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.
Bugs Bunny made his first appearance in the Merrie Melodies cartoon A Wild Hare.
A wisecracking rabbit voiced by Mel Blanc had first appeared in 1938’s Porky’s Hare Hunt. However, it wasn’t until two years later that director Tex Avery asked the animator Bob Givens to redesign the character as the bold tormentor of the hunter, Elmer Fudd.
In the cartoon A Wild Hare Fudd tries numerous times to shoot Bugs Bunny with his double-barrelled shotgun. In one sequence where Elmer tries to dig out the rabbit from his hole, Bugs emerges from another exit to deliver his catchphrase for the first time. Tex Avery later explained that the phrase ‘What’s up, Doc?’ was a common expression where he grew up in Texas, but audiences around the country found the rabbit’s delivery of it hilarious and this guaranteed its inclusion in all subsequent Bugs Bunny cartoons.
A Wild Hare was an immediate hit with the public when it was released in cinemas on 27 July 1940, and later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject. Within two years Bugs Bunny had become the biggest star of the Merrie Melodies series of cartoons, and was used during the Second World War in propaganda against the Axis as a well as to advertise War Bonds.
His regular appearances during the war saw Bugs Bunny become a military mascot. He was even made an honorary master sergeant in the United States Marine Corps after appearing in the dress blue uniform of the Marines in 1943’s Super-Rabbit.
By the time Bugs Bunny was retired from regular releases in 1964 he had appeared in more than 160 short films and won an Academy Award for Knighty Knight Bugs in 1958. He only began to appear again in animated specials and films from the late 1970s.
Archibald Brown was murdered by his son, who placed an anti-tank grenade under the seat of his bath chair.
47 year old Archibald Brown had required the use of a bath chair, a luxurious type of wheelchair, since a motorcycle accident more than twenty years earlier had caused him to lose the use of both of his legs. After inheriting a large amount of money from his own father, Archibald employed three nurses to provide care for him at home in Rayleigh in Essex. Meanwhile he subjected his wife, Doris, and their sons Eric and Colin to years of torment and abuse.
Eric was called up to the 8th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in October 1942, where he was trained to use the Number 75 Hawkins grenade that would detonate when a vehicle drove over the pressure plate on top. While at home on leave he grew increasingly angry at the way his father treated his mother. Deciding that the only way to end the situation was for his father to die, Eric placed an adapted stolen Hawkins grenade under the seat of his father’s bath chair.
When Nurse Doris Mitchell went to collect the bath chair to take Archibald for a walk around the local area, she was surprised to find the door locked. After a few moments a nervous Eric brought the chair out and Archibald was placed on his seat.
About a mile into the walk, Archibald shifted his weight to retrieve a packet of cigarettes. Nurse Mitchell lit one for him before resuming pushing the chair, but after just a few steps there was an enormous explosion. Archibald and most of the chair were blown to pieces and scattered over a wide area by the anti-tank grenade. Mitchell suffered injuries to her legs but survived.
Shortly afterwards Eric was charged with murder. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to a psychiatric hospital where he stayed until 1975.
On the 18th July 1925, the first volume of Adolf Hitler’s rambling racist manifesto Mein Kampf – which translates as My Struggle or My Battle – was first published. Dictated to his assistant Rudolf Hess whilst imprisoned in surprisingly luxurious conditions at Landsberg Prison, Mein Kampf laid out the blueprint for Hitler’s future plans for Germany, although when it was first published it gained little following outside the ranks of the Nationalist Socialist faithful.
In 1923, Hitler launched an attempted coup to seize power in Munich in Bavaria. Known as the Beer Hall Putsch, it ended in disaster for the Nazis when Hitler was arrested along with other Party leaders and charged with treason. Having been found guilty after a widely publicised 24-day trial, Hitler was sent to Landsberg as a nationally recognised figure.
