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WW2 Day by Day

On 24 May 1945, Stalin proposes a toast to the Russian people for their victory over fascism during a reception in honour of Red Army commanders at the Kremlin.

Stalin speaks as follows:
˝COMRADES! Permit me to propose one more, last toast.

I should like to propose a toast to the health of our Soviet people, and in the first place, the Russian people.

I drink in the first place to the health of the Russian people because it is the most outstanding nation of all the nations forming the Soviet Union.

I propose a toast to the health of the Russian people because it has won in this war universal recognition as the leading force of the Soviet Union among all the peoples of our country.

I propose a toast to the health of the Russian people not only because it is the leading people, but also because it possesses a clear mind, a staunch character, and patience.

Our Government made not a few errors, we experienced at moments a desperate situation in 1941-1942, when our Army was retreating, abandoning our own villages and towns of the Ukraine, Byelorussia, Moldavia, the Leningrad Region, the Baltic area and the Karelo-Finnish Republic, abandoning them because there was no other way out. A different people could have said to the Government: “You have failed to justify our expectations. Go away. We shall install another government which will conclude peace with Germany and assure us a quiet life.” The Russian people, however, did not take this path because it trusted the correctness of the policy of its Government, and it made sacrifices to ensure the rout of Germany. This confidence of the Russian people in the Soviet Government proved to be that decisive force which ensured the historic victory over the enemy of humanity—over fascism.

Thanks to it, to the Russian people, for this confidence!

To the health of the Russian people!˝

Picture: Raucous celebrations on Moscow’s Red Square.
Source: TASS

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On the night of 20/21 May 1945, fighters from the Armed Forces Delegation for Poland (Delegatura Sił Zbrojnych na Kraj, DSZ) attack a Soviet NKVD prisoner camp in Rembertów in the eastern outskirts of Warsaw and free hundreds of prisoners.

Since the Red Army captured the Wehrmacht`s Stalag 333 at Rembertów on 11 September 1944 and repurposed it as NKVD camp No. 10, several thousand AK, Peasant Battalions (Bataliony Chłopskie; BCh), and Polish National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne; NSZ) members have been held there by the NKVD in harsh conditions, exposed to the elements without shelter or proper food.

Beginning on 25 March this year, the NKVD began organizing rail transport of the prisoners from Rembertów to gulags in the far east, with many of the prisoners dying before they even made it to the frozen that is Siberia.

Learning of an upcoming transport to Siberia, one including several key Polish underground commanders, Captain Walenty Suda ("Młot" or Hammer), a former AK commander operating under the DSZ since its formation on 7 May this year, ordered Lieutenant Edward Wasilewski ("Wichura" or Gale) and Colonel Edmund Swiderski to attack the camp.

Last night, under Wasilewski`s and Swiderski`s instructions, the local town population and some of the prisoners` families brought large quantities of alcohol to the camp and gave some of it to the NKVD guards while also informing the prisoners of the upcoming attempt to free them.

Early this morning, Wasilewski and Swiderski lead 44 fighters in an attack on the camp. With the camp commander absent and many of the guards drunk or sleeping, they quickly gain control and free between 400 and 800 prisoners. A short fight ensues in which the Polish fighters kill 20-68 NKVD guards, but several dozen prisoners are killed in the exchange.

The NKVD will only recapture around 70 prisoners, of whom half were German POWs also held in the camp. Following an investigation, the head of the NKVD, Lavrentiy Beria, will order the camp closed, and the commander dismissed.

Picture: Polish anti-communist partisans of the 5th Vilnius Home Army Brigade
Source: Polish History Museum

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On 17 May 1945, the British Government issues a `White Paper` on the future of Burma, promising independence as a Dominion within the Commonwealth.

Although the Allied forces have captured Rangoon and retaken much of Burma from the Japanese, the country is in ruins after a long and bloody campaign. Meanwhile, for the Burma National Army (BNA), led by Aung San, the goal of gaining independence from British rule now seems just as distant as it had been before the war. Aung San`s decision to lead the then-Burma Independence Army (BIA) to fight alongside the Japanese between 1941 and late 1943 only helped the Burmese exchange an old master for an infinitely more tyrannical new one. Despite their switch to helping the Allies push back the Japanese, first limited to joining forces with other anti-Japanese forces under the Anti-Fascist People`s Freedom League (AFPFL), and then on 27 March this year by launching a country-wide rebellion, it is difficult to say how the Allies, and more importantly the British will treat them in the aftermath of the war.

