History Content for the Future

World War Two Day by Day

On 17 April 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill addresses Parliament with a eulogy for the late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We deliver you a part of his speech:
˝My friendship with the great man to whose work and fame we pay our tribute today began and ripened during this war...

When I became Prime Minister, and the war broke out in all its hideous fury, when our own life and survival hung in the balance, I was already in a position to telegraph to the President on terms of an association which had become most intimate and, to me, most agreeable. This continued through all the ups and downs of the world struggle until Thursday last, when I received my last messages from him...

I conceived an admiration for him as a statesman, a man of affairs, and a war leader... His love of his own country, his respect for its constitution, his power of gauging the tides and currents of its mobile public opinion, were always evident, but, added to these, were the beatings of that generous heart... It is, indeed, a loss, a bitter loss to humanity that those heart-beats are stilled for ever...

Not one man in ten millions, stricken and crippled as he was, would have attempted to plunge into a life of physical and mental exertion and of hard, ceaseless political controversy. Not one in ten millions would have tried, not one in a generation would have succeeded, not only in entering this sphere, not only in acting vehemently in it, but in becoming indisputable master of the scene...

In war he had raised the strength, might and glory of the great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history. With her left hand she was leading the advance of the conquering Allied Armies into the heart of Germany and with her right, on the other side of the globe, she was irresistibly and swiftly breaking up the power of Japan...

For us, it remains only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old.˝

Picture: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill in Casablanca, 18 January 1943
Source: U.S. National Archives

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On the night of 16/17 April 1945, Soviet submarine L-3 torpedoes and sinks the MV Goya, carrying thousands of German troops and civilian evacuees back to Germany.

Initially built in 1940 as a 146 m (475 ft) long merchant vessel with a gross register tonnage of 5,230 and a capacity for up to 850 crew and passengers, the Goya was seized by the Germans in 1942 once they occupied Norway.

Since then, she has been used by the Kriegsmarine for various purposes, ranging from a supply and depot ship for U-boats to a torpedo target practice vessel. By 1944, the ship was based on Memel.

Much like the MV Wilhelm Gustloff and SS General von Steuben, the catastrophic sinkings of which we covered in our 30 January and 10 February posts, respectively, the Goya was pressed into service as a hospital and evacuation ship by the Kriegsmarine when Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz launched the evacuations of German troops and civilians under Operation Hannibal on 23 January this year.

Again, repeating the pattern of the previous two tragedies, the Goya sets out today from the Gotenhafen on the way back to Kiel in Germany. Aboard are a registered 6,100 civilians, German troops, and wounded military personnel. However, in the chaos of the evacuation, perhaps over 7,000 people made it aboard.

Under armed escort by minesweepers M-256 and M-328, the Goya, the smaller Kronenfels, and the steam tug Aegir round the Hel Peninsula and leave Danzig (Gdańsk) Bay, when Soviet submarine L-3, commanded by Captain Vladimir Konovalov spots them just north of Cape Rixhöft (Cape Rozewie).

Kronenfels slows because of engine problems, giving L-3 just enough time to catch up. At 2352 hours, Konovalol orders his crew to fire a spread of four torpedoes.

Two strike the Goya, amidships and in the stern. She breaks apart almost immediately and sinks just four minutes later. Somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 drown or succumb to hypothermia in the icy Baltic Sea. The two minesweepers only manage to pick up some 170-180 survivors.

Picture: Soviet submarine L-4 "Garibaldiets", 1933
Source: Submarines: history of development by V. P. Vlasov

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On 14 April 1945, Private First Class John David Magrath, Company G, 2nd Battalion, 85th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, leads an assault on multiple German positions near Castel d`Aiano, Italy, despite intense machine gun and artillery fire.

