May 10 1940-An eventful day.

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May 10 1940 must have been one of the busiest and chaotic days in WWII.I won’t go to deep into the details because most of the events are well documented, however not everyone might know that these events happened on the same day.

The invasion of the Benelux(Belgium,Netherlands, Luxembourg)

On the 10th May, 1940, the German forces invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. On the same day the German Ambassadors handed to the Netherlands and Belgian Governments a memorandum alleging that the British and French armies, with the consent of Belgium and the Netherlands, were planning to march through those countries to attack the Ruhr, and justifying the invasion on these grounds. Germany, however, assured the Netherlands and Belgium that their integrity and their possessions would be respected. A similar memorandum was delivered to Luxembourg on the same date.

There were however no plans for any British and French troops to march through the low countries in order to attack Germany.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom upon the resignation of Neville Chamberlain.

Chamberlain who  formally lost the confidence of the House of Commons, resigned as Prime Minister Churchill, known for his military leadership ability, was appointed to replace Chamberlain as Prime Minister of Great Britain.. He formed an all-party coalition and quickly won the popular support in the UK.

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Operation Fork-the Invasion of Iceland

The invasion of the Benelux wasn’t the only invasion that day. The British invaded Iceland  on the morning of 10 May 1940. The initial force of 746 British Royal Marines commanded by Colonel Robert Sturges disembarked at the capital Reykjavík. Meeting no resistance, the troops moved quickly to disable communication networks, secure strategic locations, and arrest German citizens. Requisitioning local transport, the troops moved to Hvalfjörður, Kaldaðarnes, Sandskeið, and Akranes to secure landing areas against the possibility of a German counterattack.

In the evening of 10 May, the Icelandic government formally issued a statement noting that their neutrality had been “flagrantly violated” and “its independence infringed”. The British government appeased the protest by promising compensation, trade agreement, non-interference in domestic Icelandic affairs, and the promise that troops would be withdrawn at war’s end.

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The Bombing of Freiburg

You may be forgiven to think that Freiburg was bombed by the RAF on May 10th 1940, because that would make sense. However that wasn’t the case.

Freiburg was bombed that day but not by the Brits or French but by the German Luftwaffe.The  3 aircrafts involved, commanded by Lieutenant Paul Seidel ,  from 8. Staffel, Kampfgeschwader 51 “Edelweiss” ( 8th Season of Fighter Squadron 51)flying the Heinkel He 111 medium bomber. They had taken off at 14:27 from Landsberg-Lech Air Base, to bomb the French city of Dijon, or the alternative target Dole–Jura Airport, as part of the Battle of France.

Due to navigation errors, lost among the clouds hovering over the German city of Freiburg, they were 100% positive they had their target in sight. At 3:59 PM, the Heinkel He 111 planes started dropping the total of 69 bombs.The city’s anti-aircraft defenses were caught totally unprepared. They had clearly seen the German planes flying over their heads and probably assumed they were en route to France. The load fell near a train station, killing a total of 57 people. Once the damage was done, the air raid alarm absorbed the horror in the streets.

The German command tried to cover up the mistake and passed the bombing off as enemy action. The German media accepted that version without any hesitation.Die Deutsche Wochenschau News reel(German Weekly Review) for example, reported in its issue no. 506 on 15 May 1940 at the end of a longer contribution of the “brutal and ruthless air raid on an unfortified German city”.

The following day, the Freiburger Zeitung reported a “sneaky, cowardly air raid against all laws of humanity and international law.” Seven months later, the Fuhrer himself accused Winston Churchill of terrorist attacks against civilians in Freiburg.

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Even though top German military officials maintained that the raid on Freiburg must have been an Allied mission, the truth eventually surfaced. Important work carried out by several historians finally broke through the officers’ denialism. Thus in August 1980, even the famous Colonel Josef Kammhuber stated that it was “evident” that “the attack on Freiburg was conducted mistakenly by a chain of III/KG51.”

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Patton-the Death of a Legend

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Although he was a highly controversial character  there are two things that no one can deny.1. He was a hero,2. he was and is a legend.

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The commander of the U.S. Third Army, General George S. Patton, Jr., took no great pleasure in the end of the war in Europe; he already knew that despite his lobbying of many influential figures in Washington, D.C., he had no hope of being reassigned to the Pacific Theater to command combat troops there. As he put it to his III Corps commander, Maj. Gen. James Van Fleet, “There is already a star [MacArthur] in that theater and you can only have one star in a show.

Patton was also depressed because he knew there would be a rapid reduction in the strength of the U.S. Army in Europe, and he believed this was inviting disaster.

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Patton always had a fighting and competitive spirit, already as a young man.This was even evident in the sports he played.

In 1912 he competed at the Stockholm Summer Olympic games in the fencing event, but he didn’t win a medal.

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On December 8, 1945, Patton’s chief of staff, Major General Hobart Gay, invited him on a pheasant hunting trip near Speyer to lift his spirits. Observing derelict cars along the side of the road, Patton said, “How awful war is. Think of the waste.” Moments later his car collided with an American army truck at low speed.

