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Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Politics, World War 2 on Monday, 3 March 2014
This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 576 published on 27 January 1973.
Yugoslavian partisans disrupt the German occupation by Graham Coton
The sky was too blue, too clear. The sun, gleaming off the mountain rock, floodlit the scene too well.
Anxiously, Tito scanned the line of men straggling out across the narrow makeshift bridge, Some were crawling, some hobbling and some limping. Others were staggering under the weight of comrades so weak from wounds, so ravaged by typhus that they had to be carried across. All were only too easy to be pinpointed from the air.
Too often, Tito had seen what happened when the sky smiled and the sun shone.
The first warning would be the soulless drone of approaching aircraft. Then would come the glint of wings angling into view around the mountainside. And then, bombs would spatter the length of the bridge, splintering the planks, singeing the ropes to threads and sending men spinning down into the river that heaved and rushed far below.
Tito, tough and determined though he was, had wept to see them tossing along in the waters of the Neratva like so much useless flotsam. It was an ignominious and wasteful end for fighters who had followed him through long months of hardship, hunger and bone-freezing cold.
“Operation Punishment,” as Hitler had called it, was proving punishing indeed.
This was the name the Nazi Fuhrer had given to the invasion he never meant to mount.
In the spring of 1941, Hitler’s plans centred on his coming attack on Russia. Though Yugoslavia, a neutral country, would lie on the south-eastern flank of his invasion force, this hardly seemed dangerous, for it was surrounded by Nazi allies. In this context, Hitler thought that a simple pact would prove sufficient safeguard, and when Yugoslavian ministers signed one in Vienna, Hitler believed he could put Yugoslavia out of his mind.
He was able to do so for less than twenty-four hours.
The Yugoslav people were appalled and affronted by what their government had done. On 27th March, 1941, the day after the signatories had crept back shamefaced from Vienna, a group of air force officers seized power and thousands of people marched through Belgrade brandishing the Yugoslav flag and shouting the defiant slogan “Better War than Pact – Better Grave than Slave!”
Insane with rage at this insult to his pride and the threat to his policy. Hitler postponed the invasion of Russia and ordered that Yugoslavia should be destroyed and dismembered.
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Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Politics, Revolution on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Hungary first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 569 published on 9 December 1972.
The freedom fighters of Hungary defied the Russian tanks and the machine guns to show the world that liberty is a thing to be treasured – even to death, by Graham Coton
One rifle shot – that is all it took, nothing more – turned a wild rowdy march into a revolution in Hungary in 1956.
It was fired outside the radio studios in Budapest where hundreds of young Hungarians were making a wild demonstration against their one-party government. And it was enough to send them berserk.
Before the day was out, the office of a newspaper had been stormed by crowds carrying the dead body of a student wrapped in a flag; a statue of Stalin, a former Russian leader, had been smashed, pavements torn up, trams overturned and barricades erected.
For a long time, there had been a great deal of discontent over the presence of Russian troops in Hungary. They were there under the terms of a “self help” treaty made between Russia and her satellites a year earlier. But the students wanted them to go, and they also wanted a western type of democracy with more than one political party, freedom of worship, a free press and reforms concerning land ownership.
Inspired by a recent revolution in Poland, which was bloodless and had brought that country more freedom, the students began their march towards the statue of Joseph Bem, a Polish general whose fight in the Hungarian War for Independence of 1848-49 had made him their hero.
Chanting, “Russians go home,” they marched to the statue, near which was a barracks from where eight hundred cadets joined them. From there they marched to the radio station with the demand that their plea for freedom should be broadcast.
And it was there that the fatal shot was fired.
Nobody knows who fired it. Perhaps it was a nervous security guard. But it caused some trigger-happy rebels to fire back, and set the others rampaging destructively through the town, which caused the government to announce sinisterly that they “had applied for help to the Soviet formations stationed in Hungary.”
