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Posts Tagged ‘World War II

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

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Nazi poster portraying Adolf Hitler.
Image via Wikipedia

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...
Image via Wikipedia

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

Battle of Kursk

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Soviet T34 tanks during the Battle of Kursk.Image via Wikipedia

Battle of Kursk
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This epic tank/infantry/artillery battle with heavy tactical air support took place on the Russian steppe in July of 1943. More than 2 million soldiers and nearly 6 thousand tanks collided and destroyed each other in many pitched battles over a large area of land.

In several ways this battle represented the mid-point in the savage wars of the Eastern Front.

Here is the Wikipedia link!

The fictional depiction on the right is an artist’s imaginative recreation of a scene he/she probably didn’t ever see in real live battle.

The battle of Kursk was the first major clash between USSR and Nazi military after the epic defence of Stalingrad, which ended with major troop and equipment losses for the Nazi Wehrmacht. By that time, the Nazi Wehrmacht had largely implemented its grotesque style of no-quarter-given warfare, which continued with growing intensity on both sides until the liberation of Berlin in April 1945.

An indication of this is the telling statistic that 9 out of 10 casualties (killed and wounded) on the Nazi side were the result of all warfare on the Eastern Front. So it is truly the USSR military who can get the biggest share of the credit for defeat of the Nazi cause. Of course, the USSR received great quantities of armaments and logistic support from the Allies beginning in early 1942. But the “killing grounds” of the Eastern Front are what wasted away the mass of Germany’s military might.

A German Tiger I tank in combat during the Bat...
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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/07/01 at 12:52

On this day in 1940

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Hotel de ville de CognacImage via Wikipedia

my father finally ended his attempt to reopen the Paris branch of the RBC in Cognac. This brief episode began when he got there on or about June 16 after getting out of Paris just ahead of the German Wehrmacht by car on June 12/13.

This attempt ended on or about June 18. By that time, tank units of the German Wehrmact couldn’t have been hours or at most a day or so away. In fact, the ministries of the French Government had moved to Bordeaux from Tours on June 14. By the 18th they felt the angry presence of German troops and with Petain as Prime Minister they proposed and accepted armistice under terms dictated by the Germans under direct instructions from Adolf Hitler. The Armistice was signed on June 22.

It is a fact that by June 22 German control extended on a line from Angoulème to Bordeaux, putting Cognac under German control for the duration of the French Vichy government. If we hadn’t gotten out of Cognac on time or no later than June 20, it is likely that we could have ended up either in a German concentration camp or in some kind of French safe house on the French side of the Armistice line.

From Cognac, he must then have made his way by car to the southwest coast of France with my mother, two sisters, one a babe in arms, my brother and myself in tow. Sometime between the 18th and the 30th of June we managed to get aboard a ship, probably a Royal Navy ship off the beach in Biarritz, to end up in England, likely Portsmouth.

By the 7 of July we were all on board the M/S Batory in Greenoch, Scotland to leave with a convoy to return to Canada, arriving in Halifax on July 11.

In 1986 I visited Cognac on a short road trip from Bordeaux. It was quite easy to detect the aroma of cognac distillation on arrival in Cognac.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2008/06/18 at 16:15

Man of Steel, Re-forged

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I have posted in below a long excerpt from a review appearing in National Interest written by Andrew J Bacevich. He reviews a recent book written by Geoffrey Roberts, Stalin’s Wars: from WW II to Cold War 1939-1953 and here is the excerpt:

In brief, the story that Roberts tells goes like this: Josef Stalin, uncontested leader of the Soviet Union from 1927 until his death in 1953, deserves to be remembered as a great statesman—indeed, as the greatest of the age. Although Stalin made his share of mistakes, especially in the early phases of World War II, he learned from those mistakes and thereby grew in wisdom and stature. Among allied chieftains, he alone was irreplaceable. He, not Churchill and not Roosevelt, was the true architect of victory, “the dictator who defeated Hitler and helped save the world for democracy.”

Furthermore, once Germany went down to defeat—with British and American leaders immediately turning on the Soviet Union—Stalin strove valiantly to sustain Allied unity. Time and again he exerted himself to avert the confrontation that became the Cold War. Even after his efforts failed, “He strove in the late 1940s and early 1950s to revive détente with the west.” In British and American eyes, Stalin became the embodiment of the totalitarian ideologue and warmonger. This was a misperception. To the very end, “Stalin continued to struggle for the lasting peace that he saw as his legacy.” In denying Stalin the reconciliation for which he devoutly worked, Western governments succeeded only in inflicting grave injury on the Soviet people. The East-West rivalry thrust upon Stalin nipped in the bud his postwar efforts to nurture within the Soviet Union a “more relaxed social and political order.”

Roberts neither denies nor conceals the cruelty and ruthlessness that marked the Stalinist era. He freely admits that Stalin was “responsible for the deaths of millions of his own citizens.” He concedes that in the 1930s Stalin presided over the Great Terror in which “millions were arrested and hundreds of thousands were shot.” He notes that Stalin directed “a process of ethnic cleansing involving the arrest, deportation and execution of hundreds of thousands of people living in border areas” of the Soviet Union. He holds Stalin accountable for the Katyn Forest massacre of 1940, involving the liquidation of 20,000 Polish officers and government officials. Although speculating that “Stalin must have bitterly regretted the subsequent embarrassment and complications” when the events at Katyn Forest became known, Roberts makes it clear that the Soviet leader employed mass murder as an instrument of policy—and did so without compunction.

