Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Anne Frank link' unearthed at Sobibor camp

Pendant still

Researchers excavating the site of the Nazi death camp at Sobibor have discovered a pendant nearly identical to one owned by Anne Frank.
Experts from Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial team believe the pendant belonged to Karoline Cohn, who may have known the famous diarist.
Like Frank, Cohn was born in Frankfurt in 1929. Yad Vashem traced her via a date of birth engraved on the pendant.
Historians say they have found evidence of only two pendants of the kind.
The small triangular pendant is engraved on one side with the words "Mazal Tov" (congratulations) in Hebrew, alongside Cohn's date of birth and the name of her home city - Frankfurt.
On the reverse is the Hebrew letter "Hay", often used to represent a name of God, surrounded by three Stars of David.
Researchers are now trying to discover from any remaining relatives whether the two girls could have been related.
Pendant


On the reverse is the Hebrew character for God and three Stars of David
Yad Vashem is working alongside the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to excavate parts of the former death camp at Sobibor.
The pendant was found at what is believed to be the location where victims undressed and had their heads shaved before being sent into the gas chambers.
Yad Vashem said the items recovered, which also included a Star of David necklace and a woman's watch, probably fell through the floorboards and remained buried.

Cohn was born in Frankfurt on 3 July 1929. She was deported from the city on 11 November 1941 to the Minsk ghetto.
The ghetto was liquidated in September 1943 and Cohn may have been among some 2,000 of its residents sent to Sobibor, where the pendant lay concealed for more than 70 years.
Records show that Frank owned a nearly identical pendant, differing only in the date of birth engraved on one side.

Yoram Haimi, an archaeologist with the IAA who led the excavation at Sobibor, said: "This pendant demonstrates once again the importance of archaeological research of former Nazi death camp sites.
"The moving story of Karoline Cohn is symbolic of the shared fate of the Jews murdered in the camp. It is important to tell the story, so that we never forget."

More than 250,000 Jews are believed to have been killed at Sobibor, in Nazi-controlled eastern Poland. Unlike some facilities which also functioned as labour camps, Sobibor was among the Nazi camps built solely to exterminate Jews.
The Nazis destroyed the camp following an uprising in 1943 and planted it over in an attempt to cover up their crimes.
Archaeologists have since discovered the foundations of gas chambers and a train platform.
Frank died at the Bergen-Belsen camp, in northern Germany, in 1945.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/

Rise of Augustus


The statue of Imperator Caesar Augustus © AKG Images
The statue of Imperator Caesar Augustus © AKG Images
Before his death 2,000 years ago in August AD 14, the ageing Roman emperor Augustus composed a political statement that recorded his unprecedented bid for power, half a century earlier. “At the age of 19 on my own responsibility and at my own expense I raised an army, with which I successfully championed the liberty of the republic when it was oppressed by the tyranny of a faction.”
The events to which he was referring began on the Ides of March 44 BC when Roman dictator Julius Caesar was murdered by the self-proclaimed ‘liberators’. It was only at Caesar’s funeral that it was discovered that his great-nephew Augustus – then called Caius Octavius and from an obscure family – had been named as the murdered ruler’s principal heir.
The teenager chose to interpret this legacy as full adoption, and announced that he intended to succeed not simply to Caesar’s wealth and name, but also to his high office. That was not the way politics normally worked in Rome, but these were disturbed times, with the old Republican system of elected magistrates crumbling after decades of violent competition and spells of civil war.
The young Augustus used Caesar’s money and name to start raising an army from serving or former soldiers of his charismatic ‘father’. Mark Antony (one of Caesar’s leading subordinates) was already trying to rally the same people to him and did not take his young rival seriously, dubbing him “a boy who owes everything to a name”.
A Senate urged on by the famous orator Cicero saw Antony as the big threat and feared that he was aiming to seize supreme power by force. In a political system where a man had to be in his forties before he could seek the highest offices of the state, a 19-year-old with no political record seemed to present little danger. Cicero saw a teenager at the head of legions of veteran soldiers and decided that he could be useful. They should “praise the young man, reward him, and discard him”.
At first it went well, and Augustus’s veterans played the key role in defeating Antony and driving his army across the Alps. Discarding the young Augustus, however, proved difficult, for his soldiers served him and not the Senate. In the meantime Antony allied with another of Caesar’s old supporters, Lepidus, and so became stronger than ever. Augustus now decided to join them, so that all of the murdered dictator’s supporters and soldiers were on the same side – at least for the moment. They declared a triumvirate – a board of three supreme magistrates to restore the state, and effectively a joint dictatorship.
The first thing the triumvirs did was to order the murder of prominent opponents including Cicero. Marching unopposed into Rome, they posted up proscription lists with names of men who were set outside the protection of law. Anyone could kill a proscribed man, and if they brought his severed head to the authorities they would be rewarded with a share of the victim’s property, the rest going to the triumvirs to pay their army. Antony, Augustus and Lepidus traded names in a scene brought chillingly to life by Shakespeare: “These many, then, shall die, their names are pricked.”
Quite a few of the proscribed managed to escape abroad, but hundreds died. In later years there was a whole genre of stories of dramatic escapes and grim deaths, of rescue and betrayal. The senator Velleius Paterculus concluded that “…one thing, however, demands comment, that toward the proscribed their wives showed greatest loyalty, their freedmen not a little, their slaves some, their sons none”.
Opinion was less certain about which of the triumvirs was most brutal in their pursuit of the proscribed, as after the event each tried to shift the blame to his allies. Yet many were shocked that the young Augustus should have had so many enemies he wanted to kill. In the years that followed, a reputation for excessive cruelty clung to him, helped by the frequency with which impassioned pleas for mercy were met with a simple: “You must die.”
Antony and Augustus took an army to Greece and defeated two of Caesar’s murderers, Brutus and Cassius, at the battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Antony got most of the credit, both for winning the war and treating captured aristocrats and the remains of the dead with fitting respect.
The alliance between the three triumvirs was always based on self interest and came under increasing pressure in the years that followed. It narrowly survived a rebellion led by Antony’s brother Lucius against Augustus, and, after a long struggle, defeated Sextus Pompeius, the son of Julius Caesar’s former ally, son-in-law, and finally enemy, Pompey the Great. By 36 BC the triumvirate became an alliance between two when Lepidus was marginalised. Augustus kept him in comfortable captivity for the rest of his life, a gesture that mixed mercy with cruelty as it prolonged the humiliation of an ambitious man.

