Three Additional Extraordinary Women of the Great War

Three Additional Extraordinary Women of the Great War
Sylvia Henley
There were at least three additional extraordinary women of the Great War, one of whom was Sylvia Henley. Instead of valiant deeds of bravery these ladies were given the subtle title of “The Blue Beast”, which was an Edwardian slang term for sexual passion. They became mistresses and confidantes of some of the most powerful men of the Great War.
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Sylvia Henley was born on the 3rd March 1882 at Alderley Park near Macclesfield in Cheshire. Sylvia was the fifth child of Lyulph Stanley and May Bell, who were wealthy and privileged members of the aristocracy. A succession of opportunistic marriages in the past had endowed the Stanley family with further wealth and an estate at Penrhos on Hollyhead Island off the Anglesey coast as well as a London town house in Mansfield Street. She was educated at home by a governess where she was taught the basics of reading, writing, piano, singing, needlework as well as modern foreign languages. She enjoyed a happy childhood where she enjoyed the pleasures of the outdoor life and became a capable horse rider and excelled at tennis and swimming. All the Stanley girls were involved with the boy’s escapades and Sylvia was always to the fore. Lyulph Henley taught all his children they should be heard as well as seen, and were encouraged to join in all the family discussions which in Sylvia’s case helped her considerably in her adult life.
It was her elder brother Arthur who introduced the Hon. Anthony Morten Henley into the Stanley family, and Anthony with his younger brother Francis regularly visited Alderly Park. Anthony, was one of the younger sons of the Third Lord Henley came from a similar background to the Stanley family. When Anthony began to court Sylvia his prospects as a barrister looked promising. The first stirring tales of the Boer War in 1899 were seen as attractive and the prospect of a new war for young and adventurous men was too much to ignore.
Anthony was encouraged by one of Sylvia’s cousins to volunteer for the Imperial Yeomanry of the 28th Bedfordshire Company, known as Compton’s Horse. In South Africa, he was expecting to participate in gallant cavalry charges across the veldt but instead he was shunted into support actions near Johannesburg and Pretoria. By transferring to the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) he was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant. He saw operations in the Transvaal and rose to the rank of Lieutenant by the end of the war in 1902.
Back in England, Sylvia’s father was not impressed with Anthony’s prospects as he had opted for a career in the army rather than the legal career he had been pursuing. Sylvia and Anthony married on the 24th April 1906, but the bride had her arm in plaster with a broken arm, which she received trying to break in a horse. Shortly after the wedding Captain Anthony Henley was transferred to the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers, a cavalry regiment based in Dublin, which was easily reached by boat to the Stanley estate at Penrhos. Many powerful and influential people came to stay at the Anglesey retreat, one being Winston Churchill who had married Sylvia’s cousin Clementine Hozier in 1908. Clementine formed a close friendship with Sylvia and met regularly when Sylvia discovered she was pregnant. On the 4th March 1907, Sylvia gave birth to a daughter, Rosalind, at Alderley Park. Anthony spent long periods away with his regiment and Sylvia produced a second daughter, Mary Katherine, on the 30th June 1908. With Anthony on military duties, Sylvia and the children remained at Alderley. There were rounds of house parties and the house would overflowing with the guests and their valets plus the Stanley servants. The Asquith family became closest to the Stanley’s and it would be H.H. Asquith would prove to be the most dangerous.
Asquith became a close friend of Lyulph Stanley as they both been to Balliol College in Oxford and had been Liberal MPs. By now Asquith was Chancellor of the Exchequer eventually leading to the position of Prime Minister in 1908. Sylvia’s father acquired the title of Lord Sheffield and for his appearances at the House of Lords he would stay at the Stanley London house in Mansfield Street, where he would often be joined by Sylvia.
Asquith was always focussed on the political battle and with support from David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill they attacked the House of Lords in retaliation for the “People’s Budget“ in 1909. Any vetoing by the House of Lords of the legislation that had been initiated in the Commons was overthrown by the 1911 Parliament Act. Both Lyulph Sheffield and Asquith shared common ground over the increasingly violent debate on women’s suffrage, and both had argued against women obtaining the vote.
In 1911 Anthony was appointed General Staff Officer, which meant he and Sylvia could be together and they leased a house near Kensington Gardens in London. On the 15th December 1913 Sylvia gave birth to a third daughter Elizabeth, who sadly only lived a few weeks.
In the meantime Prime Minister Asquith’s Liberal government was facing a threat from the Irish MP’s who had supported the 1911 Parliament Act. He was being pressured to establish Home Rule for Ireland. While Asquith was playing bridge with the Stanley’s he received a telegram to say that Brigadier-General Sir Hubert Gough, GOC 3rd Cavalry Brigade based in Dublin, along with some other officers threatened to resign. They resented the possibility they would have to quell Ulster’s opposition to Home Rule. Asquith was anxious to keep Anthony close to him, and he was appointed as Private Secretary to Asquith when the Prime Minister took on the role of Secretary of State for War in April 1914. He carried out both tasks until the outbreak of the war in August 1914.
As soon as war was declared Anthony left his administrative position at the war office and joined his regiment, the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers. All cavalry regiments left Britain for Le Havre in France on the 15th August 1914. They were entrained to Mons in Belgium, but no sooner had they arrived they were ordered to retreat. Increasing casualties were arriving at hospitals in England including lancers from Anthony’s regiment. Asquith checked the casualty reports and found Anthony was not among the casualties and immediately sent a telegram to Sylvia to inform her that he was safe. Asquith sought the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French’s assistance in transferring Anthony onto French’s staff as GSO2.
Women were mostly supportive to the men over the war. Even the suffrage movement realised they must assist the nation. Women’s rights activist Dr. Elsie Inglis’ attempted to set up a woman’s ambulance service but was rejected by the War Office.
In 1915, during a visit to Penrhos, Sylvia lectured Asquith over his dominating influence he had over her sister Venetia, with whom he had been corresponding obsessively for some considerable time. Venetia had also been engaged in a double game of intrigue by balancing Asquith’s obsession and her passionate desire for Edwin Montague, who was a member of Asquith’s Cabinet. Sylvia was aware of the double game her sister was involved in, and started to correspond with Asquith.
One of the first letters she wrote to him was about the rumours that he had been reluctant to sending an expeditionary force to France and Belgium. Also that shell production was not all that was hoped for.
Asquith went on a tour of munition factories and assured the workers that shell production was meeting the military’s requirements. However, there was a shortage of High Explosive Shells, which would to be addressed in the near future. Asquith was aware of Venetia’s passion for Montague but still corresponded regularly whilst Sylvia looked on. Her own marriage appeared to be quite secure but she was concerned, that at the age of 33 time was running out, and that she had not provided Anthony with a son. She had however produced three daughters but sadly only two had survived. She buried herself by helping out in a temporary military hospital at the Tenant’s Hall, which was an annexe to Alderly Park, doing much of the auxiliary nursing a VAD would do. In May of every year, the landed gentry who had country houses entrained to their London houses for a three month season of art exhibitions, races and grand balls & dinners. Sylvia travelled to Mansfield Street to take part in the season, and accepted an invitation from Asquith to attend a party at his country manor ”The Wharf”. This gave Asquith the opportunity to lavish attention on Sylvia as he was becoming increasingly absorbed by her, and she was flattered by his attention.
On the 11th May 1915, Venetia wrote to Asquith informing him of her plans to marry Montague. He received her letter, continued with his political commitments, and then replied to Venetia that he had received her letter. He also wrote to Sylvia looking for her support about why Venetia had betrayed him. Over the next few days she received numerous letters from Asquith and it soon became apparent his affections were being transferred from Venetia to Sylvia. Writing a letter to Anthony, she stated she was anxious for his support, but at the same time she wanted him to know how much the Prime Minister needed her.
Asquith’s Liberal Government at that time was facing heavy criticism over the supposedly week response to the war, especially over the issue of conscription. The criticism was compounded by the “Shell Scandal” and the resignation of Lord Jackie Fisher, First Sea Lord. The compensation for Asquith was his regular correspondence with Sylvia. On the 25th May 1915, Asquith managed to form a coalition government of hostile Conservatives and Liberals, but they came with certain conditions. The Conservatives demanded that Winston Churchill was removed as the First Lea lord of the Admiralty, Lord Haldane was sacrificed and Montague was to lose his Cabinet position. Lord Kitchener was to remain as head of the War Office and David Lloyd-George was appointed as the new Minister of Munitions. Asquith was able to negotiate through these troubles with the support Sylvia gave via their correspondence.
She wrote to Anthony, who was fully occupied on the Western Front that Asquith was extremely fond of her but not how deep his feelings went. She also complained she was not receiving any responses from Anthony she thought she should be getting.
At the end of May 1915, Asquith visited Sir John French at the front line and while he was there Anthony came home on leave for a few days at the beginning of June. In a letter to Sylvia, Asquith complained that he was disappointed not to have received a letter from her in over a week. With Anthony home on leave she could not afford the time to correspond with Asquith. When Anthony went back to the front line, she found she had new confidence when she realised she was having considerable impact with the men she came in contact with. With her new confidence she was able to argue Anthony’s case for obtaining an active command with Major-General Sir William Robertson. She eagerly awaited news from Anthony regarding his promotion. Venetia was staying with Sylvia at Mansfield Street preparing for her wedding and saw Asquith’s constant stream of letters to Sylvia and was upset that her sister had replaced her in Asquith’s affections. She deliberately left an open letter knowing that Sylvia would see it, in which the envelope read Miss Venetia Stanley, and the letter was sent by Anthony.
