World war two on postage stamps

Prelude

The Russian revolution and the Spartakist revolt in 1917, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920 and the world wide recession of the twenties, all ploughed and cultivated the political ground in Germany to enable a man like Adolf Hitler to come to power. It was after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in 1934, that Hitler became Führer in Germany and began to reorganise the German State.
He was one of the most effective orators in history, who could through the spoken word, exite crowds to the point of hysteria.
As soon as the German Parliament had given him dictatorial powers, Hitler began to prepare for a war of aggression and revenge. He organised the German youth in the "Hitler Youth" and reestablished Militairy service.
Build a powerful airforce under the guise of advancing civil aviation and formed an air defence league.
Unleashed unlimited propaganda. This miniature sheet reads: "He, who wants to save a Nation, can only think heroicly"
He also embarked on a program to reunite Germans, living outside Germany, with the Fatherland. In 1934, the Austrian Nazi-party staged an unsuccesful "Putch", where by the Austrian Chancelor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated. Hitler however, was not about to give up and after a plebiscite in 1938, Austria was absorbed in the German Reich.
In the following year, Hitler revisited his place of birth, Braunau.
He then turned his attention to the German minorities in Czechoslovakia. At the Munich conference, that followed in 1938, all Hitler's demands were met and in October 1938, German troops occupied the Sudeten area in Czechoslovakia, which was then absorbed in the German Reich, like Austria earlier.
Hungary also became a beneficiary of that agreement and the southern part of Slovakia, including the city of Kassa, was returned to Hungary.
President Benes realised, that it was only a matter of time before Czechoslovakia would cease to exist and when the Slovaks demanded Independence, he tried to appease them, but in March 1939, Hitler's tanks rolled into Prague and dissolved the Republic of Czechoslovakia.
Bohemia and Moravia became a German Protectorate, but they were in fact annexed by Germany and that is very well illustrated by later stamp issues, where the name "Deutsches Reich" is shown three times as large as the area name.

Slovakia became an independent state under the leadership of the new President Tiso, and firmly alligned to the German cause.
And Hitler kept going. In March 1939, in one of his powerful speeches at a mass rally, he demanded the return of Danzig (Gdansk) and a railroad through Poland to East Prussia.

Gdansk had become a Free City again by the terms of the treaty of Versailles, as it had been before 1814. In order to give Poland a seaport, it had been included in the Polish Customs Territory and the Poles used their own stamps, which were overprinted "Port Gdansk"

Poland refused all Hitler's demands and because of the changing mood of Britain and France, received the guarantee of British and French aid, in case of German aggression.


In August 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed a non-aggression pact, which opened the way for Hitler to attack Poland without Russian interference and gave Stalin a free hand with the Baltic States.
On the first of September 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany and the second world war had begun.

The Beginning

When the German Army entered Poland, the first German airstrikes caught the Polish Airforce on the ground and established control of the skies. The German tanks were light, fast and manoeuvrable and no match for the Polish cavalry.
Although the Polish army defended their country against great odds, with great courage and sacrfices, it was in vain.

A Polish counter offensive at the Bzura river had been unsuccessful and by September 14, the remnants of the Polish army were either beseiged in Warsaw or had taken refuge in the south-east of the country.

On September 24, Warsaw was bombed by 1150 German aircraft and surrendered on the 27th. By October 6 all fighting had stopped, but 70 000 Polish troops escaped to the West to fight another day and a government-in-exile was set up in London.

In the meantime on September 17, Red Army troops had occupied Eastern Poland, under the terms of the Non-Aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin. And with the annexation of the Eastern part of Poland by the Soviet Union, the carving up of Poland was completed.

Gdansk or Danzig became German again and Germany celebrated that with the issue of two stamps, that told the world: "Danzig is German again"
Western Poland was incooperated in the German Reich, while the middle of the country came under General Government and German censor.
Soon after,the Polish Independence stamps of 1939, were overprinted with Eagle, Swastika and General Government and later again, it was Hitler's head that reminded the Poles, who was boss in Poland.
The USSR, that took Eastern Poland, also took the three Baltic States and intended to take part of Finland, as was arranged in the pact with Germany. But the Finns were not just going to let that happen. When on November 30 1939, Russian troops went over the Finnish border and bombed Helsinki, Field-Marshal Carl Mannerheim became Commander-in-Chief and organised the Fins' defenses.

Although the Red Army expected an easy victory, the heroic perseverance of Finland's Army ski patrols, resulted in a costly campaign. But on March 12 1940, peace was signed in Moscow and Finland lost the Karelian isthmus, which became part of Soviet Russia.