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Gay and others were only slightly injured, but Patton hit his head on the glass partition in the back seat. He began bleeding from a gash to the head and complained that he was paralyzed and having trouble breathing. Taken to a hospital in Heidelberg, Patton was discovered to have a compression fracture and dislocation of the cervical third and fourth vertebrae, resulting in a broken neck and cervical spinal cord injury that rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. He spent most of the next 12 days in spinal traction to decrease spinal pressure. All non-medical visitors, except for Patton’s wife, who had flown from the U.S., were forbidden. Patton, who had been told he had no chance to ever again ride a horse or resume normal life, at one point commented, “This is a hell of a way to die.” He died in his sleep of pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure at about 18:00 on December 21, 1945.Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in the Hamm district of Luxembourg City, alongside wartime casualties of the Third Army, per his request to “be buried with his men

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The mouse that roared-When Luxembourg said no to the Nazis

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Following the German invasion of Luxembourg on May 10, 1940, Luxembourg was briefly placed under military occupation. On August 2, 1940, the military government was dissolved and replaced by a civilian government under the leadership of the German civilian administrator of the adjoining German district.

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The Luxembourg population was declared to be German and was to use German as its only language; the German authorities, under the orders of the Gauleiter Gustav Simon, developed a robust policy of germanization.

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In August 1942, German authorities announced the formal annexation of Luxembourg by the Third Reich into Nazi Germany. Following the announcement was a program of ‘Germanization,’ or the forceful imposition of the German language. At all levels of the administration, important positions went to German nationals and very rapidly the Nazi Party machinery assumed far-reaching control of all aspects of social and family life.

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On August 30, Gustav Simon announced that all Luxembourger males of military age were to be conscripted into the Wehrmacht to fight against Allies. It was this decision that motivated the people of Luxembourg from anger to action, sticking to their national motto, “Mir woelle bleiwe waat mir sinn” (We want to remain what we are).

The Luxembourg population responded quickly against the forced conscription. Within hours citizens began organizing a general strike. On August 31, the strike officially began in the town of Wiltz. Local town officials, Michel Worré and Nicolas Müller, gathered other officials and refused to go to work. Slowly they were joined by other workers as the movement spread. Leaflets were printed and distributed secretly throughout the country.

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Soon after the striking in Wiltz, workers from the southwestern industrial towns of Schifflange and Differdange were alerted and also refused to go to work. In Schifflange, Hans Adam, a worker of German origins sounded an alarm across the valley to alert all workers. In Differdange, news of the strike spread by word of mouth and increased in intensity. On September 2, over 150 Differdange mill workers refused to take their shifts, inciting death threats from the German director of the mill. Approximately 50 workers still refused and declared that they were on strike.

The strike spread also to Esch-sur-Alzette, the capital of the Luxembourg mining area. Here, all aspects of the economic life were paralyzed, including administration, agriculture, industry, and education structures. The central post office in Luxembourg received formal confirmation of the strike soon after. Few mailbags were even opened as a mere semblance of work continued. At the approach of any German employee, the postal workers dispersed back to their work-places and pretended to work. Only letters and packages clearly addressed to Luxembourgers who had been deported to Germany for forced labor, were handled with care.

Throughout the country, schoolchildren were kept away from school, teachers refused to teach, laborers refused to work, there was little or no production of steel, milk, and other products. News outlets in Allied countries began covering the protest as the first general strike to be held in a German-occupied territory. For the rest of the world, it exposed German propaganda, which claimed that the people of Luxembourg were voluntarily joining German forces.

German authorities, alert to any sign of resistance and fearing further escalation of protests, mobilized immediately. An order declaring a state of emergency and introducing martial law was signed by the Chief of Civil Administration, Gustav Simon, threatening that strikers were to be immediately shot.

Beginning September 1, German officials began arresting strike leaders. Within days, 21 leaders, many of whom were teachers, were arrested for interrogation and then executed. This group included six leaders from the Differdange mill and Michel Worré and Nicolas Müller, from Wiltz. Most were tried by a military tribunal, sentenced to death, and deported to the Hinzert concentration camp were they were shot.

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According to a German officer who witnessed the executions of Worré and Müller, their lasts words were, “Vive Lëtzebuerg” (Long live Luxembourg!). Hans Adam, who had sounded the alarm in Schifflange and had German origins, was considered to be a traitor and was decapitated. Many of the leaders’ families were sent to prison and work camps in Germany.

At least 200 other Luxembourgers were arrested. Over 80 were further tried by the special tribunal and transferred to the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police. Hundreds of high school children were arrested and send to re-education camps in Germany along with several dozen industrial worker trainees and several young postmen.

There is little information available about any further organized striking after German suppression. The strike was effectively halted. A series of posters were later posted throughout Luxembourg announcing the death of the strikers as a consequence of the strike, bearing the names, occupation, and residency of each victim. Although the exact number of strikers is unknown, the movement did mark Luxembourg’s resistance to the German occupation, gaining attention worldwide.

Of the Luxembourger men drafted for service in the German Wehrmacht, about forty percent refused and went into hiding, half of them within the country’s borders. Some escaped to Britain and joined the Allied forces to fight against Germany and the Axis powers.

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After the 1942 general strike, German occupation continued to repress the Luxembourger people. Thousands were arrested and tortured and hundreds died in concentration camps. Whole families were deported to East Germany and replaced by German families.

(The names of the victims of the strike who were executed at Hinzert are among those inscribed on a catafalque at the site of the concentration camp)

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