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The Battle of Arras, April 1917
The Battle of Arras (also known as the Second Battle of Arras) was a British offensive on the Western Front during the First World War. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front. The British achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun, surpassing the record set by the French Sixth Army on 1 July 1916. The British advance slowed in the next few days and the German defence recovered. The battle became a costly stalemate for both sides and by the end of the battle, the British Third Army and the First Army had suffered about 160,000 casualties and the German 6th Army about 125,000.
For much of the war, the opposing armies on the Western Front were at stalemate, with a continuous line of trenches from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The Allied objective from early 1915 was to break through the German defences into the open ground beyond and engage the numerically inferior German Army (Westheer) in a war of movement. The British attack at Arras was part of the Anglo-French Nivelle Offensive, the main part of which was the Second Battle of the Aisne 50 mi (80 km) to the south. The aim of the French offensive was to break through the German defences in forty-eight hours. At Arras the Canadians were to capture Vimy Ridge, dominating the Douai Plain to the east, advance towards Cambrai and divert German reserves from the French front. (Full article...)
Map showing the course of the battle from 8–17 August 1944
Six weeks after D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, the German Army was in turmoil. The Allied Army had experienced severe resistance from the German Army in Normandy. Caen was expected to be liberated by British forces immediately after the invasion but would take nearly two months to liberate. Similarly, St Lô was anticipated to be in US control by the second day of the invasion. The German forces fought furiously and US forces did not liberate St Lô until after the British liberation of Caen. However, the German Army had been expending irreplaceable resources in the attempt to defend the Normandy frontline. Also, the Allied air forces had air superiority up to 100 km behind enemy lines. Allied forces continuously bombed and strafed vital German logistical lines that provided reinforcements and supplies, such as fuel and ammunition. On the Eastern Front, the Soviet Union's Operation Bagration and the Lvov–Sandomierz Offensive were in the midst of destroying the German Army Group Centre. In France, the German Army had used its available reserves (especially its armour reserves) to buttress the front lines around Caen, and there were few additional troops available to create successive lines of defence. In addition, the 20 July plot—in which officers of the German Army, including some stationed in France, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler and seize power—had failed, and in its aftermath there was very little trust between Hitler and his generals. (Full article...)
Pigeon photography is an aerial photography technique invented in 1907 by the German apothecaryJulius Neubronner, who also used pigeons to deliver medications. A homing pigeon was fitted with an aluminium breast harness to which a lightweight time-delayed miniature camera could be attached. Neubronner's German patent application was initially rejected, but was granted in December 1908 after he produced authenticated photographs taken by his pigeons. He publicized the technique at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition, and sold some images as postcards at the Frankfurt International Aviation Exhibition and at the 1910 and 1911 Paris Air Shows.
Initially, the military potential of pigeon photography for aerial reconnaissance appeared interesting. Battlefield tests in World War I provided encouraging results, but the ancillary technology of mobile dovecotes for messenger pigeons had the greatest impact. Owing to the rapid perfection of aviation during the war, military interest in pigeon photography faded and Neubronner abandoned his experiments. The idea was briefly resurrected in the 1930s by a Swiss clockmaker, and reportedly also by the German and French militaries. Although war pigeons were deployed extensively during World War II, it is unclear to what extent, if any, birds were involved in aerial reconnaissance. The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) later developed a battery-powered camera designed for espionage pigeon photography; details of its use remain classified. (Full article...)
Von der Tann before the war
SMS Von der Tann was the first battlecruiser built for the German Kaiserliche Marine, as well as Germany's first major turbine-powered warship. At the time of her construction, Von der Tann was the fastest dreadnought-type warship afloat, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 27 knots (50 km/h; 31 mph). She was designed in response to the British Invincible class. While the German design had slightly lighter guns—28 cm (11 in), compared to the 30.5 cm (12 in) Mark X mounted on the British ships—Von der Tann was faster and significantly better-armored. She set the precedent of German battlecruisers carrying much heavier armor than their British equivalents, albeit at the cost of smaller guns. Von der Tann participated in a number of fleet actions during the First World War, including several bombardments of the English coast. She was present at the Battle of Jutland, where she destroyed the British battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable in the opening minutes of the engagement. Von der Tann was hit several times by large-caliber shells during the battle, and at one point in the engagement, the ship had all of her main battery guns out of action either due to damage or malfunction. Nevertheless, the damage was quickly repaired and the ship returned to the fleet in two months. (Full article...)
