February 7, 2023

History Content for the Future

World War Two Day by Day

On 6 February 1944, General Władysław Anders arrives in Italy to take command of the 2nd Polish Corps.

Indy has covered the long and difficult journey of Anders and many other Polish soldiers and civilians in the documentary special ˝The Story of Poland's Armed Forces in Exile˝ on YouTube, so you can watch that to get caught up with the story so far.

As agreed at the Cairo Conference, Polish troops began arriving in Italy from the Middle East in December 1943. Anders arrives today, 6 February 1944, to meet his CO, Lieutenant General Oliver Leese, Commander of the British 8th Army. Just in time for the Polish troops to enter the brutal combat around Monte Cassino. One of the soldiers, Feliks Konarski, will write the poem Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino (The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino) that will become the unofficial anthem for the Polish soldiers:
˝Can you see that debris at the top?
Your foe’s hiding there like a rat.
You have to, you have to, you have to
Grab its neck and knock it down.
So, they went – fierce and willful,
They went to destroy and requite,
They went like always unyielding,
For honor fighting, for pride.

Red poppies on Monte Cassino

Were drinking not dew but Polish blood.
Soldiers walked on them and perished,
But stronger than death was their wrath.
Years will go by, then centuries,
The traces of old days won’t go
And poppies on Monte Cassino
Will redder be from Polish gore
They charged through the fire, dare-devils,
Many took bullets and died.
Insanely like Samosierra soldiers,
Like erstwhile Rokitna comrades.
They pounded with stormy forces
And made it. Their thrust was success.
White and red colors were raised
At the top. By those who remained!

Red poppies on Monte Cassino

Can you see the row of white crosses?
That’s where Poles with honor took vows.
Walk forward – the farther, the higher
The more at your feet you’ll find.
This land belongs to Poland,
Although Poland is far away,
For freedom is measured by crosses,
That’s history major mistake.˝

Picture: Sergeant Alojzy Piórkowski (41 years old) and his 14 years old son Ferdynand gathering wood in the mountainous area of the Italian Front, 1944.
Source: IWM, HU 128199

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On 5 February 1944, Oberstleutnant Egon Mayer becomes the first Axis pilot to achieve 100 air victories by operating exclusively on the Western Front.

Egon Mayer was born on 19 August 1917 and volunteered to join the Luftwaffe on 1 November 1937. On 25 October 1939, he was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 2 "Richthofen" (JG 2), named after infamous WWI flying ace Manfred von Richthofen.

Mayer scored his first aerial victory against a French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 on 13 June 1940. He found more success during the Battle of Britain and scored four more victories by the end of 1940 to become a flying ace.

On 10 June 1941, Oberleutnant Mayer was given command of the 7th squadron of JG 2, and his career took off. When he achieved his 21st victory on 1 August, he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. By the end of 1941, Mayer had claimed 28 victories.

On 19 August 1942, he claimed his 49th and 50th victories. With the rank of Hauptmann and now group commander within JG 2, Mayer claimed his first victories over US aircraft on 23 November 1942 by shooting down a B-17 and B-24. He soon developed a highly effective approach where three fighters would attack the bombers head-on in a V-formation from the front left, evading the defensive gunners by quickly pulling up.

On 1 July 1943, Mayer was promoted to Oberstleutnant and appointed Geschwaderkommodore (wing commander) of JG 2. He achieved the coveted title of ˝ace in a day˝ on 1 December 1943 by shooting down five P-47s. By the end of December, he had 90 victories.

Today, on 4 February 1944, he shoots down a USAAF P-47 and becomes the first Axis pilot to achieve 100 victories entirely on the Western Front.

Mayer will reach 102 victories by shooting down two B-17s on 2 March 1944 but will be shot down and killed by a P-47 near Montmédy, France.

As impressive as Mayer's score is, he is only one of 103 Luftwaffe pilots who will achieve over 100 victories by the war's end. Indy might cover some of their careers in a future special on YouTube, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, you can check out our recent special on Allied flying aces!

Picture: Captured Fw 190 A
Sources: USAAF, 050602-F-1234P-005

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On 2 February 1944, Stalin approves the use of Soviet bases for American aircraft.

As early as 1942, the idea to apply the shuttle bombing concept in cooperation with the Soviets was circulating within the US military under the name Operation Frantic. Diplomats and military attachés sent out feelers to Soviet diplomats, but these were met with little enthusiasm.