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Posted in Communism, Famous crimes, Historical articles, History on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about Leon Trotsky first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
(Top) Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky and Ramon Mercader; (main picture) as Trotsky sat reading, Mercader took an ice pick and raised it murderously above his head
As the man and his wife crouched on the floor, guns barked and rattled outside, sending bullets whining across the ceiling. Firebombs crashed through the windows, while, inside the house, an incendiary hissed, then erupted in a surge of smoke and flame.
When the attack began, Leon Trotsky, lying half-asleep in bed, had thought that firecrackers were being let off to celebrate some religious festival. But then, he jerked awake, as he realised what was happening.
For over forty years, ever since he first became a Communist, Trotsky had lived in the presence of danger. And for the last twelve, death seemed to have shadowed him all the way from his native Russia to the sanctuary of his home in the Coycoan suburb of Mexico City.
But Trotsky knew that, if he died now, in a rain of bullets, no one could ever prove who had perpetrated the crime or whether or not Joseph Stalin, ruler of Russia, had inspired it. For if the would-be murderers now outside his home were, in fact, Stalinist NKVD agents, Trotsky knew that no evidence would ever be found.
The name of this Russian government organisation seemed so mild – “People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs” – but for too many people, including Trotsky, its real meaning was frighteningly sinister. No one ever knew for certain if NKVD agents were responsible for a killing or kidnapping, a “suicide” or “disappearance.” The only evidence of crime was the crime itself. The only suspicion of impending crime lay in the fear of potential victims and the warning of danger to come.
Trotsky, who had been one of the architects of the Russian Revolution of 1917, had received many such warnings. Ever since 1923, when Stalin had begun to vilify him, he was told over and over again that this was an implacable enemy, intent on murdering him.
Trotsky, one of Stalin’s sternest critics, had been banished from Russia in 1928, but as he fled to Turkey, to Norway and finally to Mexico, the threat of murder seemed to follow close behind. In the wake of the fugitive, mysterious deaths scythed down many Trotsky supporters, two of his secretaries and most of his family.
This was why, when Trotsky reached Mexico in January 1937, his home soon became a fortress. The main door was reinforced by two iron bars, and the iron railings were replaced by a high concrete wall networked by wires connected to an alarm system, and fitted with watchtowers manned by guards with machine guns.
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Posted in Communism, Espionage, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Monday, 17 February 2014
This edited article about Cold War espionage first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 555 published on 2 September 1972.
Sir Anthony Eden, who was forced to make a statement in the House of Commons
He had been a frogman, a member of that small band of dedicated and courageous men who had fought their war underwater. And he was undoubtedly the most famous of them all, mainly because of the way he had freed the hulls of a number of warships at Alexandria and Gibraltar from the limpet mines that had been placed on them by the Italian frogmen. It is not altogether clear why he should have become so famous for those two operations. After all, men were risking their lives daily all over Europe in the struggle against Nazism. Perhaps it was because frogmen were a new factor in war and not much was known about them. Perhaps, too, the British were anxious to have an underwater hero of their own, after having read of the exploits of the Italian frogmen who went into battle beneath the seas on piloted torpedoes. But whatever the reasons, Commander Crabb was a national hero.
But all wars come to an end, and when that time comes heroes tend to be forgotten. In 1947, Lionel Kenneth (Buster) Crabb found himself out of the Service and with no immediate prospects of a job. Stripped of his uniform and dressed instead in a tweed suit and a pork pie hat, he no longer even looked like a hero.
Fortunately for his own morale, Crabb had not completely severed his connections with the Admiralty, who could always use a good frogman. After using him in an attempt to rescue the crew of a submarine which had sunk after a collision in the Thames Estuary, the Lords of the Admiralty recalled him to Naval Service. But inevitably, it was only a temporary reprieve. In 1955, Crabb retired, owning little more than a rag bag of memories which he intended to turn into a book of memoirs. He was now forty-five. No more than middle-aged. But with the days of adventure surely well behind him one would have thought.