Along with her three sister ships, König, Markgraf, and Kronprinz, Grosser Kurfürst took part in most of the fleet actions during the war, including the Battle of Jutland on 31 May and 1 June 1916. The ship was subjected to heavy fire at Jutland, but was not seriously damaged. She shelled Russian positions during Operation Albion in September and October 1917. Grosser Kurfürst was involved in a number of accidents during her service career; she collided with König and Kronprinz, grounded several times, was torpedoed once, and hit a mine. (Full article...)
Canadian soldiers under fire near Fleury-sur-Orne in the early hours of 25 July 1944
The immediate Allied objective was Verrières Ridge, a belt of high ground which dominates the route from Caen to Falaise. The ridge was occupied by battle-hardened German veterans, who had fallen back from Caen and entrenched to form a strong defensive position. Over the course of six days, substantial Canadian and British forces made repeated attempts to capture the ridge. Strict German adherence to defensive doctrine, as well as strong and effective counterattacks by Panzer formations, resulted in heavy Allied casualties for little strategic gain. (Full article...)
Operation Perch was a British offensive of the Second World War which took place from 7 to 14 June 1944, during the early stages of the Battle of Normandy. The operation was intended to encircle and seize the German occupied city of Caen, which was a D-Day objective for the British 3rd Infantry Division in the early phases of Operation Overlord. Operation Perch was to begin immediately after the British beach landings with an advance to the south-east of Caen by XXX Corps. Three days after the invasion the city was still in German hands and the operation was amended. The operation was expanded to include I Corps for a pincer attack on Caen.
On the next day, XXX Corps in the west pushed south to Tilly-sur-Seulles, which was occupied by the Panzer Lehr Division and the village was captured and re-captured several times. I Corps began the eastern thrust two days later from the Orne bridgehead, which had been secured in Operation Tonga on D-Day. I Corps was also delayed by constant counter-attacks of the 21st Panzer Division. With mounting casualties and no sign of a German collapse, the offensive east of Caen was suspended on 13 June. (Full article...)
Along with her four sister ships, Kaiser, Kaiserin, König Albert, and Prinzregent Luitpold, Friedrich der Grosse participated in all the major fleet operations of World War I, including the Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916. Toward the center of the German line, Friedrich der Grosse was not as heavily engaged as the leading German ships, such as the battleships König and Grosser Kurfürst and the battlecruisers of I Scouting Group—Friedrich der Grosse emerged from the battle completely unscathed. In 1917, the new battleship Baden replaced Friedrich der Grosse as the fleet flagship. (Full article...)
SMS Seydlitz was a battlecruiser of the German Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Navy), built in Hamburg. She was ordered in 1910 and commissioned in May 1913, the fourth battlecruiser built for the High Seas Fleet. She was named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Seydlitz, a Prussian general during the reign of King Frederick the Great and the Seven Years' War. Seydlitz represented the culmination of the first generation of German battlecruisers, which had started with the Von der Tann in 1906 and continued with the pair of Moltke-class battlecruisers ordered in 1907 and 1908. Seydlitz featured several incremental improvements over the preceding designs, including a redesigned propulsion system and an improved armor layout. The ship was also significantly larger than her predecessors—at 24,988 metric tons (24,593 long tons; 27,545 short tons), she was approximately 3,000 metric tons heavier than the Moltke-class ships. Seydlitz participated in many of the large fleet actions during World War I, including the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland in the North Sea. The ship suffered severe damage during both engagements; during the Battle of Dogger Bank, a 13.5 in (34.3 cm) shell from the British battlecruiser Lion struck Seydlitz's rearmost turret and nearly caused a magazine explosion that could have destroyed the ship. At the Battle of Jutland she was hit twenty-one times by large-caliber shells, one of which penetrated the working chamber of the aft superfiring turret. Although the resulting fire destroyed the turret, the safety measures imposed after the battle of Dogger Bank prevented a catastrophe. The ship was also hit by a torpedo during the battle, causing her to take in over 5,300 metric tons of water and her freeboard was reduced to 2.5 m. She had to be lightened significantly to permit her crossing of the Jade Bar. The ship inflicted severe damage on her British opponents as well; early in the battle, salvos from both Seydlitz and the battlecruiser Derfflinger destroyed the battlecruiser Queen Mary in seconds. (Full article...)
