Friday, January 30, 2015

This Day in WWII History: Jan 30, 1943: RAF launches massive daytime raid on Berlin

On this day, the British Royal Air Force begins a bombing campaign on the German capital that coincides with the 10th anniversary of Hitler's accession to power.

The Casablanca Conference, held from January 14 to 23, saw Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff meet in Morocco to discuss future war strategy following on the success of the North African invasion, which heralded the defeat of Vichy forces. One of the resolutions of the conference was to launch a combined and sustained strategic bombing effort against the Germans. Strategic bombing was the policy of using bombers to destroy an enemy's warmaking capacity, also referred to as "area bombing." Churchill described it as an "absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers...upon the Nazi homeland."

To celebrate the anniversary of Hitler's 1933 appointment to the office of chancellor by then-President Paul von Hindenburg, both propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and head of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goering planned to give radio addresses to the German masses. Goebbels intended to bolster morale by hailing an impending victory in Russia: "A thousand years hence, every German will speak with awe of Stalingrad and remember that it was there that Germany put the seal on her victory." As the speeches were broadcast, RAF fighters rained bombs on Berlin, the beginning of devastating attacks on German cities that would last until the very end of the war. To make matters even worse for the Germans, the next day a massive surrender of German troops occurred at Stalingrad.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

This Day in WWII History: Jan 29, 1942: Iran signs Treaty of Alliance with Great Britain and USSR

On this day, Britain and the USSR secure an agreement with Iran that offers the Iran protection while creating a "Persian corridor" for the Allies—a supply route from the West to Russia.

Early in the war, Iran collaborated with Germany by exporting grain to the Axis power in exchange for technicians. But the Allies viewed Iran as a valuable source of oil and conveniently situated as a route for shipping Western war material east to the USSR. On August 25, 1941, both Allied powers invaded Iran (which Prime Minister Winston Churchill preferred to call "Persia," so there would be no confusion between "Iran" and "Iraq"), the Soviets from the north and the Brits from the south. In four days, the Allies effectively controlled Iran.

On September 16, the ruling shah abdicated, and his 23-year-old son, Muhammad, assumed power and pushed through the Iranian parliament the Treaty of Alliance, which allowed the Allies freedom to move supplies through the country and gave them whatever else they needed from Iran to win the war. The new shah also vowed "not to adopt in his relations with foreign countries an attitude which is inconsistent with the alliance."

In exchange, Iran was promised wartime protection from Axis invasion—and a guarantee that the Allies would leave Iranian soil within six months of the close of the war.

The alliance started off shakily: the Soviets bought up most of Iran's grain harvest, which caused a bread shortage and riots in the streets. Allied troops put the rebellion down, and the United States shipped in grain to compensate for the losses. The Soviet Union then attempted to agitate for the overthrow of the shah by supporting the Tudeh (Farsi for "masses") party, which the Soviets believed would be more generous in oil concessions. Tudeh forces did manage temporarily to take over northern Iran in December 1944.

When the war ended, the Allies began leaving Iran as promised—except for the USSR. Complaints were made to the United Nations, and pressure was applied by the United States and Great Britain, as this was a violation of one of the terms of the Treaty of Alliance. The Soviets finally began pulling out of Iran in April 1946, but as they withdrew, they continued to foster more bloody rebellions between the shah's government and the Tudeh; the Tudeh were decisively defeated in December 1946 when the shah declared martial law.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

This Day in WWII History: Jan 28, 1945: Burma Road is reopened

On this day, part of the 717-mile "Burma Road" from Lashio, Burma to Kunming in southwest China is reopened by the Allies, permitting supplies to flow back into China.

At the outbreak of war between Japan and China in 1937, when Japan began its occupation of China's seacoast, China began building a supply route that would enable vital resources to evade the Japanese blockade and flow into China's interior from outside. 

It was completed in 1939, and allowed goods to reach China via a supply route that led from the sea to Rangoon, and then by train to Lashio. When, in April 1942, the Japanese occupied most of Burma, the road from Lashio to China was closed, and the supply line was cut off.

The Allies were not able to respond until 1944, when Allied forces in eastern India made their way into northern Burma and were able to begin construction of another supply road that linked Ledo, India, with the part of the original Burma Road still controlled by the Chinese. The Stillwell Road (named for Gen. Joseph Stillwell, American adviser to Chiang Kai-shek, China's leader) was finally opened on this day in 1945, once again allowing the free transport of supplies into China.