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Within 15 seconds both the bow and the stern had plunged headfirst into the water, taking all but one of the rescued soldiers with them, but leaving the two middle sections sticking up in the air with members of the crew clinging to them. Passing British ships moved in to assist them and those who were already in the sea, their heads bobbing about above the water like corks. Rather than taking pity on the shipwrecked sailors, he ordered his men to fire two torpedoes at them.

After the torpedo had hit its target, the watching submariner noted with satisfaction that there was an explosion at the stern of the British warship.

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But they did not hang around to shoot up the second ship they had spotted. It is what happened afterwards that transformed a tragedy into a disaster. One of the circling ships was Comfort, a British drifter. When she fell back into the sea, she was temporarily submerged, and Fisher was swept off her deck, back into the sea. He then watched aghast as HMS Lydd, a minesweeper, whose crew in the darkness had mistaken Comfort for a German vessel, charged towards his erstwhile rescuer. Afterwards he recalled shouting out: We are all English! Lydd slammed into Comfort, cutting the drifter in half, and killing all who had been on board apart from Fisher and four other survivors.

As if that was not bad enough, the Luftwaffe chose 29 May as the day when it made its first determined attempt to disrupt the evacuation. One of those damaged ships was the destroyer HMS Jaguar.

BATTLE STATISTICS

She had taken on board about 1, soldiers, and was steaming away from the harbour when at about 4pm a bomb landed in the sea just a couple of yards away, and exploded. Another destroyer was on hand to tow Jaguar away, and to take her troops on board, but not before the survivors had seen the terrible injuries inflicted. Stoker Arnold Saunders saw one soldier with a leg blown off, his only hope of surviving being the assistance provided by a comrade, who was attempting to stem the bleeding by putting on a tourniquet. Another image that was remembered by many of the survivors was a man who had had half his head blown off.

But it was the burned men on some of the other bombed ships who appear to have suffered most. One of the worst cases was Bob Bloom, a year-old sickbay attendant on HMS Grenade, which had been tied up at the mole alongside Jaguar while the latter ship was taking soldiers on board.

Dunkirk’s darkest day: when the evacuation came close to disaster

At about 6pm, Grenade was hit by a bomb dropped by a plane flying with the third wave of bombers, and Bloom has described how he was affected: I was thrown up in the air and hit the deckhead. Then I fell back into the blast given off by the bomb. As it hit me, I put my hands up to my face to protect it. It felt as if I had been hit six times on the face with a whip. I was in such pain that I prayed to God to take me.

But someone picked me up, and pushed me outside, and I ended up on the upper deck. I said something to him, but then I noticed his ribs were sticking out through his chest. I looked at my hands. The skin was hanging off both of them as if I was trying to pull gloves off. My face was stinging like mad. My lips were swelling up all the time. I did not realise this at the time, but my nose had all but disappeared. Only the septum was left. Bloom somehow jumped into the water over the side of the ship, and climbed up on to the mole.

From there he staggered on to Crested Eagle, a paddle steamer moored to the other side of the mole. Shortly afterwards, having also taken on board wounded men from Fenella, another personnel vessel beside the mole, that had been hit, Crested Eagle got under way, only to be hit by four of the bombs dropped by yet another wave of bombers.

Before he could be burned again by the fires ignited by the bombing, he jumped into the sea for the second time that day. Crested Eagle was beached near Bray Dunes, the beach to the north-east of Malo-les-Bains, where she became one of the landmarks for small ships striving to find the beach, but in the meantime those in the water had to swim for their lives. They hung on to it and kicked with their legs, while I sat on it holding the ring. Bloom was eventually rescued by another ship, which took him to Ramsgate.

Not that he knew much about the journey. Mercifully, while he was lying in the wardroom, somebody slipped a morphine capsule under his tongue, whereupon he lost consciousness. He was already in England when he woke up.

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Accurate Appraisal or Underestimation? Germany faced a gloomy crisis, in which Hitler blundered into a war with Britain and France while simultaneously fighting in Poland. But in July , when Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union, circumstances in Europe had changed so radically to the advantage of the Germans that Hitler had the historic opportunity to make a decision that could have led to German victory.

Observing the Second World War through conventional sources but a unique perspective, one can see that Germany's trumps in war were few but formidable. The most important were Adolf Hitler's political decisiveness and the battle-winning capabilities of the German army. In July , Hitler had to make the right political decision, and the German army had to plan and concentrate effectively to give Germany a reasonable chance of winning a Russian campaign.

In historical parallels, when the Japanese launched their surprise attack against Russia in February , the operation comprised an attack by naval and amphibious forces against Imperial Russian forces in northeast China to seize and hold territory far from the heartland of Russia and only recently occupied. In contrast, Hitler ordered an all-out attack across a land boundary into the heartland of the state, with the intention to destroy it.

Hitler employed the army as the instrument of decision against the Soviet Union, providing it with the advantages of surprise and concentration of effort, factors that ensured the quick success of the German army even over a large, well-armed country like the Soviet Union. By making the decisive political decision.

Hitler gave the German army the parallel opportunity to make decisive gains, exploiting surprise and concentration into victory. Historians have inadequately correlated Hitler's political daring in Poland, the west, and the Balkans with the stunning military victories, tending to suture off the periods during which the campaigns developed into one compartment of political considerations and another filled with the gunsmoke of battles.

Blockaded by British sea power. Hitler made a dramatic political decision, with few parallels in boldness, to seize Norway from Larvik to Narvik and presented the German armed forces the opportunity to execute a daring surprise attack. My point is that the sensational attack in Norway was possible only because of Hitler's political will.