Sylvia had always known Anthony was fond of Venetia and had been for quite some considerable time. She also knew he was not a prolific letter writer, and by writing to her sister she was concerned about the relationship between the two of them. Sylvia was so upset by the discovery that she collapsed with blood poisoning caused by a reaction of the inoculations she had been given. For 24 hours she was dangerously ill and she successfully came through the physical crisis. Montague was able to go some way to helping her emotional crisis by stating he had approached Venetia about Anthony just a few weeks before their wedding. Not only was Asquith challenging him professionally but Anthony was a threat to him over Venetia. Despite having problems with the coalition over the removal of Churchill from the Cabinet, he was concerned over Sylvia’s state of health and her mental distraction. He wrote to her in an attempt to find out what was wrong but did not receive any proper answers. She corresponded with Anthony through the summer of 1915 but their letters remained polite and remote, despite Anthony’s remorse for his affair with Venetia. Sylvia involved herself in voluntary work as an auxiliary nurse in the West End of London’s children’s clinic between trips to Alderley of Penrhos to see her children.
Asquith was supportive of Sylvia’s nursing role as he was appreciative of the nursing uniform she wore. When Asquith requested she should lunched at 10 Downing Street, she went direct from the children’s hospital but his reaction disappointed her. Although appreciative of the nursing outfit, on Sylvia he found it a bit drab on this occasion. He always preferred her to wear more colourful clothes for lunch. Sylvia also had another position with the Red Cross Enquiry Department compiling casualty lists, which did not need a specialist outfit as it was purely administrative. The war and the long separation from Anthony had changed her from naivety of the outside world to the harsher realities of life. She had seen the effects the war had on the lives of ordinary people, other than the upper class, through her work with the children’s clinic and the Red Cross. She was now more broad-minded, which she needed to be as she discovered that Anthony and Venetia’s affair was continuing despite their denials. However, she continued to believe her relationship with Asquith was platonic only as she managed to keep his physical advances at arm’s length. To her the friendship between them was more to help Asquith by relieving the stress of his office and acting as a sounding board for his political problems. Physical contact between Sylvia and Asquith only went as far as holding hands as she did not permit any sexual contact.
Sylvia spent Christmas of 1915 at Alderley with her family. In January 1916, her cousin Clementine Churchill persuaded her to reduce her hours and the children’s clinic and Red Cross, and she agreed to help run the Hendon District Canteen catering for men and women working at the local munitions factories. At the end of January, Anthony came home on leave from the Western Front and Sylvia vacated her children’s clinic and Red Cross to be with him. Even without Anthony’s affair, the relationship between them was difficult. The war had changed men who were fighting during combat and Anthony was no exception. He had a great camaraderie with his men who had seen action under fire of the enemy whereas Sylvia did not have the same rapport with her fellow volunteers. When Anthony returned to France she was still filled with nagging doubts about their future. However, they spent a happy and intimate week together when Anthony was on leave again in London just prior to the Battle of the Somme. When the battle began on the 1st July 1916, Sylvia was staying at Alderley. She wrote immediately to Anthony when she heard the news but it was five days before she received a reply that his regiment was on the flank of the main operation and at the moment he was quite safe. Sylvia’s brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Oliver Stanley, was wounded whilst serving in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and was invalided home to recuperate at Mansfield Street.
Having travelled back to London to nurse her brother, she discovered she was pregnant. When he heard the ne ws Anthony was delighted although he was still in contact with Venetia. His career and administrative skills had been boosted at the recent operations on the Somme, where he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and twice mentioned in dispatches.
By the autumn the Battle of the Somme was still raging on with the casualties ever increasing for little ground gained. Not only was Asquith and his government facing this problem but they were also having to deal with the agitation from Ireland and America over the trial and final execution of Irish Sir Roger Casement for treason. In his letters to Sylvia, as well as his personal feelings for her, Asquith used her as his confidant. Asquith received a terrible shock when he heard the news of the death of his own son Raymond. On the 14th September 1916 his son advanced into a hail of bullets and shrapnel whilst leading his company of Grenadier Guards over the top attacking the village of Lesboeufs. He was wounded almost immediately in the chest, treated off the battlefield but died soon after. The news took several days to reach the Asquith family and he sent Sylvia a short telegram informing her of his loss. The press continued to criticise him for his war leadership and his political opponents saw an opportunity for a final assault against him. Asquith’s position was weakened by the death of his staunch ally Lord Kitchener and with David Lloyd-George’s proposals for a tougher approach to the war he knew it was time for someone else to take over. He resigned as Prime Minister and in a letter to Sylvia he confessed to being exhausted by the political battles and was relieved to have the burden of responsibility removed.
On the 29th January 1917, Sylvia gave birth to another daughter Juliet and wrote to Anthony to tell him how disappointed she was by not by not having a baby boy. She wrote regularly to him without mentioning Asquith, with whom she had been in a close platonic relationship for over two years.
In the meantime, Anthony was appointed Temporary Brigadier-General as his first active command following the Battle of Arras in May 1917. He joined his new position as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 127th Infantry Brigade at Epéhy and one of the first tasks was to dig a new trench 500 yards in front of the existing line. The operation was achieved with minimum casualties earning him several Mentions in Dispatches.
Sylvia was a regular guest at ”The Wharf”, even though she was increasingly busy. King’s College Hospital was impressed with the success of the canteen at Hendon, which she helped to run alongside her cousin Clementine Churchill. Sylvia was requested to set up new canteen facilities for the expanding military and civilian hospital. Asquith did not approve of Sylvia’s new acquired independence, because it made her increasingly unavailable.
The British Army was in good shape partly due to the foundations to wage war that the Asquith government had laid down while he was still Prime Minister. However, the military situation was not good. Germany was able to release large numbers of troops to the Western Front after Russia withdrew from the war. The Germans launched a surprise offensive on the 21st March 1918 and Anthony and Sylvia’s letters were not delivered on time owing to the new mobile war. When the tide turned in the summer of 1918 Anthony was fully occupied with the Allied toward the Hindenburg Line, and at the wars end he had been Mentioned-in-Despatches eight times. Upon returning home he found that the war had given women a new independence and Sylvia was determined that her marriage was on very different terms.
David Lloyd-George coalition government was returned to power after the General Election was held a few weeks at the end of the war. Sylvia was one of the privileged women who were eligible to vote. Asquith and his Liberal Parliamentary Party supporters were now in the minority, along with the Labour Party.
For Sylvia, new opportunities arose owing to the fact she had worked with other classes of people in children’s hospital and canteens. She was recruited to the Board of Governors of King’s College Hospital in 1920 because of her administrative skills. She was to hold that post until 1973.
Anthony returned from the war unscathed and was appointed a CMG (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George) in 1919 and he retired with the rank of Honorary Brigadier-General in the Reserve of Officers. However, for pay purposes was a Captain as the army had rescinded the temporary ranks at the end of the war. He retired and became a director of a shipping company where he spent a great deal of time working abroad, especially Romania.
In 1922 Lloyd-George called a truce with the Asquith Liberals to defend the election but were defeated by the Conservatives, and Stanley Baldwin was the new Prime Minister. Asquith lost his seat and the following year was elevated as the Earl of Oxford to the peerage. He remained close to Sylvia after the war, but the passion had gone. H.H. Asquith’s health began to deteriorate and in 1927 he suffered a stroke. He recovered but caught a chill the following winter and passed away on the 15th February 1928.
For Sylvia the years between the end of the war and 1925 had not been the happiest when Anthony died suddenly in Romania playing cricket. Within months her father died and the estates of Alderley Park and Penrhos had to receive economies as the war had stripped a lot of their assets.
In October 1925 Sylvia accompanied her cousin Gertrude Bell on a visit to Baghdad, where she was shown the sights and meet the people of Iraq. Gertrude was influential in the creation of the new Iraq after the Turkish Ottoman Empire collapsed. Sylvia suffered an eye infection and returned to Britain leaving her cousin behind. Gertrude never returned home.
In 1940 Sylvia was on hand to give Winston Churchill her moral support after he became Prime Minister. She was a regular visitor to Downing Street and remained close to the Churchill’s for the rest of their lives.
She continued to be involved with the administration of the King’s College Hospital as well as the Reginal Hospital Board, for which she awarded the OBE in 1962 in recognition of her tireless work. She worked on during the 1960 and 70’s and by 1977 her stamina began to fail her and she was admitted to a nursing home. Sylvia died of heart attack on the 19th May 1980 aged 98. She fulfilled partially the characteristics of the Blue Beast by being the confidant of H.H. Asquith. She was never his mistress in the physical sense but she was privy to the nation’s greatest secrets.
(3757 words) (Edited version 1603 words)