Following the Italian invasion on 28 October 1940, Greece, with British air and material support, repelled the initial Italian attack and a counter-attack in March 1941. When the German invasion, known as Operation Marita, began on 6 April, the bulk of the Greek Army was on the Greek border with Albania, then a vassal of Italy, from which the Italian troops had attacked. German troops invaded from Bulgaria, creating a second front. Greece received a small reinforcement from British, Australian and New Zealand forces in anticipation of the German attack. The Greek army found itself outnumbered in its effort to defend against both Italian and German troops. As a result, the Metaxas defensive line did not receive adequate troop reinforcements and was quickly overrun by the Germans, who then outflanked the Greek forces at the Albanian border, forcing their surrender. British, Australian and New Zealand forces were overwhelmed and forced to retreat, with the ultimate goal of evacuation. For several days, Allied troops played an important part in containing the German advance on the Thermopylae position, allowing ships to be prepared to evacuate the units defending Greece. The German Army reached the capital, Athens, on 27 April and Greece's southern shore on 30 April, capturing 7,000 British, Australian and New Zealand personnel and ending the battle with a decisive victory. The conquest of Greece was completed with the capture of Crete a month later. Following its fall, Greece was occupied by the military forces of Germany, Italy and Bulgaria. (Full article...)
Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Norfolk Regiment, had become isolated from their unit. They occupied and defended a farmhouse against an attack by Waffen-SS forces in the village of Le Paradis. After running out of ammunition, the defenders surrendered to the German troops. The Germans led them across the road to a wall where they were murdered by machine guns. Ninety-seven British troops were killed. Two survived with injuries and hid until they were captured by German forces several days later. (Full article...)
Beginning on 4 December, four infantry divisions—one British, one Canadian, one Indian and one New Zealand (which included an armoured brigade)—and two armoured brigades (one British and one Canadian) of V Corps and XIII Corps attacked heavily defended German positions along the Moro River, achieving several exploitable bridgeheads by 8 December. Throughout the next week, nearly continuous combat operations by both sides—designed to keep one another pinned down—created stagnated defensive positions near Orsogna and a narrow pit known as "The Gully". After being held at the Gully for 10 days, the Canadians succeeded in outflanking German defences, and forcing a German withdrawal to the Ortona–Orsogna Line. On 20 December, the line was attacked by both corps. (Full article...)
Following the start of World War I in July 1914, the German fleet adopted a strategy of raids on the British coast, which the five Deutschland-class ships supported. These operations culminated in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May – 1 June 1916, where all five ships saw action, despite their marked inferiority to British dreadnoughts. Regardless, they intervened to protect the battered German battlecruisers from their British counterparts, allowing them to escape. In the confused night actions, Pommern was torpedoed and sunk by a British destroyer. After the battle, the four surviving ships were removed from front-line service and used for coastal defense through mid-1917. Thereafter, Hannover alone remained on patrol duty, while the rest were used as barracks or training ships. After Germany's defeat, the Treaty of Versailles permitted the postwar navy to retain several old battleships for coastal defense, including the four Deutschland-class ships. (Full article...)
