Skip to comments.1939 - The Year in Review
Posted on 12/31/2009 11:51:33 PM PST by CougarGA7
It was not a typical summer night on the Obersalzberg. On this night of August 21st the men of the Nazi party were in celebration. That day they had signed a pact with Russia that in effect had paved the way for Hitlers next conquest; Poland. As Adolf Hitler and his entourage stepped on the terrace of this mountain retreat they were greeted with a rare display of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky. Albert Speer would later reflect on how these lights bathed everyone on the terrace with an eerie red glow. As Hitler looked at the red tinge on his hands he turned to one of his military adjuncts and said, Looks like a great deal of blood. This time we wont bring it off without violence.1
At this time even Hitler must not have known how right he was. In 1939 he was still riding his successes of the previous year. In 1938 he had managed to take all of Austria as well as the Sudetenland without a shot being fired. As 1939 commence he had kept the pressure on until he finally orchestrated his final absorption of the rump state of Czecho-Slovakia and had created a Bohemia Protectorate as well as a puppet state in Slovakia. This would be the last of his bloodless conquests. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a man who had desperately clung to a policy of appeasement, had finally seen the light. Chamberlain would draw a line in the sand. Hitler was already making designs towards Poland and the Prime Minister reflected on this in his speech of March 31st when he threw the British lot in with the Polish people:
In the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majestys government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French Government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter. 2
The battle lines were now drawn. Hitler, still confident at his mountaintop chateau was ready to take up the British and French on their challenge. Convinced that the Western Allies would back down as they always had, Hitler moved forward with his invasion of Poland with Russias blessing on September 1st. For the first time in his long standing challenges to the west Hitler was wrong. On September 3rd England sent a declaration of war to Germany. Hitlers interpreter Paul Schmidt translated the declaration and later described the scene:
After I finished, there was total silence . Hitler sat there as if petrified and stared straight ahead. He was not stunned, as was maintained later, and he did not rant and rave either, as others claimed they knew. He sat in his seat completely quiet and motionless. After a while, which seemed like an eternity to me, he turned to Ribbentrop who kept standing at the window as if frozen. What now? Hitler asked his Foreign Minister with a furious gaze in his eyes as if he wanted to indicate that Ribbentrop had misinformed him about the reaction of the British. Softly, Ribbentrop replied: I assume that the French will shortly give us an identical ultimatum Göring turned to me and said: If we lose this war, may Heaven have mercy on us! 3
Many years later Göring was probably reflecting on the prolific comment as he sat in his cell in Nuremberg getting ready to enact his final solution on himself with the cyanide capsule he had secreted away. But for now it will be a year of triumph for the Nazi war machine. In 1939 they made quick work of Poland and divided the spoils with their tenuous Russian ally. The French will make a half hearted attempt to advance into Germany in the Saar region only to cower away behind the protection of their perceived impenetrable Maginot Line. The British would wage war in the way they best knew how, taking on the Germans at sea in the beginning of the battle of the Atlantic. Germany, however, would take the first rounds in the bout. The German U-boat dominated the scene in 1939 pinnacled with daring attack on the Royal Oak in Scapa Flow. U-47 Captain Günther Prien brought his boat in on the surface against the stiff tides through Kirk Sound to come to bear on the sleeping giant.4 Above the surface of the ocean was a different story for the Kriegsmarine and the year finished out with a significant victory for the Royal Navy. On December 13th the 8 inch-gun cruiser Exeter was sent forward to investigate smoke to the northwest and sighted the pocket-battleship Graf Spee.5 In the following engagement the Exeter, Achilles and Ajax exchanged fire with the Graf Spee and while all three ships suffered varying degrees of damage they successfully chased the Graf Spee into the Uruguayan port of Montevideo.6 With the Graf Spee trapped Captain Langsdorff, with Hitlers blessing, ordered the ship scuttled off the coast.