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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1939

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1939

On 1st March 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered Plan ‘Z’ to be instigated. Plan ‘Z’ was the name given to the planned re-equipment and expansion of the existing Kriegsmarine (German Navy). The fleet was meant to challenge the naval power of Britain, and was to be completed by 1948.The plan called for a fleet of ten battleships and four aircraft carriers which were intended to engage the Royal Navy in battle. This force would be supplemented with numerous long-range cruisers that would attack British shipping. A small force of U-boats was also to be included in this fleet.

On the 15th March 1939 the German Wehrmacht occupied Czechoslovakia. German annexation of Czechoslovakia’s northern and western border had begun in 1938. Adolf Hitler’s pretext for this action was the alleged privations suffered by the ethnic German population living in the region. Although the Czechs had warmly welcomed the Germans when they had previously entered the Sudetenland, they stood silently in despair when the Nazis entered Prague. Having annexed the Sudetenland, Hitler’s next ambition was the conquest of Czechoslovakia. As Czechoslovakia was a major manufacturer of machine-guns, tanks and artillery, Hitler recognised the importance of occupying Czechoslovakia. By his annexation, Germany had gained over 2,000 field guns, 464 tanks and 500 anti-aircraft artillery pieces. Together with 43,000 machine-guns, over 1,000,000 rifle and pistols and about a billion rounds of ammunition, Germany had sufficient weaponry to arm approximately half of the Wehrmacht.

On the 20th March 1939, Germany issued an oral ultimatum to Lithuania demanding that the Klaipeda Region be given up or the Wehrmacht would invade Lithuania. The Klaipeda Region had been detached from Germany at the end of the Great War. After years of rising tension between Germany and Lithuania, the demand was expected. The ultimatum was issued just five days after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. Of the four signatories of the 1924 Klaipeda Convention, which guaranteed Lithuanian protection, Britain and France followed a policy of appeasement, while Italy and Japan openly supported Germany. Lithuania was forced to accept the ultimatum on the 22nd March 1939. For Germany it was the last territorial acquisition before the Second World War and for Europe it was a further escalation in pre-war tensions.

Following Adolf Hitler’s demands to return the Free City of Danzig (Gdansk) region of Poland to Germany, negotiations began on the 21st March 1939. Poland refused to agree to the demands. Germany began to move troop concentrations along the Polish border. On the 31st March 1939 in response to Nazi Germany’s Danzig demands and defiance of the Munich Agreement together with the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Britain and France pledged their support to assure Poland of her independence. Britain and France were not ready for war, and they needed time to properly re-arm and were determined to gain that time at any price. However, Polish leaders were not aware that the guarantee would not give additional support in the form of immediate military assistance.

The German-Romanian Treaty was signed in Bucharest on the 23rd March 1939. The German and Romanian governments signed the treaty for the “Development of Economic Relations between the Two Countries”, establishing German control over most aspects of the Romanian economy. The treaty had the effect of forcing Romania to join the Axis Powers because it had become a “German dependency” state.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain drafted the British guarantee of Poland’s independence on the 30th March 1939, after making it clear that an attack would not be tolerated. This guarantee was in response to Nazi Germany’s defiance of the Munich Agreement and the occupation of Czechoslovakia. On the 6th April 1939, during a visit to London by the Polish Foreign Minister, it was agreed to formalise the assurance as an Anglo-Polish military alliance. That assurance was extended on the 13th April 1939 to Greece and Romania following Italy’s invasion of Albania.

The Spanish Civil War ended when General Francisco Franco proclaimed victory in a radio speech on the 1st April 1939. The last of the Republican forces, made up of mainly relatively urban left wing leaning citizens and supported by anarchists and communists, were forced into unconditional surrender. Franco was the leader of the Nationalist Party, consisting largely of Catholic aristocratic citizens, who had led his nation through four years of civil war. After the end of the war, there were harsh reprisals against Franco’s former enemies. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and at least 30,000 executed. Many others were put to forced labour, building railways, draining swamps and digging canals.

On the 3rd April 1939, Germany started planning the invasion of Poland known as “Fall Weiss”. The German military High Command finalised its operational orders on the 15th June 1939 and the invasion commenced on the 1st September 1939, precipitating the Second World War.

The Italian invasion of Albania was a brief military campaign by the Kingdom of Italy against the Albanian Kingdom between the 7th to the 12th April 1939. Albania had long been of considerable strategic importance to Italy as it allowed the Italian navy to have control of the entrance to the Adriatic Sea. It also provided Italy with a beachhead in the Balkans. The conflict was a result of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s imperialistic policies. King Zog I was forced into exile when Albania was over-run and the country was made part of the Italian Empire.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote a letter Adolf Hitler on the 14th April 1939 with a request that a fear of a new world war conflict be averted by discussion and negotiation. He was aware that Hitler had repeatedly stated Germany had no desire for war, but Roosevelt required assurance that Germany would not attack or invade any other European nation. The United States would be willing to participate in an effort to bring world peace. Hitler’s reply on the 28th April 1939 that the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 heaped many injustices upon the German people. He pointed out that he had brought Germany into full employment by building a new infra-structure and restored some previously lost territories back to Germany. The reports that Germany intended to attack Poland, were a “mere invention by the international press”, which had led Poland to make an agreement with England. Hitler considered this to be a breaking of the Polish-German non-aggression pact, which was signed in 1934, was therefore no longer in existence. Hitler had not really answered Roosevelt’s question of whether he had finished with aggression and would he carry out his plan to attack Poland.

On the 18th April 1939, Russia’s President Joseph Stalin proposed an anti-Nazi alliance with Britain and France. Such an agreement could have changed the course of 20th century history. Stalin proposed moving a million Russian troops complete with supplies and weapons to the German border providing Polish objections be overcome to allow the Red Army crossing its territory. Britain and France would only enter into negotiations but were not authorised to commit to binding deals. However, on the 21st August 1939 the French made a desperate attempt to revive the talks but they were rebuffed as secret Soviet-Nazi talks were well advanced.

On the 26th April 1939, Britain reintroduced conscription. At long last, the British policy of appeasement was being abandoned. Despite this, Hitler firmly believed that there would be no retaliation from Britain and France if he attacked Poland.

On the 28th April 1939, Adolf Hitler denounced the Anglo-German Naval Agreement which had been signed in 1935. His excuse was that the British “guarantee” of Polish independence was part of the encirclement policy of Germany and to prevent the emergence of a new naval treaty. The Germans began refusing to share information about their shipbuilding which they considered to be justification of Hitler’s ordering the implication of Plan Z on the 1st March 1939.

The Battles of Khalkhyn Hol were a series of engagements beginning on the 11th May 1939 and lasted until the 16th September 1939. The battles were fought along the Soviet-Japanese border with the participants being the Soviet Union, Mongolia, Japan and Manchukuo. Mongolia was a communist state allied with the Soviet Union, and Manchukuo was a puppet state of Japan. There was dispute about the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia called the Khalkhyn Hol which resulted in skirmishes between the two sides. By the 31st August 1939, Japanese forces were nearly totally destroyed after having the Soviet army completely encircling them. The Soviet Union and Japan agreed to a cease-fire which was effective on the 16th September 1939 allowing Russia to proceed with the invasion of Poland on the 17th September 1939.

