Boris III became Tsar of Bulgaria at the end of the First World War, just four days after his father, Ferdinand I, signed the Armistice of Thessalonica with the Allied Powers. In order to save the monarchy he handed power to his eldest son, who had gained great respect from both Bulgarian and German troops during the First World War.
The new Tsar found himself leading a country that faced enormous economic and political problems as a result of the war and the subsequent Treaty of Neuilly that was signed in November 1919. Bulgaria was forced to hand territory to both Greece and the newly-formed Yugoslavia, resulting in approximately 300,000 Bulgarians finding themselves in new countries. The army was also reduced and the country was forced to pay reparations.
The first decade of Boris’ reign saw tensions between the monarchy and the powerful forces of the Agrarian Union and the Communist Party. By the end of 1935 he had begun to secure his hold on power and establish the ‘King’s Government’ in which he personally dominated the political system.
The outbreak of the Second World War was followed a year later by Bulgaria allying itself with the Axis powers in an attempt to win back territories lost at the end of the First World War. However, Boris refused to lend unconditional military support to Germany and infuriated Hitler with his refusal to declare war on the USSR. In early 1943 Boris angered Hitler again by refusing to deport Bulgarian Jews. He insisted that they should stay in Bulgaria where they were needed for labouring tasks, and saved approximately 50,000 people. Boris died of apparent heart failure later that year, on 28 August.
The Nazi German Luftwaffe launched the first of 57 consecutive days and nights of bombing raids on London in what became known as the Blitz.
The Luftwaffe had been attacking British targets in the Battle of Britain since June 1940. This was an attempt to achieve air superiority over the RAF to enable a land invasion by the Nazis or force the British government to sue for peace.
Having failed to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, Hitler and Göring instead ordered a policy designed to crush civilian morale. The first raid of the Blitz took place on 7 September in which over 337 tons of bombs were dropped on London, and 448 civilians were killed. The earlier decision by Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding Fighter Command, to focus on day fighter defences meant that Britain was woefully unprepared for German bomber attacks at night when they became the official policy on 7 October.
The Luftwaffe used technology known as beam navigation to locate their target, in which the crews had to detect converging radio signals from two or more ground stations. Britain countered this by transmitting false navigation signals that were designed to send the incoming crews off course. They also created a number of dummy targets such as diversionary airfields and industrial targets that used lighting effects to simulate factories and transport.
By the end of the Blitz on 11 May 1941, approximately 41,000 tons of bombs had been dropped by the Luftwaffe and more than 40,000 civilians had been killed. Yet, despite the psychological pressures of the situation in which class divisions and anti-Semitism often surfaced, British society continued to function, morale remained high and British industrial production actually rose.
On the 25th August 1944, the Nazi German garrison in Paris surrendered the city to the Allies. Having been rules by the Nazis for over four years, the liberation of the capital was not a priority for the forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Furthermore, the Allied commanders were unwilling to risk the destruction of the city since they were aware that Hitler had said it, “must not fall into the enemy’s hand except lying in complete debris”.
A series of actions by the Nazis against French political prisoners and members of the resistance sparked mass civil unrest that began on the 15th and climaxed on the 18th August with a general strike. Aware that the US Third Army led by General Patton was close to Paris – but unaware that they did not intend to attack the city – the Nazi military governor ordered explosives to be placed at strategic points.
When the German military withdrew down the Champs Élysées on the morning of the 19th, the French Forces of the Interior – the French resistance – seized the opportunity to begin a full-scale uprising. Barricades were erected the next day, with fighting reaching a peak on the 22nd. It was this that persuaded Eisenhower to change his plan and allow Allied troops to enter Paris.
Over 800 resistance fighters died before the Free French 2nd Armoured Division arrived to assist the uprising just before midnight on the 24th August, led by Captain Raymond Dronne. On the 25th, the US 4th Infantry Division entered the city. Von Choltitz, the German military governor, surrendered later that day.
On 23rd August 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop – the Soviet foreign minister and the German foreign minister – signed the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, otherwise known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Outwardly it was a guarantee that neither side would fight against the other in war, but a ‘secret protocol’ also outlined how Eastern Europe would be divided between the two countries. This agreement cleared the way for the Nazi invasion of Poland just nine days later.
