Thursday, December 10, 2015

August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb

August 2, 1939


Albert Einstein Charlie Chaplin worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin in 1931

United States, Manhattan Project: Albert Einstein had been born in Ulm in the German Empire, but by 1939 he had been living abroad for decades. Einstein acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901, and worked in the patent office there while establishing his reputation as a scientist. Later, he visited New York in 1921, and Asia the following year. He still wasn't sure where he wanted to settle down - his native Germany still looked pretty good, but he was more appreciated abroad.

Einstein took a research fellowship at California Institute of Technology, and later a professorship there. By April 1933, he had decided that he no longer wished to live in Germany under the Nazi regime. The Nazis had seized his property there to turn into a Hitler Youth camp. Einstein spent some time in Belgium deciding what to do next. Ultimately, he walked into the German consulate, renounced his German citizenship, sailed back to America with his wife, and settled in Princeton, New Jersey. He was only loosely affiliated with the university there, though many associate Einstein with Princeton.

Albert Einstein Charlie Chaplin worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
"This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs."

By now, Einstein, a Nobel Prize winner, was the most famous scientist in the world. He spent time with Hungarian émigré Leó Szilárd and physicist Edward Teller, who informed him of the feasibility of an atomic bomb. Einstein admitted that he had never considered the idea, with which he is often wrongly tarred and feather by his critics. Realizing Einstein's celebrity status and international connections, Szilárd asked Einstein to sign a 2 August 1939 letter to President Franklin Roosevelt. It warned of the Nazi work on the atomic bomb and proposed that the United States take action to develop one themselves.

October 11 1939 worldwartwo.filminspector.com Einstein Szilard
Albert Einstein and Leo Szilárd re-enact their August 1939 meeting about the letter the latter had drafted to President Roosevelt about the atomic bomb.

The letter will not be delivered to Roosevelt until 11 October 1939, when it will make a big impression on him, especially considering that the war in Europe had broken out in the meantime. The letter leads directly to the Manhattan Project and the successful development of the atomic bomb by the United States in 1945.

This - 2 August 1939 - is the single most significant date of World War II and it is not even mentioned in most histories of the war.

Future History: Horror Writer/Director West Craven is born in Cleveland, Ohio. Craven's top works include "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984), which he writes, and "Scream" (1996), which he directs. He passes away in 2015.

Manhattan Project worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Calutron operators at the Manhattan Project.

Pre-War


8-9 November 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

December 20, 1924: Hitler Leaves Prison

September 18, 1931: Geli Raubal Commits Suicide

November 8, 1932: Roosevelt is Elected

30 January 1933: Hitler Takes Office
February 27, 1933: Reichstag Fire
March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act

June 20, 1934: Hitler Plans the Night of the Long Knives
June 30, 1934: Night of the Long Knives

August 1, 1936: Opening of the Berlin Olympics

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht

August 1, 1939: Flight Tests of B-17 Flying Fortress
August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb
August 7, 1939: Goering Tries to Broker Peace
August 14, 1939: Hitler Decides To Attack Poland
August 15, 1939: U-Boats Put To Sea
August 16, 1939: Incident at Danzig
August 20, 1939: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand
August 23, 1939: Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
August 25, 1939: Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland
August 27, 1939: First Jet Flight
August 31, 1939: The Gleiwitz Operation


2015

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

August 20, 1939 - Battle of Khalkhin Gol

August 20, 1939

Battle of Khalkhin Gol worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Japanese forces marching against the Soviet at Khalkin Gol.

Soviet-Japanese Military Action - Japan had been aggressive with its military throughout the 1930s. It confined that activity largely to the Chinese mainland, incurring little notice in the Western media. By and large, horrific as the human toll was, these military raids had little consequences extending into World War II. However, one did: the Battle of Khalkin Gol.

Japan had occupied Manchuria (north of Korea) in 1931 and turned it into a puppet state named Manchukuo. This brought the Japanese into direct contact with the Soviets in Mongolia, removing the buffer between them. The result was a series of border incidents due to disagreement about the true border between the two adversaries. You might think that the Japanese, having absconded with such a huge territory, would just take a pass on pressing a meaningless border issue so as not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it was the 1930s and everyone was in everyone else's business.