Historians have vigorously debated Germany's role. One line of interpretation, promoted by German historian Fritz Fischer in the 1960s, argues that Germany had long desired to dominate Europe politically and economically, and seized the opportunity that unexpectedly opened in July 1914, making Germany guilty of starting the war. At the opposite end of the moral spectrum, many historians have argued that the war was inadvertent, caused by a series of complex accidents that overburdened the long-standing alliance system with its lock-step mobilization system that no–one could control. A third approach, especially important in recent years, is that Germany saw itself surrounded by increasingly powerful enemies–Russia, France and Britain–who would eventually crush it unless Germany acted defensively with a preemptive strike. (Full article...)
On 12 May 1942, Soviet forces under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko launched an offensive against the German 6th Army from a salient established during the winter counter-offensive. After a promising start, the offensive was stopped on 15 May by massive airstrikes. Critical Soviet errors by several staff officers and by Joseph Stalin, who failed to accurately estimate the 6th Army's potential and overestimated their own newly raised forces, facilitated a German pincer attack on 17 May which cut off three Soviet field armies from the rest of the front by 22 May. Hemmed into a narrow area, the 250,000-strong Soviet force inside the pocket was exterminated from all sides by German armored, artillery and machine gun firepower as well as 7,700 tonnes of air-dropped bombs. After six days of encirclement, Soviet resistance ended, with the remaining troops being killed or surrendering. (Full article...)
Fegelein joined a cavalry regiment of the Reichswehr in 1925 and transferred to the SS on 10 April 1933. He became a leader of an SS equestrian group, and was in charge of preparation for the equestrian events of the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. He tried out for the Olympic equestrian team himself but was eliminated in the qualifying rounds. (Full article...)
The Einsatzgruppen operated under the administration of the Schutzstaffel (SS)
Under the direction of Reichsführer-SSHeinrich Himmler and the supervision of SS-ObergruppenführerReinhard Heydrich, the Einsatzgruppen operated in territories occupied by the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) following the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The Einsatzgruppen worked hand-in-hand with the Order Police battalions on the Eastern Front to carry out operations ranging from the murder of a few people to operations which lasted over two or more days, such as the massacre at Babi Yar with 33,771 Jews murdered in two days, and the Rumbula massacre (with about 25,000 Jews murdered in two days of shooting). As ordered by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, the Wehrmacht cooperated with the Einsatzgruppen, providing logistical support for their operations, and participated in the mass murders. Historian Raul Hilberg estimates that between 1941 and 1945 the Einsatzgruppen, related agencies, and foreign auxiliary personnel murdered more than two million people, including 1.3 million of the 5.5 to 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. (Full article...)
Seydlitz become legendary throughout the Prussian Army both for his leadership skills and for his sometimes reckless courage. During the Seven Years' War, he came into his own as a cavalry general, known for his coup d'œil, his ability to assess at a glance the entire battlefield situation and to understand intuitively what needed to be done: he excelled at converting the King's directives into flexible tactics. At the Battle of Rossbach, his cavalry was instrumental in routing the French and Austrian armies. He subsequently played an important role in crushing the Austrian left flank at the Battle of Leuthen. Seydlitz was wounded in battle several times. Badly wounded at the Battle of Kunersdorf in August 1759, he semi-retired, charged with the protection of the city of Berlin. He was not well enough to participate in the annual campaigns until 1761 and even then his fellow officers questioned his physical fitness.
On her final patrol, U-853 was sent to harass United States coastal shipping. She destroyed USS Eagle 56 near Portland, Maine. Just days before Germany's surrender, U-853 torpedoed and sank the collier Black Point during the Battle of Point Judith. The day before Germany surrendered, American warships quickly found U-853 and sank her 7 nmi (13 km; 8.1 mi) east of Block Island, Rhode Island, resulting in the loss of her entire crew. (Full article...)
