Monday, November 2, 2009

Days 53 - 64 (October 23 - November 3, 1939)

Day 64 November 3, 1939
The Finnish delegates Paasikivi and Tanner again meet with Molotov and Stalin at the Kremlin. The Finnish position has not changed since Oct 23; they offer islands in the Gulf of Finland but the Hanko peninsula (guarding the mouth of the Gulf) is not for discussion. The Soviet position has not changed either; Molotov warns “now is the turn of the military to have their say”.

USA neutrality law, preventing trade in arms and war materials, loans or credits to belligerent parties in a war, is an isolationist policy to insulate America from oversees wars. This is revised in the Neutrality Act of 1939 to allow arms trade with belligerent nations on a cash and carry basis.

German Commander-in-Chief von Brauchitsch rejects Manstein’s first memorandum on the invasion of France; however, he does allocate more tanks to General Rundstedt’s Army group A (Manstein’s superior). Undaunted, Manstein will revise his plan and submit more memos to Brauchitsch.

Day 63 November 2, 1939
As Finnish diplomats try to avert war by extending negotiations, the Soviet leadership has a clearer view of the situation. Unlike Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which quickly granted Soviet access to bases, the Finnish government has resisted both subtle and direct threats of invasion and seems unlikely to change tack now.

Stalin has rejected Chief of the General Staff Boris Shaposhnikov’s plan for a direct but prolonged charge up the Karelian Isthmus to the Finnish capital Helsinki. Instead, he prefers the plan of Kirill Meretskov (Commander of the Leningrad Military District) to cross the entire 800 mile border. He believes blitzkrieg tactics and the desire of the Finnish people to be liberated by their Soviet neighbours will lead to a swift victory. The Finnish terrain (lakes, forests and marshes) and the will of the Finnish people prove both assumptions to be incorrect.

Day 62 November 1, 1939
The Finnish delegates Paasikivi and Tanner leave by train for Moscow to negotiate again with the Soviets. The Finnish position has not changed and they do not intend to give up any more territory than the Gulf islands already offered on October 23. Their goal is to keep the negotiations alive, in order to delay military action by the USSR, as they have been informed by Field Marshall Carl Gustav Mannerheim (Commander-in-Chief of the Finnish army) that the Finnish army is not ready to fight. Political belief in Finnish neutrality has blinded them to Soviet ambitions to reclaim ‘lost Russian’ territory and the antebellum Army is grossly under prepared. The Finnish army numbers about 200,000 men, with no tanks, little heavy artillery (except coastal batteries on the Gulf of Finland and Lake Lagoda), about 100 Bofors anti-tank guns and precious little ammunition for any of these weapons.

Day 61 October 31, 1939
Erich von Manstein’s first memorandum on the invasion of France arrives at Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH). It will be quickly rejected but 5 more memoranda will follow. He has been working on an armored thrust through the Ardennes Forest and along the River Somme, to isolate the Allied forces in Northern France and Belgium. Although Manstein does not know it, his plan is completely in line with Hitler's thinking.

To increase pressure on Finland, Molotov makes a speech to the Supreme Soviet publicly announcing negotiations which have so far been secret. This successfully isolates Finland from potential international support (e.g. Sweden) but fails to cause the expected uprising of the Finnish public against their government. Instead the Finns are proud of their hard-won independence and rally behind their leaders. This is not the last time the Soviets miscalculate the Finnish people.

Day 60 October 30, 1939
Hitler is impatient with Halder’s lack of progress for an aggressive plan to invade France. He suggests to Generaloberst Alfred Jodl (Chief of Operation Staff, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht) that a tank force should advance through the Ardennes Forest. Although this is initially deemed impractical, Hitler's idea will find form in the plans being developed by Manstein.

Battle of the Atlantic. Royal Navy battleships HMS Nelson and Rodney, cruiser HMS Hood and destroyers HMS Icarus, Impulsive, Ivanhoe, Intrepid and Kelly are escorting iron ore ships from Narvik to the Firth of Forth. The battle group, under Admiral Charles Morton Forbes (Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet), encounters German U-boats west of the Orkney Islands. U-56 hits HMS Nelson, the flagship of the Home Fleet, with three torpedoes but none explode. However, U-57, U-58 and U-59 do not engage the British ships.

Day 59 October 29, 1939
The first Luftwaffe plane is shot down over the British mainland at Haddington, East Lothian, on The Firth of Forth. The aircraft is a Heinkel He 111, part of Luftflotte 2 based in Northern Germany to attack shipping off the coast of Scotland and the Royal Navy Home Fleet at Rosyth (Firth of Forth) and Scapa Flow. RAF Spitfires of both 602 and 603 Squadrons claim the kill. Two survivors, from the crew of 4, become among the first German POWs held in Britain, at Grizedale Hall in Lancashire (Camp 1) or Glen Mill Camp also in Lancashire (Camp 176).

Soviet troops begin occupying bases in Latvia. Soviet troops continue mobilizing and Finnish troops dig in along their shared borders.