Actually, somewhat surprisingly, headquarters in Japan did take that reasonable attitude. It was one of its last prudent military decisions. But this order was ignored.

Battle of Khalkhin Gol worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
The 1905 Battle of Tsushima off Korea was an epic Russian disaster that lingered in everyone's memory through the years. The Battle of Khalkin Gol turned the tables.

So, in a fit of common sense, Imperial Japanese Headquarters told the local army to stand down. However, the Japanese Kwantung Army was a loose cannon outfit which pretty much did what it wanted to do, led by leaders who fancied themselves crusading warlords. It ignored Tokyo and decided to settle the border issue by simply taking the disputed territory. The Kwantung Army began inconclusive skirmishing with the Soviets in May 1939, but this led nowhere. The Japanese then decided to settle matters once and for all in July. They sent in two roughly division-sized forces in a two-pronged assault designed to encircle Soviet forces on the river Khalkyn Gol. It was a classic double encirclement, then novel in modern warfare (though the tactic dated at least to the time of Hannibal) but much-practiced later in World War II.

The Japanese plan might have succeeded, but they were facing one Georgy Zhukov. Zhukov was to become famous during World War II as quite possibly the best General of the conflict, but at that time he was just a corps commander. He took over on 5 June 1939, bringing along reinforcements (part of being a favored General in those days was that you got stronger forces allocated to you than would otherwise be the case). Zhukov had literally hundreds of tanks, which he was not chary about using, making the operation a full-scale battle on a par with many of the famous engagements of the war. It was basically war games with live ammunition, because everyone knew it would not evolve into a wider conflict. While the Japanese claimed to have destroyed more Soviet tanks than they lost (also a common claim by the Germans in subsequent years), ultimately they were repelled. The encirclement failed, the points of the attack failed to join, and the Japanese commander Yasuoka Masaomi was relieved.

While the Japanese attack had failed, they had occupied some territory and remained in their advanced positions. They may not have achieved their objective, but they also technically had not lost. Zhukov decided to settle matters. On 20 August, he attacked with three rifle divisions, two tank divisions and additional tank forces organized into two brigades. While Soviet divisions in those days were smaller than those in other armies, it was still a substantial force of about 500 tanks (while composed of weak BT-5 and BT-7 models, these were more than capable against the Japanese forces which were very light in armour). The Soviets also had some 557 aircraft and 50,000 men. The Soviets faced only one Japanese division - the disadvantage of having a failed encirclement was that the Japanese forces remained separate and could be defeated in detail. By the end of the month, the Japanese forces had been wiped out. A cease-fire was arranged in Moscow shortly afterwards, made easier because now (temporarily) they essentially were on the same side against the Allies.

Battle of Khalkhin Gol worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com

While there is doubt about the losses on both sides, there is no doubt that the Japanese lost, and lost badly. This was probably due to their deficiencies in armour and aircraft. The battle had several important consequences:
  • The Soviet military successes in the Far East encouraged Stalin to sign the 23 August Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact with Nazi Germany, which had many militarily adventurous aspects;
  • To some extent, the victory avenged the Soviet disaster at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima and restored Soviet prestige in the theater;
  • Zhukov burnished his credentials and returned to Moscow a hero, thereby accelerating his career rise;
  • Moscow got to practice an early form of Blitzkrieg (coordinated offensive attack by motorized forces and aircraft) and demonstrate it for the world;
  • Japan saw that the Soviets would not be an easy opponent and looked in other directions for future conquests.
While it is dangerous to read too much into an isolated, basically inconclusive (in a strategic sense) engagement, the Battle of Khalkhin Gol had drastic consequences for world history. Due to this battle, Stalin felt free, especially given the intelligence received from Soviet spies such as Richard Sorge, to reduce his defensive strength facing Japan to the bare minimum during the darkest early days of World War II in 1941. This contributed to the successful defense of Moscow in December 1941 and the subsequent successful Soviet counterattacks. The battle also dissuaded the Japanese from attacking north in 1941 against the weakened Soviet Union, which would have made much better sense from a strategic perspective than what they chose to do. Ultimately, Japan attacked south for "easy" conquests, and this had catastrophic - actually fatal - consequences for the Axis.

