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World War Two In Brief: 1939-40

FALL OF WARSAW: September 27th 1939 

 Warsaw surrendered to German troops encircling its borders. Massive air and artillery bombardments left the poles no choice. Eastern Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union, while the rest of Poland was occupied by the Germans. The Germans immediately began their campaign against the Jews of Poland– herding them to live in ghettos in big cities.


Soviet Union Invades Finland: NOVEMBER 30th 1939

The Soviets invaded Finland on three fronts. The Finns put up a heroic resistance, often stopping the Soviet attack in its tracks. However, the overwhelming numeric superiority of the Soviet forces was too much for the Finns to overcome, and they eventually sued for peace. On March 12th, a peace treaty was signed that ceded the Karelian Isthmus, the city of Viipuri, and other lands to the Soviets.


Battle For The Atlantic: DECEMBER 1939

The submarine war began on the third day of the war when a German submarine U-30 commanded by Lieutenant Fritz Julius Lemp fired on the British passenger liner Athenia. The Athenia sunk the next day, after most of the passenger were saved. One hundred and twelve people lost there lives, including 28 Americans. Lemp fired despite explicit orders not to fire on a passenger ship. In the first four months of the war 221 ships of more than 750,000 tons were sunk.

On the evening of September 17, German U-boat 29 under the command of Commander Otto Schuart fired three torpedoes at the HMS Courageous. Within fifteen minutes the Courageous sank taking with it its captain and 518 men.

On October 13th Lieutenant Gunter Prien commanding U-boat 47 successfully entered into the British naval base at Scapa Flow. There he was able to attack the British battleship Royal Oak. He first fired four torpedoes at the battleship.; Only one hit, that one doing most of its damage above the waterline. Prien returned to fire three more torpedoes. One of them causing a catastrophic explosion sinking the Royal Oak and 833 men in fifteen minutes.


The period between July and October 1940 became know as the “Happy Time” for German submarines. During this period the wolf pact, a group of submarines operating together on a convoy, became operational. U-boats reached an outstanding 217 ships sunk representing more then a million tons of shipping, losing only six U boats.

1941 saw the tide of U-Boat activities shift temporarily. The use of additional escorts, air patrols, and US convoying of ships halfway across the Atlantic significanly cut down U-Boat losses. The period that followed the American entry into the war however temporarily changed this. Suddenly there were hundreds of unescorted vessels off the coasts of the US all silohetted nicely against the lights of US cities.

By early 1943 the tide tunred decisively agaisnt the U Boats, The allies had 500 escorts at there dsiposal, they were intercepting U Boat radio communications, and the introducation of escort carriers allowed uniterrupted air coverage for convoy across the Atlantic. Thus by mid 1944 one U boat was being lost for every allied ship sunk. The war in the Atlantic would go on, but victory was in the hands of the Allies.

Germany Invades Norway: APRIL 9th 1940

German forces invaded Norway and Denmark. Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Naravik were rapidly taken. Navarik was retaken by a British force, but the British were soon forced to withdraw from the town.

By the end of the month, the Germans had broken the stiff Norwegian opposition, and the Norwegians were forced to surrender.


German Armies Invade Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg: MAY 10th 1940

In a flanking move that made the French Maginot Line irrelevant, the Germans attacked the low countries. The Netherlands surrendered in four days, after massive German attacks on Rotterdam.

The Germans quickly drove into Northern France, dividing the French and British forces into two.

Paris Falls: JUNE 13th 1940
France Surrenders: JUNE 22nd 1940 

 On June 13th, Paris was evacuated by French forces, in the face of advancing German forces. On the 23rd of June, France surrendered. Terms of the surrender included the disarmament of French forces and the occupation of two-thirds of France by the Germans.


Dunkirk Evacuated: JUNE 4th 1940

The British successfully extricated 200,000 British and 100,000 French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. The troops were stranded in Northern France, cut off by the sweeping German victories. The British and French troops were forced to abandon their equipment, but their soldiers were available to fight another day.


Battle Of Britain: AUGUST 1940
The Germans attempted to subdue Great Britain by utilizing air attacks. Germany attacked all major cities and military installations. British preparedness, combined with the valor of its pilots and a new weapon called "radar," forced the Germans to pay a heavy price for their bombing. By the end of October, when the winter weather made the threat of invasion unlikely, the Germans had lost 2,375 planes, compared to 800 British planes lost.


Italy Invades Greece: OCTOBER 28th 1940

 The Italians invaded Greece, expecting a quick victory. The Greeks received reinforcements from the British and planes from the Soviets. This allowed Greek forces to hold their own and attack the Italians in Albania, overruning one- quarter of the country.


British Attack Italian Forces In Egypt: DECEMBER 8th 1940

British troops launched a surprise attack on Italian troops, which occupied parts of western Egypt. The British routed the Italians. On January 5th, the Italian garrison at Bardia– with 25,000 troops– surrendered.
By the end of January, the British captured Tobruk and, in early February, captured Bengasi and liberated Ethiopia. In April, German reinforcements, under the command of General Rommel, arrived in Africa and stopped the British advance. The British were forced to withdraw.

Graf Spee Sunk: DECEMBER 17th 1939


The first major naval campaign of Word War II, took place when the British navy pursued the Graf Spee, a German battlecruiser who was on a mission to attack British merchant vessels. Between September 30 and December 7 1939 the Graf Spee, under the command of Captain Hans Langsdorff sunk nine cargo ships with a total tonnage of 50,089. Not a single crewmen or passenger on any of the sunk vessels was killed.

