Heligoland

779px-DE_Helgoland_COA.svg

Heligoland coat of arms. Wikipedia.

From the National Post:

‘Blow the bloody place up’: Why, 70 years ago, Britain blew up an entire German island

In 1947, Britain had a problem. It had thousands of tonnes of explosives left over from the Second World War. And it also had a German island in the North Sea that it hated.

So, 70 years ago this week, the Royal Navy enacted an elegant solution: Use the explosives to blow the island to hell.

“Blow the bloody place up,” was reportedly the instructions given to F.T. Woosnam, the British naval engineer tasked with making the island of Heligoland disappear.

The preparation wasn’t overly technical.

For nearly a year, crews had simply stacked up more than 7,000 tonnes of old munitions and wired them together: Depth charges, old torpedoes, boxes of grenades and stacks of aerial bombs.

Photos from the era show crews nonchalantly kicking dismantled torpedoes into large heaps.

The resulting April 19 explosion, triggered with the push of a button by a sharply dressed naval commander, not only shattered every vestige of human habitation on the island — but permanently altered the topography of the place.

The United Kingdom had plenty of reasons to hate Heligoland. For starters, the island had once been part of the British Empire after it was captured during the Napoleonic Wars.

But finding no use for a windy outcrop filled with vacationers, in 1890 London handed it over to the newly formed German Empire in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar.

To the Brits’ chagrin, the Germans then proceeded to spend two world wars using Heligoland as a fortress from which to attack the U.K.

The island was the site of the first naval battle of the First World War, and the first major aerial battle of the Second World War. In both conflicts, it was a key forward base for submarines looking to starve the U.K. into submission.

After the first war in 1918, the victorious Allies had simply ordered the island to be demilitarized.

But when that clearly hadn’t worked, the victors of another war settled on a backup plan: Detonate the place so severely that it could never again be used for military purposes.

“A very reasonable way of celebrating Hitler’s birthday,” proclaimed the narrator of British newsreel documenting the destruction.

Then, just for good measure, the Royal Air Force spent the rest of the 1940s using Heligoland as a target site for their bombers.

Only in 1952 were Heligolanders allowed to move back.

Why the Brits didn’t just keep it I do not know. I seem to remember that the place played a role in the John Malkovich movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Click on the link to read more and to see newsreel footage of the explosion.

Brunhilde Pomsel, 1911-2017

From the Washington Post, via the National Post:

Brunhilde Pomsel, Joseph Goebbels’ secretary and one of the last surviving top Nazi staffers, dead at 106

by Emily Langer

Brunhilde Pomsel, a secretary to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who late in life came forward to publicly reflect on, if perhaps not fully reckon with, questions of personal and collective guilt in the face of the Holocaust, died during the night of Jan. 27 at her home in Munich. She was 106.

Her death was confirmed by Roland Schrotthofer, a director of “A German Life,” a documentary drawn from dozens of hours of interviews conducted with Pomsel when she was 103. No other details were immediately available.

Pomsel was one of the last surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy’s most intimate staff, but she spent all but the final years of her life in obscurity. She became widely known only after the premiere of the documentary in Nyon, Switzerland, in 2016. The U.S. release is forthcoming.

The film, directed by Schrotthofer, Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller and Florian Weigensamer, presents an arresting portrait of an ordinary German swept into the Nazi apparatus in her youth, then left to reflect for more than seven decades on her complicity, if any, in its crimes.

Pomsel sparkled on camera in her lucidity. She confessed to harboring “a bit of a guilty conscience” but professed that she had known nothing of the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust — the “matter of the Jews,” as she termed it — until after the war was over.

 

More at the link.

Announcements

For those in the area:

Please join us on Saturday, February 4, 2017, when the Bandy Heritage Center presents the 2017 Civil War in the Western Theater Colloquium “Written in Blood and Carved in Stone: Remembering the Civil War at Chickamauga, Shiloh, and Vicksburg.” Three prominent scholars will discuss how the nation’s earliest military parks came into existence, how each contributed to the memory of the war, and how their commemoration of the historic landscape changed over time. The program starts at 10:00 a.m. and will be held in the Lecture Hall of the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center (2211 Dug Gap Battle Road, Dalton, GA 30720) in conjunction with the Chickamauga Civil War Show.

