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Posts Tagged ‘World War II

End of the Silly Season?

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2008 Taipei City New Year Countdown Party: The...
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I have a buddy who suggested to me this morning that the “silly season” is now over. So much for Xmas and New Year’s Eve.

Maybe that notion explains my own “silly season” which seems to be coming to an abrupt but not unpainful end. Sorry for the indirectness of these comments.

One unwelcome thing is happening these days for this user of VPN from a China based surfing laptop. I’m having lots of trouble accessing Twitter and Facebook. Twitter seems harder to access.

This morning I read an interesting essay about the reality of public apathy in Western democracies. The essay begs Americans to begin to protest more publicly and loudly about the fundamental injustice that has grown in the American economy in the wide gap between the wealth of the wealthiest vs. the rest.

One of the triggers for this essay is the obvious popularity of a small book in France written by a 93 yr old WW II hero and former French diplomat Stephane Hessel, “Indignez-vous!” Here is an excerpt:

Hessel’s book argues that French people should re-embrace the values of the French resistance, which have been lost, which was driven by indignation, and French people need to get outraged again.

Right now it seems to me that “Become Indignant” is almost too polite. The injustices in the present global economy are so extreme, in whatever country one considers, that indignation is not enough.

We, the people and unrich, have to find a way to fight this monopoly of power, political and financial, represented by the likes of Goldman Sachs in some real way. Why is it that the Tea Party in the US is supposed to represent public indignation. They suggest that it’s the govt that is wrong and working against the people. That’s just plainly wrong-headed.

Hessel’s thesis strikes me as much more relevant to us all than curiosities like the Tea Party.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2011/01/05 at 18:49

Who would’ve thunk it not so long ago, pre GWB!

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The western front of the United States Capitol...
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A telling excerpt:

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

Four Scenarios for the End of the American Century by 2025

by Alfred W. McCoy

A soft landing for America 40 years from now?  Don’t bet on it.  The demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines.  If Washington is dreaming of 2040 or 2050 as the end of the American Century, a more realistic assessment of domestic and global trends suggests that in 2025, just 15 years from now, it could all be over except for the shouting.

Gosh, don’t tell Sarah P! She’ll go ballistic

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1931, Sep 18 the Mukden Incident which started WW II in Manchuria

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The image below is one of a set of brilliant photography by Big Picture, my all time favorite source of excellent and memorable images. It shows the current state circa 2010 of the monument in Shenyang memorializing the Mukden Incident which was the first action of WW II in SE Asia:

This was the flash point in Manchuria which lit into a savage Sino-Japanese conflict which is still ill-remembered in China, 79 years after that event.

Update 2010/11/17

I travelled to Shenyang by train two weeks ago. The day was overcast in Dalian, but our air seemed clear enough. I can’t say as much for the air within 100 kms of Shenyang (the city of Anshan) and in Shenyang. Dark, foul looking and not a pretty site!

Is that bad air a relic of Shenyang’s heavy industry past, or just a continuation of a malign and ghostly Japanese presence? The last time I flew into Narita Airport, this past February, its air looked and smelt clean. So what is it about Shenyang? I guess it’s just dirty Chinese industry!

Japanese troops entering Shenyang, China durin...
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Soldiers of Imperial Japanese Army leaving Oka...
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Berlin 2010 and 1945 mixed in one image of the German Reichstag

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WW II German halftrack (Sd.Kfz251) at Reenactment
Image by NovaMan396 (walking wounded) via Flickr

Sergey Larenkov offers us a the result of “good Photoshop” work. In one image he neatly captures the present and past.

For me this brings back my short and tangential connection, in 1936 Spain and then 1939-40 France, with the Nazi war against civilization, or WW II in Europe and Greater Russia. It seems fitting that a Russian photograper would do this sort of remembrance of that awful time.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2010/08/20 at 13:24

It’s not likely that many readers of history will take much time

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American soldiers taking up defensive position...
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to think back 65 years to November 1944 when Allied forces seemed to be bogged down in Western Europe and held back by a resilient Nazi ground force. Of course, that wasn’t the case on the Eastern Front where Soviet forces were mowing down the Nazi Wehrmacht on the ground and in the air.