Stalin’s Communist USSR distrusted Hitler’s Nazi Germany, knowing that ultimately Hitler intended to invade and annex Russia. Similarly, Britain distrusted Stalin due a fear of Communism. Although talks took place between Britain and Russia in early August 1939 regarding a possible alliance against Hitler, they were never taken seriously by the British government who sent their representative by a slow boat and gave him no authority to actually make any decisions.
Frustrated, Stalin’s government received Ribbentrop later that month. He proposed the Nazi-Soviet agreement which, in the face of continued British reluctance to form an alliance, was accepted. The Soviet government almost certainly knew that Hitler would break the non-aggression pact at some point and would invade Russia, but at least the pact delayed that and gave time to prepare.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact was broken less than two years after it was signed, when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd June 1941. All the territory gained by Russia under terms of the ‘secret protocol’ was lost in just a matter of weeks.
I’m very grateful to Giselle K. Jakobs for her thorough research and detailed website about the focus of today’s podcast – her grandfather, Josef Jakobs. You can visit her website at http://www.josefjakobs.info/
The last execution at the Tower of London took place on the 15th August 1941. Josef Jakobs was a German spy who was arrested after he signalled for help after breaking his ankle when he parachuted into Britain.
Jakobs had served in the German Army during the First World War, and became a dentist in the interwar period. However, due to impact of the worldwide depression he turn to selling fake gold, for which he served two and a half years in jail.
After his release, Jakobs became involved in providing counterfeit passports to German Jews fleeing Hitler’s regime. However, he was arrested in 1938 and sent to a concentration camp from which he was released in 1940.
Within six months Jakobs had begun training with the Abwehr – the intelligence wing of the Germany Army – and on the 31st January 1941 dressed in a business suit and parachuted into England. Having broken his ankle, he was found the next morning in a field near Dovehouse Farm in Huntingdonshire.
Jakobs was taken into custody, and was held at Dulwich Hospital in London while complications with his broken ankle were treated. Eventually he was transferred to Wandsworth Prison, where he was formally charged with espionage and tried by General Court Marshall in early August since he didn’t have British nationality and was a formal member of the Germany Army.
Found guilty, he was taken to the miniature firing range at the Tower of London on the 15th. Having been strapped to a wooden Windsor chair, he was killed by firing squad at 7:12 a.m.
On the 6th August 1945, the USA dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on the Japanese city of Hiroshima from the B-29 aircraft Enola Gay. 70,000 people were killed instantly, of whom 20,000 were military personnel. Approximately another 70,000 died over the following months due to radiation sickness, burns, and other injuries directly related to the explosion.
The Potsdam Declaration issued on the 28th July by the Allies called for the unconditional surrender of Japan. If the government did not surrender they threated “the complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and…utter devastation of the Japanese homeland”. Having completed the successful Trinity atomic test on the 16th July, the USA felt that the atomic bomb could quickly end the war in the Pacific.
Hiroshima was chosen as a target due to its industrial and military significance since it was the command centre for the defence of southern Japan and contained approximately 40,000 military personnel. The Enola Gay and six accompanying aircraft had a 6-hour flight from the air base at North Field, Tinian before reaching the city where they released the bomb at 8.15am. It exploded 600m above the city as planned, with the equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT. Virtually all buildings within a mile of the blast were flattened.
Following the bombing, President Truman warned that if Japan did not surrender, “they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.” Japan did not surrender. A second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later.
RAF Flight Officer T. D. Dean became the first Allied jet pilot to achieve a combat victory when he ‘tipped’ a Nazi German V-1 ‘doodlebug’ flying bomb with his Gloster Meteor jet fighter.
The V-1 was specifically designed for terror bombing civilians, and had first been used on 13 June 1944. The RAF began to investigate ways to intercept and destroy the Nazis’ new weapon, and soon found that they could be tipped over by positioning an aircraft’s wing to within 6 inches of the V-1’s wing. This manoeuvre used the changing airflow of the interceptor’s wing to force the V-1 upwards, confusing the flying bomb’s gyroscope and resulting in it diving into the ground before reaching its target. The first aerodynamic flip manoeuvre was performed by Major R. E. Turner on 18 June, using a North American P-51 Mustang.
The following month, No. 616 Squadron of the RAF received the first ever Gloster Meteor jet planes. This new aircraft, equipped with Sir Frank Whittle’s revolutionary turbojet engines, could reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour and placed it well within reach of the average speed of a V-1. The hope was that the new Meteors would be able to shoot the flying bombs down using their 20mm cannons, but the guns had a habit of jamming.
