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Subject: ‘World War 2’
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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 Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Saturday, 1 March 2014
This edited article about World War Two first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 575 published on 20 January 1973.
Group Captain Charles Pickard led the raid to free many imprisoned members of the Resistance, by Wilf Hardy
A blanket of snow covered northern France. Behind the grim walls of Amiens jail, 700 or so prisoners were trying unsuccessfully to keep themselves warm.
Many of the prisoners were under sentence of death, for they were men and women of the French Resistance, the secret civilian army which had refused to surrender to the Germans when they conquered and occupied France in 1940. Ever since then, their numbers had grown steadily and they had waged a deadly guerrilla war of ambush and sabotage against their conquerors. But, inevitably, many Resistance heroes and heroines had been caught, which was why the jail at Amiens was so full.
The Allied invasion to liberate France and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe was now only a few months away, for this bleak, snowy day was 18th February, 1944, but the chances of the prisoners’ survival seemed slim. Many of them had been tortured by the Gestapo, the hated German secret police, and some were due to die within 48 hours. Others were destined for the horrors of concentration camps and a later, even more terrible death in a gas chamber.
Yet on that dismal February morning an incredible piece of news was circulating through the jail – the Royal Air Force was going to make a low-level attack on the prison walls and blast a hole in them. Then, in the ensuing confusion, the prisoners could escape. Yet even if this rumour was true, could any planes get through a snowstorm which showed no sign of letting up? Surely it would be sheer suicide to attempt it?
Back in Britain the weather was also bad, so bad that there was talk of the raid being called off. Nineteen de Havilland Mosquitoes were standing by for the raid, which was to be led by one of the R.A.F.’s finest pilots, Group Captain Pickard, D.S.O. and two bars, D.F.C. Under him were six Mosquitoes from 21 Squadron, R.A.F., six from 487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and six from 464 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, also a photographic reconnaissance plane.
The Mosquito was one of the wonder planes of the Second World War. It had originally been designed as a light bomber, but had become famous as a first-rate fighter-bomber, a long-range fighter, a reconnaissance aircraft, and as a “Pathfinder,” flying daringly low to drop flares to guide oncoming heavy bombers.
It carried a bomb load of 4,000 lbs., and a crew of two, a pilot and a navigator / bomb-aimer. It had a top speed of around 400 mph and could outstrip most German planes, and it was built of wood, which not only made it easier to manufacture, but also saved valuable metal. Added to this, it was a beautiful plane and – more important – very successful indeed!
Pickard’s men knew their target well, for they had all studied it from a plaster of Paris model which showed what the jail would look like to them from four miles away and at a height of 1,500 feet. The 500 lb. delayed action bombs which they would be carrying had to be dropped from a very low altitude, so timing was absolutely vital. The jail walls were three feet thick and 20 feet high, and some of the bombs were destined for the barracks where the German guards lived.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Friday, 28 February 2014
This edited article about the Liberation of Paris first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.
Charles de Gaulle takes his Victory Walk down the Champs Elysses during the liberation of Paris, by Graham Coton
The Champs Elysees was crammed with people pressed breathlessly together in one great cheering mass. The more agile had climbed the lamp-posts and clung there waving, shouting yelling greetings to a tall, lank man most of them had never seen before.
He moved slowly in a small group that could only trickle through the crush while all round him, his name was chanted out and echoed from pavement to pavement: “De Gaulle! De Gaulle! De Gaulle!
During World War Two, if any name had a meaning for Parisians and Frenchmen everywhere, it was this one.
For four years, it was a name to be whispered in bistros and cafes, with one’s eyes always wary to detect the approach of a Nazi uniform. It was a name to strain one’s ears for, while huddling round radios turned down to near-inaudibility in case some sharp-eared German should know illicit Allied broadcasts were being heard.
By 26th August, 1944, the day General Charles de Gaulle walked in triumph down the most famous street in Paris, the need for secrecy and watchfulness had come to an end. But its marks were still starkly apparent on the faces and in the eyes of the Parisians.