The Germans responded to intensified Allied strategic bombing by moving many of their major factories eastward, out of range of the bombers. In mid-fall 1943, Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, revived Operation Frantic as a potential solution. He argued that B-17s could fly from bases in Britain and Italy, conduct raids, land at Soviet airbases, and then bomb out-of-reach targets in eastern Germany, Poland, and the Balkans, on the return trip. He also holds a more distant hope that US bombers could be stationed in Siberia to bomb Japan.

President Roosevelt was quite enthusiastic about the plan. He recognized the potential military benefits and saw it as an opportunity to build trust between the Allies and fulfill his desire to demonstrate to the Russians how eager the Americans were to wage war on Germany. In October 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved Arnold's proposal.

Roosevelt proposed the plan to Stalin at the Tehran Conference in November 1943. Stalin neither rejected nor accepted it, so Averell Harriman, US ambassador to the Soviet Union, and Maj. Gen. John R. Deane, chief of the US military mission in Moscow, continued the negotiations. The British offered limited support but refused to participate, seeing it as a political stunt. Stalin's approved Operation Frantic ˝in principle˝ at the end of 1943.

Today, on 2 February 1944, Stalin officially approves the plan. However, as always with Western-Soviet negotiations, there are caveats. Stalin stipulates that only three bases would be made available, and only if their anti-aircraft defense was under Soviet command. The first US bombers will begin operating out of Soviet bases in June 1944.

Picture: American and Russian soldiers in 1944 during Operation FRANTIC, Ukraine
Source: Fortepan - ID 15946

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On 1 February 1944, Polish Home Army resistance fighters assassinate the “Butcher of Warsaw˝, Franz Kutschera.

SS-Brigadeführer Franz Kutschera ˝distinguished˝ himself through mass killings and anti-partisan activities in the Balkans and USSR. On 25 September 1943, Kutschera was appointed Generalmajor der Polizei and SS and Police Leader of the Warsaw district. He quickly enacted a new wave of terror. Lists of names of Polish citizens were posted daily in Warsaw. These people were picked up in łapanka, random round-ups of civilians, and publicly executed as reprisals for civil disobedience or attacks on German soldiers.

The SS kept Kutschera's identity a secret until December 1943. Aleksander Kunicki, chief of intelligence for the anti-Gestapo or Agat group, conducted surveillance of the Gestapo and SS HQs at Aleje Ujazdowskie number 23. He found that Kutschera was driven 150 meters daily from his home to the SS headquarters in a limousine.

Kunicki reported his findings, and a secret Special Court of the Polish Underground State sentenced Kutschera to death in absentia. Bronisław Pietraszewicz (codename 'Lot') led 'Operation Kutschera'. On 28 January 1944, the first assassination attempt failed because Kutschera stayed home.

On 1 February, at 0850 hours, a 13-person team stands ready along the route from Kutschera's home to the SS HQ. As Kutschera's limousine arrives at the gates of the HQ, the operatives block it with their vehicle. Lot and Zdzisław Poradzki ('Kruszynka') jump out and open fire on the limousine with submachine guns. They kill the driver and severely wound Kutschera. Michał Issajewicz ('Miś') finishes Kutschera with a pistol shot to the head.

Lot and another operative are wounded in the firefight with German guards and will succumb several days later. Two others die when their vehicle is intercepted and force into the Vistula river.

On 2 February, the Germans will shoot 300 civilians and issue a 100 million złoty tribute to all Polish residents in the Warsaw district. Each resident will receive a receipt for 30 złoty in the mail.

Picture: Raid and arrest of Poles by German law enforcement, Kraków
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-030-0780-18

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On 27 January 1944, the US House of Representatives adopts a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

Before the discussion proceedings, Ranulf Compton, a Representative from Connecticut, delivers a speech:
˝Mr. Speaker, it is a signal honor as well as a moral duty to be the joint author and sponsor of House Resolution 419, simultaneously introduced by the Honorable James A. Wright, member from Pennsylvania on the majority side of the House... I am most happy to be privileged as a member of Congress to take some action looking toward the abrogation of the British White Paper which attempts to hold the Jewish people as a permanent minority in Palestine and which precludes the relief to the suffering Jew... It is also my hope that this concerted joint action... will spur the administration to pursue an aggressive policy toward that end.

Let no one say this is not our business to interfere with Great Britain in this matter. Decidedly, it is our affair...
Subsequently, Great Britain became the trustee - mark you, the trustee - for 52 nations of the League of Nations in establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine. We must not forget that in 1922 a joint congressional resolution favoring the establishment of a Jewish home for the Jewish people in Palestine was adopted unanimously, and we must not forget that in 1924 a special treaty between England and the United States gave special significance and sanction to the mandate for Palestine... This is ample reason, if there were no humanitarian ones, for us to actively and energetically insist that Great Britain abrogate the British White Paper...