The British Government issues a `White Paper` today, which must be disappointing to those in Burma seeking independence. In short, the White Paper outlines British policy as follows:
(1) A period of `direct rule` by Governor Reginald Dorman-Smith (assisted by an `Executive Council` of Burmese leaders), economic rehabilitation and reconstruction, and then elections before May 1948.

(2) The convening of a new Burmese parliament under the 1935 Burma Act that would chose a new Premier and government but also draft a new constitution.

(3) Eventually independence but as a `Dominion` (as Australia and Canada) within the Commonwealth.

With the BNA forces, and the rest of the AFLPL, armed and unlikely to be satisfied with further colonial rule the situation in Burma may become quite complicated for the British and the Allies in general.

Picture: Rangoon, Burma. 2 May 1945. Aerial view low over the jail in which the Japanese kept Allied prisoners of war (POWs)
Source: AWM P02491.065

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Early on 16 May 1945, the British Royal Navy 26th Destroyer Flotilla ambushes and sinks the IJN Myōkō-class heavy cruiser Haguro in the Strait of Malacca.

Informed by ULTRA intercepts that Haguro, escorted by the destroyer Kamikaze, sailed out of Singapore on 9 May to support the evacuation of Japanese troops from the Andaman Islands, the RN East Indies Fleet assembled Force 61. Four escort carriers, battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth (plus escorts), French battleship Richelieu, and the 26th DF, consisting of four V-class destroyers, commanded by Captain Manley Power aboard flotilla leader HMS Saumarez sailed out of Trincomalee, Ceylon, at 0600 hours on 10 May, tasked with intercepting the Japanese evacuation ships, (Operation Mitre), and hunting the Haguro (Operation Dukedom).

After several days of inconsistent reports on Haguro`s location, Vice Admiral Walker ordered Operation Mitre to commence early morning yesterday and the 26th DF to steam ahead in search of the Japanese ships.

Late afternoon yesterday, British aircraft detected and launched an unsuccessful attack on Haguro and Kamikaze.

Late last night, HMS Venus detected Haguro on her radar, and Power ordered his ships to set a trap in the Strait of Malacca.

At 0105 hours today, HMS Venus fires her torpedoes as the Japanese ships sail into Captain Power`s trap, but they go off-track. Saumarez hits Kamikaze with her 4.7-inch gun at 0111 but receives hits from Haguro in return.

But the British torpedoes are already in the water. At 0115, three torpedoes from Saumarez and Verulam strike Haguro, followed by one from Venus at 0125, two more from Virago at 0127, and finally two from Venus and one from Vigilant just before 0200 hours.

Haguro disappears beneath the waves at 0206 hours, taking just over 900 sailors, including Vice-Admiral Shintaro Hashimoto and Rear-Admiral Kaju Sugiura, with her.

With Japan`s diminishing fuel supplies and much of its fleet decorating the bottom of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, this may be the last naval surface engagement we see in this war.

Picture: British destroyers Virago, Venus, and Vigilant (left to right) from HMS Verulam during the sweep
Source: IWM A 28615

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On 14 May 1945, Corporal James L. Day, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Marines, 6th Marine Division, captures and the holds a vital position on Sugar Loaf Hill, Okinawa.

