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Lesser-Known Facts of World War II - page 1 of 6

This 6 page series provides some of these facts and stories:

  1. Pre-War to 1939 and during 1940
  2. during 1941
  3. during 1942
  4. during 1943
  5. during 1944 and 1945
  6. More Lesser-Known Facts of WWII.

We hear about the major battles and campaigns carried out by the British, Germans, Japanese and the Americans during World War II, historians and authors have argued about their authenticity for years. Most of this material has been done over and over again. But what about those smaller events and stories of the war that have never been publicized? This chapter is compiled for virtually everyone with an interest in the wars of 1937-1945 and presented in a concentrated form for students who now have an understandable fascination about WWII, the greatest conflict ever fought by man. No previous war ever ended like this one with the unconditional surrender of the enemy and the subsequent occupation of his entire country.

This is a story of man's inhumanity to man. World War 11 clearly qualifies it as the most  heinous atrocity in all recorded history. There were men and women involved in these events that were just as important as those that took part in the big campaigns. Here are some of those lesser-known facts that you may be unfamiliar with and are seldom, if at all, mentioned in official history books.

Pre-War to 1939


The first shot of World War II in Europe was fired 20 years, 9 months, 19 days and 18 hours after the last shot of World War I was fired.  It was fired from the 13,000 ton German gunnery training battleship Schleswig Holstein (Captain Gustav Kleikamp) which was on a visit to Poland to honour the sailors lost on the German cruiser Magdeburg sunk in 1914, some of whom were buried in Danzig. It was anchored in Danzig (now Gdansk) harbour at the mouth of the River Vistula. At 4.30 am on September 1, 1939, the ship moved slowly down the Port Canal and took up position opposite the Westerplatte (an area containing Polish troop barracks, munition storage and workshops) and at 4.47 am, at point blank range, the order to "Fire!" was given. World War II had begun. Seven days later, on September 7, after a heroic defence by Major Henryk Sucharski and his troops, and a devastating attack by Stuka dive bombers, the 209 man strong Westerplatte Garrison surrendered. Losses were 14 men killed and 53 wounded. A Polish soldier, Staff Sergeant Wojciech Nazsarek was killed by machine gun fire, becoming the first Polish victim of the war.

The Schleswig Holstein berthed at Gdynia (Gotenhafen) till the end of the war.  Attacked by the RAF on December 18, 1944, twenty eight crew members were killed. Attacked again in March, 1945, the burning ship was scuttled near the port on March 21.

Where World War II began. Site of the Westerplatte Garrison.


Hitler's revenge for Germany's defeat of 1918 brought about the cataclysm that was Europe between 1939 and 1945. The incident which triggered World War II was the fake simulated attack by the Germans on their own radio station near Gleiwitz on the Polish border. To make it appear that the attacking force consisted of Poles, SS officer Alfred Naujocks secured some condemned German criminals from a nearby concentration (protective custody) camp and dressed them in Polish uniforms before being shot and their bodies placed in strategic positions around the radio station. A Polish-speaking German then did a broadcast from the station to make it appear that Poland had attacked first. On January 26, 1934, Germany and Poland signed a ten year non-aggression pact but the  refusal of Poland to comply with Germany's request for the return of Danzig and the Polish Corridor, which was granted to Poland in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, led to the Gleiwitz incident. Hitler had stated 'Danzig was German and sooner or later would return to Germany'.

 This gave Hitler the excuse he needed to invade Poland, which he did on September 1, 1939, an act which was to develop into a war embracing 56 nations and causing the deaths of some 55,014,000 persons, military and civilians. About 85 million men and women of all nationalities served as combatants in this, the world's first total war, in which more than twice as many civilians died than did uniformed soldiers.

Three days later in Britain, one and a half million civilians were successfully evacuated from the largest cities into the country. Also on this day, Britain, France, India, Australia and New Zealand, declared war on Germany. In the House of Commons Prime Minister Chamberlain said with a trembling voice 'For no one has it been a sadder day than for me, everything I worked for has crashed in  ruins'. On October 19, 1939, Hitler incorporates the western half of Poland into the German Reich. In the town of Bydgoszez the German 111 Corps units found hundreds of German residents massacred in their homes by the Poles fleeing to the east to be succumbed there to the Russian forces. About 694,000 Poles were captured by the Germans. On September 18, German forces joined up with the Soviet Russian forces which had invaded from the east (In spite of a non-aggression treaty signed on November 27, 1932) and quickly formed plans to divide Poland up between them along the Brest-Litovsk line. Germany obtained an area of around 73,000 square miles, the Russians about 78,000. In its invasion of eastern Poland the Russians lost 737 men. (The campaign in Poland cost the Germans 13,111 killed or missing and 27,278 wounded.)


 In London's three largest prisons, Wandsworth, Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs, all prisoners (about 1,000) with less than three months to serve were pardoned and released, each given five shillings and their civilian clothing returned to them. Prisoners with longer sentences were transferred to other prisons outside London. A few of the empty cells at Wormwood Scrubs were taken over by the Radio Security Service (R. S. S.) to detect enemy agents supposedly operating a radio guidance system for communicating with Germany. Two of the personnel working at the R.S.S. actually managed to crack low grade German cyphers even before the setup at Bletchley Park began operating.


The first Allied shot of the war in the Far East was actually fired over the bows of the Australian coaster Woniora (Captain F. N. Smale) from a twin 6-inch gun emplacement at Point Nepean, guarding the entrance to Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. The 823 ton coaster had entered the bay at 9.15 pm on September 3, 1939, after a trip from Tasmania. Ordered to heave-to for inspection, the coaster gave her identity but continued on without stopping. A 100 lb shell, fired across her bow, soon changed her captain's mind.

By a remarkable coincidence, this was the actual, same guns that had fired the first shot of World War I when, hours after war was declared, it fired on the German Norddeutscher Lloyd 6,500 ton steamer Pfalz while it attempted to leave Australian waters on August 5, 1914. The Pfalz was then returned to Williamstown where the crew was detained. The captured vessel served out the rest of World War I as the Australian troopship HMT Boorara.

The six-inch guns of Port Nepean.


In 1919, over forty different political parties existed in and around Munich. The German Workers Party was founded by 35 year old railway locksmith, Anton Drexler. In all, its membership was around fifty. To give the impression that the number was higher, membership cards started at number 500. When Hitler joined the party he was given number 555. This was on September 12, 1919, when he attended a meeting in the Sterneckerbrau Tavern in Munich. (On the Party membership form he signed his name as Hittler) In February 24, 1920, at its first mass meeting in the Hofbräuhaus the party expanded its name to the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party. Popular name at the time was 'Nazi Party'. Its membership at this time had risen to 3,000. It was the American socialists who promoted the straight-arm salute inside the USA in 1892 in the original pledge of allegiance to the US flag. This form of salute was copied by all German Socialist Party members who never called themselves 'Nazis'. The only thing Hitler ever said concerning the swastika was in 1920, when he decided that the National Socialist German Workers Party needed its own insignia.


First formed by Anton Drexler in Munich in 1919. Hitler was the 55th person to join the party then called the German Workers Party. In 1930 there were 129,583 members of the National Socialist German Workers Party or Nazi Party for short - (NAtionalsoZIalstische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - NSDAP). The word 'Nazi' is an acronym formed from the first syllable of NAtional and the second syllable of SoZIalstische. This practice was common in the Third Reich, even before the Nazi Government came to power. Another example being 'Gestapo' (Geheime Staatspolizei) and 'Kripo' for the Kriminalpolizei. The word 'Nazi' however was rarely used by Hitler or his followers. By 1933 membership of the Nazi Party had jumped to 849,009 and in the early war years this had reached to more than five million.


The Swastika is a very old sacred symbol from near-prehistoric times and referred to in Germany as the Hakenkreuz. There is no evidence that Hitler ever used the word “Swastika”. It was traditionally a sign of good fortune and well-being, its name is derived from the Sanskrit 'su' meaning 'well' and 'asti' meaning 'being'. For thousands of years the Swastika symbol had  given courage, hope and security to millions. It predates all former known religions and it is well-known in Hindu and Buddhist cultures and used by the Aryan nomads of India in the Second Millennium B.C. Unfortunately, Nazism has turned the Swastika into a hate symbol. Hitler displayed the symbol on a red background 'to win over the worker' and it had an hypnotic effect on all those who supported the Nazi movement. In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote "In the red we see the social idea of the movement, in the white, the Nationalist idea and in the Hakenkreuz the vision of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man."

