Tagged: WWII

The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Operation Sho-Go I

The capture of the Philippines by the Americans would be the death knell for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The shipping lanes to Java and the Dutch East Indies, already under constant air and submarine attack, would be finally and definitively cut. All of Japan’s remaining naval strength would be committed to the coming battle. They was no choice: any ships remaining north of the Philippines would be without fuel, and because naval shells were only manufactured in Japan, any ships remaining south of the Philippines would be without ammunition.

Coordinating the far flung Japanese naval task forces necessitated a complex plan, named Sho Go I by the Imperial Japanese General Staff. (Operation Sho-Go I was a branch of Operation Sho-Go, the defense of the Home Islands.) Though complicated, if Sho-Go I was successful, the American 7th Fleet would be destroyed, the 3rd Fleet would be hamstrung, and MacArthur’s forces would be thrown back into the sea. America would suffer a huge strategic loss and (it was thought) be compelled to come to a negotiated cease fire. The importance of Sho-Go I was not lost on the Japanese Navy’s bitterest rival, the Japanese Army. In a rare moment of interservice cooperation, Sho-Go I was made even more complicated by including the Japanese Army on Leyte and Luzon. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander and governor of the Japanese occupied Philippines, reinforced Leyte with every aircraft he had left, and enough troops to drive the Americans back into the sea after they lost their supporting ships offshore.

The Americans were convinced that carriers were the key to naval warfare (they were) but in the narrow confines of the Philippine archipelago, the Japanese could use their remaining battleships to force this Kantai Kessen, or decisive battle to end the war. But the battleships had to get there first and America’s carriers were in the way. The key to Sho-Go I was Admiral Marc Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 38 which consisted of all of America’s big fleet carriers. It was this TF that smashed Japan’s remaining carrier airpower at the Battle of the Philippine Sea aka The Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot. For the Japanese plan to have any success, TF 38 had to be neutralized.

Lacking any carrier air power at all, the Japanese chose to neutralize TF 38 through deception. The Japanese Northern Force consisted of their remaining four carriers, but almost no planes, and definitely no trained carrier pilots. But it would be a target the carrier-mad Americans could not resist. The Northern Force was the bait to lure TF 38 away from the Philippines. Once they were spotted, the Northern Force would race back north, away from the Philippines, with TF 38 in pursuit.
Once TF 38 was gone, the Southern Force, steaming north from Java would enter the Leyte Gulf via the Surigao Strait. At the same time, the powerful Center Force under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, consisting of eight battleships, including the super battleships Yamato and Musashi, was steaming east from Formosa, and it would enter the Leyte Gulf via the San Bernardino Strait off the island of Samar. Together they would smash MacArthur’s invasion fleet. Yamashita would then be free to destroy an outnumbered and cut off US Sixth Army on Leyte.
On 22 October 1944, all three Japanese task forces were converging on Leyte. They were under radio silence, and the plan could not be altered.

TF 38 had to take the bait for Sho-Go I to work. The fate of the entire Imperial Japanese Navy depended on it. Luckily for the Japanese, sailing with TF 38 was the key to any success they would have in the upcoming operation: American Admiral Bull Halsey. Bull Halsey was America’s greatest carrier admiral, but he was proud, and his lack of any big Jap fleet carrier kills was a sore point in the wardroom. He always seemed to just miss them: He and his carriers were too far away to intervene at Pearl Harbor. Though a Coral Sea was a victory, his carriers only sank one small escort carrier. Halsey missed Midway because he was in the hospital with a bad skin rash. The Japanese carriers were not an important target with all the important Japanese bases in the Solomon’s. And finally, he was away from TF 38 during the Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot. The Northern Force was the last opportunity for Halsey to sink a carrier. The Japanese were convinced Halsey would not pass it up and based their entire plan on it.

They were right.

MacArthur’s Return

Just after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and overran the islands by April, 1942. In March 1942, FDR ordered the Commander of the Philippine Department and Field Marshal of the Army of the Philippines Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Australia in order to prevent his capture by the Japanese. Upon arriving in Australia he said, “I came through and I shall return”.

