Friday, February 27, 2009

The Battle of the River Plate

The German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee had left port with her supply ship Altmark before war broke out. She sank nine merchant ships before steaming back to Germany for repairs. On the way her captain, Hans Langsdorff, headed for the River Plate to intercept a convoy, but was met by Commodore Henry Harwood's Force G with the light cruisers Ajax and Achillesand the larger Exeter. Although the British warships were damaged, Langsdorff was forced to put into Montevideo in neutral Uruguay. Compelled to leave, he scuttled his ship and later committed suicide.

Above, the Admiral Graf Spee scuttled on the orders of her captain, in flames in the River Plate off Montevideo on December 17, 1939.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

British Expeditionary Force

Leading elements of the BEF arrive in France, September 1939 (above). Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the British Expeditionary Force was sent to the Franco-Belgian border. By May 1940, when the German attack began, it consisted of ten infantry divisions in three corps (I, II, and III), 1st Army Tank Brigade and a RAF detachment of about 500 aircraft, the BEF Air Component. Also in France was a separate long-range RAF force, the Advanced Air Striking Force (AASF). Commanded by General Lord Gort, although constituting only a tenth of the defending Allied force it sustained heavy losses during the German advance and most of the remainder (roughly 330,000 men) were evacuated from Dunkirk between May 26 and June 4, 1940, leaving much of their equipment behind. However, the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division was left behind at Saint-Valery-en-Caux, as it was not trapped by the Germans at the time; it surrendered along with elements of the French 10th Army later in June. The short lived second Expeditionary Force commanded by General Alan Brooke was evacuated from Western France during Operation Ariel.

Although the censor has blacked out details that might give a clue to the location of these railway wagons (below), there are the same "40 men-8 horses" wagons familiar to British soldiers of an earlier war, on the way to the British concentration area around Arras.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

France Prepares For War

France planned to fight a long war, with the Maginot Line safeguarding her from German attack while her war machine gradually built up speed. The French army was a mixture of ancient and modern, with infantry and artillery reminiscent of 1918 and, although it had some good tanks, too many of these were allocated to infantry support. Lord Gort's British Expeditionary Force (BEF) went to France in 1939 and established its headquarters at Arras, in the midst of World War One battlefields remembered by many of its members. French infantry is seen on the march (above), September 1939.

Below, French tanks on manoeuvres, autumn 1939. When the Germans invaded on 10 May 1940, France could field 2,285 tanks on her north-eastern front.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

German-Russian Happy Times

The best of friends? Russian and German officers chat at Brest-Litovsk on September 18, 1939. The Russians show their rank on collar badges: the traditional epaulettes, hated symbol of the tsarist officer class, were to appear after the German invasion. The black-uniformed German is a panzer officer. In less than two years, these men would be trying to kill each other.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Führer at the Front

Adolf Hitler made several trips to the Polish front in September 1939. Here he receives the salute of General der Panzertruppen Heinz Guderian, one of the authors of the blitzkrieg that made German victory possible.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Polish Resistance Fails

The remnants of the garrison of Warsaw, marching out of the city (above) after its surrender, September 27, 1939. Most of the buildings show the damage inflicted by German bombardments and air-raids.

Poland had a large Jewish population, and the invading Germans rapidly set about rounding it up: an aged Jew is detained in Warsaw (below).

Friday, February 20, 2009

German Advance Unit in Poland — 1939

A German reconnaissance unit in Poland searches a burning village before the rest of their unit, September 1939.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Polish Soldier Off to War — 1939

Rites of passage and, all too probably, their final meeting: a Polish woman slips something into her husband's knapsack as he leaves for the front, September 1939.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Newspaper placards in London announce the German invasion of Poland, September 1, 1939.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Friendly Mountaintop Lunch — 1939

This informal photograph by Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant, shows Hitler, Goring, Keitel and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop lunching on August 22, 1939 at the Berghof, Hitler's retreat above Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. They have been finalizing the strategy for the invasion of Poland, which was just over a week away.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

German Navy Marches into Memel

Sailors of the German Navy are seen marching into into Memel, Lithuania on March 23, 1939. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop of Nazi Germany delivered an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister on March 20, 1939, demanding the surrender of the Memel region to German control. The British Consul in Danzig, Mr.Shepherd, reported to Viscount Halifax that "it was generally anticipated that on 25th March the Memel Landtag would vote for the immediate return of Memelland to Germany." Ribbentrop is also claimed to have stated that Memel “will be taken by other means if necessary." Lithuania, however, submitted to the ultimatum and, in exchange for the right to use the new harbour facilities as a Free Port, ceded the disputed region to Germany in the late evening of March 22, 1939. Adolf Hitler had awaited this result on a battleship, sailed into the harbour in the morning hours and made a speech from a theatre balcony. This was Hitler's last territorial acquisition prior to World War II.

