October 3, 2022

History Content for the Future

WW2 Day by Day

On 2 October 1943, the Imperial Japanese government issues a decree outlining that university students are no longer exempted from being drafted.

This measure comes as part of a series of reforms undertaken throughout the year that are meant to increase the number of men eligible to be conscripted to supplement Imperial Japan’s military losses. Discussions surrounding expanding the draft have been ongoing for some time, and many within the Imperial Japanese armed forces and government have previously raised objections.

On top of the general unpopularity of drafting more people from the population, government officials are hesitant to pull healthy young men out of skilled positions, causing disruptions in management, production, farming, etc., as their replacements have to be found, trained, and brought up to par. Some members of the old guard within the armed forces also oppose loosening physical requirements or lowering the age from 20 to 19 over concerns of diluting their forces and reducing the overall status of the military.

But as Imperial Japan’s war situation grows more and more grim, the necessity of needing to replace losses begins to override these objections. Some of the biggest takeaways from these reforms is that university students are no longer exempted from the draft.

Previously, whereas men who turned 20 would be eligible to be conscripted, those studying in university would be exempted. This exemption was gradually altered to include only those studying the sciences, engineering, medicine, or some branches of agriculture before it is done away with entirely today.

Picture: Imperial Japanese soldiers marching through the city of Nagoya, sometime in 1943
Source: Unknown

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At around 09:30 on 1 October 1943, Allied forces enter the city of Naples.

As the leading elements of American paratroopers and British armoured patrols drive into the city, they must navigate through all sorts of debris in the ruined city.

Since 1940, Naples has been the subject to a multitude of Allied bombing raids due to it harbouring significant elements of the Italian naval fleet, as well having a variety of critical strategic facilities like refineries, a steel mill, a fuel depot, and various railways. Allied bombing raids especially pick up in intensity for the first nine months of 1943.

But Allied bombing raids are by no means the only contributor to this destruction. For the last four days since 27 September, fighting in Naples rages between occupying German forces and citizens of Naples who spontaneously rose up against them. As in the chaos following Italy’s surrender, citizens of Naples acquired weapons left behind by Italian soldiers and clash with German forces in the streets. But these sporadic and individual clashes evolved into a full-blown uprising when German forces announce plans to gather all men aged 18 to 33 to be used as forced labour in northern Italy and Germany.

German forces attempted to put down the uprising with brute force, employing tanks, heavy artillery, and bombing raids of their own on the city, but the uprising only grew in scale. Commander of German forces, Colonel Walter Schöll, realized the situation had grown beyond his control and negotiated with resistance leaders to allow German forces to evacuate without impediment in return for calling off the deportations and freeing the resistance fighters they had captured.

Fighting still continues even after negotiations, and as German forces withdraw, they lay booby traps and destroy much of the city’s infrastructure and historical and cultural landmarks. The University of Naples and the State Archives of Naples are hit particularly hard, as hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable books and documents of significant historical value are set alight.

Picture: A US Army convoy traversing down a street of rubble in the city of Naples
Source: Unknown

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On 30 September 1943, the physicist Niels Bohr flees from Denmark to Sweden on a fishing boat.

Bohr’s mother is the youngest daughter of the wealthy Jewish Adler family. As a result, both her sons Niels and Harland are therefore also considered Jewish and will be subject to the upcoming roundup and deportation.

Word of this reaches Bohr in a similar informal matter as it does to the other approximately 7,500 Jews in Denmark. As news of the upcoming roundup and deportation of Denmark’s Jews spreads, a massive though improvised effort to hide and rescue them by Danes from all walks of life develops.

Government officials, doctors, police officers, priests, blue-collar workers, underground resistance members, and just ordinary people looking out for their friends either spread the news of the upcoming deportation or assist in organizing hiding or raising funds to pay for passage out of the country.

Given Bohr’s status as the head of the Theoretical Institute of Physics at the University of Copenhagen with research focusing on atomic physics, his name is pretty high on the list of people who cannot fall into Nazi hands. Members from the Danish resistance arrive at Bohr’s doorstep and urge him to flee. After packing only the bare essentials, Bohr and his wife are escorted to a harbour where they climb onto a fishing boat that makes the trip across the Øresund strait into neutral Sweden.

The next day after arriving, Bohr meets with King Gustaf V of Sweden and pressures him for Sweden to publicly broadcast Sweden’s readiness to grant asylum to any Jewish refugees from Denmark.

The news of Bohr’s escape also triggers Frederick Lindemann, the prime scientific advisor to Winston Churchill, to scramble and send a telegram asking for Bohr to come to Britain, where his intellect and research would undoubtedly be put to good use.

Picture: Danish Jews on a boat being ferried to Sweden
Source: National Museum of Denmark

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On the night of 29 September 1943, hundreds of prisoners at the Syrets concentration camp near the Babi Yar ravine stage a mass uprising and try to escape.

As Soviet forces advance further west and begin closing in on the area, German forces realize the apparent possibility that the area will soon be liberated by Soviet forces in the coming months. Before they retreat from the site, they are anxious to remove all the evidence of the Babi Yar massacres from two years ago.

Approximately 330 prisoners are plucked from conducting back-breaking forced labour and instead assigned to excavating the Babi yar ravine. There, they exhume the rotting corpses and throw them into bonfires and hastily built furnaces.

For approximately 40 days, the prisoners burn bodies, grind up the charred remains and then scatter the powdered ashes. The prisoners realize that once they finish the job, they too will be executed on the site, and their remains will be disposed of in a similar manner to what they are doing now.

On 29 September, as the working day ends and the 292 prisoners who are still alive are brought back to the Syrets camp, the prisoners decide to gather their remaining strength and act. Using small tools they acquired from the pockets of the exhumed corpses, a few prisoners pick the lock to the barracks they were confined in. When the concentration camp guards hear the commotion in the barracks, they chalk it up to prisoners fighting each other over scraps of potatoes.

When the darkness of the night sets in, the prisoners rush out of the barracks and overpower a few of the guards nearby, and all make a run for it towards the camp entrance. When the rest of the guards realize what is happening, the machine gun in the watch tower opens fire on the mass crowd trying to rush through the narrow gates.