For his actions, Cpl Day will be awarded the Medal of Honor on 20 January 1998. His citation will read:
˝...in sustained combat operations against Japanese forces on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands from 14 to 17 May 1945. On the first day, Corporal Day rallied his squad and the remnants of another unit and led them to a critical position forward of the front lines of Sugar Loaf Hill. Soon thereafter, they came under an intense mortar and artillery barrage that was quickly followed by a fanatical ground attack of about forty Japanese soldiers. Despite the loss of one-half of his men, Corporal Day remained at the forefront... Reinforced by six men, he led his squad in repelling three fierce night attacks but suffered five additional Marines killed and one wounded whom he assisted to safety. Upon hearing nearby calls for corpsman assistance, Corporal Day braved heavy enemy fire to escort four seriously wounded Marines, one at a time, to safety. Corporal Day then manned a light machine gun assisted by a wounded Marine, and halted another frenzied night attack. In this ferocious action, his machine gun was destroyed, and he suffered multiple white phosphorus and fragmentation wounds. Assisted by only one partially effective man, he reorganized his defensive position in time to halt a fifth enemy attack with devastating small arms fire. On three separate occasions, Japanese soldiers closed to within a few feet of his foxhole, but were killed by Corporal Day... When the attacks momentarily subsided, over 70 enemy dead were counted around his position. On the third day, a wounded and exhausted Corporal Day repulsed the enemy`s final attack and dispatched around 12 of the enemy at close range. Having yielded no ground and with more than 100 enemy dead around his position, Corporal Day preserved the lives of his fellow Marines and made a primal contribution to the success of the Okinawa campaign.

Picture: 6th Marine Division opens fire with M1919A1 machine gun near Sugar Loaf Hill
Source: U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive

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On 12/13 May 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung, 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles, 89th Indian Infantry Brigade of 7th Indian Infantry Division, singlehandedly defends a key position in the village of Taungdaw, Burma, against overwhelming Japanese forces.

For his actions, Rifleman Gurung will be awarded the Victoria Cross on 19 December 1945. His citation will read:
˝At 0120 hours at least 200 enemy assaulted his Company position. The brunt of the attack was borne by Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung`s section and by his own post in particular.
This post dominated a jungle path leading up into his platoon locality. Before assaulting, the enemy hurled innumerable grenades at the position from close range. One grenade fell on the lip of Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung`s trench: he at once grasped it and hurled it back at the enemy. Almost immediately another grenade fell directly inside the trench. Again this Rifleman snatched it up and threw it back. A third grenade then fell just in front of the trench. He attempted to throw it back, but it exploded in his hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his right arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded and lay helpless in the bottom of the trench.

The enemy, screaming and shouting, now formed up shoulder-to-shoulder and attempted to rush the position by sheer weight of numbers. Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung, regardless of his wounds, fired and loaded his rifle with his left hand, maintaining a continuous and steady rate of fire. Wave after wave of fanatical attacks were thrown in by the enemy and all were repulsed with heavy casualties.

For four hours after being severely wounded Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung remained alone at his post, waiting with perfect calm for each attack, which he met with fire at point-blank range from his rifle, determined not to give one inch of ground. Of the 87 enemy dead counted in the immediate vicinity of the Company locality, 31 lay in front of this Rifleman`s section, the key to the whole position...˝

Picture: Men of the 8th Border Regiment in Pegu after the 1/10 Gurkha Rifles had successfully captured it, 1 May 1945.
Source: IWM SE 3965

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On 9 May 1945, the final Wehrmachtbericht (German Armed Forces report), issued by Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz`s rump government located in Flensburg, praises the Wehrmacht for honour and sacrifices made in war and defeat.

The Wehrmachtbericht communiqués have been airing daily on the Reich Broadcasting Corporation`s radio frequencies and in the newspapers since 1 September 1939, delivering highly optimistic, often triumphalist, propaganda reports about the frontline situation produced by OKW`s (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) own propaganda department and thousands of specially designated propaganda troops.

Today, less than 24 hours after accepting unconditional surrender (which we covered in our posts over the last two days), Dönitz and his government, still nominally in control over what is left of unoccupied German territory, issues a glorification of the Wehrmacht`s part in this war that has led to the utter destruction of not just much of Europe, but Germany itself:
˝Since midnight the weapons on all the fronts are silent. By the order of the Grand Admiral Dönitz, the Wehrmacht ceased its hopeless fighting. With this, a nearly 6-year heroic struggle has ended. It brought us great victories but also heavy defeats. The Wehrmacht has been honorably defeated by superior forces. The German soldier, in accordance with his oath, has given his unforgettable effort to his people. Till the end the homeland supported him with all its strength, under the heaviest sacrifices. The singular performance of the front and Fatherland shall receive its final honor in the later, fair judgement. The achievements and sacrifices of German soldiers at sea, on the land and in the air has not escaped the notice of our enemy. Therefore, every soldier can hold his head high, and proudly lay his weapon down. He can start to work bravely and confidently the bitterest hour of our history, for the eternal life of our people.˝

One must wonder how German soldiers and civilians will reconcile such claims with the Wehrmacht`s active participation in carrying out the Nazis` genocidal policies.