In short, without a politically decisive Hitler, there would be no brilliantly decisive military success. A subtle extension of my point is that the attack's success depended almost solely on the offensive will and daring of the German army and the fundamental operational style transferred to the German navy and air force.

Without battle-winning German commanders and combat soldiers there could be no successful battles, no brilliantly decisive political victory. In one brief week, from 22 to 29 July , Halder devised perhaps the most effective scheme of maneuver possible for a rapid conquest of the Soviet Union—simple, direct, and remarkably concentrated for a front expanding in breadth as one pushed eastward into Russia.

Having studied the problem briefly, Halder assigned the talented chief of staff of the 18th Army on the Dutch front in the west, Generalmajor Erich Marcks, to study the problem further. Marcks completed a plan by 5 August that was the basis for the final army plan submitted to Hitler on 5 December , "Halder concluded that an attack launched from assembly areas in East Prussia and northern Poland toward Moscow would offer the best chances of success. The initial German attacks would be concentrated on surprisingly narrow fronts, and the main attack, in the center, would remain that way on the advance toward Moscow.

Wisely, Halder knew that for success the German plan would depend heavily on the Soviet reaction to it. He felt that if the Soviet military high command had a strategy of immediate, systematic withdrawal into the hinterland, the German field armies could not intercept its forces enroute to Moscow.

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Then, the war would drag out somewhere in European Russia to the detriment of the Germans. In the event, with astonishing good luck for Halder, Hitler, and the Germans, the Soviets chose to de-fend strongly everywhere, as far forward as possible, retreating only when forced by tactical disintegration or when breaking out of several large encirclements set by the Germans. It is difficult today to judge what the German military planners thought of their chances of success in a war against the Soviet Union.

Historians and analysts tend to judge, beclouded by Germany's defeat in the Second World War. Influenced by the ultimate German defeat and the initial German timetable of approximately ten weeks for victory over the Soviet Union, commentators usually generalize that the German army underestimated both the Russian armed forces and campaign conditions, falling prey to naive overconfidence.

German veterans of Barbarossa, many of whom experienced the misdirected culmination of the offensive at Moscow in December and took part in almost four years of half-victories and full defeats on the eastern front, complicate the scene by generalizing that the Soviet Union could never have been defeated. Contrary to the prevalent interpretation that the Germans underestimated the Soviet armed forces and the rigors of a campaign in Russia, the German High Command OKH approached the campaign with respect and trepidation, evidenced by such details as its purchase of With his inimitable decisiveness in many situations, he ordered every gun in the pool to be turned over to the army and used in the east against both ground and air targets, commenting that every available gun would be used against the Soviets.

Franz Halder, chief, Army General Staff, kept a personal diary covering the preparations for Barbarossa from 22 July to 22 June , and it does not contain a single remark on the pending eastern campaign that can be read as underestimating its rigors. Halder's comment is equated naturally, but not necessarily correctly, with an assumed parallel underestimation of the Soviets by Halder and Germans in general.

A more effective interpretation of Halder's remark is that it was accurate, alerting us to some almost incredible resurgence by Soviets and Russians or some catastrophic blunder at the highest level in the German command, a Titanesque mistake in both timing and direction, in the opening weeks of the Russian campaign. German military planners displayed a healthy respect for the Russians and accurately sensed the challenges of a war against them.

Heinz Guderian, who led the largest armored group in the east directly toward Moscow in the Schwerpunkt point of main effort of the Halder plan, published a book on tank warfare in in which he estimated the size of the Russian tank force at approximately 10, Guderian must have been prepared to face the actual number of Soviet tanks available for combat in June , based on his realistic appreciation of the numbers in the late s.

The junior Major Rudolf Loytved-Hardegg, a Luftwaffe intelligence officer, who for reasons of deception, secrecy, and achieving surprise was responsible for estimating the size and quality of the Soviet air force and creating the target folders for every Luftwaffe target planned for attack on 22 June north of the Pripyat Marshes, passed on his responsible, "front line" estimate of the size of the entire Soviet air force as 14, military aircraft, a remarkably accurate figure, not an underestimate.

The OKH led the planning for Barbarossa, which would be an immense ground forces operation, and OKM Navy High Command and OKL Air Force High Command fell in smoothly with the overall scheme of maneuver of the ground forces, notwithstanding in the latter the special Influence and sensitivity of Hermann Goring, designated successor to Hitler in the event of Hitler's demise or incapacity. The sober and realistic appraisals of a wide range of military planners, represented by Halder, Guderian, and Hardegg, contrast with some statements and actions by at least one key figure.


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Hitler can be quoted to prove that he underestimated the Soviets, but equally decisive comments can be produced to show his perceptive concerns for the dangers of a campaign in the east. At a conference on 9 January , Hitler was quoted in a war diary as saying, "The Russian Armed Forces are like a headless colossus with feet of clay but we cannot with certainty foresee what they might become in the future.

The Russians must not be underestimated. All available resources must therefore be used in the German attack. Quoted in its entirety, the estimate comprises a remarkably succinct and effective analysis of the dangers and necessities of an attack against the Soviets. Hitler's conversations, speeches, and decisions during the planning and concentration of forces for Operation Barbarossa reflect a realistic appraisal of the chances of success.

It is also easy to forget that Hitler made the right decision, the only decision that gave him a realistic opportunity to win, dependent almost completely on playing Germany's trumps rather than awaiting certain defeat by losing the initiative and eventually encountering the strength of an overwhelming enemy coalition.