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

July 10, 1940 — The Battle of Britain begins

The Battle of Britain is virtually unique in the annals of wartime history for being one of the few extended campaigns to be fought almost entirely in the air – most other aerial conflicts named battles were single engagements, but the Battle of Britain lasted for nearly five months.

What it was, basically, was the way that air supremacy was decided in the Western European theatre of World War Two. The Axis forces launched an all-out aerial assault on Britain, bombing both civilian and military targets in what became known as The Blitz. Much has been written about the tactical superiority of the British, and there’s certainly truth in that – the Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by 2 to 1 in raw numbers, for example. But in the end, the British simply outlasted them. If the Luftwaffe had been better equipped in terms of manpower and aircraft, they might have succeeded in the end, but the RAF was perhaps the pre-eminent air force in the world in 1940, and they demonstrated this here, in their finest hour.

It would be another two years before the momentum of World War Two turned decisively against the Germans, but this was the first major victory of the Allies, and Germany’s inability to conquer Britain at this point would lead Hitler – never that interested in invading the British Isles to begin with – to turn his attentions eastward, leading inexorably to the twin defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, and finally, to the unconditional surrender of his nation after he committed suicide in despair.

The Auxiliary Territorial Service at An Anti-aircraft Gun Site in Britain, December 1942 TR454.jpg
By Malindine E G (Lt), Tanner (Lt), War Office official photographer – http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//20/media-20343/large.jpg

This is photograph TR 454 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.
, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Aces High — Iron Maiden

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

May 10, 1941 — Rudolf Hess crashes in Scotland

To this day, there is no clear explanation of his motives, but the facts in the case are these: on May 10, 1941, Rudolf Hess – the third most powerful man in Nazi Germany behind Hitler and Goring, flew a plane to Scotland, where he crash landed and was taken into custody. He had come on a mission of peace, trying to secure an end to hostilities between Germany and the United Kingdom.

However, his offer was quickly disavowed by the German government, and Hess stripped of al authority. He spent the rest of the war as a p.o.w., and stood trial alongside the other surviving Nazis at Nuremberg.

It seems that he had experienced some sort of guilt-motivated nervous breakdown, causing him to undertake his quixotic mission. It remains an open question whether his guilt was about the war by itself, or also about the Holocaust.

Rudolf Hess - Bf 110D Werk Nr 3869 - Wreckage - Bonnyton Moor.jpg
By Ian Dunster – Imperial War Museum – picture scanned by me Ian Dunster 17:37, 22 January 2006 (UTC) from the The Flight Of Rudolf Hess article in the December 1986 issue of Aeroplane Monthly and credited to IWM., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Air Crash Museum — The Dead Milkmen

February 19, 1942 — Japanese planes attack Darwin

The Japanese air raid on Darwin was mounted by 242 Japanese planes launched from four aircraft carriers. It was intended to soften up the air force and navy bases there in preparation for the Japanese invasion of Timor the following day. Between 9:58 and 10:40AM that day, the planes sank three warships and five merchant ships, while damaging ten more. Twenty-one dock workers were killed in the raids.

This would be the first of a total of 97 air raids against targets either in Australian waters or on the Australian mainland. Most of these were on various sites across the northern coast of Australia between Port Hedland, Western Australia and Townsville, Queensland, with the great majority of them being on military or civilian targets in Darwin. The last air raid took place on November 12, 1943, striking Parap, Adelaide River and Batchelor Airfield (all in the Northern Territory). By that time, the tide of war had turned, and Japan could no longer strike so close to Australia, although the end of the war was still nearly two years away.

Darwin 42.jpg
By RAN Historical Collection – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Tojo — Hoodoo Gurus

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

July 16, 1945 — The Trinity nuclear test is carried out

The world entered a new age – the nuclear age – when the scientists and soldiers of the Manhattan Project test detonated the first ever atomic bomb at White Sands in Nevada. Less than a month later, two more bombs just like it would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War Two to an abrupt end.

On the day, however, no one knew quite how destructive the bomb would be (some worried that it would ignite the entire atmosphere of the planet, for example), or how long its effects would last. But after the explosion, Robert Oppenheimer’s apropos quote from the Bhavagad Gita was generally agreed to be the most apt: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Trinity Detonation T&B.jpg
By United States Department of Energy – Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Russians — Sting

August 6, 1945 — The Bomb is dropped on Hiroshima

The Enola Gay left its base on Tinian with two companion aircraft on the morning of AUhust 6, 1945. It flew for the Japanese mainland, aiming for the city of Hiroshima. Its payload was the nuclear bomb codenamed ‘Little Boy’, which was dropped and detonated over the target at approximately 8:15 local time.

Of the 340-350 thousand people who lived in Hiroshima, about 20% were killed in the blast itself. Another 20% died of injuries sustained in the blast or its aftermath, or from radiation sickness. Still more died later of related medical issues such as a cancer. All in all, about 200,000 human lives were ended by the first use of a nuclear bomb as a weapon of war. Hiroshima itself was devastated – the few structures that survived the inital blast were damaged or destroyed in the resulting fires.

Along with the detonation of another nuclear bomb, ‘Fat Man’, over Nagasaki three days later, and similar destruction and death there, the attack on Hiroshima was the proximate cause of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, thus ending World War Two.

Another view of the mushroom cloud forming, from further away.
By Unknown – Honkawa Elementary School [1], Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Mrs. O — The Dresden Dolls
Short Memory — Midnight Oil
Enola Gay — Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

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.