Over two years later on 20 October 1944, Gen Krueger’s US Sixth Army splashed ashore on the Philippine Island of Leyte and linked up with Col Ruberto Kangleon’s various American and Filipino guerilla organizations. Later that afternoon, MacArthur staged a dramatic and meticulously scripted personal landing on Leyte, where he announced, “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

Taking advantage of the bad October weather, Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander of all Japanese forces in the Philippines, heavily reinforced Leyte, and planned on making a fight of the island in order to force MacArthur’s invasion fleet, and the US Fifth and Seventh Fleets to concentrate. In the coming days, the still powerful and numerous battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy used the cover of the monsoon to try and close with and destroy the US ships in the close waters of the Leyte Gulf. Operation Sho I was the Imperial Japanese General Staff’s last chance at Kantai Kessen, or the final decisive battle to end the war on terms favorable to the Japanese.

The Germans Halt the Allies

In September and October 1944, Field Marshall Walter Model, commander of German Army Group B, caused General Eisenhower no shortage of headaches. After the 20 July failed plot to kill Hitler and the rout of the German Army in the West after the fall of Paris, Hitler ordered Model to prevent the Allies from advancing into Germany at all costs. And for almost four months, against overwhelming Allied air and material superiority and constant tactical interference from Hitler, Model, the monocle wearing son of a music teacher from Saxony, did exactly that.

In the north, Model rallied the defeated Wehrmacht in the west and every Allied misstep was exploited. He deftly extricated the 15th Army from certain doom at Antwerp and bludgeoned the Allies with it in the Netherlands for the rest of the year. With the 15th Army and his reconstituted reserve, the II SS Panzer Corps, Model defeated Montgomery in the battles for the Dutch bridges in September (Operation Market Garden) and removed the Allied capability to conduct airborne operations for the foreseeable future. The Allies did not cross the Rhine at Arnhem until January, 1945, nor conduct another airborne operation until Operation Varsity in March, 1945.

In the south, Model’s First Army stopped Patton cold in Lorraine. On 18 September, the day after Operation Market Garden began, Model’s Fifth Panzer Army, led by Gen Hasso Von Manteuffel, counterattacked MG John S Wood’s 4th Armored Division resulting in the Battle of Arracourt, the largest tank battle on the Western Front up to that time. Patton’s famous “dash across France” lasted exactly 49 days. Around Arracourt, American crew quality, mechanical reliability, agile leadership, and responsive fire support defeated German technical and material superiority after 11 days of constant fighting. The Battle of Arracourt, Patton’s Pyrrhic victory, is virtually unknown today because of Patton hagiography and the more famous concurrent battle further north in Holland.

Nonetheless, Patton’s advance was stopped, not by Eisenhower as the famous books and movies like to trumpet, but by the Germans. Popular history likes to blame Patton’s delay on Eisenhower’s decision to prioritize supplies to the British, but that decision didn’t come until the 23rd of September, a week after Market Garden began, not before. And it was only in response to unexpected German resistance in Holland. (Patton’s fuel was briefly curtailed in late August, simply because it was more efficient at the time to prioritize Montgomery and Hodges, who were both closer to Normandy than Patton and within striking distance of V2 sites. Patton’s fuel resumed his fair share shortly thereafter on 4 September, almost two weeks before Market Garden. Patton was slowed more by the “250 mile” tank maintenance rule than by fuel. ) Patton had enough fuel to continue the attack but defeating Manteuffel’s counteroffensive drank fuel at a prodigious rate. Eisenhower’s 23 Sep decision didn’t stop Patton, Manteuffel did that, but it did prevent Patton from regaining his momentum. Mantueffel bought just enough time for the newly formed but static Volksgrenadier Divisions to dig in. For the next two months, famed tanker and maneuver warfare expert George Patton was forced to slug it out in battles that resembled the First World War twenty five years prior, and those against second and third rate German troops. The gateway city and ancient fortress of Metz, and the surrounding fortifications, particularly Ft Driant, didn’t capitulate until early December.

In the center, General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group closed in on the German frontier. Model reinforced the old Siegfried line defenses, and combined with Allied supply difficulties caused by his orders to destroy all French port facilities, forced Bradley to a standstill. Despite this, Eisenhower ordered the capture of Aachen, a German city on the border with Belgium. Aachen was of no special military or industrial value, but it was of immense propaganda value: It was the first German city threatened with capture by the Allies and it was the historic capital of Charlemagne’s “First Reich”. Model turned Aachen into a fortress and its defense made Eisenhower’s decision one of his few regrets as Supreme Allied Commander. Model’s defense of Aachen and the Huertgen Forest to the city’s immediate south delayed Bradley for three months. The Americans only captured Aachen in mid-November. Even worse, US troops only secured the town of Schmidt, the initial (September) objective in the Huertgen Forest operations, in January 1945. Model embroiled Bradley in vicious street fighting in Aachen and lured him into the near perfect defensive terrain in the Huertgen Forest for what were America’s worst defeats of the war. Although Model lost Aachen, he caused Bradley 45,000 casualties in the process and wrecked the American 12th Army Group. Model obliged Bradley to stop his offensives, reinforce his depleted divisions, and train the tens of thousands of new replacements that were required to advance into Germany any further.