...Let me say in conclusion that literally thousands of my constituents in Connecticut, both Jew and gentile, have urged me to lend assistance to any action that might speed the day when Palestine would once more be a haven for the Jew...˝

The resolution is adopted following a short discussion. However, in March, the War Department will request Congress to shelve it temporarily to avoid stirring up Arab unrest in light of wartime considerations.

Picture: United States Senate session, 1939.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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During the night of 24 January 1944, Pvt George Allan Mitchell leads an assault on several German positions during the Battle of Monte Damiano in Italy.

A citation will be published on Mitchell's actions in the London Gazette on 8 August 1944:
˝In Italy on the night of 23rd and 24th January, 1944, a Company of the London Scottish was ordered to carry out a local attack to restore the situation on a portion of the main Damiano ridge...

During the advance, the enemy opened heavy machine gun fire at point blank range. Without hesitation, Private Mitchell dropped the 2-inch mortar which he was carrying, and seizing a rifle and bayonet, charged, alone, up the hill through intense Spandau fire. He reached the enemy machine gun unscathed, jumped into the weapon pit, shot one and bayonetted the other member of the crew, thus silencing the gun...
...shortly afterwards the leading section was again held up by the fire of approximately two German sections who were strongly entrenched. Private Mitchell, realising that prompt action was essential, rushed forward into the assault firing his rifle from his hip, completely oblivious of the bullets which were sweeping the area. The remainder of his section followed him and arrived in time to complete the capture of the position in which six Germans were killed and twelve made prisoner.
As the section was reorganising, another enemy machine gun opened up on it at close range. Once more Private Mitchell rushed forward alone and with his rifle and bayonet killed the crew.

The section now found itself immediately below the crest of the hill from which heavy small arms fire was being directed and grenades were being thrown. Private Mitchell's ammunition was exhausted, but in spite of this... he was again the first man to reach the enemy position and was mainly instrumental in forcing the remainder of the enemy to surrender.

A few minutes later, a German who had surrendered, picked up a rifle and shot Private Mitchell through the head.˝

He will be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by King George VI on 17 July 1945.

Picture: Troops of the 2nd Polish Corps throwing grenades, Monte Cassino.
Source: IWM, MH 1984

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At 0200 hours on 22 January 1944, the first Allied soldiers land on the beaches at Anzio.

L. D. Mellish, a soldier with the 24th Guards Brigade, British 1st Infantry Division, recalls his journey to the staging area and the landing itself:
˝At this time it was known that the fighting in Europe was going to be very different from North Africa, and our signals section was disbanded, and I was posted to 24th Guards Brigade, which was part of the British 1st Infantry Division, and was at that time at Hammamet, just south of Tunis.
Our next move was to Toranto in Italy, and then after a few days across to Naples to board an LST (landing ship for tanks and transport). On the way, we were briefed about our next job, a landing up the coast, to by-pass Casino, and possibly to advance to Rome.

The landing at Anzio on January 22nd, was very easy, the most difficult for me was the climb down the nets from the deck of the LST to the landing craft waiting alongside. With the amount of kit I was carrying, one slip into the water would have been my last. The only enemy fire in the first few hours was a few rounds from 2 ME109s.

I was our beach landing officer’s wireless operator, and we stayed on the beach all that day and night, to report the landing progress, until the next morning when we rejoined our unit which was grouped a little way inland.
Very early the next morning we started moving, and our battalion, the 5th Grenadiers arrived at what we called ‘The Factory’ and ‘The Flyover'˝.

The landings, for a change, are carried out without issue in calm waters and face minor resistance from depleted German units posted for leave. Landing craft offload 36,000 soldiers and 3,200 vehicles by the end of the day. Churchill and Allied commanders achieved their goal of surprising the Germans through the meticulous planning of Operation Shingle, which you can learn more about in Indy's weekly coverage.

Will the Allies cut straight across Italy and end the stalemate?

From: BBC WW2 People's War, Mr. L. D. Mellish, Article ID: A3669438

Picture: Universal carriers and a Sherman tank on the beach at Anzio, 22 January 1944.
Source: IWM, NA 11041

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On the night of 21 January 1944, Luftwaffe commences retaliatory bombing of Britain, codenamed Operation Steinbock.

By November 1943, the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL) and heads of the aircraft industry had unanimously decided that increasing fighter production and switching to a defensive air strategy was necessary despite Reichmarschall Herman Göring's insistence on using bombers. When Göring went to inform Hitler, he was rejected, as Hitler no longer trusted him or the Luftwaffe.