Day 58 October 28, 1939
Graf Spee has been ordered out of the Atlantic to avoid British warships. She meets up with her support ship Altmark west of The Cape of Good Hope, refuels and transfers the prisoners from her last victim, SS Trevanion. At midnight, Graf Spee sets sail for the Indian Ocean.

Captain Brown of SS Huntsman, already a prisoner on Altmark, records in his diary - “"Graf Spee returned after nine days absence. We were not allowed on deck as she was oiling from the Altmark and storing by motor boats. Fine weather, sea smooth. Capt Edwards, Chief Officer and Ch. Engineer of Trevanion were ushered into our quarters. Now thirteen in our quarters & thirty-four in the Officers deck.”

Day 57 October 27, 1939
Although technically unnecessary, King Leopold III of Belgium declares his commitment to Belgian neutrality. The Treaty of London, signed on 19 April 1839 by the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia and the Netherlands, guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium and committed the signatories to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion.

Erwin Rommel has commanded Hitler's personal protection detail (FührerBegleitbataillon) since 1938. Promoted to Generalmajor in August 1939, he protected Hitler's field headquarters in Poland. During the Polish campaign and afterwards in Germany, Rommel takes advantage of staff meetings and meals with Hitler to lobby for a field command. A proponent of mobile armored warfare, he naturally has his eyes on a Panzer division. It has taken Rommel 21 years to rise from Captain to the lowest rank of General; in less than three years his rank will be Generalfeldmarschall.

Day 56 October 26, 1939
Hans Frank, a dedicated Nazi, is given rank of SS Obergruppenführer and appointed Governor-General of the General Government for the occupied Polish territories “Generalgouvernement für die besetzten polnischen Gebiete” (or simply General Government). A decree imposes compulsory labour on all Jews aged 16 -60.

General Government is a German police state “colony”, with no Polish representation, and Hitler plans for complete Germanification within 15-20 years. This area (approximately 95,000 square km with a population of 12 million) lies between Western Poland, annexed into Germany, and Eastern Poland, now occupied by USSR. Frank is responsible for segregating Jews into city ghettos and exporting Polish civilians to Germany as forced labour. He will eventually be found guilty of war crimes at the Nuremberg trials and hung on October 16, 1946.

Day 55 October 25, 1939
Paasikivi and Tanner change trains in Leningrad. Ominously, they see significant concentrations of Red Army troops around Leningrad. North of the city, on the Soviet portion of the Karelian Isthmus, construction of additional road and rail connections is underway. While it might seem careless for the Soviets to allow their preparations to be observed, the obvious route of Soviet attack into Finland is across the Karelian Isthmus (a 30 mile wide strip between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Lagoda) and the Finns are already fortifying the Mannerheim Line to defend against this. Unknown to the Finns, the Red Army is also planning to attack along the entire 800 mile border running North from Lake Lagoda to the Barents Sea.

Battle of the Atlantic. U-16 is sunk by HMS Cayton Wyke, a requisitioned trawler converted for minesweeping, and patrol vessel HMS Puffin.

Day 54 October 24, 1939
Paasikivi and Tanner, the Finnish delegation to negotiate the border dispute with USSR, leave Moscow by train for Leningrad and then Helsinki. The talks are public knowledge but the topic of acquisition of bases and territory by USSR is top secret. The New York Times speculates that either the Finns are negotiating a loan to make up for trade revenues with Britain lost as a result of German sinking of neutral vessels, or that Tanner as head of the Finnish Socialist party is reporting to Moscow on the attitude of finish workers. This secrecy will not be maintained for long.

82,000 kg of Polish gold has traveled from the Romania port of Constanţa on Sept. 16 to Istanbul in Turkey on Sept. 19, and then on to Beirut, Lebanon where it was loaded on French warships bound from France. It finally arrives in Paris.

Day 53 October 23, 1939
The Finnish delegates Paasikivi and Tanner arrive in Moscow by train and go to the Kremlin to negotiate with Molotov and Stalin. The Finns are prepared to give up 6 islands in the Gulf of Finland and they offer to move the border near Leningrad 13 km North, giving some protection to USSR’s second city. Stalin continues to demand a border move of 70 km, as well as a ‘lease’ on the entire Hanko peninsula to station 5000 troops and a naval base. He adds ominously that there will be no haggling but the Finns are not authorized to make these concessions and the meeting breaks up acrimoniously, with each side accusing the other of provoking war. Paasikivi and Tanner return to the Kremlin at 11 p.m. to hear Stalin’s final offer to reduce the Hanko garrison to 4000 but conceding this is still beyond their remit. They agree to take the Soviet terms (which, in reality, are not much different from those presented Oct 12) back to Helsinki for discussion by the Finnish government. While the Finns engage in more diplomacy, USSR prepares for war.

1 comment:

  1. It should be noted that amount of gold (the polish gold) would have been worth almost 300 million today.