For his actions, PFC Magrath will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 17 July 1946. His citation will read:
˝He displayed conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty when his company was pinned down by heavy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, near Castel d`Aiano, Italy. Volunteering to act as a scout, armed with only a rifle, he charged headlong into withering fire, killing 2 Germans and wounding 3 in order to capture a machinegun. Carrying this enemy weapon across an open field through heavy fire, he neutralized 2 more machinegun nests; he then circled behind 4 other Germans, killing them with a burst as they were firing on his company. Spotting another dangerous enemy position to this right, he knelt with the machinegun in his arms and exchanged fire with the Germans until he had killed 2 and wounded 3. The enemy now poured increased mortar and artillery fire on the company`s newly won position. Pfc. Magrath fearlessly volunteered again to brave the shelling in order to collect a report of casualties. Heroically carrying out this task, he made the supreme sacrifice—a climax to the valor and courage that are in keeping with highest traditions of the military service.˝

Picture: Infantrymen of Co. "I", 3rd Bn., 85th Regt., 10th Mtn. Div., entruck to move to more forward positions. 17 April, 1945.
Source: Signal Corps Archives SC 270869

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On the morning of 10 April 1945, troops from the 1st Free French Division assault German and Italian Social Republic (RSI) positions on the Authion massif on the Southern Alps along the French-Italian border.

British Field Marshal Harold Alexander, commander of the Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ), authorized an operation on the French-Italian border to divert attention from the main Allied offensives into the Po River Valley and allow France to retake some territories lost to Italy in 1940.

This assault, by the 30,000-strong 1st Free French Division and 3e régiment d`infanterie (3e RI), is to secure the Authion massif, towering 2,080 m (6,820 ft) above the Alpine Valleys of Cairos, and the key fortifications at the Forts of Forca and Milles Fourche. Some 5,200 troops from the German 34th Infantry Division and 4,800 from the Italian Social Republic`s 2nd Division "Littorio" hold these positions.

At 0915 hours today, French artillery begins firing on Forca, to little effect, however. Two companies of the Bataillon d`Infanterie de Marine du Pacifique (BIMP) attack the spur between Forca and the peak of Authion. However, they take heavy casualties from mortars and German armoured turrets.

By 1730, another battalion destroys the turret and passes along a road between the Forca and Milles Fourche with the support of light tanks.

To the north, scout skiers from the 3e RI capture the fortifications at Col de Rauss. To the south, other elements of the 1st FFD capture some minor positions, but progress proves slow.

Early afternoon tomorrow, a French assault group, heavily armed with flamethrowers, submachine guns, bazookas, and mortars, will capture Fort Milles Fourche.

By the evening, French and U.S. troops will breach the German-Italian lines at multiple points and occupy much of the massif. At 2030 hours, the German garrison at the old French fort of Redoute des Trois Communes will surrender after being subjected to heavy artillery fire and surprised by the presence of Allied tanks.

On 12 April, the offensive will end, reaching the Italian border.

Picture: 1st Regiment of Naval Fusiliers (1er RFM) advance during the Battle of Authion
Source: Musée de l`Armée

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On 9 April 1945, Private First Class Edward J. Moskala, Company C, 383rd Infantry Regiment, 96th Infantry Division, destroys two Japanese machine gun positions, and covers the withdrawal of his unit during a counterattack on Okinawa.

For his actions, PFC Moskala will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation will read:
˝He was the leading element when grenade explosions and concentrated machinegun and mortar fire halted the unit`s attack on Kakazu Ridge, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands. With utter disregard for his personal safety, he charged 40 yards through withering, grazing fire and wiped out 2 machinegun nests with well-aimed grenades and deadly accurate fire from his automatic rifle. When strong counterattacks and fierce enemy resistance from other positions forced his company to withdraw, he voluntarily remained behind with 8 others to cover the maneuver. Fighting from a critically dangerous position for 3 hours, he killed more than 25 Japanese before following his surviving companions through screening smoke down the face of the ridge to a gorge where it was discovered that one of the group had been left behind, wounded. Unhesitatingly, Pvt. Moskala climbed the bullet-swept slope to assist in the rescue, and, returning to lower ground, volunteered to protect other wounded while the bulk of the troops quickly took up more favorable positions. He had saved another casualty and killed 4 enemy infiltrators when he was struck and mortally wounded himself while aiding still another disabled soldier. With gallant initiative, unfaltering courage, and heroic determination to destroy the enemy, Pvt. Moskala gave his life in his complete devotion to his company`s mission and his comrades` well-being. His intrepid conduct provided a lasting inspiration for those with whom he served.˝