*****

Looking for a date night idea in Cartersville?

January 28, 2017, 7:00-10:00 p.m.

Red, White, and You!
Live Jazz – Dancing – Cocktails – Refreshments
Come dressed in 1940’s attire
(Rosie, WACS, G.I., Starlet, Comic Book Hero, etc.)
Obtain your enlistment papers (tickets)
www.BartowHistoryMuseum.org.
For more information call our recruiter, Nicole Masters, at 770-382-3818, ext. 6288 or email her at nicolem@BartowHistoryMuseum.org.
Bartow History Museum
4 East Church Street, Cartersville, GA 30120

 *****

Evening Lecture: Touring the Wilderness of North America with Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodmer
January 19, 7:00 pm

Bergman Theatre, Booth Western Art Museum.

Join the Prince of Wied, Maximilian, as he takes you on a tour of North America as he saw it in 1832-33-34. Using Karl Bodmer’s illuminating illustrations, Prince Maximilian will escort the audience on an adventure from the Grand Banks of Newfoundland to the Great Falls of the Missouri River, from New Harmony, Indiana to New Orleans, Louisiana. Travel with this intrepid explorer to meet America’s best scientific minds, explore the West in the wake of Lewis and Clark, camp among the Mandan, Lakota, Crow and Omaha and participate in traditional American Indian drumming songs. Storyteller and author Brian “Fox” Ellis steps into the shoes of Prince Maximilian allowing the audience to step back in time. Blending history, science, art and cultural anthropology, the Prince gives us a unique view of America as he saw it in the early 1830s. Much of the text for this performance comes directly from his journals. The backdrop includes the landscapes, portraits, and scenes from everyday life painted by Karl Bodmer. Program included with admission.

Nazi Advent Calendars

An interesting article courtesy my friend Malcolm Mercer. The original is at Salon.fr. (I am curious to see that the Nazis frowned on stars atop Christmas trees. I understand that Jews, insofar as they put up Christmas trees at all, tend not to put stars on top of them, since stars are Messianic imagery, and they don’t recognize Jesus as the Messiah.)

***

Check out this Nazi Advent calendar

In 1943, the Nazi created their own non-religious version of an Advent calendar, featuring tanks instead of the baby Jesus.

The Nazis were no fans of Christmas: after all, Jesus was Jewish, and they wanted to diminish the influence of Christianity in German society. To this end, the Nazi Ministry of Culture published several Christmas booklets and calendars, hoping to transform the holiday into a bellicose celebration of the motherland.

As reported on Vox.com, from 1943, German children in the Third Reich got a peculiar version of the traditional Advent calendar. According an online archive of Nazi propaganda, German mothers received a calendar featuring a patriotic and militaristic message for each day in December.

In the midst of a world war, the first page redefined the traditional festive spirit of Christmas:

German mother! Christmas has always been for children. War and destruction rage throughout the world, and all Germans, men or women, must steel themselves to keep fighting this battle to victory – but our children must be able to enjoy this holiday which is the most German of all.

No Stars on Trees

Among several winter scenes, numerous illustrations in the calendar are dedicated to celebrating war, showing tanks and submarines. There are also quite a few swastikas and examples of letters that a child can write to soldiers at the front.

The traditional history of Jesus and the three kings is replaced by a story of a lumberjack, a soldier and a king who encounter a mother and her infant son in a forest. The mother says to the soldier:

You and your comrades are the protectors of the motherland, and all mothers, fathers and children thank you, particularly those who gave their lives!

As reported at Fast Company, Christmas decorations were also changed during the Nazi era. The Christmas tree was considered acceptable, indeed very German, but certainly not the traditional star put on top, since it was too reminiscent of the Jewish star of David and the single star of Communism. The Nazis recommended that Germans crown their trees with a swastika, a sun disk (a symbol of the Aryan race) or the runic SS logo.