The Phoney war

After the fall of Poland, Hitler offered peace to Britain and France, but they had to refuse. Now that Hitler got what he wanted in the East, he wanted to wait and regroup. So for the next few months the only activity was at sea. In that period, 9 U-boats were destroyed, while the U-boats sank 104 Allied and neutral ships.
A cunning U-boat commander managed to penetrate Britain's main Naval Base at Scapa Flow in Scotland. On October 13 1939, the U-47 with the 31 year old Gunther Prien in command, slipped into Scapa Flow at night, surfaced and fired two rounds of torpedoes into the battleship HMS "Royal Oak". The "Royal Oak" went down with 810 lives and the U-47 slipped undetected out of the base again. This was a bad blow to British morale, but they were able to get revenge within three months.
Down in the South Atlantic on December 13, three British cruisers: HMS "Exeter", HMS "Ajax" and HMS "Achilles" spotted the mighty German battleship "Graf Spee" and started at once a great gun duel. The British cruisers were faster and more manoeuvrable, than the heavily armed German ship and they forced her to flee into the neutral harbour of Montevideo.
As International law only allows a warship to stay 24 hours for emergency repairs in a neutral port, Captain Langsdorf had no choice but to take his ship out to sea again.
After having received only a 72 hour extension and knowing what was waiting for him outside, he decided to scuttle his ship within the three mile limit and prevented this way a lot of bloodshed and loss of life.

Blitzkrieg in the North

As Germany received her iron ore supplies from the mines in Northern Sweden via Norwegian ports, Norway was of great strategic importance to her.
On April 8 1940, The Royal Navy began to lay mines off the Norwegian coast and one day later German troops overran Denmark and grabbed the Norwegian ports as far north as Narvik.
The invasion of Denmark occurred without a shot being fired. King Christian X, wishing to spare his subjects the horrors of war and having received an ultimatum, threatening to bomb Copenhagen, reluctantly directed them to surrender.
The invasion of Norway was different and became the first scene of major combat between Germany and the Allies. Hitler's attack on Norway had been planned for the ninth of April, but because one of the German troop transports had been torpedoed by the Polish submarine "Orzel" the secret was out. The "Orzel" had escaped from Poland last September. The Norwegians, with help from the Allies, resisted for two months.
The British Chiefs-of-Staff had decided to make Narvik their objective and landed British, French and Polish troops there on April 15. When however central Norway surrendered, there was no way that the North could hold out and all Allied troops were evacuated from Narvik by June 3rd.
King Haakon Vll and his government fled to England on HMS "Devonshire" and formed a Norwegian Government-in-exile. Most of the Norwegian merchant fleet escaped as well.
In Norway a Government was formed by Vidkun Quisling, whose collaboration with the Nazis during the war, made his name synonymous with traitor. After the war he was arrested, tried and executed on October 24 1945.