The dispossessed

Mark Antony was placed in charge of Rome’s provinces and allies in the eastern Mediterranean after the clash at Philippi. Augustus remained in Italy, where he carried out the task of providing the farms promised as rewards to the triumvirs’ loyal soldiers.
The estates of the proscribed were insufficient, and so more and more confiscations were arbitrarily imposed on the towns of Italy. The local gentry suffered the most, leading the poet Virgil to write of the plight of the dispossessed: “Ah, shall I ever, long years hence, look again on my country’s bounds, on my humble cottage with its turf-clad roof?… Is an impious soldier to hold these well-tilled fallows?… See where strife has brought our unhappy citizens!”
Augustus got most of the blame for the confiscations in an Italy exhausted by civil war and desperate for stability. As relations with Antony broke down, it was better to wage war against a foreign threat, and so Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was demonised as a sinister eastern temptress who had corrupted a noble Roman, and turned him against his own people. (In 41 BC, Antony had taken the queen as a lover, renewing the affair three years later). Privately few were fooled, but publicly the ‘whole of Italy’ took an oath to follow Augustus and save Rome from this ‘threat’.
Relations between the remaining triumvirs deteriorated until, in 31 BC, the two clashed in battle at Actium in Greece. Antony was defeated and took his own life the next year.
With Antony dead, the 33-year-old Augustus faced no serious rivals and, since he took care to monopolise military force, there was no real danger of new challengers appearing. However, that did not mean that the man who had slaughtered his way to power was safe from assassins’ knives, or that it would be easy to create a stable regime.
There was little affection for Augustus, but Romans of all classes were desperate for peace, and hoped simply to be able to live without fear of proscription lists and confiscations. This security is what he gave them. His control was veiled, expressed in a way that appeared constitutional, even though the veil was thin since no one could take his powers from him or break his hold over the loyalty of the legions. What mattered was that years and then decades passed, and stability and the rule of law persisted as it had not done in living memory.
Peace and the simple virtues of an idealised and now restored past dominate the art and literature of these years. It is also no coincidence that one of the most striking monuments of the Augustan age is the Ara Pacis – the altar of peace (shown below).



A reputation for great cruelty clung to Augustus, yet that didn’t stop the Ara Pacis, or altar of peace 
(pictured here), being built during his reign © Bridgeman Art Library
The peace that Italy enjoyed (after generations of civil strife) did not mean Rome was no longer at war. For at the same time, Augustus boasted of victory after victory won over foreign rulers and peoples, often adding new territory to the empire.
Augustus presented himself as the greatest servant of the state, and defeating external enemies was a glorious means of service. He also laboured untiringly and publicly to restore good government throughout the empire, spending his days receiving petitions and resolving the problems long neglected by the inertia of the Senate under the Republic.
Rome itself – and, to a degree, communities across Italy and the provinces – was physically renewed, so that Augustus could boast that he had found the city “brick and left it marble”. There were monuments to his glory, but many of them were also practical amenities for the wider good, such as aqueducts, fountains and sewers, bath-houses for comfort, temples to restore a proper relationship with the gods who protected the Roman people, and theatres and circuses for entertainment.
Life was more stable under Augustus, and for most people it was also more comfortable. No one was left in any doubt that this happy condition relied upon his continued activity, for Augustus’s name and image was everywhere. Relief at the end of civil war slowly became more or less grudging gratitude and eventually turned into genuine affection.
Time played an important part. Augustus ruled for 40 years after the death of Antony, and everyone became used to his leadership and the system he had created, while the memories of his bloody rise to power gradually faded. There was no enthusiasm to swap the present peace and prosperity for a return to the violently unpredictable decades preceding it. Honour after honour was voted to him by the Senate and people, including the title of Father of his Country.
Thanks to this reincarnation as a man of peace, Augustus – the first emperor of Rome – would for centuries also be remembered as one of the best. 

 

Augustus's life and times

23 September 63 BC
Augustus is born with the name Caius Octavius. His father is a member of the country gentry and the first in the family to enter the Senate at Rome. His mother is Julius Caesar’s niece. Despite this, there is no reason to expect him to have an exceptional career.




© Bridgeman Art Library
15 March 44 BC
On the day Julius Caesar is murdered, Augustus is in Greece, receiving military training ahead of the dictator’s planned invasion of Parthia. A few days later, it emerges that Caesar has nominated Augustus as his principal heir.

43 BC
Having raised a private army and helped the Senate defeat his great rival Antony, Augustus leads his army back to Rome and demands to be elected consul. Soon afterwards, he joins Antony and Lepidus in the triumvirate.


36 BC
Relying heavily on the skill of his friend Agrippa, Augustus defeats the fleet of Sextus Pompey. The war has pushed Augustus to breaking point . After one defeat, he was cast ashore with a few attendants and considered suicide.