Memel is now known as Klaipėda, a city in Lithuania situated at the mouth of the Curonian Lagoon where it flows into the Baltic Sea. As Lithuania's only seaport, it has ferry terminal connections to Sweden and Germany.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nazi Armour Rolls through Prague

German Mk II tanks are seen in Wenceslas Square, Prague, April 20, 1939. During World War II, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist and was divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia of the Third Reich and the newly declared Slovak Republic, with small slices (e.g. the Teschen) going to Poland and Hungary.

The German economy, burdened by heavy militarisation, urgently needed foreign currency. Setting up an artificially high exchange rate between the Czechoslovak Koruna and the Reichsmark brought consumer goods to Germans (and soon created shortages in Czech lands).

Czechoslovakia was a major manufacturer of machine guns, tanks, and artillery, most of which were assembled in the Škoda factory and had a modern army of 35 divisions. Many of these factories continued to produce Czech designs until factories were converted for German designs. Czechoslovakia also had other major manufacturing companies. Entire steel and chemical factories were moved from Czechoslovakia and reassembled in Linz, Austria which incidentally remains a heavily industrialized sector of the country.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

“Peace In Our Time”

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is shown arriving at Heston airport after the Munich Conference in September 1938. He was to declare infamously that the agreement promised “Peace in Our Time.” When Hitler invaded and seized the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Chamberlain felt betrayed by the breaking of the Munich Agreement and decided to take a much harder line against the Nazis, declaring war against Germany upon their invasion of Poland.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hitler and Mussolini — 1937

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini attended the German Wehrmacht's 1937 manoeuvres. The substantial figure of Hermann Goring is half-hidden between him and Adolf Hitler and Hans Frank, later Governor-General of Poland, is on Mussolini's immediate right. On Frank's right Colonel General von Fritsch, chief of the general staff (who was dismissed the following year after a false accusation of impropriety) is chatting to Lt General Wilhelm Keitel, who was later to run the Armed Forces High Command, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Invasion of the Rhineland — 1936

The Rhineland, located between France and Germany, was demilitarized by the Treaty of Versailles, but in March 1936 the German army moved in, to the evident delight of the inhabitants as seen above. Following the First World War of the early 20th century, the western part of Rhineland was occupied by Entente forces, then demilitarized under the Treaty of Versailles. German forces remilitarized the territory in 1936, as part of a diplomatic test of will, three years before the outbreak of the Second World War. The remilitarization of the Rhineland was favoured by some of the local population, because of a resurgence of German nationalism and harboured bitterness over the Allied occupation of the Rhineland until 1930 (Saarland until 1935).

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rally in Nuremburg — 1935

Nazi Party rallies, such as this one in Nuremberg, Germany in 1935, were emotive displays of group solidarity that also indicated to the world the full strength of Hitler's power.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Reichstag Burns

Fireman work on the burning shell of the German parliament building, the Reichstag, February 27, 1933. It was after the burning of the Reichstag, which Adolf Hitler blamed on Bolsheviks and other anti-social elements — and elections on March 5, which the Nazi Party and its nationalist allies won — that Hitler strengthened his grip. On the “Night of the Long Knives,” June 30, 1934, Hitler purged the party and when President Paul Von Hindenburg died, he combined the offices of President and Chancellor in himself as Führer. Germany became a centralized state ruled by one party.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

London, 1939 — It’s War!

Today we begin a mostly chronological overview of the Second World War in photographs from a single source. We see here a London newspaper salesman with the special editions of the English papers declaring that war has been declared on Germany.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Iwo Jima: The Cost, Part II

A view of the cemetery containing the dead of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th United States Marine Divisions on the island of Iwo Jima. Mount Suribachi is seen in the distance, looking from North to South. Following the war, families could have their loved one’s remains returned to the states for re-burial. All of the Marines buried here in this cemetery were removed and brought home before the island was turned back over to the Japanese government. However, many American remains are still on the island, buried within the underground tunnels and caves where they fell in mortal combat with the enemy.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Iwo Jima: The Cost, Part I

Four U.S. Marines carry a wounded comrade back to the relative safety of the rear area for medical treatment during the Battle for Iwo Jima.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Marines Take a Break on Iwo Jima

U.S. Marines are seen taking a meal break behind the wreckage of a downed Japanese aircraft during a lull in their fierce battle on Iwo Jima — February 1945.