They had the gauntness and pallor of those who had known years of food shortages, empty grates and freezing hours spent queueing for the simplest of human wants. The smiles and laughter of new-found freedom failed to dim the sadness in eyes that had seen sons and husbands carried off to forced labour camps, or hostages snatched in the streets and slaughtered in a burst of rifle fire.
Scenes and experiences like this were not unique to Paris, of course. They were repeated in towns and cities all over Nazi-occupied Europe. However, for Parisians, Nazi domination held a special disgrace.
On 14th June 1940, their famous city had been yielded to the Germans without a fight. And the next four years had seen dozens of men and women openly collaborating with the invader and accepting from him the comforts denied to those who were less perfidious.
This was an affront which had to be avenged; for the honour of France, a compelling ideal to the French, had been smirched and sullied.
The spirit of vengeance was particularly strong in those who actively resisted the Germans, wrecking cars, sniping at soldiers, blowing up railway lines, cutting telephone wires.
Others resisted more passively, but with no less conviction. They sheltered fugitives from German labour gangs, scrawled insults on walls, ignored faults in arms produced for German forces, and even jabbed dirty thumbs into a German officer’s soup while serving in a restaurant.
Whether active or passive in their resistance, they all derived inspiration from Charles de Gaulle, even though he was nothing more than a voice beamed over radio waves from London.
On 18th June, 1940, in his first broadcast, this obscure army officer who came to embody the spirit of Free France, told his captive people, “The flame of French resistance is not extinguished, and it will not be extinguished.”
It never was, though its vigour was muted at times when Resistance leaders were arrested and killed.
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Posted in Boats, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Thursday, 27 February 2014
This edited article about Dunkirk first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.
The armada of small boats was on its way to France to save the British Army. There were almost a thousand of them, yachts, pleasure steamers, fishing trawlers, barges, tugs, cabin-cruisers, towed lifeboats and motor boats, and they had come from ports and tidal rivers all along the East and South Coasts to rendezvous in selected harbours and get their orders from the Navy.
They set off before dawn on May 30, 1940, from Ramsgate, Dover, Margate, Portsmouth, Folkestone and other places best known for jolly holidays by the sea, not the grim realities of war. It was a gallant little fleet, manned by every sort of sailor from ex-Navy men to weekend yachtsmen. There were 60-year-olds and teenagers and men of every age in between, some of them dressed in true seaman fashion, others in suits, raincoats and a wide variety of headgear.
Few of the boats had accurate charts, fewer still had much in the way of medical supplies, or experience of sailing far out at sea. And not many could boast any armaments. The Deal beach-boat “Dumpling” with a skipper of 70, had been built in Napoleon’s time! But every sailor in that strange but magnificent fleet was determined and ready for anything. Hardened naval men, watching from destroyers as the little ships went by, were sometimes almost moved to tears at the gallant sight.
The part-time sailors needed every scrap of gallantry that they could muster as they approached the beaches of Dunkirk and its harbour, once a bustling port, now a raging inferno. The full impact of the nightmare was soon grimly apparent. It was a nightmare that had really started at dawn just 20 days before, when the Second World War, which, on land at least, had become something of a joke, suddenly and violently came to life.
The war had begun in September 1939 and, after the initial German conquest of Poland, had settled down into stalemate, with the French and British behind the heavily fortified “impregnable” Maginot Line staring at the Germans behind their Siegfried Line. So little happened, except at sea, that the war was dubbed the Phoney War! Even the German conquest of Norway in the spring of 1940 did not alert the Allies. Yet the danger had been seen by a few British and French military thinkers.
These few were not convinced that the British Expeditionary Force 390,000 strong, was, as was officially claimed, “as well if not better equipped than any other similar army.” Actually, it had inferior tanks and mostly inferior guns, and many of the soldiers were undertrained. As for the French, though their army was bigger than the Germans’, it was riddled with defeatism and its leaders were rooted in the past. Most British and French generals failed to realise what their German opposite numbers knew – that in modern war air power and mobile, powerful tanks were destined to play major not minor roles.