Picture: Japanese strongpoint is assaulted.
Source: Signal Corps Archives SC 270794

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On 2 April 1945, Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter, 43 Royal Marine Commando, leads an attack over open ground against multiple German machine gun positions near Commachio, Italy.

For his actions today, Cpl Hunter will be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross on 12 June 1945. His citation will read:
˝In Italy during the advance by the Commando to its final objective, Corporal Hunter of "C" Troop was in charge of a Bren group of the leading sub-section of the Commando. Having advanced to within 400 yards of the canal, he observed the enemy were holding a group of houses South of the canal. Realising that his Troop behind him were in the open, as the country there was completely devoid of cover, and that the enemy would cause heavy casualties as soon as they opened fire, Corporal Hunter seized the Bren gun and charged alone across two hundred yards of open ground. Three Spandaus from the houses, and at least six from the North bank of the canal opened fire and at the same time the enemy mortars started to fire at the Troop.

Corporal Hunter attracted most of the fire, and so determined was his charge and his firing from the hip that the enemy in the houses became demoralised. Showing complete disregard for the intense enemy fire, he ran through the houses, changing magazines as he ran, and alone cleared the houses. Six Germans surrendered to him and the remainder fled across a footbridge onto the North bank of the canal.

The Troop dashing up behind Corporal Hunter now became the target for all the Spandaus on the North of the canal...he lay in full view of the enemy on a heap of rubble and fired at the concrete pillboxes on the other side. He again drew most of the fire, but by now the greater part of the Troop had made for the safety of the houses. During this period he shouted encouragement to the remainder, and called only for more Bren magazines with which he could engage the Spandaus. Firing with great accuracy up to the last, Corporal Hunter was finally hit in the head by a burst of Spandau fire and killed instantly.˝

Picture: Men of 40 Royal Marine Commando leave a power plant they destroyed at Lake Comacchio, Italy, 11 April 1945
Source: NAM. 1985-11-36-173

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On 29 March 1945, Staff Sergeant Robert H. Dietz, Company A, 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division, singlehandedly eliminates several German anti-tank teams and disarms demolition charges threatening the bridge into the town of Kirchain, Germany.

For his actions, SSG Dietz will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 17 December 1945. His citation will read:
˝He was a squad leader when the task force to which his unit was attached encountered resistance in its advance on Kirchain, Germany. Between the town`s outlying buildings 300 yards distant and the stalled armored column were a minefield and 2 bridges defended by German rocket-launching teams and riflemen. From the town itself came heavy small-arms fire. Moving forward with his men to protect engineers while they removed the minefield and the demolition charges attached to the bridges, S/Sgt. Dietz came under intense fire. On his own initiative he advanced alone, scorning the bullets which struck all around him, until he was able to kill the bazooka team defending the first bridge. He continued ahead and had killed another bazooka team, bayoneted an enemy soldier armed with a panzerfaust and shot 2 Germans when he was knocked to the ground by another blast of another panzerfaust. He quickly recovered, killed the man who had fired at him and then jumped into waist-deep water under the second bridge to disconnect the demolition charges. His work was completed; but as he stood up to signal that the route was clear, he was killed by another enemy volley from the left flank. S/Sgt. Dietz by his intrepidity and valiant effort on his self-imposed mission, single-handedly opened the road for the capture of Kirchain and left with his comrades an inspiring example of gallantry in the face of formidable odds.˝

Picture: 1st U.S. Army soldiers stand guard as American vehicles pass over Katzenfurt Bridge over the Dill River, Germany. The bridge was left intact by the fleeing enemy. 27 March, 1945.
Source: Signal Corps Archives SC 335285

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On the night of 27 March 1945, USAAF XXI Bomber Command B-29 Superfortresses conduct the first of many long-range minelaying sorties in the waters around the Japanese Home Islands as part of Operation Starvation.