In particular, the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard earned its nickname “The Bloody Bucket” in these battles, and the veteran US 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One” took 70% casualties at Aachen and Huertgen. In early December, these two divisions were so maimed that they were assigned a quiet sector of the front to rest and recuperate: the Ardennes Forest.

The Ardennes was directly in the path of Model’s December offensive to restore stability on the Western Front, Unternehmen Wacht am Rhine, “Operation Watch on the Rhine” more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The Warsaw Uprising

On the Eastern Front, Zhukov’s Operation Bagration was successful beyond his wildest ambitions. By the end of July 1944, Soviet tanks had reached the Vistula River and the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. On 1 August 1944, the Polish Underground Resistance, otherwise known as the Home Army, launched Operation Tempest to seize their capital from the Germans in order to assert their authority as the legitimate Polish government after the impending Soviet liberation. Stalin and Hitler never let that happen.

Starting on 1 August and for the next two months, 40,000 members of the Home Army fought the German 9th Army in desperate street battles in Warsaw. Despite assurances from FDR and Churchill, Stalin refused to support the uprising and ordered his troops not to cross the river. Most Soviet units could not have directly supported the Poles since they spent from the offensive, but no serious attempt to supply the Poles was even tried, despite their proximity and air superiority. The only support the Home Army received were supply drops from the RAF that landed in German hands as often as Polish. Destruction of postwar Polish leadership not under Stalin’s control was too convenient for the Soviet dictator.

Once Hitler was sure there would be no Soviet intervention, he ordered Warsaw destroyed. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, declared “The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation.” Hitler told his generals that Warsaw was to be “wiped from the face of the Earth, all the inhabitants were to be killed, there were to be no prisoners.”
In compliance, the SS sent in special extermination units with the task of murdering anyone of Polish descent: man, woman or child. They averaged about 10,000 a week. German tactics against the civilians were so brutal, 200,000 of the Warsaw’s 700,000 civilians soon stood with the Home Army to fight. Like the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, the Germans realized that only the total obliteration of the city could root out the resistance. They began a systematic destruction of the city neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, street by street, and house by house.

On 13 September, Stalin began a token supply effort to the uprising after several near mutinies by Polish troops in the Soviet Army, but by then the damage was done. The leadership of the Home Army was dead, and Warsaw was utterly destroyed. On 2 October 1944, the remaining Polish defenders surrendered. 15,000 of them were sent to the gas chambers in the nearby death camps, along with 60,000 civilian defenders. 200,000 Polish civilians died during the two months of brutal street fighting, and 350,000 were expelled from the city and sent to labor camps across Germany.

3½ months later, the Soviet controlled 1st Polish Army occupied the city on 17 January 1945 after the Soviet Vistula/Oder offensive. They immediately began consolidating the power of the Soviet sponsored Polish Worker’s Party: a communist organization made up of those Polish communists that survived Stalin’s purges of Poles in the Communist International in 1938 and 1939. The Soviet dominated Polish Worker’s Party ruled Poland for the next 45 years until it was defeated by Solidarity in 1989.

The Battle of Best

Operation Market Garden, the Allied airborne and ground invasion of the Netherlands in September 1944 conceived by Britain’s Gen Bernard Montgomery, didn’t need to capture just four bridges to succeed, as many of the narratives of the battle imply; the operation needed 32 bridges over 20 different rivers, canals, and streams along the 62 mile axis of advance to succeed. One such bridge was over the Wilhelmina Canal at the small town of Best outside of the Dutch city of Eindhoven. On the afternoon of 17 September, 1944, Company H, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division infiltrated the town to seize the bridge in order to allow the British armor to bypass Eindhoven on their way to Nijmegen. They didn’t know it, but they were outnumbered 6:1.

Two weeks before, Montgomery’s 1st Canadian Army seized the vital port of Antwerp and pushed the German 15th Army out of the city. A functioning port at Antwerp could alleviate the Allies massive supply problems, but the Canadians failed to also clear the Scheldt Estuary. Without the estuary cleared, Antwerp was “as useful as Timbuktu” in the words of Eisenhower’s chief of staff. Moreover, the failure to adequately clear the estuary allowed the battered German 15th Army to escape. Gen Walter Model ordered the 85,000 strong 15th Army to rest and refit just west of the Dutch town of Eindhoven.