For the rest of the night, patrols with dogs, motorcycles, and cars use flares for hunting prisoners not far from the camp, immediately executing any they find. Of the 292 prisoners who tried to escape, only 11 survive the attempt.

Picture: Western section of the Syrets concentration camp
Source: Maksym Chornyi

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On 28 September 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz leaks upcoming plans for the mass roundup and deportation of Denmark’s Jewish community in the coming days.

Duckwitz is the maritime attaché at the German embassy in Copenhagen. He has long since grown disillusioned with the Nazi ideology as far back as 1935 and even raised a few concerns from the Gestapo when he sheltered a few Jewish citizens in his apartment in Berlin when an anti-Semitic event organized by the Sturmabteilung brewed in the street.

Nevertheless, he still finds himself working for the Nazi Foreign Ministry, which uses his expertise in maritime affairs. Duckwitz enjoys a fairly cordial relationship with a few Danish politicians and gains the trust of Werner Best, a very high-ranking member of both the SS and the Gestapo, and also acts as the German Plenipotentiary over occupied Denmark.

Best informally reveals to Duckwitz the plan to round up all of Denmark’s Jews in the coming weeks in one significant action and then subsequently deport them. This plan coincides with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and the hope was to catch large gatherings of Jews commemorating the holiday in their homes or in synagogues.

Duckwitz at first travels to Berlin and tries to convince his superiors to call the plan off, but his efforts are fruitless. Duckwitz also attempts to reach out to nearby neutral Sweden to organize sanctuary for Denmark’s Jewish community, but progress is slow, and the date for the roundup and deportation is fast approaching.

Today Duckwitz secretly meets with various Danish politicians, including Hans Hedtoft. Duckwitz informs them of the upcoming plan, and the news quickly and informally seeps throughout Danish society.

Citizens across the country rush to warn any Jewish friends or neighbours. Civil servants also pour over phone books and call any numbers with seemingly Jewish surnames and inform them of the news and urge them to go into hiding.

Picture: Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz in 1945
Source: Unknown

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On the night of 27 September 1943, Mao Zemin, Mao Zedong’s younger brother, is executed by the warlord Sheng Shicai’s secret police in the city of Ürümqi in the Xinjiang province of China.

Born in 1896, Mao Zemin joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. While in the Party, Mao Zemin partook in underground activities like managing the printing and distribution of Party literature and helping organize a network that spread to major cities within China.

Mao Zemin undertook a variety of other positions and worked his way up throughout the Party, eventually rising to the position of Minister of the Economy of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Democratic government overseeing the Fujian-Guangdong-Jiangxi area in February of 1936.

But due to overwork and the invasion of Imperial Japan in 1937, Mao Zemin experienced severe health problems from stress. Mao Zemin is subsequently reassigned to work in the province of Xinjiang, ruled by the warlord Sheng Shicai who runs the province as a Soviet puppet state. There, Mao Zemin is sent to the Soviet Union for medical treatment before returning to work in the province of Xinjiang.

But by July 1942, Sheng Shicai believes that the Soviet Union will fall to the Axis invasion and cut all ties with the Soviet Union, expelling all its personnel. He approaches the Nationalist Kuomintang government for support instead.

This change in sides triggers riots all over Xinjiang, which Sheng Shicai believes is fuelled by Communist agitators. Mao Zemin and 140 other Chinese Communist Party members are arrested in September of 1942 and thrown into prison. For the next year, they are tortured and subjugated to various forms of interrogation, demanding they reveal the existence of a conspiracy that the Chinese Communist Party is behind the riots and is attempting to overthrow Sheng Shicai’s government. The prisoners refuse.

Interrogators also demand that Mao Zemin withdraws from the Party, though Mao Zemin refuses this too. On the night of 27 September, Mao Zemin, along with a couple of other Communists, are executed by Sheng Shicai’s secret police.

Picture: Mao Zemin, unknown date and location.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 26 September 1943, a commando unit infiltrate Singapore Harbour and attack Imperial Japanese shipping as part of Operation Jaywick.

The unit behind Operation Jaywick is the Z Special Unit specializing in missions like infiltration and guerrilla warfare. The Kofuku Maru, a 68-ton wooden hull Japanese fishing vessel that was seized by Allied authorities at the outbreak of war and used to evacuate refugees from Singapore, eventually made its way to Australia and was renamed the Krait.

Fourteen commandos and sailors board the Krait, fly a Japanese ensign, and cover their skin in brown dye in an attempt to pass as Malaysian fishermen while traversing the Java Sea.

The Krait departs Australia on 2 September and makes its way towards Singapore. Beyond a few tense moments with passing Imperial Japanese patrols who end up paying the Krait no attention, the voyage is relatively uneventful and painstakingly slow as the fragile propeller shaft on the Krait keeps breaking and requires repairs.

By 24 September, the Krait reaches its drop point around fifty kilometers outside Singapore harbour. The commandos wait until the sun sets to take out three folded kayaks carrying magnetic limpet sea mines and paddle the remaining distance to a cave outside the harbour that they will use as an assembly point.

The commandos wait until the night of 26 September to quietly slip into Singapore harbour and plant seven limpet mines on various moored Imperial Japanese cargo and tanker ships. Six of the seven mines explode between 5:15 and 5:50 AM, sinking three ships and heavily damaging three more, causing a loss of approximately 39,000 tons in shipping.

As the initial chaos from the attack subsides, the commandos in kayaks quietly reconvene with the Krait a few days later. Imperial Japanese authorities have no idea what hit them and suspect the attack came from local saboteurs triggering waves of arrests and executions.

Picture: The Krait in Darwin harbour, Australia, sometime in 1944
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 25 September 1943, Soviet forces liberate the city of Smolensk.

Units from the Soviet 31st, 68th, 10th Armies and the 5th Combined Arms Army had reached the outskirts of the city during the afternoon of 24 September under a backdrop of rain and thick cloud cover. They hold off on immediately pushing into the city to catch their breath after relentlessly chasing German forces as part of their general strategic offensive in the Smolensk and Bryansk Oblasts that has been raging throughout August and September.