© Bridgeman Art Library
2 September 31 BC
Augustus, once again relying on Agrippa to command his forces, defeats Antony at the battle of Actium fought off the coast of Greece. Antony flees, with no hope of recovering from this disaster. Within a year, he and Cleopatra will kill themselves




A cameo commemorates Augustus’s victory at Actium © Bridgeman Art Library
16 January 27 BC
Caesar’s heir is given the name Augustus to honour him for his service to the state. He is now Imperator (or ‘generalissimo’) Caesar Augustus, a personal name without any precedent.




© Bridgeman Art Library
23 BC
Augustus falls seriously ill and is not expected to survive. He publicly hands his signet ring to Agrippa, but doesn’t name a successor to his position. He eventually recovers.

2 BC
Augustus is named Father of his Country by the Senate. Later in the year scandal rocks his family when he exiles Julia (above), his only child, for serial adultery.  Augustus has already adopted her two older sons with Agrippa, but both will die young, leaving Tiberius to succeed.

AD 9
Three Roman legions led by Varus are wiped out by allies turned enemies among the Germanic tribes at Teutoburg Forest. It is the most serious defeat of Augustus’s career. For days he roams the palace calling out: “Quinctilius Varus, return my legions!”




A re-creation of a Germanic defensive wall at the time of the battle of the Teutoburg Forest © Alamy
19 August AD 14
Augustus dies in a family villa at Nola. It’s later rumoured that he was poisoned by his wife, Livia (right), who feared that he planned to change the succession.  Augustus’s body is carried in state to Rome, and after a public funeral he is declared a god.




© AKG Images

Seven other great rulers of Rome

The first dictator: Lucius Cornelius Sulla (c138–79 BC)
In 88 BC Sulla was the first Roman commander to turn his legions against the city of Rome and seize power by force. After fighting a war in the east, he returned in 83 BC and stormed the city a second time. He made himself dictator – turning a temporary emergency measure into the basis for long-term power – and created the first proscriptions, posting up death lists in the Forum, that named hundreds of his opponents.

© AKG Images


The iconic general: Julius Caesar (100–44 BC)
Caesar was Augustus’s great-uncle and joined in an informal alliance with Pompey and Crassus, the two most important men in the state. In 49 BC Pompey and Caesar became rivals when the latter crossed the Rubicon and began a new civil war. Caesar won, and copied Sulla by using the dictatorship as the basis of his power. When this was made permanent, he was murdered by conspirators including Brutus and Cassius.



© Bridgeman

The unpopular heir: Tiberius (42 BC–AD 37, emperor from AD 14)
Augustus’s stepson Tiberius was not first choice as successor, but was adopted in AD 4 after the deaths of Augustus’s grandsons. By the time of Tiberius’s succession, few people were able to imagine a world without an emperor. Tiberius was unpopular and far less active than Augustus. Yet the imperial system became even more firmly established during his rule.



© Bridgeman Art Library

The bon vivant: Nero (AD 37–68, emperor from 54)
Nero was the last of the four members of Augustus’s extended family to rule. A teenager when he came to power, he was fonder of luxury and performance than government. Yet his ability to remain in power for 14 years testified to the affection for Augustus’s family and the acceptance of imperial rule as natural. In the end he lost the support of the army, followed by the Senate, and took his own life.




© Bridgeman Art Library

The outsider: Vespasian (AD 9–79, emperor from 69)
Vespasian was the fourth man to win power in a civil war that raged for over a year after Nero’s death. Neither related to Augustus nor from the old Roman aristocracy, he came from the local gentry of Italy. All of the powers accumulated by Augustus were awarded to Vespasian, and he was followed as emperor by his two sons in turn, giving the empire three decades of stability. He wasn’t loved, but he was widely respected.



© Bridgeman Art Library

The last conqueror: Trajan (AD 53–117, emperor from 98)
Trajan’s family were Roman citizens from Spain, making him the first non-Italian emperor. He was the last of the great conquerors, adding Dacia – modern-day Romania – to the empire in campaigns celebrated on Trajan’s Column still visible in Rome. In the last years of his life he invaded Parthia but most of his conquests there were abandoned by his successor, Emperor Hadrian.



© Bridgeman Art Library

The philosopher: Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180, emperor from 161)
The last of Edward Gibbon’s ‘five good emperors’, Marcus Aurelius was an earnest man, who wrote a philosophical work, The Meditations, and tried to rule virtuously and in the style set by Augustus. His reign was beset by a series of catastrophes, with warfare and plague ravaging the empire. After Aurelius’s reign, civil war would bedevil the empire for over a century.



© Bridgeman Art Library

Dr Adrian Goldsworthy's book, Augustus: From Revolutionary to Emperor, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2014).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Battle of Kursk: the biggest tank battle of World War Two



Following their disastrous defeat at Stalingrad during the winter of 1942-43, the German armed forces launched a climactic offensive in the East known as Operation Citadel on July 4,1943. The climax of Operation Citadel, the Battle of Kursk, involved as many as 6,000 tanks, 4,000 aircraft and 2 million fighting men and is remembered as the greatest tank battle in history. The high-water mark of the battle was the massive armor engagement at Prochorovka (also spelled Prokhorovka), which began on July 12. But while historians have categorized Prochorovka as a victory of improved Soviet tactics over German firepower and heavy tanks, new evidence casts the struggle at the ‘gully of death’ in a very different light.

