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War of Polish Succession - History

War of Polish Succession - History

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With the death of Poland’s King Augustus II a war broke out to determine who would succeed him. Russia and Prussia demanded his legitimate son, Frederick Augustus. France however, convinced the Polish nobility to restore Stanislas Leeszynski, the kings father-in-law, to the throne. As a result Russia invaded and Stanislas was forced to flee to Danzig. The Russians lay seige to Danzig, while France ,with Spanish support ,declared war on the Holy Roman Empire and sent a force to relieve the siege of Danzig. After eight months Danzig fell to Russian forces. The war ended in October 1735 when the parties signed the Treaty of Vienna. The elector of Saxony became the new Polish King. Austria ceded Naples and Sicily to the Spanish Bourbons under the condition that they never be united with Spain.

Polish War on Succession (Premysloides Dynasty)

Polish War on Succession, or also "Anarchy", was tragic and destructive era of about 30 years after defeat of Polish forces in Invasion of Baltic and capturing King Casimir the Great by Imperial Army. During next 30 years, 7 different noble families tried to conquer and keep Polish Throne.

Except short and unsuccessfull attempt to enthronment Louise the Piast, Hungarian magnate and great-grandson of Henry V of Silesian Piasts, Roman Empire was for most time inactive and ignored Polish internal civil war, especially because borderland provinces of Poland flourished in time of lawless and tax-less era and so enriched imperial border provinces.

In 1371, after failed attempt, remnants of royal branch of Piast house elected Henry III of Brzeg as new King of Poland. Immediately, Polish Szlachta declined accept new king, as they wanted to form constitutional aristocratic republic with rule of estates and Sejm.

Polish Szlachta met in Poznań and declared their Sejm and while they were unite in their hostile stances toward Roman Empire and Regent Council, they were divided in decision of their own leadership. 500 szlachta delegates discussed and elected new "President of Sejm", de facto ruler of Poland, Albert Wettin. He got 59 votes against 55, 49, 47, 42, 40 and 40 votes of Gryfici, Olshanski, Schachkowski, Kurnatowski, Ossowski and Jadwinski representative. 51 votes were against all and 117 invalid or abstain.

This chaotical results were misused by Regent Council who declared unity under Henry III, King of Poland and High Duke of Kraków, while republican Szlachta was quarreling among themselfs.

House of Kassirski ignored both, Regents and Szlachta, and contacted Roman Empire with proposal of their own enthronment. Emperor Arcadius II declined this, as he was interested in Persian, Russian and Caucasian Campaign and was unable to focus on Poland (especially after death of Louise the Piast), but Imperial Intelligence keep contacts with Kassirski and slowly, but steady rearmed and trained their own militia and cavalry in Voivodina.

President Albert Wettin used his connections with his German relatives and was able to gather 10,000 troops and cavalry, which marched on Kraków, where were Royal Court and coronated Henry III.

On May 7, 1371, Regent Army and Piast Army, ambushed Szlachta Army at Sandomierz. Regent Army enhanced by 900 Saint Atlantis knights and 4,000 new troops from Saxony, annihilated Wettin and Szlachta Army. 8,000 troops were killed or captured and 2,000 fled, mostly returned to Wettin forts and lands. Albert Wettin was killed, but Regents also had loses, as they lost Hetman Michal Kaczinka, brilliant military strategist and inspiring popular war hero, while rulling regent Mateusz Kowalski was unpopular and corrupted noble.

Szlachta Civil War

On December 1371, Polish Szlachta again summoned their Sejm in Poznań. 470 delegates gave 90 votes to Gryfici, 88 votes Olshanski, 85 votes to Kurnatowski, 80 votes to Schachkowski, 77 votes to Ossowski and 71 votes to Jadwinski. When they counted votes, it was found out that there were no invalid or against all votes and together, there were 491 votes of 470 delegates. Gryfici, Jadwinski and Kurnatowski formed secret pact to eliminate other Szlachta nobles and tried to manipulate election.

When it was revealed, Schachkowski, Ossowski and Olshanski left Poznań Sejm and moved to Lodź, where they established Lodź Sejm and elected Olshanski as Anti-King against Jozef Gryfic. Both factions of Szlachta proclaimed their own countries - Crowned Republic of Poznań and Royal State of Lodź.

In next years, plundering, battles and skirmishes among various sides continued to such extent, that it changed in to anarchy with many robber and armed bandits. Most roads were danger, many small villages were pillaged or extorted for "protection fee" by various rebel and bandit groups, especially central Poland was ruined.

Imperial intervention

In late 14th century, Saint Atlantis made deal with Roman Empire about spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Hungary was granted to imperial sphere of influence and Premysloides claim on Bohemia Throne was confirmed, while Poland was in Saint Atlantis sphere. This changed when Saint Atlantis armed and initiated rebellion against imperial power in Bohemia.

Because of that, Emperor Valerianus III decided for direct intervention in Poland and sent about 4,500 troops and 1,900 mercenaries to help Kassirski family against their enemies.

Meanwhile, families of Gryfici and Olshanski were eliminated in civil war.

Dominions of Polish Szlachta and Regents, situation in eastern Europe, 1380-1400


Poland was ruined after war (except eastern and southern borderlands) and it took massive amount of finances and economic support from Roman Empire to restore order and prosperity in Poland, but it secured loyalty and popularity of Romans among Polish people.

Territories of former Szlachta, both, northern Poznań and southern Lodź, were conquered by Saint Atlantis troops before Imperial troops arrived, while rest of Poland became protectorate of Roman Empire.

The Unknown History of the 1939 German-Polish Conflict

To understand how the war in 1939 between Poland and Germany, it is not sufficient to look at the widely-held view that peace-loving and weak little Poland was attacked by an ever-marauding Nazi Germany.

Rather, one must look much deeper into history. This conflict which cost many millions of lives did not originate with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, as is still claimed today by over-simplifying historians. It is not just a black-and-white story, but a complex one. It was also not caused by the Polish mobilization of her army two days previous, on August 30, 1939, although the mobilization of a country’s army, according to international standards, is equal to a declaration of war on the neighboring country.

German-Polish relations are even today poisoned by centuries-old, deep-seated hatred on the Polish side. For centuries the Poles have been taught from early childhood on that Germans were evil and ought to be fought whenever there was a promise of success. Hate on such a scale, as it was and still is promoted in Poland today against her westerly neighbor, eventually leads to a chauvinism that knows few constraints. In Poland, as in all countries, the respective elites use the means accessible to them to shape public sentiment. Traditionally these elites have been the Polish Catholic Church, writers, intellectuals, politicians and the press. For a balanced understanding of the forces which moved Poland inexorably ever closer to the war against Germany, it is essential to investigate the role these components of the Polish society have played in the past. And it is fairly easy to find abundant evidence for the above claim and to trace it from the present time back into the distant past.

„Póki swiat swiatem, Polak Niemcowi nie bedzie bratem.“ This is a Polish proverb, and translated into English it means: „As long as the world will exist, the Pole will never be the German’s brother.“1 While the age of this proverb cannot be traced precisely, it is reflected by a recent poll (1989) taken amongst students of three educational establishments in Warsaw, where only four of 135 fourth-graders [ten-year-olds!] declared having amicable feelings toward the German people. Half of the students questioned considered the Germans to be cruel, spiteful and bloodthirsty. One of the students wrote: „The Germans are as bad as wild animals. Such a people oughtn’t even to exist. And now they even want to unite!“2 One year later, in 1990, the then Polish Prime Minister Lech Walesa made his feelings towards his German neighbors publicly known: „I do not even shrink from a statement that is not going to make me popular in Germany: if the Germans destabilize Europe anew, in some way or other, then partition is no longer what will have to be resorted to, but rather that country will have to be erased from the map, pure and simple. East and West have at their disposal the advanced technology necessary to carry this verdict out.“3

It can reasonably be assumed that these remarks of a public figure like the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Polish president Lech Walesa reflect emotions that are very common in his country. While the three samples of hateful Polish sentiments against Germans were expressed in very recent times, there are many more outbursts of chauvinistic feelings and intentions against Germans in the not too distant past, only some 60 years ago. An example is this Polish slogan from Litzmannstadt, January 1945: „Reich Germans pack your suitcases, ethnic Germans buy your coffins!“4 It is especially important to know this in order to fully understand what this writer proposes: namely, that unrestricted expression of hate and disregard of the rights of others in international affairs can lead to tragedies of unimaginable proportions.

