The Katyn Forest, located in the Soviet Union was the scene in April 1940 of the massacre of captured Polish officers and intelligencia by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) – (“People’s Commissariat for the Internal Affairs”). Approximately 22,000 Polish prisoners were murdered and most, but not all, were found buried in mass graves. The massacre was a series of mass executions which took place in several different locations. The NKVD prompted the massacre for which the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was one of those who signed the order. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Germans found the mass graves giving them the opportunity for propaganda against the Soviets for the barbaric treatment of the Polish people.
Germany invaded Denmark and Norway on the 9th April 1940 as a preventive measure against a planned British and French occupation of Norway. The German objective was to protect the two countries neutrality. German industry was heavily dependent on the import of iron-ore from the northern Swedish mining district and much of this was shipped through the Norwegian port of Narvik. By having bases in Denmark and Norway, Britain and France would have forced German ore ships to travel through the open waters of the North Sea. The invasion of Denmark lasted less than six hours and the capitulation resulted in a uniquely lenient occupation of Denmark. Norway was also occupied from the 10th April 1940. The Quisling regime which was the puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling until the end of the war. Quisling was the leader of the Norwegian fascist party who declared himself Prime Minister and ordered all resistance halted immediately. Adolf Hitler supported Quisling thereby forcing King Haakon VII and the pre-war government to escape to London.
The First Battle of Narvik was initiated by the British navy who had orders to prevent ten German destroyers landing 2,000 troops at the Port of Narvik in Norway. Narvik was important to the Germans because it was used to ship imported iron-ore to supply Nazi Germany’s industries. Early on the morning of the 10th April 1940 a flotilla of five British destroyers entered the harbour of Narvik under the cover of heavy snow. In the surprise attack they sank two German destroyers and six merchant ships, and damaging another destroyer. However, they had arrived too late to prevent the landing of the German troops. Unbeknown to the British navy, a further five German destroyers were at anchor nearby and these emerged to attack the British flotilla. The Germans were forced to retreat because of fuel shortages and the need to facilitate repairs despite having sunk the British flagship and killing the commander, Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee. The Germans also sank another ship and damaging a further two. A Second Battle for Narvik commenced on the 13th April 1940 when a new British force arrived consisting of a battleship and eight destroyers who opposed eight German destroyers and two U-boats. After the battle the only German survivor was U-boat, U-51, which managed to escape to the open sea.
The British occupation of the Faroe Islands was implemented immediately following the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. On the 12th April 1940 two British destroyers arrived at Torshavn harbour on the Faroe Islands which was an amt (county of Denmark). Following discussions between the Danish Prefect of the Islands and the Faroese Parliament the British terms were accepted regarding the occupation, on the basis that the U.K. would not seek to interfere with the internal affairs of the Islands. The British were in occupation for the duration of the war.
On the 14th April 1940 British troops landed at Namsos and Harstad in Norway as Anglo/French troops prepared to launch an operation against German forces at Trondheim and Narvik. The 15th April 1940 saw the British Guards Brigade landing at Harstad and on the 16th, 17th and 18th April 1940 land at Namsos and Andalsnes respectively. Fighting continued until the 25th April 1940 when the German forces successfully pushed the Allies back and on the 27th April 1940 the Allied forces decided to withdraw from Narvik and Andalsnes. This in effect abandoned the Allied involvement against the Germans at Trondheim. On the 30th April 1940 the Allied evacuation from Andalsnes began.

A.R.P. Damage Reports Brentwood Div. Essex Fire Service March 1940.

Air Raid Damage Reports Brentwood Division Essex Fire Service March 1940.

Date Time Location Damage

02/03/1940 14.44 Vange Drifting Barrage Balloon shot down by RAF caught
in a tree at Clay Hill
19/03/1940 19.50 Rochford Two drifting Barrage Balloons shot down in the sea
by RAF 1 1/2 miles South East of Burnham.