Still, Roberts leaves the distinct impression that when it comes to evaluating Stalin’s standing as a statesman, such crimes qualify as incidental. He acknowledges them in order to dismiss them. Whether intentionally or not, Roberts suggests that Stalin’s penchant for ordering people shot qualifies as a sort of personal quirk, akin perhaps to FDR’s infidelities or Churchill’s fondness for drink. For Roberts, there are only two marks on Stalin’s report card that really count: The first conferred for defeating Hitler, the second for doing his level best to forestall the Cold War. In each instance, Roberts awards Stalin an A-plus.

So Roberts maintains the Stalin was a great statesman, the greatest of his age! That should get the attention of lots of historians.

My own view is that that could be true. But after reading about the political roles and ubiquity of Comintern agents in China in the countrywide turmoil from the early ’20s till the breakdown between Mao and Moscow and about the same sort of scenario in Civil War Spain, Stalin also had to be a political provocateur on a global scale, even more than the US of A at its imperial zenith. I guess I suggest that he was a political rain-maker in much of the world, especially during the peak of the Cold War.

But Roberts’ thesis is provocative because it sets out to re-frame an awful lot of alleged foreign policy victories by US dominated NATO et al. And it throws up an interesting and new perspective about the US led Crusade in Europe.

The brouhaha about Mulroney, PET and Chretien seems like a lot of fetid lukewarm air in comparison to the white heat of world scale politics played out between the White House, Whitehall, the Elysée Palace and the Kremlin until the dissolution of the USSR.

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Written by BobG in Dalian & Vancouver

2007/09/08 at 19:51

They say that elder political whores have little shame and …

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1939-1993Image via Wikipedia

this week in a crass effort to hype sales of his own political memoir, it seems that that elder person of CanPolitics, B. Mulroney just can’t keep his Big Chin from wagging.

What else is he going to say? He will be wined and dined by his “employer”, his rich friends and hangers-on, so why does he feel the need to pee verbally over some of his former political opponents. It can’t be a special version of the Seven Year Itch, or can it?

I was despairing about the Front Page treatment that leader of CanMSM was giving his verbal affliction, until I read this editorial this morning:

Globe editorial
But will it sell books?
SEPTEMBER 7, 2007 AT 7:14 AM EDT
Brian Mulroney has every right to question the often inflexible constitutional opinions of his long-time nemesis, Pierre Trudeau. But Mr. Mulroney has gone too far when he suggests that Mr. Trudeau, who died in 2000, was morally unfit for leadership because of mistakes of his youth. The personal attack is an unwarranted assault on a politician whose entire later career tacitly repudiated his earlier beliefs. It is unworthy of a former prime minister.

In an interview with CTV News this week to promote his upcoming memoirs, Mr. Mulroney was asked about Mr. Trudeau’s opposition to his government’s Meech Lake constitutional accord. It was an apt question, given Mr. Trudeau’s highly partisan and inflammatory objections to the accord and his significant role in its 1990 defeat. Instead of confining himself to the question, Mr. Mulroney savaged Mr. Trudeau’s reputation.

He evoked his opposition to the Allied cause during the Second World War, noting that so many other young men had enlisted to fight the Nazis. “Pierre Trudeau was not among them,” Mr. Mulroney continued. “That’s a decision he made. He’s entitled to make that kind of decision. But it doesn’t qualify him for any position of moral leadership in our society.” He added that Mr. Trudeau was “far from a perfect man.”

Recent intellectual histories of Mr. Trudeau depict a youth who was very far from perfect. As scholars Max and Monique Nemni chronicled in Young Trudeau: 1919-1944, Mr. Trudeau was then a captive of the nationalist cant prevalent among Roman Catholic intellectuals in Quebec during the 1930s. He espoused chauvinist francophone nationalism. There was a whiff of anti-Semitism. In 1942, he was a member of a secret organization that advocated revolution to establish an authoritarian regime. He was a creature of his very limited place and time.

Then he grew up, and atoned. In the 1950s, he defied insular Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis, defending the rights of workers and the need for a secular state. As prime minister, he denounced narrow ethnic nationalism. He fought for the inclusion of a Canadian Charter of Rights in the Constitution. He embraced and officially recognized multiculturalism. He defended bilingualism and biculturalism. He fostered the careers of Jewish Canadians. He defended the idea of a strong central government. It was an estimable, if controversial, life. And Mr. Mulroney has trashed it.

In many democracies, former political leaders practise a tradition of statesmanship. After a lifetime of bitter partisanship, they are permitted to rise above it, to treat former political enemies with respect. They may criticize each other’s ideas, but not their moral aptitude for office. Were he alive, Mr. Trudeau would have relished a constitutional debate. He would not have answered an intellectual challenge with the observation that his opponent was morally unfit for leadership. Mr. Mulroney has damaged only himself.

I guess I can say in all quietude, I couldn’t have said it better. For shame Big Jaw!

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