This gives German forces situated in Smolensk a precious few hours to sort out traffic jams of vehicles, horses, and personnel clogging the streets trying to escape, as well as German combat engineers the time to conduct more thorough demolitions of anything valuable in the city.

But at around 10 PM, as the darkness begins to set in, Soviet forces spring into action and begin their final push into Smolensk. Expecting the city to be swarming with German defenders fighting tenaciously, Soviet commanders keep their tanks back and instead rely on their infantry formations to flow through the city ruins.

As Soviet forces advance, they hear the thunder of explosions only a few blocks ahead as the train depot, power plant, water supply facilities, and other pieces of infrastructure are blown up. By 4:45 AM, as Soviet forces make their way towards the center of Smolensk, German rear guard units run across the three bridges. The explosives planted all over them detonate seconds after, and the bridges crumble into the Dnieper river.

By 6 AM, Smolensk is essentially under Soviet control, and a red banner is hoisted on the top of Smolensk Hotel. As the sun rises over the smoldering city, the extent of German demolitions is realized. More than 90% of all buildings in the over 1,000 year old city have been destroyed.

Picture: Soviet tank crewmembers meet with liberated civilians in the outskirts of Smolensk
Source: TASS

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On 24 September 1943, repairs on the Möhne Dam are completed after over four months with the use of forced labour.

The Möhne Dam was hit back in May as part of Operation Chastise in the Dambusters raid. The approximately 75-meter wide and 90-meter deep breach opened up by the bombing raid not only serves as a significant boost for British morale but also has a significant immediate impact on German industry.

Around 330 million tons of water pours out of the breach and spills into the industrial Ruhr region. At least 1,600 people are killed by the ensuing flood, including foreigners who were brought to Germany from occupied territories to be used as forced labour.

The flood water reaches as far as 80 kilometers from the dam breach, flooding over 100 factories and hundreds of houses, a few mines, thousands of acres of farmland, as well as significant strips of roads and railway lines, rendering them unusable for at least a few weeks. In addition to all of this, the breach at the Möhne Dam destroys two hydroelectric power stations and hampers seven others, knocking out the electric power for various other factories that were not flooded in the region for quite some time.

This disruption led to significant drops in output for the German war industry, as shaft mines, fuel plants, munitions factories, and smelting facilities are unable to run without power. The month of May alone sees a drop in 400,000 tons in regard to coal production.

To correct this massive drop in productivity, an army of roughly 7,000 forced labourers is brought in and driven to work continuously without stopping over the last four months to patch the breach and bring the Möhne Dam back online. On 24 September, those final repairs are completed, and full operation will be restored in the coming days.

Picture: A reconnaissance photo of the breach at Möhne Dam the day after Operation Chastise, May 1943
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 23 September 1943, the foundation of the puppet state of the Italian Social Republic is proclaimed by Benito Mussolini, with Mussolini as both its prime minister and chief of state.

Following his rescue from captivity by German commandos in the Gran Sasso raid, Mussolini is brought to Hitler. Hitler tells Mussolini he wants Mussolini to head a new fascist state under German protection. Mussolini, exhausted and in declining health, turns Hitler down at first. But after significant pressure and being told that the alternative is to treat occupied Italian territory no different than enemy occupied territory, Mussolini reluctantly relents.

The Italian Social Republic has incredibly little, if any, sovereignty. It bears no organized economy or formal constitution and fully depends on Germany for financing its existence.

Though the Italian Social Republic lays claim to the Italian peninsula, in reality, its only jurisdiction lies within the territory currently occupied by German forces. Even though the Italian Social Republic’s capital is Rome on paper, in practice, it is the small town of Salò where Mussolini and much of his staff resides. There, they are under what is essentially house arrest, with their communications monitored and travel strictly supervised by German forces.

Internationally, the only foreign entities that recognize the Italian Social Republic are Germany, Imperial Japan, and some of their satellite states. Finland, Vichy France, and Spain never diplomatically recognize it.

The Italian Social Republic does have a few small military units at its disposal, and it hopes to raise more to fight alongside Germany. But this task is incredibly complicated by the fact that many Italian soldiers have been either interned by German forces and are hesitant to fight alongside them again, captured by the Allies, or joined the Italian resistance movement.

Picture: Soldiers from the Italian Social Republic with the Republic’s flag in Rome
Source: Bundesarchiv

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On 22 September 1943, X-class midget submarines attack the German battleship Tirpitz moored at a naval base in Altafjord in Occupied Norway.

Codenamed Source, this operation started back on 20 September. Since then, the X-crafts have been waiting and slowly sneaking into the naval base at a crawl speed, but today, they penetrate deep enough to launch their attacks.

The loss of two of the six X-crafts while traveling to Altafjord meant that the original objectives had to be scaled back. The heavy cruiser, Lützow, one of the initial targets, has to be abandoned. The battleship Scharnhorst, another target, also has to be left as it was involved in a training exercise earlier and changed its mooring position in the naval base compromising the original plan.

Beyond the navigational problem, the X-craft designated for the Scharnhorst also faces severe mechanical issues the crew cannot resolve, so it calls off its involvement entirely. Of the remaining three, two X-crafts manage to get into position under the Tirpitz and drop their combined 8 tons of explosive amatol charges directly beneath the ship.

Though they are quickly spotted and forced to surface near the Tirpitz as they try to escape, all six crewmembers are captured, and they quickly inform their captors of their mission and that the charges they placed will detonate in less than an hour.

The crew of the Tirpitz desperately tries to maneuver the ship to safety, but in the tight space, they fail to do so. The charges powerfully explode, warping parts of the Tirpitz’s bottom shape. Shell plating in some sections is torn, oil tanks are ruptured, one of the turrets is dislodged from its bearings, and the two onboard float planes are thrown off the ship from the force of the detonations. Over 1,000 tons of seawater floods the Tirpitz, damaging internal electrical systems.

But despite these hefty damages, the Tirpitz still remains afloat, albeit out of action until repairs can be conducted. Of the original six X-crafts, five are lost during Operation Source.

Picture: The Tirpitz while in Occupied Norway.
Source: Unknown

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On 21 September 1943, the massacre of the Italian Acqui Division by German forces on the island of Cephalonia begins.