But this was not so. Security being what it is, no one except a chosen few knew exactly what Crabb was doing until that fateful day when he disappeared beneath the waters of Portsmouth Harbour, never to be seen again. But one may guess that he had undertaken a number of freelance assignments for the Navy. Possibly he may even have worked for Intelligence. Whatever he was doing, one thing was certain, Crabb had not settled down in some routine job where he would merely grow older and more tired with every passing year.
We must now leave Crabb for a short while so that we may look at the political situation as it stood in the April of 1956. Surprisingly, after all those unhappy postwar years, in which the West and the Soviets had been on somewhat less than friendly terms, there were now hopes for world peace. Russia’s president, Marshal Bulganin and her Premier, Mr Krushchev were now in Britain, meeting the people and generally behaving in a far less stiff backed manner than one usually associated with Soviet politicians. There was a real feeling in the air that the visit would lead to better relations, if nothing else.
But this happy state of affairs was short lived.
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Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Sport on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This edited article about the Olympics first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.
(Bottom) The East German women's luge team were disqualified after heating the runners of their toboggan by Ron Embleton
Howls of protest echoed around the Alps when it was discovered what the tobaggoning women of East Germany were up to at the 1968 winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
They were coolly heating the runners of their sledge to give them a faster, smoother glide over the ice.
When they were found out, six nations boiled with fury. The United States, Poland, Italy, Austria, Canada and Argentina threatened to withdraw if the East Germans were not disqualified. In the face of this heat, the International Luge Federation (luge is a Swiss word for toboggan) banned the offenders from the Olympics, and peace was restored.
It was unladylike, unsportsmanlike – and it was cheating.
Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This edited article about the Olympic Games first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.
Russian athletes swept the field at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in Australia, winning 99 medals in everything from javelin to skiing, track running to hockey by Ron Embleton
Before Russia and America began scoring points against each other with a succession of thrilling space “firsts,” competition of a different sort sprang up between the two nations. This was in the Olympic Games, which America had dominated for many years.
Gold, silver and bronze medals hung upon the chests of hundreds of American athletes. On the points counts, always unofficial but regularly added up, America nearly always came out on top.
Then, in 1952 at Helsinki, Finland, a new arrival came on the scene – Russia. For the first time, her athletes were enticed from beyond the Iron Curtain. They were superbly trained and in perfect condition – and they won 23 gold medals.
The Americans, still in the lead with 41 gold medals, were not worried.
But the Russians were only feeling their feet. At the next Olympiad in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956 they swept the field with 99 medals of all kinds to the Americans’ 74 medals. Two points scoring systems, American and European, showed that their lead was indisputable.
And at the winter games in Cortina in Italy they won more gold medals than any other country, gaining three of the four speed skating championships, two skiing titles and the ice hockey final.
Standing out among the Russian stars at Melbourne was Vladimir Kuts. He and Gordon Pirie of Gt. Britain were joint favourites in the 10,000 metre run (more than six miles). Kuts was the victor by 45 yards, the first Russian to win a medal in the track and field events. He swept the field, too, in the 5,000 metres, which he won at a blazing pace from Christopher Chataway, Gordon Pirie and Derek Ibbotson of Britain, leaving them 80 yards behind him.
Canoeing and pistol shooting brought more laurels to the Russians, as did the wrestling and the gymnastics. But they lost to Hungary in the water polo final, a tough, rough game that ended with one Hungarian player streaming blood from a cut eye.
Rough, too, was the soccer final between Russia and Yugoslavia, which gave Russia a 1 to 0 win.
Four years later, in Rome, they were still reaping medals, especially in weight lifting, shooting and horse riding.
However, the Russians had failures just as spectacular as their successes. Mikhail Krivonosov was expected to win the hammer throw because he held the world record. But he was beaten by an American. And Russians flopped in the 50 kilometre walk and the long jump.
Posted in Communism, Famous battles, Famous landmarks, Geography, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 31 January 2014
This edited article about Berlin first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 535 published on 15 April 1972.
The Russian assault on Berlin towards the end of World War Two by Severino Baraldi
Day after day, night after night the battle raged, closer and closer to the heart of the great, war-torn city. It was the deadliest kind of fighting, from one ruined street to another, from one shattered house to the next, with always the danger of booby-traps, or of coming face to face with the enemy round the next corner.
