World War II was the greates military struggle in human history. Millions of people from every importnt county were involved in the struggle. HBC has prepared several biographies of some of the main political and military figures involved in the War. The biographies here just scratch the suyrface as t the important individuals involved in the struggle. We plan to add additional biographies and encourafe readers to submit biogrphies of individuals they believe to have played important roles.
Many of these biographies, however, are just at the beginning phase. As the focus of HBC is on childhood, we will give some attention to their childhood in addition to providing information on their adult lives as well for the historical background.
Douglas MacArthur was one of America's important five-star military commanders in World War II. An HBC contributor commented that General Douglas MacArthur was raised as a girl. HBC stresses that it is a misnomer to say that MacArthur and other children born in the 19th Century were raised as girls. It is true that he wore dresses as a little boy. But this was the case for most boys, especially boys from families of comfortable circumstance. This does not mean they were raised as girls. McArthur grew up on western miltary posts and had quite a vigorous boyhhood. It is true, however, that his mother looked after him even as an older boy, even taking an apartment at West Point.
He distinguished himself as a courageous divisionjal commander in World War I. He was a modernizing force after the War, serving as commandant of West Point andChief of Staff of the Army. His right-wing outlook caused him to brutally supress the Bonus Marchers which along with personal scandal tarnished his military career. With rising Japanese military threats, President Roosevelt sent him to the Philippines to organize the Commonwealth's defense. He did some good work, but performned poorly when the Japanese attacked. P resident Roosevelt ordered him to Australia to organize an Allied counter offensive. Here he performed much more effectively. Ironically, despite his miltary achirvements perhaps his greatest achievement was overseeing the occupation of Japan and helping to create a modern democratic society. MacArthur also comanded United Nations forces in Korea. He engineered the brilliant Inchon landings which broke the back of the North Korean invasion of South Korea. Ignoring warnings of Chinese interbention, he drove north leading to the tragedy of the Chosun Reservoir and the near collapse of the United Nations position. President Truman finally fired him for insubordination.
Erich von Manstein was one of Germany's most copetent, odten described as brillint, military commanders. He was born in Berlin (1887). He was raised in a military family. His father was an artillery officer, was born in Berlin, Germany. As a boy he was an Imperial court page. He then went through a 6-year cadet program. He then joined the Imperial German Army. He was commissioned in the 3rd Footguards (1906). With the outbreak of World war I he was part of the German invasion of Belgium (August 1914). Once the Western Front settled into static trench warfare, he was transferred to the Eastern Front and wounded in Polsnd (November 1914). When he recovered, he continued fighting in theEastern Front. He was transferred to the Western Front as Germany was prepsing a war-winning offensivevin the West (1917). After the War, Manstein was able to remain in the much-reduced German Army--the Reichweht. This suggests that he already vhad afine reputation. He was was appointed chief of operations (1936). He won Promotion to major general and served under General Ludwig Beck as Oberquartermeiser. (Beck would become one of the plotters against Hitler.) Hitler was not impressed with Mnstein because he showed no political commitment toi National Socialism. He was thus side lined, assigned to Silesia as commander of the 18th Division. At the onset of the War, Manstein served as chief of staff to the Army Group South commander, General Gerd von Rundstedt. Manstein then served akey role with Guenther Blumentritt and Henning von Tresckow in developing an innoivative plan to invade France. Hitler had rejected the conservatibe plan offered by OKH and was searching for a bolder plan. Manstein and his colleagues suggested decoying the British and French to the north and cthen lunching the major attack through the wooded Ardennes which the French had coincluded was impassible for tanks. Hitler initially rejected the proposal, perhaps because Manstein wa involved, but he eventually approved it with some changes. It became known as the Manstein Plan. Manstein was then sent back to Silesia and did not play an important part in the resulting Western offensive until the very end. He served under General Gunther von Kluge.
Manstein finally got a command he coveted. He was appointed commander of the 56th Panzer Corps (Februry 1941). He was was thus at that time briefed on Brbarossa. His 56th Panzer Coros served under General Erich Hoepner in Army Group
North. At the onset of the invasion, he accomplished notable feats (June 1941). Manstein's 56th Panzer Corps advanced an incredible 100 miles in only 2 days. They seizes the importance bridges at Dvinsk. The following month they captured Demyansk and Torzhok. Based on his performance in the north, he was appointed commander of 11th Army and ordered to conquer the Crimean Peninsula (September 1941). This he achieved except for Sevastopol which held out for months. Manstein help defeat aRed Army offensive and then finally took Sevastopol (July 1942). This left Manstein as ine ofvthe leading German generals. Hitler promoted to field marshal Manstein was dispatched him to capture Leningrad. He oversaw several important battles, but the hardened defeses of Lenningraf held and the Germans suffered substantial casualktiues. The major German effort in 1942 was in the south--Operation Blue. An effort to seize the Caucauses and Stalingrad. When the Soviets launched their Stalingrad offensive (Operation Uranus), Hitler ordered Manstein to lead the relief effort to rescue Fredrich von Paulus and the 6th Army at Stalingrad. In bitter winter weather, Manstein with three panzer divisions drove to within 35 miles of Stalingrad. Paulis made no effort to breakout. A powerful Red Army counter-attack forced threaten to cut off Manstein's relief collumn. Hecwas forced to withdraw west into the Ukraine.
