Germany attacked France in May, 1940. 136 German divisions faced 125 British, French and Belgian ones. The Germans had over two thousand tanks, but even their commander admitted half were obsolete. The Allies had a little more than three thousand six hundred tanks, among which the French armour was better than anything the Germans had. But they had many more aircraft. Only the French, with their thousand aeroplanes, could provide much opposition. 400 British fighters, mostly Hawker Hurricanes were based in France. The French seemed paralysed by ther audacity and skill of Guderian’s Panzer tanks and troops, and watched with their mouths open as the Panzers crossed the Meuse,, open a fifty-mile gap in the Allied front, and then raced along the valley of the Somme towards the channel (q.v.). By 20 May they had got there. Gamelin, the French commander, seemed immovable and was replaced by a seventy-three year old – Weygand, who had been sitting in Syria. By 28 May the Germans were in Calais, cutting off the French, British and Belgian forces in the north from the remainder of French forces. The Dutch and the Belgians surrendered. The British got to Dunkirk where, miraculously, they evacuated nearly four hundred thousand troops back to English shores, unfortunately leaving tanks and ammunition behind, as there was not sufficient time to load them on to the Royal Navy ships sent, along with hundreds of small motor and sail craft which had also crossed the Channel to help. Meanwhile the French retreated to the Loire, thus separating themselves from those still holding the Maginot line, which Guderian had contemptuously avoided. In June two million Parisians left their homes and scuttled south, joining the six million who had already fled from northern France and Belgium. Weygand was replaced by Marshall Petain, who instantly accepted German surrender terms. The Atlantic coast and all Northern France were to be occupied and controlled by German forces. The rest of the country would be governed, hand in glove with the Germans, by Petain, in what became known as Vichy France. The French Army had been beaten in six weeks. (more…)
It was a term used, mainly by Americans, to describe frontier society in the second half of the nineteenth century. Before the eighteen fifties the huge area between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, endless plains with little rainfall, flat, ravaged by hot (or freezing) winds, had been considered as unfit for white occupation. Its not very attractive nickname was ‘The Great American Desert’, summoning images of rattlesnakes, hostile ‘Indians’ and herds of buffalo. (more…)
This was the real turning point in the Second World War, although it came much later than it should have done, due mainly to inappropriate weather conditions for a sea-based landing. The British Isles were undergoing one of those violent climate changes to which we are now more accustomed. It was summertime, but Britain’s east coast ports and resorts were lashed by wind and near freezing rain. The sea between British and French coasts choppy and crossed with currents. The cold at sea was appalling, as if the breezes were blowing directly from the Russian steppes. Only the tempers of the soldiers, sailors and airmen waiting, waiting, and still waiting in the barracks, manor houses and homes to which they had been invited by English people in the villages and towns of the south-east, were hot and getting hotter. (more…)
Between 1843 and 1846 the vast Oregon territory in the United States of America became a subject for dispute between Britain and the States, despite the fact that the latter had declared itself independent in 1776, sixty-seven years earlier. Oregon was a huge area stretching north from California to the borders of Alaska, and west from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific. British claims were based on Cook’s charting of part of the coast in 1778. US claims were centred on Robert Grey’s discovery of the Columbia river in 1792, and in part on the findings of the Lewis and Clark expedition. After the successful Louisiana Purchase, President Jefferson had sent his own private secretary Meriweather Lewis, accompanied by William Clark on an expedition to find new territory and another possible route to the Pacific. They followed the Missouri river to its headwaters in May, 1804, and then crossed the Rockies. Via the three rivers Clearwater, Snake and Columbia they got to the Pacific coast in November, 1805 after a heroic and arduous journey of seventeenth months duration, covering more than four thousand miles. Back in St. Louis, where the expedition had started in September 1806, they presented maps, botanical specimens and a load of information on Native American habits, strategies and customs. Jefferson insisted that the Lewis and Clark expedition strengthened the US claim to Oregon, as well as stimulating the fur trade. (more…)
Even today, in predominantly Roman Catholic countries the word Mason, or Francmason or Masonería is taboo in polite society. Spanish people assure you that Masons are only one step better than the Devil, that they have been behind every evil conspiracy, that their presence among politicians spells disaster etc. But in protestant countries Masonry is as acceptable as Methodism, and in England, for example, the Masons finance and manage charitable organisations of the best kind, such as the Royal Masonic Hospitals, schools and universities.