Göring quickly used this to accomplish his idea of revenge for the Allied bombing of German cities and ordered Generalmajor Platz to take command of a large-scale bombing operation against Britain, particularly London, on 28 November 1943. He issued a directive for Unternehmen Steinbock (Operation Capricorn), a retaliatory terror bombing campaign, on 3 December 1943.

By mid-January 1944, some 600 aircraft were pooled for the operation, many being pulled from other theaters of war. The available aircraft were primarily the early-war Junkers Ju 88A4, and Dornier Do 217 medium bombers, with a smaller number of the newer Ju 188 and Ju 88S. Only 46 of the four-engined Heinkel He 177A heavy bombers were available.

At 1930 hours on 21 January 1944, 230 Luftwaffe bombers carrying 475 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs, dubbed the 'English mix,' take off from airfields in western Europe. Even with guidance from radar ground-control stations and pathfinder aircraft drop marking flares, only 15 of the bombers reach their target, London. They drop around 30 tons of bombs while the rest scatter their payload in the countryside.

A second wave will head out the following morning, but of the 200 that take off, only 100 cross the English Channel, and only 25 drop their bombs on London. By the end of the second wave, the Luftwaffe will lose 32 aircraft, including six of the He 177As. British reports show minor damage to buildings, with 14 civilians killed and 74 wounded.

Should Londoners fear a repeat of the Blitz, or is the Luftwaffe well and truly past its prime?

Picture: Dornier Do 17 Z-1 bombers in formation over France
Source: Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-341-0456-04

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On 20 January 1944, the Red Army captures Novgorod and encircles the German troops attempting to retreat from the city.

At 1050 hours on 10 January 1944, an almost two-hour-long artillery and rocket barrage rained down on the German defensive positions. The Soviet 59th Army split its forces into a northern and southern force, with the northern one launching an attack from the banks of the Volkhov river some 30 kilometers north of Novgorod. The southern force advanced across Lake Ilmen to outflank the city and envelop the Germans.

Soviet advances were limited on the first day as the poor weather interfered with their air and artillery support. Only two divisions in the north broke through the German defenses. On the night of 14/15 January, parts of the southern force crossed the frozen Lake Ilmen and established a bridgehead.

The German 18th Army deployed reinforcements north and south of Novgorod, but when the Soviet 59th Army committed its second echelon units, the German defenses began to falter by 16 January. That day the Soviets severed the railway linking Chudovo and Novgorod. On 18 January, the Soviet southern force cut the road and railway linking Novgorod and Shimsk and continued their advance to link up with the northern force. With the ring closing around them, German commanders ordered their troops to abandon Novgorod and retreat.

The last three German units abandoned all their heavy weapons and equipment and left Novgorod on the evening of 19 January. Along with many elements of the 18th Army, they would not survive for long as the Soviet 59th Army's northern and southern forces met and closed the ring of encirclement some 10 kilometers west of the city just hours before.

Today, on 20 January 1944, Soviet forward troops begin the destruction of the retreating Germans to the west of Novgorod while their reserves enter what remains of the city. Soviet soldiers discover only 40 of the 2,500 buildings are left standing. Some 30 civilians remain in the city, as the rest have been deported to Germany or killed.

Picture: Civilians and German soldiers on a bridge in occupied Staraya Russa, Novgorod Region
Source: National Archives of the Netherlands

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On 19 January 1944, Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, announces that he has informed the Spanish Government of Britain's displeasure over the continued participation of Spanish volunteers in the war against the Soviet Union.

The British public is not satisfied with their government supporting a regime openly providing volunteers to the German Army. During today's debate in the House of Commons, MPs ask Eden whether he plans to inform the Spanish government of British protest of their continued involvement on the Eastern Front against Russia through volunteer units.

Eden responds with these words: ˝Although the greater part of the Blue Division has recently been withdrawn to Spain, a certain number of volunteers have remained on the eastern front in German service and have been formed into a body called a Spanish legion. I have myself informed the Spanish Government through the Spanish Ambassador in London of the most serious effect which this continuing unneutral assistance to our enemies in their struggle against our Allies must have on Anglo-Spanish relations now and in the future. His Majesty's Ambassador at Madrid, who has lost no opportunity to make our attitude clear in Madrid, has now been instructed to make further strong representations to the Spanish Government.˝

MP Manny Shimwell asks: ˝Does not my right hon. Friend by now realise that these verbal protests to the Spanish Government are of little avail and that it might be necessary to take stronger and firmer action?˝

Eden counters to avoid strong action against the Spanish: ˝My hon. Friend, I think, if he will look through the records, will find cases where these representations have had effect and, as I say, I hope the Spanish Government will understand what must be the feelings of people in this country in this matter.˝

It seems that the issue will not be pursued by placing excessive pressure on Spain.
Perhaps yesterday's rumors that emerged from Russia have shaken trust between Britain and the Soviets.