The Germans’ goal during Citadel was to pinch off a large salient in the Eastern Front that extended 70 miles toward the west. Field Marshal Günther von Kluge’s Army Group Center would attack from the north flank of the bulge, with Colonel General Walther Model’s Ninth Army leading the effort, General Hans Zorn’s XLVI Panzer Corps on the right flank and Maj. Gen. Josef Harpe’s XLI Panzer Corps on the left. General Joachim Lemelsen’s XLVII Panzer Corps planned to drive toward Kursk and meet up with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South, Col. Gen. Hermann Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army and the Kempf Army, commanded by General Werner Kempf.

Opposing the German forces were the Soviet Central Front, led by General Konstantin K. Rokossovsky, and the Voronezh Front, led by General Nikolai F. Vatutin. The Central Front, with the right wing strengthened by Lt. Gen. Nikolai P. Pukhov’s Thirteenth Army and Lt. Gen. I.V. Galinin’s Seventeenth Army, was to defend the northern sector. To the south, the Voronezh Front faced the German Army Group South with three armies and two in reserve. The Sixth Guards Army, led by Lt. Gen. Mikhail N. Chistyakov, and the Seventh Guards Army, led by Lt. Gen. M. S. Shumilov, held the center and left wing. East of Kursk, Col. Gen. Ivan S. Konev’s Steppe Military District (renamed Steppe Front on July 10, 1943) was to hold German breakthroughs, then mount the counteroffensive.
If their plan succeeded, the Germans would encircle and destroy more than five Soviet armies. Such a victory would have forced the Soviets to delay their operations and might have allowed the Wehrmacht desperately needed breathing room on the Eastern Front. Model’s Ninth Army never came close to breaking the Soviet defenses in the north, however, and soon became deadlocked in a war of attrition that it could not win. On the southern flank, Kempf’s III Panzer Corps, commanded by General Hermann Breith, also encountered tough Soviet resistance. By July 11, however, Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army was in position to capture the town of Prochorovka, secure a bridgehead over the Psel River and advance on Oboyan. The Psel was the last natural barrier between Manstein’s panzers and Kursk. The Fourth Panzer Army’s attack on the town was led by SS General Paul Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps, General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XLVIII Panzer Corps and General Ott’s LII Army Corps. Hausser’s corps was made up of three panzer divisions–the 1st Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard), 2nd SS Das Reich (The Empire) and 3rd SS Totenkopf(Death’s Head). Although all three were technically Panzergrenadier divisions, each had more than 100 tanks when Citadel began. Knobelsdorff’s corps was composed of the 167th and 332nd infantry divisions, the 3rd and 11th panzer divisions, PanzergrenadierDivision Grossdeutschland and Panther Brigade Decker, and Ott’s corps contained the 25th and 57th infantry divisions.
Opposing Hausser at Prochorovka was the newly arrived and reinforced Fifth Guards Tank Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Pavel A. Rotmistrov. The Fifth Guards was the Soviet strategic armored reserve in the south, the last significant uncommitted armored formation in the sector, with more than 650 tanks. The Soviet operational armored reserve, General Mikhail E. Katukov’s First Tank Army, was already in action against Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army south of the Psel. Katukov’s army had been unable to prevent the Germans from reaching the river, however. His VI Tank Corps, originally equipped with more than 200 tanks, had only 50 left by July 10 and 11, and the other two corps of Katukov’s army also had sustained serious losses. On July 10, the 3rd SS Division Totenkopf, commanded by SS Maj. Gen. Hermann Priess, had established a bridgehead over the Psel, west of Prochorovka. By July 11, the division’s panzer group had crossed the river on pontoon bridges and reached the bridgehead. What was left of Katukov’s armor regrouped to oppose the XLVIII Panzer Corps below Oboyan or counterattack the Psel bridgehead. Reinforced with the XXXIII Rifle Corps and X Tank Corps, Katukov launched continuous attacks on the Totenkopf units on the north bank of the river.
During the evening of July 11, Hausser readied his divisions for an assault on Prochorovka. Totenkopf anchored the left flank of the corps, while Leibstandarte, commanded by SS Maj. Gen. Theodore Wisch, was in the center, assembled west of the town between a rail line and the Psel. Das Reich, commanded by SS Lt. Gen. Walter Krüger, moved into its attack zone on the corps’ right flank, which was several kilometers south of Tetrevino and southwest of Prochorovka.
While Hausser’s SS divisions prepared for battle, there was feverish activity in the Soviet camp as well. On July 11, the Fifth Guards Tank Army arrived in the Prochorovka area, having begun its march on July 7 from assembly areas nearly 200 miles to the east. The army consisted of the XVIII and XXIX Tank Corps and the V Guards Mechanized Corps. Rotmistrov’s 650 tanks were reinforced by the II Tank Corps and II Guards Tank Corps, increasing its strength to about 850 tanks, 500 of which were T-34s. The Fifth Guards’ primary mission was to lead the main post-Kursk counteroffensive, known as Operation Rumyantsev, and its secondary mission was as defensive insurance in the south. The commitment of Rotmistrov’s army at such an early date is stark evidence of Soviet concern about the situation on the Psel. The Fifth Guards’ arrival at the Psel set the stage for the Battle of Prochorovka.
Prochorovka is one of the best-known of the many battles on the Eastern Front during World War II. It has been covered in articles, books and televised historical documentaries, but these accounts vary in accuracy; some are merely incomplete, while others border on fiction. In the generally accepted version of the battle, the three SS divisions attacked Prochorovka shoulder to shoulder, jammed into the terrain between the Psel and the railroad. A total of 500 to 700 German tanks, including dozens of Panzerkampfwagen Mark V Panther medium tanks with 75mm guns and Panzerkampfwagen Mark VI Tiger heavy tanks with deadly 88mm cannons, lumbered forward while hundreds of nimble Soviet T-34 medium tanks raced into the midst of the SS armor and threw the Germans into confusion. The Soviets closed with the panzers, negating the Tigers’ 88mm guns, outmaneuvered the German armor and knocked out hundreds of German tanks. The Soviet tank force’s audacious tactics resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Germans, and the disorganized SS divisions withdrew, leaving 400 destroyed tanks behind, including between 70 and 100 Tigers and many Panthers. Those losses smashed the SS divisions’ fighting power, and as a result Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army had no chance to achieve even a partial victory in the south.
While it makes a dramatic story, nearly all of this battle scenario is essentially myth. Careful study of the daily tank strength reports and combat records of II SS Panzer Corps–available on microfilm at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.–provides information that forces a historical reappraisal of the battle. These records show, first of all, that Hausser’s corps began with far fewer tanks than previously believed and, more important, that they suffered only moderate losses on July 12, 1943. As those reports were intended to allow the corps commander to assess the combat strength of his divisions, they can be considered reasonably accurate. Considering that information, it seems that the Germans may have been near a limited success on the southern flank of the salient.
The number of SS tanks actually involved in the battle has been variously reported as high as 700 by some authorities, while others have estimated between 300 to 600. Even before the Battle of Kursk began, however, the II SS Panzer Corps never had 500 tanks, much less 700. On July 4, the day before Operation Citadel was launched, Hausser’s three divisions possessed a total of 327 tanks between them, plus a number of command tanks. By July 11, the II SS Panzer Corps had a total of 211 operational tanks–Totenkopfhad 94 tanks, Leibstandarte had only 56 and Das Reich possessed just 61. Damaged tanks or tanks undergoing repairs are not listed. Only 15 Tiger tanks were still in action at Prochorovka, and there were no SS Panthers available. The battalions that were equipped with Panthers were still training in Germany in July 1943.