The approximately 12,000 strong garrison of the 33rd Infantry “Acqui” Division has occupied Cephalonia since May of this year. When news of Italy’s armistice with Allied forces reaches the Acqui division, its commander General Antonio Gandin is faced with a dilemma.

Gandin receives orders from Italian High Command, who urge him to view German forces as hostile and resist any attempts at disarmament by German forces. But Gandin also meets with Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Barge, commander of the German garrison on Cephalonia, on friendly terms and conducts negotiations.

Gandin puts the matter up to a vote to Italian troops on whether the division should stay alongside German forces, surrender itself and hopefully be repatriated back to Italy, or resist German forces. Most Italian soldiers choose the last option and refuse to surrender themselves or their weapons.

German forces, in turn, begin bombarding Italian positions on the morning of 15 September. Initially, Italian forces see some defensive successes against German forces in the mountain terrain of the island. Still, on 17 September, German forces bring in specialized and highly trained mountain infantry who turn the tide.

The Acqui division requests aerial and naval support, but they are denied as the Allies, who have recently come into control of Italy’s ports and airfields, are hesitant to send aerial and naval elements out over fear that they may defect to German forces. By 21 September, exhausted after five days of heavy fighting and with no more remaining ammunition, Italian forces began to surrender.

Regarding the Acqui division’s defiant resistance as an example of treason, many Italian officers are summarily executed by German forces once they are taken into captivity. But as the days go on, these summary executions go beyond Italian officers and target lower rank soldiers. Over 3,500 soldiers, including Gandin, will be machine-gunned by German forces.

Picture: Italian soldiers taken prisoner by German forces in Corfu, September 1943
Source: Bundesarchiv

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On 20 September 1943, Operation Source begins, which aims to knock out the German battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst and the heavy cruiser Lützow currently moored at a naval base in Altafjord in Occupied Norway.

Six midget submarines of the newly developed X class are allocated for the operation. Weighing in at 35 tons and coming in at just over 15 meters in length, these are smaller specialized submarines designed for special tasks that require them to slip through enemy defences, carry out their mission, and then leave the scene completely undetected. Operation Source will be their first major deployment, and they are perfect for the assignment.

Their objective is to sneak into the fjord where the German surface ships are located, position themselves directly beneath them, and release two externally mounted explosives charges made up of amatol, weighing in at two tons each. These explosives charges would sink directly beneath each ship and detonate once the timer had run out. Giving the X-craft the opportunity to slip away if all goes according to plan.

Because of their small size and limited range, the X-crafts must be towed by larger traditional submarines over the vast distance until they are nearby the fjord. Six submarines towing six X-crafts set out from Scotland towards Altafjord on 11 September.

But while en route, the towing cable for one X-craft snaps, and it disappears, leaving only a slick trace of oil on the surface. It is lost with all three crew onboard. Another X-craft discovered a leak in the onboard explosives. The explosive charges are detached but detonate in the process damaging the X-craft to such an extent that it must be scuttled. Though the crew safely gets onboard the towing submarine.

Nevertheless, the attack continues. At sunrise on 20 September, the remaining X-craft are deployed 60 miles outside Altafjord. Now they must traverse the surrounding minefields and torpedo nets and sneak into the base.

Picture: An example of an X-craft in operation
Source: Imperial War Musuem Collection

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On 19 September 1943, the siege of Turjak comes to an end with the victory of the Yugoslav Partisans.

The siege of Turjak comes in the wake of the battle of Grčarice, fought in the nearby village of Grčarice.

The month of September has marked a significant turning point in the fighting in Yugoslavia, as prior to the Italian surrender, there are 17 Italian divisions stationed in the territory of Yugoslavia. Following the Italian surrender, some units fall in with German forces, the Germans take some prisoner, some join up with anti-partisan groups, some even, in fact, go over to the partisans, while many others simply crumble apart and their soldiers go their own separate ways and try and make the walk back home to Italy.

In any case, the Italian surrender leaves all sorts of military supplies like firearms, ammunition, and heavy weaponry like artillery pieces and tanks essentially up for grabs. The Yugoslav partisans acquire significant swathes of the former Italian military inventory and use these new bolstered capabilities to their advantage.

Slovenian Yugoslav partisan detachments attack the forces from the Slovene Chetnik Blue Guard, as well as the supplementary Italian forces who joined them, occupying the villages of Grčarice and Zapotok days after the Italian surrender. The partisans successfully overrun them and chase the remaining forces into the nearby 13th-century Turjak castle.

The partisans quickly encircle Turjak castle and issue an ultimatum demanding its inhabitant's surrender on 14 September. The defenders of Turjak refuse, clinging on to the hope that reinforcements will arrive who will break the siege.

But those reinforcements never arrive, and after six days of continuous fighting, including the partisans employing heavy weaponry against Turjak castle, its defenders finally relent and lay down their arms. The partisans claim they have taken over 1,000 prisoners in the aftermath of Turjak and the fighting around Grčarice and Zapotok.

Picture: A detachment from a Slovenian Partisan battalion traveling through a forest in the summer of 1943
Source: Wikimedia Commons

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On 18 September 1943, German forces finish evacuating over 20,000 from the island of Sardinia.

Unlike much of the rest of Italy, where chaos and scattered fighting between German and Italian forces breaks out in the wake of the Italian surrender, Sardinia is relatively quiet. On the island of Sardinia is the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, supplemented by additional smaller formations. They number no more than approximately 25,000, contrasted with the over 110,000 Italian troops on the island with them.

Realizing that they are heavily outnumbered and in no shape to disarm the many more Italian forces on Sardinia as he is supposed to per Operation Achse, German forces look for a way out of the untenable situation.

Commander of Italian forces on Sardinia, Antonio Basso, meets with the commander of German forces on Sardinia, General Carl Hans Lungershausen and the two conduct negotiations. Italian forces agree to allow German forces to evacuate from Sardinia and take refuge on the nearby island of Corsica, where they will figure out their next course of action.

For General Basso, there are all sorts of different orders flowing in, making them hard to interpret and his direct objectives. Basso is also keen to avoid a major confrontation with German forces in favour of sparing local civilian casualties likely to follow and avoiding the destruction of local infrastructure.