The Black, Red and Gold flag of the Weimar Republic was abolished on March 12, 1933, and replaced with the Black, White and Red  tricolour flag which had been the flag of Imperial Germany, the 'Second Reich, 1871-1918.   On September 15, 1935, the Swastika was incorporated into the Third Reich flag and became the official national flag. (The Soviet Union's red flag with its Hammer and Sickle represents an ideology that has been responsible for ten times as many deaths as Nazism. Why is this symbol not equally reviled and shunned?)

(In Ontario, Canada, there is a small mining town named Swastika. In 1911, two brother's discovered gold at a nearby lake and named the mine after a visitors good luck charm, a swastika. When World War II broke out, Ontario changed the name to 'Winston' after the British wartime leader. The name change did not please the residents who removed the sign and replaced it with the original and other signs saying 'To hell with Hitler, we came up with our name first'. The name Swastika, stayed. The new sign read: Swastika, Population 545.)


This was the name for the Nazi period of government from January 1933 to May 1945. The official name was "Deutsches Reich" or (only from 1943 on) "Grossdeutsches Reich".

Hitler's "Thousand Year Reich"  created amid boasts that it would endure for a thousand years actually ended up lasting only 12 years, 4 months, and 8 days (2,191 days).


The original title of Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' was 'My 4 & 1/2 Year Struggle, against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice'. The first part was written while he was incarcerated in Landsberg prison after the 1923 Beer-Hall Putsch. His publisher, Max Amann, later changed the title to Mein Kampf (My Struggle). The first volume was published on July 18, 1925. By 1939, the book had sold over 5 million copies, making Hitler a millionaire. Up to 1945, the book had a total printing of just over 10,000,000 copies, outsold only by the Bible. His official salary was 60,000 Marks per annum. In 1934, Hitler declared his income for 1933 as 1,232,355 Marks but the tax on  600,000 of this amount was never paid. Most of this was from royalties from his book. He also received a fraction of a cent for every postage stamp sold bearing his image. Today, the rights to Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' is owned by the Finance Amt Bayern. (Bavarian Finance Office.)


The most prestigious of Nazi decorations was the 'Blutorden', (Blood Order) Blood imagery was a technique used by Hitler and among its uses were 'Blut und Boden' (Blood and Soil), 'Blutschande' (Blood Shame), referring to intermarriage, and Blutfahne (Blood Banner) the primary flag of the Nazi Party used at most rituals. This flag was supposed to have been drenched in the blood of the martyrs who died during the Beer-Hall Putsch in 1923. Party colours were consecrated by Hitler touching them with one hand and grasping the Blutfahne with the other.


Born in Strones, Austria, he was the illegitimate son of a Johann Georg Hiedler and his peasant girl friend, Anna Marie Schickelgruber. In May 1842, they became man and wife but Alois continued to use his mother's name. He was brought up by his father's brother Johann Hiedler who, in 1876, took steps to legitimize Alois who then started to use the name Hitler. A witness at Alois's legitimization was a relative by the name of Johann Hüttler and it is possible that Alois used the name after the parish priest confused the two names Hiedler and Hüttler and wrote 'Hitler' in the registry. By this time Alois was thirty-nine years old. After his mother died his father married for the third time on January 7, 1885, to his second cousin, Klara Poelzl (1860-1908) twenty-three years younger than he. Alois and Klara Hitler became the parents of Adolfus Hitler. Klara bore her husband five children, three of whom died young: Gustav (1885-1887), Ida (1886-1888), Adolf (1889-1945), Edmund (1894-1900) and Paula (1896-1960). Their mother died following an operation for breast cancer on December 21, 1907.

The Gravesite at Leonding. For years the grave had been maintained by an elderly woman, a descendant of Alois' first wife Anna. Now too old to attend the site she gave up the lease partly because the grave was being abused by neo-Nazis from Austria and around the world who visited the site. The headstone was removed on March 28 2012, but no remains were exhumed. The plot is now again available for lease. Any takers?


One hour and fifty minutes after Britain declared war on Germany, a Bristol Blenheim fighter-bomber, piloted by Pilot Officer John Noel Isaac of 600 Squadron, crashed on Heading Street in Hendon near London at 12.50pm. P/O John Isaac became the first British military subject to die in the Second World War. On September 6, 1939, just three days after Britain went to war with Germany, a young Shropshire pilot, John Hulton-Harrop, age 26, became the first operational casualty of Fighter Command when he was shot down in a tragic case of 'Friendly Fire' soon after he took off from North Weald fighter station. The first Prisoner Of War was Sergeant George Booth, an RAF observer with 107 Squadron. He was captured when his Bristol Blenheim was shot down over the German coast on September 4, 1939.


An alliance of the two countries, Germany and Italy. Benito Mussolini, the dictator of Fascist Italy, first used the term in 1923 when he wrote 'The axis of European history runs through Berlin.' After his meeting with Hitler in October, 1936, at Berchtesgaden, he used the term again in a speech at Milan in November when he said "This vertical line between Rome and Berlin is not a partition but rather an axis round which all European states animated by the will to collaboration and peace can also collaborate." (The grave of Mussolini is in the San Cassiano Cemetery in Predappio.)


A group of people whose language is derived from a common source. They came from Eastern Europe and Central Asia but their parent tongue is now extinct. Some of these nomadic tribes eventually reached northern India and settled there around 1500 B.C. to enjoy the warmer climate. Others went further west and settled in Europe. However, their language gave rise to Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Hindus, who called themselves Aryans meaning 'Noble'. This form of speech is allied to Persian, Greek, Latin, and the languages spoken by the Germanic, Celtic and Slavonic races who are now called Aryans but they are not a race. An 'Aryan' race does not exist!


Early in Hitler's career, Germany was divided into 42 districts called 'Gaue'. Each Gau was supervised by a District Leader (Gauleiter) e.g. the Gauleiter for Berlin was Dr Joseph Geobbels. Each Gau was subdivided into circuits (Kreise) led by a Kreisleiter (Circuit Leader). Berlin had 10 Kreise and each Kreise was then divided into Local Groups (Ortsgruppe) headed by an Ortsgruppenleiter of which Berlin had 269. This was further subdivided into Street Cells (Zellen) supervised by the Zellenleiter whose duty was to report on all anti-government activities within the families living in that street. German civilians living abroad were regarded as the 43rd Gau. All leaders were required to swear unconditional allegiance to their Führer, Adolf Hitler.


An early convert to the Nazi party was 19 year old Bielefeld-born Horst Wessel (1907-1930) who gave up his law studies to join the SA (Storm Troopers). Working as a taxi driver and builder's labourer, he soon became a leading orator at SA rallies and leader of Sturmabteilung Unit No. 5. In 1929, he married Erna Jaenicke, an 18 year old prostitute. On the evening of January 14, 1930, a group of communist thugs, led by Jaenicke's former boyfriend and pimp, Albrecht Höhler, called at their lodgings at 62 Grosse Frankfurter Strasse, Berlin, and in a fit of jealous anger Höhler drew a pistol from his pocket and shot Wessel in the mouth. He died five weeks later on February 23. Höhler was arrested and sentenced to a term in prison but when the Nazis came to power in 1933 he was taken from his cell and executed.

Before his murder, Wessel had composed a poem 'Die Fahne Hoch' (Fly the Flag High) which later was changed to 'The Horst Wessel Song' and introduced into Nazi Party ritual. It soon became Nazi Germany's second anthem and played after 'Deutschland Uber Alles' (Germany Before All). In the town of Stralsund, near Stettin, a citizen was sentenced to two weeks in prison for failing to give the Nazi salute and standing with his hands in his pocket while the band was playing the Horst Wessel Song. Wessel was buried in the Nikolaifriedhof cemetery in Berlin but after the war, in common with all other Nazi graves, the headstone was removed in 1955 and his remains were disinterred and cremated. The new occupant of the grave is a Pauline Mertsching who died on November 2, 1956.