On July 13, the day after the Battle of Prochorovka, Fourth Panzer Army reports declared that the II SS Panzer Corps had 163 operational tanks, a net loss of only 48 tanks. Actual losses were somewhat heavier, the discrepancy due to the gain of repaired tanks returned to action. Closer study of the losses of each type of tank reveals that the corps lost about 70 tanks on July 12. In contrast, Soviet tank losses, long assumed to be moderate, were actually catastrophic. In 1984, a history of the Fifth Guards Tank Army written by Rotmistrov himself revealed that on July 13 the army lost 400 tanks to repairable damage. He gave no figure for tanks that were destroyed or not available for salvage. Evidence suggests that there were hundreds of additional Soviet tanks lost. Several German accounts mention that Hausser had to use chalk to mark and count the huge jumble of 93 knocked-out Soviet tanks in the Leibstandarte sector alone. Other Soviet sources say the tank strength of the army on July 13 was 150 to 200, a loss of about 650 tanks. Those losses brought a caustic rebuke from Josef Stalin. Subsequently, the depleted Fifth Guards Tank Army did not resume offensive action, and Rotmistrov ordered his remaining tanks to dig in among the infantry positions west of the town.
Another misconception about the battle is the image of all three SS divisions attacking shoulder to shoulder through the narrow lane between the Psel and the rail line west of Prochorovka. Only Leibstandarte was aligned directly west of the town, and it was the only division to attack the town itself. The II SS Panzer Corps zone of battle, contrary to the impression given in many accounts, was approximately nine miles wide, with Totenkopf on the left flank, Leibstandarte in the center and Das Reich on the right flank.Totenkopf‘s armor was committed primarily to the Psel bridgehead and in defensive action against Soviet attacks on the Psel bridges. In fact, only Leibstandarte actually advanced into the corridor west of Prochorovka, and then only after it had thrown back initial Soviet attacks.
Early on July 12, Leibstandarte units reported a great deal of loud motor noise, which indicated massing Soviet armor. Soon after 5 a.m., hundreds of Soviet tanks, carrying infantry, rolled out of Prochorovka and its environs in groups of 40 to 50. Waves of T-34 and T-70 tanks advanced at high speed in a charge straight at the startled Germans. When machine-gun fire, armor-piercing shells and artillery fire struck the T-34s, the Soviet infantry jumped off and sought cover. Leaving their infantry behind, the T-34s rolled on. Those Soviet tanks that survived the initial clash with SS armor continued a linear advance and were destroyed by the Germans.
When the initial Soviet attack paused, Leibstandarte pushed its armor toward the town and collided with elements of Rotmistrov’s reserve armor. A Soviet attack by the 181st Tank Regiment was defeated by several SS Tigers, one of which, the 13th (heavy) Company of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment, was commanded by 2nd Lt. Michael Wittmann, the most successful tank commander of the war. Wittmann’s group was advancing in flank support of the German main attack when it was engaged by the Soviet tank regiment at long range. The Soviet charge, straight at the Tigers over open ground, was suicidal. The frontal armor of the Tiger was impervious to the 76mm guns of the T-34s at any great distance. The field was soon littered with burning T-34s and T-70s. None of the Tigers were lost, but the 181st Tank Regiment was annihilated. Late in the day, Rotmistrov committed his last reserves, elements of the V Mechanized Corps, which finally halted Leibstandarte.
Das Reich began its attack from several kilometers southwest of Prochorovka and was quickly engaged by aggressive battle groups of the II Tank Corps and II Guards Tank Corps. Fierce, somewhat confused fighting broke out all along the German division’s axis of advance. Battle groups of 20 to 40 Soviet tanks, supported by infantry and ground-attack planes, collided with Das Reich regimental spearheads. Rotmistrov continued to throw armor against the division, and combat raged throughout the day, with heavy losses of Soviet armor. Das Reich continued to push slowly eastward, advancing into the night while suffering relatively light tank losses.
Meanwhile, on the left flank, Soviet First Tank Army elements unsuccessfully tried to crush Totenkopf‘s bridgehead. The SS division fought off the XXXI and X Tank Corps, supported by elements of the XXXIII Rifle Corps. In spite of the Soviet attacks, Totenkopf‘s panzer group drove toward a road that ran from the village of Kartaschevka, southeast across the river and into Prochorovka.
The fighting, characterized by massive losses of Soviet armor, continued throughout July 12 without a decisive success by either side–contrary to the accounts given in many well-known studies of the Eastern Front, which state that the fighting ended on July 12 with a decisive German defeat. These authors describe the battlefield as littered with hundreds of destroyed German tanks and report that the Soviets overran the SS tank repair units. In fact, the fighting continued around Prochorovka for several more days.Das Reich continued to push slowly eastward in the area south of the town until July 16. That advance enabled the III Panzer Corps to link up with the SS division on July 14 and encircle several Soviet rifle divisions south of Prochorovka. Totenkopf eventually reached the Kartaschevka­Prochorovka road, and the division took several tactically important hills on the north edge of its perimeter as well. Those successes were not exploited, however, due to decisions made by Adolf Hitler.
After receiving the news of the Allied invasion of Sicily, as well as reports of impending Soviet attacks on the Mius River and at Izyum, Hitler decided to cancel Operation Citadel. Manstein argued that he should be allowed to finish off the two Soviet tank armies. He had unused reserves, consisting of three experienced panzer divisions of XXIV Panzer Corps, in position for quick commitment. That corps could have been used to attack the Fifth Guards Tank Army in its flank, to break out from the Psel bridgehead or to cross the Psel east of Prochorovka. All of the available Soviet armor in the south was committed and could not be withdrawn without causing a collapse of the Soviet defenses. Manstein correctly realized that he had the opportunity to destroy the Soviet operational and strategic armor in the Prochorovka area.
Hitler could not be persuaded to continue the attack, however. Instead, he dispersed the divisions of the II SS Panzer Corps to deal with the anticipated Soviet diversionary attacks south of the Belgorod­Kharkov sector. On the night of July 17-18, the corps withdrew from its positions around Prochorovka. Thus, the battle for Prochorovka ended, not because of German tank losses (Hausser had over 200 operational tanks on July 17) but because Hitler lacked the will to continue the offensive. The SS panzer divisions were still full of fight; in fact, two of them continued to fight effectively in southern Russia for the rest of the summer.
Leibstandarte was ordered to Italy, but Das Reich and Totenkopf remained in the East. Those two divisions and the 3rd Panzer Division, which replaced Leibstandarte, were transferred to the Sixth Army area, where they conducted a counterattack from July 31 to August 2 that eliminated a strong Soviet bridgehead at the Mius River. Without pause, the three divisions were then transferred to the Bogodukhov sector in early August 1943. Under the command of the III Panzer Corps, they were joined by another unit, the Fifth SS Panzergrenadier Division Wiking. During three weeks of constant combat, the four divisions played a major role in stopping the main Soviet post-Kursk counteroffensive, Operation Rumyantsev. They fought Rotmistrov’s Fifth Guards Tank Army, rebuilt to 503 tanks strong, and major portions of the First Tank Army, now at 542 tanks.
By the end of the month, Rotmistrov had less than 100 tanks still running. Katukov had only 120 tanks still in action by the last week of August. While at no time did any of the German divisions have more than 55 tanks in operation, they repeatedly blunted the thrusts of the two Soviet tank armies, which were also reinforced by several rifle corps.
Totenkopf repeatedly cut off and defeated all of the First Tank Army’s thrusts toward the Kharkov­Poltava rail line. Das Reich threw back two Soviet tank corps south of Bogodukhov and blunted Rotmistrov’s last major attack west of Kharkov, and the III Panzer Corps halted Operation Rumyantsev.
After Kharkov itself fell, however, the German front gradually collapsed. The Soviets regrouped, committed additional strong reserves and renewed their attack toward the strategically important Dnepr River. Army Group South was subsequently forced to abandon much of southern Ukraine in a race for the safety of the Dnepr. Despite the remarkable efforts of the German army andWaffen SS panzer divisions during July and August, the Germans were too weak to hold the Kharkov­Belgorod­Poltava sector after their summer losses.
It is apparent from their operations during the late summer that the SS panzer divisions were not destroyed at Prochorovka. This reassessment of the battle provides food for thought regarding possible German successes if Manstein’s panzer reserves had been utilized as he had intended.


