Seventy-two years ago on Nov. 19, the Soviet Red Army began Operation Uranus, the counteroffensive that led to the encirclement of German forces at the Battle of Stalingrad.
Nazi Germany unleashed its massive invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 with Operation Barbarossa. Despite early successes and a deep advance into enemy territory, the operation failed as the Soviets repelled the assault against Moscow and as the campaign at Leningrad broke down into a two-year siege. Barbarossa’s failure in the autumn and winter of that year was disastrous for the Third Reich. With supply lines of 2,000 miles, it now faced an Eastern Front that stretched from Leningrad in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Hitler and his commanders had underestimated his enemy along with its critical ally, the Russian Winter, as well as Germany’s ability to supply and reinforce its own troops.
In 1942, Axis forces directed their offensives south toward the industrial city of Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucasus. Hitler decided to split the campaign into two groups: Army Group A would push toward the oil fields, while Army Group B would protect its flank along the Volga River and capture Stalingrad, whose name was a matter of pride to the feuding dictators and of propaganda value to both sides. read more »
Nov. 12 marks the 150th anniversary of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous burning of Atlanta in the American Civil War.
Sherman had defeated Southern General John Bell Hood at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. After a long siege, the city finally fell on Sept. 2. Sherman’s victories were well-timed as they helped Abraham Lincoln sail to presidential victory that year against the “peace” candidate, Democrat and former Union General George McClellan (a few months earlier, Lincoln’s reelection hopes had seemed dim as the North had suffered heavy losses that summer at the Battles of the Crater and Cold Harbor).
By 1864, as commanding Union General Ulysses Grant and Confederate General Robert Lee became locked in stalemate, Sherman and Grant had come to understand that the conventional, Napoleonic style of warfare would not be enough to end the war without the American public losing morale. They decided that the Confederacy’s economic capacity and its will to fight had to be broken. He planned to march his army toward Savannah on the coast, destroying infrastructure and foraging for supplies along the way. read more »
A few hours after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese bombers and Zero fighters began a devastating offensive against the U.S. Far East Air Force based in the Philippines. Japanese soldiers landed ashore the same day. For several months, American and Philippine troops battled the Japanese onslaught. Despite a fierce defense of the Bataan Peninsula and heavy enemy casualties, President Roosevelt ordered the commanding general, Douglas MacArthur, to retreat to Australia before the Philippines was cut off completely.
Before leaving and then again upon arrival in Australia, MacArthur bitterly vowed, “I shall return.” Seventy years ago on Monday, MacArthur fulfilled his promise. read more »
On Oct. 14, 1944, Germany’s most respected commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was forced to commit suicide for his involvement with the failed July 20 assassination attempt and coup against Adolf Hitler.
Unlike most of the German High Command that came from Prussian aristocracy, Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was born to a southern Swabian German family whose father was a school headmaster and professor. A bright youth with a technical mind, Rommel considered becoming an engineer, but instead chose the military route at the behest of his father. During World War I, Rommel earned a reputation for his bravery and his ability to defeat and capture forces overwhelmingly larger than his own as he served in France, Romania, and Italy. Wounded three times during the war, Rommel was awarded the Iron Cross twice as well as the Pour le Mérite (Imperial Germany’s equivalent of the Medal of Honor). read more »
This month marks the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Yser in the Great War, where Belgian forces stemmed a brutal German offensive that had already consumed the vast majority of the country’s territory.
To defeat France, the German Empire used a plan, originally developed years before the war by Count Alfred von Schlieffen, to invade Belgium and then turn south to outflank and encircle France’s armies. Germany’s execution of the Schlieffen Plan, however, prompted Britain’s entry into the war as it had guaranteed Belgium’s neutrality in a treaty signed in 1839. German forces began their attack on Aug. 4, 1914. Although Belgian troops surprised the Germans with a fierce defense, they ultimately were defeated at the Battle of Liege. Brussels then fell on Aug. 20.