Adolf Hitler directed his generals, on the 1st March 1940, to plan the invasion of Denmark and Norway.
On the 3rd March 1940, the Soviet army attacked Viipuri in Finland which was a suburb of Vyburg and established a beachhead on the Western Gulf of Vyburg. The Soviets declined the offer of the Finnish proposal for an armistice on the 5th March 1940. The Soviets wished to keep the pressure on the Finnish government and a peace delegation was hastily dispatched to Moscow via Stockholm arriving in Moscow on the 7th March 1940. As the Soviet military was in a strong and improving position the Soviet government made further demands to which the Finns had little choice but to accept the terms. The Moscow Peace Treaty was signed on the 12th March 1940 in Moscow. The ceasefire took effect the following day.
With a large proportion of food imported into Britain from across the world, on the 11th March 1940 the British Ministry of Food extended their rationing system. The extension went on to include meat, cheese, milk and eggs in addition to the rationing of basic foods from the 7th January 1940.
During an air raid on the 16th March 1940, thirty-two German Junkers Ju 88 dive bombers attacked the Royal Naval Base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. One of the bombs hit HMS Norfolk and blew a hole below the water line. There were 6 sailors killed and James Isbister was the first British civilian killed in the nearby village of Bridge of Waithe when a German bomb hit his house.
On the 18th March 1940, the fascist dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met at the Brenner Pass on the Austrian border. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss when Italy would join in the war against Britain and France. Hitler gave details of his planned invasion of Europe but did not disclose his intension with regard to Denmark and Norway. Mussolini promised, once it became obvious the German offensive proved to be victorious, that Italy would enter the war “at an appropriate moment”.
When Édouard Daladier lost the position of prime minister of France on the 21st March 1940, Paul Reynaud was elected as the new Prime Minister. As an opponent of appeasement Reynaud became a strong supporter of the military ideas of Charles De Gaulle. At a meeting with the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain a week later in London on the 28th March 1940, both men signed a joint declaration that the two countries would not sign a separate peace Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
On the 30th March 1940 the Reorganised National Government of the Republic of China was formed. In reality it was only a puppet regime of Japan whose advisors had extensive powers following the Second Sino-Japanese War.
On the 30th March 1940, Britain undertook secret reconnaissance flights inside the Soviet Union to photograph the Soviet Oil Industry. The photographs were to assist the bombing plan which would destroy the Soviet oil industry, causing the collapse of the economy thus depriving Germany of Soviet oil resources. The plan was devised after the Anglo-French alliance came to the conclusion that the Nazi-Soviet pact signed in Moscow would make the Soviet Union the ally of Hitler.


Japan’s military had a strong influence on Japanese society since the days of the Samurai. On the 1st February 1940 the Japanese government announced that over half of its record high expenditure would be on the military. Before the Second World War, as Japan possessed very few natural resources, the Japanese had built an extensive empire in order to import raw materials essential to its economy. They regarded the military as essential to the empire’s defence.
Norway had favourable trade agreements with Britain and France, as well as with Germany. Both Norway and Finland were neutral countries with Norway having a long western coastline giving access to the North Sea and North Atlantic. On the 5th February 1940, Britain and France decided to intervene in Norway in order to cut off the iron ore in anticipation of the expected German occupation. They were also keen to keep the route open for access to Finland. The operation was scheduled to commence about the 20th March 1940. On the 21st February 1940, German General Nicolaus von Falkenhorst was informed by Adolf Hitler he would be the ground commander for the German invasion of Norway. He would need a basic plan for the invasion which Hitler approved when submitted.
Erich von Manstein was a German General who was given command of the German 38th Army Corp, on the 9th February 1940. Manstein had devised an invasion into France through the Ardennes Forest but the German High Command disagreed with his plan. They wished to implement their own proposals, which was a modified version of the Great War’s Schlieffen Plan. This disagreement was followed by his transfer from the High Command’s Headquarters. Adolf Hitler however, was seeking a more aggressive plan and Manstein presented his proposals for the invasion of France on the 17th February 1940.
The German – Soviet Commercial Agreement was signed on the 10th February 1940. The agreement was an economic arrangement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The Soviet Union agreed to sell and deliver to Germany such commoditize as oil, raw materials and grain.
On the 15th February 1940, the Soviet Army broke through the Mannerheim Line and captured Summa, an important defence point in Finland. The Mannerheim Line was a defensive border fortification built by Finland against the Soviet Union, and on the 17th February 1940 the Finns continued to retreat from the Mannerheim Line.
World opinion supported the Finnish cause in the struggle against the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1940. British civilians were asked to volunteer, on the 14th February 1940, to provide material aid such as medical supplies. Britain and France sold aircraft to the Finnish air force and the British government provided small arms and ammunition.
On the 15th February 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered unrestricted U-boat warfare in an effort to blockade England of the supplies transported across the Atlantic from America. It was hoped that Germany could sink sufficient ships and starve the British nation into suing for peace.