A rare photograph of Horst Wessel.


Held annually from 1933 to 1937 on the slopes of the Buckeberg Hill near the town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony. Comparable only to the party rallies at Nuremberg. The venue was designed by Albert Speer as a way to draw the farmers and other land workers closer to the Nazi regime. The perimeter was marked by a double row of flagpoles, 1,000 in all, flying Swastika flags. Around half a million people attended the 1933 rally and over a million to the 1937 festival, the town now priding itself with its new epitaph 'The Nuremberg of the North'.  The 1937 festival was to be the largest, special trains, each bringing 1,000 visitors to the site, numbered 250. The 1938 festival had to be cancelled owing to the Vehrmacht requisitioning all trains to transport troops and materials to the Czechoslovak border prior to the attack on that country. The Buckeberg Hill has since been put on Germany's protected list as from 2010. 


On his 78th birthday, the prestigious German Grand Service Cross of the Golden Eagle was presented to Henry Ford, the famous and fabulously wealthy American car manufacturer, by a German diplomat in the USA on July 30, 1938, on behalf of Adolf Hitler himself. Ford is actually the only American that Hitler even mentions in his book 'Mein Kampf'. In his book, 'Entnazifizierung in Bayern' the German author, Niethammer, suggests that the "failure" of the Americans to destroy the Ford car plant (Ford Werke) outside Cologne, was all a part of a "capitalist plot" of some kind. Many other well-researched authors have since drawn exactly the same conclusion. By 1941, the Ford Werke plant became one of the largest suppliers of military vehicles to the German Army. In April, 1939, Ford Werke presented Hitler with a birthday gift of 35,000 Reichmarks.

In that same year, the senior executive of the General Motors (German branch) also received the Grand Service Cross of the Golden Eagle award for his 'distinguished service to the Reich'. This referred to the synthetic fuel technology provided by General Motors. Coincidentally, his firm had also invested very heavily in Germany. In 1929, General Motors had bought up 80% of the German automobile firm of Opel in Russelheim. The same Golden Eagle award was presented by Herman Göring to the wildly popular American aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh in October, 1938, during his third visit to Germany. (Lindbergh was the first to fly solo non-stop from New York to Paris, a distance of 3,600 miles in 33 hours and 15 minutes).


Before Hitler was appointed to lead the nation, massive unemployment fuelled the need for social change. Over seven million were without jobs and support for the Communist Party continued to grow. The introduction of conscription on March 16, 1935, reduced the labour market considerably and by the end of 1936 there were reports of labour shortages. Marriage loans were introduced to encourage young couples to marry and have children, the repayments were reduced by one quarter on the birth of every child. When Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations  in 1933, he had the support of over 90% of the population.

With the return to full employment, and with drunks, beggars, vagrants and prostitutes cleared off the streets, vast work programs were introduced such as the building of super highways. (Autobahns) Even the opponents of the Nazi Party were impressed with the accomplishments of the regime. The widely-published news of arrests and protective custody camps did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the populace for the Hitler movement which in 1933 cast 40 million votes for the party. They could hardly do anything else as all other parties were outlawed. Nevertheless, around three and a half million voters cast an invalid vote, presumably to show their opposition.


Also known as the Schwarze Kapelle. An Anti-Hitler conspiracy whose members prepared a positive plan for a coup d'etat as early as 1937. The plan was to arrest Hitler and other Nazi big wigs and place them on trial thus ending the Nazi Regime. This could only be done with the help of Britain. In August, 1938, an envoy of the Schwarze Kapelle flew to London and contacted members of the British Government, to tell them that all was ready for a takeover if Britain gave an open warning to Hitler prior to the invasion of Czechoslovakia (Case Green). Nobody in London was prepared to take this path stating "It is not possible under the British Constitution to commit ourselves on a situation that has not yet arisen"  Consequently the envoy returned to Berlin empty-handed.

  If only Britain had given active support to the conspiracy at this stage perhaps World War II would never have taken place. This failure culminated in the greatest political blunder of the century, D-Day. If the allies had only listened to the pleas of the resistors "it is quite possible that Montgomery and Eisenhower could have walked ashore and Rommel would have been there to salute them". (One of the greatest tragedies of the war was that the Anglo-Saxon world was committed to end the Nazi ideology by brute force when a single pistol shot, no doubt, would have achieved the same end)

The hundreds of members of the Schwarze Kapelle included names such as Canaris, Oster, Fellgiebel, Beck, Steulpnagel, Witzleben, Dohnanyi, Goerdeler, Kluge, Sauerbruch, Stauffenberg etc. The majority were not members of the Nazi Party. After the war it was found that only nine members of the conspiracy had survived.


The League Of Nations functioned throughout World War II but before or during the war did little to prevent the conflict. The League was kept going in a few rooms in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, under the direction of one-time Irish journalist, Sean Lister, acting as secretary-general with a staff of about 100. With very little funds, even the Swiss stopped their modest contribution, the League's radio station was closed down. In 1942,the majority of German people, decided through a plebiscite, to withdraw from the The League of Nations. Its successor, The United Nations, came into being at a session in the San Francisco Opera House on January 26, 1945, and was signed by 50 nations. Lister and a small delegation from the League attended but were made to feel unwanted and given seats in the back row. Returning to Geneva, a final assembly was held at which the League Of Nations passed into history on April 19, 1946.


In 1937, a local businessman, an ardent follower of Adolf Hitler, planted a 60 by 60 metre area of Larch trees in a forest near the town of Zernikow about 110 km north of Berlin. The trees were planted in the shape and format of a Swastika and could only be seen from the air. During Autumn, when the Larch trees changed their colour to orange and yellow they stood out strikingly against a green forest of surrounding pine trees. Discovered many years after the war, this long-forgotten symbol of the Nazi era was finally removed by cutting down 27 of the 57 trees that made up the Swastika design. This was done in 2001 by the Brandenburg State Forest authorities. Local farmer, Joachim Schultz, remarked "It was quite embarrassing, we were afraid that it would become a pilgrimage site". Displaying the Swastika symbol is forbidden in Germany today. Owning a copy of Hitler's book 'Mein Kampf' a copy of which was presented to all newly married couples, is permitted but with certain reservations, i.e. it is illegal to buy or sell it.


The Swastika Trees.


On September 17, 1939, the Soviet Union invaded the eastern part of Poland while Polish forces were fully engaged against the German onslaught in the West. After the fall of Poland, remnants of the Polish Army (over 70,000 men) those not taken prisoner by the Soviets, made their way through Romania and Hungary to France where they regrouped as the Polish 1st Division under General Duch.

When Germany invaded that country, around 24,300 of these Polish soldiers escaped from France and finally to Britain and reformed in Scotland as the 1st Polish Army Corps. It was while in Scotland, in 1941, that Polish signals officer, Lt. Jozef Kozacki, designed the first practical electronic mine-detector called the Mine Detector Polish Mark 1. It was soon mass-produced and 500 were issued to the British Army in time for use prior to the Battle of El Alamein in October, 1942. The all Polish RAF 303 Fighter Squadron began operations in Britain in 1940. At the end of the war the squadron was credited with 126 'kills' the highest score in Fighter Command. (Of the 17,000 Polish airmen who served in the RAF, 1,973 gave their lives.)


The methods of communicating between German secret agents in Britain and the USA were always a problem. A new method had to be found.  Concealed writing using invisible inks soon became old hat. Germany then decided to develop a method of communicating that no one could pry open. Professor Zapp at the Institute of Technology in Dresden discovered and perfected a method  which later became known as  the Mikropunkt or 'Microdot'. This method made it possible to reduce a whole page of typewritten text to the size of a postage stamp. Then, by the use of a reversed microscope, to reduce it further to a small dot similar to the full stop at the end of a sentence. This dot was then removed and inserted into whatever letter the agent intended to send to the Abwehr  office in Germany. However, over an eighteen month  period of trial and error this method was eventually  cracked by the cryptologists at the FBI laboraties in Washington.