After the German advance into France had been stopped at the First Battle of the Marne in September, the Franco-British and German armies attempted to outmaneuver one another north toward the Belgian coast in what became known as the “Race to the Sea.” Meanwhile, Belgian forces were forced to withdraw from the besieged city of Antwerp and to dig in along the Yser River near the English Channel and the French border. Belgium retained only a small corner of its territory in western Flanders, but King Albert I refused to leave his country. read more »
Monday is Patriots’ Day, a holiday celebrated in Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin. Though it is better known as the day on which the Boston Marathon is run (and sadly, now associated with a terrorist attack), this day officially commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord, a conflict preceded by the famed midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Revere was memorialized in Henry Longfellow’s epic 1861 poem “the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” written to inspire the courage of Americans as they faced the coming horrors of the Civil War. Though it made Revere a household name to all future generations of Americans, this poem has long been decried by historians as a piece of fiction which massacres the actual narrative of April 18 and 19, 1775. Perhaps most lamentably, it does not pay any credit to the dozens of other riders and patriots who co-labored in spreading the alarm, most especially the other two main riders that night, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott.
Growing concerned by the build-up of arms and militia in the countryside surrounding the occupied city of Boston, and knowing that war was growing more inevitable, the British military authorities were laying plans to make raids into the countryside to seize guns and ammunition from the Colonists. Even as the British were carefully watching the movements of famous patriots and gathering their own intelligence, men like Revere developed a network by which the alarm could be spread whenever the soldiers set out on their raids. read more »
April 4 is the anniversary of the founding of an organization which has gained new life and significantly increased in importance in the wake of the recent crisis in Crimea. Sixty-five years ago, on April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was chartered in Washington, D.C. When WWII ended, and the nations of Western Europe faced a new threat on their borders – the Soviet Union – they realized the need for a new, more comprehensive treaty to stave off the new threat, a treaty that would span the Atlantic and bring in the United States.
The organization was created as a defensive structure against the Soviet Union, as well as a means for fostering military cooperation amongst like-minded free nations and for encouraging member nations to keep their armaments adequately built up enough to stave off any Russian aggression. NATO nations standardized military terminology and procedures in order to ease cooperation, and often held joint exercises between their militaries.
Ironically enough, the very nation the bloc was formed to defend against, asked to be admitted as a member, as well. NATO ultimately determined that this would weaken the alliance. In response to the inclusion of West Germany into NATO, in 1955, the Soviets formed the Warsaw Pact, consisting of the USSR and several allied Eastern European states that were under communist rule. The Pact was formally disbanded in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. read more »
As numerous nations who are often rivals continue to work together to locate wreckage from the downed Malaysian Airlines flight 370 and the families of the victims now grieve the loss of their loved ones after finally hearing an official explanation of their fate, the news shows continue to criticize the coverage of various commentators. Thanks to CNN host Don Lemon, we now know that, yes, it is “preposterous” to think that there was a black hole on the earth which may have swallowed MH370.
But while anyone who saw this coverage has heard a debunking of the idea of black holes existing on earth, they may have left still believing in another myth alluded to by the host, who had also listed the Bermuda Triangle as a possible explanation for the plane’s disappearance. Over the past couple of weeks an internet scam appearing on sites like Facebook claimed that the plane had been found in the Bermuda Triangle. While commentators have conceded that these are hoaxes, and others have pointed out that the plane disappeared in Asia – nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle – many have failed to clarify the more basic fact that the Bermuda Triangle itself is a myth.
The U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not recognize the Bermuda Triangle (an area supposedly bounded by Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda), and the Navy and Coast Guard claim that bad weather and human errors explain all the flights and ships lost in that area of the sea. They claim there is no evidence that more mysterious disappearances happen there than in any other heavily traveled area of the ocean. read more »
It is eerie to think that those who stood at the windows of the airport in Kuala Lumpur and watched the Malaysian flight MH370 depart for Beijing would possibly be the last humans to set eyes on the plane. Yes, accidents happen – we all know that when we board a plane.
But until lately we had an unshakeable belief that with modern radar, tracking devices, search equipment, and indestructible black boxes, we could nearly instantly discover any wreckage and begin piecing together what went wrong. No one had any thought that over a week later we might still know almost nothing of what had become of the 239 passengers and crew who disappeared in the most bizarre and mind-bending aviation disaster of our times.
Yet this certainty isn't something incredibly new. For centuries, those who watched the white sails of a ship disappear over the horizon, bearing loved ones on board to distant lands they knew little of and had never seen pictures of, traveling over barely charted waters, knew not only that they might never see the people on board again, but also that they might never know what had become of them. read more »
Over the summer, RealClearHistory Editor Samuel Chi embarked on a two-week tour of the British Isles and France. He filed a few dispatches via the transatlantic telegraph cable, which we just received now.
Part I: Guernsey - British Land Under German Boots read more »