Forty years ago this weekend, Europe was plunged into war. ??? conflict was to last?
Forty years ago this weekend, Europe was plunged into war. ??? conflict was to last almost six years, and spread across the world. Before it ended with the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is estimated to have cost more than 35-million lives.
SYNOPSIS: It began soon after dawn on September 1st, 1939, when the forces of Nazi Germany entered Poland.
The Polish campaign lasted barely a month. The Polish army resisted stoutly, but had no answer to the Nazi Blitzkrieg.
The victims of the bombardment of Warsaw were the first of millions of civilian ??? were to die. The refugees who poured across Poland's frontiers were the forerunners of millions more who would lose their homes -- or return to find their country changed out of all recognition.
The man who was blamed was Adolf Hitler: the Nazi leader, with his demand for "living space" for a dominant Germany.
A week before, his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had flown to Moscow to sign a non-aggression pact. The Soviet Union bought two years' more time to prepare for the attack Stalin was sure would come.
Britain and France were pledged to Poland's support. King george the Sixth approved the British Cabinet's decision to give Germany till 11 o'clock on September third to withdraw. She did not do so, and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that accordingly Britain and Germany were at war.
The British expected air attacks a year before they actually came, and started moving children out of their major cities.
Later the same day, France also declared war on Germany. The French were better prepared in military terms than the British, but less united politically. They had maintained conscription since the end of the First World War, and immediately ordered general mobilisation. But French military thinking was primarily defensive; to hod the apparently impregnable Maginot Line.
Thousands of American visitors were caught in Europe. It was the height of the holiday season. Hurriedly, most of them made arrangements for a passage home.
It was a dangerous journey. A German submarine torpedoed the liner "Athenia" on September 4th, and more than 100 lives were lost. The American Ambassador to Britain, Joseph Kennedy, sent his son, John, then aged 18, to Glasgow to greet the survivors.
On the day war started, President Franklin Roosevelt broadcast a message to the people of the United States.