At the outbreak of war, around 74,230 Germans and Austrians were living in Great Britain. Most were refugees from the Nazis and considered 'safe'. Others, about 11,000, were restricted in their movements around the country and ordered to report to their local police daily and to obey an 8pm to 8am curfew. Some 230 persons from the eastern counties of England and Scotland were interned in special camps set up throughout the country. When Britain and Italy went to war in June, 1940, at least 19,000 Italians were living In Britain. All were rounded up despite the fact that most had lived in Britain for decades. By the end of 1940 around 14,000, classed as 'enemy aliens' were interned on the Isle of Man. Thousands of these detainees were in fact Jewish but were treated as Italian Enemy Nationals.  More than 7,000 of these detainees were deported to Canada and some to Australia. The passenger liner 'Arandora Star' was torpedoed on her way to Canada and sank with the loss of 714 lives.

At the beginning of the war, many government officials and crowned heads of Europe sought refuge in Britain. By 1941, those that set up residence in the capital included Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, Poland's former Prime Minister, Wladyslaw Sikorski, King Haakon of Norway, King Peter of Yugoslavia, King George 11 of Greece, President Benes of Czechoslovakia, Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg, Prime Minister Pierlot of Belgium and Charles de Gaulle of France. Through the services of the BBC they were able to speak and encourage their people at home. Often depressed by the uncompromising attitude of de Gaulle, Churchill is reported has having said  "My heaviest cross is the Cross of Lorraine."


As The Nazi terror spread across Europe many leaders of communist parties fled for safety to the USSR. There, they patiently accepted orders  given them by Moscow. Among those who fled were Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht from Germany, Maurice Thorez from France, Palmiro Togliatti from Italy, Klement Gottwald from Czechoslovakia, Georgi Dimitrov from Bulgaria, Boleslaw Bierut from Poland and Anna Pauker from Rumania.


A total of 52,000 non-British persons were registered in Australia during the war, 22,000 of them regarded as 'Enemies of the State', i.e. Germans and Italians, many of whom were interned for the duration. After Pearl Harbor, Japanese residents were interned solely on the basis of their nationality and many were deported back to Japan at war's end. When Italy capitulated in 1943, most Italians were released including the 17,000 prisoners of war captured in North Africa and shipped to camps in Australia.


Before the war there were around 206,000 Jews living in Austria. Only 5,500 survived the Nazi occupation. Many who had converted to Judaism through marriage were forced by the Nazis to renounce their faith and be reclassified as non-Jews. Over 24,000, who had renounced Judaism but had Jewish ancestry, were again classified as Jews. In Nazi occupied Europe all Jews had to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes to identify them as 'Jude' (Jew). The practice of wearing a yellow identifying mark began around the year 717 when the 'Pact of Umar' suggested that Christians would gain safety and security under the shadow of Islam if they wore a yellow seam on their upper garments. In 807 in Persia, Jews were ordered to wear a yellow belt. In the years between 1315 and 1326 Jews in Granada were forced to wear a yellow badge as an identity symbol.


On August 14, 1937, during the Japanese invasion of China, the Japanese battleship Isuma (10,000 tons) was tied up at the dock in Shanghai, off what was called the Shanghai Bund. In an attempt to sink the Isuma, Chinese air force planes bombed the harbour but mistakenly the bombs hit the crowded city streets, a department store and other adjacent buildings along the Bund killing nearly 1,200 people and wounding 1,400.


From 1933 onwards, the music of German Jewish composer Mendelssohn was banned. Soon after, all Jews were dismissed from symphony orchestras and from the Opera. Books published by Jewish authors such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, and Heinrich Heine were burned in April, 1934, in front of the University of Berlin. One of the leading newspapers, the 'Vossische Zeitung' was forced out of business because it was owned by the 'House of Ullstein' a Jewish firm. The same thing happened to the German Jewish newspaper, the 'Judische Rundschau'. The Jewish owned 'Berliner Tageblatt was forced to close in 1937. The well known and respected Frankfurter Zeitung was allowed to flourish but its Jewish owners were sacked. On April 7, 1933, a Civil Service Law was passed in Germany. This law banned all persons with a Jewish grandparent from public employment, an action which caused great distress in the Jewish community. By the end of the year around 31,000 of Berlin's Jews were living on charity. Of the 503,000 Jews living in Germany when Hitler came to power around 319,900 had fled the country by 1939. By the war's end only about 23,000 Jews were living in Germany.

The spot where the book burning took place. Visitors can look down through the glass and see a room lined with empty bookshelves with enough space for around 13.000 books, the number of books burned.


The first RAF raid of the war ended in near disaster. The day after war was declared, RAF Wellington and Blenheim bombers attacked the German naval ports of Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbuttel. Ten bombers returned to base after failing to find the target. Seven were shot down by German anti-aircraft batteries. Three of the planes prepared to attack British warships in the North Sea until they discovered their mistake, then went home. Eight bombers found the target and attacked the battleships Scheer and Hipper and the cruiser Emden one of the bombers crashing on the ships' deck. By a strange coincidence the pilot's name was Flying Officer H. L. Emden. Seventeen Royal Air Force men were killed in this raid.


The first enemy plane shot down over the British Isles was a Heinkel 111, built at the Heinkel-Werke in Oranienburg in October, 1938. It crash-landed at Humbie, near Dalkeith, in south eastern Scotland on October 28, 1939. Two of the crew survived while two others were killed during the attack, which is credited to Spitfires of 602 and 603 Squadrons.


This was the idea of a Belgian refugee in London, Victor De Laveleye who suggested adding 'V' (Vrijheid, meaning Freedom) to the 'RAF' letters they were chalking up. In a short-wave broadcast from London, he urged his countrymen to chalk the letter 'V' on all public places as a sign of confidence in ultimate victory. This was plugged in all BBC foreign language programs and later supported by the two finger 'V' sign of the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. The V sign has been used in Britain for centuries originating from the wars with the Welsh during the reign of Henry 11. The Welsh archers used a Longbow with a bodkin point. The practice was to give the V sign as they ran away after releasing the arrow, the V sign being the two fingers that released the Bowstring. English practice at the time was the amputation of those fingers on captured rebels.

MARRIAGE LOAN (Ehestanddarlehen)

In Germany, financial aid was given to encourage young couples to marry and set up house and help raise the birth-rate. Between August 1933 and the end of 1936, a total of 694,367 marriages were financed. After the fourth child was born the loan was cleared. From these marriages, 485,285 children were born.


On October 16, 1939, German JU 88s from the island of Sylt, attacked naval ships in the harbour at Rosyth, Scotland. About to enter dry dock for repairs was the battle cruiser HMS Hood, but the pilots had strict orders not to attack. A personal order from Hitler stated "Should the Hood already be in dock, no attack is to be made, I won't have a single civilian killed." After the raid, in which the 9,100 ton cruiser HMS Southampton was damaged, Spitfires from RAF Turnhouse, near Edinburgh, attacked the departing JUs and one was shot down, hitting the sea off Port Seton. This was the first enemy plane to be brought down by RAF Fighter Command.


On November 5, 1939, Colonel Hans Oster, Chief of Staff in the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) under Admiral Canaris, warns Colonel Jacobus Sas, the Dutch military attaché in Berlin, that Hitler plans to invade Holland and Belgium within the next few days. In fact the attack (Operation Gelb) did not take place until May 10, 1940. Oster and Canaris, both dedicated anti-Nazis, were arrested after the 20th July Plot, 1944, and hanged on April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp.


On December 27, 1939, two German Army non-commissioned officers were killed by Poles during a scuffle in a Warsaw bar. The bar owner was immediately hanged and 120 Polish men and boys were selected at random and shot. Thirteen men survived the massacre by feigning death beneath the pile of bodies.


In 1936, the 'Youth Aliyah' (Movement of Children) organization, concerned itself with the emigration of Jewish children from Germany and Austria, to stay with British families who had agreed to care for them. The British Home Office had given permission for them to come to Britain, and many of them lived with families in Kent and in Scotland. They attended the special Youth Aliyah schools which were set up and where they learned about their future lives in Palestine. Founded in Germany in 1933 by Recha Freier, teacher and pianist, wife of a Rabbi, to help Jewish children and young adults emigrate from Nazi Germany to Palestine and other countries. During the war years the Youth Aliyah organization saved the lives of around 22,000 German Jewish children.