Though despite the negotiations, occasional hostilities do break out. Like on 13 September in La Maddalena harbour in Sardinia, where German forces take admiral Bruno Brivonesi hostage during a period of heightened tension, and a platoon of Carabinieri soldiers storm the building where he is kept and exchange gunfire with German forces in the harbour, killing 28 German soldiers. Italian and German commanders quickly de-escalate these outbreaks and order everyone involved to stand down and continue the evacuation.

By 18 September, the final evacuations have concluded, and the last German forces have left Sardinia.

Picture: German forces preparing to evacuate at Palau Marina, Sardinia, September 1943
Source: Bundesarchiv

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On 17 September 1943, prisoner of war General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach presents a plan to Major General Melnikov that calls to recruit over 40,000 German PoWs and airdrop them into Germany, where they would lead an anti-Hitler resistance movement.

Seydlitz commanded a corps of three divisions as part of the 6th Army, which was encircled and destroyed at the Battle of Stalingrad. He had profusely argued in favour of attempting a breakout of the encirclement but was turned down repeatedly. When he was captured, he feels as though Hitler had betrayed the 6th Army.

During interrogation, Soviet officials identify Seydlitz as a potential collaborator and bring him to political re-education center. There, he plays a leading role in forming the League of German Officers National Committee for a Free Germany, with 93 other captured high ranking officials, which is an anti-Nazi organization under Soviet supervision.

On 17 September, Seydlitz asks for permission to form a force of approximately 40,000 men recruited from PoW camps who would be airdropped back into Germany and conduct partisan activities as well as make contact with various units and convince them to turn their weapons against Hitler.

Melnikov writes: “This corps will be the base of a new government after Hitler is overthrown…Seydlitz considers himself a candidate for the job of chief commander of the armed forces of Free Germany in the future.” However, Soviet officials do not want to set up a German government in exile to avoid angering the Western Allies. Many other German PoWs also call the plan “utterly utopian” and believe that the Soviets would “consider such a proposal to be proof that German generals are fantasists.”

The enormous technical difficulties aside, Soviet officials never seriously consider airdropping tens of thousands of PoWs back to their homes. Instead, they primarily opt to use surviving PoWs as forced labour in rebuilding the country, and Seydlitz is actively used as a propaganda piece.

Picture: A late war surrender of a large Wehrmacht contingent to Soviet forces
Source: Boris Losin

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On 16 September 1943, 191 soldiers refuse posting to their new units in Salerno.

The mutineers were previously part of the 50th and 51st Infantry Divisions and are veterans who had fought with their units in Sicily. During the campaign, they had either been wounded or rendered combat ineffective due to malaria or dysentery and rotated off the frontlines. They had been shipped to Camp 155 near the city of Tripoli in North Africa, where they recuperated.

Anxious to rejoin their comrades after recovering, they set sail with the expectation that they will be brought back to Sicily, returned to their units, and then shipped back to the United Kingdom, where they would eventually take part in the invasion of France.

But while crossing the Mediterranean, they are told that they are, in fact, not heading for Sicily but Salerno. There, they will be posted to the unfamiliar 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions and fill the gaps sustained by the heavy losses battling for the beachhead. Already feeling angry believing they had been misled by their superiors, matters are made worse when they arrive and there is a general lack of organization on the newly established beachhead trying to sort out who goes where. For the next few days, around 300 men will gather in a field and refuse postings to any unfamiliar units.

Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery approaches the crowd and admits that an administrative mistake has been made. But says that the men are needed right now and promises to return them back to their units once Salerno has been secured. He also outlines the severe consequences of committing mutiny during wartime.

After hearing this, approximately 1/3rd of the crowd relents and falls into their new units, but 191 remain adamant. All 191 are arrested and charged with mutiny under the Army Act and shipped to French Algeria, where they will be court-martialed.

Picture: British troops from the 128th Brigade of the 46th Division unload at Salerno, 9 September 1943
Source: Imperial War Musuem - NA 6630

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On 15 September 1943, the top-secret AT M-1 rocket grenade launcher is shown off in front of reporters and cameras at an Army Infantry School demonstration at Fort Benning in the United States.

More commonly known by its nickname, the “Bazooka” bears a vague resemblance to a musical brass wind instrument of the same name, invented and played by the radio comedian Bob Burns.

First entering production back in 1942, the Bazooka was hastily pressed into service in North Africa and on the Eastern Front through lend-lease. Though the design shows a significant amount of promise, the performance of the Bazooka so far has been a bit lackluster due to reliability problems with the M6 rocket the Bazooka fires and the fact that many of the soldiers who received the Bazooka weren’t adequately trained in its operation.

Gradually these problems have been worked out, and today the US Army finally reveals the existence of the Bazooka to an ecstatic press almost a year after introducing it into service.

The Pittsburgh Press writes: “The gun itself resembles a piece of two-inch gas pipe, weighing 14 pounds and fitted with a shoulder rest, pistol grip and trigger for the right hand, a system of sights and a dry cell battery or magneto with wire system for igniting the propelling charge. It can be operated by one man but its employed by a crew of two…The Army explained that prior to Pearl Harbour it possessed a grenade which could be launched from a Springfield or Garand rifle, but it was not heavy enough for effective use against tanks. The Ordinance Department, recalling rocket experiments, consulted military and civilian experts and the result was the rocket grenade and the Bazooka launcher.”

Popular Mechanics will also describe the Bazooka as having “the wallop of a 155-mm cannon.”

Picture: A US Army Soldier with a Bazooka at Fort Benning, 1943
Source: US Army Signal Corps

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On 14 September 1943, Free French forces land near the city of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.

For the first couple of years of the Second World War, the Vichy French island of Corsica was relatively peaceful. But this changed in November of 1942 following the Allied landings on Vichy French holdings in North Africa. Shortly thereafter, German and Italian forces race to occupy other Vichy French territories, including the island of Corsica. Since then, a mixed garrison of approximately 80,000 Italians and 12,000 Germans has been stationed at Corsica, ready to stave off any potential Allied landings and sporadically battling with local Corsican resistance fighters.

But the dynamic completely changes with news of the Italian surrender. Much of the Italian garrison is confused as to what the plan going forward is, and Corsican resistance fighters take advantage to launch a massive armed insurrection.