Zen and Kamikazes

From Aeon magazine:

Into nothingness
In the 1940s, Japan’s search for a national philosophy became a battle for existence. Did Zen ideas create the kamikaze?

by Christopher Harding

Dusk, that most beautiful moment
With no pattern.
Millions of images appear and disappear.
Beloved people.
How unbearable to die in the sky.

Hours after writing these lines, the 24-year-old Tadao Hayashi fuelled a battered Mitsubishi A6M Zero and flew it towards an American aircraft carrier – and into nothingness. It was late July 1945. A few days later, the United States would drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A war sold to the Japanese public as a struggle for national survival would be over.

In contemporary Western memory, still stocked for the most part by wartime propaganda imagery of mad, rodent-like Japanese, those final weeks are a swirl of brainwashed fanaticism, reaching its apotheosis as hundreds of kamikaze planes slammed into the US ships closing in around Japan’s home islands. Three thousand raids and innumerable scouting missions were launched during the climax of the conflict, designed to show the US the terrible cost it would pay for an all-out invasion of Japan.

Yet the vast majority of planes never made it to their attack or reconnaissance targets; they were lost instead at sea. And war’s end failed to yield the apocalyptic romance for which Japan’s leaders so fervently hoped. By late 1944 and early ’45, the only ‘life or death struggle’ was the routine misery to which the empire itself had reduced its soldiers and civilians. Conscripts were trained and goaded to fire their rifles into their own heads, to gather around an activated grenade, to charge into Allied machine-gun fire. Civilians jumped off cliffs, as Saipan and later Okinawa were taken by the Allies. Citizens of great cities such as Tokyo and Osaka had their buildings torn town and turned into ammunition.

Nor do clichés of unthinking ultranationalism fit the experiences of many kamikaze pilots. For each one willing to crash-dive the bridge of a US ship mouthing militarist one-liners, others lived and died less gloriously: cursing their leaders, rioting in their barracks or forcing their planes into the sea. A few took theirsenninbari – thousand-stitch sashes, each stitch sewn by a different well-wisher – and burned them in disgust. At least one pilot turned back on his final flight and strafed his commanding officers.

Much more at the link.

Vive la Résistance

From the National Post:

The incredible life of a fearless agent, smuggler and spy who fought the Nazi occupation of France

Jeannette Guyot, who has died aged 97, resisted the occupation of France by Germany throughout the Second World War and became one of France’s most highly decorated agents.

Jeannette Guyot was born on February 26 1919 in Chalon-sur-Saone, where, after the fall of France in June 1940, she and all her family were quick to join the Resistance. Until August 1941 she worked for Felix Svagrowsky of the Amarante network as a passeur, using a German-issued pass, or Ausweiss, to smuggle people out of the occupied zone to the north and across the Saone river by boat into Vichy France.

In August 1941 she met Gilbert Renault, alias Colonel Remy, chief of the Paris-based Confrerie Notre-Dame reseau (network), and she became one of his liaison officers, carrying mail into Vichy France, while continuing as a passeur. In February 1942, however, she was arrested and imprisoned for three months at Chalon-sur-Saone and Autun. She resisted all interrogation and nothing could be proved against her, but the Germans withdrew her Ausweiss. Unperturbed, she resumed her role as a passeur, accompanying a dozen people a month across the demarcation line.

More on the incredible heroics of this agent at the link.

Warsaw Rebuilt

The Guardian is running a series called “The Story of Cities,” and number 28 on Warsaw is rather interesting:

Story of cities #28: how postwar Warsaw was rebuilt using 18th century paintings

When Warsaw’s Old Town was destroyed by Hitler’s troops in the second world war, the nation mobilised to rebuild the city with the rubble of its own destruction – and the work of Italian painter Bernardo Bellotto.

It is August 1944 and the Polish resistance are in violent clashes with the Nazi forces that have occupied Warsaw. The resistance intend to liberate the city from what the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz has called the “dark, black and red world of Nazi occupation”.

