Sunday, March 29, 2009

More British Preparations

As England prepared for impending invasion by Germany’s armed and naval forces, beach defenses transformed the British coast. These little girls (above) look wistfully at the wired-off sand where they normally would’ve been allowed to play in the peaceful days prior.

When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was asked what should be done with “enemy aliens” — German and Italian citizens in England at the outbreak of war (many of them refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish) — his reply was characteristic: “Collar the lot.” Here on May 29, 1940, women and children (below), escorted by police and officials, board a train which will take them to internment on the Isle of Man.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Britain Prepares

With the fall of France, Britain stood alone and Churchill presciently informed his countrymen that Hitler would have to “break us in this island or lose the war.” Serious preparations were made to meet an invasion, although, with so much of its equipment lost in France, the army was pitifully weak. The evacuation of children from London and other major cities, begun the previous year but reversed (despite government pleas) as many children returned to the cities when air attacks did not materialize, resumed, and Britain braced itself for a long war.

The battle of France was still being fought when these little evacuees left London (above). A policeman is checking one little tot's label to make sure she boards the right train.

Signposts and other direction indicators (below), which would have helped the invaders to find their way around the country, were taken down.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Government Trouble in France

On the night of June 16-17, 1940, the French government formed by Marshal Philippe Petain requested an armistice. But not all Frenchmen were prepared to accept it. Charles de Gaulle, a recently-promoted brigadier general who had fought with some success in the campaign, left for England, and on June 18, he broadcast on the BBC, urging his countrymen to continue the fight on, and ten days later the British recognized him as the leader of all free Frenchmen. The relationship between Churchill and de Gaulle was never comfortable, but thanks to de Gaulle the flame of France's national honour was kept alight.

Marshal Petain, head of the French state established at the spa town of Vichy, shaking hands with Hitler (above).

Charles de Gaulle accompanies King George VI (below) in an inspection of Free French troops, summer 1940.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Occupation of the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands were the only part of the United Kingdom to be occupied by German forces. The two main islands, Jersey and Guernsey were bombed on June 28, and German troops began unopposed landings two days later. The occupation was in fact harsher than was once suggested, and there is evidence of collaboration by the islands' authorities in round-up and deportation of Jews. This uncomfortable image, with its heavy propaganda message, shows a policeman opening the door for the German commandant of the Channel Islands, whose hotel headquarters on Guernsey still bears the Automobile Association emblem awarded in happier times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Führer Conquers Paris

German leader Adolf Hitler triumphant on his only visit to Paris, June 23, 1940.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Nazis in Paris

In one of the French campaign's most durable images (note the film truck in the background) German troops parade through Paris, May 1940.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Covering the Armistice

CBS correspondent William Shirer (center) types his account of the armistice. In the background is the hall which had housed the railway carriage in which the 1918 ceremony was concluded. The carriage was taken to Germany where it was destroyed later in the war in an air raid.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Fall of France

The French garrison of Lille fought on while the Dunkirk evacuation proceeded, but with the collapse in the north the Germans regrouped and struck southwards. There was more heavy fighting in the often-neglected part of the campaign. The British 51st Highland Division, a fine Scots Territorial formation which had been fighting under French command, was forced to surrender at St Valery-en-Caux on June 12. The Germans entered Paris on June 14, and on June 22, an armistice was signed at Rethondes, in the Forest of Compiègne — scene of the 1918 armistice negotiations.

German air power was dominant throughout the campaign. The Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bomber (above) with its characteristic gull-winged silhouette, acted as "flying artillery" for advancing German tanks.

Major General Erwin Rommel (below), Commander of 7th Panzer Division, in satisfied mood at St-Valéry, June 12th. A grim-faced Major General Fortune of the 51st Highland Division stands behind him.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Miracle of Dunkirk

The Dunkirk evacuation, code named “Operation Dynamo” by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between May 26 and June 4 1940, when British, French and Canadian troops were cut off by the German army during the Battle of Dunkirk.

In a speech to the House of Commons, which has since come to be known as “We Shall Fight on the Beaches,” Winston Churchill called it the greatest military defeat for many centuries, warning that “the whole root, the core, and brain of the British Army” was stranded in Dunkirk. He hailed their subsequent rescue as a "miracle of deliverance."

On the first day only 7,010 men were evacuated but by the ninth day a total of 338,226 soldiers — 198,229 British and 139,997 French — were rescued by the hastily-assembled fleet of 860 boats. Many of the troops were able to embark from the harbor’s protective mole onto 42 British destroyers and other large ships, while others had to wade from the beaches toward the ships, waiting for hours to board, shoulder-deep in water. Others were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships, and thousands were carried back to England, by the famous "little ships of Dunkirk," a flotilla of around 700 merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft and Royal National Lifeboat Institution lifeboats.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Innocent Victims of War

In an image taken near Louvain, French refugees flee the German forces and make their way to safety in May 1940.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

War Weary Troops

French prisoners (above) are seen in a makeshift camp, during the summer of 1940. Exhausted Belgian troops (below) make their way on the Louvain-Brussels road. All European armies except the British used substantial numbers of horses in 1940.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

British Help in France; Unfortunate Refugees

Above, a British field gun is seen in action 30 May 1945. German air superiority in the skies over France made artillery deployed in the open especially vulnerable: this gun enjoys the benefit of some cover.