Imprisonment gave Hitler time to reflect on the future direction of the Nazi Party and dictate Mein Kampf to Hess. It was in this book that Hitler clearly stated his anti-Semitic views, and attempted to justify his hatred. He also outlined his intentions for a future Germany including the destruction of the parliamentary system and the first reference to aggressive eastward expansion in order to gain Lebensraum “at the expense of Russia”.
Despite its initially poor reception, Mein Kampf became a popular book with hundreds of thousands of copies sold each year after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, even though he increasingly distanced himself from it. Winston Churchill believed that, if world leaders had read it, they could have anticipated the full scale of Nazi domestic and foreign policy.
The 16th July 1945 marked the start of the atomic age when the USA detonated the first nuclear bomb under the codename ‘Trinity’. Nicknamed ‘the gadget’ by the people working on it, the plutonium-based weapon was detonated at the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico. The explosion was equivalent to about 20 kilotons of TNT, and the blast-wave was felt by civilians up to 160 miles away. To maintain secrecy, a press release was issued shortly after the successful detonation that claimed a large ammunition storage magazine had exploded.
The development of nuclear weapons by the US Army in the Manhattan Project that began in 1942 at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico started due to concerns that Nazi Germany would develop an atomic bomb. By 1944 scientists had designed an implosion-type device and proposed that a test take place. The location was chosen in September, and an on-site laboratory was set up.
President Truman was keen to test the bomb before the Potsdam Conference began on the 18th July, so the 16th was chosen to give time to try again in case it failed. However when the appointed hour came rain was falling, which would have increased radioactive fallout, and so the detonation time was pushed back from 4am to 5.30am. At 5:29am the “the gadget” was exploded on top of a 100-foot steel tower, known as Point Zero. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, later said that after the explosion he recalled a verse from Hindu scripture: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’
British naval ships attacked the French Navy at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria during the Second World War.
On 22 June 1940 France and Nazi Germany signed the Second Armistice at Compiègne. This signalled the end of the Battle of France, and Britain was concerned that the significant naval force of the Marine Nationale would now pass to the pro-Nazi Vichy government. If these ships were used by the Axis powers, they would secure a significant advantage in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Winston Churchill received reassurances from Admiral François Darlan, commander of the French Navy, that the ships would remain under French control. However, Churchill and the War Cabinet were unwilling to risk the possibility that they might change hands.
Having decided that it was necessary to neutralise the French fleet, Operation Catapult was launched on 3 July. French ships in British ports were captured, while those at Mers-el-Kébir were offered an ultimatum by Force H under the command of Admiral Sir James Somerville. If the French didn’t surrender their ships or move them away from the reach of the Axis, they would be sunk.
Negotiations continued for much of the day, but at 5:54pm Churchill ordered the British ships to open fire in the first Anglo-French naval exchange since the Napoleonic Wars. The French were anchored in a narrow harbour that made them an easy target for the British guns. 1,300 French sailors were killed in just a few minutes, while one battleship was sunk with five more seriously damaged.
Churchill later recalled the ‘hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been concerned’ but, in the context of the war, the attack at Mers-el-Kébir proved to the world that Britain was determined to keep fighting.
On the 12th June 1942, Anne Frank received a diary as a thirteenth birthday present from her father. Barely three weeks later, Anne and her family went into hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Her diary, which chronicled her experiences over the next two years, was published posthumously after the war under the title The Diary of a Young Girl and became one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated books.
The Frank family originated in Frankfurt, Germany, but moved away after the Nazi party won local elections in 1933. Anne’s father, Otto, was a businessman who chose to move the family to Amsterdam after receiving an offer to start a company there. However, when the German army invaded the Netherlands in 1940 the family found themselves trapped in a country subjected to anti-Semitic laws.
When, in July 1942, Anne’s older sister Margot was ordered by the Nazi authorities to go to a labour camp, their father instead arranged for the family to go into hiding in a so-called ‘Secret Annexe’ above his office building. It was here that Anne wrote her diary, which she addressed as Kitty. Over three volumes she recorded the relationships between the Frank family, the Van Pels family, and her father’s friend Fritz Pfeffer with whom they shared their confined hiding place.