They were soon to find out. And, to make things worse, the much-vaunted concrete masterpiece, the Maginot Line, did not even extend to the sea. All the Germans had to do was to invade Holland and Belgium and strike at France at the same time, and this they did on May 10, 1940, by land and air. The result was one of the most brilliant campaigns in history.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 568 published on 2 December 1972.
The Admiral Graf Spee blew up after her crew had been ferried to the Tacoma, by John S Smith
It was a warm evening in a South American port, with crowds lining the quay watching a ship preparing to leave. A scene that is repeated thousands of times every year in harbours all over the world. But, this time it was different. The ship that was about to leave was the pride of Adolf Hitler’s reconstituted German Navy, the pocket battleship called the Admiral Graf Spee.
For the beginning of this momentous story we have to go back four months from the day of the incident – back to August 21st, 1939. The port of Wilhelmshaven saw the departure of the most lethal weapon in the German naval arsenal. The Graf Spee was a unique class of warship. With her 11-inch guns and heavy armour, she could out-range and out-gun any English vessel able to match her speed of nearly 30 knots. And, with that sort of speed, she could out-run any of the English battleships that might threaten her and try to engage her in battle.
The mission of the Graf Spee, and her Captain, Hans Langsdorff, was to harry and destroy Allied shipping, wherever in the world they might be encountered. With her own free-ranging support vessel – the Altmark – to keep her armed and provisioned, and to look after her prisoners, the Graf Spee was an immensely dangerous lone wolf of the seas.
Between the 12th September, when she first entered the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic, and the 13th December, she captured and sank nine merchant vessels. It is worth keeping in mind that during these operations not one Allied seaman lost his life – a remarkable humanitarian achievement by Captain Langsdorff.
It was on 13th December, off the coast of Uruguay, that destiny caught up with the lean grey shape of the Graf Spee. The Admiralty had known for weeks that at least one, and possibly two, German surface raiders were loose. A light cruiser squadron, under the command of the brilliant strategist Commodore Harwood, were off the South American coast, attempting a difficult intercept operation. Harwood had guessed that the captain of the German ship would try one last attack in that area. It was to be that stroke of genius that was to doom the Graf Spee.
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Posted in America, Aviation, Ships, Weapons, World War 1, World War 2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 566 published on 18 November 1972.
William Mitchell and the bombers of World War I by Graham Coton
The ex-German submarine, U-117, could be seen lying at anchor as the mist rose off the calm waters beyond the Virginian coastline. Near the sub – but not too near – were ships of the United States Atlantic Fleet, and on the decks of one of them, the Henderson, were Congressmen, Government officials, admirals, generals and observers from foreign countries, all staring at the once-sinister sub.
Suddenly, everyone looked skywards. The best American bombers, fragile and out-of-date, were heading for their target. For the first time, aircraft were going to try to sink a ship. Actually, there were four targets, only one of which was to be attacked that June day in 1921. The others, due for later assaults, included the “unsinkable” veteran of the Battle of Jutland, the battleship Ostfriesland.
The planes were led by Brigadier-General William Mitchell who had had the “ridiculous” idea that ships without air cover could be sunk by planes. Service chiefs thought him mad, though he was a war hero and was now Assistant Chief of Military Aviation of the U.S. Army, and therefore a man to whom they had to listen. But now they were lined up to enjoy his anticipated downfall.
Instead, in a matter of minutes, twelve small bombs had sent the U-boat to the bottom. But this great moment in the history of warfare was dismissed by one admiral with a sneering, “It proves nothing. Our guns could have sunk it in half the time!”
This was the beginning of a saga which resulted in the greatest prophet in the story of military flying being court-martialled and disgraced, and then to die shortly before his theories were proved right in the most dramatic way imaginable.
“Billy” Mitchell had joined the army in 1898. Later, he met the Wright Brothers, who, in 1903, achieved the first manned, powered flight, and he became keenly interested in flying. In the First World War, which the U.S.A. entered in 1917, he was the first American to fly over enemy lines.
He had an uncanny vision of the shape of aerial warfare to come, visualising a whole division of soldiers being dropped by parachute from 1,200 bombers. In fact, he was 20 years ahead of his time.