Picture: Spanish Wehrmacht volunteers in Prokrowskaja command post, in Russia
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 18 January 1944, Lord Mountbatten's forces make renewed advances in Burma amidst Japanese counterattacks.

Ever since the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, the Allies have faced nothing but failure, with their counterattacks defeated throughout that year and early 1943. It was hoped that setting up the South-East Asian Command (SEAC) in August 1943 would change this. Still, the bad news continued with Lord Mountbatten's announcement of the cancellation of Operation Buccaneer, the amphibious landing in the Bay of Bengal, on 6 January 1944. We covered that event in a previous post if you missed it.

Since October 1943, three Chinese divisions, along with a Chinese-manned M3 Light Tank battalion and an American long-range penetration brigade known after its commander as "Merrill's Marauders," have been making consistent progress in the north of Burma. American engineers and Indian laborers have been following their push south from Ledo, extending the Ledo Road and significantly speeding up logistics.

In the central Burma front, the British Fourteenth Army IV Corps has been preparing their defenses against a renewed Japanese offensive.

In the Arakan province, the southern front, the rugged terrain has forced the XV Corps to conduct a three-pronged assault, with the 5th Indian Division along the coast, the 7th Indian Division along the Kalapanzin River, and the 81st (West Africa) Division along the Kaladan River.

Today, the press reports Lord Mountbatten's announcement that the 5th Indian Division had captured the small port of Maungdaw on 9 January. The report states that a Japanese counterattack has overrun the 7th Indian Division's HQ in the days since. Still, with the 5th Indian Division's support and effective use of tanks, they are successfully heading off the Japanese attackers.

Whether the Allies will manage to weather the Japanese counterattacks and take advantage of the initiative remains to be seen.

Picture: Imphal to Kohima: the meeting at MS 109 of the 7th Cavalry and 33 Corps. Jemader Karnail Singh of 7th Cavalry shakes hands with Major AC T Brotherton, a 33 Corps Staff Officer.
Source: IWM, HU 88980

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On 17 January 1944, the Soviet newspaper Pravda publishes a front-page report claiming Britain and Germany have undertaken negotiations for a separate peace treaty.

Titled ˝Rumours from Cairo˝ and attributed to 'a Special Correspondent of Pravda', the story reads as follows:

˝ According to information from reliable Greek and Yugoslav sources, a secret meeting took place recently in one of the cities of the Pyrenees Peninsula between two English officials and Ribbentrop.

The meeting had the aim of finding out the conditions of separate peace with Germany.
It is understood the meeting did not remain without result.˝

Moscow Radio quotes the story and it is immediately heard around the world.

It leaves both the British and Soviet publics bewildered. The British Foreign Office swiftly and vehemently deny the allegations. The Germans follow suit with a diplomatic correspondent stating to British news agencies: “It has caused much amusement in Berlin. The fact that such a report has been published in Pravda shows that an extraordinary measure of annoyance exists in Moscow. One may assume the cause of this is the fact that the British and Americans have been a little too quick in anticipating the laurels in the Russo-Polish conflict.˝

US newspapers catch wind of the story, and their morning editions feature sensational headlines on the matter. It is not until the mid-afternoon and evening editions that their headlines include the British denial.

Lord Halifax will meet Cordell Hull, US Secretary of State, on 18 January to discuss their confusion over the report. The incident will mostly be smoothed over thanks to a late-night broadcast by Moscow Radio announcing the British denial and emphasizing the need for Allied unity both to assure victory and win the peace.

What could have caused Pravda to print such an article in the first place?

Picture: Men of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers read 'Ireland's Saturday Night', a Belfast newspaper, in their foxhole in the Anzio bridgehead, 17 March 1944.
Source: IWM, NA 13062

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On 16 January 1944, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau Jr. accuses the State Department of deliberately hindering the rescue of European Jews from the Holocaust. Morgenthau presents his position during a meeting with President Roosevelt.

While Morgenthau has typically not been confrontational or accusatory in his career and is “loathe to prod” his friend FDR, the information he has learned has intensely angered him.

He has been galvanized by a report compiled three days prior by his aides Josiah DuBois, Randolph Paul, John Pehle, and Ansel Luxford, which concluded that the State Department - particularly under Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long - is “guilty not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler.”