On August 9, 1939, Hermann Göring boasted about the strength of the German Luftwaffe. He said "Not a single bomb will fall on the Ruhr. If an enemy plane reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Hermann Göring, you can call me Meier." He even boasted that Berlin would never be subjected to air attack from the enemy. Hitler also proclaimed "Just give me ten years and you will not recognize your cities." For once he spoke the truth!


At the time of the Munich crises, Czechoslovakia was paying some senior British politicians and journalists the sum of 2,000 Pounds Sterling per year in return for a promise to topple Neville Chamberlain and his Government.


Until 1933, the German S.A. (Brownshirts) were equipped with revolvers and machine guns which were proudly embossed 'MADE IN USA'.


Churchill's pre-war gross incomes from his writings alone were:

Later, as Prime Minister, he received £10,000 per annum


In March of 1938, Churchill was broke, his share account with his stockbrokers was £18,000 in the red. He asked The Times to advertise his home 'Chartwell' for sale, inviting offers of £20,000. A few days before the ad was to appear, Sir Henry Skrakosch, a South African gold mining millionaire, agreed to pay off his debts and Chartwell was withdrawn from the market. Skrakosch was a Jew, born in Czechoslovakia.


On December 17, 1939, five ocean liners carrying 7,450 men of the First Canadian Division, arrived at Liverpool. Unknown to them, they had narrowly escaped what could have been a major sea disaster. The passenger liner Samaria, showing no lights, had passed right through the convoy unaware of the convoy's position! It struck the wireless masts of the escorting carrier HMS Furious on her port side, struck a glancing blow on the port side of the next ship astern, the liner Aquitania, then passed close down the starboard side of the third and fourth ships sailing in line ahead. If the Samaria had collided head on with the Furious, the ships following would have all crashed into her. During the last three years of war, the Cunard liners Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth carried a total of 1,243,538 American and Canadian soldiers across the Atlantic.


On hearing of a proposal to fire-bomb the Black Forest, a British cabinet minister, Kingsley-Wood, said in September, 1938, "Oh, we can't do that, that's private property, next you will be insisting that we bomb the Ruhr!"

FIRST U-BOAT CAPTURE (September 14, 1939)

The first German U-Boat captured was the U-39. The British destroyers HMS Firedrake, Faulkner and the Foxhound forced the U-39 to the surface with depth charges after the U-boat had fired two torpedoes at the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. The U-39 was damaged and sank after the crew was removed. This was Germany's first naval loss of the war.


In 1939, Hitler said "Whoever succeeds me must be sure to have an opening for a new war. In future peace treaties, we must therefore always leave open a few questions that will provide a pretext. That's Statesmanship!"


The first bomb of the war to land on German soil was dropped on December 3, 1939. A Wellington bomber of 115 Squadron, attacking German shipping in the North Sea, suffered a 'hang up' when one of its bombs failed to drop. It fell off on the return trip over the island of Heligoland.


The first night of the war (September 3, 1939) a force of ten Whitley bombers from 51 and 58 Squadrons of No. 4 Bomber Group dropped thirteen tons of propaganda leaflets over Hamburg and Bremen.  Later, Berlin and the Baltic ports were showered with these leaflets. A week before Christmas, 1939, the 200 ton mark had been reached. Little opposition was met from enemy defence. As no bombs were being dropped, no doubt they were anxious not to give away their gun and searchlight positions. On September 30, leaflet-carrying balloons were launched from France by Britain's No 1 Balloon Unit. These messages to the German people urging them to help overthrow Hitler seemed less appropriate than toilet rolls would have been.


In November, 1939, a mysterious package was discovered on the window ledge of the office of the British Naval Attaché in Oslo, Norway. Contained in the package was highly secret information on the latest weapons being developed within Germany. These documents were passed on to the British Secret Service Office (MI-6) and were deemed authentic. The documents mentioned Peenemunde where the latest V2s were being developed and tested. Details were given about the 'smart' bomb Fritz-X, cruise missiles, anti-aircraft missiles, jet engines and rocket powered planes. This information helped the British to develop measures to combat these missiles from reaching their target i.e. Electronic Beams etc. To this day, the identity of the person who delivered the package to the Naval Attaché in Oslo has never been discovered but assumed that he was a high ranking officer in the Luftwaffe.

Peenemunde was bombed by the RAF on August 17/18, 1943, (Operation Hydra). In its first raid on the island, 560 planes took part, dropping 1,800 tons of bombs. About 180 German technicians and scientists were killed and around 550 foreign workers, mostly Polish, lost their lives. The RAF lost 40 planes. The bombing caused the Germans to move the whole rocket research facility to underground tunnels in the Harz mountains, near Nordhausen. All this took up precious time and by the time full production was attained, the Allies had landed in Normandy. (Operation 'Overlord') Seven days later the first rocket, the V1 'Doodlebug', was fired against London.

On the 27th of August, 1939, the German HE-178 became the world's first jet plane to fly. The first British jet, the Gloster E28/39 was flown successfully on April 7, 1941.


When the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, over 8,000 men and women in Britain offered their services to fight the Soviets. Around 228 men of the British section of the International Volunteer Force was on its way to Finland when the armistice was signed on March 12, 1940. They arrived at Lap on March 19 and by June, 1942, the last of the volunteers had left Finland for home. Thirteen men were left behind and became prisoners of war in Germany. Following the British ultimatum to end their conflict with Soviet Union, the governments of Britain, Canada, New Zealand and India declared war on Finland, Hungary and Rumania. In Britain, 150 Finnish nationals were arrested, and in the USA six Finnish ships were seized and placed under protective custody. In their battle with the Soviets in 1939/40 the Finns suffered 24,923 killed, the Soviet forces, around 48,000 killed.


In 1939, there were 302,535 Germans in protective custody in Germany for their political views. By the end of the war, over 800,000 Germans had spent time in prison or in concentration camps.



Just prior to the German invasion of the Netherlands, the National Bank of Belgium transferred part of its gold reserves to the Bank of France in Bordeaux for safe keeping. When France was attacked, Belgium asked the French bank to transfer the gold to London. The gold was transferred, but not to London, instead it was forwarded on to a French bank in Dakar. On October 29, 1940, the French bank promised to return the gold to Belgium but Pierre Laval, Foreign Minister in the Vichy government of Marshal Petain, sent it on to Berlin. There it was melted down, supplied with false seals and documentation and transferred to the National Bank of Switzerland by the Germans. The value of this gold was 378.6 million Swiss francs. Around 218 million francs worth of this treasure was resold by the Swiss to fund its banking operations. In 1945, France restored the gold that was entrusted to her in 1940 but Switzerland claimed that only 160 million francs worth was held in its banks.


The first air strike of the war from carrier-borne aircraft was from the British carrier HMS Furious. On April 11, 1940, 18 Swordfish from 816 and 818 Squadrons took off from the deck of the carrier to bomb enemy ships in Trondheimsfjord, Norway. All returned safely.


In 1940, work began in Britain on biological weapons. One idea put forward was for cattle-cake to be impregnated with Anthrax and dropped by RAF planes to infect Germany's livestock. (Tests with a powdered form of Anthrax were carried out on flocks of sheep with devastating results.) This idea was adopted and about five million such cakes were made but were never used operationally. During the war, Germany manufactured three kinds of nerve gases, Tabun, Sarin and Soman. At the end of the war the Allies uncovered hundreds of tons of such material in Austria.


During a routine inspection of the Japanese merchant vessel Asama Maru on January 21, 1940, in the Indian Ocean, officers of the British cruiser HMS Liverpool discovered twenty-one German civilians on board. All were highly qualified technicians being sent to Japan to service German surface raiders and U-boats soon to be operating in the Pacific area. The technicians were removed and interned as prisoners-of-war but as Britain was not at war with Japan at this time the Asama Maru was allowed to proceed to her destination. Some weeks later, on February 29th, Britain handed back nine of the technicians to Japan after Japan agrees not to send them back to their homeland.


The first Royal Air Force casualty list of the war was released on January 31, 1940. It listed 758 RAF personnel killed and 210 aircraft lost. (A total of 69,605 members of the Royal Air Force lost their lives in World War II. In Bomber Command alone, 55,888 servicemen and women died.)