On the 22nd May 1939, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany signed a military and political alliance known as the “Pact of Steel”. Originally the pact drafted a three way military alliance between Japan, Italy and Germany. While Japan wanted the pact to be aimed at the Soviet Union, Italy and Germany wanted it aimed at the British Empire and France. The pact was signed without Japan due to this disagreement. With Italy’s resources stretched to capacity, many Italians believed Italy’s alliance with Germany would provide time to regroup. Influenced by Adolf Hitler, discrimination policies against the Jews in Italy was instituted by Benito Mussolini.

The Focke Wulf Fw 190 made its first flight on the 1st June 1939, which alongside the Messerschmitt Bf 109 became the backbone of Luftwaffe’s Jagdwaffe (Fighter Force). The Fw 190 was a German was a single seater, single engine fighter aircraft which was widely used in the Second World War. It had a twin-row fourteen cylinder radial engine which enabled it to lift larger loads allowing it to also be used as a day fighter, ground attack aircraft, fighter-bomber and occasionally night-fighter. The Fw 190 began operational flying over France in August 1941, and it soon became apparent that it proved to be superior to the RAF Spitfire. The ability to out-turn the Fw 190 was the Spitfire’s only advantage, with the German fighter having greater firepower and superior manoeuvrability especially at low to medium altitude.

The Tientsin Incident began on the 14th June 1939 when the Japanese blockaded the British concession in Tientsin, China (modern day Tianjin). The British Royal Navy and the British Foreign Office reported on the 26th June 1939 the only way to break the Japanese blockade was by deploying warships to the area. However, given the current tensions with Germany, such a deployment would not be advisable. To appease the Japanese, on the 20th August 1939 despite protest from the Chinese government, the British handed over four Chinese nationals to the Japanese. The four men had been accused of killing a pro-Japanese Chinese collaborationist and were eventually executed by the Japanese. The Tientsin Incident marked the beginning of a pattern in which Japan would seek confrontation with Western powers backing the Chinese. This practise would ultimately end with Japan going to war with the United States of America and Britain in December 1941.

On the 17th June 1939, the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish governments rejected an offer from the German government to negotiate a mutual non-aggression pact. The German offer was spurred by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s suggestion that Germany’s neighbours felt threatened by aggression. These states also announced their opposition to a joint Anglo-French-Soviet guarantee of the independence of the Baltic States. The Nordic foreign ministers discussed the German offer at length, but agreed to remain aloof from all commitments to rival power groups. Relations between the Finns and the Soviets began to cool, especially as the Soviet delegation to the League of Nations blocked League approval for the fortifications of the Aaland Islands. The Danish government was the only Scandinavian power to accept the German offer.

The Einstein-Szilard letter was a letter written by Leó Szilárd and signed by Albert Einstein that was sent to the United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the 2nd August 1939. Szilárd was a Hungarian physicist, who was living in the United States at the time, had been a student of Einstein, a German-Jewish physicist who had immigrated to America when Adolf Hitler came to power. The letter warned that Germany might develop atomic bombs and suggested that the United States should start its own nuclear programme. Roosevelt took heed of the advice and prompted the action which eventually resulted in the Manhattan Project developing the first atomic bomb. The discovery of uranium fission in December 1938 was reported in the 6th January 1939 issue of Die Naturwissenschaften. Lise Meitner, a Jewish Austrian-Swedish physicist, correctly identified the process as nuclear fission which was reported on the 11th February 1939 issue of Nature.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which was signed in Moscow on the 23rd August 1939. The signatories were foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Vyacheslav Molotov of the Soviet Union. The pact provided a written guarantee of non-belligerence by each party to the other and a secret protocol that divided the territories of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Romania into German and Soviet hands. They both anticipated “territorial and political rearrangement” of these countries. The Soviet Union had wanted good relations with Germany for years and was pleased to see that Germany embraced the same ideas.

The Germans, prompted by the British, issued one last diplomatic ultimatum to Poland on the 30th August 1939 stating they were willing to commence negotiations about the Polish Corridor. This was not in Hitler’s previous demands which was only for the restoration of Danzig. The ultimatum was that a Polish representative with the power to sign an agreement had to arrive in Berlin the following day. In the meantime Germany would draw up a set of proposals for consideration. On the night of the 30/31st August 1939 the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop read the proposals to the British Ambassador, who requested a copy for the transmission to the Polish government. Ribbentrop refused the request on the grounds that the Polish representative had failed to arrive by midnight Ribbentrop interpreted this as bring Poland had rejected Germany’s offer and negotiations with Poland came to an end.

On the 31st August 1939, Hitler signed the order for an assault on Poland. The Germans staged a phony raid on a German radio station at Gleiwitz and were able to blame the Polish for the “unprovoked attack”, giving the Germans the excuse they needed to invade Poland.

Without declaring war, Germany invaded Poland on the 1st September 1939. The co-ordinated air and land attack was conducted with such brutal efficiency that “blitzkrieg” became a feared offensive tactic. The inter-war period ended with the invasion which initiated the start of the Second World War.

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THE END OF AN ERA

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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1938

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1938

On 25th January 1938, during the Nanking Massacre, John M. Allison, the consul at the American embassy in Nanjing, was struck in the face by a Japanese soldier. This incident is commonly known as the ‘Allison Incident’. The Americans demanded an apology and the Japanese Consul-General Katsuo Okazaki apologised formally on the 30th January 1938. This incident together with the looting of American property in Nanking that took place at the same time, further strained relations between Japan and the United States, which had already been damaged by the USS Panay incident less than two months earlier.

Following the onset of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army marched rapidly into the heart of China and reached The Yellow River on the 13th March 1938. By the 6th June 1938, the Japanese had control of all North China. To stop further Japanese advances into western and southern China, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Republic and Nationalist Government in Central China, was determined to open up the dykes on the Yellow River. The dykes were opened on 7th June 1938 but the flooding destroyed the southern bank and the water covered and destroyed thousands of square kilometres of farmland and shifted the mouth of the Yellow River hundreds of kilometres to the south. The loss of life was later estimated at 800,000 drowned.

On the morning of the 12th March 1938, the 8th Army of the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria. The troops were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes, Nazi flags and flowers. For the Wehrmacht, this was the first big test of Adolf Hitler’s demands over territorial rights. Although the invading forces were badly organised and coordination among the units was poor, the Austrian government ordered the Bundesheer [Austrian Armed Forces] not to resist. Riding in a car that afternoon, Hitler crossed the border along with a 4,000 man bodyguard. The enthusiasm displayed toward the Germans surprised both Nazis and non-Nazis, as most people believed that a majority of Austrians opposed Anschluss which refers the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany.

The Évian Conference was convened from the 6th to 16th July 1938, at Évian-les-Bains in France to discuss the Jewish refugee problem following the persecution of the Jews by the Germans. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the conference in an effort to obtain commitments from some of the invited nations to accept refugees. The conference was attended by representatives from 32 countries, presenting plans either orally or in writing. Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Chancellor, responded to the news of the conference by saying if other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them to leave. The conference was ultimately doomed, when delegates from 31 of the 32 participating nations failed to come to any agreement about accepting the Jewish refugees fleeing the Third Reich. The conference inadvertently proved to be a useful propaganda tool for the Nazis.

The Battle of Lake Khasan began on the 29th July 1938. It was a military incursion by Manchukuo (the Japanese puppet state in China) into the territory claimed by the Soviet Union. This incursion was founded on the in the belief of the Japanese, that the Soviet Union misinterpreted the demarcation boundary based on the Treaty of Peking agreed by Imperial Russia and the Qing Dynasty China. The Japanese also claimed the demarcation markers had been tampered with. Japanese forces occupied the disputed area and on the 31st July 1938 the Soviet army and navy responded. Despite repelling the Soviet thrusts, it became obvious the local Japanese units would not be able to hold the area without widening the conflict. On the 10th August 1938 the Japanese ambassador asked for peace. On the 11th August 1938, satisfied the incident had an “honourable” conclusion the Japanese stopped fighting and the Soviet forces reoccupied the heights overlooking the lake.