But the point here is that an unlikely scenario is described in this NY Times Opinion piece titled “how WW II wasn’t won”. This is the first time I have heard of this controversial decision taken by Gen Eisenhower the Supreme Allied Commander that seemingly gave Hitlerian forces the brief space and time to launch the attack leading to the Battle of the Bulge, a bloody and cruel battle in Belgium around Bastogne to mention one key place held by a surrounded force of US paratroopers.

The backstory of this unlikely scenario is that Eisenhower shut down an effort to hook around the German forces by crossing the Rhine in the south. He may in effect have shut it down because of  a personality conflict with the commanding US general of Allied Forces on that Southern flank position. Go figure!


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Previous exchanges in the USSR vs. other Eastern European countries were just the curtain raiser

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Stalin (in background to the right) looks on a...
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It seems that the full blooded words are just beginning today on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland and Danzig. Check out this link for the latest. And this is how the Guardian characterized verbal exchanges in Poland where official ceremonies were held.

Putin today condemned the Nazi-Soviet pact, but equated Stalin’s actions with those of western leaders at the time. “All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable,” Putin said. “We must admit these mistakes. Our country has done this.”

Adam Rotfeld, a former Polish foreign minister, described the Russian campaign in the run-up to today as “disgusting”. The Polish tabloid press has been screaming with indignation. “Russia! Apologise for your crimes!” said the banner headline in the Super Express. “Apologise for attacking Poland, for the Katyn genocide, for murdering our heroes, for sending Poles to Siberia.”

The Russians are particularly outraged over what they see as western attempts to equate Stalin with Hitler. “Those who falsify history forget the things they gained as the result of the Red Army‘s liberation campaign,” said Lavrov.

But “liberation” ushered in 45 years of repressive Soviet communism in Poland and the Baltic. Adam Michnik, a leading Polish intellectual, told the Russians: “For us, Stalin was a criminal and an aggressor. The creator of the lands of the gulag is entirely comparable with Hitler.”

Of course, a very credible British historian, Richard Overy, who is considered an expert on the Hitler and Stalin, did say very bluntly that the “victory of the Western Allies” over the German war machine, was largely set up by bloody war waged on Russian and Chinese soil.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/09/01 at 21:56

Seventy years ago on Sep 1, 1939

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An Arrow anti-ballistic missile interceptor
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and as day broke on  the Polish-German border the armed forces of Germany invaded the sovereign territory of Poland in a full blooded invasion. On Sep 3, 1939 the British and French governments declared war on Germany after the latter failed to obey an ultimatum to stop its military operations in Poland and return to its own territory.

CBC Radio made this news announcement then:

Germany invades Poland

Broadcast Date: Sept. 1, 1939

“Germany has invaded Poland and has bombed many towns. General mobilization has been ordered in Britain and France.” The announcer in this BBC news report from Sept. 1, 1939 may sound calm and composed, but the news he’s delivering is deeply disturbing. With Germany’s attack on Poland, the Second World War has begun.

These actions followed several days after a pact of non-aggression and mutual military and economic support were signed in Moscow under the watchful eyes of Josef Stalin, the Soviet de facto dictator and head of state. The current Prime Minister of Russia, which is the main successor state after the disintegration of the USSR about 20 years ago, is now describing that pact as “immoral” and will be travelling to Poland to discuss several historical aspects of that sad time in Poland, the USSR and Germany.

It seems to be the view of Russia’s government that plans to install an American ABM system in Poland is as dangerous as conditions set in motion by the Hitler-Stalin pact of late August 1939.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/09/01 at 03:31

What did Paris look like under Nazi occupation between June 1940 and July 1944

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Nazi poster portraying Adolf Hitler.
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These images come from an exhibit (“Les Parisiens sous l’Occupation”) of Nazi propaganda photos of Paris life.