Blitzkrieg in the West


Although the low countries suspected that they were included in Hitler's plan for Europe, (German military plans had fallen in their hands), they still hoped that their neutrality would save them. The stamp, that Germany issued on Hitler's birthday (April 20), showing the Führer as a peace loving father figure, strengthened that belief.
Three weeks later, in the early morning hours of May 10 1940, German paratroopers landed in Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg. While one German army group held the attention of the Dutch and the Belgians, trying to get the British and the French northwards, another German army group went through Luxemburg to the North Sea.
The Dutch resisted the German invaders for 5 days, but had to surrender when they received an ultimatum, that threatened to bomb Rotterdam. Rotterdam was bombed anyway.
Queen Wilhelmina and her ministers fled to England and set up a Government-in-Exile.
The struggle in Belgium took a little longer. King Leopold took command of his armed forces and with help of the British and the French, held off the Germans untill May 28. Then, to save the remnants of his army, Leopold made a seperate peace with the Germans, which upset the Allies very much. Despite many requests the King decided not to go to England, but to stay in Belgium. This was an act, that forced him to abdicate after the war, in order to save the throne for his son.
By the terms of the treaty of Versailles in 1919, Belgium had been given the towns of Eupen and Malmedy, as they were thought to be vital for Belgium's defence. In July 1940, Germany issued two stamps to celebrate the return of Eupen-Malmedy to the Reich.
Luxemburg, a country with a population of less than half a million, was run over by the Germans on the first day of the blitzkrieg. As it had been part of the Prussian Custom's Union in the 1850's, Hitler classed it as German territory and annexed it into the German Reich.
Grand Duchess Charlotte fled to England and formed a Government-in-exile there.
The sudden surrender of the Belgian army, left the Allies in a difficult situation. Surrounded, they had to withdraw to the area around Dunkirk. Back in England, Vice-Admiral Ramsey appealed to all boatowners to help bring the B.E.F back, 70 miles across the Channel from the beach in France.220 naval vessels and 800 civilian boats took part and rescued over 338 000 men, including 140 000 French and Belgian troops.
On the same day that Hitler invaded the low countries, May 10 1940, Winston Spencer Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as Prime-Minister of England.
Where Hitler was good at making rousing speeches to incite the Germans to attack, Churchill was good at inciting people not to give up. During the dark days of World war 2, he urged his fellow Englishmen to conduct themselves so that:" If the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say:"This was their finest hour"".
<After the British evacuation at Dunkirk, Hitler turned his army against the French. The French morale was very low as they faced defeat after defeat. On June 10, the French Government left for Tours and the next day, Paris was declared an "Open City" and would not be defended. On June 14, German troops entered Paris and an armistice was signed on June 22, in the same railway carriage, that had been used for the German surrender in 1918.
German troops now occupied Northern France and part of the Atlantic coast. The long disputed French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were both annexed by Germany.As Hitler classed their citizens Germans, thousands were pressed into the German Army and about 18 000 of them died at the Eastern front, later in the war.
Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain was a French military and political leader, who as a General during the first World War, won fame for his successful defence of Verdun in 1916.
Following the German invasion, Pétain (84 years old) was recalled to active military service, as advisor to the Minister of War. On June 16 1940, he became Premier of France and concluded the armistice on June 22.
With the consent of the Germans, he established his Government in Vichy in Central France and on July 10, assumed the title of Chief of State. He ruled thereafter with dictatorial powers over that part of France, that was not under direct control of the Germans. Pétain established a Fascist-type of Government, that became notorious for its collaboration with the Nazis. After the war he was tried, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he died in 1951 at the age of 96.
The British Channel Islands, laying off the coast of France, surrendered to the Germans on June 30 1940. No shots were fired when the Germans landed. Churchill had decided to demilitarize the islands, as they could not be defended without huge loss of life. So when the sun went down on June 30 1940, Hitler controlled most of Western Europe and he had achieved this in less than four months.
Charles de Gaulle was an officer in the French Army, who after the first World War became Aide-de-Camp to Marshal Pétain. Early in 1940 he became Brigadier-General and after the fall of France, he escaped to England. Here he formed a French National Committee-in-exile.
On June 17, Pétain delivered his message of defeat to the French Nation. The next day, de Gaulle broadcasted the following message from England:
"Believe me! Nothing is lost for France! The same methods which have defeated us, may one day bring us victory. For France is not alone. This war is not confined to the unhappy territory of our land. This war has not been determined by the battle of France. It is a world war. All the mistakes, the delays and the sufferings do not alter the fact, that there are in the world means to destroy the enemy one day. The fate of the world depends on it. On that day, France must be there at the victory. She will then regain her liberty and her greatness. This is my goal and my only goal! This is why I ask all Frenchmen, whereever they may be, to unite with me, in action, in sacrafice and in hope. Our country is in mortal danger. Let us fight tosave her. "Long live France"".
Despite the fall of France, the powerful French Navy remained at large. On June 19 1940, part of the French fleet sailed into the British ports of Portsmouth and Plymouth, part took refuge in the port of Alexandria and the most battle-worthy of France's navy, sailed into the Algerian port of Mers-el-Kebir near Oran. Under the terms of the armistice, the French Navy was to be demobilised; Germany promised not to use the ships for her own purposes, but Churchill had no faith in Hitler's promises and ordered the French fleet to be seized or eliminated. On July 3, the French ships in Portsmouth, Plymouth and Alexandria were seized with little resistance. Off the coast of Oran, Vice-Admiral Summerville sent an ultimatum to his French counterpart, who responded that he would meet " force with force". Sommerville attacked and the battle of Mers-el-Kabir was over in 10 minutes. The French fleet had been neutralised at a cost of 1300 French lives. Britain showed the world, that her survival was her first priority.