On the 27th September 1938 U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler regarding the threat of war in Europe. Hitler had been threatening to invade the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia over their natural and industrial resources. Roosevelt’s letter and subsequent follow-up letter failed to find a peaceful solution. Hitler’s response was that the Treaty of Versailles had treated Germany in a “shameful way” and given the Sudetenland to the state of Czechoslovakia. Therefore the invasion of “Sudetenland” was justified by returning the area to its cultural and historical roots. Hitler assured Roosevelt that he also desired to avoid another large-scale war in Europe.

The Munich Agreement was a settlement permitting Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the countries border mainly inhabited by German speaking people. The new territory was given the designated name of “Sudetenland”. The agreement was signed in the early hours of the 30th September 1938 after being negotiated at a conference held in Munich. The agreement was signed by Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy but excluded Russia. The Sudetenland was of immense importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defences and financial institutions were located there. Czechoslovakia had not been invited to the conference and therefore did not have the opportunity to protest. They realised Britain and France had betrayed them in the face of the demands made by Adolf Hitler. The agreement later proved to be a failed act of appeasement to Germany. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, attended the conference wishing for peace in Europe. On the 30th September 1938, upon his return to Britain, Chamberlain delivered his controversial “peace for our time” speech to crowds of spectators.

Herschell Grynszpan was a seventeen year old German born Polish Jew who was living in Paris when he assassinated Emst vom Rath. Grynszpan was one of thousands of Polish Jews who were expelled from Poland by the Nazis. On the morning of the 7th November 1938, he purchased a revolver and a box of bullets. He went to the German Embassy and asked to see an embassy official. After he was taken to the office of vom Rath, Grynszpan fired five bullets at him, two of which hit him in the abdomen. Vom Rath was a professional diplomat with the Foreign Office who expressed anti-Nazi sympathies, largely based on the Nazi’s treatment of the Jews, and was under Gestapo investigation for being politically unreliable. Grynszpan made no attempt to resist or escape, and he identified himself correctly to the French police. He confessed to shooting vom Rath saying his motives were to avenge the persecuted Jews. He was arrested but never appeared in court. He was transported to various prisons and his fate is unknown. Some sources say he was executed in 1940 while others state he was seen as late as 1960. Despite the best efforts of French and German doctors, vom Rath died on the 9th November 1938. The Nazis used Grynszpan’s action as ‘justification’ for further violent assaults on the German Jews. Within hours, the Nazis began a pogom against Jewish communities throughout Germany, known as Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), which lasted all night and into the next day. More than 90 people were killed, over 30,000 Jews arrested and sent to concentration camps. Thousands of Jewish shops, homes, offices and synagogues were smashed up or burned. These events shocked and horrified world opinion and helped bring an end of support for appeasement of Hitler in Britain, France and the United States. They also caused a new wave of Jewish emigration from Germany.
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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1937

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1937

Franklin D. Roosevelt began his second of four terms in office as President of America with his inaugural speech on the 20th January 1937. His first inauguration was held in March 1933 but the 20th Amendment made the 20th January the official inauguration date for future presidents.

In January 1937, the American Congress passed a joint resolution outlawing the arms trade with Spain. The “Neutrality Act 1937” was passed in May 1937 and included the provisions of earlier acts although an expiration date was not included. The Act was extended to cover civil wars. U.S. ships were prohibited from transporting any passengers or articles to warring nations, and U.S. citizens were forbidden to travel on these nation’s ships. In a concession to President Roosevelt a provision of ‘cash-and-carry’ was also added. This allowed the warring nations to obtain materials and goods from America as long as purchaser arranged transport and paid immediately in cash. The thinking was that this arrangement would not draw America into the conflict. Roosevelt believed the cash-and-carry would aid Britain and France in the event of a war with Germany. Both Britain and France were able to take advantage of the provision as they were the only countries who had control of the seas.

The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (German Sturzkampffugzeug meaning “dive bomber”) made its combat debut on 11th April 1937 with the Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War. The aircraft first flew on the 17th September 1935 but needed considerable modifications to the original design to produce a successful aircraft that was easily recognised by its inverted gull wings and fixed undercarriage. Fitted to the leading edges of the main gear legs were wailing sirens which became the propaganda symbol of German air power. The Stuka was able to dive between sixty degrees and vertical prior to releasing a bomb on target before recovering to normal level flying.

Arthur Neville Chamberlain was a British statesman of the Conservative Party who took the place of retiring Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister on the 28th May 1937. His premiership was dominated by the question of policy towards an increasingly aggressive Germany. He sought to conciliate Germany and make the Nazi state a partner in a stable Europe, He believed Germany could be satisfied by the restoration of some of her colonies. Chamberlain is best known for the foreign policy of appeasement and in particular for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938. By conceding the German Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Germany he announced on his arrival back in the U.K. what he believed would be ‘peace for our time’.

The Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a battle between the Republic of Revolutionary Army and the Imperial Japanese Army. On the night of the 7th July 1937, Japanese units stationed at Fengtai crossed the Chinese border to conduct military excercises. Japanese and Chinese troops exchanged fire outside the town of Wanping, 10.2 miles southwest of Beijing. Later in the night Japanese infantry attempted to breach Wanping’s walled defences but were repulsed. At 02.00 on the morning of the 8th July 1937 the acting commander of the Chinese Army sent the mayor of Wanping alone to the Japanese camp to conduct negotiations. This proved to be fruitless as the Japanese insisted they be admitted into the town to investigate the cause of the exchange of fire. A couple of hours later reinforcements on both sides began to arrive. The Chinese Army opened fire on the Japanese Army and attacked them at the Marco Polo Bridge along with a modern railway bridge on the outskirts of Wanping. The Japanese Foreign Service began negotiations in Beijing with the Chinese Nationalist government and a verbal agreement was reached and ceasefire declared. However, heightened tensions of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident led to a full scale Second Sino-Japanese War that continued until 9th April 1945.

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the Quarantine Speech on the 5th October 1937 calling for an international ‘quarantine’ against the ‘epidemic of world lawlessness’. The speech intensified America’s isolationist neutrality and was aimed at specifically aggressive nations. No countries were directly mentioned, although it was interpreted as referring to the Empire of Japan, the Kingdom of Italy and Nazi Germany. Roosevelt suggested a forceful response of economic pressure rather than outright aggression.

In Rome on the 11th December 1937 Italian dictator Benito Mussolini took his nation out of the League of Nations. In October 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia and in May 1936 they occupied Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Emperor Hail Selassie pleaded with the League for assistance but this was not forthcoming. The League did, however, rule against Italy and voted to apply economic sanctions. His disagreements with the League occured when his delegates walked out of a lively League Council meeting after it had voted to continue economic sanctions against her over the Ethiopian war. Mussolini addressed a crowd of 100,000 black-shirts and asked them if they would prefer to stay in the League or not and their overwhelming response was that Italy should leave. At this point Italy abandoned the League of Nations.

The USS Panay Incident was a Japanese attack on the American gunboat Panay while she was anchored in the Yangtze River outside Nanking, China (now spelt Nanjing) on the 12th December 1937. Japan and the United States were not at war at the time. The Japanese claimed they did not see the American flags painted on the deck of the gunboat, apologised and paid an indemnity. On that morning the Japanese air forces received information that fleeing Chinese forces were in the area of Nanking. While anchored at Nanking, Panay and three Standard Oil Tankers came under attack from the Japanese naval aircraft. The result was Panay and the three oil tankers sank with the loss of three American lives and forty three wounded. The sinking of USS Panay caused the U.S. opinion to turn against the Japanese.

During the Sino-Japanese War, Nanking, the capital of China fell to the Japanese Army and the Chinese government fled to Hankow which is further inland along the Yangtze River. On the 13th December 1937, Japanese General Matsui Iwane ordered the city of Nanking be destroyed. Much of the city was burned and Japanese troops launched a campaign of atrocities against the civilian population. In what became known as the “Rape of Nanking”, the Japanese butchered an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners”, massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians. They raped at least 20,000 women and girls of all ages, many of whom were mutilated or killed. Shortly after the end of the Second World War, Matsui Iwane was found guilty of war crimes by the International Tribunal for the Far East and was executed.

The Chinese Civil War, began on the 12th April 1927 between the Chinese Communists and the Chinese Nationalists. The war was carried out sporadically until the latter part of 1937, when the two parties came together to form the Second United Front in order to resist the Japanese invasion.

In America during 1937, a Committee sat for the purpose of defending Russian Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him in Moscow. Having fallen out with Joseph Stalin, the charges against Trotsky was that of a terrorist conspiring against Stalin, found guilty and sentenced to death. The American Committee found that Trotsky was innocent of the charges made against him. Stalinist assassins raided Trotsky’s Mexico City home on the 20th August 1940, and drove a pickaxe into his skull. He survived for 30 hours, dying on the 22nd August 1940 at the age of 60.