Yet even if his advanced ideas could not be put into practice, the air attacks he organised were great successes. But he ended the war convinced that the U.S. Army Air Force had been betrayed. Despite huge sums granted it, only 196 planes, many of them “flying coffins,” had reached France by the end of the war.
More urgent was the future. After several years of campaigning which did not even convince the brighter brass hats, he at last got permission for his demonstration.
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Posted in Aviation, Engineering, Famous Inventors, World War 2 on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 565 published on 11 November 1972.
The month of May 1941 was far from uneventful for the people of Britain. In North Africa, British troops were under siege at Tobruk. An allied army was evacuated from Crete. In one night of bombing, 3,000 people were killed or injured in London. Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament were damaged and 2,000 fires were lit. Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, parachuted into Scotland. And the battleships Hood and Bismarck were sunk.
Of all these events, however, history will undoubtedly record that the most far reaching occurred over the Cranwell RAF College on May 15, 1941.
At 7.40 p.m. on that day, an aircraft was wheeled on to the runway and her engines roared into life. It was not the sound normally associated with an aeroplane, but a high-pitched whine which increased as the plane taxied and took off. Still screaming, the plane headed west at high speed. Then it roared back, executed a series of breathtaking, swooping turns and howled in to land.
That was all. No public announcement, no news cameras to record the scene. In fact, of those who were there on that historic day, only a small group knew that this short flight by the Gloster-Whittle E28/39 jet plane marked a landmark in aviation history. The world had been thrust forward into a new era where flights of giant aircraft carrying hundreds of passengers at great heights and at twice the speed of sound would be commonplace.
So well had the secret been kept that later an RAF officer was seen sitting in the mess with a frown on his face. When asked what was wrong, he replied that he had just seen an aeroplane going at a terrific speed, but there had been something odd about it. Then suddenly he stiffened. “I must be going round the bend,” he said. “It hadn’t got a propeller.”
Among those watching that May flight was Frank Whittle, the designer of this, the first British jet aircraft engine. For Whittle, the moment was the culmination of a dogged fight against great odds to bring to life an idea which, as a Cranwell cadet some 13 years before, he had suggested in a paper called “Future Developments in Aircraft Design.” In the paper, Whittle stated that if high speeds were to be combined with long range, it would be necessary to fly at great heights where the thinner air would reduce resistance to speed.
After leaving Cranwell as an officer, Frank Whittle put sketches and calculations for a gas turbine jet engine before the Air Ministry in 1929. They replied that they considered the scheme impracticable, as there were no metals strong enough to withstand the stresses and high temperatures necessary.
So to safeguard his idea Whittle took out a patent and told the Air Ministry, but they showed no interest.
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Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, World War 2 on Monday, 24 February 2014
This edited article about Ethiopia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.
Haile Selassie raises the Ethiopian flag after five years of Italian occupation, by Angus McBride
The flagpole stood in the centre of the dry cracked river bed, stark and bare against the thick jungle that crowded down on either side. During the rainy season, a mass of water churned and thundered by this spot, but now in January, only a few stagnant pools remained, with crocodiles lashing their tails into intermittent view above a coating of scum.
A small, slightly-built man stepped from the shadow of the trees and made his way across the river bed. He reached the flagpole and slowly hauled to the top a gold, green and red standard inset with the fierce, scowling emblem of the Lion of Judah.
It was the first time in nearly five years that Emperor Haile Selassie, Lion of Judah, Elect of God, King of Kings of Ethiopia, had seen his country’s flag flying on the soil of his long-suffering kingdom.
On October 3rd, 1935, the Fascist armies of Italy had invaded Ethiopia from the Italian colonies of Somaliland and Eritrea. They could hardly have chosen a more vulnerable enemy; for the Ethiopian army was thoroughly antiquated and the Ethiopian people backward, even barbaric, and certainly easy to terrorise.
In the seven months the unequal war lasted, both were totally helpless as Italian bombers roared down on undefended villages, encampments and hospitals, bringing with them a holocaust of fire and the burning, choking, blinding fumes of gas.
