it was occupied, no one had seen more than one egg per month because of the black market. However, after the Germans occupied the town in response to the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa, the townspeople came together and dissolved their black markets for the sake of the French people. In just 24 hours, thousands of eggs were eaten by the French to prevent even one of them from being enjoyed by a German. The Germans countered with their mastery of paranoia, like they practiced in Germany. As was the case in nearly all of wartime Europe, your identity went only as far as you could prove with your papers. If you could not physically prove who you were in writing, nothing you said would be believed, and you ran the risk of imprisonment, interrogation, or even death if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. To walk outside without the proper paperwork was literally putting your life at risk. The Germans also turned many French against one another by bringing up false charges against each other and encouraged the French to seek revenge for past grievances, which created an atmosphere of suspicion and fear.

When WWII broke out, Spain and Portugal claimed neutrality, but when Paris was captured, the Spaniards occupied the Moroccan port of Tangier. Spain wanted to gain power in Europe, and Germany wanted Spain to join the Axis so they could have a place to attack British- controlled Gibraltar. Spain was in a war-torn wreck before WWII even began, and and could not afford to have Britain attack them, but Hitler promised Spain a part of his conquerings for their help. Franco agreed to fight as long as Hitler gave him military supplies and food, to which Hitler agreed and set a date for Spain to enter the war on 10 January 1941. Hitler tried to coax Franco into the war, but he refused since Hitler had not sent him any supplies or food yet. Eventually Franco sent 47,000 volunteers to go to the eastern front, called "The Blue Division."

Portugal, on the other hand, never considered joining the war. They knew if Germany and Spain ever invaded Portugal they would be without outside help, so they sought peaceful relations with Britain and Spain. Britain said if they were invaded, they would have to last long enough to move their government out of the country and soon they would receive help. Once France fell, they became swamped with refugees who wanted to flee Europe. Flights out of the country were expensive and rare, as well as extremely dangerous.

Just one of a series of military blunders that Germany committed in 1940, the ill-fated plan to invade Britain, if successful, would have more than made up for the failure at Dunkirk. However, Hitler had been so enveloped with crushing France that he had completely left out a sequential plan to defeat Britain. This glaring oversight became one of the main reasons that Germany lost the war. After his overly-extolled "victory" at Dunkirk, Hitler was convinced that Britain would not further interfere in the war out of fear of his Luftwaffe and U-boats, both of which had gained a frightening reputation in the minds of the Allies. So confident was Hitler that after the fall of France, he dissolved 17 infantry divisions, but Hitler could not have been more wrong. Even before the Dunkirk evacuation was complete, the British had established plans for countering a German invasion. It was not until July that Hitler realized that he might have to take Britain out of the war by force and began to develop a plan for Britain’s demise, dubbed Seelöwe, or "Operation Sealion."

Ill-conceived from the start, "Sealion" was drafted with the notion that crossing the English Channel would be like crossing a large river, something the Germans had gotten quite good at in the last year, instead of viewing it as the unpredictably rough sea it was. Using Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk and Rotterdam as port cities, Field Marshal von Rundstedt’s Army Group A would land at Kent on the beaches of Ramsgate to move inland towards London, as well as invading the Sussex coast and the Isle of Wight. Army Group B would depart from Cherbourg and take the Dorset coast near Lyme Regis to draw the British away from the main landings. Hitler’s naval commander, Admiral Raeder, was completely opposed to this plan because his Kriegsmarine had suffered great losses and only had 2 battleships and 6 cruisers available to support an invasion. The British were more than a match for them with 2 aircraft carriers, 4 battleships and many more cruisers, although they had been deployed off the coast of Scotland for fear of being attacked. To make things worse for the Germans, they had no landing craft from which to deploy troops, so they began scraping together any barges they could find, since they had flat bottoms and were capable of a shore landing. The few they found had no power of their own and would have to be towed or equipped with aircraft engines. Hitler was unmoved by the grave situation of "Sealion" and on 16 July gave his staff just one month to prepare for the invasion. Hitler had hoped that his Luftwaffe attacks on British ships would intimidate them into surrendering, but the British rejected any and all of Germany’s diplomatic attempts to end the war. At the end of July with little progress, Hitler began to reconsider his options, if only slightly. Admiral Raeder begged him to push the invasion back until spring of 1941, or at least to shorten the invasion front, but Hitler only agreed to delay the invasion another month, to 15 September.