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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1936

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1936

The announcement of the death of King George V was broadcast by the British Pathe News on the 20th January 1936. George V was King of the United Kingdom, the British Dominions, and Emperor of India. He ascended the throne on the 6th May 1910. Born during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria, he served in the Royal Navy from 1887 to 1891. Following the death of his elder brother in 1892 George became the Prince of Wales. George V’s reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism and the Indian independence movement. The political landscape was radically changed and the Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the elected British House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords. In 1917 King George renamed the Monarchy from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor as a result of anti-German public sentiment. He had smoking-related health problems throughout much of his later reign and at his death was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.

The 1936 Winter Olympics was hosted by Germany and began on the 6th February 1936 and ended on the 26th February 1936. The Olympics were a winter multi-sport event and held in the market town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, and officially opened by Adolf Hitler. Organised on behalf of the German League of the Reich for Physical Exercise (DRL) the Olympics consisted of 17 events in 8 disciplines over 4 sports. Of the twenty-eight nations participating, ten received medals. A total of fifty-one medals were available of which Norway was the highest with fifteen medals. Both France and Hungary received one medal each.

In Britain on the 5th March 1936, the Supermarine Spitfire flew for the first time from Eastleigh in Hampshire. Reginald J (RJ) Mitchell had developed the fighter from the racing seaplanes built by Supermarine to compete in the Schneider Trophy competitions. In 1931 Mitchell achieved his quest to “perfect the design of the racing seaplane” which culminated in the aircraft breaking the world speed record. But he was concerned about developments in German aviation and feared that British defences needed to be strengthened especially in the air. During this time the Air Ministry issued a specification for another fighter aircraft to replace the Gloster Gauntlet. Mitchell brought together many technical advances made by other manufacturers to produce the prototype. It was his experience of high speed flight and the combination of the various designs that allowed Mitchell to produce the Spitfire. He is reputed to say that the “Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose”. Sadly, Mitchell did not see just how significant his Spitfire would become because he died of cancer in January 1937. The Spitfire alongside the Hurricane were the two fighters to take on the might of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

The Remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German army took place on the 7th March 1936 when the German Army entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of the Great War that German troops had been in this region. The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France towards Germany, and made it possible for Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Western Europe.

In Germany Adolf Hitler appointed Hermann Göring Commissar for Raw Materials and Foreign Currency on the 4th April 1936.

Italian troops entered Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on the 5th May 1936 following the invasion and occupation in October 1935. The war was a cruel affair. The Ethiopians used Dum-dum bullets, which had been banned by the Hague Convention of 1899. The Italians used poison gas which had been prohibited under the Geneva Protocol of 1922. When Addis Ababa had been occupied Emperor Haile Selassie pleaded with the League of Nations for aid in resisting the Italians but it was not forthcoming. The country was formally annexed on the 9th May 1936 and the Emperor went into exile. He remained Emperor of Ethiopia whilst in exile and reclaimed his throne in 1941 following the surrender of Italian East Africa. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini proclaimed the abolition of slavery for the 9 million slaves in all Ethiopia. The Italians invested substantially in Ethiopian development. They created many “imperial roads” and constructed 900 km of railways as well as new dams, hydroelectric plants and airports.

In Germany the Messerschmitt Bf 110 aircraft flew for the first time on the 12th May 1936 as part of the Luftwaffe air development. Göring was in favour of the twin-engine heavy fighter although it had weaknesses. The biggest weakness was the lack of agility in which was exploited to full advantage by the RAF during the Battle of Britain in 1940. During this period the role of the ‘110’ was to escort German bombers on their raids on London. Later they were designated as night fighters during the subsequent British bombing raids on Germany.

On the 3rd June 1936, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe Walther Wever was killed when the Heinkel HE Blitz he was flying crashed. The aircraft had not been properly examined during pre-flight checks, and the aileron gust pins had not been removed. The gust pin on an aircraft is a mechanism that locks the control surfaces whilst the aircraft is parked on the ground. The aircraft was airborne when the wing dipped and the Heinkel stalled and went in a low level horizontal cartwheel. Wever was on a return flight from Dresden to Berlin. He had seen action in the Great War serving as a staff officer in the German Army High Command. He became the Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe shortly after its creation on the 26th February 1935. He was a supporter of strategic bombing but following his death smaller high speed medium bombers were developed. Some strategic bomber programmes were initiated but the development was too late in the war to have any meaningful effect.

The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engined long range medium bomber which had its first flight on the 15th June 1936. It was designed during the 1930s at Vickers-Armstrong‘s Weybridge plant and led by chief designer Rex Pierson. The airframe fuselage structure was designed by Barnes Wallis which was built in a honeycomb like arrangement to allow the stresses of the airframe to equalise. The Air Ministry Specification called for a twin-engined day bomber capable of delivering a higher performance than any previous design. The Wellington was used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War and performed as one of the principal bombers used by Bomber Command. Later in the war larger four-engined “heavies” such as the Avro Lancaster began to replace the Wellington.

On the 17th July 1936 the Spanish Civil War began with a military uprising in Morocco triggered by events in Madrid. Within days Spain was divided. On the one side were the “Republican” or “Loyalist” faction who were revolutionary anarchist with Trotsky pockets of supporters. Opposing them were the “Nationalists” under the insurgent generals and eventually, under the leadership of Francisco Franco. By the summer there were atrocities on both sides. Through the diplomatic efforts of Britain and France, all European governments signed a non-intervention agreement not to supply arms to Spain. It did not deter Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany from openly supplying arms and men and committing support to the “Nationalists.” German dictator Adolf Hitler sought to establish a relationship with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as he had been impressed with Italy’s early military successes. Flattered by Hitler’s overtures, Mussolini interpreted the recent diplomatic and military victories as proof of his genius. The Soviet Union offered only intermittent help by sending war material and ’advisers’ to the “Republican” government.

The international multi-sport events in the 1936 Summer Olympics was held in Berlin, Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler saw the games as an opportunity to promote his government. The games were officially declared open by Hitler on the 1st August 1936 and ended on the 16th August 1936. Adolf Hitler had a huge sports complex constructed including a new 100,000 seat track and field stadium. He also had built a state-of-the-art Olympic village for housing the athletes. Olympic flags and swastikas bedecked the monuments and houses of crowded Berlin. The spectators were in a festive mood. Forty nine athletic teams from around the world competed in the Berlin Olympics, more than in any other Olympics. Germany fielded the largest team with 348 athletes, and as a gesture to placate international opinion the German authorities allowed the Jewish star fencer Helene Mayer to represent Germany. She won a silver medal in the women’s individual fencing. Helene had been stripped of her German citizenship in 1935 under the anti-Jewish laws. After the games she settled in America and returned to Germany in 1952, where she married. The couple settled in Heidelberg where she died of breast cancer in October 1953 aged 42. No other Jewish athlete competed for Germany in the Summer Games. The US team was the second largest with 312 members including 18 African Americans. Coloured American Jessie Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events and became the most successful athlete to compete in Berlin. The US came in second with 56 medals while Germany secured 89 medals to have the highest tally. Great Britain total number of medals won was 14. The Soviet Union was not invited to participate in the Olympics as they had not been involved in international sporting events since the 1920 Olympics. However, there were controversies. Many tourists were unaware that the Nazi regime had temporarily removed anti-Jewish signs. Hitler’s official Nazi party newspaper wrote that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to compete in the Games. When threatened with a boycott of the Games, Hitler relented and allowed Black people and one Jew to participate.

Hermann Göring became Commissioner for the Four Year Plan on the 18th October 1936. This appointment, as well as being Commissar for Raw Materials and Foreign Currency, gave him a great deal of influence over the German economy. He was entrusted with the task of mobilizing all sections of the economy for war. This assignment brought numerous government agencies under his control and helped to make him one of the wealthiest men in the country.

The Great Purge in Russia began during 1936. The Soviet government put Leon Trotsky on trial in his absence in October 1936 accusing him of conspiring against Josef Stalin. Along with sixteen of his supporters, who were called the ”Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre” they were all found guilty and sentenced to death. This show trial was the first of the Moscow Trials.