During the Warsaw Uprising, the ill-equipped Polish resistance succeed in inflicting serious damage on their oppressors, with 20,000 Nazi troops left wounded or dead. But it is the civilian population that suffers the greatest losses, with 150,000 people killed in air strikes and in fighting across the city.

In retaliation, the Nazis raze the Polish capital to the ground. More than 85% of the city’s historic centre is reduced to ruins. Unlike in other European cities, where damage largely occurs during the fighting, Warsaw is systematically destroyed once the two months of conflict have ended, as an act of revenge by Hitler’s forces.

What follows is the story of how Varsovians (residents of Warsaw) reconstructed their city – in part from the cityscapes, or vedute, of the Venetian painter Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), often referred to as Canaletto after his more renowned uncle.

Bellotto, who was made court painter to the King of Poland in 1768, created beautiful and accurate paintings of Warsaw’s buildings and squares. It is testimony to the veracity of his work that almost 200 years later, those paintings were used to help transform the historic city centre from wreckage and rubble into what is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

More at the link.

Espionage in World War II

An interesting story in the National Post (although as ever in the world of espionage, you have to wonder who is playing whom):

The world’s worst Nazi spy: The German agent caught by Canada in a matter of hours

The first clue was the weird banknotes the stranger used to pay for his hotel bill.

To staff at the Carlisle hotel in New Carlisle, QC he presented oversized $1 bills that had not been in regular circulation since the First World War; the modern equivalent of handing over a fistful of pre-loonie $1 bills.

He said his name was William Branton of 323 Danforth Avenue in Toronto — an address now occupied by a women’s wear boutique. Having arrived into New Carlisle by bus that morning, he said he wanted to stop in for a quick bath and breakfast before continuing on to Montreal.

But the first bus into New Carlisle would not arrive for another three hours.
“We knew that he was a foreigner, by the way he spoke… he had kind of a guttural speech in the back of his throat,” Marguerite, the daughter of the Carlisle’s owner, would later tell journalist Dean Beeby for the 1996 book Cargo of Lies, an account of the spy fiasco.

In reality, the stranger had arrived in Quebec via the relatively unorthodox mode of a U-Boat.

That morning, the submarine U-518 had performed the nail-biting task of surfacing just off the well-patrolled waters of the Quebec coast and rowing the man to shore in an inflatable dinghy.

It was November 9, 1942, the same day that Canada would break off diplomatic relations with Vichy France, the rump German puppet state carved out of southeastern France.

New Carlisle’s most famous son, future Quebec premier René Lévesque, had only recently moved to Quebec City for a radio job. In another couple years, Lévesque would be sailing to Europe as a war correspondent.

And now, New Carlisle was the first stop for Werner von Janowski, a German officer sent on a mission of espionage to Canada.

He had stepped onto Canadian soil in the trim, impressive uniform of a German naval officer, complete even with an Iron Cross pinned to his breast. This was standard procedure for German spies. That way, if they were caught, they could avoid execution as spies by saying that they had simply deserted from the German navy and swum to shore somehow.

But in the chilly pre-dawn hours, von Janowski swapped his gleaming uniform for a suit of civilian clothes, buried the uniform in the sand and began his new identity as a Parisian-born salesman who had immigrated to Canada in 1921.

He had a gun, $5,000 and identity papers suspected to have been seized from Canadian casualties of the August, 1942 Dieppe Raid.

The agent’s instructions were vague, but his goal was to go to Montreal and try and link up with some fascists, according to the book U-Boats Against Canada.

That is, if the Nazis’ contact for the Canadian Fascist Party was still current.

Throughout history, Canada has actually been pretty bad at spotting suspicious foreign characters in their midst.

Immediately after assassinating Martin Luther King Jr., the killer James Earl Ray lived unnoticed for weeks in Toronto, despite his picture being all over the T.V. news.
And from the Holocaust to the Rwandan Genocide, Canada has had the dubious distinction of being a relatively safe hideout for former genocidaires.