Commander of Italian forces on Corsica, General Giovanni Magli, receives orders to expel German forces from Corsica if they are attacked by them. Intermittent fighting between Italian and German forces since 9 September on Corsica occurs in a general atmosphere of confusion. Some Italian forces desert while approximately 20% side with the German forces.

General Magli also takes his remaining forces and decides to fight alongside the same Corsican partisans his forces had spent the last few months battling. He orders the release of many of them from prison and coordinates operations with them against German forces.

In the midst of all this, Free French forces arrive on the west coast of Corsica at Ajaccio on 14 September, where they deploy two infantry regiments, another two infantry battalions, one company of light tanks, and a detachment of combat engineers led by General Henry Martin.

This combined Italian, French, and Corsican partisan force plans to push northwest towards Bastia and expel all German forces from Corsica.

Picture: Corsican partisans near Ajaccio, September 1943
Source: Charles de Gaulle Foundation

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On 13 September 1943, German forces launch a massive counterattack against the Allied landings near Salerno.

Allied forces had landed near the port city of Salerno back on 9 September. Italy had formally surrendered the day before, leading them to withdraw their forces from many coastal areas.

Despite this, in the general area around Salerno, there are approximately 8 German divisions prepared to attack any landing sites and push Allied forces back into the Tyrrhenian sea.

Allied forces landed without any preparatory bombardments and under cover of night darkness to ensure tactical surprise, but from the onset, German forces are aware of the Allied landings.

The beachhead in which Allied forces land is relatively narrow, and the combined Allied force of the British X Corps and the American VI Corps land separated by a distance of 11 kilometers with a river between them. As a result, by 13 September, they had still not fully linked up.

When General Heinrich von Vietinghoff realizes this, he cannot resist the opportunity and releases six motorized infantry divisions supported by armour who race down the mountains across the plains towards the beachheads. Tanks followed by infantry riding in half-tracks punch holes in the thinly spread Allied lines, forcing them into pockets that are isolated and bypassed.

At this time, Allied casualties are quickly mounting. Two 105mm artillery pieces from the 158th Field Artillery Battalion on the American beachhead furiously fire approximately 4,000 rounds at advancing German forces. Intense low flying aircraft strafing missions and naval bombardments also give German forces no respite, but it’s not yet enough to fully stop the advance.

By nightfall, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment is dropped onto the beachhead to desperately strengthen the perimeter. But US commander Mark Clark is seriously considering evacuating much of the beachhead to escape the German advance and prevent disaster.

Picture: Soldiers from a British signals unit near the Salerno beachhead take cover as German mortar rounds explode nearby, 14 September 1943
Source: Imperial War Musuem - NA6857

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On 12 September 1943, Adolf Hitler denies Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s request to send an envoy to Stockholm to meet with Vladimir Dekanozov and begin the process of potentially brokering a peace deal.

Ribbentrop learns of this through his subordinate, Peter Kleist, who is currently in the midst of organizing the repatriation of Swedish minorities in the Baltic states. Kleist, being a diplomat whose focus is on Eastern Europe, is familiar with a few of his Soviet counterparts from before the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union.

During his work Kleist also befriends a businessman named Edgar Klauss, who is of Baltic and German descent and works in Stockholm. While staying in a hotel Klauss regularly has friendly conversations with Soviet officials who work at the embassy in Stockholm.

Through Klauss, Kleist learns that Vladimir Dekanozov has arrived in Stockholm. Dekanozov was previously the Soviet ambassador in Berlin and is now deputy chief of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.

Klauss does not know the reason for Dekanozov’s visit but he offers to try and set up a meeting between Kleist and Dekanozov. Kleist goes to Ribbentrop to ask for permission to take advantage of such an opportunity.

Ribbentrop rushes to Hitler and informs him of the potential, interpreting the visit as a subtle sign of Soviet interest in forming a peace envoy that could culminate in an armistice. Ribbentrop pleads to at least try and approach Dekanozov and hear out the potential Soviet demands and see if there were any rifts between the Allies that could cause them to sign a separate peace.

Hitler ponders the opportunity for quite some time but turns it down. Seeing him demoralized, Hitler says: “You know, Ribbentrop, if I settled with Russia today I would only come to blows with her again tomorrow.” Kleist is not to meet with any Soviet officials or hint that Germany is willing to consider possible negotiations.

Dekanozov will hang around Stockholm for a few more days before departing on 16 September.

Picture: Hitler with Ribbentrop, sometime in 1941.
Source: Unknown

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On 11 September 1943 at around 10:00 AM, the light cruiser USS Savannah is hit by ‘Fritz X’ radio-guided glide bombs.

The Savannah is assisting the Allied amphibious landing at Salerno on the Italian mainland, firing on enemy tanks, and conducting counter-battery fire on a railroad artillery battery. It is targeted by a German Do 217 bomber, which releases a Fritz X and guides it towards the Savannah. Unable to evade this guided munition and it traveling too fast to be intercepted by the onboard anti-aircraft guns, the Fritz X slams into the Savannah’s C turret, crashing through multiple decks before exploding.

The entire turret crew is killed immediately, and the damage from the Fritz X spreads to the lower ammunition handling section of the ship triggering follow-up explosions. In all, 206 sailors are killed in the attack, and 15 more are seriously wounded. Though damaged heavily, Savannah’s damage control crews contain the flooding and the fires, stopping the ship from sinking. While still afloat, the Savannah requires heavy repairs. Though this is the first time a US ship has been struck by a Fritz X, it is not the first time the Fritz X has been used in combat.

The Fritz X made its combat debut this past summer, and notably a few days ago back on 9 September the Italian battleship Roma was hit by multiple Fritz Xs as it was on its way to surrender itself over to the Allies. As a result of the extensive damages sustained, the Roma sank off the coast of Sardinia, taking 1,253 of her crew out of 1,849 down with her.

Picture: The moment a Fritz X slams into turret C of the USS Savannah, 11 September 1943
Source: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command - #NH 95562

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On 10 September 1943 at around noon local time, Vatican City closes off all entrances into its territory. This move by the Vatican coincides with the arrival of German forces into Rome, who move in to occupy the city and keep it under Axis control.