The Suiyuan Campaign was an attempt by the Inner Mongolian Army and Grand Han Righteous Army to take control of the Republic of China by launching the invasion of Suiyuan on the 14th November 1936. These two forces were founded and supported by Imperial Japan and occurred shortly before the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mongolia is on the northern borders of China. Inner Mongolia wished to use Mongolia as a buffer state between China and Russia. The Japanese government denied taking part in the operation, but the Inner Mongolian and the Grand Hans Righteous Army received air support from Japanese planes and were assisted by the Imperial Japanese Army and overseen by Japanese staff officers. The Japanese backed forces launched an attack against the Chinese defenders of Suiyuan but they were repulsed. Over the next few days they continued to launch assaults against the city’s walls but were beaten back sustaining considerable losses. On the 17th November 1936 the Chinese counter-attack surprised the invaders which led to a disorganised retreat to their headquarters in Bailingmiao. Due to the lack of training and the low morale among the Mongolians the campaign was unsuccessful. The defence of Suiyuan by China’s National Revolutionary Army was one of the first major successes over Japanese supported Inner Mongolian forces which greatly improved the Chinese morale.

German involvement in the Fighting during the Spanish Civil War, began on the 15th November 1936. They allied themselves to Francisco Franco’s “Nationalist” regime against “Republican” forces. Heavy air and artillery bombardment began and the German Condor Legion went into action together with Moors from Morocco. The Legionaries broke through to the University City of Madrid where they were confronted by stalemate. By the 23rd November 1936 frontal attacks on Madrid had ceased and individual lines had been stabilized. On the 17th November 1936 both Germany and Italy recognised Franco’s “Nationalist” regime. More importantly for Germany, their military forces gained valuable battle experience which was used to advantage in 1939.

The Anti-Comintern Pact was an anti-Communist pact concluded between Germany and Japan on the 25th November 1936. In case of an attack by the Soviet Union against Germany or Japan, the two countries agreed to consult on what measures to take to safeguard their common interests. They also agreed neither of them would make any political treaties with Soviet Union, and Germany also agreed to recognise Manchukuo. In 1932 the Imperial Japanese Army had established the Empire of Manchukuo as a puppet state in Manchuria, a region of north-eastern China.

By 1st December 1936 the Hitler Youth movement membership had reached over five million. From July 1933 until 1945 the Hitler Youth was the sole official Nazi Party youth organisation which was partly paramilitary and comprised of male youths aged 14 to 18. The League of German Girls was the female equivalent. One reason the Hitler Youth so easily came into existence stems from the fact that numerous youth movements existed across Germany after the Great War. Once Hitler came to power the transition from seemingly innocuous youth movements to political entities focussing on Hitler was swift.

A constitutional crisis in the British Empire arose when King Edward VIII proposed to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. She was an American citizen who had divorced her first husband and was in process of divorcing her second. The governments of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth opposed the marriage on religious, legal, political and moral grounds. As British monarch, Edward was the nominal head of the Church of England, which did not then allow divorced people to remarry in church if their ex-spouses were still alive. For this reason, it was believed that Edward could not marry Wallis Simpson and remain on the throne. She was perceived to be politically and socially unsuitable as a prospective queen consort because of her two failed marriages. Edward declared that he loved Wallis Simpson and intended to marry her whether his government approved or not. Edward’s refusal to give her up, and the widespread unwillingness to accept her as the King’s consort led to his abdication on 12th December 1936. He was succeeded by his brother George VI. Edward was given the title His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor following his abdication and he married Wallis Simpson the following year and remained married until his death 35 years later. Wallis Simpson never received the title of Her Royal Highness.

In Spain on the 23th December 1936 Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Blackshirt ‘volunteer’ units) landed in Cadiz to fight alongside the Nationalist regime of Francisco Franco.

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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1935

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1935

Following the ending of the Great War the Saar region was separated from Germany and administered by the League of Nations. France was given control of the Saar’s coalmines. Toward the end of 1934 the League of Nations Council proposed a referendum after fifteen years administration and it was scheduled to take place on the 7th January 1935. The Council was also convinced that a peacekeeping force would be necessary during the plebiscite period. The German and French governments agreed to allow an international force to enter the Saar region. The Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for such a force on the 8th December 1934. The League appointed British General John Brind as commander with overall operational control of the force. Troops patrolled but did not police the Saar region. They were not to respond except to emergencies and at the request of local authorities. There was little or no violence during the plebiscite and the peacekeeping was regarded as a success. In the referendum, voters were asked whether the Saar region should remain under the League of Nations administration, return to Germany or become part of France. The result was that over 90% of the vote was in favour of the Saar Region being returned to Germany. Although the Saar region returned to Germany entirely in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, many historians regard it as an essential “first step” on Hitler’s Road to War.

In March 1935 Hermann Göring was appointed commander-in-chief of the new German Air Force (Luftwaffe). He held this position until the 29th April 1945. Shortly after his appointment, two new aircraft became available to the Luftwaffe. The first was the Messerschmitt BF 109 which made its first flight as a German single seater fighter aircraft possibly on the 29th May 1935. The ME109 was the most produced fighter of all time, with more than 35,000 built. Consequently the ‘109’ pilots scored more aerial victories than those of any other aircraft. The second was the Junkers JU87 or Stuka which was a German dive bomber and ground attack aircraft. It first flew on the 17th September 1935 and was easily recognised by its inverted gull wings and fixed undercarriage which were fitted with wailing sirens becoming the propaganda symbol of German air power.

The Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed on the 18th June 1935 between the United Kingdom and Germany. This agreement allowed Germany to build a fleet whose total tonnage was less than 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet. In this way Britain hoped to limit German naval re-armament.

The “Neutrality Act of 1935” was signed by the United States Congress on the 31st August 1935 which imposed a general embargo on trading in arms and war materials with all parties in the event of a war. It also declared that American citizens travelling on warring ships travelled at their own risk.

The Nuremberg Laws were introduced in Germany on the 15th September 1935 by the Reichstag at a special meeting convened at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party (NSDAP). One of the two laws introduced was the Law for the Protection of German Blood, and the other was for the Protection of German Honour. These laws forbade marriages, extra-marital intercourse between Jews and Germans and the employment of German females under the age of 45 in Jewish households. The Reich Citizenship Law declared only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens, the remainder were classed as state subjects without citizenship rights. A supplementary decree outlining the definition of who was Jewish was passed on the 14th November 1935 and the Reich Citizenship Law officially came into force the same day. These laws were later expanded to include Romani people and Afro/Asian people. A supplementary decree defined Romanies as “enemies of the race-based state” and given the same category as Jews.

The Second Italo-Ethiopian War was a colonial war which began on the 2nd October 1935 when Italy invaded Ethiopia. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was determined to show the strength of his regime. The war was fought between the armies of the Kingdom of Italy and those of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). The Italian army sent a force of a few hundred thousand troops to Africa with an abundance of weaponry, transportation and food. Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie had a larger army, but very few had military training and almost all fought with spears, bows and arrows and antiquated guns. The ill-equipped Ethiopians were no match for Italy’s modern tanks and aircraft, and the capital Addis Ababa was quickly captured. Ethiopia was defeated, annexed and subjected to military occupation. The Ethiopian Empire became part of the Italian colony of Italian East Africa and incorporated into the new Italian Empire.

The Hawker Hurricane first flew on the 6th November 1935 and was the beginning of the Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter force. The aircraft design owed a great deal to the technology of the biplane era of the Great War. The Hawker Aircraft Company began the development as a private project involving a manufactured air frame which was covered in dope impregnated fabric. With the availability of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the Air Ministry wrote a specification around Hawker’s proposals and the development of the prototype began. The Hurricane alongside the Spitfire did more than any other aircraft or defence system in 1940 to save Britain from Nazi invasion.

In Britain Conservative Stanley Baldwin replaced Labour’s Ramsey MacDonald as Prime Minister of the National Government on the 14th November 1935. The National Government was formed by MacDonald in 1931 but most of the ministers were Conservative. As leader of the Conservative Party Baldwin took over many of the Prime Minister’s duties owing to MacDonald’s failing health. This government gave Dominion status to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It also introduced an Act delivering increased self-government for India, and established the first steps toward the Commonwealth. Baldwin made many striking innovations such as the use of film and radio. This made him highly visible to the public and helped to strengthen Conservative appeal. The Conservatives won the 1935 General Election with a large majority. During this time Baldwin oversaw the beginning of the rearmament process of the British military, as well as the difficult abdication of King Edward VIII. Baldwin’s government saw a number of crises in foreign affairs, including the public uproar over the Hoare-Laval Pact, the remilitarisation of the Rhineland and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. During his time as Prime Minister he presided over high unemployment in the 1930’s and was one of the “Guilty Men” who tried to appease Adolf Hitler. He was also thought of as not having rearmed sufficiently to prepare for the Second World War. Despite all the set-backs he was regarded as a popular and successful Prime Minister.