Many years before the differences between Germany and Poland escalated to the point of no return, numerous diplomatic efforts were made by the German government to defuse the ever more dangerous situation the two countries were facing. These efforts were all rejected by Poland. One of them comes to mind: on January 6th, 1939, the German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop met with the Polish Foreign Minister Josef Beck in Munich to discuss the differences between the two countries. Von Ribbentrop proposed „the following solution: the return of Danzig to Germany. In return, all of Poland’s economic interests in this region would be guaranteed, and most generously at that. Germany would be given access to her province of East Prussia by means of an extraterritorial highway and rail line. In return, Germany would guarantee the Corridor and the entire Polish status, in other words, a final and permanent recognition of each nation’s borders.“ Beck replied: „For the first time I am pessimistic…“ Particularly in the matter of Danzig I see ‘no possibility of cooperation.’„5

The belligerent policy of the Polish leadership was, and is of course, echoed by the public in that country. It goes without saying that a diplomat cannot use the same language as the little man at home can. The desired goal, however, is the same. It is the destruction, and if need be, the extermination of the Germans as Mr. Walesa so clearly stated. A leading role in forging the public view in Poland is that of the Catholic Church. To read what she taught her followers is truly blood-curdling. In 1922 the Polish Canon of Posen, prelate Kos, recited a song of hate which he had borrowed from a 1902 drama by Lucjan Rydel, „Jency“ (The Prisoners): „Where the German sets down his foot, the earth bleeds for 100 years. Where the German carries water and drinks, wells are foul for 100 years. Where the German breathes, the plague rages for 100 years. Where the German shakes hands, peace breaks down. He cheats the strong, he robs and dominates the weak, and if there were a path leading straight to Heaven, he wouldn’t hesitate to dethrone God Himself. And we would even see the German steal the sun from the sky.“6 This is by no means a single, individual case. On August 26th, 1920, the Polish pastor in Adelnau said in a speech: „All Germans residing in Poland ought to be hanged.“7 And another Polish proverb: „Zdechly Niemiec, zdechly pies, mala to roznica jest“ – „A croaked German, is a croaked dog, is just a small difference“.8

Here is the text of another Polish-Catholic war song which was sung in 1848 at the Pan-Slavic Congress in Prague:

„Brothers, take up your scythes! Let us hurry to war!

Poland’s oppression is over, we shall tarry no more.
Gather hordes about yourselves. Our enemy, the German, shall fall!
Loot and rob and burn! Let the enemies die a painful death.
He that hangs the German dogs will gain God’s reward.
I, the provost, promise you shall attain Heaven for it.
Every sin will be forgiven, even well-planned murder,
If it promotes Polish freedom everywhere.
But curses on the evil one who dares speak well of Germany to us.
Poland shall and must survive. The Pope and God have promised it.
Russia and Prussia must fall. Hail the Polish banner!
So rejoice ye all: Polzka zyje, great and small!“9

Not only did these „Christian“ priests excel in rhetoric aimed at cultivating deadly hate against Germans during the pre-1939 years, they also prayed in their churches, „O wielk wojn ludów prosimy Cie, Panie! (We pray to you for the great War of Peoples, oh Lord!)“10

Later, when their wishes came true, they actively participated in murdering unsuspecting German soldiers. „…Cardinal Wyszynski confirmed the fact ‘that during the war there was not one single Polish priest who did not fight against the Germans with a weapon in his hand.’ The war lasted only three short weeks, the German occupation lasted several years. This explains the extraordinary high number of priest-partisans who even were joined by bishops.“11 Further back in history, we find that „The Archbishop of Gnesen, around the turn of the 13th century, had the habit of calling the Germans ‘dog heads’. He criticized a bishop from Brixen that he would have preached excellently, had he not been a dog-head and a German.“12

To fully understand the implications that this and other hateful utterances about Germans have on the Polish psyche, one has to know that ‘dog’ is an abusive name that would be hard to top as insult to a German. It is obvious that through this centuries-long conditioning of the common people of Poland by the Catholic hierarchy, from the bishops down to the lowliest clergymen, Polish literature and the press would not be far behind in duplicating the still-continuing vilification of Germans. And indeed there is a plethora of well-documented hostile charges. In his Mythos vom Deutschen in der polnischen Volksüberlieferung und Literatur, Dr. Kurt Lück from Posen explored this propensity to malign Germans. I will repeat here only a few examples in order to illustrate how deeply the Poles are influenced by their elites. In his novel Grazyna, which is used in Polish schools as a learning tool, Mickiewicz uses terms like „psiarnia Krzyzakow“ – the dog-pack of the Teutonic Knights . In his novel Pan Tadeusz he writes of „all district presidents, privy councillors, commissaries and all dog-brothers“, and in his book Trzech Budrysow he writes of „Krzyxacy psubraty“ – „Knights of the Cross, the dog brothers“. Henryk Sienkiewicz, in his novel Krzyzacy (Knights of the Cross), repeatedly uses the abusive term „dog-brothers“. Jan Kochanowski, in his Proporzec (1569), calls the German Knights of the Cross „pies niepocigniony“: unsurpassable dogs. K. Przerwa-Tetmajer, in the short story „Nefzowie“: „The German manufacturer is called by the Polish workers rudy pies – red-haired dog.“13

It is not difficult to imagine how this perversion of civilized human conduct eventually must lead to a Fascist mentality that was also present in the Polish media. They did not mince words when it came to arousing public fanaticism without restrictions when it was time to go to war against Germany. They were the ultimate instrument for instilling in the public the view that Poland was the peerless power that would chasten Germany by defeating her in a few days. Characteristic of this was, for example, an oil painting that showed Marshal Rydz-Smigly, the Polish commander-in-chief, riding on horseback through the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.14 This painting was found by German troops in the Presidential Palace in Warsaw and was not even completely dry. When war finally came, the Germans in Polish territory suffered terribly. They had to bear the unspeakable hate of the Poles. Some 35,000 of them(German authorities then claimed 58,000 murdered Germans!) were murdered, often under the most bestial circumstances. Dr. Kurt Lück (op.cit.) writes on page 271: „Poles had thrown dead dogs into many of the graves of murdered ethnic Germans. Near Neustadt in West Prussia, the Poles slashed open the belly of a captured German officer, tore out his intestines and stuffed a dead dog inside. This report is reliably documented.“15 And a German mother grieves for her sons. She writes on October 12th, 1939: „Oh, but that our dear boys [her sons] had to die such terrible deaths. 12 people were lying in the ditch, and all of them had been cruelly beaten to death. Eyes gouged out, skulls smashed, heads split open, teeth knocked out… little Karl had a hole in his head, probably from a stabbing implement. Little Paul had the flesh torn off his arms, and all this while they were still alive. Now they rest in a mass grave of more than 40, free at last of their terror and pain. They have peace now, but I never shall…“16 And between 1919 and 1921 400,000 ethnic Germans fled their homes and crossed the German border in order to save their lives.

I personally once knew a German who told me that after serving in the German army he was drafted into the Polish army after 1945, and that the Poles destroyed German cemeteries and looted the graves in order to get at the golden wedding bands the corpses were still wearing.

What can one say of the hate that speaks from the pages of one of the more popular papers, the largest Polish newspaper Ilustrowany Kurjer Codzienny, which appeared on April 20th, 1929, in Cracow? „Away with the Germans behind their natural border! Let’s get rid of them behind the Oder!“ „Silesian Oppeln is Polish to the core just as all of Silesia and all of Pomerania were Polish before the German onslaught!“17

„To absorb all of East Prussia into Poland and to extend our western borders to the Oder and Neisse rivers, that is our goal. It is within reach, and at this moment it is the Polish people’s great mission. Our war against Germany will make the world pause in amazement.“18

„There will be no peace in Europe until all Polish lands shall have been restored completely to Poland, until the name Prussia, being that of a people long since gone, shall have been wiped from the map of Europe, and until the Germans have moved their capital Berlin farther westwards.“19

On October 1923, Stanislaus Grabski, who later was to become Minister of Public Worship and Instruction, announced: „We want to base our relations on love, but there is one kind of love for one’s own people and another kind for strangers. Their percentage is decidedly too high here. Posen [which had been given to Poland after the First World War] can show us one way to reduce that percentage from 14% or even 20% to 1½%. The foreign element will have to see if it would not be better off elsewhere. The Polish land is exclusively for the Poles!“20