  To what extent the course of events in Russia would have been changed is, of course, unknown, but it is interesting to speculate. If Army Group South’s panzer reserve had been used to encircle and destroy the Fifth Guards Tank Army and the First Tank Army, the outcome of the war in Russia might have been significantly different. Although it was beyond the German army’s capabilities to force a military end to the war by the summer of 1943, a limited victory in the south could have resulted in a delay of Soviet strategic operations for months or perhaps longer. It is doubtful, however, that this pause would have lasted long enough for the Germans to transfer enough forces to the West to defeat the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.
But one fact is beyond any question, regardless of the number of tanks possessed by the Germans or Soviets or what might have been possible. Due to Hausser’s panzer corps’ failure to take Prochorovka on July 12 and the subsequent misuse of German panzer reserves, the momentum of the Fourth Panzer Army was slowed dramatically. When Hitler abandoned Operation Citadel on July 13, the Germans’ last opportunity to influence events on a strategic level in the East was lost.
It is interesting that the information regarding German tank losses at Prochorovka has not been made available before now. Due to the lack of crucial primary-source information–especially the records of the II SS Panzer Corps on the Eastern Front–there had been no evidence to correct the erroneous accounts and impressions given in previous studies of the Eastern Front.
Waffen SS formations’ records of their Eastern Front operations were not declassified until 1978­1981. By that time, many of the major works about the Eastern Front had already been published. Later authors accepted the accounts of the battle as given in the earlier books and failed to conduct additional research. As a result, one of the best known of all Eastern Front battles has never been understood properly. Prochorovka was believed to have been a significant German defeat but was actually a stunning reversal for the Soviets because they suffered enormous tank losses.
As Manstein suggested, Prochorovka may truly have been a lost German victory, thanks to decisions made by Hitler. It was fortunate for the Allied cause that the German dictator, a foremost proponent of the value of will, lost his own will to fight in southern Ukraine in July 1943. Had he allowed Manstein to continue the attack on the two Soviet tank armies in the Prochorovka area, Manstein might have achieved a victory even more damaging to the Soviets than the counterattack that had recaptured Kharkov in March 1943.