The Hoare-Laval Pact was proposed on the 8th December 1935 when British Foreign Minister Samuel Hoare discussed with his French counterpart Pierre Laval how to end the Second Italo-Abysinian War. The Pact was initially discussed during a secret meeting. However, on the 9th December 1935 the British press revealed leaked details of an agreement by the two men to give Ethiopia to Italy to end the war. The press denounced the Pact stating the British public would not recommend the League of Nations approve the Pact as a fair and reasonable basis for approval. The Pact was met with a wave of moral indignation in Britain and in France the Popular Front condemned it. The British government withdrew the plan and Hoare resigned. In early 1936 Italy began a new larger advance on Ethiopia.

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THE INTER-WAR PERIOD. 1934

THE INTER-WAR PERIOD. 1934

The German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact was an international treaty between Nazi Germany and the Second Polish Republic and signed on the 26th January 1934. Relations between the two countries were formalised after being strained by border disputes arising from the Treaty of Versailles. The pact agreed, both countries pledged, to resolve any problems by negotiation and would forgo armed conflict for a period of ten years.
The Austrian Civil War was fought between the 12th and the 16th February 1934 in various cities in Austria. The war was in fact a series of skirmishes between socialist and conservative-fascist forces. The clashes started in Linz and took place principally in the cities of Vienna, Graz, Bruck an der Mur, Judenburg, Weiner Neust and Steyr. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following the Great War, the State of Austria comprised mostly German speaking parts of the former empire. Two major factions dominated politics in the new nation. The socialists were represented by the Social Democratic Worker’s Party who found their strongholds in the working class districts of the cities, and the conservatives represented by the Christian Social Party built their support of the rural population and the upper classes. Armed skirmishes had periodically occurred between the two sides but the Great Depression had brought high unemployment and massive inflation to Austria. When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany many National Socialist sympathisers threatened the Austrian state from within. These sympathisers wished to have unification of Austria with Hitler’s Germany. When Christian Social Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss suspended the Austrian Parliament on the 4th March 1933, he used this opportunity to declare that parliament had ceased to function and assumed dictatorial powers. The Social Democratic Party lost its major platform for political action. The conservatives began to face pressure and violence from incoming Nazi Germany but also from the Austrian left wing party. However, by the 16th February 1934 Dollfuss and the Christian Social party had suppressed the Socialist movement which ended with an “Austrofascist” victory.
On the 20th April 1934 in Germany the Gestapo was passed to the administration of Schutzstaffel (SS) Commander Heinrich Himmler,. The Gestapo was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German occupied Europe. It was formed shortly after Hermann Göring was named as Ministry Without Portfolio in the new government of 1933 when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
The Night of the Long Knives, also known as the “Röhm Affair”, was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany from the 30th June to the 2nd July 1934. The National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazis, carried out a series of political executions intended to consolidate Adolf Hitler’s absolute hold on power in Germany. Many of those who were killed were leaders of the Sturmabteilung (SA), the Nazis’ own paramilitary organisation known as “Brownshirts”. The best known victim was of the purge was Ernst Röhm, the SA’s leader and one of Hitler’s long-time supporters. Also killed were establishment conservatives and anti-Nazis, such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav Ritter von Kahr. It was von Kahr who had suppressed Hitler’s Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The murder of the SA leaders were also intended to improve Hitler’s government image with the German public that was increasingly critical of thuggish Brownshirt tactics.
On the 20th July 1934, as a reward for its role in the Röhm purge of the 3oth June-2nd July 1934, Hitler decreed the SS, under Reichsführer SS Heinreich Himmler, to be an independent formation of the Nazi Party. The SS would be directly subordinate only to Hitler himself as Führer (leader).
On the 25th July 1934, Austrian Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated by Austrian Nazis who entered the Austrian Chancellery building and shot him. The assassination was an attempted but failed coup d’état known as the July Putsch against the Austrofascist regime which took place between the 25th – 30th July 1934. Dollfuss had taken the role of dictator when his Christian Social Party defeated the Austrian Social Democratic Worker’s Party (Nazi Party) following the Austrian Civil War of February 1934. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had no hesitation in attributing the attack to the German dictator Adolf Hitler. Mussolini also mobilised a part of the Italian army on the Austrian border and threatened Hitler with war in the event of a German invasion of Austria to thwart the putsch. This was the greatest moment of friction between Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. The assassination of Dollfuss was accompanied by uprising in many regions of Austria, resulting in further deaths. In the Southern Austrian town of Carinthia, a large contingent of northern German Nazis tried to seize power but were subdued by the Italian units nearby. At first Hitler was jubilant, but the Italian reaction surprised him. Hitler became convinced that he could not face a conflict with the Western European powers, and officially denied liability, stating his regret for the murder of the Austrian Prime Minister. Kurt Schuschnigg, previously Minister of Education, was appointed new chancellor of Austria after a few days, assuming the office from Dollfuss’ deputy Ernst Rüdger Starhemberg.
When President Paul von Hindenburg died on the 2nd August 1934, Adolf Hitler combined the positions of chancellor and president into one office and took the title of ”Der Fuhrer” [The Leader] whereby he took control as a dictator. Hitler formed the Third Reich under his dictatorship, using the Gestapo to stifle all dissent. Hitler’s policy, however vague, included a planned economy, in which the unemployed were put to work on government projects. Labour was forbidden to organise into unions, but working hours were reduced to open up employment and jobs. The government oversaw all functions of the economy and education, free speech was strictly controlled. The school curriculum and textbooks written to reflect Nazi ideology and all cinemas, newspapers, radio and art were regulated by the vigilant Ministry of Propaganda headed by Joseph Goebbels. One of the Ministry’s main tasks was to generate German anti-Semitism in support of the Nazi persecution of German Jews. This persecution was a major step in Hitler’s plan to conquer all of Europe for the Aryan race, which resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War.
On the 8th August 1934, Defence Minister General Werner von Blomberg and General Walther von Reichenau drafted the Oath of Allegiance to Adolf Hitler. The oath pledged personal loyalty to Hitler instead of loyalty to the constitution of the country. The oath was sworn by the officers and soldiers of the German Armed Forces and by the civil servants of Nazi Germany between the years 1934 to 1945.
On the 18th September 1934, the Soviet Union accepted the offer to join the League of Nations as a permanent member of the Council. On France’s initiative 30 member countries proposed the USSR to join the league on 15th September 1934. A total of 63 countries were members of the League of Nations from 1920 to 1946. However, the United States of America was never a member despite President Woodrow Wilson’s enthusiastic proposals at the end of the Great War. The League of Nations was the international organisation founded in 1919-1920 to preserve order in the world, with the official languishes being English, French and Spanish.
In Russia, on the 1st December 1934 Sergei Kirov, head of the Leningrad communist party was murdered on the orders of Joseph Stalin. It would appear Stalin used the murder of his political rival as a pretext for eliminating many of his opponents in the Communist Party, the government and the armed forces. The Kirov assassination marked the beginning of Stalin’s massive purge of Soviet society, in which millions of people were imprisoned, exiled or killed.
The Abyssinia Crisis began on the 6th December 1934 when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) protested Italian aggression on the border of Ethiopia at Walwal. Italy’s “Il Duce” Benito Mussolini had been impressed with Japan’s invasion of China, and he was determined to show the strength of his regime. He invade Ethiopia who were ill-equipped to match Italy’s modern weapons and the capital, Addis Ababa, was quickly captured. Mussolini incorporated Ethiopia into the new Italian Empire. The League of Nations ruled against Italy and voted for economic sanctions, but they were not fully applied. Italy ignored the sanctions, left the League of Nations and made deals with Britain and France. The crisis discredited the League and moved Fascist Italy closer to an alliance with Nazi Germany.
On the 29th December 1934, the Japanese government gave formal notice that it intended to terminate both the Washington and The London Naval Treaties. The Washington Naval Treaty was signed in 1922 by the major nations, including Japan, limiting naval construction. The London Naval Treaty of 1930 modified the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sought additional limitations of warship building. Many Japanese considered the 5.3 to 3 ratio as a way of being snubbed by the West, which was the main reason for the termination of the treaties.
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