The British navy correctly deduced that the Graf Spee would next head for the area off of Montevideo to intercept more shipping. A British task force composed of the cruisers Ajax, Achilles and Exeter converged on Graf Spree. On the morning of December 12, 1939 the found the Graf Spree. The Graf Spee opened fire first, damaging the Exeter. All three British troops responded. The British ships responded. In the ensuing battle both the British ships and the Graf Spee were damaged, but the cumulative effect of three British ships damaged the Graf Spee severely. The Graf Spee headed for Montevideo requesting time for repairs. The Uruguayans refused, while the British rushed additional forces toward Montevideo. Captain Langsdorff then decided to scuttle the Graf Spee in Montevideo harbor.


Text Source: History Central




Suggested Reading For Beginners

Daily Mail (London), Book of the Week
“Of all the books about World War II, this must be one of the most unexpected. Norman Stone, a master historian, has elected to tell the whole story in just 200 pages. Reading it is like being taken up in an all-seeing satellite to observe massive movements on the ground, or the woods without any trees to get in the way. It is illuminating, concentrating on what mattered most psychologically, ignoring confusing detail.”

Great Videos

Seventy years in the making, WWII in HD is the first-ever World War II documentary presented in full, immersive HD color. Culled from more than 3000 hours of lost and rare color archival footage gathered from a worldwide search through basements and archives, the film elements have been converted to HD for unprecedented clarity. Gary Sinise, Justin Bartha, Ron Livingston, LL Cool J, Rob Lowe, Josh Lucas, Amy Smart, and Steve Zahn lend their voices to the production, which presents the story of World War II through the eyes of 12 Americans who experienced the war firsthand. We hear the story of Army nurse June Wandrey, who served from the beginning of the war in North Africa to the liberation of the camps in Germany. We meet Shelby Westbrook, a young African-American from Toledo, who became a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen; Jimmie Kanaya, the son of Japanese immigrants, who served in the U.S. Army and was imprisoned in Europe; and Jack Werner, a Jewish émigré who escaped from Austria before the war and wound up fighting not against Hitler and the hated Nazis, but in the Pacific Theater. These and other stories introduce a diverse group of soldiers whose wartime diaries and journals show in visceral detail what the war was really like.




Beware, this picture book of World war 2 is unsanitized. If you can stand to look at frightening pictures, this book may be for you. 

It reproduces pictures such as a full color photo of a German soldier being comforted by his comrades after his arm was shot off, showing his arm laying on the ground next to him and showing the dazed expression on his face. If you are not too squeamish to look at that, then you may have the stomach for this book. Many pictures of Nazi atrocities are included as well as pictures of amputee refugee children. There are many other types of photos too, such as typical battle scene shots and pictures of the home front. However, for the most part, this book is unvarnished.

We have seen many war pictures showing battle scenes. We have also seen pictures of the wounded in a somewhat unrevealing manner. 

This book does not hold back. If you want to see the horrors of war, buy this book but be prepared to be troubled after looking through it and if you have nightmares afterwards, don't say you were not forewarned.



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A nice introduction to the SS. The SS (Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler) was a number of things--Hitler's body guard, law enforcement duties, concentration camp controllers, and soldiers (the Waffen-SS). This volume examines the work of the SS from 1939-1945. Early on, there was competition between the SA and the SS (to be devoted to Hitler, whereas the SA had other ambitions). With the demise of the SA, the SS became that much more important.

The SS had two elements--the Waffen-SS, the military arm, and the Allgemeine-SS, a police and security force with tentacles throughout German society. The second chapter lays out the variety of responsibilities of the Allgemeine-SS nicely. In addition to describing the "tentacles," this discussion also considers recruitment and training, symbolism (the death's head--totenkopf), uniforms, flags, and so on.

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The book discusses the fighting power of the Waffen-SS—and its slow disintegration as it was bled to death in the Soviet Union and in France after the Normandy invasion. There were a few last hurrahs, such as in the Battle of the Bulge, but this element was slowly ground down due to causalities and inferior replacements.

Overall, an accessible and readable portrayal of the SS. .


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A Lousy Journalist?

A Lousy Journalist?
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

"There is no glory in war. It is man at his most bestial"


History Quotes

May 1945 - If hell on earth existed, than it existed in Prague after May the 5th. 1945. Old men, women and children were beaten to death and maimed. Rapes, barbaric cruelties, horror-scenarios of hellish proportions - here they had been let lose.

- Ludek Pachmann, Czech Chess-Grand Master and publicist, forty years after the fact.

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"History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are."

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.


HISTORY, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.
-- Ambrose Bierce

We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.


"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past."

"Patriotism ruins history."

Snippets from History

This short but important battle played a key role in the decision to use atomic bombs when attacking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The battle showed just how far Japanese troops would go to defend their country.

Snippets From History

Paulus didn't give the order to 6th Army to surrender, but his troops no longer had much fight left in them. Resistance faded out over the next two days, with the last die-hards finally calling it quits. One Red Army colonel shouted at a group of prisoners, waving at the ruins all around them: "That's how Berlin is going to look!


History is Philosophy teaching by examples.


"Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
-- George Santayana

Points to Ponder: Why Is China Unstable?

The aim of individuals in any society is money and power. Societies that give equal chance to all its members to get them will be the most stable. That is why democracies are more stable than other systems of governance.

China after Deng's reform gave the chance to get rich but power is in the hands of an elite; the Communist Party of China. Membership to the party is at the whims of the local party bosses. This leaves out many people who crave political power dissatisfied and disgruntled. There in lies the roots of instability. The Party suppressed these demands once at Tiananmen in 1989. But force is hardly the way to deal with things like these.

READ MORE: Tiananmen Square Massacre


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