Source: http://www.historynet.com/

Friday, February 10, 2017

'Beast of Belsen': Irma Grese and Female Concentration Camp Guards

Irma Grese

The female guards at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück are less well known than their male counterparts, but they were no less brutal.
'[They] hit the prisoners, who were almost as thin as skeletons with a thick stick … withholding of food and beatings, [they] also made the prisoners stand for hours'
Scenes like this were inflicted by thousands of SS guards who reigned terror upon millions of prisoners interned in the hundreds of concentration camps throughout the Nazi regime. Names such as Josef Kramer, Rudolf Hoess and Theodor Eicke have become synonymous with such atrocities. Yet, to the female prisoners held in camps such as Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück, the names Irma Grese, Maria Mandl and Dorothea Binz – amongst many others – instilled as much, if not more, panic and fear than those of the SS men. In fact, the scene described above was committed by the Aufseherin (female overseer) Lehmann at Ravensbrück concentration camp, and was far from unusual in the female sections of camps.
Of the 37,000 SS guards who actively participated in the daily suffering, torture and death of the internees, approximately 10 per cent were female overseers. Some of these overseers, including Irma Grese, were sentenced to death along with their male colleagues for ‘murder’ and ‘crimes and atrocities against the laws of humanity’. Others were sentenced to between one year to life imprisonment. Few were acquitted. Their role in the Third Reich was a far cry from the Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen, church) propaganda embedded in Nazi philosophy; they too were cogs in the killing machine of the Holocaust that led to the death of at least 1.5 million Jews.
Irma Grese, known as the 'beautiful beast' of Belsen, was, according to the charges brought against her at the Belsen Trial in 1945, one of the 'most sinister and hated figures' of the camps. Witnesses claimed that she used to beat women until they collapsed.
And she was not the only one. Renee Lacroux, a French prisoner held in Ravensbrück, told of how several female guards ‘killed the weaker ones and threw many of the girls onto the ground and trampled on them’. Just like their male counterparts, the female guards upon entering the camps were trained to become hardened and to punish prisoners severely when necessary. Many became accustomed to beating and kicking prisoners – sometimes to the point of death – with their jackboots, sticks, truncheons and, in the case of Irma Grese, with a whip made of cellophane. Some were involved in administering lethal sterilisation experiments and many were present in the selection of those prisoners to be sent to the gas chambers. Some also carried a gun.
Not all guards, however, became equally accustomed to brutality. There were reports by some former prisoners of ‘humane’ guards: one such guard called Krüger is alleged to have shared extra food with her workers in Ravensbrück. And this case cannot have been isolated; an order was sent by the SS Obergruppenführer (senior group leader) to remind female overseers that they were not to have personal dealings with inmates. There was no equivalent order sent to SS men. Equally, murder was not customary for the female guards. They rarely used their guns and none, without exception, administered the fatal Zyklon B gas that killed over 6 million Jews, gypsies and asocials – amongst others – in the gas chambers. Direct killing was viewed solely as a masculine endeavour. This is not to say, however, that female guards did not kill the prisoners indirectly through their ill-treatment and violence – and violence was the norm throughout the camp environment.
So, how did these guards, described as 'sadists' and 'beasts' by former prisoners, find themselves committing these crimes against humanity? Elisabeth Volkenrath, chief female overseer in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, sentenced to death in 1945, was an unskilled labourer prior to becoming a guard. Ruth Closius, also sentenced to death for her exceptional cruelty, had dreamed of becoming a nurse but, since she left school too early, became a saleswoman in a textiles warehouse. The notorious Irma Grese worked at a dairy farm after leaving home at 15 years of age. Before entering the camps these women were, to all intents and purposes, ordinary women leading ordinary lives.
Many were not even members of the Nazi party. Unlike the overwhelming majority of male SS guards who were ardent believers in Nazi ideological and racial beliefs, less than 5 per cent of female guards were formal members of the Nazi party. For some then, the lure of a stable, well-paid job complete with uniform and accommodation was enough. Female guards earned approximately 185 RM, considerably more than the average wage of women of the same age in an unskilled factory job, 76 RM. Becoming a guard represented upward mobility for many of these under-educated and lower-class women. Even so, the recruitment campaign from 1942 onwards failed to attract the large numbers the SS needed in order to manage the increasing number of female prisoners. Instead, they had to turn to conscription. Even Irma Grese claimed that the labour exchange ‘sent [her] to Ravensbrück’, where all female guards underwent training, and that ‘[she] had no option’.
Whatever the reasons for becoming guards – financial, a thirst for adventure or conscription – Nazi ideology was rife and the ill-treatment of ‘enemies of the state’ was commonplace. As predominantly young, Aryan women aged between 17-45 (as strict entry criteria), these women had grown up in the midst of Nazism; many had been members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls) and had grown up with Nazi propaganda. Further ideological training, which included propaganda films such as Jüd Süss, was imposed upon new recruits during their orientation period at Ravensbrück and manifested itself as violence within a matter of days. One prisoner noted how it took one guard just four days.
Many of these women were never brought to trial and were able to return to their pre-war, ordinary lives. For those who were brought to trial, however, such as Irma Grese, their ordinary life became a distant prospect to which they were never again able to return. Seventy years after the liberation of the camps, it is important to remember that women were not only victims, mothers or wives; they too were active agents in sustaining the terrors experienced by millions during the Holocaust.

