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Today in History: September 3, 1939 – WWII Begins

Although Germany had invaded Poland two days earlier, on the 1st, Britain had been hoping to avoid another major war. But, they’d made a promise to Poland, and were obligated to keep it.

Unfortunately for Poland, while Britain and France may have declared war against the Axis powers, they didn’t do much in the way of actually giving Poland the support they needed to fend of the Nazis. Their idea of “helping” was to drop a ton of anti-war pamphlets on the Germans. This, after handing over Czechoslovakia to Nazis. When, oh, that’s right, Hitler promised he’d be content with just that land. Of course, we all knew that wouldn’t last long.

[Below: British newspaper announcing the start of WWII & PM Chamberlain]

Image result for Britain declares war wwii

Back in America, while we wouldn’t join the war for another two years, President Roosevelt took the opportunity to address the American People via his famous Fireside Chats. Fireside Chats were something that American people looked forward to, gathering around their family radioes to listen to the President speak to them – right in their living rooms! It felt like he was speaking directly to them.

Despite the breakout of war across Europe, Roosevelt proclaimed neutrality. He may have been keeping his boys out of war, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t willing to lend a helping hand. He told the people of his plan to sell arms to Britain and France. He also intended to send them all the supplies and food they needed. Unfortunately, most of everything sent via ship was sunk by U-boats.

Europe was at war, fighting off the vicious foes of Fascism, Naziism (which is Fascism), Socialism, and Communism.  

[Below: Roosevelt’s September 3, 1939 Fireside Chat]

Image result for fireside chat september 3 1939

 

Listen:

September 3, 1939: Fireside Chat 14: On the European War

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Poland in WWII

Not sure how I missed such an important entry, but here it is now. As we know, after the Jews, the Polish probably received the worst Nazi brutality – and let’s not forget that for nearly two years, they were also occupied by the Soviets . . . and then again by the Soviets after the war. But more on that later.

You know what the amazing this is, though? Despite this, despite all of this, Poland never was willing to capitulate.

Background:

To fully understand Poland during WWII, we need to understand Poland between the two wars. First off, there was the issue of the Treaty of Versailles Marshal Ferdinand Foch (we remember him from WWI) felt very troubled by the treaty. He assumed – correctly – that it would be “An armistice for 20 years” (Source). He couldn’t have been any more correct. Well, except that it was 21 years.

Their second problem was location. They laid between their two biggest enemies. Yup, Germany and Soviet Union. To solve their problem, they signed not one, but two nonaggression pacts. In 1932 with the Soviet Union and in 1934 with Germany. But they most have known that pacts were meaningless. Of course, what followed a mere 5 years later was the German-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, during which time Europe (and Poland, in particular) was divided between the two world-dominating dictators.

See, after the invasion many Polish were able to flee, many of them to France. “The Polish forces fought with the French against the Germans, and then when France surrendered, scrambled to escape yet again, this time to Britain” (Source). While in Britain, many continued to fight with the Allies. In fact, the Polish fighter pilots “were instrumental in helping to save Britain during the most desperate hours of the Battle of Britain in the summer and fall of 1940, and the Polish tank divisions at Normandy that won the hard-fought Battles of Falaise” (Source). Despite occupation, the Polish were instrumental to Allied victory.

After the defeat of France, the Polish did attempt fleeing to Britain, but not everyone escaped. In fact it is estimated that only about 18,000 were able. The rest were either “imprisoned, interned, or demobilized,” which was similar to what those left in Poland were facing (Source).

But, of course, those left in Poland received the worse of it. After all, Poland was the ‘experimental state’ – the state where the Nazis would practice displacing and exterminating the Jewish population. It was in Poland that the practice of sending Jews to ghettos started (remember that concentration camps, or ghettos, had been around since 1933, but were not yet for Jews). Some 145,000 Jews perished between Warsaw and Łódź, though there were as many as 2,000 different camps throughout Poland. The Final Solution itself began in Poland (Operation Reinhard was specific to Jewish Poles). “Already in December 1941 . . . Germans initiated the killing through the use of fumes from truck exhausts” (Source).

Here’s the thing, though, Hitler had similar plans for those of Polish decent. “I have sent my Death’s Head units to the east with the order to kill without mercy men, women, and children of the Polish race or language. Only in such a way shall we win the Lebensraum that we need” (Source). The Polish, he had declared, were an inferior race.

There were any number of reasons that a person could be sent to a prison camp: being part of the resistance; aiding Jews or POWs; dealing on the black market; avoiding work; tardiness; not supplying the Nazis with their ‘share’ of the quota; or, quite simply, the sin of being born Jewish or Polish.