The Germans did not stand alone on the war path though. Despite the fact that Mussolini and Italy decided to shun away from war, the Soviet Union was emboldened by their new ally and the political dividing of Eastern Europe between the two. They began their own quest for territory by occupying their allotted portion of Poland on the 17th of September. There they showed an equal propensity for violence just as the Germans did in their portion. In what would become know as the Katyn forest massacre the Soviets exercised their authority by executing all Polish officers, reserve officers, and specialists that the Red Army captured.7 They followed up their occupation of Eastern Poland with demands made on the small Baltic states. These states conceded the right for the Soviets to establish bases on their territory but it was only reasonable when considered that the requests were made while Soviet planes flew over the respective capitals. On November 30th the Soviets took a more direct approach to the eastern land grab as they invaded the small country of Finland. By the end of the year they were starting to learn that they were not prepared to fight a dedicated opponent. The Finnish established a defensive position at what was called the Mannerheim Line and the combination of fighting in -30 degree cold and general unpreparedness was costing the Red Army dearly with no notable gains.8 At the end of the year only the United States stood as a major power not embroiled in conflict.
1939 marks the point where diplomacy ended and conflict began. Captured in these links are the stories of the transition into war as reported by the New York Times and brought to you by the diligent work of Freeper Homer_J_Simpson. In his second complete year of this effort he has shown a special wherewithal that has allowed us to open our paper every morning and relive the events as seen from the average American citizen. Inside each of these links you will also see these stories enhanced by other Freepers who contributed with their knowledge, sources, opinion, and occasional Tom-foolery. For those who are genuinely interested in the history of World War II this will provide you a great resource for events that occurred in 1939. For the more casual observer each headline may draw you into a story that meets your interest. Whether it is events overseas, national event, sports, or even entertainment all of 1939 is captured in these links for your amusement and education. Please enjoy and stay tuned for Homers running commentary of 1940 this year. I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you Homer for your contributions on this incredible project.
1. Rhodes, Richard. Masters of Death: The SS Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. p 4.
2. Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1990. p 454.
3. Frieser, Karl-Heinz. The Blitzkreig Legend: The 1940 Campaign in the West. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005. p 12.
4. Van Der Vat, Dan. The Atlantic Campaign. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 1988. pp 138-139.
5. Ibid, 144.
6. Ibid, 145.
7. Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005, pp 106-107.
8. Murray, Williamson and Allan R. Millett. A War to be Won: Fighting the Second World War. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000, 56.
Ping for the entire realtime alumni. Happy New Year to each and every one of you.
Thank you, and Happy New Year to you and yours!
The invasion and fall of Poland should give everyone pause.
We should also think about doing that to the Obama administration. just saying.
Thanks for the HNY wishes, my best to everyone on the ping list too, thanks Homer!
I really love watching this all unfold in “real time.”
Thanks, guys and Happy New Year!
I think this year was a ton better than the last and 1938 was pretty darn good. Over the course of the year we have added a tremendous knowledge base and there is so much information each and every day it is almost impossible to absorb it all.
Which reminds me. In case you are curious about such things, I went back over my posting history to see which threads generated the most interest, as measured by number of views. I have listed the top ten below. Keep in mind that the earlier threads have had more time to build their numbers than the more recent ones. So the Winter War may become more competitive over time.
10. Germans Rush Troops West to Meet French September 8 1,299 views
9. Britain Will Build 2 New Battleships February 16 1,357
8. Overeating is Listed as Treason in Reich July 18 1,427
7. Russians Drive 40 Miles into Poland, Defense Weak September 18 1,453
6. Jack Benny Indicted January 11 1,536
5. Flying Fortress Here With Record August 2 1,697
4. British Liner Athenia Torpedoed, Sunk September 4 1,838
3. Germans Try to Sweep Around Warsaw Defenders September 10 1,840
2. Huge, Fast Vessels Projected By Navy January 9 2,085
1. Take a guess. April 5 2,194 views
I will now present the Viewers Choice Awards for most popular movie reviews. Again, the earlier threads have an advantage. The envelopes, please -
10 Drums Along the Mohawk-November 4 432 views
9 Dodge City-April 8 453 views
8 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes-September 2 498 views
7 Stagecoach-March 3 511 views
6 Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever-July 19 528 views
5 The Rains Came-September 9 579 views
4 Gone With the Wind-December 20 607 views
3 Goodbye, Mr. Chips-May 16 645 views
2 Gunga Din-January 27 765 views
1 The Wizard of Oz-August 18 885 views
And lest I forget a big thank you to the JimRob and all the folks at Free Republic HQ who provide this ideal platform for indulging our interest. Happy New Year, one and all. And keep your seat belts buckled. 1940 will continue a bumpy ride.
I have to admit I’m shocked by the number one view. Maybe there’s something to the fact that MJ’s death got more press than the fine Seattle officers who were killed around the same time.