Manstein oversaw an overhaul of the battered German forces (Spring 1943). He gained a victory at Krasnograd. The Soviets suffered about 23,000 men killed and 9,000 captured. But this was a mnere pittanbce comopared to the great victories of 1941 and eaily replaced. Manstein then recaptured Kharkov (March 14) and Belgorod (March 18). Manstein wanted to then push south to the Sea of Azoz. Hitler overuled him and ordered him to overssee the Kursk offensive. After thge Kursk offensive failed, Manstein continued to argue with Hitler about tactics and strategy. By this time, the War was lost and the Red Army surperority in men and materiual unsurmountable. Manstein was no toddy and as Hitler had preceived at an early stage was not a committed National Socialist. Hitler finally dismossed him (March 1944). Manstein took the considerable honorarium awarded along with much of the family savings and purchased an estate in East Prussia. [Murry and Millet, p. 401.] This has to be the worst real estate deal in histoy. The Native Americans got a better deal when they sold Manhattan. It speaks to the fact that even the finest bmind in the Wehrmacht was unaware as to jst how badly Germany's military situation had deteriorated. Many believe he was complicit in the Wehrmacht plot against Hitler. After the war Manstein was among the Wehrmacht commabders charged with war crimes. Manstein at his trial argued that he was unaware that genocide was taking place in territory over which he had military jurisdiction. This clearly was an outrightv lie. He may have been unable toi do much about it, but he must have knoiw about the widespread killings and the Euinsatzgruppen. Evidence was produced that Manstein had ordered that "the Jewish Bolshevik system be wiped out once and for all". There is no doubt he was an anti-Communit. Just to what extent he ciondined the killing of Jews is less clear. He 'requested' that Wehrmacht officers should not be present during the killing of Jews. He was found guilty and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment (February 24, 1950). He was freed for medical reasons (May 6, 1953). His published his war memoirs, Lost Victories, in 1955. Manstein died (June 11, 1973).
President Franklin Roosevelt chose General George C. Marshall to be U.S. Army Chief of Staff. He was promoted to full General and sworn in (September 1, 1939). This was of course the German panzers invaded Poland launching World War II. Geberak Marshall would serve in that position throughout the War. America had virtually no army when General Msrshall became chief of staff. The U.S.nArmy was the size of that of Romania and the great bulkmof the population werec determined to stay out of tge Wr. It was President Roosevelt who mustered the political will to begin the creation of a massive armed forces with America's first peace time draft. It was General Marshall who oversaw the creation of that vast military force and the strategy that defeated the Axis. Of all the great Five-Star American commanders of World War II, it was General Marshall who played the most critical role. He was and probably still is the most underappreciated figure in World war II. Americans in a poll conducted in America during the War barely mentioned Marshall. Americans focused on the fighting commanders and because of the press coberage were fixated on General MacArthur who was in fact one of the most ineffective comanbders. America fought the war with a green citizen;s army. The peace time army was so small that civilins had to play major roles in the war effort. It was Marshall who oversaw that expansion and made sure they got the training and weapons they needed yo sin the War. It was also Msrshall who chose the key commanders. He was stick with McArthur, but Eisenhower, Patton, Bradely and others were men that he brought forward. The key American action of World war II was the D-Day cross-channel invasion. From the nset, it was assumed that Marshall woukld oversee the invasion. Finally President Roosevelt decided that he coukd not spare Marshall in Washington. This was probably the greatest disappointment in Msrshall;s career. He took it like a soldier and suggested Eisenhower for the job. It was one of the key decisions of the War. It is impossible to think of an Allied commander who could have done a better job.
Milch serrved in the Germany Army during World War I. He helped found Lufthansa during the inter-War era . Field Marshal Erhard Milch was a senior Luftwaffe commander. Milch had a Jewish father. When the issue was raised, Luftwaffe Chief Herman Göring intervened and Milch's mother claimed that her husband was not the father of her boys. Milch was one of the few people with a Jewish background tolerated by Hitler in a position of authority. I do not know when he learned of the Holocaust or justified continuing service in the Luftwaffe. Milch was primarily involved in the production of aircraft. Here the Luftwaffe's failure to adopt mass production techniques soon enough was a major reason for failures in the East and West. He was a strong proponent of the V-1 buzz bomb project. He was involved in the Jaegerstab program. After a falling out with Göring, Milch worked with Albert Speer who took on the job of rationlizing German war oroduction, Milch became member of the Central Planning Board. After the War, Milch was tried by Tribunal 2 at Nuremberg (1946-47). He was indited with three counts: 1) War crimes: Mistreatment of civilians of occupied territories and prisoners of war as slave laborers; 2) War crimes: Medical experiments (high altitude and freezing) on concentration camp inmates; 3) Crimes against humanity: Slave labor and medical experiments on German nationals and citizens of other countries. The Allies accused Milch of direct participation in the conscription and mistreatment of slave laborers and of administrative responsibility for the medical experiments conducted for the Luftwaffe to develop procedures to treat air crews suffering from exposure at high alditudes or forced down in the cold water of the North Sea or Channel. Milch testified in his own defense.
The Tribunal acquitted Milch of involvement in the medical experiments, but and found him guilty of the charges involving slave labor. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The sentence was commuted to 15 years in prision (1951).
Otto Moritz Walter Model was a German general/field marshal who became one of Hitler's favorites. Very little is known about his childhood. He came from a modest middle-class family, rare among German commanders. His father was a music teacher and he had a strong Lutheran upbrining. Before shooting himself, he burned his papers so very little is known about his early life. His decesion to pursue a military career was as personal commitment as a young teenager. He participated in most of the major campaigns of the War beginning in Poland (1939). He also participated in the Western offensdive (1940). He only became a major commander with Operation Typhoon to seize Moscow. Model stood out as commander of the 9th Army in the efforts to blunt the resulting Red Army offensive. This was the first of several defensive battles on the Eastern and Western fronts for which he is best known. Some military historians describe him as the Wehrmacht's best defensive tactician. Helping to Keep Army Group Center intact and stabising the front cemented his reklationship with German Führer Adolf Hitler who came to distrust most Wejhrmacht commanders. The relatiionship with Hitler and the NAZIs is debated by historians. Some believe he was a commited NAZI. Other believe that he was an authoritarian who used Hitler to build his career. He was no toddy. He avoided political missues, but in several instances had heated discussions with Hitler who in some instance uncharacteistically backed down. It was Model who convinced Hitler to allow the &th rmy to withdraw from France to the West Wall defenses. His relationship with Hitler finally ended with the failure of the Bulge offensive which Hitler had ordered. The Soviets indicted him for war crimes, specifically the deaths of 0.6 million in Latvian concentration camps and the deportation of 0,2 million as slave labor. The charges seem more political than juridical, but we do not yet have the details. After the Allies crossed the Rhine and surrounded Army Group B in the Ruhr, Model refused to surrender, but disolved the the army group. Goebbels on the radio called Army Group B traitors. The next day Model Shot himnself (April 1945).