One thing that Hitler and his officers agreed on was that if the operation was to succeed, Germany would have to have complete air superiority. This meant the RAF had to be destroyed, and the Luftwaffe would be forced to root them out of their defensive posture. This was impossible in early July because of the weather, but the Germans used the delay to build a coastal air fleet 2600 strong. While there was no definitive plan, the idea was to engage the enemy in southern England and push north until the RAF could no longer threaten Germany's navy. The British also used this valuable time wisely to prepare as much as they could by training homeland defense brigades, practicing their anti-aircraft gunnery, and mass-producing Spitfire airplanes, which would prove to be a vital link in Britain’s defenses. They also devised several invasion scenarios, planning where to move military and political leaders, as well as what steps to take when the German ships were sighted. One plan involved dousing the channel with oil, then setting the slick ablaze to cook the Germans alive before reaching the shore. However, these steps were not necessary, as by mid-August the invasion was postponed, then canceled by Hitler in September, much to the relief of his Generals, especially Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who had no faith in the plan. Although the actual failure to plan for an invasion before mid-1940 was an inexcusable blunder on Hitler’s part, he made the right decision when he did to cancel it. Had the Germans attempted such a risky mission, it would have very likely ended up with most of their ships sunk by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force before they even set foot on English soil. The few Wehrmacht divisions that may have made it would probably have been cut down on the beaches, and there would be no miracle evacuation for Hitler. Yet for the British, their long road to victory had only begun.

Arguably the most important battle in WWII, and certainly most important for the British was, of course, the Battle of Britain, which took place during the precarious summer of 1940. Germany had successfully defeated half of Europe and with little opposition in just 8 months and Hitler had all the major powers of Europe under wraps yet needed just one more to rid Europe of his enemies: Great Britain. He knew that he would have to disable the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force or they would crush any landing fleet he sent across the English Channel. The head of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarshal Herman Göring, said he could destroy Britain in a few weeks with air power alone. He knew that the Luftwaffe had not fully recovered from its losses in the European conquests, but believed that they could easily wipe out the "flimsy" RAF. There were, in fact, 3 times as many German planes as British, and they had an astounding 1290 Me-109 and Me-110s, while the British only had 591 Hurricanes and Spitfires.

The British may have been outnumbered, but they had all the advantages. For one, they were fighting on home ground, which meant that any pilots parachuting out of a downed aircraft could be picked up and put back in the air. Flying at home also meant that they had more flying time since they did not waste fuel meeting their opponents. The British also had a higher aircraft production rate, as well as excellent planes that were flown by excellent pilots. They were led by the WWI air force vet, Air Chief Hugh Dowding, whose specialty was fighter planes. He was an air combat expert, whereas Göring had very limited knowledge of modern air tactics. Perhaps the greatest British advantage was the use of radar, which allowed the British to know well in advance how many German planes were going where at what speed. To top it off, the British had a special code-breaking machine called "Ultra," which broke the code of the German top secret code machine, "Enigma." After being invaded, the Polish resistance stole an Enigma machine and smuggled it out to Britain, making a huge difference in the war. This combination of assets made it impossible for the seemingly indomitable Luftwaffe to crack the RAF.

They certainly tried, however, and on 10 June the Battle of Britain began. At first the Germans targeted all the military targets and ship convoys, hoping to flush out the RAF and pick them off one by one. Britain only offered a mild response, but when the Germans learned of the British radar, they began attacking the radar sites. This was too difficult a task since the radar towers were tall (preventing a dive-bomb) and had a short base (making it a difficult target). Still, the British took some losses initially and always seemed to be on the brink of failure. The Germans were amazed that the RAF kept challenging them since they were outnumbered and their pilot reserves were so low. At the height of the Battle’s crisis in July, pilots were in such a demand that many were called to combat service with only a day’s worth of experience in the cockpit and little or no gunnery practice. Many pilots were volunteers, some from other countries like Czechoslovakia, France, and Poland, whose pilots had some of the highest kill-ratios in the entire war. The RAF learned the best way to shoot down a plane was to dive from the sun fast, and fire upward from behind the enemy while pulling out of the dive.

The Germans were wise to this and developed the technique of using a 2 plane system: one was the offensive plane and the other was a defensive plane who looked out for enemy planes hiding in the sun. The British also changed their tactics from the vulnerable "V formation" to an effective division of their squadron. British squad leader Malan took his 12 plane squadron and turned it into 3 groups of 4, instead of the ineffective 4 groups of 3. This way the 3 groups could easily break up into pairs once the fight began. However, in fighter versus fighter dogfights, the Bf-109 was the undisputed champion. The British lost 219 Spitfires and 272 Hurricanes, compared to 333 Bf-109s lost, demonstrating how deadly a 109 in German hands could be. Most pilots who flew both the Spitfire & Bf-109 agreed that the two planes were roughly equal, and that the deciding factor was pilot skill. Clearly this is why the Luftwaffe had such high kill ratios early on, with experienced pilots in the cockpit, and why they suffered such great losses at the war's end, when the only pilots left were rookies. Thankfully for the British, fighter kill ratios alone do not win wars.

Hitler was furious at the Luftwaffe’s inability to conquer the RAF, so he demanded that Britian be hit with the full force of his strength; a day of his "eagles." It was decided on 2 August that Alder Tag should commence on 10 August, but this was canceled due to poor weather. The Germans finally had their day on the afternoon of 13 August, but took heavy losses--47 downed aircraft. The British also lost 47 aircraft (on the ground) and another 13 in the air. Two days later the Germans hit the British again, but lost even more than the last attack. Many of these losses were Bf-110s, designed as heavy fighters to escort bombers, but in fact the Bf-110 was incapable of defending itself. This put the Bf-109 in the unenviable role of bomber escort, a daunting task considering its limited range; the 109 only had enough fuel for about 20 minutes combat. Turning back before reaching their target or crashing into the Channel with empty fuel tanks was not unheard of.