Last September, General Henry `Hap` Arnold, commanding general of the USAAF, received Admiral Nimitz`s proposal to use Very Long Range Aircraft for naval minelaying purposes positively and asked his analysts to develop a plan. Nimitz had considered the idea a solution to the Navy`s lack of large-scale mine delivery mechanisms. On 22 December, Arnold directed a less-than-enthusiastic General Hansell, then-commander of XXI BC, to initiate planning for mining operations beginning on 1 April 1945 under the codename Operation Starvation.

However, when Hansell was replaced as commander by Major General Curtis LeMay in mid-January this year, tactics shifted to low-level, radar-assisted night bombing, which the bomber crews applied very effectively in the firebombing attacks on Japanese cities we covered recently.

On 25 March, XXI BC issued the Field Order for Mining Mission No. 1 to the 313th BW, which specified the area of the attack, the date (27 March), the number of sorties, the density of the minefield, and the preparation of the mines.

After sunset today, 102 B-29s from the 313th BW take off from Tinian Island carrying a combination of 900 kg (2,000 lb) Mk 25 and 500 kg (1,000 lb) Mark 26 and Mk 36 mines with a mix of magnetic and acoustic actuating devices and random arming delays.

They encounter only a few dozen Japanese fighters, of which only a few launch successful attacks. Despite the relatively heavy flak, the bombers lay 825 mines on the eastern and western sides of the Shimonoseki Strait, codenamed minefields LOVE and MIKE, respectively. A 4.9 km (3 mi) gap remains in LOVE because of mechanical release failures on several aircraft. Eight B-29s return with damage, while three are shot down.

XXI BC will continue to fly hundreds of similar missions and successfully mine most of Japan`s shipping routes.

Picture: A B-29 of the 9th BG/313th BW drops two parachute-retarded Mark 26 aerial mines during Operation Starvation
Source: U.S. Air Force

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On 25 March 1945, a team of six Waffen-SS troops and `Werwolf` guerrillas assassinate the Allied-appointed Mayor of Aachen, Franz Oppenhoff.

Perhaps less convinced of the possibility of turning the tide of the war than Hitler, with his obsession with Wunderwaffe, last autumn Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler placed SS Obergruppenführer Hans-Adolf Prützmann in charge of training elite military and paramilitary units intended to stem the Allied advance by clandestinely operating behind their lines as part of Unternehmen Werwolf (Operation Werwolf).

As Generalinspekteur für Spezialabwehr (General Inspector of Special Defence), Prützmann has used his study of partisan groups to begin training volunteers from the SS and Hitler Youth.

Despite the growing lack of equipment and volunteers, the Nazi leadership has been keen to let the Werwolfs loose on the Allies and those they`ve deemed traitors. After Hitler took a personal interest in Franz Oppenhoff, Himmler ordered the Werwolfs to execute Unternehmen Karneval (Operation Carnival).

Prützmann selected SS Untersturmführer Herbert Wenzel, a Werwolf training officer, to lead Unterscharführer-SS (Sergeant) Josef "Sepp" Leitgeb, 16-year-old Werwolf trainee Erich Morgenschweiss, and 23-year-old Nazi Ilse Hirsch, a Hauptgruppenführerin (captain) in the League of German Girls (BDM).

On the night of 20 March, together with Former border Patrolman Karl-Heinz Hennemann and Georg Heidorn, they parachuted near the village of Gemmenich, Belgium, from a Luftwaffe-flown captured B-17 Flying Fortress.