After the announcement of the Italian surrender was broadcasted across the country, there was a brief period of chaos and uncertainty of what is to be done. The Italian royal family and Pietro Badoglio’s government had fled Rome shortly after the announcement of the surrender, through the frontlines, and relocated to the city of Brindisi.

Many of those who fear the arrival of German forces, particularly recently escaped Allied Prisoners of War and some Jewish residents, head to Vatican City to take refuge in its extra-territorial status.

Worried that harbouring this massive influx of people within its borders would be regarded as a violation of its neutrality, Vatican officials give strict instructions to the Pontifical Swiss Guard to close the gates and prevent anyone from entering the city state.

Pope Pius XII also increases the number of the Pontifical Swiss Guard from 100 troops to a colossal amount of approximately 4,000. Many of whom are equipped with gas masks and submachine guns. They are used not only to secure the Vatican’s borders but also as a force to protect the Pope, as one of the popular rumours currently making its way through the people during all of this is that German forces plan to kidnap the Pope and use him as a hostage.

Picture: Pope Pius XII addresses a crowd at Lateran in Rome, 1943
Source: Wikimedia

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On 9 September 1943, Iran declares war on Germany.

When the Second World War broke out a few years ago, the Imperial State of Iran was diplomatically neutral. Despite this, Iran was jointly invaded in August of 1941 by Anglo-Soviet forces and has been under occupation since.

Iran shares a long border with the Soviet Union and possesses significant oil fields, as well as considerable railways that could be used to transport significant quantities of material through the region. Iran also previously enjoys strong economic cooperation and diplomatic relations with Germany for decades, so much so that in the 1935 racial Nuremberg Laws, Aryan Persians are excluded.

All of this worried British and Soviet leadership prompting them to act in August of 1941. In 6 days their armies manage to invade and conquer the country, forcing Reza Shah Pahlavi into exile and to abdicate. In the wake of his abdication, Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Pahlavi becomes Iran’s monarch as the country falls under Allied occupation by British and Soviet forces.

The last two years of Allied occupation have had massive economic, political, and demographic effects on Iran. This declaration of war is itself a significant milestone. Though it does not have an immediate direct impact on the war’s strategic outlook, politically it is significant for the country, as there are plans in the coming months for top ranking Allied officials to gather together and organize strategic and diplomatic conferences in the country’s capital, Tehran, to coordinate war efforts.

Seeing Iran join the war on their side, the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom look more favourably on Iran, eventually declaring a shared “desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Iran” for the post war era. Though such a declaration comes in the aftermath of ignoring Iran’s neutrality, de-facto taking away its independence and requisitioning its infrastructure for their own war efforts. All to the detriment of the people of Iran.

Photo: Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran with President Franklin Roosevelt in Tehran, 1943
Source: United States Signal Corps

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On 8 September 1943 at 19:30 local time, Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio’s voice is broadcasted across Italy as he announces that Italy has surrendered to the Allied forces.

Badoglio says: “The Italian Government, recognizing the impossibility of continuing the unequal struggle against the overwhelming power of the enemy, with the object of avoiding further and more grievous harm to the nation, has requested an armistice from General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Anglo-American Allied forces. This request has been granted. The Italian forces will therefore cease all acts of hostility against the Anglo-American forces wherever they may be met. They will, however, oppose attack from any other quarter.”

As soon as they hear news of the surrender, many sentries standing guard over Allied prisoners of war in camps across the country simply leave their posts, allowing for tens of thousands of the approximately 70,000 Allied prisoners of war in Italy to walk out of the camps unopposed in essentially broad daylight.

Three battleships, six cruisers, and nine destroyers from the Italian Navy based in the ports of La Spezia and Genoa set sail for North Africa and Malta where they will surrender themselves to the Allies.

The Italian surrender horrifies German forces but does not catch them off guard, as they have been preparing for such a possibility since July when Mussolini was ousted with the drafting of Operation Achse. Almost immediately after realizing what is going on, they spring into action overwhelming many paralyzed Italian Army units who are blindsided by the news and unaware of what their new orders are and what is supposed to be done next.

Axis forces race to disarm the Italian Armed Forces and seize as much of Italy as they can before the Western Allies land on the Italian mainland and march through the country. Even though formally Italy has surrendered, the war is by no means over for the people of Italy.

Picture: Two Italian officers are apprehended and blindfolded by German Fallschirmjägers to be brought to German headquarters in Rome, September 1943
Source: Unknown

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On 7 September 1943, Heinrich Himmler announces the implementation of the Verbrannte Erde order from this day onward. This order dictates that any territory that is abandoned by German forces must be stripped or cleansed of any material or infrastructure that could serve any use to the Soviet war effort.

In the immediate time frame, much of this order is intended for the territory of Ukraine where the frontline currently fervently rages and German forces are on the back foot. It is outlined that in a general area of up to 30 to 40 kilometers behind the frontline, before a withdrawal preparations must be made to clear it. Himmler states: “It must be achieved that when parts of the Ukraine are cleared, no person, no cattle, not a quintal of grain, not a railway track are left behind.”

Such acts of destroying important infrastructure were already occurring on a significant scale before the ordering of this policy, but with its implementation, the scale and scope of these acts substantially increases. In the countryside wells are poisoned, livestock is slaughtered, and food stocks that cannot be carried away are set alight. In towns and cities power plants, post offices, telegraph stations, schools, recreational institutions, and various other utilities are destroyed and various machinery sabotaged.

Beyond hampering the Red Army’s advance by leaving them little places to rest and recoup, this policy leaves whatever civilians left who have not been deported as forced labour with very little, if anything, to live on. Much of these vast regions are already ravaged after years of all out war, only complicating the already gargantuan task of rebuilding the country.

Picture: Heinrich Himmler addressing a group of soldiers from a Waffen SS regiment in the Eastern Territories
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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On 6 September 1943 Soviet forces capture Konotop, a city northeast of Kiev that houses an important railway junction, as well as the villages surrounding it.

As elements from the Soviet 60th Army press their advance in the area, German command realizes that the Soviets are determined to take Konotop and they lack the means to defend it, so they withdraw much of their heavy weaponry before the city is encircled on 5 September.