The first scene is Place de la Concorde. A German soldier is present on the far right of this image.

Then the inevitable parade down the Champs-Élysées:

Quite extraordinary!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2009/08/01 at 12:11

70 years ago the Hitlerian juggernaut was taking its next step

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Neville Chamberlain holding the paper containi...
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Do you wonder about Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain‘s actions 70 years ago concerning Hitler’s threats to invade Czchecoslovakia? The London Times offers wide ranging access to its news archives to give a wide ranging picture of what was happening in Europe in the months leading to WW II.

In 12 short months the world went from “peace in our times”, declared by PM Chamberlain on his return by plane to England after meeting with Hitler & Co in Munich, to a declaration of war by Chamberlain on Sep 3, 1939.

It was around this time that a panel on CBC shared the following views about the impact of the end of the Spanish Civil War:

Could the end of the Spanish Civil War fuel a European crisis?
Broadcast Date: Feb. 26, 1939

In February 1939, the Spanish Civil War seems to be ending. But the conclusion of this war could mean renewed crisis in Europe. “And by crisis, I presume we mean the choice between further concessions to the dictators or war,” says historian R.G. Riddell in this half-hour-long CBC Radio panel discussion. Fellow historian Frank Underhill thinks crisis is indeed coming. But panellist J.L. Stewart thinks everyone is overreacting: “Now Underhill, I must say that I think that you’re inclined to view this situation with too much alarm.”

My septuagenarian memories: I was 3 years old in Oct 1938 and I was living in Vernet-les-bains in the French Pyrenees with my mother. In April 1939 we moved to Paris when my father became Branch Manager of the Royal Bank of Canada in Paris.

By July 13 1940 we ended up in Halifax NS after crossing U-Boat infested waters in the North Atlantic. Phew!

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/10/10 at 07:59

The story of my birth family’s exodus journey in 1940 during the fall of France

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MS Batory

I have been piecing this story together for a few years now with slim writings by my father and information published in Royal Bank newsletters. In the last few weeks I have managed to get many details from books and Royal Navy records I found on the Web.

My father and the family got to Paris in April 1939 because my father had accepted to become Manager of the Royal Bank of Canada at 10 rue, Scribe, or in the centre of Paris.

Since he had left Barcelona in the later part of 1938 when the bombing of that city became a terrifying routine, it may seem today that he had decided to get out of the “frying pan’ in Spain just to jump into the fire (being set by Hitler) in Western Europe, since it was well established by then that the Nazi regime in Poland was harsh and brutal.

But it’s also possible that he put too much faith in the way Somerset Maugham viewed Herr Hitler in 1939, to wit:

During annual trips to Germany he seems not to have noticed the Nazis. Even as late as June 1939, he was still echoing the complacency of his Riviera neighbour, Lord Beaverbrook, that “unless the Germans do something idiotic I think we are safe”.

In September of 1939 Britain, France and then Canada declared war with Germany when it refused a British ultimatum to end its invasion of Poland that was undertaken on Sep 1, 1939. But in spite of war in Finland pitting the Soviets against the Finns, as well as the Nazi invasions of Denmark and Norway, the war did not affect life in Paris until May 1940 when the German Wehrmacht attacked Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France on May 10.

Montage of World War II
Image via Wikipedia

My birth family’s status in France, once it was occupied by the German Nazis, would have been more than uncertain since we were citizens of a belligerant country, Canada, as well as British subjects.

In fact, we could have been imprisoned in France or even Germany if we had been forced to stay on in France after the Armistice signed by the Vichy Government of Marshal Pétain in mid-June 1940. In fact, that was the fate of many Britons who stayed on in France.

Here is the narrative of events that led to our precipitous and dangerous evacuation in late June 1940 from the southwest coast of France somewhere between Biarritz and St-Jean de Luz.

I have interwoven my own re-creation of family events with known historical events. The latter notes are in italics.

