Hitler had hardly been seen in public since the 20th July plot.

Hitler had hardly been seen in public since the 20th July bomb plot.

German forces were on the retreat on all fronts, including Yugoslavia.

German forces were on the retreat on all fronts, including Yugoslavia.

It was a central part of the Nazi belief system that the “power of the will” could overcome otherwise impossible circumstances. The ‘supermen’ of the Germans Reich could achieve more than any other race, not just because they were inherently superior but because they had stronger will power.

The situation facing Germany was becoming ever more calamitous, and many Germans could see it. However, to voice anything but confidence in ‘ultimate victory’ was a perilous business, any hint of defeatism could end in a concentration camp. Now Hitler sought to extend the same paranoia to the armed forces, with the following Fuhrer Order.

Even if a unit was surrounded a commander was now expected to see if there were dedicated Nazis within the ranks willing to carry on the fight. The order complemented Hitler’s preference for declaring towns ands citys to be “fortresses”, that were expected to hold out to the last man.

Whether because of this order, or because German commanders were aware of implicit threats to their families in Germany, there would be many examples of German forces fanatically carrying on the fight in hopeless situations:

Fuhrer Order On The Exercise Of Command In Units Which Are Left To Their Own Resources

The Chief Of The High Command Of The Armed Forces.

The Fuhrer’s Headquarters, 28th November, 1944.

(Operations Staff).

Subject: Exercise Of Command In Units Which Have Been Isolated.

The following Fuhrer’s Order on the exercise of command in units which are left to their own resources will be made known to troops forthwith.

It will be ensured forthwith that the contents of this Order become the common property of every individual soldier.

Operation Orders providing a summary of the hitherto published Orders concerning fortifications, fortified areas, local strongpoints, and so on, will follow.

Enclosure

The war will decide whether the German Folk shall continue to exist or perish. It demands selfless exertion from every individual. Situations which have seemed hopeless have been redeemed by the courage of soldiers contemptuous of death, by the steadfast perseverance of all ranks, and by inflexible, exalted leadership.

A Commander is only fit to lead German troops if he daily shares, with all the powers of his mind, body, and soul, the demands which he must make upon his men. Energy, willingness to take decisions, firmness of character, unshakeable faith, and hard, unconditional readiness for service, are the indispensable requirements for the struggle. He who does not possess them, or who no longer possesses them, cannot be a Leader, and he must resign.

Therefore I order:

Should a Commander, left to his own resources, think that he must give up the struggle, he will first ask his Officers, then his Noncommissioned Officers, and finally his troops, if one of them is ready to carry on the task and continue the fight. If one of them will, he will hand over command to that man – regardless of his rank – and himself fall in. The new Leader will then assume the command, with all its rights and duties.

Goebbels review the 'Volkssturm', the volunteer army of old men and boys that would be the last defence line for Germany.

Goebbels review the ‘Volkssturm’, the volunteer army of old men and boys that would be the last defence line for Germany.

Members of the  Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the "Grofldeutschland" Division.

Members of the Volkssturm training with experienced soldiers from the “Grofldeutschland” Division.

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Nov

27

1944

US Navy battle group under attack from Kamikaze

A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

Jap planes were coming at us from all directions. Before the attack started we did not know that they were suicide planes, with no intention of returning to their base. They had one thing in mind and that was to crash into our ships, bombs and all. You have to blow them up, to damage them doesn’t mean much. Right off the bat a Jap plane made a suicide dive at the cruiser St. Louis, there was a big explosion and flames were seen shortly from the stern.

Nov

26

1944

US 116th Infantry Regiment on the ‘watch on the Roer’

A U.S. Infantry anti-tank crew fires on Nazis who machine- gunned their vehicle, 
somewhere in Holland." W. F. Stickle, November 4, 1944.

Outpost guard duty was a dreaded chore that befell us too often. Changing of the guard had to be performed after dark. We almost tiptoed as we made the rounds patrolling or traveling to outpost duty. The single-cart dirt path was under German surveillance during daylight and was zeroed-in night and day. Intermittent mortar and artillery rounds kept us alert as we traveled the road. It was never safe to use the path, even at night. We were told, emphatically, that when a Very light pistol shot was fired, we were to freeze in our tracks. We did as we were told.