The fighting for Konotop starts at around 3 AM, as the Soviet force consisting of two rifle battalions, one tank regiment, two artillery regiments, and two batteries of mortars storms the city. The defending German force is an amalgamation of approximately a thousand soldiers cut off from their units and inadvertently left behind. They consist of soldiers who had been on leave from the front, staff workers, and remnants of battered formations that had retreated into the city ahead of the Soviet advance. They are disorganized but fight ardently, holing up mainly in Konotop’s train station and industrial bakery. But by 16:30, the remaining German forces are cleared out.

Major S. M. Varenytsia, commander of the first assault group to enter the city and native resident who was born and raised in Konotop reflects: “I made my way to my home, to Depovskaya Street. From afar I recognized three poplar trees near my home. The once slender trees had withered away, the house had burned down. I saw an old woman on the doorstep of a neighbouring house. I hardly recognized her as my mother and later my father, who had been hiding from the Germans for two years in the cellars. The Germans wanted to take him to Germany as a highly qualified instrument maker. But he starved to death and rotted in cellars. On the ashes of my native house I swore with my comrades to go forward tirelessly, to revenge barbarian-fascists for cruel torments of our people, for the tears of native Ukraine.”

Picture: Red Army soldiers moving through ruins in the Kievskaya Oblast, 1943
Source: Semyon Fridland

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On 5 September 1943, three battalions from 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the United States Army and the 2/4th Field Regiment from the Australian Army are para dropped onto the airfield at Nadzab, just outside of Lae in Papua New Guinea.

This operation works in conjunction with an Australian amphibious assault force that landed nearby the airfield on the east coast of Lae the day before. In all, over 300 aircraft take part in the airborne operation flying in from eight different airfields in New Guinea. On top of the many C-47 transport planes which carry the paratroopers, the operation also involves over 100 escort fighters who cover the transport planes and the B-25 bombers who clear the areas around the drop zones ahead of the jump.

Right before the jump, seven A-20s fly over the drop site laying towering smoke curtains adjacent to the landing zones. The C-47s follow soon after and in just four and a half minutes, approximately 1,700 soldiers float down to the ground. They frantically scramble to dig in and lay down signal panels to direct the follow up transports, who circle over the landing zones dropping 15 tons of essential supplies

No resistance on the ground or in the air is encountered. Imperial Japanese forces are caught completely off guard. Though some casualties are sustained during the operation, two paratroopers fall to their deaths when their parachutes fail to open and another dies after falling 20 meters from a tree he had landed in. 33 also suffer injuries from landing.

But Allied commanders now have a major base near Lae that can also be used as a staging area for operations elsewhere in the region. Its skies become a beehive of activity as heavy weaponry and construction equipment are brought in, expanding the airfield and whipping it up into shape.

Picture: C-47s dropping soldiers to secure Nazdab airfield, 5 Sept 1943
Source: Unknown

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On 4 September 1943, Joseph Stalin meets with Sergei Izvekov, acting patriarch of the Orthodox Church, and a few additional metropolitans. In the meeting Stalin announces that he is willing to allow the Church to openly hold worship services, reopen its educational institutions and resume the publication of religious literature.

All of this would still be conducted under supervision by the Soviet state, and the Church would have to refrain from criticizing Soviet government policy and officially acknowledge the legitimacy of the Soviet state. Despite the continued existence of heavy restrictions, this is a massive deal for the Church and the assembled clergy agree to these conditions.

By reversing its treatment of the Orthodox Church, a religious institution the Soviet state spent much of the 1920s and 1930s persecuting and purging, it is appealing to considerable swathes of its population who are Orthodox followers.

But the Soviet state’s revival of the Church goes beyond rallying the population and raising morale. As Axis forces have been reopening churches and monasteries in occupied territories as part of their ideological crusade against the Soviet Union and in an effort to win over the local populace. Though most priests and believers stay wary of the occupying forces and do not collaborate to the extent Axis forces had hoped, this potential fifth column worries Soviet leadership and they hope to undermine it with this move.

In addition to all of this, the Western Allies, particularly Franklin Roosevelt, have been pressuring Stalin to allow more religious freedoms to Soviet citizens. Soviet leadership anticipates this move to remove some diplomatic friction and strengthen the bond between the wartime Allies.

It is clear that the diplomatic and strategic benefits of tolerating the Orthodox Church outweigh the importance of the ideological principles of the state for now, so Stalin is willing to oblige.

Picture: Orthodox Priests blessing Red Army soldiers, 1943
Source: Max Alpert

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On 3 September 1943, an armistice between the Allied Powers and Italy is signed in a tent at an Allied military camp in the vicinity of the village of Cassibile in Sicily. Representing the Allies is Major General Walter Bedell Smith, while Brigade General Giuseppe Castellano represents Italy.

Since 19 August, Castellano and two other Italian generals have been secretly negotiating with representatives of Allied diplomats on a possible Italian exit from the war in the city of Lisbon, Portugal. The conditions for the Allied cessation of hostilities with Italy are laid out.

The conditions essentially call for Italy to stop fighting the Allies, deny Germany the facilities within Italy to help its war effort, hand over its fleet and aircraft, release Allied prisoners, and allow Allied forces free passage through Italy and access to airfields and ports.

Castellano discreetly returns to Italy on 27 August and briefs Badoglio on the Allied terms. Badoglio, wanting to avoid being directly linked to the armistice as much as possible, gives Castellano permission and orders him to sign the armistice as Badoglio’s proxy to accept the conditions of the armistice.

Castellano flies out and lands near Palermo in Northern Sicily on August 31. He arrives in Cassible on 2 September and signs the armistice today in the afternoon. Major General Bedell Smith signs on behalf of Eisenhower.

An Allied bombing raid on Rome involving hundreds of planes that was supposed to happen in the coming days is canceled.

The signing of this armistice has not yet been announced publicly, leaving the Italian populace, the leadership of the Third Reich, and much of the Italian government and armed forces still in the dark. The armistice is planned to go into effect sometime in the coming week.

Picture: The actual signing ceremony of the Cassible armistice
Source: Unknown

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