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Posted in Communism, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014
This edited article about the Berlin Wall first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 598 published on 30 June 1973.
Escapees trying to cross the border between East and West Germany after the wall was built in 1961; some succeeded, while others were shot down by East German border guards; picture by Graham Coton
On the morning of Sunday 13th August, 1961 an old man lay asleep in his home in the village of Rhondorf. Exhausted by a hectic election campaign and by mounting criticism, Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor Of West Germany, tossed fitfully. His bedside telephone shrilled suddenly. News had come from Berlin that a barrier had been built, sealing off the East German frontier. Chancellor Adenauer listened quietly. Two hours later he went to Mass. But although he continued to remain calm for the rest of the day, he knew, as the world knew, that the ever-tense situation in Berlin had been tightened to breaking point.
Why was the Berlin wall built?
At the end of the Second World War Berlin had surrendered to Russian forces and so lay within the area of Germany claimed by Russia, which became the East German Republic. The city itself, however, was quartered between French, British, Russian and American commands. It became the scene of a trial of strength in 1947 when the Soviet Union attempted to blockade the western sector; the siege was only overcome by a massive airlift. Early in 1961 the Russians again threatened western access to the city but it was the East German Republic which brought matters to a head.
Since the early days of the republic numbers of East Germans had “voted with their feet,” by fleeing over the border from east to west Berlin to seek political refuge in West Germany. By 1961 the flow had risen to over a thousand a day. It was a direct result of the policies of repression and brutality imposed by the regime of Walter Ulbricht the East German president. The effect of the mass emigration was to reduce drastically the labour force in East Germany and to ruin plans for the expansion and improvement of the East German economy.
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Posted in Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Revolution on Wednesday, 19 March 2014
This edited article about the Hungarian Uprising first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.
Soviet tanks and troops rolled into Budapest and the heroic but futile street fighting began by Graham Coton
Two young men climbed to the top of the massive metal statue and dragged up a heavy cable which they attached to its head. The crowd below roared its approval. Many hundreds of hands hauled on the rope but the statue did not budge. Then the three workers came with acetylene torches and began to cut into the statue’s knees. The crowd stood hushed as it began to topple. Then cheering broke out as Joseph Stalin pitched forward from his plinth and lay face-downwards in the square. The place was Budapest and the date the 23rd of October, 1956 – the Hungarian revolution had begun.
What had brought it about? Hungary had emerged from the war in moral and political confusion. She had officially been an ally of Germany but had bred a spirited resistance movement as well. In 1947 the communists seized power and eventually the country was governed by Matyas Rakosi. Rakosi reproduced in Hungary the tyranny which Stalin imposed on Russia and the country underwent a long period of privation and terror. The death of Stalin and his subsequent denunciation by the Russian leader, Krushchev, encouraged the Hungarians to overthrow Rakosi in July 1956. But there was little change under his successors. Nevertheless, the spirit of rebellion was abroad.
Students, dissatisfied with conditions in the universities, and factory workers, demanding high wages, joined forces; they were in turn joined by all those who resented the repressive system by which the country was governed. A series of strikes and rallies reached its climax in the destruction of the towering statue of Stalin which symbolised for the rebels the oppression and the exploitation which their country had suffered.
Their triumph swiftly turned to tragedy. The A.V.O., the Hungarian security police opened fire on the crowds and many were killed. But the police could not quell the defiant citizens for long, and more and more people flocked to demonstrate in the streets of Budapest.
Hungary turned for help to Russia. In the small hours of the following morning Russian tanks began to arrive in the city, but even they could not drive the people home. The Russian soldiers were, in fact, reluctant to attack the crowd at all; some wept when they saw the destruction which the A.V.O. meted out to its fellow-citizens.
The revolution gathered momentum and spread across the whole country. The government had to decide whether it should go on fighting the rebels or whether it should try to quieten them by giving in to their demands for a new leadership. In the end it decided on the latter course and Imre Nagy, a liberal politician who had been disgraced in the days of Stalin, was allowed to form a new government. Janos Kadar, who had also suffered under the Rakosi regime, joined the new government too.
Soon Nagy was able to announce that the Russians had withdrawn their troops from Budapest. But the withdrawal was really a clever piece of stage-management; as the tanks fell back, fresh Russian troops were moved towards eastern Hungary.
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Posted in America, Communism, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 18 March 2014
This edited article about the Cold War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.
Russian nuclear missile on a military parade in Red Square
On Sunday, 14th October 1962, a warm autumn day, an American U-2 plane returned from a reconnaissance flight over western Cuba. Rolls of negatives from its camera were rushed to processing laboratories and then to an interpretation centre where specialists peered at the blown-up photographs frame by frame.
By the next day, they had identified a launching pad, a series of buildings for ballistic missiles and a missile itself on the ground. At breakfast on Tuesday, John Kennedy, the American president saw the photographs They supported the reports of his intelligence agents, in Cuba and confirmed his worst fears. The Russians were installing nuclear weapons in Cuba.
How had the missiles come to be there? Since the revolution in Cuba which had brought Fidel Castro to power, Cuba’s links with the East had grown stronger, while Castro himself had said of America: “Understanding is impossible.” But why should the Russians, who had never before placed nuclear missiles in another country, install them on an island many thousands of miles away from Russia, lying next to their main adversary, and governed by an avowed enemy of the United States?
It had been done as a trial of strength. For some time, a group of Russian leaders had been convinced that the Americans had become too rich, too soft and too liberal to fight; and that the Soviet Union could safely use its utmost nuclear force against them. Krushchev, the Soviet leader, did not agree with this view but he had to put it to the test. That was why he decided to install over sixty missiles with a range of up to 2,000 miles, right under the Americans’ noses.
This would double the Soviet potential striking force against America, and if America took no action in return, she would lose face throughout the world, particularly in other places, such as Berlin, where there was open confrontation between East and West.
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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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