By day the sky above the city was thick with clouds of dust and smoke, while at night it was stained a lurid blood-red by the hundreds of fires burning below. Still the defenders fought on, and as their numbers decreased, their resistance became even more desperate. There was fighting now not only on the ground but below it, in the tunnels of the underground railway, even in the sewers.
But the end was inevitable. After a final fierce struggle in the part of the city where the conquered country’s leader and his closest colleagues had taken refuge in a subterranean fortress, the defenders surrendered unconditionally. And not long after that the leader – the F√ºhrer, as he was known to his people – escaped from his enemies in the only way now left to him, by committing suicide.
This happened in the spring of the year 1945. The conquered country was Germany, the city was Berlin, and the man who committed suicide was Adolf Hitler, the hysterical dictator whose mad schemes for making Germany the greatest nation in the world had brought ruin to his country and death and untold suffering to millions of innocent people. The invaders, who came from the east and who reached Berlin before their allies could get there from the west, were the Russians. The fall of Berlin marked, for all practical purposes, the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Russia had been a latecomer to the war. When it broke out, in September 1939, following Germany’s unprovoked and bullying attack on Poland, she had stood aside. She had even signed an agreement with Germany not to interfere.
Russia didn’t do this out of friendliness towards Germany, but merely to keep herself out of trouble at least for the time being. However, her action caused much anti-Russian feeling in the countries that were fighting against Germany, notably Britain and France. This was so strong that, for a time, there was even a possibility that Britain and her allies would go to war with Russia too Luckily, this never happened.
It was the Germans themselves, and Adolf Hitler in particular, who brought Russia into the war by attacking her. They had two reasons for doing so. Firstly, they did not trust the Russians, seeing them as a threat to their eastern borders. If they could get rid of that threat, they would be able to concentrate all their forces on the war in the west. Secondly, with an arrogance typical of them at that time, they completely underestimated the Russians’ ability to withstand them.
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Posted in Communism, Historical articles, History, Travel on Tuesday, 28 January 2014
This edited article about China first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 528 published on 26 February 1972.
The aim of the Boxer rebels was to drive the hated foreigners from Peking and from China. The rebellion was suppressed, but not the feelings that inspired it, for to the Chinese their capital was no place for foreigners.
When Marco Polo, the famous Venetian explorer, made his remarkable 13th century journey to China, Peking was already more than 2,000 years old. It was a fabulous place.
When he returned the Venetians wouldn’t believe his wild stories that in China rocks burned – he saw coal! – and money was made of paper. But there were wonders greater than these.
There has been some kind of city where Peking (“Northern Capital”) now stands for thirty centuries. Under one name or another (at least eight), and from time to time, it has been China’s capital.
Marco Polo called it “Cambaluc,” the nearest he could get to “Khanbaliq” – “City of the Great Khans.” Marco Polo’s Khan was Kublai – grandson of the Mongol warrior Genghis – ruler of an empire which stretched from Siberia to beyond Moscow, and south into what is now Iraq.
It has a splendid, though not impregnable, site. Dominating the fertile Yellow River plain it commands the passes to the Mongolian plateau through which – despite the Great Wall, built three centuries before Christ – wild horsemen from the north made their raids.
It commands, too, the narrow passage between mountain and sea at Shanhai-huan to the east – yet through this, from Manchuria in 1644, came the Tartars, to begin the Manchu conquest which put a new dynasty on the Chinese throne that lasted until 1912.
It was the last great Chinese city to be built especially to satisfy the pomp, ceremony and pageantry of a God-Emperor, truly believed to be earth’s heavenly representative.
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Posted in America, Communism, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 17 January 2014
This edited article about General Douglas Mac Arthur first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 517 published on 11 December 1971.
Douglas MacArthur retook the Philippines, defeated Japan and governed it, by Graham Coton
The four small motor torpedo boats nosed their way through the minefields guarding the waters between the island fortress of Corregidor and nearby Mindoro, both in the Philippines.
