June 18, 1940 — Churchill makes his “finest hour” speech

In the wake of the fall of France to the Nazi advance and the desperate evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, rose in the House of Commons to reassure the nation (and its allies). The speech he made that day is now routinely considered one of the greatest orations of the Twentieth Century.

The whole speech is worthy of your attention, but only these last three paragraphs are reproduced here:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Winston Churchill As Prime Minister 1940-1945 H2646A.jpg
By War Office official photographer, Horton (Capt) – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//38/media-38257/large.jpg

This is photograph H 2646A from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.
, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Radio Ga Ga — Queen

April 10, 1941 – The siege of Tobruk begins

In early 1941, the Allied forces in North Africa, comprised mostly of British and Commonwealth units (the Australians being the largest of the Commonwealth contingents), were making very good progress in driving the Italian forces out of Libya (which the Italians had conquered in 1911). The port of Tobruk was captured by Australian forces from the 6th Division on January 22 along with 27,000 Italian troops.

But in March, Rommel and his Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa to bolster the Italian forces. On March 24, Operation Sonnenblume commenced, an opportunistic effort to push back the Allies. Rommel’s advance was very successful, as the British had sent many of the forces previously stationed in North Africa to fight in Greece, and much of what remained, especially the armour, had fallen back for maintenance and recovery. On April 4, the Axis forces recaptured Benghazi, and by April 10, had encircled Tobruk. An assault on April 11 proved inconclusive for both sides, and the siege commenced in earnest.

The 14,000 men who remained in Tobruk were primarily Australians, with some British and Polish soldiers among them. Collectively, they became known as ‘the Rats of Tobruk’, when the Australians adopted the name they had been given in German propaganda as a badge of honour. (They even made their own service medal in the likeness of a rat, using metal from a German Bomber that they had shot down.) Nearly 4000 of them would give their lives while the siege lasted. The first attempt to break the siege, Operation Battleaxe, was launched by the Allies on June 15, but failed in its goals. The siege was lifted on November 27, and Tobruk would eventually be relieved on December 7, 1941, the same day that the Pearl Harbor attacks brought the US into the war. The siege had lasted a total of 283 days.

AustraliansAtTobruk.jpg
By Smith, N (Lt), No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit –
This is photograph E 4792 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 4700-32)
, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

All the Fine Young Men — Eric Bogle

August 2, 1943 — The Japanese destroyer Amagiri rams and sinks US Navy PT-109

Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109, under the command of Lieutenant junior grade John F. Kennnedy, was one of 15 PT boats sent out on a mission to intercept the Tokyo Express on the night of August 1, 1943. Along with three other boats of the flotilla, it stayed behind to guard the retreat of the others and continue patrolling.

At about 2am in the morning, on a moonless night, the crew realised that they were about to collide with a Japanese ship. The destroyer Amagiri rammed them amidships, cutting the boat in half.

Under the command of Kennedy, all but two of the crew made it to safety on Plum Pudding Island, from which they were rescued by PT-157 six days later.

PT-109 crew.jpg
By Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center [1], Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

PT-109 – Jimmy Dean

September 5, 1945 — Iva Toguri D’Aquino is arrested under suspicion of being “Tokyo Rose”

During the Second World War, Japanese propagandist and DJ Tokyo Rose broadcasted to American and Allied soldiers from somewhere behind enemy lines. Her broadcasts were intended to disrupt morale, although it is questionable how much of a real effect thay had. Still, it was rumoured that she named individual GIs, and that she accurately predicted attacks.

In fact, “Tokyo Rose” seems to have been was not one woman but a group of women, possibly as many as a dozen. The identity or identities of Tokyo Rose hasve never been conclusively established, but the best known suspect is Iva Toguri D’Aquino, who was charged with various crimes related to Tokyo Rose on September 5, 1945 (two days after the official Japanese surrender).

She was tried for treason and other crimes, convicted despite somewhat dubious evidence against her, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, plus a fine of US $10,000. She was later paroled after serving a little over six years of her sentence. In 1976, an FBI investigation found that several witnesses had lied on the stand to damage her chances. On his last day in office, President Gerald Ford granted Toguri a full and unconditional pardon, and restored her US citizenship.