Construction of what was to become the largest of Nazi concentration camps started in May, 1941. Located at Oswiecim some 50 kilometres south-west of Krakow in Poland.  It eventually covered an area of 40 square kilometres including the nearby camp of Birkenau and 45 sub-camps. Seven villages were evacuated, 123 houses demolished and some 2,000 people deported before thousands of slave workers moved in to start the building. The Nazi invaders now changed the name to Auschwitz. On May 1, 1940, Rudolf Franz Hoss was transferred from Sachsenhausen to take charge of the camp. Unlike other camps, all with wooden huts, most of the barracks in Auschwitz were built with bricks and mortar. These brick barracks remain today exactly as they were during the war. When the Red Army liberated the camp on January 26, 1945, they found 2,819 survivors. Fifty-eight thousand had already been evacuated and sent on death marches to other camps in the west. Thousands of these prisoners died  enroute. Not all prisoners died in the gas chambers, a large number were victims of Typhus, malnutrition and overwork. The oldest known survivor of Auschwitz, Antoni Dobrowolski, a Pole, died on 21st of October, 2012, in the Polish town of Debno. He was 108 years old.


The Belgian fortress of Eben Emael, south of Maastricht, was the first fortification on the Dutch/Belgian border to suffer the ferocity of Germany's 'Lightning War'. At 5.20am precisely, nine German gliders landed  on the large concrete roof of the Fort. The 700 garrison defenders were caught completely by surprise as the 55 man assault team poured from the gliders to place explosives charges against the steel-capped gun cupolas. The defenders held out until 7am the following morning when German ground forces linked up with the assault team.


In a last desperate attempt to save France from capitulating and to keep her army fighting, Churchill and General De Gaulle proposed that Britain and France become one united nation. In a telephone call from London on June 16, 1940, to the French Premier, Paul Reynaud, the message stated:

"The two Governments of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make the declaration of indissoluble union and unyielding resolution in their common defence of justice and freedom against subjection to a system which reduces mankind to a life of robots and slaves. The two Governments declare that France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations but one Franco-British Union. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain; every British subject will become a citizen of France. All the armed forces of Great Britain and France will be placed under the direction of a single War Cabinet."

The proposal caused an uproar in the French Cabinet of which Churchill wrote "Rarely has so generous a proposal encountered such a hostile reception." Without Cabinet support, Reynaud resigned as premier and a new government was formed under Marshal Pétain at 11.30pm on June 16, 1940. Pétain immediately negotiated an armistice with Germany. The former World War II hero of Verdun was later tried and sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment. He died in 1951.


The first of the 4,000 lb bombs dropped on German soil was on the city of Emden on March 31, 1940, when two Wellington bombers raided the city. Each bomb carried a parachute to retard its descent. In 1940, 14,369 tons of bombs were dropped on Germany by the RAF. In 1941, 34,954 tons and in 1944, 579,384 tons were dropped. Later, Joseph Goebbels was to say that Germany would carry out  a mass extermination of Jews throughout Europe in reprisal for Allied air bombings of German cities.


The first bombs fell on London on August 24, 1940. The Blitz started on September 7 and lasted until May 11, 1941. The worst tragedy of the Blitz was when 430 persons were killed when a bomb hit a school in West Ham being used as an air raid shelter. A direct hit on the Bank underground station killed 58 persons. A bomb hit the water pipe above the Balham Street underground tube station causing the tunnel to be flooded, 68 people died. The last night of the Blitz, on May 10, 1941, a total of 1,436 persons were killed. Just over 20,000 lives were lost during this period. In Britain, as a whole, 51,509 deaths were from bombing. (In November, 1940, there were around 3,000 unexploded bombs waiting to be rendered safe around London.)


The highest rank in the German army with an annual salary of 36,000 Reichsmarks. On July 19, 1940, Hitler created twelve new GFMs. During the course of the war, ten were sacked. Of the many active GFMs three were executed after the July Plot of 1944.


This air-raid occurred on August 25/26, 1940, just two days after the German Luftwaffe had mistakenly bombed London, a forbidden target at that time. Of the 81 RAF bombers taking part, 27 failed to locate the target and five were shot down. A year later, on August 8, 1941, the Russians bombed the city for the first time. The first bombs to fall on Berlin were a handful of incendiaries dropped from a French civilian transport plane, a converted Farman NC 2234 operated by the French Navy, on June 7, 1940. The crew threw the incendiaries out of the passenger entry door. It is not known what damage, if any, was done. (In all, Berlin suffered 363 air raids during the war. The last RAF raid was on March 24, 1944, when of the 810 aircraft that took part 72 were lost.) In 1945, Berlin experienced its first occupation by foreign troops in nearly 140 years. Napoleon's first occupation lasted two years from 1806 to 1808. His second occupation in 1812 lasted one year. The Allied occupation after World War II lasted 45 years from 1945 to 1990.


In the six months from May to November, 1940, the RAF had killed 975 German civilians in air raids over Germany. At the same time, road accidents in Germany had killed 1,845 persons. German air raids on Britain for the same period killed around 15,000 people.


The first civilian killed in an air raid on Britain was James Isbister during a German raid on Scapa Flow in the Orkneys on March 16, 1940. A bomb fell near the Brig of Waith, killing 27 year old Isbister. On a previous raid on November 13, 1939, during an attack by a Heinkle bomber on the Shetland Islands, all that resulted was a large bomb crater in the countryside and the only fatality was a rabbit, which gave rise to the famous WWII marching song 'Run Rabbit, Run'.

There is some speculation that the rabbit was actually purchased from a local butcher and placed in the crater for effect ... or a laugh; but either way, this must be the world's most famous dead rabbit!


On April 30, 1940, anti-aircraft fire shot down a German Heinkel 111 bomber while on a mine laying sortie off the east coast of England. The bomber crashed onto a house in Upper Victoria Road in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex killing the occupants, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Gill. They became the first civilians, of more than 60,000 killed in England during the war. Frederick and Dorothy Gill were buried in an unmarked grave in the Burrs Road Cemetery. In 1994, the grave site was discovered and a proper Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone was erected and dedicated on the 59th anniversary of their deaths.

The German aircraft was actually on a mine laying operation over the North Sea, but the crew became disorientated due to heavy fog. Flying blindly until just before midnight the Heinkel crossed the coast near the radar station at Bawdsey in Suffolk. Anti-aircraft batteries along the coast at Bawdsey, Felixstowe and Harwich opened fire on the bomber. Ironically, the Heinkel did not receive a direct hit, but it is thought that exploding shells underneath the aircraft caused considerable damage to the aircraft controls. Eyewitnesses have said that it does appear that the pilot tried desperately to find a landing area because he released flares as his plane circled Clacton and Holland-on-Sea before flying out to sea again, then returning at a considerably lower altitude. The German bomber hit the chimneys of a number of houses before crashing on the house occupied by the Gill family. After the bomber crashed, the live mine that it was carrying exploded and this is what caused the unintentional, but spectacular damage.

The Gill Family Home.


The first American military officer killed in the war was Air Corps Captain, Robert M. Losey. While in Norway in 1940, on a meteorological mission, the country was invaded by Germany. Anxious to observe the front line fighting, Losey was caught in an air-raid on the town of Domras. Sheltering in the mouth of a tunnel, he was killed instantly by shrapnel from a German bomb.


The most famous of the fighter stations that took part in the Battle of Britain. Situated on a small rise on the North Downs of Kent just south of London it achieved fame on May 15, 1940, when its fighter aircraft shot down its 1,000th victim, a feat not rivalled by any other fighter station. The first of the thousand was a Dornier 17 shot down in November 1939, the last a FW-109. To celebrate the 1,000th, a kill shared by French pilot Rene Mouchotte and Englishman Jack Charles, Vickers, the makers of the Spitfire, threw a fabulous party for all Biggin Hill pilots at Grosvenor House in London. Everyone of importance from the Air Staff down to the chorus girls from the Windmill Theatre were invited. That night, around thirty London taxi drivers volunteered to give the pilots and their guests a free ride home. The station became the home for short periods of time to many famous pilots including Douglas Bader, Stanford Tuck and Sailor Milan. During the course of the Battle of Britain a total of 1,736 enemy aircraft were destroyed by pilots from Biggin Hill. Losses to the RAF were  915 aircraft destroyed. In the specially built Chapel of Remembrance, the foundation stone of which was laid by Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, are the names of 453 pilots from fifty-two squadrons from eleven countries, killed in action. It was unveiled on the 19th of September, 1943 by the then Station Commander, the famous 'Sailor' Malan.  on June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill gave his famous speech to the House of Commons, ending his speech with "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'.