„(The Germans in Poland) are intelligent enough to realize that in the event of war no enemy on Polish soil will get away alive… The Führer is far away, but the Polish soldiers are close, and in the woods there is no shortage of branches.“21

„We are ready to make a pact with the devil if he will help us in the battle against Germany. Hear – against Germany, not just against Hitler. In an upcoming war, German blood will be spilled in rivers such as all of world history has never seen before.“22

„Poland’s decision of August 30, 1939 that was the basis for general mobilization marked a turning point in the history of Europe. It forced Hitler to wage war at a time when he hoped to gain further unbloody victories.“23

Heinz Splittgerber, in his short book Unkenntnis oder Infamie?, quotes a number of Polish sources which reflect the atmosphere in Poland immediately before the hostilities commenced. On August 7th, 1939 the Ilustrowany Kurjer featured an article „which described with provocative effrontery how military units were continually foraying across the border into German territory in order to destroy military installations and to take weapons and tools of the German Wehrmacht back to Poland. Most Polish diplomats and politicians understood that Poland’s actions would perforce lead to war. Foreign Minister Beck… tenaciously pursued the bloodthirsty plan of plunging Europe into another great war, since it would presumably result in territorial gains for Poland.“24 He goes on to cite some 14 incidents where Polish soldiers aggressively crossed the border, destroying houses, shooting and killing German farmers and customs officers. One of them: „August 29th: „State Police Offices in Elbing, Köslin and Breslau, Main Customs Office in Beuthen and Gleiwitz: Polish soldiers invade Reich German territory, attack against German customs house, shots taken at German customs officials, Polish machine guns stationed on Reich German territory.“25

These and many more are the things one must take into account before making the fallacious accusation that Germany was the one to have started WW2. The following quotations are added here to show that not only Poland was bent on war against Germany, but also her ally Great Britain (and France). Although it is still widely believed that Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 29th, 1938 (Munich) honestly tried for peace, one has to consider the possibility that his real goals were somewhat different. Only five months later, on February 22nd, 1939, he let the cat out of the bag when he said in Blackburn: „… During the past two days we have discussed the progress of our arms build-up. The figures are indeed overwhelming, perhaps even to such an extent that the people are no longer able even to comprehend them…. Ships, cannons, planes and ammunition are now pouring out of our dock yards and factories in an ever-increasing torrent…“26

Max Klüver writes: „Of the considerable body of evidence that gives cause to doubt whether Chamberlain actually wanted peace, one noteworthy item is a conversation [after Hitler’s address to the Reichstag on April 28th,1939, W.R.] between Chamberlain’s chief advisor Wilson, and Göring’s colleague Wohlthat… When Wohlthat, taking his leave, again stressed his conviction that Hitler did not want war, Wilson’s answer was indicative of the fundamental British attitude that could not be a basis for negotiations between equals: ‘I said that I was not surprised to hear him say that as I had thought myself that Hitler cannot have overlooked the tremendous increases which we have made in our defensive and offensive preparations, including for instance the very large increase in our Air Force.’„27

And on April 27th, 1939, England mobilized her armed forces. Heinz Splittgerber quotes Dirk Bavendamm, Roosevelts Weg zum Krieg (Ullstein-Verlag, Berlin 1989, p. 593), who writes: „Since England had never yet introduced universal conscription during peacetime, this alone virtually amounted to a declaration of war against Germany. From 1935 to 1939 (before the outbreak of the war) England’s annual expenditure on war materials had increased more than five-fold.“28

In 1992 and 1993, Max Klüver, another German historian, spent five weeks in the Public Record Office in London searching through documents which, after fifty years of being hidden from public scrutiny, were now open to researchers. He writes in his book Es war nicht Hitlers Krieg: „How little the British cared about Danzig and the allegedly endangered Polish independence is also shown by the following brief prepared for Colonel Beck’s visit of April 3 [1939]. The brief states: ‘Danzig is an artificial structure, the maintenance of which is a bad casus belli. But it is unlikely that the Germans would accept less than a total solution of the Danzig question except for a substantial quid pro quo which could hardly be less than a guarantee of Poland’s neutrality.“ But such a deal would be a bad bargain for England. „It would shake Polish morale, increase their vulnerability to German penetration and so defeat the policy of forming a bloc against German expansion. It should not therefore be to our interest to suggest that the Poles abandon their rights in Danzig on the ground that they are not defensible.“29 Klüver concludes: „So there we have it clearly stated: in the own British interest, the matter of Danzig must not be solved and peace preserved. The British guarantee to Poland, however, had reinforced the Polish in their stubbornness and made them completely obdurate where any solution to the Danzig question was concerned.“30 The American Professor Dr. Burton Klein, a Jewish economist, wrote in his book Germany’s Economic Preparations for War: „Germany produced butter as well as ‘cannons’, and much more butter and much fewer cannons than was generally assumed.“31 And again: „The overall state of the German war economy … was not that of a nation geared towards total war, but rather that of a national economy mobilized at first only for small and locally restricted wars and which only later succumbed to the pressure of military necessity after it had become an incontrovertible fact. For instance, in the fall of 1939 the German preparations for provision with steel, oil and other important raw materials were anything but adequate for an intense engagement with the Great Powers.“32 One only has to compare Mr. Klein’s observations with what Mr. Bavendamm wrote about the British preparations for a major war at the same time, and the blurred picture that is painted by historians becomes much more transparent: the Germans were not the ones to provoke WW2.

Besides Chamberlain, there were others in influential and powerful positions in England who were much more outspoken about their wishes. Winston Churchill, for instance, said before the House of Commons on October 5th, 1938: „… but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onwards course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force.“33

Hitler, of course, knew this very well. In Saarbrücken, on October 9th, 1938 he said: „…All it would take would be for Mr. Duff Cooper or Mr. Eden or Mr. Churchill to come to power in England instead of Chamberlain, and we know very well that it would be the goal of these men to immediately start a new world war. They do not even try to disguise their intents, they state them openly…“34

As we all know, the British government under Chamberlain gave Poland the guarantee that England would come to its aid if Poland should be attacked. This was on March 31st, 1939. Its purpose was to incite Poland to escalate its endeavors for war against Germany. It happened as planned: England declared war on Germany on September 3rd, 1939, but not on the Soviet Union who also attacked Poland, and this is proof enough that it was England’s (and Chamberlain’s) intention in the first place to make war on Germany. Thus WW2 was arranged by a complicity between Britain and Poland. It was not Hitler’s war, it was England’s and Poland’s war. The Poles were merely the stooges. Some of them knew it too – Jules Lukasiewicz, the Polish ambassador to Paris, for instance, who on March 29th, 1939 told his foreign minister in Warsaw:

„It is childishly naive and also unfair to suggest to a nation in a position like Poland, to compromise its relations with such a strong neighbour as Germany and to expose the world to the catastrophe of war, for no other reason than to pander to the wishes of Chamberlain’s domestic policies. It would be even more naive to assume that the Polish government did not understand the true purpose of this manoeuver and its consequences.“35

Sixty years have passed since Poland got her wish. Germany lost large additional areas to Poland. Today these regions can hardly be compared to what they originally were. Houses, farms, the infrastructure, agriculture, even the dikes of the Oder river are decaying. Financial help from Germany goes to Poland as if nothing had happened between the two countries. The 2,000,000 Germans still remaining in Poland are largely forgotten by their brothers in the west. They now suffer the same fate as other Germans did in Poland in earlier times: „In earlier times the aim was already to eradicate all things German. For instance, in the 18th century, the Catholic Germans from Bamberg who had followed their Bishop and immigrated to Poland after the plague were forcibly Polonized they were denied German church services, German confession and the German catechism, and were reeducated to become Poles. By the time of the First World War these Germans from Bamberg had become so thoroughly Polonized that despite their traditional Bamberg costumes, which they still wore and for which they were still called ‘Bamberki’, they could no longer speak German.“36

Not only is today’s German minority in Poland in danger of losing its identity the same happened even to famous Germans of the past. Veit Stoss, who was born in Nuremberg and died there too, is now called Wit Stwosz, only because in 1440 in Cracow he created the famous high altar in the Marienkirche, 13 meters (39 feet) high and entirely carved from wood. Nikolaus Kopernikus, the famous German astronomer, is now called Mikolaj Kopernik. He lived in Thorn, never spoke a word of Polish, and published his works in Latin. His ancestors were all Germans. The last names of the surviving Germans have been Polonized: Seligman(n), a name also common in the English-speaking world, would now be Swienty! No comparable phenomenon exists in Germany. Poles who immigrated to Germany generations ago still bear their Polish names, and nobody pressures them to change them. They are considered Germans, and they are.