Battle of Khalkhin Gol worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Zhukov at the Khalkhin Gol battle.

Pre-War


8-9 November 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

December 20, 1924: Hitler Leaves Prison

September 18, 1931: Geli Raubal Commits Suicide

November 8, 1932: Roosevelt is Elected

30 January 1933: Hitler Takes Office
February 27, 1933: Reichstag Fire
March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act

June 20, 1934: Hitler Plans the Night of the Long Knives
June 30, 1934: Night of the Long Knives

August 1, 1936: Opening of the Berlin Olympics

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht

August 1, 1939: Flight Tests of B-17 Flying Fortress
August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb
August 7, 1939: Goering Tries to Broker Peace
August 14, 1939: Hitler Decides To Attack Poland
August 15, 1939: U-Boats Put To Sea
August 16, 1939: Incident at Danzig
August 20, 1939: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand
August 23, 1939: Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
August 25, 1939: Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland
August 27, 1939: First Jet Flight
August 31, 1939: The Gleiwitz Operation


2015

Saturday, December 5, 2015

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement

September 30, 1938

Chamberlain Hitler Munich Agreement worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler at Munich.

Germany and England, Diplomacy: Adolf Hitler, a native Austrian, had a keen understanding of international relations in central Europe. He viewed the state of Czechoslovakia, formed out of whole clothe following World War I, as easy prey. It was composed of the old German provinces of Bohemia and Moravia and many - not just Hitler - saw it as a rump state that rightly belonged to Germany. There were 3 million ethnic Germans living in the so-called Sudetenland, a Czech region bordering Germany which comprised the country's prime defense zone against Germany. As part of his desire to reinstate the territories of the old German Empire, Hitler saw Czechoslovakia as a nuisance to be handled as expeditiously as possible, preferably without incurring a larger war which the German military - still re-arming - could not enter with confidence.

The 12 March 1938 Anschluss (German union with Austria) stoked the Sudetens' desire to have the same happen to them. Throughout 1938, ethnic Germans under the leadership of gymnastics teacher Konrad Heinlein and his Sudeten Germany Party agitated for German intervention. While they may have had some legitimate grievances against the government of Prague, such as being under-represented in government jobs and the like, they were culturally free and lawful Czech citizens. Hyped stories of Czech intimidation of the Sudeten Germans began to appear in the German press, most or all of them fabricated or at least dramatically exaggerated.

Munich Agreement worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Czech border defenses occupied by Germany after the Munich Agreement.

Hitler, after much back-and-forth with the British, who were the Czechs' nominal protectors, decided that enough was enough. In late May 1938 he decided to invade Czechoslovakia under military operation Case Green. Case Green was scheduled for that October, with the intervening time to be used to exert diplomatic pressure on the Czech government and create distance between them and the British. For his part, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain also saw Czechoslovakia as a problematic flash point which could trigger a war with Germany for which the British public also was unprepared.

While Hitler continued his campaign of intimidation against the Czechs, including browbeating President Edvard Beneš, the British and Czechs gradually came to the realization that the situation was tactically hopeless. The Czechs knew that their only hope lay in strong support from the Western Allies who had created their state, and tepid British support gave them little hope.

Event culminated in the Munich Agreement of 29-30 September 1938, when Chamberlain flew to Munich and, along with representatives from France and Italy (but not Czechoslovakia), signed the infamous Munich Agreement (actually signed during the early hours of 30 September but dated the previous day). It gave Germany carte blanche to occupy the Sudetenland, which it quickly did by 10 October, in exchange for leaving the rest of Czechoslovakia alone. The British thereby avoided a war that Hitler also did not feel prepared for, at the cost of the integrity (and ultimately the existence) of the Czech state. The Munich Agreement led within months to the complete occupation of the remainder of now-defenseless Czechoslovakia by Germany and other nearby countries.