Like Bittrich’s SS Panzer Corps at Arnhem, the German 15th Army was in a perfect position to counterattack the Allied landings and the single highway that XXX Corps was advancing northward on. The 15th Army sat astride the highway just west of the American 101st Airborne Division landings around Eindhoven.

When the planes of the airborne invasion were seen overhead on the morning of the 17 September 1944, German commanders in the 15th Army formed ad hoc “kampfgruppes” (battlegroups roughly 1000 strong) to operate against the landings. The German ability to “plug and play” units with a competent commander gave them an amazing flexibility on the battlefield. One such kampfgruppe was formed around an SS police battalion and sent to Best. As the lightly armed lone American airborne company with its attached engineers approached Best, they came under intense fire. Best became a microcosm of what happened to the British 1st Airborne at Arnhem. At Best, one platoon from Company H made it to the bridge and held the north end, while the rest of the company, and eventually the battalion was cut off nearby. That one platoon survived for two whole days before being overrun. The Germans who captured them thought an entire company had held the bridge, not just 22 men.

Over the next three days, the 15th Army counterattacked from around Best to try and cut “Hell’s Highway” at its base. Three German divisions: the 59th, 245th and 716th, and various Luftwaffe and rear area troops organized into battlegroups, including two battalions of fanatical and zealous SS policemen, launched themselves at the Americans. The fighting around the town of Best consumed the entire 502nd PIR, the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, and the 101st’s reserve BN from the 401st Infantry; or over 2/3rds of the entire 101st Airborne Division. The battle only ended when the 101st was reinforced by a brigade of British hussars and grenadiers from XXX Corps, which crossed the canal at the rebuilt Son Bridge to the east.

That British brigade was desperately needed in the fighting around Nijmegen to the north, and the lack of an exploitation force prevented the British from immediately continuing on to Arnhem after the capture of the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal on 20 September. And although the 15th Army did not succeed at Best, it did cut the all-important highway in two other places farther north over the next several days.

The Soviet Invasion of Poland

On 17 Sep 1939, Hitler’s de facto ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics better known as the Soviet Union, invaded Poland from the east as the Poles were fighting the Germans coming from the west.

By 9 September 1939, Polish mobilization was complete the Poles and were holding their own along the Vistula and in the Carpathians against the German attack. They even launched a large counterattack at Bzura and repulsed the initial German attacks on Warsaw. Unfortunately on 9 Sep the German propaganda minister Josef Goebbels announced to the world that the Germans had reached Warsaw. The German people thought they had won and were jubilant. Goebbels ran with it. Poland had no way of contradicting Goebbel’s message. The British, French, and Soviets all soon believed Poland was lost. The mistaken belief absolved the Brits and French from any further assistance, and on the 11th, Stalin decided he’d better invade Poland before the Germans took it all.

On 17 September 1939, eight days after the Poles were supposedly defeated by the Germans, Soviet forces crossed the Polish frontier from the east, and made defense along the Vistula pointless. Initially Polish units on the eastern frontier thought that the Soviets were coming to Poland’s assistance, but that notion was quickly dispelled. On 25 Sep, the Polish government announced the evacuation of the country. The last Polish army unit only surrendered on 6 Oct – a month after the war had supposedly been lost.

In occupied Eastern Poland the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, immediately arrested and summarily executed tens of thousands of Polish army officers and NCOs, politicians, police officers, business owners, priests, school teachers, and university professors, anyone exhibiting leadership qualities. The Red Army sacked, tortured, raped, and killed its way through eastern Poland in a prelude of what would happen to Germany 5 1/2 years later. Hundreds of thousands Poles were sent to slave labor camps in Siberia. Sham elections were held by the NKVD to give an air of legitimacy to the brutal occupation. Anyone who ran against their preferred candidate was killed, and anyone who voted against them was sent to Siberia.

“The liberation of Poland (by National Socialist Germany and Communist Soviet Union) is an example of cooperation of socialist nations against Anglo-French imperialism.” – The Communist International, 7 Oct 1939

The Invasion of Angaur

On 17 September, 1944, the 3rd Amphibious Group, landed the 322nd and 321st Regimental Combat Teams of the US 81st Infantry “”Wildcat” Division on the island of Angaur to secure the phosphate plant and airfield, and prevent Japanese artillery from shelling Peleliu. By the 22nd, and after fierce fighting, the two RCTs forced the Japanese defenders into the northwest corner of the island, but then the battle began in earnest.