The Sultan was a French client, Mohammed V (1909-61). The German victory provided an opportunity to expand his perogarives against a weakened France. The role of Mohammad V in the Holocaust is a matter of historical debate. He became Sultan in 1927. He was a member of the Alaouite Dynasty which dates from the 17th century. Mohammed was only the third son of Sultan Moulay Yusuf and not in line for the throne. French officials when his father died (1927), selected him over his older brothers, judgeing him to be more maleable than his older brothers. He proved, however, to have strong nationalist tendencies. This became apparent a few years after his selection. The French had set up the Berber Dahir legislation (1930). The legislature had approved different legal systems for the two main Moroccan ethnic groups (Berbers and Arabs). This proved unpopular with both groups. The French had supported it as aay of dividing Moroccans and thus strengthening the Protectorate. It proved a mistake, dividing the country, but provoking anti-French nationalis sentiment. Mohammed advised the French to rescind it (1934). Moroccan nationalists conceived of a way of promoting nationalist sentiment without provoking the French. They organized the Fête du Trône, an annual Throne Day festival celebrated on the anniversary of Mohammed's assumption of power. Mohammed used these celebrations to give speeches that, though moderate, clearly encouraged nationalist sentiment. The French were unsure how to respond, after all they had chosen Mohammed. They eventually consented to making the festival an official holiday. Mohammed thus during the 1930s gradually built his nationalist credentials, but without breaking with the French. We have noted reports that Mohammed helped to complicate the efforts of Vichy officals to apply NAZI-style race laws in Morocco. He could not prevent it, but his efforts meant that Moroccan Jews were not as affected by the Vichy laws as Jews in Algeria. He wasunavle to openly defy Vichy authorities, but he did barfgain with them and obtain cincessions. And he did openly express his sypathies toward Moroccan Jews. Mohammed after Torch came out strongly in support of the Allies. I'm less sure about his sentiments before Torch. After the Casablanca Conference (Januaru 1943) he met with President Roosevelt who encouraged him to seek independence after the War. French authorities arrested nationalist activists (January 1944). This was the beginning of a decline in relations with the French.
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery achieved the first important land victory over the Germans by defeating Rommel and the Afrika Korps at El Alamein. Churchill had replaced Auchinleck with Montgomery after Rommen had been stopped at El Alemain. Montgomery was the most inspirational British military commander. The 8th Army's victory was due to Montgomery's competent leadership and overwealming material superority as a result of vast quantities of weapons and supplies provided by the United States. Montgomery saw his victory as a result of his brilliant leadership and looked down on mist other commanders--especially American commanders. His arrogant attitude made him extremely difficult to ework with. Alexander was one of the few high ranking officers that was able to manage it with any equanimity--mostly by rarely disagreeing with him. One observr described Montgomery as "annintensely compacted hank of steel wire". Montgomery bridled when Eisenhower was given command of the Allied assault on Hitler's Fortress Europe. Montgomery was the senior British military commander at D-Day. American commanders are generally critical of Montcomery's failure to take Caen with the uinitial landings and subsequent operauions to take the city. The failed Market Garden offensive to cross the Rhine was largely planned by Mongomery. He continued as the senior British commander through to VE-Day.
Dudley Walker Morton known as "Mush" was the most famed American submarine commander of World War II. Morton was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. He graduated from the Naval Academy (1930). While at Anapolis he acquired his nickname 'Mushmouth' later shortened to Mush. He married Hariet Nelson Avent in Tsigtao, China, a treaty port (1936). He commanded the fleet sunmarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) during the peak of the Pacific War, taking her on five combat patrols. The Wahoo sank at least 19 Japanese ships, more than any other submarine during a comparable period. Morton and Wahoo never returned from the last patrol.
Heinrich Mueller after World War I joined the Munich police. The Communists had seized Munich in the chaos after the War. After putting down the revolution, the police went after Communists. Muller earned the reputation as a skilled anti-communist investigator. He felt no compulsion to be bound by legal norms. He thus drew the attention of leading NAZIs like Himmler and Göring. After seizing power (1933) Hummler was appointed to head the Bavarian police. He and Heydeich move to centralize the country's police organization within the SS structure. One aspectvof this was to turn the small Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) into a nationalm political poluce force. Mueller joined the SS and with his backgrouns quickly rose as a skilled police official. With the outbreak of the War, the Gestapo and other police organizations were consolidated into the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA). Mueller was appointed Chief of RSHA Amt IV -- the Gestapo (September 1939). As Gestapo chief, Mueller among was resonsible for pursuing individuals anf groups considered a security threat. This included the Jews.
Adolf Eichmann's Office of Resettlement and then its Office of Jewish Affairs was under Mueller's command. I am not sure how extensively Muller was directly. Göring, Himmler, and Heydrich seem nore directly involved, but this is a subject we need to investigate. Mueller was involved in other war crimes. He was involved in planning the fake "Polish" attack on the Gleiwitz radio station which the Germans used to justify the invasion of Polahnd (September 1939).
He approved the the "Bullet Order uthorizing the shooting of escaped prisoners of warbMarch 1944). He also authorized the torture of army officers involved in the July Bomb Plot tomkill Hitler (July 1944). For his work investigationg the plot, Hitler awarded him the Knight's Cross to the War Service Cross with Swords (October 1944). He was especially active in security and counterespionage operations during the War. He created a counterespionage effort that supplied disinformation to the Soviet intelligence services (1942-45). Muller disappeared in the last days of the War (May 1945). He was never found and brought to justice. Some believe that pect of the programme tried to find answers to his mysterious disappearance. Some believe that in his his escape bid from Berlin that he was killed by a sniper's bullet.