Munich Agreement worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com

The Munich Agreement was a disaster for everyone but the Germans. The legend of "appeasement" that grew out of Chamberlain's attempt to prevent war by giving the aggressor Hitler what he desired remains a cliché - in fact, it is probably the most enduring one from the 20th century after the "Titanic" metaphor for total disaster. As for Germany, the Munich Agreement was one of Hitler's biggest and most unalloyed triumphs. He incorporated the former Czech state into Germany's expanding empire and got some excellent soldiers from the Sudeten population, most notably tank ace Kurt Knispel, along with important arms manufacturers and a quiet area relatively free from later Allied bombing raids.



2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

August 31, 1939 - The Gleiwitz Operation

31 August 1939

Alfred Naujocks and the Gleiwitz radio tower.

Germany, Diplomacy: Following several days of covert diplomacy with Great Britain, France and Poland, events culminate on 29 August with a German ultimatum to Poland (the "Sixteen Points"). While the Sixteen Points are intentionally framed as reasonably as possible in order to appear attractive to the British, the Polish Ambassador Lipski for the time being ignores the entire document as diplomatically offensive. This is precisely what the Germans are counting on. Lipski falls into the trap set by Hitler to create another thin pretext for military action and reasons for the British to not support the Poles. It is a standard Hitler tactic, and it proceeds exactly as planned.

With the diplomatic pretext working, the German High Command (OKW) issues final orders for Case White, the invasion of Poland, shortly after noon. Negotiations via Birger Dahlerus continue with the British virtually around the clock. As expected, the Polish refusal to consider the Sixteen Points immediately (as demanded) is used by the Germans in an attempt to fracture Western support for Poland. There are a few very subtle signs of this possibly happening, as the British at least keep talking to Dahlerus in London and make vague statements that leave open the possibility of further negotiations.

Germany, military affairs: With negotiations sputtering along with Great Britain to prevent it from honoring its defense obligations to Poland, Adolf Hitler on 28 August rescheduled Case White (the invasion of Poland) for 1 September 1939. However, in a desire to create a military pretext for the invasion (in addition to the diplomatic pretext), several months previously he had asked his SS chief Heinrich Himmler to craft a sequence of border "incidents" to "justify" military action. Collectively, these incidents would proceed under the code name "Operation Himmler." In later parlance, these are "false flag" operations, perhaps the first in history.

One of these incidents, and the most notorious, was Operation Grandmother Died ("Unternehmen Grossmutter Gestorben"). This would involve a supposed Polish attack on a German radio station that was close to the border at Gleiwitz. Why the Poles would suddenly attack a random German radio station was unclear, but it made sense to the Germans.

SS-Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Alfred Naujocks organizes the plan. He uses one Franciszek Honiok, a Catholic Polish farmer who had proven troublesome to local German authorities in Silesia. Honiok had been arrested the previous day on a pretext. On 31 August, he is given a lethal injection and then, dressed in a Polish uniform, driven to the radio station. There, he is shot multiple times and left on the station steps. Afterwards, Naujocks has someone broadcast a message in Polish urging an invasion of Germany. Then, he and his soldiers leave. The incident forms a major pretext (a "provocation") for Hitler's speech to the Reichstag the following morning "justifying" the unprovoked German invasion of Poland.

By some interpretations, Honiok becomes the first casualty of World War II.

Franciszek Honiok

Pre-War


8-9 November 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

December 20, 1924: Hitler Leaves Prison

September 18, 1931: Geli Raubal Commits Suicide

November 8, 1932: Roosevelt is Elected

30 January 1933: Hitler Takes Office
February 27, 1933: Reichstag Fire
March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act

June 20, 1934: Hitler Plans the Night of the Long Knives
June 30, 1934: Night of the Long Knives

August 1, 1936: Opening of the Berlin Olympics

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht

August 1, 1939: Flight Tests of B-17 Flying Fortress
August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb
August 7, 1939: Goering Tries to Broker Peace
August 14, 1939: Hitler Decides To Attack Poland
August 15, 1939: U-Boats Put To Sea
August 16, 1939: Incident at Danzig
August 20, 1939: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand
August 23, 1939: Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
August 25, 1939: Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland
August 27, 1939: First Jet Flight
August 31, 1939: The Gleiwitz Operation