As this map shows, Polish chauvinism literally knows no bounds. The world went through the Second World War largely because of Poland and her taste for lands that belong to others. Some of her aspirations she accomplished in 1945, but this map suggests that there may still be more to Polish desires. Even today’s Czechia and Slovakia are on the list. As Adam Mickiewicz wrote: „But each of you has in his soul the seeds of the future rights and the extent of the future frontiers.“

As far as I as German am concerned, I wholeheartedly agree with what Freda Utley wrote in 1945 after she visited destroyed Germany:

„War propaganda has obscured the true facts of history, otherwise Americans might realize that the German record is no more aggressive, if as aggressive, as that of the French, British and Dutch who conquered huge empires in Asia and Africa while the Germans stayed at home composing music, studying philosophy, and listening to their poets. Not so long ago the Germans were, in fact, among the most ‘peace-loving’ peoples of the world and might become so again, given a world in which it is possible to live in peace.

„Mistaken as the Boeklers of Germany may be in believing that concessions can be won from the Western powers by negotiation, their attitude proves the willingness of many Germans to trust to peaceful means to obtain their ends.“37

1Else Löser, Polen und die Fälschungen seiner Geschichte, p. 5, Kaiserslautern: self-pub., 1982.

2Kanada Kurier, August 2, 1990, p. 4.

3Lech Walesa, Polish Prime Minister and Peace Nobel Prize laureate, as quoted from an interview published April 4, 1990 in the Dutch weekly Elsevier.

5Charles Tansill, Die Hintertür zum Kriege, p. 551, quoted in Hans Bernhardt, Deutschland im Kreuzfeuer großer Mächte, p. 229, Preußisch Oldendorf: Schütz, 1988.

8Else Löser, Das Bild des Deutschen in der polnischen Literatur, p. 12, Kaiserslautern: self-pub., 1983.

12Else Löser, op.cit. (Note 8).

14Dr. Heinrich Wendig, Richtigstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte, #2, pp. 31, 33, Tübingen: Grabert, 1991.

15Else Löser, op.cit. (Note 8).

16Georg Albert Bosse, Recht und Wahrheit, p. 13, Wolfsburg, September/October 1999.

17Bolko Frhr. v. Richthofen, Kriegsschuld 1939- 1941, p. 75, Kiel: Arndt, 1994.

18Mocarstwowice, Polish newspaper, November 5th, 1930, quoted in Kanada Kurier, September 2nd, 1999.

19Henryk Baginski, Poland and the Baltic, Edinburgh 1942. Quoted in Bolko Frhr. v. Richthofen, Kriegsschuld 1939-1941, p. 81, Kiel: Arndt, 1994.

20Gotthold Rhode, Die Ostgebiete des Deutschen Reiches, p. 126, Würzburg 1956. Quoted in Hugo Wellems, Das Jahrhundert der Lüge, p. 116, Kiel: Arndt, 1989.

21Henryk Baginski, Poland and the Baltic, Edinburgh 1942. Quoted in Bolko Frhr. v. Richthofen, op.cit. (Note 19), p. 81.

22Depsza, Polish newspaper on August 20th, 1939. Quoted from Dr. Conrad Rooster, Der Lügenkreis und die deutsche Kriegsschuld, 1976.

23Kazimierz Sosnkowski, Polish General and Minister-in-Exile, August 31st, 1943. Quoted in Bolko Frhr. v. Richthofen, op.cit. (Note 19), p. 80.

24Heinz Splittgerber, Unkenntnis oder Infamie? Darstellungen und Tatsachen zum Kriegsausbruch 1939, pp. 12-13. Quoted from Oskar Reile, Der deutsche Geheimdienst im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Ostfront, pp.278, 280 f., Augsburg: Weltbild, 1990.

26Foreign Ministry, Berlin 1939, Deutsches Weißbuch No. 2, document 242, p. 162. Quoted in Hans Bernhardt, op.cit. (Note 5), p. 231.

27Max Klüver, Es war nicht Hitlers Krieg, pp. 141, 147, Essen: Heitz & Höffkes, 1993.

28Dirk Kunert, Deutschland im Krieg der Kontinente, p. 183, Kiel: Arndt, 1987.

29Max Klüver, op.cit. (Note 27), pp. 162-163.

31Burton H. Klein, Germany’s Economic Preparations for War, vol. CIX, Cambridge, Mass., 1959. Quoted in: Joachim Nolywaika, Die Sieger im Schatten ihrer Schuld, p. 54, Rosenheim: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1994.

33Winston Churchill, Into Battle, Speeches 1938-1940, pp. 81,84. Quoted in: Udo Walendy, Truth for Germany, p. 53, Vlotho: Verlag für Volkstum und Zeitgeschichtsforschung, 1981.

34Foreign Ministry, Berlin 1939, Deutsches Weissbuch No. 2, document 219, p. 148. Quoted in Max Domarus, Hitler-Reden und Proklamationen, vol. I, p. 955.

35Jules Lukasiewicz, quoted in Bolko Frhr. v. Richthofen, op.cit. (Note 19), p. 55.

36Else Löser, op.cit. (Note 1).

37Freda Utley, Kostspielige Rache, p. 162. [English original: The High Cost of Vengeance, Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949.] Quoted in: Else Löser, Polen und die Fälschungen seiner Geschichte, p. 49, Kaiserslautern: self-pub., 1982.


February 1, 1733 - War of the Polish Succession: Augustus II dies creating the succession crisis that leads to war

November 18, 1738 - War of the Polish Succession: The Treaty of Vienna settles the succession crisis

December 16, 1740 - War of the Austrian Succession: Frederick the Great of Prussia invades Silesia opening the conflict

April 10, 1741 - War of the Austrian Succession: Prussian forces win the Battle of Mollwitz

June 27, 1743 - War of the Austrian Succession: The Pragmatic Army under King George II wins the Battle of Dettingen

May 11, 1745 - War of the Austrian Succession: French troops win the Battle of Fontenoy

June 28, 1754 - War of the Austrian Succession: Colonial forces complete the Siege of Louisbourg

September 21, 1745 - Jacobite Uprising: Prince Charles' forces win the Battle of Prestonpans

April 16, 1746 - Jacobite Uprising: Jacobite forces are defeated by the Duke of Cumberland at the Battle of Culloden

October 18, 1748 - War of the Austrian Succession: The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ends the conflict

July 9, 1755 - French & Indian War: Major General Edward Braddock is routed at the Battle of the Monongahela

September 8, 1755 - French & Indian War: British and colonial forces defeat the French at the Battle of Lake George

June 23, 1757 - Seven Years' War: Colonel Robert Clive wins the Battle of Plassey in India

November 5, 1757 - Seven Years' War: Frederick the Great wins the Battle of Rossbach

December 5, 1757 - Seven Years' War: Frederick the Great triumphs at the Battle of Leuthen

June 8-July 26, 1758 - French & Indian War: British forces conduct the successful Siege of Louisbourg

June 20, 1758 - Seven Years' War: Austria troops defeat the Prussians at the Battle of Domstadtl

July 8, 1758 - French & Indian War: British forces are beaten at the Battle of Carillon

August 1, 1759 - Seven Years' War: Allied forces defeat the French at the Battle of Minden

September 13, 1759 - French & Indian War: Major General James Wolfe wins the Battle of Quebec but is killed in the fighting

November 20, 1759 - Seven Years' War: Admiral Sir Edward Hawke wins the Battle of Quiberon Bay

February 10, 1763 - Seven Years' War: The Treaty of Paris ends the war in a victory for Britain and its allies

September 25, 1768 - Russo-Turkish War: The Ottoman Empire declares war on Russia following a border incident at Balta

March 5, 1770 - Prelude to the American Revolution: British troops fire into a crowd at the Boston Massacre

July 21, 1774 - Russo-Turkish War: The Treaty of Kuçuk Kainarji ends the war in a Russian victory

April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 - American Revolutin: American troops conduct the Siege of Boston

May 10, 1775 - American Revolution: American forces capture Fort Ticonderoga

June 11-12, 1775 - American Revolution: American naval forces win the Battle of Machias

June 17, 1775 - American Revolution: The British win a bloody victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill

September 17-November 3, 1775 - American Revolution: American forces win the Siege of Fort St. Jean

December 9, 1775 - American Revolution: Patriot forces win the Battle of Great Bridge