The Luftwaffe remained relentless; for the next 2 weeks they put 1000 planes in the air daily, further weakening British resistance. However, Göring was forced to reduce his dangerous daylight bombing and increase nighttime bombing. This was much safer but it was at the expense of accuracy, something the British had already learned but what the Germans were about to find out. Since the beginning of the war, Hitler had given strict orders not to attack civilian targets, but something happened that changed the nature of the war: German bombers accidentally hit the British capital. On a nighttime raid, 12 He-111 bombers lost their bearings and London was hit, killing 9 civilians. Hitler punished the aircrews severely, knowing that this would evoke the wrath of the British. He was right; Churchill sought revenge the following night and hit Berlin with 80 planes on 26 August. Even though most bombs hit only farmland, most Germans were shocked that the British could even make it to the Reich because of Göring's false promises of invulnerability. Knowing this raised the stakes of the war, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to stay away from London for a couple days, but literally the damage had been done. On 28 and 29 August Berlin was attacked again, with many civilian casualties, causing widespread outrage amongst Germans. After another raid on 3 and 4 September, Hitler gave a fire and brimstone speech on 5 September, vowing to level British cities for what they had done. Two days later London's docks were bombed, followed by a night raid of 247 bombers, resulting in 2000 total casualties. Far from showing any mercy, the Germans spent the next 9 weeks bombing London in an attempt to drive the nation into revolution. On the contrary, it only brought the British closer together as a whole. Englishmen and women worked day and night producing planes, ammo and supplies. Every citizen did some productive effort: bomb shelters were made, weapons were amassed, gas masks were prepared, and 1.5 British civilians were assembled to a "national guard" to meet any invasion. The elderly joined fire brigades and helped the RAF, while children spotted fires and enemy aircraft. Britain had never been closer or more prepared for the worst.

The worst came on 7 September 1940, when the Germans launched their biggest bombing raid on London. This was a terrible mistake for the Germans, who switched from bombing valuable military targets to destroying useless civilian buildings. Even so, the Luftwaffe caused all of downtown London to be under siege and set the city ablaze, causing over 300 dead and 4 times that wounded. This was only the beginning, as they would face the same nightmare for the next 56 nights. However, any gains made by the Germans were insignificant to the original purpose of the campaign--to get rid of the RAF. As a result, the RAF only became stronger, while the Luftwaffe gradually weakened. By October, the loss of 1500 German planes was too much to handle, while the British had only lost 900. Hitler reluctantly was forced to postpone Operation Sealion, and later canceled it. Although infuriated at Göring's inept air force, he did not mind so much because he did not see England as a serious threat to his empire. At that time it was not in his best interests to destroy Britain because all the British colonies would be taken up by other countries. He also firmly believed that Churchill was about to be overthrown by a revolution and that Britain would collapse on its own. Besides, he was already planning the most consequential decision of the war: the attack on the Soviet Union.

For the last 9 months, Mussolini had seen the Wehrmacht rolling over Europe and hated being on the sidelines. He wanted to control the Mediterranean and North Africa to gain his own territory, without Hitler’s help, while wanting to fight his own war in the south; a "parallel war." On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on the Allies. Two days later, the Italian submarine Bangolini sank the British cruiser Calypso in the Mediterranean Sea. When France was near signing their armistice, Mussolini was worried he would not acquire any territory, so he made a deal with Hitler, which stipulated that Hitler would not sign a treaty with the French until they also signed one with the Italians. This gave Italy a few days to grab as much territory as possible, but they only ended up getting a few miles into France. Mussolini finally realized that Hitler did not want him (or need him) as a partner.

In spite of all this, Mussolini did not seem to mind and proceeded to take Ethiopia and Somalia in August of 1940. He then conqured Albania and looked to Greece to expand his territory further. It was a campaign bound for failure because it was one of the most poorly organized invasions in history. Refusing to wait until his armies were ready, Mussolini hastily put some weak invasion plans together and invaded Greece on 28 October. The Greeks unexpectedly put up fierce resistance and their troops fought in the most rugged and cold mountain climates, something the Italians were untrained and unaccustomed to. Even though the Italians outnumbered the Greeks by 40,000 troops, the Greeks counterattacked with 3 divisions and hit the Italian flanks, causing heavy casualties and forcing the Italians deep into Albania. Simultaneously, the RAF bombed Italian airfields and on 11 November they torpedoed the fleet of an Italian naval base, ensuring Allied dominance in the Mediterranean. On 4 December Mussolini reluctantly asked Hitler for help in the Balkans. He agreed and sent the nearly-defeated Italians some spare German troops. Hitler thought the Italian conflict was insignificant, but feared the British would get involved and deploy more troops in the Balkans. At the same time he did not want his flanks to be vulnerable in the future war with the USSR. At the very least he could gain leverage to secure oil fields in the desert, so plans were made to invade Greece. As the German troops marched through Italy, it was obvious that "the parallel war" was over.

Early 1940


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