Picture: Wehrmacht Soldiers Taken By American 9th Army 1945
Source: Fred Ramage via Getty Images

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On 6 May 1945, `Axis Sally`, the voice of English-language Nazi German propaganda, delivers her final broadcast from Berlin.

Her fascist Italian counterpart, Rita Luisa Zucca, aired her last broadcast recently on 25 April.

But who is the German `Axis Sally`?

Mildred Elizabeth Gillars was born on 29 November 1900 in Portland, Maine. After unsuccessfully pursuing an acting career, she travelled back and forth between Algiers, Paris, and the USA until permanently moving to Germany with her mother in 1934.

Gillars got her first job as a radio announcer in May 1940 for the German State Radio (Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft).

Initially apolitical, her broadcasts changed after she decided to stay in Germany despite U.S. State Department advice for Americans to leave in 1941. This decision was influenced by her fiancé, Paul Karlson (a naturalized German citizen), who threatened to end their relationship if she returned to the U.S. After Karlson`s death on the Eastern Front and her comments against Japan following the Pearl Harbor attack, Gillars, under investigation by the Gestapo, pledged loyalty to Hitler to maintain her position.

Her programming took an increasingly propagandistic turn after an affair with Max Otto Koischwitz, who began scripting her shows in 1942. One program, the Home Sweet Home Hour, has aimed to demoralize American troops by suggesting their girlfriends or wives were unfaithful. In her most famous 11 May 1944 broadcast, "Visions of Invasion," she played an Ohio woman haunted by her son`s death during an attempted invasion of occupied Europe. Gillars has also voiced her hatred of Jews and disdain for Allied leaders.

Allied troops, though, seem to have found the propaganda largely ineffective, and they have actually enjoyed the jazz and swing music played by the station.

Today, she goes on air for the final time just before Red Army troops capture the radio station in Berlin.

She will remain in hiding in Berlin until her arrest for treason as an American citizen on 15 March 1946.

Picture: Mildred Gillars in custody at U.S. Counter Intelligence HQ, Berlin, 1946.
Source: Smithsonian Magazine

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On 1 May 1945, the newly appointed Reichspräsident, Großadmiral Karl Dönitz, announces the death of Adolf Hitler. Meanwhile, what`s left of the German high command attempts to negotiate an armistice with the Soviets.

After Hitler shot himself, which we covered in yesterday`s post and which you can learn about in great detail from Indy and Spartacus` special weekly episode on our YouTube channel, General Helmuth Weidling, commander of the Berlin Defence Area, was summoned to the Führerbunker. He had been given permission by Hitler to break out just hours earlier, but during the meeting, Joseph Goebbels, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann and General Hans Krebs informed him of Hitler`s death and the plan to attempt to negotiate an armistice with the Soviets.

Meanwhile, above ground, Red Army troops stormed and cleared much of the Reichstag, minus the heavily defended basement. At 2230 hours, they plant the Soviet Victory Banner atop the building.

Early in the morning today, Goebbels dictates a letter containing surrender terms and hands it to Krebs. At 0350, Krebs meets General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the 8th Guards Army, to present the letter. Over the next few hours it becomes clear that an agreement cannot be reached as Goebbels did not authorize unconditional surrender, which Stalin demands unequivocally. The meeting ends at 1015 hours.

Krebs and Borman sign confirmation of Goebbels` orders to refuse unconditional surrender back at the bunker. As this arrives in Chuikov`s HQ at 1600 hours, Dönitz addresses the German people via radio broadcast from his HQ in Plön. After an announcer states that Hitler died `fighting`, Dönitz delivers a message that the fight against the Allies must continue `to save Germany from destruction by the advancing Bolshevist enemy`.