But that morning, the citizens of sleepy New Carlisle were really on the ball. The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing and they knew their coast was crawling with German submarines.

After the war, this would even spawn alcohol-fuelled memories that Gaspé Peninsula pubs were occasionally visited by German submariners looking to stretch their legs.
Of course, it helped that von Janowski was dripping in clues.

The stranger lit his cigarettes with matches that were made in Belgium—which was strange considering that Belgium had been occupied by the Nazis for three years.
He wore clothes with a distinctly foreign cut. And he smelled awful; almost like someone who had been shut up inside the stale air of a sealed metal tube for several days.

Earle Annett Jr., the son of the Carlisle’s proprietor, alerted authorities as soon as von Janowski set off on foot for the New Carlisle train station.

After taking his seat aboard the Montreal-bound train, the German agent was soon greeted by a Quebec Provincial Police officer, who asked him for I.D. “I am caught. I am a German officer,” von Janowski replied.

It had only been 12 hours.

A press blackout would shield the historic capture from the wartime Canadian public. And soon, the RCMP would accede to von Janowski’s offer to act as a double agent for Canada.

But as Beeby would note in Cargo of Lies, the inexperienced Mounties were likely played by the captured German.

The would-be spy provided just enough misleading information to throw off the Royal Canadian Navy hunt for the U-Boat that had dropped his off. And as a double agent, he failed to feed the RCMP one iota of information about German sub movements.

A frustrated Canada ultimately packed von Janowski off to an English prison camp for the rest of the war.

The Atom Bomb

“Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved millions of lives” claims an article in the Diplomat. “By showing the world the horrors of nuclear warfare, the atomic bombings made future ones much less likely.” I suppose this is true; at least the author did not claim that the bombs themselves ended the war and thus obviated the need for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan scheduled for November, 1945, and which would have cost hundreds of thousands of Allied lives and millions of Japanese ones. That the bombs didn’t actually end the war has been understood for some time; indeed, Keck quotes another article which states that “the bomb didn’t beat Japan… Stalin did.” The bombs were a convenient excuse for Japan to use in surrendering to the United States, and the Emperor famously noted in his surrender speech that “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.” But do you think that a “new and most cruel bomb” was going to extinguish Japan’s will to fight? More people died in the “conventional” firebombing of Tokyo, which was one of many Japanese cities to suffer such a fate. Or, as the authors put it, “If they surrendered because a city was destroyed, why didn’t they surrender when those other 66 cities were destroyed?”

People tend to forget that Stalin had an agreement with the other allies to declare war on Japan within three months of the end of the war in Europe. True to his word, he declared war exactly three months after VE Day – that is, August 8, 1945, two days after Hiroshima, and one day before Nagasaki – at which point Soviet troops invaded Manchuria and Korea. This removed the Japanese hope that the Soviets could serve as a broker between the US and Japan, and impelled the Japanese to surrender to the United States. Moreover, what the article does not mention is that the Soviet invasion scared the US as much as it scared the Japanese. We were pushing for an unconditional surrender in Japan, as we pushed for (and achieved) one in Germany (which itself was an attempt to avoid the problems of the Armistice of 1918, whereby the Germans could convince themselves that they hadn’t actually lost). The Japanese interpreted our demand for an unconditional surrender to mean that the Americans might force them to relinquish their Emperor, something ideologically unthinkable. But by August of 1945 it was apparent that we were not going to be friends with Stalin after the war, and we did not want to have happen to Japan was was currently happening in Germany, and what would soon happen to Korea. So we indicated that we were willing to accept a surrender with the caveat that the Emperor would remain on the throne and not be subject to war-crimes trials – which indeed came to pass. In other words, we accepted a conditional surrender – the same one the Japanese themselves hinted they would offer in early May, 1945.

So yes, it looks like Stalin impelled Japan to formally surrender, and us to accept that surrender. In retrospect, it also calls into serious question the atomic bombings – and all the other damage – that we did to Japan from May until August of 1945.