The northwest corner of Angaur was dominated by Romauldo Hill, but it couldn’t be approached effectively without going through the torturous terrain of a large stone quarry beneath it, dubbed by the Wildcats “The Bowl”. Furthermore, the Bowl had only one entrance, which they quickly named “The Bloody Gulch”. With the Japanese throwing shells at the Seabees constructing the airfield, all three had to be taken.

The 322nd RCT secured the Bloody Gulch after three furious and costly frontal assaults, all of which were to cover the construction of a road to bring up tanks and bulldozers. Once the entrance was secure, the battles for The Bowl and The Hill took on a different approach. The Japanese were dug in like they were on Peleliu, but the terrain meant only one RCT could fight at a time. The limited troops needed to be used differently.

The 322nd RCT decided to bury the Japanese.

Once a tunnel or bunker entrance was discovered, the Wildcats seized it. They then packed it with smoke pots and napalm from the airfield, and sealed it by bulldozer. It was then ignited and wherever the smoke and coughing Japanese appeared elsewhere on the Hill or in the Bowl, the process was repeated. After a few days, the Japanese fiercely counter attacked when they heard or felt the approach of a bulldozer. The last hole was filled a month and 1,614 casualties later, on the 23rd of October.

The 322nd had to secure Angaur by themselves was because the other RCTs were needed elsewhere. On 26 Sep, 1944, the 323rd RCT loaded up on the USS Storm King and was sent north to secure the Ulithi Atoll so MacArthur had a deep water lagoon close by for his invasion of the Philippine island of Leyte. The rest of the 321st were pulled off the line on Angaur on 23 Sep so they could be sent to help out the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu. By 27 September the 321st were in the thick of the fighting for Bloody Nose Ridge. That battle would eventually would consume all three RCTs of the 81st Wildcat Division.

The Invasion of Peleliu

Although the Japanese suffered a devastating loss at Saipan, the Imperial Japanese General Staff considered the battle lost by the Japanese Navy, not the Japanese Army: the Americans took enormous casualties taking the island. The battle validated the new Japanese island defensive tactics of dug in ambushes, interlocking fields of fire, infiltration and night counterattacks instead of defending on the beaches. The Imperial General Staff planned for the new doctrine to buy the Japanese Navy the time necessary to create the opportunity for the Khitai Kessen, or the decisive battle that would end the war. Furthermore, the war in the Pacific would become an attritional battle and the casualties sustained in taking each island could break the will of the American people.

Lt Gen Sadae Inoue, commander of the 14th Infantry Division was charged with the defense of the Palau Islands, which were tailor made for the new defensive tactics. The three islands of Peleliu, Ngesebus, and Angaur consisted of steep ridges honeycombed with caves that were perfect for this defense. His 14000 troops had four months to prepare for an American invasion. He dug his artillery in deep and his troops prepared to fight from underground for the entire battle. One of Inoue’s regimental commanders, Kunio Nakagawa, would not slavishly follow the new doctrine though. On Peleliu, the only landing areas were small and obvious and they were covered by a small outcropping on the southern coast (The Point) that enfiladed the entire beach, which could only be assaulted from inland. On Peleliu, Nakagawa planned for the Americans to fight a Tarawa style battle at the beach, followed by a Biak and Saipan style battle further inland. And the the Marines did.

On 15 September 1944, the US 1st Marine Division landed on the island of Peleliu in order to secure MacArthur’s right flank from attack as he returned to the Philippines and secure the Palau’s airfields for future use. The US Navy’s three day bombardment had little effect on Inoue’s defenses. The Marines took enormous casualties seizing the beachhead, the airfield, and finally the Point. The Japanese counterattacked with 13 Type 95 Ha Go tanks and 200 infantry supported by artillery and mortars, and nearly retook the airfield. Japanese artillery fire from Ngesebue Island and Umurbrogol Mountain, soon to be nicknamed Bloody Nose Ridge, made every square foot of Peleliu unsafe.

On 19 Sep, the Marines began their assault on Bloody Nose Ridge. The Marines quickly found that grenades and flamethrowers were no longer sufficient to root the Japanese out of their caves because they were too deep. Every cave had to be cleared and sealed, and the Japanese were ingenious in concealing entrances and firing holes. In the next six days Chesty Puller’s 1st Marine Regiment took 70% casualties. On 20 September, the 5th Marines invaded Ngesbue Island to silence the artillery there that was devastating the troops on Peleliu.