The origins of Freemasonry are mysterious; some kind of continuity exists between guilds of stonemasons, responsible for the building of most of the vast cathedrals to be found everywhere in Europe, and the Masonic lodges of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The process, and the order, continues to the present day, though not so openly in Catholic countries. (more…)
These days the word strikes a sour note, arousing images of rough settlements, starving ‘piccaninies’, whips, shackles, thoughtless government from a distance of thousdands of miles etc. If there are any ‘colonies’ left after the post-war rush to be rid of them I think it is because the ‘colonists’ prefer it that way. 90% of colonies which achieved independence have suffered under bad or atrocious rule since being ‘freed’, with the possible exception of the United States, and even there half the settlers in the Thirteen Colonies claimed they did not wish for independence from British rule, and after 1776 sold up lock, stock and barrel and moved to Canada, where they were welcomed. (more…)
The carrier-based Japanese air force began the war in the air over the Pacific Ocean by attacking without prior warning the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. The damage to American capital ships and the loss of life were enormous, but as pointed out in another post on this site, no US aircraft carriers were present on 7 December, 1941.
The Japanese, as industrious as ever, had made great strides in the design and construction of these floating airfields, and at Pearl Harbor they made full use of them. Four hundred bombers and fighters were launched from the six carriers used in the assault. Surprise too was an essential element, as Japan had not declared war on the United States, though everyone from the President in Washington to the Texan cowpokes knew the two countries were on a war footing, and that Japan had joined the Axis. (more…)
The Blizkrieg from Nazi Germany that opened the Second War in 1939 showed that apart from tank power, air power was a vital component of Hitler’s war efforts. Germany pounded the meagre defences of Poland from the air, breaking communications, causing death and chaos on a scale not known by the suffering Poles not even during their centuries of abuse by neighbours. Dive-bombers called Stukas were used by the Luftwaffe, and a malevolent touch was added by their fitted sirens, terrorizing populations as the bombers hurtled almost vertically down from brilliant blue skies, releasing their lethal cargo at the last moment before straightening out. Many pilots, very young and with very little experience, did not straighten out, with the result that the Stuka made a bigger hole in the earth than its bombs. The efficient and very fast Messerschmidt I09 and 110 fighters attacked the ramshackle Polish aircraft without mercy, destroying most of the aeroplanes on the ground even before the pilots could climb into them. Many of these young ill-disciplined but courageous young men escaped to England, and were to take an important part in the air Battle of Britain. Assault parachutists were dropped from heavier German aircraft – a new use of air power pioneered by the Germans and quickly copied by Germany’s enemies. Parachutists were extensively used in the attack and invasion of Crete in 1941. (more…)
By March, 1770 a strong sense of resentment and general feelings of unrest among American colonists, who came mainly from Britain but were intermixed with many citizens from other European states, led to violent action against British regulations and troops. On the fifth of March in that year, British troops under the command of a nervy officer were ill-disciplined enough to open heavy musket fire against a mob of revolting citizenry in the major colonial city of Boston. The fusillade killed five Bostonians, and nine British soldiers were tried for murder in a hastily gathered tribunal. As the people of Boston predicted, the result of the trial was seven acquitted (including the nervous commander), and two soldiers convicted of manslaughter. It was not good enough, and led to further trouble.
The American Revolution (q.v.), happened because of colonists’ rage at attempts to impose direct taxation in the colonies without representation in London, in addition to a general increase of discontent with British rule within most of the thirteen colonies. In 1773, again in Boston, a ‘democratic’ group of working men mixed with larking students from colonial bourgeois families stripped off their clothes, dressed again as American natives, boarded ships in the harbour carrying (heavily taxed) tea sent from Emgland, and tipped nearly three hundred and fifty chests of the stuff into the harbour. There was little opposition. The harbour changed colour, and other North American ports disallowed entry to tea-carrying ships. With typical laconic American humour, this mild incident quickly became known as The Boston Tea Party. Recently, a new US political group has called itself ‘Tea-Party’ with an eye to history.
Parliament in London over-reacted to the Boston Tea Party, as might be expected: In 1774 the Members decided to punish naughty Massachusetts and Boston in particular. They passed the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act and something called a Quartering Act, which I assume had no connection with hanging, drawing and quartering. Later the angry English MPs added a Quebec Act for good measure. In fact the latter addressed a different problem, but colonists decided they were all intolerable so they lumped them together and named called The Intolerable Acts, by which name they are still remembered.
In July, 1776 the American colonists adopted their Declaration of Independence, but much bloodshed and mayhem followed and they had to wait until the Treaty of Paris in September, 1783 for the recognised and legal independence of the United States of America. The rest, as they say, is History.
The American Civil War had left most states, especially in the South, in chaos and sad decline. American boys from North and South had killed each other, most of them not knowing exactly why – except that they knew, as all soldiers do, that politicians must be held responsible for the insane slaughter. The South was punchdrunk and reeling from physical and economic devastation, but those southerners left were moving, by the early Seventies of the 19th century towards recovery, by dint of hard work and guts. The North, except for her sons, had lost little in comparison, as few incursions into northern states during the war had occurred. In the South the ranches and adjacent lands had been burned, the cattle herds decimated or worse, towns had been destroyed wholesale by soldiers hardly controlled by senior officers who often turned a blind eye. (more…)