The report alleges that The State Department has sought to downplay the extent of the Holocaust to the American public and actively worked against efforts to save European Jews. Some evidence uncovered includes how the Department has been found arbitrarily denying visas and ignoring FDR’s directives on refugee policy. When previously approached as to why more was not being done to accept Jewish refugees, justifications included the cost of resettling refugees, as well as if funds could reach enemy nations, spies possibly infiltrating among the refugees; and that accepting arriving Jews would only exacerbate the refugee crisis.

Morgenthau is the only Jewish member of FDR’s cabinet, but for most of his career, he has not given much thought to his background. He has, of course, been concerned about the fate of Europe’s Jews and for years has gently petitioned his old-friend Roosevelt to do a little more “on this Jewish refugee thing.”

But the report's findings are too much for him to remain muted. At the conclusion of the meeting, Morgenthau petitions FDR to create a governmental body solely dedicated to refugee policy. President Roosevelt agrees, and thus the drafting of the executive order, which establishes the War Refugee Board, is set in motion.

Picture: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Morgenthau Jr.
Source: FDR Library

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On 15 January 1944, the Allies capture Monte Trocchio, the final German strongpoint on the Bernhardt Line. This gives them control of the southern end of Route 6 (the road to Rome) and sets them up to assault the Nazi's next major system of fortifications, the Gustav Line.

As mentioned in the weekly episodes, the Bernhardt Line is mostly just a bulge on the western side of the Italian isthmus. We have seen it slow down the American-led advance in this sector, with the mass of Monte Trocchio looming in front of them the whole time. But now, at last, they are on top of it.

For the past week, fighting in the valley below Monte Trocchio has yielded slow but impressive gains. The key development came on the 11th with the assault on the town of Cervaro, near the mountain's base. Troops from the American Fifth Army advanced both north and south of the town to cut it off. This envelopment successfully blocked German reinforcements. When elements of the 2nd Hermann Goering Panzergrenadier Regiment attempted to make their way to the town they were ambushed and repelled. By day's end on 13 January, Cervaro and the nearby village of Le Pastinelle were in Allied hands, thus leaving the northern flank of Monte Trocchio uncovered and exposed for today's attack.

However, German forces on Trocchio were aware of this weakness and have since pulled back off the mountain. By now, many have crossed the Rapido River to the north, and are making their way to the town of Cassino, just below the mountain which shares its name. There they plan to dig in at their Gustave Line and ensure that the Allies continue to pay an incredibly steep price for Rome.

But on Trocchio today, the American forces have a small respite. The assault today meets no resistance, only token harassing artillery fire from the withdrawing Germans. Within just a few hours, advancing forces on the mountaintop are deactivating enemy boobytraps and looking north across the river at Monte Cassino.

Picture: Fifth Army, Rosignano Area, Italy. Two American infantrymen of the 34th Infantry Division walk through the town of Rosignano with an Italian partisan.
Source: US National Archives, 148727152

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On 14 January 1944, the New York Times reports the awarding of the Distinguished Service to a brave war hero: Chips.

A collie-German shepherd-husky mix, Chips was lent to the US Dogs for Defense program in early 1942 by the Wren family from Pleasantville, New York. He and his handler, Private John P. Rowell, were attached in October 1942 to the 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division of General Patton's Seventh Army.

Chips' first combat mission was in North Africa during Operation Torch on 8 November 1942. He then served as a sentry during the Casablanca Conference, getting to meet Roosevelt and Churchill personally.

Chips and Rowell’s next big operation was Husky, the Alllied landings on Sicily. They waded onto the beak on 10 July 1943, but their entire platoon was soon pinned down by a hidden Italian machine-gun bunker. Chips broke loose from Rowell and ran towards the bunker. Rowell feared the worse: "There was an awful lot of noise and the firing stopped. Then, I saw one Italian soldier come out the door with Chips at his throat. I called him off before he could kill the man." Three more soldiers emerged from the bunker and surrendered. Chips suffered burns to his mouth when he grabbed the machine gun and pulled it off its mount and a wound to the scalp from a pistol shot. His heroics didn't end there. That night, Chips sniffed out ten Italian soldiers attempting to infiltrate the American camp, and the rest of his unit promptly captured them.

Chips was then transferred to the US 5th Army and took part in the landing at Salerno. His actions were well known by this point, and the commander of the 3rd Division awarded him the DSC, a Silver Star, and Purple Heart on 19 November 1943. In December, Chips and Rowell were transferred away from frontline duty.

Today, the New York Times reports on Chip's medals. On 3 February, William Thomas, national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, will issue a complaint which will lead the Army to rescind the medals officially.

Picture: PFC Chips
Source: U.S. Army

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On 13 January 1944, Gestapo agents arrest SOE agent Yolande Beekman in Saint-Quentin, France.