Homer, I really appreciate what you have started here. You have provided a portal to many and an glimpse to many others of a time that was incredibly complex and engaging for the entire world. The entire planet was touched by these events that embarked a sense of globalization that we live with today and accept as a standard instead of a unique circumstance.
My hope for the coming year is to expand what I have to offer to this project as well as enjoying the continually growing community of insightful participants who each bring something new to the conversation.
This is one of the best daily reads on FR. Let’s learn from history so we don’t repeat it.
Thank you Homer for this daily walk through history in real time. Thanks Cougar for this wonderful roundup.
Bring on 1940
Happy New Year!
Interesting to note how many others share a curiosity about this period.
But something tells me 1940 will be a less "interesting" year -- after all, President Roosevelt is working for peace. The Pope is working for peace. Mussolini is calling for peace. Stalin got a bloody nose in Finland. Neville Chamberlain's government is talking through many different channels about peace feelers from Germany. Even some German Army officers are planning to overthrow Hitler and request a negotiated peace.
So, no doubt, in 1940 at leasst one of these peace efforts will pay off, and what could have been a very deadly war -- resulting in the deaths of thousands, possibly tens of thousands -- will be avoided, and sanity will be restored to civilized men everywhere.
What do you think? ;-)
I wish I shared your optimism. Roosevelt and Pius XII working for peace is all very well, but this Hitler character is a wild card. I just don't trust him. He acts as though he doesn't really want peace at all. And he seems to be firmly in control of the German government. He could launch an attack against the Maginot line any time now. Even though it would probably be suicidal, it would be very costly in human terms for the French as well as the Germans. With Goering's air force, or Luftwaffe, as they call it over there, supporting a "Blitzkrieg" attack on France, he might just get lucky and prevail. He has had remarkable good fortune so far, has he not? If that happens he is just a short hop across the Channel from Great Britain. It is not out of the question that next year by this time Hitler could be the new master in both Paris and London. What will FDR do then, do you suppose?
Isn't President Roosevelt preparing military budget requests that are six times greater than his 1939 requests? (The military will grow another 100 times beyond that by war's end). So I suspect he's already thinking the unthinkable.
And something else I hear rumors of -- it's still super top secret, so if I told you too much I'd have to kill you -- but Boeing Aircraft has already presented plans for the largest bomber ever conceived. Might look something like this..
But it's far to expensive, no way could it ever be built. I think FDR is just daydreaming...
And something else... and I know they'll kill me if they find out I mentioned anything to anyone, but that crazy Einstein fellow from Germany, he has some nutty ideas about making really, really high explosives, and they could never be built -- vastly too expensive -- but I hear that FDR is taking him seriously... don't tell ANYONE!
So maybe Roosevelt is as crazy as that Einstein?
But look, all of this is total speculation -- that's because the French have spent more money on their Maginot Line than any defensive works in history, and there's just no way that Hitler, wild as he is, is nuts enough to send the German army to their doom against French guns.
So, not to worry -- all will be well. Peace will be found, and the world will step back from the brink of conflagration, or in a more biblical term, a Holocaust. No doubt about it... ;-)
I think I have to agree with Homer on this one. It was frighting how fast the Nazis took out Poland. They may not have been the biggest army in Europe but I would have thought they would have lasted longer. It seemed like they were then all of a sudden the entire mood of the stories I was reading in the paper changed and Poland was crumbling.
My impression is now that the Germans are just waiting for the Spring to start their next offensive, when they are more likely to have better weather for an offensive. Come spring I wouldn’t be surprised if the Germans came sweeping in through the Belgium much like the Schlieffen Plan had them doing in 1914. I bet they come through Belgium again and I hope that Gamelin there in France is moving units to employ them to extend the Maginot Line since that seems to be what they are relying on. The French to have good tanks like the Char-B and the Hotchkiss and a lot of them. I hope they can use them as good as the Germans seem to use their Panzers.
You dare compare the Poles to France? Sacre bleu! The French are no pushovers. They held back the Huns for four years after 1914, and they can do it again. They have better tanks and better planes. So don't worry about the French.
Besides the Brits are coming again, just as they did in 1914. So the north will be secure -- might be stretched a bit thin, probably neeed to plug some holes, move the reserves away from inactive sectors, like the Ardennes... ;-)
Yeah, I have to admit I’m not too worried about the Ardennes. There’s no way you could get those big old tanks through that forest.