Nov

25

1944

168 dead as Woolworths obliterated in V2 attack

A scene of devastation following a V2 rocket attack, somewhere in the south of England. In the foreground, a casualty is being carried away on a stretcher, whilst in the background, Civil Defence workers continue to search through debris and rubble, checking for any other survivors. The remains of a building can also be seen. According to the original caption, the rocket fell here "about two hours ago".

People were lying around me, some bleeding with cuts to their heads from flying glass. I managed to stand up unsteadily and then I saw the huge pall of black smoke rising from the Woolworth site. There was too much for the mind to take in, but bodies lay everywhere, some stripped of clothing. Cars were mangled wrecks,on their sides or upside down. Telephone poles lay crazily across rooftops. The tram I had been travelling in had stopped in the middle of the road. I learned later that all the passengers were found dead in their seats.

Nov

24

1944

Germany scrapes together manpower for the front

"The unshakable confidence in victory of the German people cannot be better characterized than by the fact of the incessant flow of volunteers, even in the 6th year of the branches....Trained by experienced instructors front with the latest and best weapons they will stand at the front in the foreseeable future."

In just six weeks, the recruits would have to learn the tips that might help them survive at least their first day fighting the Russians. Field training and weapons practice were the chief activities. At night, and in the thick mists that settled over the wintery countryside, they practised map reading and navigation. Life was hard for the recruits who until then had enjoyed all the comforts of a home life such as they were in these difficult times. Still, their living conditions were no worse than those I experienced during two cruel winters on the Ostfront.

Nov

23

1944

British soldiers discover horrors of Vught camp

Vught Concentration Camp: The electrically charged barbed wire fence around Vught concentration camp near Hertogenbosch in Holland.

Outside stood a gibbet with a well-worn noose. Under this structure were two wooden blocks that tapered to a tiny base. The purpose was to string the victim up by the neck precariously balancing on tip-toe on the wobbling blocks. Here we were told the agonised victim might sway for hours until either fatigue or desperation caused the slight movement necessary to topple the blocks and complete the execution.

Nov

22

1944

HMS Stratagem – escape from a flooded submarine

HMS Stratagem, sunk off Malaya on 22 November 1944.

The first I managed to reach had a defective valve on the oxygen bottle and I could not move it. The second was in working order and I put this over the head of one of the older ratings who was panicking and in tears due to the pressure effect on his eyes. The pressure in the boat at the time was immense and the chlorine content in the air considerable. The water all round us must have been full of oil fuel as we were all drenched with it, although I did not notice it at the time. The air could be heard to be escaping through the hull forward and the water was still rising fast.

Nov

21

1944

USS Sealion attacks and sinks battleship Kongo

The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-bilit as a battleship as seen here in 1929-30.

0406: Tracking indicates the target group now zigzagging. We are holding true bearing, maybe gaining a little. Called for maximum speed from engineers – they gave us 25% overload for about thirty minutes, then commenced growling about sparking commutators, hot motors, et al , forced to slow to flank. Sea and wind increasing all the time – now about force 5 or 6 – taking solid water over bridge, with plenty coming down the conning tower hatch.

Nov

20

1944

General George S. Patton confronts an SS General

Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944

ou can tell this man that naturally in my position I can­not demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering. If he wants to say anything he can, and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk.

Nov

19

1944

Ordeal of the wounded in the ‘Bloody Forest’

The struggle to bring up ammunition in the Hurtgen Forest, extrication the wounded was even more difficult.

In the next room, the litters lay on the floor so close to one another that the doctors and the aid men frequently had to step on the litter itself. Aid men quickly and efficiently appraised wounds and brought into play their first and most efficient weapon, a pair of scissors, which they carried tied to their wrists or waists by a piece of Carlisle bandage. A sergeant took a quick look at the wounded captain’s feet and, grabbing his scissors, began cutting the clothing from the knee down.