Ethiopian soldiers, armed sometimes with no more than staves and swords, were pounded by artillery and pursued in inevitable retreat by fast armoured vehicles. When, with almost ludicrous bravery, they made massed charges on barbed wire defences or machine-gun nests, the result was only slaughter and useless sacrifice.
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Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Industry, World War 1, World War 2 on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about Louis Renault first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
the Paris to Madrid race of 1903, which had cost Louis his brother's life by Graham Coton
Louis Renault hadn’t a hope. Accusing fingers were pointing at this wealthy French motor car manufacturer.
He was a collaborationist, they said. He made tanks and aeroplane engines for the Nazis, they cried. He had grown fat and rich in the Second World War while most of occupied France starved under German rule, they screamed.
Louis Renault must die.
It was a hate campaign against war profiteers, among whom Louis Renault was classed. His punishment had begun when his great sprawling factory had crumbled under the bombs of the R.A.F. because they were working for the German army.
But he had rebuilt it with the rugged tenacity that had brought him through a life of shattering disasters.
He had made the name of Renault famous throughout the world with a succession of fine cars for the family motorist and fast models for the racing track. He had perfected devices like a special gearbox that earned him royalties for many years from all the other motor manufacturers. Renault had given the car to the people.
And now he was going to pay the price. His arrest was inevitable. The sentence of the court beyond doubt.
Renault had worked for the Germans. Renault would pay the penalty.
As he looked back over his life in the anxious days before the police called to arrest him, he must have wondered what had changed him from the shy, stuttering youth whose main joy was in tinkering with machinery, to the single-minded autocratic employer whose sole interest was in keeping his vast factory in production, whether it was making cars for the French people or tanks for the Germans.
Renault was in love with his factory. And he had to keep its heart throbbing, whatever the cost.
Part of that cost had been paid during the frightful bloodbath of the Paris to Madrid race of 1903, which had seared a burning scar in his memory and cost him the brother, who was his co-director.
Renault had entered cars driven by himself, his brother, Marcel, and another driver named Oury.
The race turned out to be a deadly fiasco. It was stopped at Bordeaux after an unbelievable series of accidents in which fast cars crashed on 16th century hump-backed bridges or broke their axles on bumps in the road that were all right for a dog cart but calamitous for a car.
Less than half the cars which started the race reached Bordeaux. The rest were charred and shattered ruins, death traps for their drivers and mechanics.
Spectators were knocked down like ninepins as the out-of-control cars ran amok among the crowds lining the route. A soldier died trying to shield a child. Onlookers crowding round a blazing car were killed when a following one smashed into it.
The terrible tragedy put an end to town-to-town races, apart from those on properly controlled road circuits cleared of stray crowds, and it nearly put an end to Louis Renault.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about the Warsaw Ghetto first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 560 published on 7 October 1972.
Hunger scythed at their stomachs as the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto stumbled through the streets, with decay and the sinister silence of death all round them. Waxy-pale, they slumped against walls or sat in doorways, skeletons moving in slow motion, barely covered by skin.
It was as if a coma had settled on the nine square miles of streets to which the Nazi German invaders had confined the first of them on 15th November, 1940. By May 1941, nearly half a million Jews were crammed into the Ghetto and sealed off from the rest of Warsaw by walls surmounted with broken glass.
This was what the Germans chose to call the “Jewish Residential District.” But no one who knew the truth had any illusions as to what the Germans had in mind.
Ever since he had come to power in 1933, the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, had been boosting in German hearts and minds an arrogant pride in the Aryan “master race” to which they belonged, and non-Aryans, like Jews, did not.
Hatred of the Jews had stained the minds of many Europeans for centuries. In Germany it was particularly strong. When the Nazis overran Poland in September 1939, they brought with them a fanatical ambition to rid the country of its Jewish population.
Lusting for victims, the Nazis concentrated their fury on to the members of the race which they considered inferior to their own, showing mercy to none. Women, children, the elderly and the sick were treated with equal inhumanity by the invaders.
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