Yolande Elsa Maria Unternährer was born in Paris on 7 November 1911 to a Swiss father and an English mother. After moving to London, Yolande quickly became fluent in English, French, and German. In 1939, she enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), where she received training as a radio operator. Her training and language skills attracted the attention of Section F of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who recruited her on 15 February 1943 and trained her alongside Cecily Lefort, Noor Inayat Khan, and Yvonne Cormeau.

In August 1943, while at another training center, Yolande met Jaap Beekman, another SOE recruit, whom she soon married.

Not long after, the SOE sent Yolande on a mission to German-occupied France. At around 0100 hours on 18 September, Yolande and several others were landed by RAF aircraft in a field outside Angers. Under the alias Yvonne de Chauvigny, she traveled north to Saint-Quentin to join the MUSICIAN circuit, headed by Gustave Bieler, as the wireless operator. Belier and Yolande worked rapidly to expand MUSICIAN, with Yolande transmitting messages from the attic of a pharmacy.

Saint-Quentin is especially dangerous for Yolande and the other MUSICIAN agents. It is a significant rail and industrial hub and so well guarded by the Germans. It is also difficult finding lodgings in the crowded city, and radio equipment failures forced Yolande to avoid the standard practice of setting up multiple transmission stations. It has made it easier for German direction‐finding (D/F) teams to pinpoint her location.

On 12 January 1944, the pharmacy's owner noticed a man walking outside with listening equipment and notified Yolande. Yolande immediately headed to the Café Moulin Brulé, a safe house on the city's edge. Bieler arrives early in the morning, and as the two discuss their escape plan, two Gestapo agents walk in with pistols drawn and arrest them.

To learn more about the British SOE, check out Astrid's ongoing coverage in the Spies and Ties series.

Picture: Gestapo interrogation and detention centre.
Source: IWM, B 10081

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On 12 January 1944, almost 500 soldiers from the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) mutiny and refuse to board a ship taking them back to the frontlines.

Plummeting morale had led to the Government granting about 20 percent of the 2NZEF a furlough in the summer of 1943. With an election looking, they censored media reporting and political speeches on the furloughed soldiers.

However, none of this could stop the 6,000 furloughed soldiers from learning that there were around 40,000 so-called 'Grade A' men, 13,000 of whom were single, whom the government never called up because of their work in essential industries.' The Government attempted to diffuse the subsequent protests by announcing that all married soldiers with children, all men over 41, those who failed their medical exams, and Māori were also exempted from service.

Around 1,200 of the 3,500 furloughed soldiers that remained subsequently received a call to assemble at military camps on 4 January 1944. The soldiers obliged but continued to insist they would refuse to embark on the ship. The military issued them an ultimatum on 10 January.

Today, on 12 January, 2NZEF commanders issue orders for a parade march to embark on the ship. Some 500 soldiers across various camps refuse to leave their barracks, while 700 others board the departing vessel.

On 25 January, those 500 soldiers will be assembled at a court-martial and listed by name and rank with the announcement: "being soldiers of the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force, subject to military law, are charged with, when under orders for active service, deserting His Majesty's service". They will be given 90 days of detention and demoted. A second furlough draft will arrive on 10 February and spark protests throughout March, which will force the Government to reduce the sentences to mutiny. Those involved in this 'Furlough Mutiny' will be dismissed from the army and lose payment privileges.

The 2NZEF will return to combat in Italy without many experienced veterans and with low morale. Something that will no doubt prove costly.

Picture: Members of the 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigade march at the Maadi Sports Ground, Egypt
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 10 January 1944, Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, and four other members of the Grand Council of Fascism are sentenced to death for treason in the Verona Trial.

Spartacus has detailed the sham trial in War against Humanity Episode 94, but we thought we'd take a closer look at the experience of Ciano himself.

On 10 January, public prosecutor Andrea Fortunato sentences the defendants to death with the proclamation: ˝Thus I have thrown your heads down before Italian history and perhaps even my own, but it is well, provided that Italy live.˝

While in his cell, Ciano prepares a plea for clemency, which he sends via courier to Mussolini at Lake Garda. He also prepares three documents in case this attempt at saving his life fails. The first is a preface to his diaries, which he entrusted to his wife, Edda. The second and third are letters to King Victor Emmanuel III and Winston Churchill.

Ciano is denied holy communion and confession until late into the night, after which guards hear him nervously pacing around his cell.

At Lake Garda, Ciano's letter arrives, but one of Mussolini's senior party members receives it first and withholds it for fear of Hitler's reaction if Ciano survives. Mussolini will not see the letter until the following morning.