Mussolini was an Italian newspaper editor who founded the Fascist movement and seized control of Italy. As a young man he was a Socialist and edited Avanti, a Milan newspaper. He rejected socialism durung World War I and funded a newspaper of his own, Popolo d'Italia. He served in the Army duruing the War (19150-17) and was seriously wounded. After the War he organized fellow war venterans in the aggresively nationalistic Fascist Party. Strike and disorders gave him an excuse for organizing his Fascist March on Rome (1922), Frightened at the demonstratioin, King Victor Emmanuel asked him to form a government. Using his position as Premier, Mussolini quickly transferred Italy unto a dictatorship. The turning point was the murder of Maztteotti (1924). He had three children (figure 1). Mussolini replaced Italy's parlimnentary democracy with the Fascist Corporate State. He ended the isolatuoin of the Vatican with the Lateran Treaty (1928). He ininiated an extensive public works program with projects like the draining of the Pontine Marshes. He suppressed rebellion in Libya, an Italian colony. He later attacked Ethiopia to add it to other Italian colonies in East Africa (1935-36). He used poison gas in both camoaigns. The League of Natioins proved ineffectual in dealing with Italian aggression. He entered the Axis Alliance with Hitler (1936). He seized Albania (1939) and joined NAZI Germany in World War II by attacking France after after they had been essentially defeated by Germany (1940). World War II proved disasterous for Italy. After the fall of Sicily, Marshall Bafoglio repkaced him and had him arrested (1943). Hitler had him rescued and set him up in a puppet Fascist sate in northern Italy. He and his mistress were killed by partisans at the end of World War II (1945).
Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (1887-1944) at the time the war broke out in Europe, was the respcted head of the Naval War College in Tokyo. Before Japan launced the Pearl Harbor attack he was promoted to the rank of vice admiral. He was then named the commander of the First Air Fleet, the most prestigious command in the Imperial Navy. Yamaoto was concerned about his aggresiveness. The appointment, however, was a matter of seniority. Nagumo thus commabnded the all important First Air Fleet at the two most important points of the Pacific War. And both command proved controversial. The stunning success of the Pearl Harbor attack made him a national hero (December 1841). His decesion to cancel the third strike wave, howver, meant thast Pearl was left a potent forward naval base with its fleet battered, but the base faciities lsrgely in tact. The tuurning pointvof the Pacific War was Midway sic months later (June 1942). Nagumo's decession not to immeditely order a strike when he learned of the oresence of American ships has also been criticized. He had aargely non-existent command on Sipan when the United States invaded (June 1944). He radioed Tokyo, "Hell is upon us."
President Roosevelt appointed Admiral Nimitz to command the Pacific fleet after the disaster at Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Many military historians rank him as the greatest naval commander of the 20th century. And of all the Five Star American commanders in World War II, only Nimitz achieved victories against superior enemy forces. His victory at Midway (June 1942) stopped the Japanese advances in the Pacifuc War before American shipyards had provided him with a massive carrier force. The Pacific Fleet then slugged it out with the Japanese in the Sollmons. The Japanese than withdrew the Imperoal Fleet to rear areas (December 1942). It was Nimitz who oversaw the assembling of forces, the selection of commanders, and conceived the strategy that would lead the drive across the Pacific to the Japanese Homne Islands. This drive was made possible when the new Essex Carriers and air groups with the new Grumman F6F Hellcat began to reach the Fleet, making the United States the dominant naval force in the Pacific and allowing Nimitz to begin the new campaign in the Central Pacific. Unlike MacArthur and Halsey, he was not a flamboyant commander, but cool and deliberate amd more likely to make sure his subordinates got credit for their achievements. He also had aeen appreciation for the Japanese mind set and capabilities. One historian recounts, "Admiral Ruchmond Kelly Turner sent aessage to Nimitz, 'I may be crazybut it looks like the Jaops have quit the war in this sectiin.' Nimitz replied, 'Delete all after "crazy"' Aot mpre Pacific war was to come." [Harris]
Admiral Takijiro Onishi was the Imperial Navy's most respected advocate of aviation. The was near the top of his class at Eta Jima and developed a reputation for seveity. When seven airmen escaped from an Ameican POW camp, he berated them for diobeying standing orders not to taken alive. He demoted them and assigned to a reconnaisance missin over Port Moresby--essentially a death sentnce. [Thomas, p. 140.] He was not inclined toward suiside tactics, but discussed the issue in detail with Captain Jo, the Emperor's naval aide and strong proponenr of Kamikaze tactics. After the disaster in the Philippine Sea and Leyte, Admirl Onishi began organizing special attack units (autumn 1944).
General George S. Patton was one of the prima-donna generals that Heneral Eisenhower had to manage. In his case Eisenhower was astute enough to realize that his talents were worth the effort. Patton was the most effective field commander in the U.S. and perhaps the entire Allied military. It was Patton's grasp of the importance of movement, something that British commanbders never fully mastered, that made him so valuable. Patton was born in San Gabriel, California (1885). He the Army's West Point Military Academy but along with a World War II colleague, Courtney Hodges, did not do well academically. He left after only a year. He began the whole program over and graduated iwith respectable results, 46 out of 103 in his class (1909). He was awarded a commission in the cavalry. At the time it was not yet realized that calvalry was an anarionism. He partipated in Gen. John Pershing's Mexican Expedition. He was deployed to France with the AEF and Gen. Pershing. He was given command of the 304th Tank Brigade. Patton fought at the St. Mihiel Offensive and was seriously wounded at Meuse Argonne. He won the DSC and DSM. After the War, Patton was assigned to the tank centre at Camp Meade where he met and became close friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Patton became the the U.S. Army's foremost expert on tank warfare.