  • Armistice in Finland March 12, 1940
  • Takeover of Denmark begins April 9, 1940
  • Invasion of Norway by Allies then Wehrmacht April 9-10
  • Invasion of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Ardennes May 10, 1940
  • Allies move into Belgium Dyle River May 10-11
  • Battles for Meuse crossings at Sedan and Dinant May 12-14

My mother, who was then almost nine months pregnant, left Paris on May 11 or 12 to fetch J-P and Helen, my older brother and sister, who were in schools in and around Verneuil-s-Avre. Annette, the youngest was born in Verneuil on May 16. By then I was well into feeling like ” a displaced child” and there were many like me at that time in France.

I just realized that my little sister was conceived in Sep 1939 when war was declared on Germany after it refused to conform to an ultimatum issued by the British government that Germany evacuate Poland by midnight Sep 2.

The Battle for France 1940 was “shock and awe from the East”. The German blitzkrieg moved at a quick pace through the countries of Western Europe towards Paris and the Atlantic coast of France.

  • Breakouts from Meuse crossings May 14-15
  • Surrender of Holland May 14
  • German Panzer units reach the sea at Abbeville May 21
  • Evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk May 26 to June 4
  • First bombing of Paris industrial suburbs June 3
  • Ministries of French govt leave Paris for Touraine June 10 and arrive same day.
  • They then leave for Bordeaux on June 14.

My father left Paris on June 12 by car, probably at night. Apparently, he arranged for a truck to carry physical assets needed to set up a bank branch in the southwest of France. It’s not clear whether or not this was done with agreement from Royal Bank HQ. But my father was a doer and not a sheepish follower.

After doing more research about conditions for evacuation from Paris in June 1940, I got a picture of a very daunting environment of mass confusion, traffic chaos, as well as death and serious injury from constant and horrifying air attacks by the German Luftwaffe on anything and everything that moved on or off the roads. It is estimated that some 8 million people were on the move to the south and west of Paris during the months of May and June 1940. In fact, many residents of Paris couldn’t leave until June 12-13.

All that I have written here is not part of a family narrative. My parents and older siblings, my sister Helen and brother Jean-Paul, have never said much to me about this exodus from a large civilized country falling into the hands of racist monsters. I have read a wide variety of sources in books and on the Internet to flesh out the bare bones written by my father in his own too brief written memory of these events.

The likely route my father took to Cognac, which was about 600 kms from Paris, must have been to Le Mans (where my mother could have met my father June 13) then to Angers, Cholet, Niort and Cognac by June 16.

After giving birth on May 16 in Verneuil, my mother could have been mobile by May 19. What my mother did, as well as where and how she lived with her children between May 19 and June 13, remains unknown and unrecoverable to me. She no doubt encountered many tribulations since all of France was experiencing a mass exodus of citizens from the north  to the south and west of France from May 10 until well into mid-July. All forms of shelter were restricted and at a premium. Supplies of food and drink were under severe stress in all parts of France south and west of Paris. And local transport including trains, buses and whatever were overcrowded and chaotic given the level of violent air attacks by the German Luftwaffe on every thing that moved.

Ordinary French people were being inundated by rumor, refugees, and lots of frantic aliens who felt they had to find a way out from Nazi occupation. It is likely that shopkeepers and hotel owners would not be very forthcoming with help for a mother of 4 all holding British passports.

  • June 17th – The French Government of Marshal Petain requested armistice terms from Germany and Italy.
  • Cognac was on the wrong side of the German front by June 22.

My father could have left Cognac by June 18-19 again just ahead of the Germans who occupied a front between Angouleme and Bordeaux by June 22. It was on that day that Petain signed the Armistice agreement with the Germans.

  • June 17th – The only major loss during the evacuation from western France was off St Nazaire. Liner “Lancastria” was bombed and sunk with the death of nearly 3,000.

It is possible that my father had booked passage on the SS Lancastria, a Cunard line ship, since it was expected to board civilians and military personnel on or about June 15-16 in St- Nazaire Harbor. She sank off St-Nazaire, after being bombed by German aircraft, on June 17. Fortunately on that day my father was still in Cognac doing his best to get bank operations setup.