December 31, 1775 - American Revolution: American forces are turned back at the Battle of Quebec

February 27, 1776 - American Revolution: Patriot forces win the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge in North Carolian

March 3-4, 1776 - American Revolution: American forces win the Battle of Nassau in the Bahama

June 28, 1776 - American Revolution: The British at defeated near Charleston, SC at the Battle of Sullivan's Island

August 27, 1776 - American Revolution: Gen. George Washington is defeated at the Battle of Long Island

September 16, 1776 - American Revolution: American troops win the Battle of Harlem Heights

October 11, 1776 - American Revolution: Naval forces on Lake Champlain fight the Battle of Valcour Island

October 28, 1776 - American Revolution: The British force the Americans to retreat at the Battle of White Plains

November 16, 1776 - American Revolution: British troops win the Battle of Fort Washington

December 26, 1776 - American Revolution: American troops win a daring victory at the Battle of Trenton

January 2, 1777 - American Revolution: American troops hold at the Battle of the Assunpink Creek near Trenton, NJ

January 3, 1777 - American Revolution: American forces win the Battle of Princeton

April 27, 1777 - American Revolution: British forces win the Battle of Ridgefield

July 2-6, 1777 - American Revolution: British forces win the Siege of Fort Tinconderoga

July 7, 1777 - American Revolution: Colonel Seth Warner fights a determined rearguard action at the Battle of Hubbardton

August 6, 1777 - American Revolution: American forces are beaten at the Battle of Oriskany

September 3, 1777 - American Revolution: American and British troops clash at the Battle of Cooch's Bridge

September 11, 1777 - American Revolution - The Continental Army is defeated at the Battle of Brandywine

September 26-November 16, 1777 - American Revolution: American forces fight the Siege of Fort Mifflin

October 4, 1777 - American Revolution: British forces win the Battle of Germantown

September 19 & October 7, 1777 - American Revolution: Continental forces win the Battle of Saratoga

Decebmer 19, 1777-June 19, 1778 - American Revolution: The Continental Army winters at Valley Forge

June 28, 1778 - American Revolution: American troops engage the British at the Battle of Monmouth

July 3, 1778 - American Revolution: Colonial forces are beaten at the Battle of Wyoming

August 29, 1778 - American Revolution: The Battle of Rhode Island is fought north of Newport

February 14, 1779 - American Revolution: American forces win the Battle of Kettle Creek

July 24-August 12, 1779 - American Revolution: The American Penobscot Expedition is defeated

August 19, 1779 - American Revolution: Battle of Paulus Hook is fought

September 16-October 18, 1779 - American Revolution: French & American troops conduct the failed Siege of Savannah

March 29-May 12 - American Revolution: British forces win the Siege of Charleston

May 29, 1780 - American Revolution: American forces are defeated at the Battle of Waxhaws

October 7, 1780 - American Revolution: American militia wins the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina

January 17, 1781 - American Revolution: Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan wins the Battle of Cowpens

March 15, 1781 - American Revolution: American troops bleed the British at the Battle of Guilford Court House

April 25, 1781 - American Revolution: British troops win the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill in South Carolina

September 5, 1781 - American Revolution: French naval forces win the Battle of the Chesapeake

September 8, 1781 - American Revolution: British and American forces clash at the Battle of Eutaw Springs

October 19, 1781 - American Revolution: General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrenders to Gen. George Washington ending the Siege of Yorktown

April 9-12, 1782 - The British win the Battle of the Saintes

September 3, 1783 - American Revolution: American independence is granted and the war concluded by the Treaty of Paris

April 28, 1789 - Royal Navy: Acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian deposes Lieutenant William Bligh during the Mutiny on the Bounty

July 9-10, 1790 - Russo-Swedish War: Swedish naval forces triumph in the Battle of Svensksund

April 20, 1792 - Wars of the French Revolution: The French Assembly votes to declare war on Austria beginning a series of conflicts in Europe

September 20, 1792 - Wars of the French Revolution: French forces win a victory over Prussia at the Battle of Valmy

June 1, 1794 - Wars of the French Revolution: Admiral Lord Howe defeats the French fleet at the Glorious First of June

August 20, 1794 - Northwest Indian War: General Anthony Wayne defeats the Western Confederacy at the Battle of Fallen Timbers

July 7, 1798 - Quasi-War: The US Congress rescinds all treaties with France beginning an undeclared naval war

August 1/2, 1798 - Wars of the French Revolution: Rear Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson destroys a French fleet at the Battle of the Nile

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Polish Succession War

POLISH SUCCESSION WAR (1733-1735), the name given to a war which arose out of the competition for the throne of Poland between the elector August of Saxony, son of August II. (the Strong), and Stanislaus Leszcynski, the king of Poland installed thirty years before by Charles XII. of Sweden and displaced by August the Strong when Charles's projects collapsed. The claims of Stanislaus were supported by France, Spain and Sardinia, those of the Saxon prince by Russia and the empire, the local quarrel being made the pretext for the settlement of minor outstanding claims of the great powers amongst themselves. The war was therefore a typical 18th century “war with a limited object,” in which no one but the cabinets and the professional armies were concerned. It was fought on two theatres, the Rhine and Italy. The Rhine campaigns were entirely unimportant, and are remembered only for the last appearance in the field of Prince Eugène and Marshal Berwick—the latter was killed at the siege of Philippsburg—and the baptism of fire of the young crown prince of Prussia, afterwards Frederick the Great. In Italy, however, there were three hard-fought—though indecisive—battles, Parma (June 29, 1734), Luzzara (Sept. 19, 1734) and Bitonto (May 25, 1735), the first and last won by the Austrians, the second by the French and their allies. In Poland itself, Stanislaus, elected king in September 1733, was soon expelled by a Russian army and was afterwards besieged in Danzig by the Russians and Saxons (Feb.-June 1733).


Relentless bombardment left Poland in ruins © An ecstatic Hitler brought the date of the invasion forward to 26 August to take advantage of the surprise the pact had provoked in the west. However, only hours before the attack Hitler cancelled the invasion when his ally Mussolini declared that Italy was not ready to go to war, and Britain declared a formal military alliance with Poland.

Once reassured of Mussolini's political support, Hitler reset the invasion for 1 September 1939. The invasion was not dependent on Italian military support and Hitler dismissed the Anglo-Polish treaty as an empty gesture.

At 6 am on 1 September Warsaw was struck by the first of a succession of bombing raids, while two major German army groups invaded Poland from Prussia in the north and Slovakia in the south. Air supremacy was achieved on the first day, after most of Poland's airforce was caught on the ground. Panzer spearheads smashed holes in the Polish lines and permitted the slower moving German infantry to pour through into the Polish rear.

Hitler dismissed the Anglo-Polish treaty as an empty gesture.

In advance of the line of attack the Luftwaffe heavily bombed all road and rail junctions, and concentrations of Polish troops. Towns and villages were deliberately bombed to create a fleeing mass of terror-stricken civilians to block the roads and hamper the flow of reinforcements to the front.

Flying directly ahead of the Panzers, the Junkers Ju-87 dive-bomber (Stuka) fulfilled the role of artillery, and destroyed any strong points in the German path. The surprise German strategy of blitzkreig was based upon continuous advance and the prevention of a static frontline that would permit Polish forces time to regroup.

At 8am, on 1 September, Poland requested immediate military assistance from France and Britain, but it was not until noon on 3 September that Britain declared war on Germany, followed by France's declaration at 5.00pm. The delay reflected British hopes that Hitler would respond to demands and end the invasion.

Act of Settlement

Beginning with the first Norman King of England, William I or William the Conqueror, the title of ruling monarch was passed from the king to his first-born son, usually at the time of the former’s death.

Despite the fact that this straightforward transition didn’t always come to pass𠅏or a variety of reasons—the process remained in place, although not as a written law per se, for some seven hundred years.

As England evolved into a democratic form of government—specifically a constitutional monarchy—in the late 1600s, the country’s leaders decided to codify the succession of power.

The result was a law known as the Act of Settlement of 1701. This landmark legislation established that, at the time of King William III’s death, the title of ruling monarch would be passed on to queen-in-waiting Anne and the “heirs of her body.” English common law at the time defined heirs essentially by male-preference primogeniture, meaning that male heirs would have the first right to the throne over their sisters.

And, with the Church of England well established as the country’s national church, the law also prohibited Roman Catholics from inheriting the throne. Heirs who chose to marry Roman Catholics were also removed from the line of succession.