Promotions were slow in coming in the peace-time army and political rather than military talents were often the most important. This began to change with the outbreak of World war II (1939). America slowly began to gird for war, esoecialy after the fall of France (June 1940). Patton was promoted to brigadier general as the U.S. Army began to expand (October 1940). He was given command of the 2nd Armed Division based at Fort Benning. General George Marshall in particular was impressed with him. Immediately after America entered the War, he chose Patton to command the Desert Training Centre at Indio, California (January 1942). Later the same year, Patton joined General Eisenhower in planning Torch. General Marshall was not in favor of the operation, but President Roosevelt and Prime-Minister Churchill insisted that the Allies had to make an offensive move. Patton proved to be one of the finest field commanders of the War. He is best known for the Third Army's swwep through France. His perforamce in the Bulge was arguably his finest feat of arms. He was no doubt one of the prima-sonnas Eisenhower had to contend with, but in his case he produced results. He was criticized for being too willing to take casualties, a chsrge sometimes levied by less talented colleagues. One author studying the Bulge was impressed ith Pattons situational understanding of the battlefield. [Rickard]
Marshal Philippe Pétain was perhaps the oldest man to play an important role in World War II. He was the hero for France in the pivotal Battle of Verdun during World War I. He was a hero of World War I, but seen by many as a traitor during World war II. His World war II role is more complex. His policies probably saved many French lives, but put the future of France in jeporady. Philippe Pétain was born in Cauchy-à-la-Tour near St. Omer (1856). He was educated at a Dominican college at Arceuil, He joining the infantry in 1878 as an officer, a few years after the Franco-Prussian War which united Germany, thus shaping French strategic perspectives. He taught at the École de Guerre. he was promoted to colonel (1912) and to general just before the outbreak of World War I (1914). Pétain during the War acquired the reputation among the ordinary soldiers as an officer who genuinely man about their well being, all to rate in the class-based French officer corps. He was given command of the embatteled French Second Army at Verdun. Losses were horendous on both sides. Verdun had been conceived by Germnan General Falkenhayn as a way of breaking thec French Army. He nearly suceeded, but also weakened the German Army. Pétain managed to hold the Germans and prevent the Fremch Army from esintegrating. Pétain managed to turn a looming massive defeat into a victory of sorts. At least Verdun did not fall to the Germans. The French Army was, however, badly damaged, after Verdun it was incapable of further major offensive operations. The rest of the War would be carried by the British and Americans. Had Petain's military career ended with World War I he would be considered a revered figure in France. Unfortunately for the Marshal it did not. He is as a result, a controversial figure.
Pétain had right-wing views that were out of step with French politics duringf thge intet-War era. He retired from the Army after serving as Minister of War (1934). He was appointed the first ambassadir to Franbci's Spaoin (1939). Out of the Army, he was not connected with the disaster of 1940. He was re-called from Spain and appointed Prime Minister (June 16. 1940 just as the Germans were about to enter Paris. The choice France had was to make peace with Germany or form a government in exile and continue the War from its colonirs and Britain. Pétain saw the war as lost and the only real choice was to coillaborate with the German victors. Pétain concluded an armistice with the Germans (June 22). Havbing concluded that all was lost, he set out to cut the best deal possible. The central error that Pétaon and his Vichy acolytes made was that if Germany won the war, there was nothing to hold Hitler to any bargains he may have made.
The termns of the armistice were severe, although not as severe as the other countries defeated by the Germans. Some authors speculate that Hitler was trying to convince the British to make peace. The terms of the armistice split France in two. The German administered the territory they had occupied during their invasion. It was the entire Atlantic coast from which they could pursue the war with Britain, both bu air and sea. Pétain, with his National Assembly government based in Vichy, administered the southern half of the country under German supersision. Vichy was allowed to retain control of the colonies. the National Assembly gave Pétain the authority to rule by decree, essentially using authoritarian methods, to purify France of its pre-War 'moral decadence' (July 10). The Vichy police proceeded to act without constitutional restraint. NAZI-style anti-Semetic laws were quickly implemented. The police would help the Germans round up both Resistance elements and Jews who were then deported east to the NAZI death camps. Less well know is that the Vichy police also taegeted French agents working for the Germans. Pétain was at first popular in France. He ended the War and the German occupation was at first correct without the excesses in the East. Pétain's popularity only began to decline as the Germans began to expeience military defeats. The Germans begab making greatrer demands on the French, especially the conscription of French workers for war work in the Reich. German exploutation of the economy meant that rationing became increasingly severe. Gradually Pétain began to be seen less as a national savior and more as a German puppet. After the D-Day nd the Normandy breakout, the retreating Germans took Pétain with them. After the German surrender (May 1945), the Provisional Government put Pétain and other Vichy figures on trial for treason. Pétain was found guilty. He was stripped of his rank of marshal of France and sentence him to death. This death sentence was subsequently commuted to life in prison on the Île de d’Yeu in the Bay of Biscay. Pétain died there (1951). He asked to be buried at Verdun with his men. French Governments have denied him this honor.
The College of Cardinals in early 1939 fully recognized that war was coming. They chose a diplomat as the man most suited to oversee the Church. There was great concern for Pope Pius XII during World War II, escpecially after Germany occupied Rome (1943). Pope Pious was generately considered to be a compassionate man of peace during the War who did what he could to protect Jews and others. There were tributes to him after the War. This view continued for many years after the War. This began to change with various authors began to Pious' record, especially is failure to speak out more forcefully against the Holocaust. There is some validity for this charge. Some might argue, however, that this may have done little good and brought attacks on both the Church and Catholics. The Church charges a campaign of vilification. The role of Pope Pious XII during World War II has been intensly debated by historians. Some charge that he was a weak, church bureaucrat, more concerned with protecting the treasures of the Vatican than the opressed people of Europe. The issue is very complicated There are reports of Pope Pius intreauging with the British and German Generals (1940). The Pope did hide 5,000 people when the NAZIs began to round up Roman Jews (October 1943). The controversy about Pious continues today. At best his resonse was timid at worst some writers view him as virtually complicit. [Corwell] Those who criticise today certainly do so from the safty of a more secure world. Another historian refutes many of the charges against the Pope, pointing out his many statements criticizing the NAZIs even before he became pope. Therewere also many instances of Pope Pius XII protecting Jews. [Dalin]
Puyi was born in 1906 and and on the death of his uncle Guangxu became the last emperor of China. We have noted various spellings, P'u-i, Puyi, Pu-Yi, and Buyi. Unlike his newphew, he did not have the Dowager Empress as regent. Pu Yi's father, Prince Ch'un, served as his son's regent. The prince, however, disliked politics and court officials conducted givernment affairs. Reformers in China demanded change and action aginst the Europeans. They considered Prince Ch'un weak and the imperial regime corrupt and backward--incapable of challenging the Europeans. Puyi was raised by court officials who taught him to leave a desolate life. A Scottish tutor, Reginald Johnston, was hired for him. Puyi was forced to abdiagate in 1912 after the 1911 Republican Revolution. He was permitted to live in the Forbidden City until 1924. He was courted by the Japanese who had acquired the former German concessions in Manchuria. Puyi took up residence in the Japanese concession at Tientsin. The Japanese gradually expanded their control of Manchuria. They installed him in 1933 as Emperor of the puppet state of Manchoukuo. He met with Emperor Hirohito. We do not know the nature of their discussions. Puyi was surprised to learn that he had no real authority. The Soviet invaded Manchuria in the final weeks of World War II and turned him over to the Chinese for trial as a war criminal. The Chinese pardoned him in 1959. He returned to Beijing where he worked in the mechanical repair shop of a botanical garden and died in 1967. Puyi's life was beautifully told in the film, "The Last Emperor".