So, one might think that being victims themselves, that the Polish would see no reason to aid those even more unfortunate than themselves. And, in some cases, this was very true – even in the Soviet occupied territories. But, to the credit of the Polish nation, it was not always the case. In fact, there were “several hundred thousand Poles involved in aiding Polish Jews. There are 700 documented instances of Poles paying the highest price for aiding Jews” (Source). While there were some that were blackmailing Jews, denouncing Jews, or reporting Poles who hid Jews, there were those – namely involved with the Polish Government in Exile – who handed out death sentences to Poles who blackmailed Jews.

[Below: German occupation of Poland]

Image result for lodz ghetto

 

And all while fearing that one might slip up and end up in a ghetto, Polish daily lives under the occupation of two dictators were filled with the same rules and regulations of any other occupied country at the time. The Polish, Germany had decided, were really not good for anything but forced labor. Ahem, forced labor and a source of food.

It was quite simple, really. For the Polish to work for their occupiers. Then, to ensure that all the food would go to their occupiers, the Poles were starved. “For example, in 1941, the daily wage of a laborer in Warsaw allowed for the purchase of 40 decagrams of bread on the black market” (Source). Now, using the black market was illegal and punishable by, well, by being sent to a concentration camp. But since the Germans (and the Soviets) were taking all their food and they weren’t exactly being paid for their work, the Polish didn’t have much of a choice. Well, except to rob the German factories were they were employed or start their own illegal businesses. Both of which they did.

There were some 400,000 POWS captured during the September Campaign of 1939. They were made into “laborers.” Throughout the entire war, some 2.8-3 million Poles served as forced laborers. Often, these laborers lived on the territory of the factory – and even those in the camps were usually sent into town to work in the local factory. Essentially, there wasn’t much of a difference between the two. Both groups were starving and both lived in squalor. To make their lives even more abysmal, these were the same factories that the Allies were busy bombing. So, if you weren’t killed by the hands of the Germans, you risked the chance of being killed by the Allies.

In the country, life as a forced laborer wasn’t much better. Out here, many of them worked as farm hands. But it was pretty much luck of the draw. If you were lucky, the family you were working for might treat you like a member of the family. But more likely than not, you were treated as subhuman.

But that bears the question of Soviet-Polish relations during this occupation. And that’s not often discussed. In June of 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, which meant that the Polish now only had one enemy, not two. That the Soviets were now a Polish “ally.” But on July 30, 1941, Winston Churchill forced General Wladylsaw Sikorski to sign the Sikorski-Maisky Pact. This pact “enabled the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the establishment of a Polish Army in the USSR” (Source). It did not deal, however, with Poland’s Eastern border. Nor did it deal with the several thousand missing Polish officers, all of whom were interned by the Soviet Union. Why was this? Probably because the NKVD had murdered all of these officers back in 1940.

During the remaining years of the war, though, Stalin was quietly planning his, well, re-occupation of Poland. And the Poles were beginning to suspect what was the in the works. More about that will be discussed as we come to posts about 1945, but it is important to keep Soviet offenses in mind.

Between the two occupiers, Poland lost as much as 40% of all intellectuals – some of them even operated on, such as the women at Ravensbrück. Hitler could control Germany through forced labor and the fear of concentration camps, but that was made even easier if he got rid of all the elites: intellectuals, priests and other religious leaders, political and social workers, officers, policemen, entrepreneurs, civil servants, landowners, and others. Besides, now that Germany owned Poland, Nazi officers would take the place of these Polish officials. On November 6, 1939, “183 professors of Jagiellonian University and AGH University of Science and Technology arrested and sent to their death in Sachsenhausen” (Source). Between May and June of 1940, another 3,500 Polish elites were arrested and murdered. Still more were sent to Auschwitz. And, of course, it grew even worse under Soviet occupation.

Those who managed to avoid arrest lost all means of employment, meaning that in many cases, they were supported by the underground. Those living in the Soviet sector prior to 1941, faced the horror of deportation – being forced from one’s home with no place to go – instead. “By the Spring of 1941, at least 840,000 people were brutally uprooted from their homes and stripped of all their possessions” (Source). During the journeys, the Soviets treated the deportees inhumanely and harshly. As a result, many did not survive.

After Germany defeated the Soviet Union, Germany planned to resettle still more Poles. In fact, between November 1942 and August 1943, 300 Polish villages with some 110,000 Poles were displaced. Still more were displaced after the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 when the land shifted and it was no longer considered Polish territory. 

[Below: Churchill reviewing the Polish troops]

Image result for newton abbot uk 1940s

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Today in History: September 1, 1939 – Germany Invades Poland

On September 1, 1939, despite having already taken over Austria, despite having been handed land in the Sudetenland (by British PM Chamberlain), Hitler – having decided that simply wasn’t enough – had his troops invade Poland.