Austrian Succession, War of the

waged by European powers between 1740 and 1748. By the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, issued by Emperor Charles VI and recognized by most European states, the vast holdings of the Austrian Hapsburgs&mdashAustria, Bohemia. Hungary, the southern Netherlands, and lands in Italy&mdashwere to remain undivided and pass to Charles&rsquo daughter, Maria Theresa. However, after the death of Charles VI in October 1740, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Spain, with the support of France, began to dispute the inheritance rights of Maria Theresa. On Dec. 16, 1740, Frederick II&rsquos Prussian troops invaded Silesia, which belonged to the Hapsburgs. A coalition made up of France, Prussia. Bavaria, and Spain, which Saxony and Piedmont also joined, attempted to divide Austrian holdings and weaken the Hapsburg monarchy. Great Britain and the United Provinces (the Dutch Republic), France&rsquos commercial rivals, supported Austria Russia, which was disturbed by the growing strength of Prussia, also aided Austria later on. In addition to Austro-French and Anglo-French antagonisms, which had continued to intensify after the War of the Spanish Succession (1701&ndash14), the main reasons for the War of the Austrian Succession included the aggressive aspirations of Prussia, which was growing in strength, and its rivalry with Austria in central Europe.

The main theaters of military action were central Europe (Bohemia, Bavaria, and Saxony), the Austrian Netherlands, and northern Italy. In addition, Britain was at war with France and Spain on the seas as well as in the colonies (the Anglo-Spanish colonial trade war had begun in 1739).

The War of the Austrian Succession began unsuccessfully for Austria. As early as January 1741, Prussian troops occupied almost all of Silesia. The Prussians inflicted a crushing defeat on the Austrian troops on Apr. 10, 1741, at Mollwitz. In the summer of 1741 the French army under Marshal C. Belle-Isle, along with Bavarian and Saxon troops, invaded Upper Austria and then Bohemia, occupying Prague in November 1741. The Bavarian elector, Charles Albert (the protégé of France), was declared king of Bohemia in December 1741 and in January 1742 was chosen emperor of the Holy Roman Empire under the name of Charles VII (1742&ndash45). Another French army, under Marshal Maillebois, invaded the Austrian Netherlands. In November 1741 the Spanish began military actions against the Austrians in northern Italy. On Oct. 9, 1741, Austria concluded a truce with Prussia in which it promised to give the latter Lower Silesia. The truce permitted Austrian troops to move on the offensive against the Bavarian forces and occupy Munich. However, as early as December 1741, Prussia violated the truce and renewed military actions. Its army invaded Bohemia and on May 17, 1742, routed the Austrians at Czaslau, which forced Austria to conclude a peace treaty with Prussia on July 28, 1742, whereby it ceded nearly all of Silesia to Prussia. This concluded the so-called First Silesian War (1740&ndash42).

The military initiative passed to Austria and its allies in the middle of 1742. Toward the end of that year, the Austrian army drove the French and Bavarian forces out of Bohemia. Austrian forces won victories over the Spanish in Italy meanwhile, a British and Dutch army defeated the French at Dettingen, on the Main River, on June 27, 1743. By 1744 the French had been cleared from the right bank of the Rhine River, and Austro-British forces entered Alsace.

In the summer of 1744, Frederick II, without declaring war, invaded Saxony, which had concluded a defensive alliance with Austria in 1743, and Bohemia, occupying Prague in September 1744. He defeated Austro-Saxon forces at Hohenfriedberg on June 4, 1745, at Hennersdorf on November 23, and at Kesselsdorf near Dresden on December 15. On December 18 he occupied Dresden, the capital of Saxony. Fearing only that Russia, which had concentrated forces in Courland, would enter the war, Frederick II signed the Peace of Dresden of 1745 with Austria and Saxony on December 25. By the treaty Austria agreed that Prussia would retain Silesia in exchange for the recognition of Maria Theresa&rsquos husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. This concluded the so-called Second Silesian War (1744&ndash45).

The main military theater in the last years of the war was the Austrian Netherlands, where a French army commanded by Maurice de Saxe defeated Austrian and British forces at Fontenoy (May 11, 1745), Rocour (Oct. 11, 1746), and Laufeld (July 2, 1747) and seized a number of fortresses, including Antwerp and Mons. Russia joined the Austro-British coalition in 1746&ndash47 in January 1748 a Russian corps entered Germany. Fearing Russian troops would reach the Rhine, France agreed to peace negotiations.

By the Peace of Aachen of 1748 (the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle), the Hapsburgs retained the major portion of their holdings. The Pragmatic Sanction and the rights of Maria Theresa were recognized, but at the same time the conditions of the Peace of Dresden, which gave most of Silesia to Prussia, were confirmed. The peace treaty did not resolve the antagonisms between the European powers it was essentially only a respite between the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years&rsquo War of 1756&ndash63.

The Second World War: a timeline

Lasting six years and one day, the Second World War started on 1 September 1939 with Hitler's invasion of Poland and ended with the Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. Here we trace the timeline of a conflict that engulfed the world.

This competition is now closed

Published: May 4, 2020 at 4:40 pm

The German invasion of Poland

1 September 1939: German troops dismantle a Polish border post

The Second World War began at dawn on Friday 1 September 1939, when Adolf Hitler launched his invasion of Poland. The Poles fought bravely, but they were heavily outnumbered in both men and machines, and especially in the air. Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, but gave no real assistance to Poland. Two weeks later, Stalin invaded eastern Poland, and on 27 September Warsaw surrendered. Organised Polish resistance ceased after another week’s fighting. Poland was divided up between Hitler and Stalin.

In Poland the Nazis unleashed a reign of terror that was eventually to claim six million victims, half of whom were Polish Jews murdered in extermination camps. The Soviet regime was no less harsh. In March and April 1940, Stalin ordered the murder of over 20,000 Polish officers and others who had been captured in September 1939. Tens of thousands of Poles were also forcibly deported to Siberia. By May 1945, and despite his promises to Churchill and Roosevelt, Stalin had installed a subservient communist regime in Poland. Back in 1939, Poland’s then-leader Marshal Eduard Smigly-Rydz had warned, “With the Germans we risk losing our liberty, but with the Russians we lose our soul.”


May 1940: Men of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) wade out to a destroyer during the evacuation from Dunkirk

On 10 May 1940, Hitler began his long-awaited offensive in the west by invading neutral Holland and Belgium and attacking northern France. Holland capitulated after only five days of fighting, and the Belgians surrendered on 28 May. With the success of the German ‘Blitzkrieg’, the British Expeditionary Force and French troops were in danger of being cut off and destroyed.

To save the BEF, an evacuation by sea was organised under the direction of Admiral Bertram Ramsay. Over nine days, warships of the Royal and French navies together with civilian craft, including the “little ships” made famous in a BBC broadcast by JB Priestley, successfully evacuated more than 338,000 British and Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, in the remarkable Operation Dynamo. Churchill called it a “miracle of deliverance”, but warned, “Wars are not won by evacuations.”

Nevertheless, the success of the evacuation strengthened not only Britain’s defences in the face of a German invasion threat, but also Churchill’s position against those like the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, who favoured discussing peace terms. On 1 June 1940, the New York Times wrote, “So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence.” Seventy years later, Dunkirk is still synonymous with refusing to give up in times of crisis.

The Battle of Britain

25 July 1940: RAF Spitfire pilots scramble for their planes

After France’s surrender in June 1940, Churchill told the British people, “Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war”. To mount a successful invasion, the Germans had to gain air superiority. The first phase of the battle began on 10 July with Luftwaffe attacks on shipping in the Channel.

The following month, RAF Fighter Command airfields and aircraft factories came under attack. Under the dynamic direction of Lord Beaverbrook, production of Spitfire and Hurricane fighters increased, and despite its losses in pilots and planes, the RAF was never as seriously weakened as the Germans supposed.

James Holland describes how the Luftwaffe and RAF fought to control the skies over Britain in 1940:

The British also had the advantage that the battle was fought over home ground pilots who survived their planes being shot down were soon back in action, while German aircrew went into ‘the bag’ as prisoners of war.

The battle continued until the end of October, but essentially it had been won in early September when the Germans diverted their resources to night bombing. Radar, ground crews, aircraft factory workers all contributed to the victory, but it was of the young pilots from Britain, the Commonwealth and Nazi-occupied Europe of whom Churchill spoke when he said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

The Blitz

29 December 1940: St Paul’s Cathedral photographed during the Second Great Fire of London

The Blitz – an abbreviation of the word Blitzkrieg (lightning war) – was the name given to the German air attacks on Britain between 7 September 1940 and 16 May 1941. London was bombed by accident on the night of 24 August 1940, and the following night Churchill ordered an attack on Berlin.