At 1830, the Red Army`s artillery and rocket barrage against Berlin resumes. Not much later, Joseph Goebbels removes himself and his orders from the equation. Around 2030 hours, he and his wife Magda, after killing their six children with cyanide, commit suicide outside the Führerbunker.

Picture: Admiral Konitz Leaving The German Headquarters In Flensburg Around 1945
Source: The National WWII Museum

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On the afternoon of 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his Führerbunker in Berlin.

By the morning of 28 April, Hitler was informed that no breakout was possible from Berlin.

That evening, Hitler requested that his secretary, Traudl Junge, record his final will and testament. In it, following a deflection of any responsibility for the war with his usual accusations of a Jewish conspiracy, he named Großadmiral Karl Dönitz as President of the Reich and Joseph Goebbels as Chancellor.

Shortly after midnight, early on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun, then spent the rest of the night alone in his study, asking for military situation updates.

At noon yesterday, in another futile escape from reality, Hitler held a military conference despite Red Army troops having crossed the Moltke Bridge, attacking the Ministry of the Interior building, and preparing to assault the Reichstag.

At 1600 hours, Hitler tested his cyanide capsules on his dogs Blondie and Wolfie, killing them. As he decided when to end his own life, at 2300 hours, he learned of the fate of Benito Mussolini, which we covered in our 28 April post.

Early today, Red Army troops attempt a final push to the Reichstag, suffering heavy casualties. At 0400 hours, they finally capture the Ministry of the Interior building.

Hitler has his last meal at 1300 hours, after which he dismisses most of his staff. Red Army troops are now within 500 m (1,600 ft) of the Reich Chancellery.

At 1530 hours, Hitler and Eva retire to Hitler`s study. Several minutes later, Eva bites down on a cyanide capsule and dies quickly.

Hitler, paranoid to the last, takes the cyanide but shoots himself in the head before it takes effect.

Fifteen minutes later, Hitler`s staff roll the bodies into blankets and cremate them in a shallow crater outside the bunker.

Hitler is dead, and yet, thousands will die as the last pieces of his crumbling Reich come down.

For more details, check out today`s special extra weekly episode on YouTube jointly hosted by Indy and Spartacus by following the link in bio.

Picture: A bust of Adolf Hitler lies amid the ruins of the Reich Chancellery in 1945
Source: Reg Speller via Getty Images

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On 27 April 1945, the provisional government of Austria under Chancellor Karl Renner, backed by the Soviet Union, declares independence from Nazi Germany.

The fate of Austria after the war had been agreed upon two years ago by the Big Three at the Moscow Conference, namely that the Anschluss of 1938 would be `null and void` with the aim of returning Austria to the status of an independent, democratic, and free country.

However, under Stalin`s direction, a provisional government made up of Austrian communist exiles had been secretly set up well before Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin`s 3rd Ukrainian Front crossed the border between Hungary and Austria near Klostermarienberg on 29 March.

It quickly became clear that the Soviet plan was to advance, encircle, and capture Vienna. So, as Red Army troops approached the Austrian capital, Karl Renner contacted Tolbukhin on 3 April.

Renner has been involved in Austrian politics for decades as part of the Social Democratic Workers` Party of Austria (SDAP). He held high-level positions at several points in the late 1910s, early 1920s, and mid-1930s and introduced a slew of social reforms following the Great War. His advocacy for a German-Austria led him to support Germany`s Anschluss and actively call for votes for it in the 10 April 1938 referendum. However, he has been completely excluded from the post-Anschluss government.

Renner`s approach to Tolbukhin seems to have the Soviet plan. Stalin thus instructed Renner to form a provisional government on 20 April in Vienna, only a week after the Red Army captured the city. Significantly, Stalin did not make any agreements with Britain and the USA about this.

Today, Renner, together with Adolf Schärf (Socialist Party of Austria), Leopold Kunschak (Austria`s People`s Party [former Christian Social People`s Party]), and Johann Koplenig (Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ)) issue a Declaration of Independence of Austria that restores the Republic of Austria that will be instituted in the spirit of the Constitution of 1920.

Picture: On 29 April 1945, the Soviet occupying powers handed over the parliament to the Provisional State Government
Source: Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

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