Rain of Bombs Over Britain


Hitler Steers Fighting East

December 02, 1991|By Doug Struck

The starvation has started. The German troops have dug their trenches around Leningrad, their tactics turned from Panzer strikes to patience. It is now a death watch.

The world sat amazed at Adolf Hitler's pirouette in June, abruptly turning from Britain to hurtle across the borders of its bewildered ally, the Soviet Union. The relentless advance overtook Kiev despite Josef V. Stalin's order to his commander there -- "Hold out; if necessary die" -- and now turned toward Moscow and Leningrad.

Leningrad, geared for attack, is surprised by a siege. The city had not stockpiled food, and now its supply lines are cut. In this one city, more civilians will die --about 1 million -- in the agony of starvation than the total of British and U.S. soldiers killed in combat throughout the war.

But, then, Hitler's assault on Russia is determinedly brutal. Hitler has declared this to be "a war of extermination." It is part of his plan that millions of Soviet citizens will starve. Special SS squads moving behind the advancing troops stain the forest with blood in wholesale executions of Russian prisoners, Jews, Slavs and other undesirables.

... FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT has arrived back in Washington, brought abruptly from vacation in Warm Springs, Ga. The papers are full of alarm about the movement of Japanese troops toward Thailand. More ominous is the intercepted message to Japanese diplomats today to destroy their secret papers. Roosevelt privately expects something to happen; he just does not know when or where.

But the Japanese dispatch a flagship liner, the Tatsuta Maru, to take U.S. nationals to San Francisco and pick up Japanese who want to leave. The liner is due to arrive Dec. 14, and the New York Times sees this as a sign Japan believes "nothing was likely to happen for some time."

Roosevelt, unconvinced, dispatches a blunt question to Tokyo: Just what is the meaning of the Japanese buildup in Indochina?

... GERMAN TROOPS on this Dec. 2 are on the outskirts of Moscow. They can see the spires of the Kremlin through field glasses. But they will get no further. The fire of their cannons freezes in winter's grip, their war machines are caught in the clutches of cold mud.

To invade Russia, Hitler abandoned the Battle of Britain, leaving the proud English battered but alive. The United States agonized through this battle as it never had before. Hunched over radio sets, Americans heard the mourning of the air raid sirens in London and the grave witness of Edward R. Murrow describing the rain of bombs.

True, the embers of burning London were stirred by Winston Churchill himself. Hitler ordered the city not be bombed. But two German planes, lost and dodging flak en route to an aircraft factory, accidentally jettisoned their loads over London. Desperate to arouse U.S. sympathies, Churchill ordered the Royal Air Force to bomb Berlin. They struck again and again, until the infuriated Hitler took Churchill's bait and retaliated with the blitz of London.

For listeners in the United States, the savage German night bombing runs on a city of civilians are further proof of Hitler's inhumanity. Americans do not dream a few years later they will be in bombers, loosing incendiaries that create howling firestorms in cities like Dresden, Hamburg, Berlin, Dusseldorf and, later, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Kobe.

... IF THE WORLD is to burn, it has prepared a combustible bed. World War I settled nothing but the terms for bitterness and poverty. Hunger and resentment fanned desperate

ideologies, and nurtured dictators: Stalin in Russia, Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy.

In 1936, Hitler began a Svengalian acquisition of Germany' neighbors. He paralyzed them with promises of peace, then pounced: on the Rhineland in 1936, Austria in 1938, the Sudetenland in 1938, Czechoslovakia in 1939. The world did not resist.

Churchill was then a lonely voice of protest on the back benches of Parliament. "Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor," he complained of their attempts to appease Hitler. "They chose dishonor. They will have war."

ON SEPT. 1, 1939, Hitler employed a new term in the lexicon oattack: "blitzkrieg" -- lightning war. Poland fell in 17 days to his rushing Panzer tank divisions, Denmark and Norway followed, and in May 1940, his troops rolled into France. Europe was again formally at war.

Trapped on a narrow spit of Dunkirk beach, 340,000 British, French and Belgian troops scrambled to escape aboard a makeshift armada of skiffs and warships under Luftwaffe strafing. On June 14, German troops goose-stepped down the Champs Elysees and hoisted a swastika over the Eiffel Tower. Hitler danced an arrogant jig.

Churchill, now prime minister, was the picture of courage for his country. "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets," he vowed. "We shall never surrender."

The remainder of his pledge struck a more ominous tone for Americans hoping to stay out of war. Britain would fight, Churchill said, "until the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old."

... THE JAPANESE carriers that would finally push the New World to that step are steaming toward Pearl Harbor. On this Dec. 2, the fleet receives an innocuously coded message from Tokyo. It is the go-ahead for the attack: "Climb Mount Niitaka."

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