Marine regiments, and soon US Army regiments from the 81st US “Wildcats” Infantry Division were rotated through the fight for the ridge. On 23 Sep, the 7th Marines, and the III Amphibious Corps reserve, the 321st Regimental Combat Team of the US 81st Infantry Division surrounded the mountain and continued the assault. They in turn were replaced by the 5th Marines and the 323rd RCT in early October. The 81st Infantry Division took over the battle on 15 October, after the 1st Marine Division was “fought out”, until the island was declared “secure” on 27 November, two and half months after the initial landing.

The last Japanese unit on the small island didn’t surrender until April… of 1947, and the last Japanese soldier on Peleliu wouldn’t surrender until 1955.

The 1st Marine Division took 7000 casualties, and the 81st took 2500 casualties taking Peleliu. The battle for the Palau’s was the most casualties in one operation in the entire Pacific theatre up to that time. The Imperial Japanese General Staff was correct though: a great controversy immediately arose as to whether the cost to take Peleliu was worth its contribution to MacArthur’s upcoming campaign in the Philippines.

Pennsylvanians in Paris

On 25 and 26 August 1944, Charles DeGaulle gave uncomfortably long victory speeches to crowds of hundreds of thousands of Parisians. Not once did he recognize any of the other allied countries whom had a role in France’s or Paris’ liberation. At least thirteen Allied countries had soldiers fighting on French soil, and besides the French, four others: the British, Poles, Canadians, and Americans, were directly involved in the liberation of Paris. This incensed the normally unflappable Gen Eisenhower, who devoted almost all of his efforts to keeping the allied coalition functioning.

Eisenhower directed the Allies to have another victory parade on the 29th, and that every Allied unit heading to the front move through Paris, if practical. The first unit enroute to the front east of Paris was the US 28th “Keystone” Infantry Division made up of soldiers from the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. (They would only receive the nickname “Bloody Bucket” from the Germans in the vicious fighting along the Siegfried Line and the Huertgen Forest later in the year.) Their commander, MG Norman Cota, directed that most of the 18,000 Pennsylvanians march in one imposing, and intimidating, mass formation, 28 abreast, with loaded personal weapons. It was to show the Parisians, and DeGaulle, that the war was not being fought by France alone, and that millions of soldiers from around the world were also fighting to liberate France and defeat the Germans.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

July and August 1939 were months of furious negotiation between Germany, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, Poland, and the United States in order to secure alliances which it was hoped would deter war. The first sign that all was not going to be well for the Poland and the Western Allies was when Stalin fired his Jewish foreign minister in April and replaced him with Vyacheslav Molotov. Russian archival documents confirm that this was day that Stalin decided to ally with his “brother Socialist” Adolf Hitler in order to defer the inevitable conflict with Germany to a later date.

On 23 August 1939, Stalin’s Communist Soviet Union and Hitler’s National Socialist Germany signed a non-aggression treaty, named after their respective foreign ministers: Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ostensibly an economic and political treaty of non-aggression and prevention of either country allying with third parties e.g. Poland, Britain, France etc, the pact had secret provisions to divide up Eastern Europe between them. Germany would be free to seize most of Poland and have a secure eastern frontier for the inevitable fight with France and Great Britain. The Soviet Union was given assurances that they could conquer Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Eastern Poland, Finland, and Bessarabia (Eastern Romania, Romania was one of Germany’s allies) without German interference.

Germany invaded Poland a week later, and started the largest and bloodiest conflict in human history: The Second World War. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact turned the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and National Socialist Germany into de facto Allies when the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east two weeks later on 17 September 1939. The Soviet invasion rendered a rapidly stabilizing Polish defense against Germany untenable. At the end of the month, both countries affirmed their alliance in the German-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation.

The 23 August anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is remembered in Europe to “reconcile its totalitarian legacy” (EU’s words). In most of the EU 23 August is known as the “Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism” or in some countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, as “Day of Remembrance of Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes”. In the United States, 23 August is known as “Black Ribbon Day” to

“recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes and remember and never forget the terror millions of citizens in Central and Eastern Europe experienced for more than 40 years by ruthless military, economic, and political repression of the people through arbitrary executions, mass arrests, deportations, the suppression of free speech, confiscation of private property, and the destruction of cultural and moral identity and civil society, all of which deprived the vast majority of the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe of their basic human rights and dignity, separating them from the democratic world by means of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. The extreme forms of totalitarian rule practiced by the Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes led to premeditated and vast crimes committed against millions of human beings and their basic and inalienable rights on a scale unseen before in history.”