The execution will take place tomorrow morning and be delayed until 09:00 to allow for filming. Ciano and the others will be brought out and sat down in chairs facing away from the firing squad and with their hands tied. Just before the order to fire, Ciano will twist in his chair to yell 'Viva l'Italia'. The executioners, thanks to either incompetence, frail nerves, or bribery, will nearly miss. Pietro Caruso, head of the Rome police, will deliver the coup de grâce with a pistol.

While these events unfold, Edda crosses the border into Switzerland with her husband's diaries. She will learn of her husband's fate three days later and decide to hand the diaries to the Allies. Watch out for an upcoming episode of Astrid's Spies and Ties which will cover the movie-like events that follow.

Picture: Five sentenced to death at Verona Trial sat in front of a firing squad.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 9 January 1944, Seaman First Class James Fahey has a quiet day in this otherwise chaotic war.

War can be horrifying, exciting, exhausting, glorious, and many other things at once. But sometimes, those serving their countries find themselves performing dull daily routines at their stations or having brief moments of relaxation. For James Fahey, stationed aboard the USS Montpelier off Espiritu Santo near Vanuatu, the 9 January 1944 brings a bit of both:
˝Sunday, January 9, 1944: All hands up at 6 A.M. Before breakfast the decks were washed down. For this duty, we break out the big fire hose and soak the deck with the ocean's water. Scrubbing comes next with big enormous brushes... This routine is followed every day by us, if not at battle stations. Of course, we poor swabbies are last to get to chow and more times than not, miss out on some of the chow that has been depleted.
Our section spent the afternoon on the beach. It was scheduled this morning but rain delayed this. We like to go over on the beach for the recreation is very good now. Everyone had a great time. We had a regular picnic. Each sailor was given four small bottles of beer and as many hot dogs as we wanted. Coca-Cola and ice cream were also there but payment was required for them. We could also hear music over a loudspeaker. Before we left the ship, each man was allowed to buy two chits at ten cents apiece. On the beach we could purchase a bottle of beer with each chit... Later in the afternoon when most of the chits were exhausted, some of the fellows would be willing to pay five dollars to acquire one of them. It was very expensive beer for some. Five dollars for a small bottle of beer is quite a price to pay. Recreation is so infrequent, the price matters little... One of the fellow's nose was broken by a baseball but didn't seem to bother him much... Fist fights were predominant as is usually the case when a sailor is mixed with beer. We arrived on board ship at 4 P.M. The food seems to be a little better now. At least it's eatable.˝

Picture: USS Lexington (CV-16), November 1943. Sailors find a spot to relax near one of the carrier's two elevators.
Source: US National Archives

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On 8 January 1944, the Lockheed XP-80 becomes the first American jet fighter to take to the air.

Jet propulsion technology has been developing rapidly since 1939, but the USA has lagged behind until now, with the USAAF refusing to fund jet combat aircraft. It took intelligence reports of both British and German advances in jet-powered combat aircraft for them to change their minds in 1942. In exchange for increased aid provided through the Lend-Lease program, the British sent jet engine blueprints to the USA. The Bell Aircraft Corporation successfully tested the XP-59A Airacomet on 19 October 1942, but it was a technological testbed, and Bell could not continue development, which was transferred to Lockheed. In March 1943, they received blueprints for the Halford H.1B (Goblin) turbojet powering the British prototype de Havilland Vampire.

Following initial meetings with the USAAF, on 17 May 1943, Lockheed was invited to submit a jet fighter proposal resulting in the L-140 project. The USAAF approved the project on 17 June and issued a Letter of Contract on 24 June 1943. Lockheed would have to deliver a completed aircraft within 180 days of the contract award. ˝Kelly˝ Johnson assembled a team of 28 engineers and worked tirelessly on a ten-hour/6-day week schedule. Despite delays in the engine delivery from Britain, Johnson and his team presented a non-flying XP-80 to the USAAF on 16 November 1943, only 143 days after the USAAF awarded them the contract. A day later, the engine was destroyed during testing, delaying a test flight. The British donated a new engine from one of the two prototype Vampires they had. It arrived on 28 December 1943.

The prototype XP-80 was dubbed ˝Green Hornet˝ for its paint scheme but affectionately named Lulu-Belle by the design team. Today, on 8 January 1944, it takes to the skies for the first time, piloted by Milo Burcham. Technical issues cut short the flight, but the plane safely lands, and development continues. In subsequent test flights, the XP-80 will break a world air speed record and become the first USAAF aircraft to exceed 800 km/h in level flight.

Picture: XP-80A Gray Ghost in flight
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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