A member of the German 56th Artillery Regiment, on his way to the Channel coast, took this photograph (below) of French refugees killed in an air attack.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Keeping in Touch — Holland 1940

The field telephone remained at the heart of communications in 1940. A German NCO mans a telephone exchange in a roadside slit trench.

Monday, March 9, 2009

German Paratroops in Holland

The Battle of Fort Eben-Emael was a battle between Belgian and German forces that took place between 10 May and 11 May, 1940, and was part of the Battle of the Netherlands during Fall Gelb, the German invasion of the Low Countries and France. An assault force of German Fallschirmjäger were tasked with assaulting and capturing Fort Eben-Emael, a Belgian fortress whose artillery pieces dominated several important bridges over the Albert Canal which German forces intended to use to advance into Belgium. As some of the German airborne troops assaulted the fortress and disabled the garrison and the artillery pieces inside it, others simultaneously captured three bridges over the Canal. Having disabled the fortress, the airborne troops were then ordered to protect the bridges against Belgian counter-attacks until they linked up with ground forces from the German 18th Army.

The battle was a decisive victory for the German forces, with the airborne troops landing on top of the fortress via the use of gliders and using explosives and flamethrowers to disable the outer defences of the fortress. The Fallschirmjäger then entered the fortress, killing a number of defenders and containing the rest in the lower sections of the fortress. Simultaneously, the rest of the German assault force had landed near the three bridges over the Canal, destroyed a number of pillboxes and defensive positions and defeated the Belgian forces guarding the bridges, capturing them and bringing them under German control. The airborne troops suffered heavy casualties during the operation, but succeeded in holding the bridges until the arrival of German ground forces, who then aided the airborne troops in assaulting the fortress a second time and forcing the surrender of the remaining members of the garrison. German forces were then able to utilize the three bridges over the Canal to bypass a number of Belgian defensive positions and advance into Belgium to aid in the invasion of the country.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Rotterdam Blitz

Holland refused to give way to a German ultimatum, and was duly invaded. Surrender negotiations were under way on May 14, but news failed to reach the German aircraft that bombed Rotterdam, destroying part of the city centre and killing over 800 civilians.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Churchill Becomes Prime Minister

Churchill had joined the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty on the outbreak of war, and replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister in the furor that followed the disastrous Norwegian campaign. Here he confers with Gort and his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Pownall. The latter pointed out in his diaries that it was not easy to work with Churchill. “Can nobody prevent him,” he wrote on May 24, “trying to conduct operations himself as a sort of super Commander-in-Chief?” However, Churchill’s energy and resolve had a terrific impact on the British war effort: his flaws, like his strengths, were on a grand scale, but he was the man of the hour. This image was taken in France on November 5, 1939, while Churchill was still First Lord of the Admiralty.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Keeping an Eye on Norwegian Skies

German air power played a crucial role in the attacks on Norway. This photograph shows a Bofors light anti-aircraft gun defending a Norwegian port: large quantities of ammunition and extemporized defences (fish-boxes filled with rubble) testify to its authenticity.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The German Invasion of Norway

German soldiers (above) disembarking in Norway on April 9, 1940. They used a variety of warships and civilian vessels and achieved almost total surprise.

German troops landed by sea at Narvik (below) on April 9, but the Royal Navy attacked and in two engagements, on the April 9 and 13, all German warships and supply vessels were sunk or beached.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eyes Turn to Norway

Neutral Norway attracted both Allies and Germans. The northern port of Narvik was the only all-weather outlet for Swedish iron ore, important to Germany, and deep-water channels along the coast, known as the Leads, formed a valuable link between Germany and the North Atlantic. The Allies contemplated seizing Narvik, pushing on to the ore-fields and then aiding the Finns, but resolved to mine the Leads instead. No sooner had they begun, on April 8, than it became clear that a major German invasion was under way: neither fierce Norwegian resistance nor a series of botched Allied countermoves could prevent German occupation, completed by early June.

On February 16, 1940, Graf Spee's homeward-bound supply ship Altmark was boarded by men from HMS Cossack in Jössing Fjord, in Norwegian territorial waters. Almost 300 prisoners were freed, but the incident strained Anglo-Norwegian relations and drew Hitler's attention to the area.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Russian Invasion of Finland

When Russia invaded Finland on November 30 1939, the Finns fought back hard. Well-trained ski troops, nicknamed "White Death" inflicted enormous casualties on the Russians, but eventually, weight of numbers and machinery told: in February 1940, the Russians breached the Mannerheim Line between Lake Lagoda and the Gulf of Finland, forcing the Finns to come to terms on March 12, 1940. The image above shows Finnish ski troops passing through a small town, December 20, 1939.