Erwin Rommel's father was a school principal. Erwin was interested in Zephlins. He insisted that Erwin attend a cadet school to prepare for the military. Rommel hada love affair as a young officer and a dughter was born. Rommel refused to marry her because of the impact on his career. During World War I there were many promotions and decorations. He preformed galantly in Italy and was awatded the "Pour de merit", the Blue Max, the highest Germany military decoration. After the War, Rommel stayed in the Army which ws severly limited by the Versailles Treaty. Military officers were not allowed to paticipate in politics, but were generally very conservative. After Hitler seized power, enormous resources were directed to the military. Many like Rommel felt that it now meant something to be a German officer. Hitler courted the Wehrmacht. After the SA was suppressed bu the SS in the Night of the Long Knves, German soldiers, includng Rommel, were required to tke a personal oath to support Hitler (1934). Rommel was impressed by the apparent NAZI success in revitalizing Germany in the 1930s. Rommel like many Germans looked on the anti-semnetic campaign as a negative thing, but thougt it was outweighed by the positive accomplishments of the regime. Officers like Rommel were enthused with the resources and new weapons. Rommel became a lecturer in tactical warfare. He wrote a best-selling book. He was appointed commander of the military academy. Rommel was made commander of Hitler's military headquarters (1939). He clearly had no insight into Hitler's thinking at this time. He told his wife, "As long as my generation who experienced the World War, you can be sure there will mot be another war." [S. Rommel] Rommel was responsibe for Hitler's security during the invasion of Poland. He was impressed with Hitler and described his "clarity in his treatment of problems". He seems to have revered Hitler and Hitler for his part admired Rommel. Although an infantry officer, Rommel was given a tank division in the Western offensive (1940). His became known as the Ghost Division because it moved so rapidly west. After the fall of France, Italy launched an attack on Egypt from their Libyan colony (September 1940). The Italians force which had no heavy tanks bogged down 60 miles into Egypt. The British launched a counter-offensive (December 1940) and in 8 weeks had decimated the Italians. Hitler chooses Rommel to lead a small force to assist the Italians. He described Rommel as the most daring tank general in the Wehrmacht. Rommel drspacted from occupied France. Hitler's focus was on the coming Russian canpaign. Rommel's orders were only to stop the British. Rommel's competance and NAZI propaganda made him a legend. The Desert War sea-sawed back and forth until Rommel was finally stopped at El Alemain (July 1942). Now it became a matter of logisics. North Africa had always been a secondary theater, but much of the tanks, fuel, and supplies were sunk by thge British. British code breakers by 1942 were receiving details on the German-Italian convoys wgich were devestated by British submaries and air patrols. Vast quantiies of supplies from america, however, were reaching the 8th Army. Montgomery's offensive at El Alemain was protracted, but the German and Italian forces were gradually worn down (October 1942). Hitler refused to allow Rommel to withdraw. Rommel hesitated, but unlike Field Marshall Paulis at Stalingrad, Rommel ignored the orders and did withdraw, saving the Africa Corps. The German position in Africa became untenable when the Americans and British as part of Operation Torch landed in Morocco and Algeria (November 1942).
Franklin married a distant cousin, a shy young woman, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, on March 17 1905. Eleanor had had a trying childhood. Her mother, a beautiful socialite who gave her little affection, died when Eleanor was eight. Her father, Theodore Roosevelt's brother, was spirited and charming. But he was unstable and alcoholic, and he died when Eleanor was 10 years old. Orphaned, she lived with her maternal grandmother and entered her teens feeling rejected, ugly, and ill at ease in society. When Franklin, a dashing Harvard man two years her senior, paid her attention, she was flattered and receptive. Franklin was clearly serious in 1903 when he brought her to Campabello, his special space, to spend time with his mother. Elenor was the niece of President Theodore Roosevelt. They mairred in 1905. Her uncle President Theodore Roosevelt gave her away. That shy young lady was to become the greatest First Lady in American history. Without her support it is doubtful if Franklin could have even become president. Once president, it was Eleanor who traveled from one end of the country, serving as her husband's eyes and ears, championing the cause of the seak and dispossed--a towering figure in American history.
The 30th president is generally considered to be the most important American statesman of the 20th century. He led America through the two most serious crises of the century, the Great Depression and World War II. He inspired confidence and despite his patrician origins came to be loved by the least favored Americans. Thus when other countries turned to totalitarianism and dictatorship, American democractic society grew stronger.
His policies helped to give voice of the American worker through trade unions. The resulting prosperity of the American worker created the basis for the success of the American economy in the second half of the 20th Century. He was born into a wealthy family with an elderly father. He had a charmed childhood at his father's Hyde Park, New York estate. He was a cousin of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose niece he mairred in 1905. FDR saw the dangers from Hitler and the NAZIs from an eraly point, but was limited by the isolationist attitudes of many Americans. His efforts to increase defense spending and to support Britain even before America entered the War was critical in Britain's survival after the fall of France in 1940.