An anonymous tip-off led to the discovery and arrest of the eight inhabitants on the 4th August 1944. They were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp a month later. Anne died of typhus in early 1945 after being transferred to Bergen-Belsen. She was fifteen years old.
The 6th June 1944 saw the largest seaborne invasion in history, when the Allied forces of the Second World War launched Operation Neptune – more commonly known as the D-Day landings. The amphibious landings in Normandy marked the start of the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Western Europe.
The invasion was focused on a 50-mile long stretch of Normandy coastline that had been divided into five codenamed sections known as Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the Desert Fox for his leadership of Italian and German forces in the North African campaign, commanded the Nazi defence along what was known as the Atlantic Wall.
Prior to the landings, an airborne force of 24,000 Allied troops had been dropped behind enemy lines to seize or destroy features such as bridges, crossroads and key gun batteries. Despite this, the work of the first seaborne divisions was still difficult as they fought to clear the beaches under heavy fire from the numerous smaller gun emplacements that overlooked them. Rommel had previously identified the Normandy beaches as a possible invasion point and so had installed a range of obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and anti-tank devices that slowed down the Allied landing.
The Allies failed to achieve all their objectives on the first day and suffered at least 10,000 casualties. However, they did successfully establish a foothold on the continent that was gradually expanded over the next few months and led to the liberation of France and the defeat of the Nazis in the West.
On the 2nd June 1946, Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and turn their country into a republic. The question was simple: Monarchy or Republic? More than 89% of eligible Italian citizens voted in the referendum, with 54.3% voting in favour of a republic.
Italy had emerged from the Second World War as a country torn apart by conflict. The royal family was blamed by many people for allowing the growth and domination of Mussolini’s fascist regime, and was therefore also held responsible for the war and the Italian defeat. Even the wartime king, Victor Emmanuel III, had recognised the precarious nature of his position when Mussolini’s government collapse in 1944, and so handed over the responsibilities of head of state to his son, Crown Prince Umberto.
Umberto II formally ascended to the Italian throne in May 1946 but, despite his relative popularity with the Italian population compared to his predecessor, the pro-monarchy campaign was unable to gain sufficient support. However, the results of the referendum demonstrated a very clear split between a generally pro-republican north (where 2/3 of the population voted to abolish the monarchy) and a pro-monarchist south where 2/3 of the population wanted to keep it.
Umberto II was magnanimous and dignified in defeat. In his final speech to the Italian people he didn’t bear them any ill will, and encouraged them to be loyal to the republic. The monarchy formally ended on the 12th June 1946, and Umberto was exiled to Portugal. He died in 1983, having never set foot in Italy again.
Operation Dynamo, better known as the evacuation of Dunkirk, began.
Applauded by the British press as a heroic and miraculous rescue, Operation Dynamo saw an armada under the command of the Royal Navy successfully evacuate over 338,000 Allied troops from the beaches around the French port of Dunkirk.
The German army had invaded France on 10 May, and within just two weeks had cut off and surrounded a combined force of British, French and Belgian troops. Referred to by the recently-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as ‘a colossal military disaster’ the only hope was to retreat to the port of Dunkirk and evacuate as many soldiers as possible.
Operation Dynamo was overseen by Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay who reputedly worked in a room within the cliffs of Dover that once housed an electrical dynamo, though there is no reliable evidence for this claim. The order to begin the operation was received at 18:57 on 26 May, less than a week after planning began.
The operation is famous for the flotilla of ‘little ships’ that sailed from Britain to assist the evacuation. Most of these were used to ferry soldiers from the beaches to the large navy ships that would sail across the Channel, although the majority of soldiers boarded ships directly from the stone and concrete mole that protected the harbour.
The evacuation took place amidst ferocious attacks from German aircraft and artillery. In response the Royal Air Force sent all available aircraft to protect the operation. Churchill later praised the fact that hundreds of thousands of soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk, but in a speech on 4 June needed to warn the public that ‘Wars are not won by evacuations.’