On 4 August Flight Officer T. D. Dean experienced a problem with his Meteor’s cannons as he approached a V-1. He consequently resorted to the tipping manoeuvre and successfully sent the bomb off course. It is believed to have crashed on farmland near Headcorn in Kent, where shrapnel said to be from the explosion can be detected deep inside the trunk of a nearby oak tree. The destruction of this V-1 marked the first ever ‘kill’ for an RAF jet plane.
On the 27th July 1942, Allied forces in North Africa stopped the advancing Axis powers in the First Battle of El Alamein. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gazala in Libya the previous month, the British Eighth Army had retreated first to the Egyptian town of Marsa Matrouh 100 miles inside the border and then to the more easily defended line at El Alamein just 80 miles away from the city of Alexandria. This was effectively the Allies’ final hope of protecting Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, the British headquarters in Cairo and, ultimately, the Suez Canal.
The Allied position at Alamein marked the narrowest defensible area between the sea and the Qattara Depression, which lay 20 miles to the south. The position ensured that Erwin Rommel, the German tank commander, would be unable to use his favoured form of attack which involved outflanking his enemy. Furthermore, the position stretched the Axis supply line perilously thin and so starved the advancing army of water, fuel and ammunition.
Despite these resource problems, Rommel ordered the 90th Light Infantry Division to begin its advance at 3am on the 1st July. Although the Axis did eventually succeed in breaking through, the advance took most of the day and gave the Allies time to organise more defences along the line. The battle continued for nearly 4 weeks, with both sides attacking and counter-attacking. However, in the end the battle ended in stalemate with both sides taking time to reorganise and re-equip. However, the Allies had succeeded in stopping the Axis advance.
The Vichy government was established in France after the National Assembly approved a new French Constitutional Law that granted full powers to Marshal Pétain.
France declared war against Germany on 3 September, two days after the Nazi invasion of Poland. Despite being at war, however, the two countries only experienced minor skirmishes in early September.
This period of little military action, which became known as the Phoney War, was followed 8 months later by a full-scale German invasion of France that began on 10 May. The French were overwhelmed by the Nazi war machine, and were soon forced to decide whether to continue to fight while the government relocated to North Africa, or remain in France and seek an armistice.
Eventually the Cabinet agreed to seek an armistice, which was signed on 22 June in Compiègne Forest. This had been the location for the November 1918 armistice that Germany had signed to end the Great War, and was specifically chosen by Hitler as a form of revenge. The railway carriage in which the 1918 ceasefire had been agreed was even brought from a museum to host the discussions.
The French decision to sign an armistice led to the resignation of Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, who was replaced by First World War hero Marshal Philippe Pétain. Two-fifths of France had been designated ‘unoccupied’ under the terms of the armistice, and its administrative centre lay in the city of Vichy. However, the government nominally ruled the German-occupied areas as well.
The French State officially collaborated with Nazi Germany from 30 October, when Pétain announced the policy in a radio broadcast. The new Provisional Government of the French Republic was established on 3 June 1944 following the Allied liberation.
On the 13th June 1944 the first German attack on Britain using the V-1 flying bomb, otherwise known as the ‘doodlebug’, took place. The bomb was specifically designed for terror bombing civilians, since its launch and autopilot system was able to identify a general target area but not hit a specific point.
The V-1 was powered by the Argus As 014 pulsejet engine, the first mass-produced engine of its type, the noisy operation of which led to the bomb earning its nickname as a ‘buzz bomb’ or ‘doodlebug’. The engine was simple and cheap to build and, combined with a simple fuselage of welded steel sheets and wings made of plywood, this meant the V-1 could be produced and operated at a fraction of the cost of other bombing methods.
The very first V-1 exploded near a railway bridge in Mile End, London, killing 8 civilians. Each launch site on the French and Dutch coasts could launch up to 18 bombs a day, but that figure was rarely met. Furthermore due to mechanical problems, guidance system failures, and an effective system of air defences only an estimated 25% of all V-1s hit their intended target. In fact, within just a couple of months of the first launch more than half of all V-1s were intercepted. However, the V-1 was still a highly effective weapon that caused significant damage to Britain.
The successful Allied advance after D-Day succeeded in disabling the launch sites on the French coast by September. This removed the threat of further attacks on British civilians.