Max Schmeling was one of the best known boxers of the 1930s. Max was born in Klein-Luckow , a small town in the norther German state of Brandenburg (1905). His father with the same name was a helmsman (boat pilot). His mother was Amanda (nee Fuchs). The couple moved to Hamburg, Germany's principal port. Max as a teenager after World War I became interested in boxing after seeing a movie. He began training as a boxer. He won both amateur and professional light-heavyweight boxing titles (1924). He became a sensation in Germany and moved to Berlin (1926). As he developed and gaimed weight he began fighting in heavier divisions. He won the German heavyweight division (1928). He is best known today for his two matches with famed American boxer Joe Louis (1936 and 38). The fights in America were billed as a fight between America and the NAZIs. Goebbels propaganda machine played up both the national and racial aspects of the fights. Important NAZIs were often pictured with because of his popularity in Germany. Boxing also fit in with the NAZI mindset. Boxing was strongly promoted in the Hitler Youth. Actually, Schmeling was not a NAZI and refused to join the Party. The NAZIs dropped him after he lost the rematch with Louis. Schmeling showed bravery both in and outside the ring. He protected Jews during Kristallnacht (1938). He was drafted during World War and served in a combat unit.
Otto Skorzeny led a small German paratrooop unit used gliders to free Mussolini from the Gran Sasso mountain top in the Abruzzi Mountains during the Badoglio putsch in 1943. It was a daring operation conducted by SS Major General worthwhile to make a Hollywood movie about it, inconceivable of course, because that would glorify the NAZIs. He did it with 90
soldiers who used gliders. The Italian garison of 250 men, who were guarding Mussolini, were taken by surprise and surrendered within minutes. One year later Skorzeny was ordered to kidnap the Hungarian Regent Admiral Horthy who was planning to negotiate an armistice with the Russians. This was to doom the Hungarian Jews. He also brought this to a successful conclusion for Hitler. In 1944-45, during the Ardennes offensive, he commanded a special brigade of 2000 English-speaking Germans disguised as American soldiers to cause chaos behind the Allied lines. Skorzeny died in Madrid in 1975. He was one of those fanatic Austrian NAZIs of Czech or Hungarian descent, like SS Obergruppenfuehrer Odilo Globocnik who was largely in charge of the extermination of Polish Jews, and SS Major Dieter Wisliceny , the man responsible for the mass deportation and murder of Jews from Slovakia, Hungary and Greece. Skorzeny was tried as a war criminal after his capture by American forces (May 15 1945). An American tribunal acquitted him on Sept.9 1947 of
illegal practices during the Ardennes offensive, after a British officer testified that he had done nothing which his Allied counterparts had not themselves planned or attempted to carry out. After his release Skorzeny was
re-arrested by German authorities, but he escaped from an internment camp in 1948 and then founded a clandestine organization, called Odessa, to help ex-SS members to flee to Argentina and Spain. In 1951 Skorzeny opened a business agency in Madrid under the protection of the Franco regime and was involved in promoting business between German companies and the Spanish government. He organized escape routes for wanted Nazi criminals and was able to buy valid Spanish passports in bulk , arrange for funds, set up travel plans and provide cover stories. In the 60s he bought a farm in Ireland where he bred horses and spent the summer months. [Wistrich]
Albert Speer joined the National Socialist party (1931). Hitler considered himself as both an artist and architect. He chose Albert Speer (1905-81), at the time an unknown young architect, to design a monumental stage setting for the Party Rallies. Speer worked with Ludwig Ruff. Hitler was pleased with what they produced. As a result, of this initial colaboration, Speer went on to become one of the most inflential of the top NAZIs. Hitler as the War began to go against Germany made Speer Minister of Armaments (1942) and then authority to rationalize thge German war economy (1943). Having taken on the Soviet Union and America while still at war with Britain, there was no way that Germany could match the material output of its adversaries. Speer did make needed changes that allowed Germany to increase production and maintain it untill late-1944 despite battlkefielkd defeats and the massuve Allied strategic bombing campaign. By this time of the War, German production was increasingly dependent of forced and slave-labor. This mean that Speer became personally involved with slave kabor, something he managed to hide after the War at the Nuremberg Trials. The Nuremberg Tribunal sentenced him to 20 years in Spandau prison by the Nuremberg tribunal. After serving his sentence, he published the autobiographical Inside the Third Reich (1970) and Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976).
Joseph Stalin is undeniably one of the most important figures of the 20th century. His impact on the devolopment of the Soviet state and society and the international Communist movement was immense. After the death of Lenin in 1924, Stalin moved to seize abosolute control of the Soviet state which he accomploshed by 1929. He then created apolice state which he ruled absolutely with terror and a bast metwork of slave labor camps. His policies included coloetivization and an enginered famine in the Okraine resulting in the deaths of milliobs. He had to face the rise of Fascism in Europe. At first he oppsed the Fasists, but in 1939 he decided to make common purpose with them. He approved a Non-Agression Pact in 1939 that allowed him to seize terrotory from neighboring sates, incliding the Baltic Republis in their entirity. This policy ended with the invasion by NAZI Germany in 1941. He joined in a miliatary alliance with Britain and America to fight Germany. After the War, a Cold War resulted from his decission to install Connuist police states in the countriesliberated by the Red Army. Stalin is also one of the most evil figures in world history and was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a death toll even exceeding that of Adolf Hitler. Even so, the Russian peple are deeply conflicted about his legacy.
Claus von Stauffenberg was born in Jettingen (1907). He had a twin and an older brother. He was an excellent student. He decided on a military career and at age 19 became a cadet. The Germany Army, the Reichswehr was extremely limited because of the Versailles Peace Treaty. He went on to attended the War Academy in Berlin. He was appointed to the General Staff (1938). Germany invaded Poland, launnching World war II (September 1939). Stauffenberg was assigned to the staff of the the staff of 6th Panzer Division. Germany Generals and Hitler gave considerable effort to tanks (panzers), emphasizing speed and mobility. Poland was the world's introduction to what they could do. The turning point of the War, was Hitler's decesion to invade the Soviet Union--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). During Barbarossa Stauffenberg was horrified by the atrocities committed by Germans, especially the Schutzstaffeinel (SS). He met other officers that shared his revulsion of SS attrocities. Especially important were Henning von Tresckow and Fabin Schlabrendorff).