The famous Douglas Bader was not the only legless pilot to engage the enemy from Biggin Hill and other RAF Airfields. A lesser known pilot, Colin Hodgkson, started his war service in the Royal Navy in 1939 as a trainee pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. On May 12, while flying a Tiger Moth he was involved in a mid-air collision with another Tiger Moth the result of which he lost both legs to amputation. After many months learning to walk again on 'tin legs' he received a letter of support from Douglas Bader. From that moment on Colin was determined to become a Spitfire pilot. Eventually he was allowed back into the Fleet Air Arm as a ground control officer. Finding this rather boring he applied for entry into the Royal Air Force. His application was granted and soon he found himself serving in airfields in South-West England. In February, 1942, he flew a Tiger Moth for the first time since his accident. Then he was upgraded to a Proctor, then to a Swordfish. In the middle of April he qualified as a pilot. On September 19, 1942, he climbed into a Spitfire for his first solo flight in this type of plane, a fulfilment of his most cherished dream. In an operational sortie over northern France from Hawkinge he suffered oxygen failure and was forced to belly-land his Spit on the nearest green field. Badly injured about the face he woke up in a German hospital near St Omar realizing that he now was a prisoner-of-war. Soon he was nursed back to a reasonable state of health and put on a train for Dulag Luft P.O.W. camp near Frankfurt. Eventually he was repatriated to England in exchange for German P.O.W.s held there. Back in England again he was put under the watchful eye of the plastic surgeon Archie McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. After the war and after various jobs on 'civvy street' Colin met and married June Hunter a fashion model in July 1949. After she died he married a French woman, Georgina. Flight Lieutenant Colin 'Hoppy' Hodgkinson died aged 76 having achieved 2 kills. He is survived by Georgina.


On September 24-25, 1940, the Vichy-controlled French Air Force attacked British military installations at Gibraltar dropping 600 tons of bombs on the fortress but caused minimal damage. This was in reprisal for the British naval attack on French warships at Mers-el-Kabir on July 3, 1940, and for the attempted occupation of Dakar on September 23rd. After this attack, a total of 1,400 Gibraltarian women and children were evacuated to England mostly to the Wandsworth area of London. The Vichy Government of Pėtain broke off diplomatic relations with Britain because of the attack on Mers-el-Kabir and urged a declaration of war against Britain. The French World War II air ace, Colonel Rene Fonck, had organized some two hundred Vichy French pilots who were prepared to join Germany in the fight against Britain. Eventually the idea of war with Britain was rejected by Foreign Minister Paul Baudouin who said "War with Britain would worsen France's already pitiful condition"..


The Altmark was a 13,580 ton tanker and supply ship serving the German battleship Graf Spee. Survivors from the nine ships sunk by the Graf Spee were now Prisoners of War on the Altmark. On February 16, 1940, after a hectic search by The Royal Navy, the Altmark was located in the Jossing Fjord on the southern tip of Norway where she had taken refuge from the pursuing British destroyers. In violation of international law, the British destroyer HMS Cossack (Captain Philip Vian) entered the Fjord and with an armed party boarded the Altmark. After a brief skirmish, in which seven German sailors were killed as they attempted to lower a boat to escape, the crew was overpowered and 299 British prisoners freed. Some members of the Altmark’s crew were fired upon as they fled across the ice during the boarding. It was this incident that caused Hitler to accelerate his plans for his occupation of Norway, believing that the British would not respect Norwegian neutrality. The Altmark was later converted back to a tanker under the name Uckermark.

On November 30, 1942, while anchored in the harbour at Yokohama, Japan, the Uckermark sank after a huge explosion ripped the vessel apart while the crew were having lunch. The cause of the explosion was thought to be a spark from tools used by a repair gang working near the fuel tanks. Forty-three crewmen from the Uckermark died plus an unknown number of Chinese and Japanese labourers working on the deck. Anchored nearby and also sunk by the explosion was the Australian passenger liner Nankin  and the German raider Thor which had captured the Nankin when only five days out from Fremantle en route to Colombo. Thirteen of the crew from the Thor also died.


In May, 1940, the US Ambassador to London, Joseph Kennedy, urged the 4,000 or so Americans living in Britain to pack up and go home. This appalled his President, Franklin Roosevelt, by his pessimism about Britain's chances and his sympathy with Hitler's Germany. Over seventy responded to this plea by joining the British Home Guard instead. Called the 1st American Squadron of the Home Guard, it was led by General Wade H. Heyse. Kennedy, who told Roosevelt he expected Germany to win the war, was hostile to the whole idea, fearing that they would all be shot as 'francs-tireurs' when the Germans occupied London. The British Home Guard was abolished on December 3, 1944.


In the first British air attack on a mainland German population centre, 36 RAF planes bombed the rail-yards of Monchen-Gladbach, near Dusseldorf,  on May 10, 1940. The raid killed just one person ... an Englishwoman!  Three RAF bombers were lost.


Two German JU 88 bombers dropped their bombs on the RAF airfield at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, setting fire to 46 fully-fuelled parked Oxford trainers of No. 2 Service Flying Training School. Six others were badly damaged, as were 11 Hurricanes parked nearby.

The Hurricane. (The first Hurricanes sent to France during the winter of 1939/40 had 2-bladed propellers. They were replaced by  the three bladed version before the "Battle of Britain' started. Metal, instead of fabric covered wings were also introduced)

C.O.R.B. (Established June, 1940)

The Children's Overseas Reception Board successfully organized the evacuation of 1,530 children to Canada, 353 to South Africa, 577 to Australia, 202 to New Zealand and 838 to the USA. Within ten days of its opening, CORB received 211,000 applications. Its staff at its Berkeley Square headquarters had to be increased from  50 to over 350. Disaster overtook them on September 17, 1940, when the ship City of Benares was torpedoed while on its way to Canada. Seventy seven children died in the lifeboats from exposure while awaiting rescue. (See Maritime Disasters, 1940.)  About this time over 1.4 million children and young mothers were evacuated from the larger cities in Britain to safer havens in small country towns and villages. From London a total of 241,000 children were evacuated. Most of these children returned to their homes by the end of 1940 when the expected bombing and destruction of British cities did not occur.


On May 10, 1940, three Luftwaffe planes, HE 111s, bombed the German town of Freiburg by mistake, killing 24 people including thirteen children. In overcast weather the crews thought they were over the French town of Dijon. The fragments of the bombs found later, confirmed the bombs as German, but German propaganda claimed the raid to be a terror attack by the French Air Force, justifying subsequent bombing of French towns. (The first 'terror bombing' of population centres was on January 29, 1932, when Japanese bombers destroyed Chapei, an eight square mile suburb of Shanghai in which over a thousand died. On March 3rd the fighting ended and Japanese military forces moved into the city.)


The only British submarine to be captured at sea was the HMS Seal. On May 5, 1940, she was damaged while laying mines in the Kattegat (between Denmark and Sweden). Attempting to reach Sweden, the badly damaged HMS Seal was spotted by two Arado seaplanes which proceeded to drop bombs around the wallowing submarine. Realizing that the ship would inevitably be sunk, the captain, Lt. Cmdr. Lonsdale, surrendered by waving a white sheet from the conning tower. One of the Arados then landed on the water and took the captain on board. A radio message to a nearby German fishing trawler on submarine patrol, the Franken, soon had the entire crew of HMS Seal on board as P.O.W.s.