Andrée Borrel was a French heroine of the Second World War who served in the French Resistance and Britain’s SOE. Having joined the Red Cross at the beginning of the Second World War she enrolled in a crash course in nursing. She was qualified to serve as a nurse in the Association des Dames Francais on the 20th January 1940. After fifteen days working at Hospital Complimétaire at Nimes in February 1940 she was rejected as she was not 21 until July 1940 and nurses were not allowed to work in hospitals until they were 21. This decree was revoked soon after and she was sent to the Hospital de Beaucaire. When the hospital was closed she and one of her co-workers, Lieutenant Maurice Dufour, were sent to Hospital Complimétaire. The hospital was closed at the end of July 1940. She resigned from the military based hospitals system and as Dufour was involved in the underground organisation she went to work with him. In the beginning of August 1944 Andrée and Dufour established a villa which was a safe house on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border. This formed part of an escape network whereby shot down British airmen and others avoided capture through German controlled France. Finding this venue too small they acquired larger premises in October 1941 and by the end of December 1941 the escape network had been compromised and closed down. Andrée and Dufour escaped to Britain through the Pyrenees to Spain and Portugal and flew into England in early 1942. Andrée was approached by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and joined in May 1942. After training she was sent to France as a field agent. She was captured by the Gestapo and executed on the 6th July 1944 aged 24 years old.
Charlotte Delbo was a French writer who sent to Auschwitz for her activities as a member of the French resistance. She was born near Paris on the 10th August 1913, and in her youth she became involved in theatre and politics and joined the French Young Communist Women’s League in 1932. She met and married George Dudach two years later. In the late 1930s she was working in Buenos Aires for theatrical producer Louis Jouvet and when Nazi-Germany invaded and occupied France in 1940 she returned home. Her husband had been a courier in Paris for the resistance movement and the couple spent the winter of 1940 printing and disturbing anti-Nazi Germany leaflets. They became part of a group who took an active role in publishing the underground journal Lettres Francaises. They were arrested in March 1942 by police who had followed a courier to their apartment. George Dudach was executed in May 1942 and Charlotte was held in transit camps near Paris until January 1943. She was put on a train to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp along with 229 Frenchwomen who had been imprisoned for their resistance activities. They entered the gates of Auschwitz by singing the “La Marsellaise”. Right from the beginning the women worked as a team, one example being when standing for hours in freezing conditions they would huddle together and rotate their positions every 15 minutes so that no one person was on the outside for too long. Of the 240 women who entered Auschwitz only 49 survived. One of whom was Charlotte who later wrote about her experience in Auschwitz. Charlotte never remarried and died in 1985 of lung cancer.
Christine Granville OBE, whose real name was Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek, was born in Poland in May 1908. Christine was the daughter of an impoverished Count and Jewish mother who grew up on a country estate. She enjoyed the active sporting outdoor life of a tomboy until the 1920s when the family moved to Warsaw caused by financial problems. In April 1930 she married a young business man but the marriage ended in divorce. Christine met her second husband at a ski resort in Poland and after they married in 1938 they set off for Kenya in Africa. Her new husband was a globetrotter and diplomat who had been offered a post of consul in Kenya, but before they actually arrived the Second World War began. Upon arrival at Cape Town they boarded another ship and headed for England. She volunteered to help the British secret services by proposing an occupied-Polish/Hungarian escape route for Polish volunteers to fight in the west together with any other available information. She was then recruited into Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and given instructions to pass on any information to SOE. In February 1940 she made her first trip over the border and by early 1941 her contact in the resistance group had been infiltrated and she was ordered to leave for Belgrade. The British provided her a new passport naming her as Christine Granville enabling her to escape. The Polish resistance distrusted her because of the circumstances of her escape from the Gestapo. She transferred to Cairo but prevented from getting involved in any of SOE’s further major missions. She spent nearly three years taking part in second-rate missions until 1943 when she was officially introduced into SOE. As she had experience operating in enemy territory she only needed a refresher course before being dropped into Southern France in July 1944.
Anita Lasker-Wallfisch is a surviving member ‘Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz and was born on the 25th July 1925 to a Jewish family from Breslau in Germany. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a violinist and Anita was an accomplished cello player. Her father had fought for Germany in the Great War and gained an Iron Cross therefore he received some degree of immunity from Nazi persecution. They were aware of the Jewish persecution and her eldest sister Marianne fled to England in 1941. In 1942 her parents were taken away by the Nazis and Anita never saw them again. Anita and her other sister Renate were not deported, and their work in a paper factory enabled them to start forging papers enabling the French forced labourers to cross back into France. She is reported to have said that she would give the Germans a reason to kill her rather than being killed for just being Jewish. In September 1942, whilst attempting to escape Germany, they were arrested by the Gestapo for forgery at Breslau station. Anita and Renata were sent to Auschwitz in December 1943 and Anita was selected to play the cello in the ’Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz’. The orchestra played marches for the slave labourers as the left and returned to the camp after each day’s work. They also gave concerts to the S.S. In October 1944 the Russian Red Army was approaching Auschwitz and the inmates were evacuated to Bergen-Belsen. At the end of the war they were liberated by the British Army and Renata was employed as an interpreter as she could speak English. Anita was transferred to a ‘displaced person’s camp’. In 1946 the sisters moved to Britain where Anita married Peter Wallfisch and they had two children. She joined the English Chamber Orchestra (ECO) and toured internationally both as a member of the orchestra and solo artist. She returned with the ECO on tour to Germany in 1994 and has been back since to give talks about her experiences in the camps.