Now, England and France had already promised Poland that if Germany attacked them that it would mean war. However, even after the inevitable attack on Poland took place, the two countries were wary of getting themselves into another war.

However, they couldn’t continue to sit back and do nothing while Hitler (*ahem* and Mussolini and Stalin) invaded country after country. 

Stay tuned to WWII History to see how Britain and France handled the situation with Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.

[Below: German troops marching through Warsaw]

Image result for germany invades poland

 

Note: A full article is on it’s way about Germany’s invasion of Poland. But before that comes, we have more ground to cover. Before Poland, Hitler invaded other countries. Then, there was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Hitler is setting things up for another world war – and for world domination. Watch the story unfold here, at USA e-vote WWII History.

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USA Trivia Question #86

 

Complete this famous phrase:

“Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen of the ______ _____________ _____, you are about to ______ upon the great _______ toward which we have striven these ____ ______. The ____ __ ___ _____ are upon you. The _____ and _______ of _______ loving people everywhere _____ with you. Your task will not __ __ ____ ___. I have full __________ in your _______, ________ to ____, _____ in ______. We will accept nothing less than ____ _______. Good luck, and let us all beseech the ________ __ ________ ___ upon this _____ and _____ undertaking.

 

Why US Trivia

This section on USA Trivia will focus mostly on presidential trivia, but don’t be surprised to find questions or quotes by generals, founding fathers, or other historical figures!

USA Trivia is meant to be fun and educate at the same time. Don’t be afraid to exercise a few brain muscles when you read these US Trivia questions. Please don’t jump right to the Internet to answer these questions. See if you can answer them on your own with what you know about US history.

Feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or maybe say thank you. The best way to share your appreciation for this US Trivia section is to share. We added the social media share buttons for your convenience. Use them. Share with comments and the SHARE buttons. They really, really work.

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USA Trivia Question #85

What language did Martin Van Buren grow up speaking?

 

Why US Trivia

This section on USA Trivia will focus mostly on presidential trivia, but don’t be surprised to find questions or quotes by generals, founding fathers, or other historical figures!

USA Trivia is meant to be fun and educate at the same time. Don’t be afraid to exercise a few brain muscles when you read these US Trivia questions. Please don’t jump right to the Internet to answer these questions. See if you can answer them on your own with what you know about US history.

Feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or maybe say thank you. The best way to share your appreciation for this US Trivia section is to share. We added the social media share buttons for your convenience. Use them. Share with comments and the SHARE buttons. They really, really work.

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1st Battle of Lexington

Still wanting to secure Missouri even after their victory at Wilson’s Creek a month earlier, the Confederate General Sterling Price moved his troops to the Union garrison in Lexington. Under the combined force of Sterling and Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, the Missouri State Guard (MSG), moved to attack what was then considered a foreign country – Missouri, still part of the U.S.

For their own part, the Union started moving into Lexington on the 8th with Colonel James A. Mulligan with his 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and – prior to that, even – the 1st Illinois Cavalry and the Missouri Home Guards. Two days later Major Robert T. Van Horn’s brought two companies of the Missouri Battalion followed by Colonel Everett Peabody’s 13th Missouri arrived. Immediately on the 11th, Colonel Mulligan had his men digging fortifications all around College Hill, home of the Masonic College. This would become their headquarters.

The following day, the MSG arrived and shortly thereafter skirmishes broke out. One attempt was made on Mulligan’s fortifications by General Price, but it failed. Following this, both sides retreated to regroup.

Most of the Union wanted to abandon Lexington, but Colonel Mulligan overruled them, determining to stand their ground. Meanwhile, on MSG leaders wanted to surround the Union army.

Nothing else happened, however, until September 18th, when General Price received much-needed supplies and men. The fighting began that morning.

At 9 am, College Hill was hit with an artillery bombardment. Following this, “Price ordered his men to capture the Anderson House, a prominent three-story, brick structure that lay just outside of Union lines” (Source). The Union had been using Anderson House as a hospital, but this didn’t stop the Confederates from taking it. They used it mainly to launch small-arms fires at the Union.

Mulligan, of course, saw the attack of the hospital as breaking the rules of war. So, he sent his Company B of the 23rd Illinois to recapture Anderson House. Led by George Henry Palmer of Company G (who won a Medal of Honor for this escapade), Company B not only recaptured the house, but executed three MSG soldiers.

[Below: Anderson House]

Image result for Battle of Lexington MO

 

From there, General Price ordered that the house be re-retaken! The MSG attacked once again, driving out the Union – this time for good. This secured, Confederates went on to capture a steamship full of Union supplies, a raid led by Colonel Ben Rivers of the State Guard.