This evening, they arrive at Oppenhoff`s house at Eupener Strasse 251 in Aachen, disguised as downed Luftwaffe pilots seeking help. Oppenhoff returns from a nearby party he was attending and attempts to convince them to surrender, but Leitgeb confronts him and shoots him in the head with a pistol.

They quickly evade the incoming U.S. patrols, but as they move out of the area, Hirsch triggers a landmine, which injures her knee and kills Leitgeb. But they do manage to get away.

Should the Allies fear the Werwolfs from now on?

Picture: Hitler Youth company preparing to defend the town of Pyritz
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J28536

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On 23 March 1945, Staff Sergeant Edward A. Carter Jr., 56th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division, singlehandedly neutralizes an enemy position near Speyer, Germany, despite suffering from multiple wounds.

For his actions, SSG Carter will be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on 12 January 1997. His citation will read:
˝At approximately 0830 hours, 23 March 1945, near Speyer, Germany, the tank upon which Staff Sergeant Carter was riding received bazooka and small arms fire from the vicinity of a large warehouse to its left front. Staff Sergeant Carter and his squad took cover behind an intervening road bank. Staff Sergeant Carter volunteered to lead a three-man patrol to the warehouse where other unit members noticed the original bazooka fire... As the patrol left this covered position, they received intense enemy small arms fire killing one member of the patrol instantly. This caused Staff Sergeant Carter to order the other two members of the patrol to return to the covered position... The enemy fire killed one of the two soldiers while they were returning to the covered position, and seriously wounded the remaining soldier... An enemy machine gun burst wounded Staff Sergeant Carter three times in the left arm as he continued the advance. He continued and received another wound in his left leg that knocked him from his feet. As Staff Sergeant Carter took wound tablets and drank from his canteen, the enemy shot it from his left hand, with the bullet going through his hand. ...Staff Sergeant Carter continued the advance by crawling until he was within thirty yards of his objective. The enemy fire became so heavy that Staff Sergeant Carter took cover behind a bank and remained there for approximately two hours. Eight enemy riflemen approached Staff Sergeant Carter, apparently to take him prisoner. Staff Sergeant Carter killed six of the enemy soldiers and captured the remaining two. These two enemy soldiers later gave valuable information concerning the number and disposition of enemy troops...˝

Picture: Black soldier of the 12th Armored Division stands guard over a group of Nazi prisoners, April 1945
Source: U.S. National Archives

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On 22 March 1945, six Middle Eastern states sign the Charter of the League of Arab Nations in Cairo, Egypt.

In the past few months, we have seen a slew of agreements signed, organizations formed, or membership in them confirmed, and pledges being made in preparation for a post-war world. But these have been mostly between the major powers and states recently freed from occupation by the Axis. In the background, Arab state leaders have been negotiating and working together to attempt to secure their future against a potential return of the colonial system.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden encouraged this `Arab Unity` in his Mansion House speech in May 1941, and Arab leaders have made progress in making agreements to work together since. On 7 October last year, the representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon signed the Alexandria Protocol, in which they agreed to form a joint Arab organization which would strengthen the relations between Arab states and allow them to participate actively in the coordination of political plans and foreign policy without interference with their independence.

Based on this organizational blueprint, the representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria meet today in the Boustan Palace in Cairo and sign the Charter of the League of Arab Nations.

With pledges to foster political, economic, cultural, and social cooperation among its member states to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, the Arab League certainly has the potential to be a powerful player in the region. However, it remains to be seen what issues the leaders of the signatories place the most importance on.

One particular issue that they have already identified is that of the future of the British Mandate for Palestine. In the Charter`s ˝Annex on Palestine˝, the signatories express their view that Palestine should become an independent state.

The issue of Palestine may become a sticking point if the British authorities there do not resolve the growing grievances and emerging violence from both the Jewish and Arab populations.

Picture: Saudi Arabian delegates sign the League of Arab States charter
Source: AP

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