In August 1942, Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s wartime prime minister, flew to Moscow and there met for the first time the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Fourteen months before, on 22 June 1941, Hitler had launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the largest military invasion ever conducted. Almost immediately, Stalin was urging Churchill to open a second front by attacking Nazi-occupied Europe from the West, thereby forcing Hitler to divert troops to the west and alleviating in part the enormous pressure the Soviet Union found itself under. Now, as Churchill prepared to meet Stalin, German forces were bearing down on the strategically and symbolically important Russian city of Stalingrad.
Churchill knew that if Germany were to defeat the Soviet Union then Hitler would be able to concentrate his whole military strength on the west. But although tentative plans for a large-scale invasion were afoot, to act too quickly, too hastily, would be foolhardy. Churchill withstood Stalin’s pressure. There would be no second front for at least another year. But, in the meanwhile, Churchill was able to offer a ‘reconnaissance in force’ on the French port of Dieppe, with the objective of drawing away German troops from the Eastern Front. Whether Stalin was at all appeased by this morsel of compensation, Churchill does not say.
Thus, in the early hours of 19 August 1942, the Allies launched Operation Jubilee – the raid on Dieppe, 65 miles across from England. 252 ships crossed the Channel in a five-pronged attack carrying tanks together with 5,000 Canadians and 1,000 British and American troops plus a handful of fighters from the French resistance. Nearing their destination, one prong ran into a German merchant convoy. A skirmish ensued. More fatally, it meant that the element of surprise had been lost – aware of what was taking place, the Germans at Dieppe were now waiting in great numbers.
Pictured: German soldiers defending the French port of Dieppe against the Anglo-Canadian raid, 19 August 1942.
‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’
Considered one of the greatest war photographers, Robert Capa’s images, especially those taken during the Spanish Civil War and the D-Day landings, are among the iconic images of the twentieth century.
Born Andre Friedmann in Budapest on 22 October 1913, Robert Capa had, by the age of eighteen, turned into a political radical, opposed to the authoritarian rule of Hungarian regent, Miklós Horthy. In 1931, Friedmann was arrested and imprisoned by Hungary’s secret police. On his release, after only a few months, he moved to Berlin where he studied journalism and political science while working part time as a dark room apprentice. In 1933, alarmed by the rise of Nazism, Friedmann, who was Jewish, moved to Paris.
Famous American photographer
Two years later, while in Paris, Friedmann met Gerta Pohorylle, a German Jew who had also fled Hitler’s Germany. Together they worked as photojournalists, fell in love and, in an attempt to make their work more commercially appealing, pretended they both worked for the famous American photographer, Robert Capa. Friedmann took the photos, Pohorylle hawked them to the news agencies and credit was given to the fictional Robert Capa. (The name ‘Capa’ was chosen as homage to the American film director, Frank Capra.)
The Falling Soldier Continue reading
As D-Day approached, training intensified. Troops were told only what they needed to know; they certainly had no idea about when or where they’d be going into action. Troops trained embarking and disembarking from landing craft. (The flat-bottomed Landing Craft, Assault vessels (LCA) weighed ten tons each, could carry thirty-eight men and travel up to ten knots per hour, while the much larger Landing Ship, Tank, LST, carried three hundred men and sixty tanks. Both vessels could sail right onto a beach.)
It was at one such training exercise, one that involved the use of live ammunition, that tragedy struck. 23,000 American troops, the entire invading force of Utah beach, and 300 vessels were rehearsing on Slapton Sands in South Devon on 27 and 28 April 1944 in an exercise codenamed Tiger designed to acclimatize troops as accurately as possible to what they could expect at Utah during the real thing, right down to a number of pretend dead bodies strewn around. Six villages in the area had seen the evacuation of their 3,000 inhabitants. They’d been told they would, one day, be allowed back. But when, no one knew.
30,000 acres of land around Slapton Sands, chosen because of its similarities to the intended target area of Utah beach, had been sealed off with barbed wire and sentries. On the 27th, during Exercise Tiger, poor communication resulted in a number of troops being fired upon by their own ships. (Pictured: US troops in training for the Normandy Landings.)
28 April 1944
Midnight, Tuesday 6 June 1944: the beginning of D-Day, the operation to invade Nazi-occupied Western Europe and initiate the final phase of World War II. A vast undertaking, it involved 12,000 aircraft and an amphibious assault of almost 7,000 vessels. 160,000 troops would cross the English Channel during Operation Overlord, paving the way for more than three million allied troops to enter France by the end of August 1944.
Forces from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, the Free French and Poland all heavily participated, alongside contingents from Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands, and Norway, They capitalised on the element of surprise achieved due to bad weather and the success of Operation Bodyguard – a feat of massive deception to convince Hitler that the landings would hit Pas-de-Calais. In just over a year, the war would be won. ‘D-Day: History in an Hour’ by History In An Hour’s founder, Rupert Colley, is the story of how the largest military operation in history had been planned, practised and executed.
This, in an hour, is D-Day…
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The Dieppe Raid
The Atlantic Wall
The Eve of Invasion
6 June: D-Day
The Battle of Normandy
What might have been…
Juan Pujol Garcia was unique among Second World War agents – he was the only one to offer his services as a double agent as opposed to all others who had been captured and ‘turned’. Bespectacled, balding and timid, Pujol was not the image usually associated with a double agent, let alone Britain’s most effective one.
Born in Barcelona on 14 February 1912, Pujol was working on a chicken farm when, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. He managed to fight for both the Republican side and the Nationalists. He was committed to neither and hated the extreme views they each represented. By the end of the war, he was able to claim that he had served in both armies without firing a single bullet for either.
For the good of humanity
He emerged from the experience with an intense dislike for extreme ideologies and, for the ‘good of humanity’, sought to help achieve a more moderate system. With the outbreak of war in 1939, three times he approached British services in Lisbon and Madrid, offering to spy for them, only to be turned away without an interview. Undeterred, Pujol decided to become a double agent. He offered his services to the German Abwehr service based also in Lisbon, offering to spy on the English, claiming that as a diplomat working in London, he knew England well. His audacity was certainly impressive – he had never visited England, nor could he speak the language, and he had forged a British passport without ever having seen a real one. Incredibly, the Germans fell for the story, put him through an intensive training course, and supplied him with the tools of the trade: invisible ink, cash, and a codename – Arabel, and sent him on assignment to England with instructions to build a network of spies.
Born 12 February 1893 in Missouri, Omar Bradley fought on the Western Front during the last months of the First World War. His father, a schoolteacher who had married one of his pupils, died in 1908 while Omar was still only thirteen.
In 1943, during the Second World War, Bradley led US troops onto Sicily. The following year, based in London, he was given command of American troops assigned to the Normandy landings. His immediate commander was Bernard Montgomery. After a battle of attrition, he led the capture of Cherbourg, then into the town of Avranches. On 1 August 1944, Bradley was given command of the US Twelfth Army Group, consisting of one and quarter million troops, the largest US army ever assigned to a single general.
Bradley’s army fought in the Ardennes, during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 – January 1945, and were among the Allied troops who shook hands with their Soviet counterparts on the River Elbe in April 1945.
Post-war, Bradley served on the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and in 1950 was appointed ‘General of the Army’, the highest rank in the US army. He oversaw US strategy during the Korean War and retired in 1953, a month after the end of the war. Although retired, he advised President Lyndon Johnson on military policy during the Vietnam War.
His memoirs, A Soldier’s Story, were published in 1951.
Omar Bradley died on 8 April 1981, aged 88, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
D-Day: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is due for publication 24 April 2014.