With Colonel Mulligan’s men successfully encircled, Major General John C. Frémont from the Union Department of the West ordered detachments from Missouri and Kansas to come relieve the Lexington contingent. However, they were unsuccessful in breaking the MSG’s lines.

Meanwhile, Mulligan’s men, not only surrounded but cut off from all water supplies, were desperately trying to dig for water. But unsuccessful seemed to be the word of the day. They were coming up bone dry no matter where they dug.

But then, on the evening of the 19th, MSG Brigadier General Thomas Harris came up with the concept of using hemp bales as a moving fortification. Dipping the bales in water to prevent them from catching fire, MSG rolled them ever closer to College Hill, slowly but surely encircling the Union until they were powerless. Panicking, the Union continuously fired artillery, but it was useless against the soaked hemp bales. It was looking absolutely hopeless for Colonel Mulligan’s men.

Despite this, the State Guard attempted one more attack the next morning. It was a bloody hand-to-hand that followed, resulting in MSG being driven back. Even given their small victory, most of Mulligan’s men were wounded. It was time for surrender, whether or not Mulligan liked it.

A white flag eventually appeared, though not by the hand of Mulligan. When asked if he was willing to surrender, Mulligan blustered, claiming that he thought Price was the one surrendering! Much confusion needed to be sorted out and, once that was figured out, a vote was taken. 6-2, the vote was to surrender. Though Mulligan was still against it.

With the Union surrender, the MSG gained supplies and a whopping $900,000 from the Lexington Bank. Despite this and the land gained, Price had no possible way of feeding all the men in MSG. So, he was forced to move back to the corner of the state, anyways.

During the battle, the Confederates suffered 25 deaths and 72 wounded while the Union suffered 39 deaths and 120 wounded.

[Below: Lexington Courthouse with cannonball hole]

Image result for Battle of Lexington MO

Up Next:

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff

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USA Trivia Question #84

Who said:

“I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American!”

 

Why US Trivia

This section on USA Trivia will focus mostly on presidential trivia, but don’t be surprised to find questions or quotes by generals, founding fathers, or other historical figures!

USA Trivia is meant to be fun and educate at the same time. Don’t be afraid to exercise a few brain muscles when you read these US Trivia questions. Please don’t jump right to the Internet to answer these questions. See if you can answer them on your own with what you know about US history.

Feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or maybe say thank you. The best way to share your appreciation for this US Trivia section is to share. We added the social media share buttons for your convenience. Use them. Share with comments and the SHARE buttons. They really, really work.

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USA Trivia Answer #79

Instead of the 1st President of the United States, George Washington could have been elected the first American what?

 

Answer:

Washington could have been the first American king.

He, however, refused.

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Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries

As might be expected, the Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries was an amphibious offensive. Led by Major General Benjamin Butler and Flag-Officer Silas Stringham of the Union forces, they opened the offensive on August 26, 1981 at Fort Clark and Fort Hatteras.

The Hatteras Inlet was the most travelled, and thus, the most vulnerable of the Outer Banks. And the Outer Banks “is a series of long, narrow islands that separate Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic, with Hatteras Inlet as the only deep-water passage connecting the two” (Source). And thus far in the war, it had been something of a Confederate haven, were they were able to capture Union merchant vessels while bringing in their own food and supplies.

It makes perfect sense, then, that the Confederates should want to protect this precious inlet. And why it was also the perfect spot for the Union to attack. The Union’s job was made easier, thanks to intelligence from freed Union POWs, who’d spent their prisoner days on Hatteras Island. Upon their return, they were able to pinpoint the location and construction.

Image result for Battle of Fort Hatteras

So, on August 27, 1861, under the command of Stringham and Butler, 8 Union warships, carrying some 800 troops, anchored off Cape Hatteras. The following day, “seven Federal ships opened fire on Fort Clark” (Source). They smartly positioned themselves outside the rang of Confederate artillery.

Prior to the bombardment, Butler had sent his men ashore, but with wet gunpowder, there’s not much good they could have done. So, the bombardment saved their skins. And then, better yet, when the bombardment forced the Confederates to start retreating from Fort Clark. They all gathered in Fort Hatteras, while Union forces continued their firing.

By the next morning, the Confederates were ready to surrender. They’d tried and failed to attack the Union ships, but their shots fell short.

The news of their surrender reached the White House in the middle of the night, waking up President Lincoln, who upon receiving the news, “danced a jig in his nightshirt” (Source).

This was, indeed, good news to the Union troops. Not only was it an important moral boost, but it also saw the collapse of the confederate-held East Coast from Wilmington, NC all the way to Norfolk, VA.

The Confederates suffered somewhere between 20-45 men to death or wounds, and another 691 men became POWs Meanwhile, the Union saw a mere 3 injured men.

Image result for Battle of Fort Hatteras

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