This prompted the Germans to shift their main effort from attacking RAF airfields to bombing Britain’s towns and cities. 7 September 1940, ‘Black Saturday’, saw the beginning of the first major attacks on London. The capital was bombed for 57 consecutive nights, when over 13,650 tons of high explosive and 12,586 incendiary canisters were dropped by the Luftwaffe.

Beginning with Coventry on 14 November 1940, the Germans also began bombing other cities and towns while still keeping up attacks on London. Over 43,000 civilians were killed in the Blitz and much material damage was done, but British morale remained unbroken and Britain’s capacity to wage war was unimpaired. In Churchill’s words, Hitler had tried and failed “To break our famous island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction”.

Operation Barbarossa: the German invasion of Russia

June 1941: A column of Red Army prisoners taken during the first days of the German invasion

Since the 1920s, Hitler had seen Russia, with its immense natural resources, as the principal target for conquest and expansion. It would provide, he believed, the necessary ‘Lebensraum’, or living space, for the German people. And by conquering Russia, Hitler would also destroy the “Jewish pestilential creed of Bolshevism”. His non-aggression pact with Stalin in August 1939 he regarded as a mere temporary expedient.

Barely a month after the fall of France, and while the Battle of Britain was being fought, Hitler started planning for the Blitzkrieg campaign against Russia, which began on 22 June 1941. Despite repeated warnings, Stalin was taken by surprise, and for the first few months the Germans achieved spectacular victories, capturing huge swathes of land and hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But they failed to take Moscow or Leningrad before winter set in.

On 5/6 December, the Red Army launched a counter-offensive which removed the immediate threat to the Soviet capital. It also brought the German high command to the brink of a catastrophic military crisis. Hitler stepped in and took personal command. His intervention was decisive and he later boasted, “That we overcame this winter and are today in a position again to proceed victoriously… is solely attributable to the bravery of the soldiers at the front and my firm will to hold out…”

Pearl Harbor

7 December 1941: The destroyer USS Shaw explodes in dry dock after being hit by Japanese aircraft

After Japan’s occupation of French Indo-China in July 1941, US President Franklin D Roosevelt, followed by Britain and the Netherlands, ordered the freezing of Japanese assets. Many Japanese now believed that there was no alternative between economic ruin and going to war with the United States and the European colonial powers. In October 1941, a hardline government under General Hideki Tojo came to power, and preparations were made to deliver a devastating blow against the Americans.

On 7 December 1941, “a date which will live in infamy,” Japanese carrier-borne aircraft attacked the US Pacific fleet at its base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Despite warnings, the Americans were caught completely by surprise. Eight battleships were put out of action, and seven other warships damaged or lost. Over 2,500 Americans were killed, while the Japanese lost only 29 planes. Crucially, the American carriers were at sea and so escaped, and the base itself was not put out of action. The following day Congress declared war on Japan, which had also attacked British and Dutch colonial possessions.

On 11 December, Hitler declared war on the United States, and the war was now truly a global conflict. The Japanese were initially victorious everywhere, but Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto warned: “We can run wild for six months or a year, but after that I have utterly no confidence”.

The fall of Singapore

15 February 1942: Lieutenant General Arthur Percival and staff on their way to the Singapore Ford factory to negotiate the island’s surrender with General Yamashita

The Japanese began their invasion of Malaya on 8 December 1941, and very soon the British and empire defenders were in full retreat. Told previously that the Japanese were no match for European troops, morale among the defending forces slumped as General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s forces moved swiftly southwards towards Singapore.

The sinking of the British capital ships HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse by Japanese aircraft also contributed to the decline in morale, and panic began to set in among the civil population and the fighting troops. British commander Lieutenant General Arthur Percival had hoped to make a stand at Johore, but was forced to withdraw to Singapore Island. The Japanese landed there on 8/9 February, and before long the defence collapsed. To avoid further bloodshed, and with his water supply gone, Percival surrendered on 15 February.

Churchill described the surrender as, “the worst disaster… in British military history”. Over 130,000 British and empire troops surrendered to a much smaller Japanese force, which only suffered 9,824 battle casualties during the 70-day campaign. Singapore was not only a humiliating military defeat, but also a tremendous blow to the prestige of the ‘white man’ throughout Asia.


4 June 1942: The American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown under Japanese attack during the battle of Midway

For six months after Pearl Harbor, just as Admiral Yamamoto predicted, Japanese forces carried all before them, capturing Hong Kong, Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. In May 1942, in an attempt to consolidate their grip on their new conquests, the Japanese sought to eliminate the United States as a strategic Pacific power.

This would be done by luring into a trap the US navy carriers that had escaped Pearl Harbor, while at the same time the Japanese would occupy the Midway atoll in preparation for further attacks. The loss of the carriers would, the Japanese hoped, force the Americans to the negotiating table. In the event, it was the Americans who inflicted a crushing defeat on the Japanese. Their codebreakers were able to determine the location and date of the Japanese attack. This enabled US admiral Chester Nimitz to organise a trap of his own.

During the ensuing battle the Japanese suffered the loss of four carriers, one heavy cruiser and 248 aircraft, while American losses totalled one carrier, one destroyer and 98 planes. By their victory at Midway, the turning point of the Pacific war, the Americans were able to seize the strategic initiative from the Japanese, who had suffered irreplaceable losses. Admiral Nimitz described the battle’s success as “Essentially a victory of intelligence”, while President Roosevelt called it “Our most important victory in 1942… there we stopped the Japanese offensive.”


25 October 1942: German prisoners of war wait for transport after their capture at Alamein

The North African campaign began in September1940, and for the next two years the fighting was marked by a succession of Allied and Axis advances and retreats. In the summer of 1942, the Axis forces under ‘Desert Fox’ field marshal, Erwin Rommel, looked poised to take Cairo and advance on the Suez Canal.

The British Middle East commander General Claude Auchinleck took personal command of the defending Eighth Army and halted the retreat at the strong defensive line at El Alamein. But Churchill, dissatisfied with Auchinleck, replaced him in August with General Harold Alexander, while Lieutenant -General Bernard Montgomery took over command of the Eighth Army.

Montgomery immediately began to build up an enormous superiority in men and equipment, finally launching his offensive at Alamein on 23 October 1942. By the beginning of November, the Axis forces were in full retreat, although final victory in North Africa was not achieved until May 1943.

Although Montgomery has been criticised for being too cautious in exploiting his success at Alamein, it made him a household name and he became Britain’s most popular general of the war. Churchill hailed Alamein as a “Glorious and decisive victory… the bright gleam has caught the helmets of our soldiers, and warmed and cheered all our hearts”.


February 1943: Red Army soldiers hoist the Soviet flag over a recaptured Stalingrad factory following the German surrender

The battle for Stalingrad began in late August 1942, and by 12 September, German troops of the Sixth and Fourth Panzer Armies had reached the city’s suburbs. Bearing the name of Russia’s leader, Stalingrad had a symbolic significance as well as a strategic one.

Throughout September and October, under General Vassili Chuikov, the city’s defenders contested every yard of ground of the devastated city. The Red Army’s stubborn defence allowed General Georgi Zhukov time to prepare a counterattack that was launched on 19 November 1942, and which soon trapped the Sixth Army commanded by General Friederich Paulus.

Hitler, wrongly assured by Göring that the Luftwaffe could supply Stalingrad by air, ordered Paulus to hold out. He also ordered Field Marshal Erich Manstein to break through and relieve the beleaguered Sixth Army. Manstein was unsuccessful, and on 31 January 1943 Paulus capitulated. Of the 91,000 German troops who went into captivity, less than 6,000 returned home after the war. Stalingrad was one of Germany’s greatest defeats, and it effectively marked the end of Hitler’s dreams of an empire in the east.

D-Day, Operation Overlord

6 June 1944: British commandos of the First Special Service Brigade land on Sword Beach

Operation Overlord, the invasion and liberation of north-west Europe, began on D-Day, 6 June 1944. That day, under the overall command of US General Dwight Eisenhower, British, Canadian and American troops, supported by the Allied navies and air forces, came ashore on the coast of Normandy. By the end of the day, 158,000 men, including airborne troops, had landed. Initially, except on the American Omaha beach, German resistance was unexpectedly light. But it soon stiffened and the Allied breakout from the beachhead area was painfully slow.