They didn’t fire a shot or fight on the front line, but nurses of all the Allied nations contributed to defeating the Germans and Japanese by their behind-the-scene efforts. Many British aristocratic young women wanted to do their bit by volunteering for nursing. Nurse Ann Reid was so cossetted that when she was asked to sweep the floor in the hospital, she didn’t know how to do it and had to be shown. Girls from grander backgrounds were often given the most disagreeable jobs. A senior nurse told Penny Woosnam, on her first day on the ward to bandage up a soldiers private parts where glass had been embedded. These young ladies survived their ordeals. But many of the privileged young ladies found themselves in the thick of the horrors of war. Sheila Parish drove an ambulance during the evacuation of Dunkirk. During the blitz Nurse Virginia Forbes Adam recalled times when the ambulance bells never stopped ringing. However, most of these privileged young ladies survived the war.
When the Second World War began, American heiress Mary Borden returned to nursing, running a mobile ambulance unit in France, North Africa and the Middle East. During the Great War, Mary had financed a field hospital for the French soldiers with herself serving as a nurse. She was a prolific writer who wrote novels and poetry based on her experiences as a war nurse during the Great War. Her work also included many sketches and short stories. Following the breakup of her first marriage in 1918, she married General Edward Louis Speers with her ex-husband taking custody of her three children. After the Great War Mary and Speers were living in Britain and when the Second World War began she was hoping to provide a similar facility as before. She received additional funding from the British War Relief Society in New York whilst setting up the facility. With funds also donated by Sir Robert Hadfield, she set up the Hadfield-Speers Ambulance Unit which was based in Lorraine. The unit was forced to retreat from France after the German Blitzkrieg in June 1940 and the unit evacuated France. In May 1941, the Hadfield-Speers Ambulance Unit was attached to the Free French in the Middle East, before accompanying their forces across North Africa, Italy and France. When the Second World War ended Mary continued her writing, of which she was a life-long contributor, until just before her death. She died on the 2nd December 1968 with her husband by her side.
Where most privileged European nurses survived the war three American nurses were not so fortunate. Lt. Lucille Hendricks, Ensign Helen Mary Ruehler and Ensign Ruby Toquarm worked at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Norco, California. Ensigns are junior officers in the U.S. navy. Lucille had been assigned chief nurse at Norco in December 1941 and helped to set up the hospital and establish a ground breaking medical treatment centre. She was a pioneer in the nursing field, and often travelled to other naval hospitals to teach new techniques in plastic surgery, spinal cord operations and brain injury treatment to medical personnel. In March 1944 Lucille was assigned head nurse at the naval base in Dutch Harbour, Alaska. The three handpicked nurses for this post were killed instantly, on 23rd April 1944, when their plane crashed into a mountain as they were flying to the new hospital. The nurse’s names have been engraved on the Norco City’s George Ingalls Veteran Memorial Plaque.