Lauren Willmott works at the National Archives, London.

- Source: http://www.historytoday.com

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Animation: Pompeii-final hours



Mount Vesuvius, on the west coast of Italy, is the only active volcano on mainland Europe. It is best known because of the eruption in A.D. 79 that destroyed the city of Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius is considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the large population of the city of Naples and the surrounding towns on the slopes nearby.



The volcano is classed as a complex stratovolcano because its eruptions typically involve explosive eruptions as well as pyroclastic flows. Vesuvius and other Italian volcanoes, such as Campi Flegrei and Stromboli, are part of the Campanian volcanic arc. The Campanian arc sits on a tectonic boundary where the African plate is being subducted beneath the Eurasian plate.
Under Vesuvius, scientists have detected a tear in the African plate. This “slab window” allows heat from the Earth’s mantle layer to melt the rock of the African plate building up pressure that causes violent explosive eruptions. In the past, Mount Vesuvius has had a roughly 20-year eruption cycle, but the last serious eruption was in 1944.
Vesuvius and Pompeii
Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii in A.D. 79. Because the city was buried so quickly by volcanic ash, the site is a well-preserved snapshot of life in a Roman city. We even have a detailed account of the disaster recorded by Pliny the Younger, who interviewed survivors and recorded events in a letter to his friend Tacitus.
Pompeii was slowly recovering from a major earthquake that rocked the city in February of A.D. 62. The shallow quake, originating beneath Mount Vesuvius, had caused major damage to the springs and piping that provided the city’s water. Reconstruction was being carried out on several temples and public buildings. The historian, Seneca, recorded that the quakes lasted for several days and also heavily damaged the town of Herculaneum and did minor damage to the city of Naples before subsiding. The major quake was followed by several minor shakes throughout the following years.
Because seismic activity was so common in the area, citizens paid little attention in early August of 79 when several quakes shook the earth beneath Herculaneum and Pompeii. People were unprepared for the explosion that took place shortly after noon on the 24th of August. Pliny, watching from the town of Misenum, approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Pompeii, described the massive debris cloud. “It resembled a (Mediterranean) pine more than any other tree. Like a very high tree the cloud went high and expanded in different branches…. sometimes white, sometimes dark and stained by the sustained sand and ashes.” In Pompeii, ash blocked the sun by 1 p.m. and the people tried to clear heavy ash from rooftops as it fell at a rate of about 6 inches (15 centimeters) an hour.
hortly after midnight, a wall of volcanic mud engulfed the town of Herculaneum, obliterating the town as its citizens fled toward Pompeii. About 6:30 a.m. on the following morning, a glowing cloud of volcanic gases and debris rolled down Vesuvius’ slopes and enveloped the city of Pompeii. Most victims died instantly as the superheated air burned their lungs and contracted their muscles, leaving the bodies in a semi-curled position to be quickly buried in ash and thus preserved in detail for hundreds of years.



Far away in Misenum, Pliny the Younger and his mother joined other refugees escaping the earthquakes rocking their city. They observed, “…the sea retreating as if pushed by the earthquakes.” This was probably caused by a tsunami at the climax of the eruption, which gives us the time frame for historical record. Pliny writes of “black and horrible clouds, broken by sinuous shapes of flaming wind.” He describes people wheezing and gasping because of that wind; the same wind that doomed the people of Pompeii.
WWII eruption
On March 18, 1944, a two-week-long eruption began with lava from the summit of Mount Vesuvius. Soldiers and airmen of the 340th Bomber Group were stationed at the Pompeii Airfield just a few miles from the base of the volcano. Diaries record the awesome sights and sounds they witnessed in this latest major eruption. Guards wore leather jackets and “steel pot” helmets to protect themselves from rains of hot ash and small rocks. Tents collapsed or caught fire when hot cinders were blown over them.
On March 22, they were forced to evacuate, leaving behind 88 Allied aircraft. After the volcano subsided, they returned on the 30th to find the planes were a total loss. Engines were clogged by ash, control panels were useless tangles of fused wire, canopies had holes from flying rock or were etched to opacity by wind driven ash.
One airman of the 489th Bomber Squadron complained in his diary when Axis Sally broadcast a radio show dedicated to the “survivors” of the Vesuvius eruption (actually the most severe human casualty was a wrist sprained during the evacuation). She told all of Europe that “Colonel Vesuvius” had destroyed all of them. The diarist was justifiably proud of the work he did with his fellows in recovery. By April 15, the planes had been replaced and the 340th Bomber Group was back to full strength and ready to fly missions from their new base. “We are still the best damned Group there is. Hitler, you self styled ‘Great Rebuilder’ take note!”


- Source: http://www.livescience.com