  • June 22nd – FRANCE capitulated and the Franco-German surrender document was signed.
  • Its provisions included German occupation of the Channel and Biscay coasts and demilitarisation of the French fleet under Axis control.

Most probably my father was told by British diplomats who were in Bordeaux about the naval operation named Aerial, which Lancastria was a part of. That evacuation operation would be picking up troops and civilians between Bayonne and St-Jean de Luz between June 22 and 25.

It seems possible that we got on one of the following ships sometime between June 22 and 24.

Philippe Pétain (1856-1951)
Image via Wikipedia
  • According to Royal Navy archives anti-aircraft cruiser CALCUTTA (Flag Rear Admiral Curteis, 2nd Cruiser Squadron) and Canadian destroyers FRASER and RESTIGOUCHE patrolled off Bordeaux covering the evacuation of St Jean De Luz where troopships ETTRICK (11,279grt), ARANDORA STAR (15,501grt), BATORY (14,287grt), SOBIESKI (11,030grt) were lifting troops from 22 to 24 June.
  • The convoy departed St Jean De Luz at 1300/24th escorted by destroyers MACKAY and WREN.
  • June 25th  – The Allied evacuation of France ended with 215,000 servicemen and civilians saved, but Operations ‘Aerial’ and ‘Cycle’ never captured the public’s imagination like the ‘miracle’ of Dunkirk.
  • On the final day of the evacuation, Canadian destroyer “FRASER” was rammed and sunk by AA cruiser “Calcutta” off the Gironde Estuary leading into Bordeaux.
  • June 25th all hostilities between Germans and French ended officially and the German controlled zone was in effect, including all of France’s Atlantic Coast up to the Spanish-French border.

We probably landed in Plymouth on or about June 26 and made our way to London. My father then made arrangements for our return to Canada on MS Batory from Greenock, Scotland.

  • According to Royal Navy archives on the July 5th, battleship REVENGE met anti-aircraft cruiser BONAVENTURE (Captain H. J. Egerton) and troopships MONARCH OF BERMUDA (22,424grt), SOBIESKI (11,030grt), and BATORY (14,287grt).
  • These five ships, which carried $1,750,000,000 in gold and securities from the Bank of England for safekeeping in Canada, departed Greenock at 0545 on the 5th escorted by destroyer GARTH.
  • The British ships arrived safely at Halifax on the 12th.
  • Troopship BATORY with engine room defects was detached to St John’s, NL escorted by anti-aircraft cruiser BONAVENTURE which then continued on to Halifax.
  • Troopship BATORY arrived at Halifax on the 13th.
  • Monthly Ship Loss Summary mainly by U-Boat torpedoing in July 1940 – 67 British, Allied and neutral ships of 192,000 tons in UK waters.
  • During June and July 1940 German U-Boats were refuelling in Spanish ports of Vigo and El Ferrol.

Here is a link to the wordle from this post.

Here’s my final word in this post. I have recently (2009/11/5) discussed how I must have reacted to this family exodus from Europe under the boot of German Nazis and how I recall I reacted when we got to Canada. A dear friend and professional psychologist suggested to me that for most of my life I was suffering emotionally as a “displaced child”. But I don’t accept that as a free pass into being a victim of uncontrollable forces. Nor would any member of my birth family, if they were all alive.

We survived our bit of hell on earth in France and even in Spain in 1936. But we got out and survived very well thanks, witness that I’m 74 and writing these words with some gusto. I’m very glad that I didn’t live in any kind of prison for civilian aliens in Occupied France until from mid 1940 till later in 1944. And I experienced a lot of nightmare hours as a little boy, teen, young adult and adult. But that was a small psychic price for living that I paid. That has coloured my emotional life and combined with my bipolarism has given me more than my share of emotional zing. SO BE IT!


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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/07/10 at 14:17