The first major warship sunk by air attack during wartime was the German light cruiser Konigsberg. Skuas from HMS Ark Royal flew 330 miles on April 9, 1940, from the Naval Air Station at Hatston in the Orkney's to dive-bomb the ship anchored in Bergen harbour after it was damaged by Norwegian shore batteries. The Konigsberg, unable to defend herself against the Skuas was sunk by two fatal bomb hits.


The German code name for the capture of Gibraltar, the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands. Issued on Directive No. 18  by Hitler on November 12, 1940, it was never put into operation, and in January, 1941, the plan was shelved partly because of the refusal of Spain to join the Axis. Spain was in no position to fight another war, the civil war of 1936-39 had left the country a shambles, many of her cities in ruins.


During the month of November, 1940, a total of 4,588 British civilians were killed in air raids by the German Luftwaffe. Another 6,202 were injured. This was a decrease of the previous month, October, when 6,334 civilians lost their lives and 8,695 were injured. In December, 1940, this had decreased to 3,793 killed and 5,244 injured. In the last three month period of 1940, 44,717 men, women and children had been killed in Luftwaffe bombing raids.


These ominous signs (Unexploded Bomb) sprouted up on many streets in London during the Blitz. Many enemy bombs failed to explode on impact with the ground and many were of the delayed action type set to detonate hours, even days, later. One of the most dangerous assignments was the disposal of these weapons. Bomb disposal squads from the Army, Navy and Air Force travelled the length and width of Great Britain to find and render safe these unexploded bombs. In the early months of the war the life expectancy of these real-life heroes, who risked their lives every day, was about ten weeks. A large number, believed to be around 100, of unexploded bombs still lie buried deep under the streets of London. As their fuses would have long since corroded, some borough councils decided on a policy of 'Let sleeping dogs lie'. Many awards for bravery were given out to the bomb disposal personnel. The Royal Navy received 22 George Crosses and 127 George Medals. The Royal Engineers were awarded 13 GCs and 114 GMs and the Royal Air Force 7 GCs and 14 GMs.

DUNKIRK (May 26-June 4, 1940)

In the now-legendary ten day evacuation from Dunkirk 'Operation Dynamo', a fleet of 861 ships and small boats set sail from ports around Britain in a desperate attempt to save the Allied troops trapped on the beaches. Within ten days a total of 224,585 British soldiers, exhausted, demoralised and hungry, were picked up and brought home. At the same time, 112,546 French and Belgian troops were also saved. Unfortunately, about 40,000 French soldiers had to be left behind, causing a certain amount of bitterness among the troops. This withdrawal was made possible by the brave stand taken by the French First Army troops in holding the perimeter against the onslaught of the German Wehrmacht. These soldiers all became prisoners of war. A total of 231 rescue boats and six destroyers were sunk during the operation. The RAF Fighter Command lost 106 planes compared to the 258 lost to the Luftwaffe. The Dunkirk evacuation was one of the most dramatic withdrawals in British military history and when it ended on June 4, the army had left behind 63,897 vehicles including 289 tanks, 11,000 machine guns and 1,200 artillery pieces, all the equipment of virtually the entire British Expeditionary Force. When Churchill addressed Parliament on June 4 he said "We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory, wars are not won by evacuations".

During the evacuation from Dunkirk, the big mistake the Germans made was the use of the Stuka dive bomber. If the Luftwaffe had used horizontal bombing instead of dive bombing, the losses to the British Expeditionary Force would have been far greater.

British and French troops await evacuation on the 'Small boats'


The Junkers JU-87B Stuka was designed by Hans Pohlmann and first flew in 1935, ironically, powered by a Rolls Royce engine. Future models were powered by a Junkers Jumo 1,200hp engine. The spats over the wheels were fitted with air activated sirens which gave out a terrifying high pitched scream. Attacks were carried out at an 85 degree angle to give pinpoint accuracy on whatever target they aimed at. Top speed of the Stuka was 237 mph (380 kmh) at 13,000 feet.

The Stuka Dive Bomber.


After the Dunkirk evacuation, Churchill delivered his memorable 'WE shall never surrender' speech to the House of Commons. Later in the day, the speech was broadcast by the BBC to the rest of the world. What the listeners didn't know was that the speech was read by 37 year old actor Norman Shelley of the BBC repertory staff who impersonated Churchill's voice. Winston had said "I am rather busy, get some actor to do it".


Owing to a navigational error, on October 17, 1940, two British destroyers, HMS Fame and HMS Ashanti, ran aground in fog and drizzle at Whilburn on the river Tyne. HMS Fame caught fire as fuel pipes in the engine room ruptured. Thinking that the invasion had started, defence lookout posts on shore raised the alarm and at 5am National Fire Service crews and Volunteer Life Brigade units from South Shields and Sunderland arrived at the scene. In about five hours a total of 272 crewmen from the two ships were brought ashore by Breeches Buoy thus establishing an all-time world life-saving record for a rescue of this type. The two destroyers were eventually refloated, repaired and returned to service.


A comforting sight to many during the war years. "a plastic bag filled with hydrogen" was how one news reporter described them. Sixty feet in length and thirty feet high when fully inflated with 20,000 cubic feet of hydrogen, these balloons seemed to hang from the sky around every city in Britain. The risk of a lightning strike was a big worry to the ground operating crews. Just after midnight on July 26, 1940, a total of 28 balloons in the Bristol, Avonmouth and Filton area were struck by lightning and brought crashing to the ground in flames. In late September, 1939, a severe storm tore loose many balloons from their moorings causing around sixty of them to drift as far away as Sweden. Another problem was RAF planes from surrounding training schools, striking the balloon cables. This happened on a number of occasions with fatal results for the pilots.


The code name given to the British plan to attack Germany by small cheap hydrogen filled balloons 2.4 metres in diameter.  In all, 99,142 of these balloons were launched against Germany, the first  from a launching site near Felixtowe in Suffolk on March 20, 1942. A total of 45,599 of these balloons, launched from France, carried a trailing steel wire intended to strike power lines thus causing a short circuit. Also attached to many of the balloons was a 2.7 kilo bag filled with flammable material which would burst into flames when over the target and start fires in Germany's dense forests. After the French surrender the idea was shelved. The last balloons were launched from Britain on September 4, 1944. Outwards greatest success was on July 12, 1942, when a wire trailing balloon struck a 110,000 volt  power line at the Bohlen Power Station near Leipzig causing a fire which completely destroyed the power station buildings.

Moonlight Sonata

On the night of November 14/15, 1940, the German Luftwaffe, under the code-name 'Moonlight Sonata', bombed the English city of Coventry. Founded in 1043, the city had a population of a quarter of a million in 1940. Industries in and around Coventry included the Armstrong Whitworth aircraft factory and the Hillman, Daimler and Standard motor vehicle factories. The raid, personally led by General Albert Kesselring, destroyed 50,749 houses and shops and killed 554 of its citizens and wounded 865. The 14th century St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry's most famous building, was destroyed. Churchill knew beforehand, through Ultra intercepts, that Coventry was about to be bombed, but to evacuate the population or to engage in great strength the bomber fleet as it approached, would have alerted the Germans that their Enigma security system, "My most secret service" as Churchill called it, had been penetrated. This tragic decision that the British Prime Minister had to make was the only way to protect Ultra, one of the most important weapons of victory in the whole war.

The Ruins of Coventry Cathedral.


Poon Lim was a steward aboard the British merchant navy vessel the SS Ben Lomand. En route from Port Said via Cape Town to Paramaribo in Dutch Guiana (Surinam) in South America, the ship was torpedoed by the German U-boat U-172 on November 23, 1942, off the coast of Brazil. Swimming in the water, Poon Lim spotted an empty life raft which he reached and climbed in. With no other survivors in sight he soon realized he was alone and drifting with the ocean swell. Keeping alive with fish he caught with a crude fishing line and hook, he eventually was rescued by a Portuguese fishing boat which took him to Belim Para in Brazil , 1,101 kilometres from where his ship sank. There, the British consul arranged for him to return to Britain. Back in Britain he was awarded the British Empire Medal and the Ben Line Shipping Company presented him with a gold watch. Poon Lim was the sole survivor of the forty-seven man crew and now holds the world's record as the longest lifeboat survivor, 133 days.

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All text researched and compiled by George Duncan. Website by Columbus.