The fierceness of the fighting can be gauged by the fact that in Normandy British infantry battalions were suffering the same percentage casualty rates as they had on the Western Front in 1914–1918. Eventually the breakout was achieved, and on 25 August, Paris was liberated. Brussels followed on 3 September. Hopes that the war might be won in 1944 were dashed by the Allied failure at Arnhem and the unexpected German offensive in the Ardennes in December. It was not until 4 May 1945 that the German forces in north-west Europe surrendered to Montgomery at his HQ on Lüneburg Heath.

Yalta: The Big Three

February 1945: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin sit for a group photograph during the Yalta conference

Between June 1940 and June 1941, Britain stood alone against Hitler. But then, after the German invasion of Russia and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she gained two powerful allies. For the next four years Churchill did his utmost to foster ‘The Grand Alliance’ against the Nazis. He even earned the grudging admiration of Nazi propaganda chief Dr Goebbels who said, “…I can feel only respect for this man, for whom no humiliation is too base and no trouble too great when the victory of the Allies is at stake”.

Churchill conferred with both Roosevelt and Stalin to hammer out strategy and to discuss postwar arrangements. The three men congregated for the first time at Tehran in November 1943. There, and again at their last meeting at Yalta, Churchill was conscious of the fact that Britain, exhausted by her war effort, was now very much the junior partner of the two emerging superpowers.

At Yalta, the postwar division of Germany was agreed upon as was the decision to bring war criminals to trial. The future constitution of the United Nations was discussed, and Stalin undertook to enter the war against Japan after Germany had been defeated. But the future of eastern Europe remained a stumbling block. With the Red Army in occupation, the Soviet dictator was disinclined to listen to the views of his two allies.


13/14 February 1945: Dresden under incendiary bomb attack

At Yalta, an Allied plan to bomb the hitherto untouched city of Dresden was discussed. The reason for attacking the city was due principally to its strategic importance as a communications centre in the rear of the German retreat that followed the Soviet winter offensive of January 1945. It was also believed that Dresden might be used as an alternative to Berlin as the Reich capital.

The attack was part of a plan codenamed ‘Thunderclap’, designed to convince the Germans that the war was lost. It was drawn up in January 1945, when Hitler’s Ardennes offensive, V2 rocket attacks on Britain and the deployment of snorkel-equipped U-boats clearly demonstrated that Germany was still capable of offering stubborn resistance. Strategic bombing attacks had previously failed to break Germany, although they had proved valuable in reducing its capacity to wage war.

Now, on the night of 13/14 February 1945, Dresden was attacked by 800 RAF bombers, followed by 400 bombers of the United States Army Air Force. The bombing created a firestorm that destroyed 1,600 acres of Dresden. Even today it is still uncertain as to how many died and estimates have ranged from 25,000 to 135,000. Most authorities now put the death toll at around 35,000. The scale of destruction, the enormous death toll, and its timing at such a late stage in the war, have all ensured that the bombing of Dresden still remains highly controversial.

Sinclair McKay explores the bombing of Dresden, one of the most controversial Allied actions of the Second World War:


17 April 1945: Bodies of dead prisoners at the newly liberated Belsen concentration camp

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated by the British Army on 15 April 1945. The photographs, newsreel films and Richard Dimbleby’s moving BBC broadcast from the camp sent a shockwave of horror and revulsion through Britain. Stories about concentration camps and the Nazi persecution and extermination of the Jews had been circulating since 1933, but this was the first time that the British public were faced with the reality of Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish Question – the Holocaust.

Even today it is not known for certain when the order to set about systematic extermination of European Jewry was given. But by December 1941, the first extermination camp at Chelmno in German-occupied Poland was in operation, while mass shootings of Soviet Jews had begun in June.

On 20 January 1942, a meeting of Nazi bureaucrats took place at Wannsee, near Berlin, to discuss the technicalities of the Final Solution. It is estimated that nearly six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, over 1.1 million in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the largest extermination camp in German-occupied Poland. During the Second World War, Hitler’s racial policies also claimed many millions of non-Jewish victims, including Soviet prisoners of war, those with mental and physical disabilities, gypsies (Roma and Sinti), homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The future Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie saw Belsen just after it was liberated. Years later he said,“ A war that closed down Belsen was a war worth fighting”.

VE Day

8 May 1945: millions of people rejoice in the news that Germany has surrendered – the war in Europe was finally over

On the afternoon of 8 May 1945, the British prime minister Winston Churchill made the radio announcement that the world had long been waiting for. “Yesterday morning,” he declared, “at 2.41 a.m., at General Eisenhower’s headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Dönitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe.” After nearly six years, the war in Europe was finally over.

But while VE Day marked the end of the Second World War in Europe, fighting in the far east would continue for another three-and-a-half months. As a consequence, there was always a slightly solemn undercurrent to the celebrations of VE Day. Japan was not finally defeated until after the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945…


9 August 1945: Atomic bomb mushroom cloud over the Japanese city of Nagasaki

On 2 August 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the military potential of splitting the atom. Fears that German scientists might be working on an atomic bomb, prompted the Americans and British to set up the Manhattan Project to develop their own atomic weapon. It was successfully tested in the desert near Alamogordo in New Mexico on 16 July 1945 and the news was flashed to Roosevelt’s successor Harry Truman, who was meeting Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam. Although the bomb had been conceived with Germany as the target, it was now seen as both a way of quickly ending the war with Japan, and as a lever to apply political pressure on the Russians.

Although the Japanese were warned that if they carried on fighting their homeland would face “utter devastation”, they continued to resist with their usual fanaticism. Thus, the first atomic bomb to be used militarily, codenamed Little Boy, was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

An estimated 78,000 people died and 90,000 others were seriously injured. Three days later a second bomb, Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki causing a similar loss of life.

Japan surrenders

2 September 1945: Japan surrenders to the Allies, ending the Second World War

The dropping of the atomic bombs brought about the quick acceptance of Allied terms and Japan surrendered on 14 August 1945. Japan publicly announced its surrender on 15 August 1945. This day has since been commemorated as Victory over Japan – or ‘VJ’ – Day.

But the official surrender documents were not signed until 2 September, which is considered VJ Day in the USA. The formal surrender took place on USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on 2 September 1945, six years and one day after the Germans invaded Poland. The Second World War was officially over.

The late Terry Charman was a senior historian at the Imperial War Museum London and the author of Outbreak 1939: The World Goes to War (Virgin, 2009).

Relations with Western Europe

Catherine agreed to a commercial treaty with Great Britain in 1766, but stopped short of a full military alliance. Although she could see the benefits of Britain’s friendship, she was wary of Britain’s increased power following its victory in the Seven Years War, which threatened the European balance of power.

Catherine longed for recognition as an enlightened sovereign. She pioneered for Russia the role that Britain later played through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries as an international mediator in disputes that could, or did, lead to war. She acted as mediator in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–79) between the German states of Prussia and Austria. In 1780, she established a League of Armed Neutrality, designed to defend neutral shipping from the British Royal Navy during the American Revolution. After establishing a league of neutral parties, Catherine the Great attempted to act as a mediator between the United States and Britain by submitting a ceasefire plan.

A 1791 British caricature of an attempted mediation between Catherine (on the right, supported by Austria and France) and Turkey, by James Gillray, Library of Congress. Cartoon shows Catherine II, faint and shying away from William Pitt (British prime minister). Seated behind Pitt are the King of Prussia and a figure representing Holland as Sancho Panza. Selim III kneels to kiss the horse’s tail. a gaunt figure representing the old order in France and Leopold II (Holy Roman Emperor) render assistance to Catherine by preventing her from falling to the ground.

From 1788 to 1790, Russia fought a war against Sweden, a conflict instigated by Catherine’s cousin, King Gustav III of Sweden, who expected to simply overtake the Russian armies still engaged in war against the Ottoman Turks, and hoped to strike Saint Petersburg directly. But Russia’s Baltic Fleet checked the Royal Swedish navy in a tied battle of Hogland (1788), and the Swedish army failed to advance. Denmark declared war on Sweden in 1788 (the Theater War). After the decisive defeat of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Svensksund in 1790, the parties signed the Treaty of Värälä (1790), returning all conquered territories to their respective owners.

Watch the video: Who Would Be Tsar of Russia Today? Romanov Family Tree (May 2022).