The Kriegsmarine generally used U-boats stationed in Norway to extend its range of operation in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The Norwegian bases housed U-boats that took part in the interception of Allied convoys crossing the Arctic Ocean to the Soviet Union. Following the liberation of France by the Western Allies in 1944, U-boat activity in many Norwegian ports increased. With the French ports captured or cut off, many German U-boats re-located to Norwegian port cities. (Full article...)
SM UB-15 was constructed in Germany and shipped by rail to Pola, where she was assembled and launched. She was commissioned into the German Imperial Navy in April and sank an Italian submarine in June. The boat was handed over to Austria-Hungary and commissioned as SM U-11 on 14 June. In early 1916, U-11 fired on a British submarine, but missed. After the end of the war, U-11 was handed over to Italy as a war reparation and scrapped at Pola by 1920. (Full article...)
U-37, (an identical U-boat to U-44) at Lorient in 1940
During her service in the Kriegsmarine, U-44 conducted only two war patrols and sank a total of eight ships for a loss of 30,885 GRT. On 13 March 1940, she struck a mine that was located in field Number 7 off the north coast of the Netherlands. All 47 of her crew members went down with the submarine. (Full article...)
U-104 had a very short career, sinking just one enemy vessel and damaging one other during one war patrol. In the middle of her first patrol, U-104 was posted missing off the north coast of Ireland on 30 November 1940 and was presumed sunk in minefield SN 44, which was laid a few days prior to her arrival in the area. (Full article...)
U-64 had a very short career and sank no enemy vessels. Having left her home port of Wilhelmshaven for her first war patrol on 6 April 1940, she was intercepted by Allied aircraft seven days later off the coast of Norway during the invasion of that country and was sunk by a bomb from a Fairey Swordfish aircraft of HMS Warspite(03). Of her crew of 46, eight men died and 38 escaped from the sinking submarine. (Full article...)
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The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) and its variants were the highest awards in the military of the Third Reich. Recipients are grouped by grades of the Knight's Cross. Within each grade the recipients are ordered chronologically. An exception is the lowest grade, here the recipients are ordered alphabetically by last name. The rank listed is the recipient's rank at the time the Knight's Cross was awarded. Broken out into sub lists are the recipients of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, one list for every year between 1940 and 1945 the award was presented. Also listed separately are the alphabetical lists of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross recipients. The foreign recipients of the Knight's Cross and the foreign recipients of the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves are listed separately as well.
The last legal presentation of the Knight's Cross, in any of its grades, had to be made before 23:01 Central European Time 8 May 1945, the time when the German surrender became effective. A number of presentations were made after this date, the last on 17 June 1945. These late presentations are considered de facto but not de jure awards. In 1986, the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR) acknowledged 7,321 presentations made to the members of the three military branches of the Wehrmacht—the Heer (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy) and Luftwaffe (Air Force)—as well as the Waffen-SS, the Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD—Reich Labour Service) and the Volkssturm (German national militia). There were also 43 recipients in the military forces of allies of the Third Reich for a total of 7,364 recipients. Analysis of the German Federal Archives revealed evidence for 7,161 officially—de facto and de jure—bestowed recipients, including one additional presentation previously unidentified by the AKCR. The AKCR names 890 recipients of the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, including the eight recipients who served in the military forces of allies of the Third Reich. The German Federal Archives do not substantiate 27 of these Oak Leaves recipients. The Swords to the Knight's Cross were awarded 160 times according to the AKCR, among them the posthumous presentation to the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, 13 of which cannot be supported by the German Federal Archives. The Diamonds to the Knight's Cross were awarded 27 times, all of which are verifiable in the German Federal Archives. The final grade, the Golden Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross was verifiably awarded once to Hans-Ulrich Rudel on 29 December 1944. (Full article...)
Fürst Bismarck, Germany's first armored cruiser, during a goodwill visit to the United States.