In one of the boats stood General Douglas MacArthur, who had been ordered by the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to leave his men who were still fighting on the island. They had been under attack from the Japanese for some weeks and it could only be a matter of days before they were forced to surrender. The President was not prepared to have his greatest general rotting in a prison camp for the rest of the war.
The time was March 1942. It was just over three months since the surprise Japanese air attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour, which was followed by their rapid conquest of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, the East Indies and much of Burma. When Corregidor also fell, the Phillipines, too, would fall. The end came in April. It was as dark a moment as any in the whole Second World War.
MacArthur, with his wife, his son and some hand-picked officers, had meanwhile got through safely to Mindoro and flown to Australia, where he became Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific area. In Melbourne he made a statement which is now known to every American in the way “Remember the Alamo!” is known. He said: “I came through and I shall return.”
Douglas MacArthur, born in 1880, remains one of America’s greatest war heroes seven years after his death – and one of the most argued over. He was almost literally brought up to the sound of Indian drums, for his father, a Civil War hero, and, later a general himself, served at various frontier posts in the Wild West when the Indian wars were still raging.
He was his father’s son with a vengeance. One soldier who knew them both later said: “I thought that Arthur MacArthur was the most flamboyant, egotistic man I have ever seen – until I met his son!”
Proud, vain, a strong character, with an uncanny memory and very intelligent – MacArthur was also incredibly brave. He continually exposed himself with his forward troops, never bothering about a steel helmet and usually carrying no weapon. Believing in his destiny, it never occurred to him that a bullet might hit him.
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Posted in Communism, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Revolution, World War 1 on Wednesday, 13 November 2013
This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 456 published on 10 October 1970.
The Germans under Von Hindenburg and Ludendorff (inset) steamrollered the Russian army, which was soon beset by disaster, by Frank Bellamy
The war – it was always called The Great War till World War II – was a world war in every sense, and the first of its kind in the history of human conflict.
Like some great boiler with no safety valve that had been brewing-up since the ages of industrial and imperial expansion of the 18th and 19th centuries, the major states of Europe blew apart in 1914, carrying their colonies and dominions, their friends and supporters, with them.
By 1918, most of the smaller countries of the world were aligned on one side or the other, mostly in minor roles. To take two cases: Japan joined the allied camp in compliance with an Anglo-Japanese alliance, though she confined her efforts to seizing some German Pacific islands, and possessions in China; Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Imperial Germany as late as 1917, when a ship carrying a Bolivian minister was torpedoed. On the other hand, a few countries remained neutral: the Scandinavian states and Holland for practical reasons; Switzerland because of her historic position as a nation that had forever renounced war.
The fighting spread all over the globe, for the high seas were war areas. On land, there were important “sideshows” to the central conflict of the Western Front. We have spoken of the Dardanelles campaign – that imaginative, but disastrous, affray that might have ended the war in 1915 and saved a whole generation.
Elsewhere, there was the campaign against the Turks in Mesopotamia and Palestine, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem by General Allenby, and highlighted by the exploits of T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). There was the conquest of the German colonies in Africa, resulting from hard-fought campaigns that lasted from 1914 to the Armistice in 1918.
* * *
The sheer manpower of the Tsarist Russian Army was a great source of comfort to Britain and France at the outbreak of hostilities: it was affectionately known as “The Russian Steamroller” – but it was no such thing. Riddled by incompetence and aristocratic leadership, the Russian Army, for all its size, had no staying-power against the German war-machine.
The Russians, however, made a promising start. In 1914, two army groups under Grand Duke Nicholas invaded German East Prussia, and threw back the enemy on both sides of the River Vistula. Then on to the scene stepped the figure of General Paul von Hindenburg, who, in partnership with his brilliant chief-of-staff General Ludendorff, concentrated an inferior force against the Russian right wing, and virtually destroyed an army of thirteen divisions in the classic Battle of Tannenberg, following this by driving the Russians out of East Prussia. The steamroller was depleted by these operations to the tune of a quarter of a million men.
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