The Second World War January 1940


The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union (USSR) and Finland with a Soviet invasion beginning on the 30th November 1939. The Soviet offensive was halted on the 2nd January 1940 with the Finnish army achieving several victories and destroying many Soviet tanks. One whole Soviet division was eliminated and a large number of military vehicles were captured following the Finnish victory at Soumussalmi on the 7th January 1940. On the same day General Semyon Timoshenko took command of the Soviet armies in Finland from the previous disastrous commander, Kliment Voroshilov. By the 17th January 1940 the Soviets had been driven back but retaliated with heavy air attacks.
On the 7th January 1940, basic foodstuff rationing was introduced in the U.K. in response to German attacks on shipping bound for Britain. As the U.K. imported more than 50% of the food consumed, the Ministry of Food instituted a system of rationing.
An event occurred in Belgium on the 10th January 1940 that was known as the Mechelen Incident. A German officer was carrying the plans for Fall Geib (Case Yellow) when the aircraft being flown crash landed. Fall Geib were the plans for the German attack on the Low Countries which caused an immediate crisis in the countries involved. Once the dates mentioned in the plans had passed the crisis abated. However, documents captured on the 16th January 1940 revealed Hitler’s plans for the invasion of Scandinavia and a postponement of the invasion of France and the Low Countries. The revised plans were for the spring when the weather was more favourable.
HMS Exmouth was an E-class destroyer acting as patrol and escort vessel in the North Sea. From her base in Rosyth, Exmouth was escorting merchant ship Cyprian Prince, north of Scotland on the 20th January 1940 when she was spotted by German U-boat U22. She was torpedoed at 05.35 am and sank with the loss of all hands The Cyprian Prince sailed away without picking up seamen left in the water in order to get clear of the U-boat.
West of Portugal at 04.15 hours on the 21st January 1940 the unescorted Greek steam merchant ship Ekatontarchos Dracoulis was hit by torpedo fired from German U-boat U-44. The U-boat had chased the Greek vessel since 20.05 hours the previous day. The crew had abandoned ship and U-44 left the area before the vessel sank.
Reinhard Heydrich, a high ranking German Nazi official, was appointed by Hermann Göring on the 24th January 1940 to oversee the Jewish question. He was one of the main architects of the Final Solution. Heydrich was answerable to Hitler, Göring and Himmler only with everything connected to the deportation, imprisonment and extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust.
On the 27th January 1940, Germany finalised their plans for the invasion of Denmark and Norway which was carried out on the 9th April 1940.