In the late 19th century, the German Imperial Navy (Kaiserliche Marine) experimented with a variety of cruiser types, including small avisos and larger protected cruisers. Due to budget constraints, the navy was unable to build cruisers designed solely for fleet service or for overseas duties. As a result, the naval construction department attempted to design vessels that could fulfill both roles. The protected cruisers, the first of which were the two Irene-class vessels, were laid down starting in 1886. The protected cruisers evolved into more powerful vessels, culminating in Fürst Bismarck, Germany's first armored cruiser. Fürst Bismarck was laid down in 1896, a decade after the first German protected cruiser.
Fürst Bismarck proved to be "ideally suited" to overseas duties and formed the basis for subsequent armored cruiser designs. Prinz Heinrich followed in 1898 and incorporated several alterations, including a reduced primary armament, a thinner but more comprehensive armor system, and a higher top speed. The two Prinz Adalbert-class vessels, laid down in 1900 and 1901, were designed with incremental improvements over Prinz Heinrich. Roon and Yorck, two sister ships laid down in 1902 and 1903, respectively, were similar to the two Prinz Adalbert-class cruisers and incorporated only minor improvements. The two Scharnhorst-class armored cruisers, laid down in 1904 and 1905, were marked improvements over the previous designs; they carried a much heavier armament and were more than 2 knots (3.7 km/h; 2.3 mph) faster than the earlier vessels. The last German armored cruiser, Blücher, bridged the development of larger, more powerful battlecruisers. The ship was significantly larger, better armed, and faster than the Scharnhorst class, though she remained inferior to the new Invincible-class battlecruisers then being built by the British Royal Navy. (Full article...)
In total, 43 individuals in the military of allies of Nazi Germany were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), the highest award in the military of Nazi Germany during World War II. Eight of these men were also honoured with the next higher grade, the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, and one senior naval officer, Fleet AdmiralIsoroku Yamamoto, was additionally awarded the Swords to the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. Among the recipients were eighteen Romanians, nine Italians, eight Hungarians, two Slovaks, two Japanese, two Spaniards, two Finns, one Dutch man, and one Belgian.
Colonel General Dezső László of Hungary became the last foreign recipient of the award on 3 March 1945. The last surviving foreign recipient of the award was Belgian politician Léon Degrelle, who died on 31 March 1994, fifty years after receiving the medal from Hitler's hands. (Full article...)
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) and its variants were the highest awards in the military and paramilitary forces of Nazi Germany during World War II. This decoration was awarded for a wide range of reasons and across all ranks, ranging from a senior commander for skilled leadership of his troops in battle to a low-ranking soldier for a single act of extreme gallantry. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves was introduced on 3 June 1940 to further distinguish those who had already received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and who continued to show merit in combat bravery or military success. A total of 7 awards were made in 1940, 50 in 1941, 111 in 1942, 192 in 1943, 328 in 1944, and 194 in 1945, giving a total of 882 recipients—excluding the 8 foreign recipients of the award.
The number of 882 Oak Leaves recipients is based on the acceptance by the Association of Knight's Cross Recipients (AKCR). However author Veit Scherzer has challenged the validity of 27 of these listings. With the exception of Hermann Fegelein, all of the disputed recipients had received the award in 1945, when the deteriorating situation of Germany during the final days of World War II left a number of nominations incomplete and pending in various stages of the approval process. Hermann Fegelein received the Oak Leaves in 1942, but was sentenced to death after a court-martial in 1945. The death sentence, according to German law, resulted in the loss of all orders and honorary signs. (Full article...)
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (German: Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes) and its variants were the highest awards in the military of Nazi Germany during World War II. This decoration was awarded for a wide range of reasons and across all ranks, from a senior commander for skilled leadership of his troops in battle to a low-ranking soldier for a single act of extreme gallantry. The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves was introduced on 3 June 1940 to further distinguish those who had already received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross and who continued to show merit in combat bravery or military success. A total of 7 awards were made in 1940, 50 in 1941, 111 in 1942, 192 in 1943, 328 in 1944, and 194 in 1945, giving a total of 882 recipients—excluding the 8 foreign recipients of the award.