After the defeat of France, Germany proceeded with plans for an invasion of Britain. The first phase of Hitler's plan (Operation Sea lion) was to destroy the RAF and Britain's overseas trade. The Luftwaffe far outnumbered the RAF by 2700 aircraft to 704. In early August 1940, the Luftwaffe began attacking British shipping in the Channel and there after attacked radar stations, RAF bases and finally the city of Londen for 23 consecutive days. The turning point for the British came on September 15 1940, when 230 Luftwaffe fighters took on the home forces. RAF pilots downed 56 enemy aircraft, which was a massive loss for the Germans, which they could not sustain.
On August 8 1940, RAF Air Marshal Hugh Dowding said: "The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Members of the Royal Air Force, the fate of generations lies in your hands".
Dowding had enough planes,but he did not have enough men. Newly trained pilots, with only 20 hours flying time in Spitfires, were thrown into battle and often shot down on their first sortie.
Winston Churchill said on August 20 1940:
"Never in the history of human conflict, was so much owed by so many, to such few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes, day after day."
Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Churchill asked President Roosevelt for the loan of 40 or 50 of their older destroyers, to bridge the gap between what Britain had and the new construction, that was started at the beginning of the war. Roosevelt was forbidden by law to dispose of any military material, unless it was certified to be useless for America's defence.It was then suggested that the destroyers be exchanged for leases of air and naval bases. On September 3 1940, by "executive agreement" 50 destroyers of world war 1 vintage, were transferred to Great Britain. In return, 99 year leases on bases in New Foundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, St Lucia, Trinidad and British Guiana were granted to the USA.
And then there was another fascist dictator in Europe, who dreamed of restoring Italy to the glory of the Roman Empire. His official insignia was not the "swastika", but the "fasces".This was an ancient Roman symbol of "higher authority", consisting of a bundle of wooden rods, that enclosed an axe. It was Benito Mussolini, who had become Prime Minister in 1922, but had by 1926 transformed Italy into a one-party dictatorship. Mussolini began an aggressive foreign policy in the 1930's.
He attacked and occupied Ethiopia in 1935 to extend Italy's overseas territory. King Haile Selassie went into exile in London. In 1939 he seized Albania and made King Victor Emanuel lll of Italy, also King of Albania.
It was that same year, that Mussolini extended the Rome-Berlin axis, into a military alliance. He had hesitated to enter World War 2, but when he saw how easily Hitler overran Europe, he decided to grab some of the spoils and declared war on Britain and France.
That is, when the propaganda stamps started to scream: "Everybody and everything for Victory"
"Arms and heart straight to meet our aim".
But Mussolini found that his requests for French overseas territories were not being granted by Hitler. He therefor looked at the Balkans for an enlarging of his new "Roman Empire". He was not deterred by the "Balkan Entente", which was a loose alliance formed by Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania and Turkey in 1934, to save their territorial integrity. One clause in the agreement guaranteed joint action against a Balkan aggressor, but the parties had not agreed on what to do, if the aggressor was a non-Balkan state.
On October 28 1940, the Greeks were handed an ultimatum that demanded a passage for Italian troops. The Greek answer to that was "OXI", which is "no" in Greek.
On that very same day Italian troops entered Greece from Albania.
When the Italian Army crossed the border into Greece on October 28 1940, they did not get far. The Italian commander made a serious mistake by not blocking the road to the North, which allowed three newly mobilised Greek divisions to move quickly to the front. The Italians moved too slowly and had apparently learned nothing from the Blitzkrieg tactics.
Six days after the invasion, the Greeks launched their first counter attack and by the end of November, they were fighting the Italians in Albania.
Greek stamps were specially overprinted "Greek administration" for use in Albania.
Later Greek stamps gave credit to the Greek women, who assisted with the carrying of ammunition over the mountains.
In Africa, things were not going any better. In August 1940, Italian troops had occupied British Somaliland and the next move was to enter Egypt and grab the Suez canal, which was Britain's lifeline to the East.
On September 16 1940, Italian troops advanced to the city of Sidi Barrani in Egypt. The British counter attacked on December 9, retaking the city within 48 hours. Moving West, they took the Lybian port of Bardia on Januari 5, taking more than 45 000 Italian prisoners. The 16th Australian Infantry division took Tobruk on Januari 22 1941.
On Februari 4 1941, the Italians began their retreat back to Lybia. The British raced across the desert to the small village of Beda Fomm (behind the Italians) and arrived at noon on February 5 1941. 30 minutes later, the first Italians arrived and the battle of Beda Fomm began. Australian tanks swept in from the North to join the British and after the Italians lost 60 tanks, they had to give up. The result was that Benghazi was now in Allied hands.
In two months the British had covered 500 miles of desert and captured 130 000 Italians, 380 tanks and 845 guns. But help for the Italians was at hand. Hitler decided to give Mussolini a hand and on Februari 14 1941, General Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps arrived at Tripoli.
When it became clear, that it was only a matter of time before the US entered the war, Adolf Hitler proposed to extend the 1936 Rome-Berlin Axis, adding the power of the Japanese Empire to that of Germany and Italy.
Representatives of the three nations gathered in Berlin and on September 27 1940, signed the document that created the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis.
When President Roosevelt accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1940, he broke with tradition. Never before had a President run for a third term.
But on November 5 1940, more than 50 million Americans went to the polls and reelected Roosevelt.
Churchill was delighted with the result and cabled his congratulations on the 6th, saying:" I prayed for your success and I am truly thankful for it."

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