He was promoted to the rank of major. He was severly wounded when his staff car ran into a mine field and was strafed by aircraft. Stauffenberg's injuries were extensive. He lost his left eye, two fingers on the left hand and his right forearm. While recovering, Stauffenberg decided to kill Adolf Hitler and overthrow the Nazi government and began conspiring with like-minded officers. The result was the July Bomb Plot (1944). He was assigned a key role.
Harry Truman was the 32nd President of the United States. World War II and the cold war posed challenges unprecedented in U.S. history. Truman was severly criticised by the Republicans and much underestimated by the press. In fact he is now regarded as one of the more important American presidents. He made the difficult decision to end the World War II by dropping the atomic bombs. He initiated the American effort to spread the expansion of Soviet imperialism. The immediate result was to save democratic givernmebts in Western Europe, but this policy, followed by suceeding presidents eventually led to the collapse of Soviet communism. Truman was the first president to adopt Frederal policies to undo racial segregation in America with steps like desegregating the military--in opposition to important military leaders like General
Eisenhower. Truman's civil rights efforts are some of the most corageous of any
Amerucan president. Once among the least popular presidents, he is now classified by most historians among the greatest of the American chief execultives.
Hitler appointed Ribbentrop Ambassador to Britain. He was a disaster, totaly failing to understand British society. He gave the NAZI salute to King George V at a
royal receotion. He was lampooned by the Bitish press. For his part he developed an intense dislike for the Btitish. Hitler in 1938 replaced the a seasoned foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath with Ribbentrop.
There were voices boh within and without the Administration who argued against the shipments. Few fully understood what fighting the War would be like without the British. General Marshall opposed the shipments and made this plain to the President. His priority was equipping the U.S. Army. He did not, however, made his objections public. The Isolationists were primarily Republicans, but there were Democrats as well. Secretary of War Harry Woodring strenuosly opposed the shipments and did made his opposition public. Woodring had served as a second lieutenant in the Tank Corps during World War I (1917-18). He entered politics and was elected Kansas governor (1931), a notable achievement in a largely Republican state. politican who had The President appointed Woodring Assistant Secretary of War (1933). He focused on procurement matters which is one reason he opposed shipping military equipment still in short supply overseas. The President turned to his to be the Secretary of War (1936). He coninued the policies of his predecessor to increase the size of the Regular Army, National Guard, and Reserve Corps. He oversaw a revision of mobilization plans to bring personnel and procurement into balance and stressed the need to perfect the initial (peacetime) protective force. He was, however, a non-interventionist, Isolationism and non-interventionist feeling was especially pronounced in the Mid-West. The President was determined to aid Britain and asked Woodring to resign (1940). Disagreeing with the Presidentwas not the issue, it was doing so publicly. And it provided valuable fodder to the Isolationists at a very critical point. The Isolationists after Dunkirk were spreading rumors that Britain was planning to sue for peace just like France. The President's detractors charged that if the arms crossed the Atlantic they would soon fall into the hands of the Nazis. [
Japan's foremost naval commander, Isoroku Yamamoto, was an exponent of naval aviation at a time in which the Imperial Navy like the U.S. Navy was dominated by the gun club wedded to the battle ship. While still a cadet, Yamaoto had participated in the Battle of Tsuhima (1905) which decided the Russo-Japanese War. He had lost two fingers when a gun on his battleship had exploded. The battle had convinced most Japanese commanders that war were won by climatic fleet engagements and that Japan as the smaller force would have to suprise the ememy. He had been a naval attache in Washington, at a time that Billy Mitchell had been promoting sair power. This launched his interest in air power which led to his promotion of naval aviation. While personally believing that war with the United States was a collosal error, he had to prepare the strike that would cripple the U.S. Pacific Fleet. He succeeded in crippling the U.S. battle ship force, but by luck the three precious carriers of the Pacific fleet were not at Pearl when the Japanese strike force arrived.
Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov (Zukov) was a Soviet military commander during World war II. He was arguavbly the fiest Soviet field commander of the War. He might be described as the most successful army commanders of World War II, in part because of the overall imprtance of the Eastern Front and the key operations tht vhe commanded.
Zukov was born into a peasant family in Strelkovka, Kaluga Province. He was apprenticed to work in Moscow. During World war I he was conscripted into a dragoon regiment as a private (1915). He was a decoirated soldier, awarded the St.George Cross twice and promoted to the rank of non-commissioned officer for bravery in battle. He joined the Communist Party after the October Revolution (1917). In Tsarist Russia his peasant bavkground ws a detriment. In Soviet Russia it was an assett. He contracted typhus. After recovering he fought in the civil war (1918-1920). He was awarded yjrOrder of the Battle Red Banner for subduing a peasant revolt. He rose steadily in thec Red Army, avoiding Stalin's purges (1930s). He was an early advocate of tank warfare, alough his concept of tactics was at first weak. He was best known for detailed planning and tough discipline. He oversaw some of the most important battles of the War: Lenningrad (1941), Moscow (1941), and Stalingrad (1941-42). He was given the honor of taking Berlin. a feat accomplished at enormous cost (1945). After the War, Stalin resented his enormous popularity and basically exiled him.
Hadler, Generaloberst. Kriegstagebuch ed. Hans-Adolf Jacobsen, 3 vol (Stuttgart, 1962).
Harris, Brayton. Admiral Nimitz: The Commander of the Pacific Ocean Theater (2011), 256p.
Picker, Henry, ed. Percy Ernst Schramm. Hitlers Tischgespäche im Führerhauptquartier, 1941-42 (Stuttgart, 1963).
Rickard, John Nelson. Advance and Destry: Pattonas Commander in the Bulge.
Schramm, Percy Ernst., ed. Kriegstagebuch des OKW iv: 1944-45 (Frankfurt-on Main, 1961), pt. 2.
Thomas, Evan. Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign, 1941-1945 (Simon & Schuster: New York, 2006), 414p.
Wistrich, Robert. Who's who in Nazi Germany (Macmillan Publ., New York, 1982).
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