September 1939

September 1, 1939: Invasion of Poland
September 2, 1939: Danzig Annexed
September 3, 1939: France, Great Britain Declare War
September 4, 1939: First RAF Raid
September 5, 1939: The US Stays Out
September 6, 1939: Battle of Barking Creek
September 7, 1939: Polish HQ Bugs Out
September 8, 1939: War Crimes in Poland
September 9, 1939: The Empire Strikes Back
September 10, 1939: The Germans Break Out
September 11, 1939: Battle of Kałuszyn
September 12, 1939: The French Chicken Out
September 13, 1939: The Battle of Modlin
September 14, 1939: Germany Captures Gdynia
September 15, 1939: Warsaw Surrounded
September 16, 1939: Battle of Jaworów
September 17, 1939: Soviets Invade Poland
September 18, 1939: Lublin Falls
September 19, 1939: Germans, Soviets Hook Up
September 20, 1939: the Kraków Army Surrenders
September 21, 1939: Romania Convulses
September 22, 1939: Joint Soviet-German Military Parade
September 23, 1939: The Panama Conference
September 24, 1939: The Luftwaffe Bombs Warsaw
September 25, 1939: Black Monday for Warsaw
September 26, 1939: Warsaw on the Ropes
September 27, 1939: Hitler Decides to Invade France
September 28, 1939: Warsaw Capitulates
September 29, 1939: Modlin Fortress Falls
September 30, 1939: Graf Spee on the Loose


2015


August 25, 1939 - Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland

Adolf Hitler reading newspaper worldwartwodaily.filminspector.com
Adolf Hitler engaging in his common pursuit of reading the newspaper.

Germany, Military Decisions - Adolf Hitler had planned 26 August as the date of the invasion of Poland, and this plan continued until the early evening of 25 August 1939. The pact with the Soviet Union of the previous day (dated 23 August) had seemed to make this a date certain. However, several events suddenly happened to cause a change in plans, and Hitler postpones the invasion of Poland at the last minute.

First, the Luftwaffe's intelligence service (the Forschamgsamt) reports that Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano was preparing to inform Berlin that Italy would not participate in an invasion. Second, the French ambassador informs Hitler that France would honor its defense guarantee to Poland. Third, news reports say that Great Britain also now has ratified a similar agreement with Poland. All three events were completely unexpected.

All of this rattles Hitler. He had been relying on advice from his own foreign minister von Ribbentrop that the western powers would stand aside. He also had taken Italian support from his friend, Italian Duce Benito Mussolini, for granted. Hitler tells General Keitel to "Stop everything!" and later states that the postponement will only be for "four or five days." Hermann Goering, meanwhile, continues using a businessman intermediary, Swede Birger Dahlerus of the Electrolux company, to remove Great Britain from the equation. Dahlerus, who is engaging in perhaps the first instance of shuttle diplomacy, is in London this day acting as an unofficial German ambassador. However, he has little to work with and is not making much progress.

Birger Dahlerus

Terrorism: Five people are killed in an explosion in Coventry. Police quickly suspect the IRA.

Future History: Director John Badham is born on 25 August 1939. He becomes famous in the 1970s for films such as "Saturday Night Fever."

Pre-War


8-9 November 1923: Beer Hall Putsch

December 20, 1924: Hitler Leaves Prison

September 18, 1931: Geli Raubal Commits Suicide

November 8, 1932: Roosevelt is Elected

30 January 1933: Hitler Takes Office
February 27, 1933: Reichstag Fire
March 23, 1933: The Enabling Act

June 20, 1934: Hitler Plans the Night of the Long Knives
June 30, 1934: Night of the Long Knives

August 1, 1936: Opening of the Berlin Olympics

September 30, 1938: The Munich Agreement
November 9, 1938: Kristallnacht

August 1, 1939: Flight Tests of B-17 Flying Fortress
August 2, 1939: Einstein and the Atom Bomb
August 7, 1939: Goering Tries to Broker Peace
August 14, 1939: Hitler Decides To Attack Poland
August 15, 1939: U-Boats Put To Sea
August 16, 1939: Incident at Danzig
August 20, 1939: Battle of Khalkhin Gol
August 22, 1939: Hitler Tips His Hand
August 23, 1939: Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact
August 25, 1939: Hitler Postpones Invasion of Poland
August 27, 1939: First Jet Flight
August 31, 1939: The Gleiwitz Operation



2015