Tag Archives: Second World War

Trinity nuclear test

Brief account of USA’s first ever nuclear test in the Manhattan Project

The 16th July 1945 marked the start of the atomic age when the USA detonated the first nuclear bomb under the codename ‘Trinity’.

Nicknamed ‘the gadget’ by the people working on it, the plutonium-based weapon was detonated at the Alamogordo Test Range in New Mexico. The explosion was equivalent to about 20 kilotons of TNT, and the blast-wave was felt by civilians up to 160 miles away. To maintain secrecy, a press release was issued shortly after the successful detonation that claimed a large ammunition storage magazine had exploded.

The development of nuclear weapons by the US Army in the Manhattan Project that began in 1942 at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico started due to concerns that Nazi Germany would develop an atomic bomb. By 1944 scientists had designed an implosion-type device and proposed that a test take place. The location was chosen in September, and an on-site laboratory was set up.

President Truman was keen to test the bomb before the Potsdam Conference began on the 18th July, so the 16th was chosen to give time to try again in case it failed. However when the appointed hour came rain was falling, which would have increased radioactive fallout, and so the detonation time was pushed back from 4am to 5.30am. At 5:29am the “the gadget” was exploded on top of a 100-foot steel tower, known as Point Zero. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, later said that after the explosion he recalled a verse from Hindu scripture: ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’

Germany and Italy support Franco

Why did Germany and Italy agree to support Franco?

On the 26th July 1936, Adolf Hitler informed General Francisco Franco that Germany would support his Nationalist rebellion in Spain.

Benito Mussolini, the leader of Italy, also agreed to intervene in the war on the Nationalist side after being encouraged to do so by Hitler. Although both countries later signed the Non-Intervention Agreement, they continued to send troops and equipment to support Franco’s forces.

The Spanish Civil War broke out on the 17th July, when an army uprising against the Spanish Second Republic that began in Morocco spread to the mainland. In the face of early rebel gains, the Republican government sought assistance from France and the USSR. Meanwhile the Nationalists turned to the right-wing governments of Germany and Italy.

Hitler in particular had a number of reasons for getting involved. As well as giving him the opportunity to take action against what he called “communist barbarism”, assisting Franco would win Germany an important ally and access to Spain’s natural resources. Militarily, German involvement also provided an opportunity to test the new equipment developed since the Nazi rearmament programme began in 1933.

Both Hitler and Mussolini were concerned about the risk of the Spanish Civil War escalating into a European-wide conflict, so at first their support for the Nationalists was small-scale and consisted mainly of transporting existing Spanish troops from Morocco to the mainland. However, as the war progessed their involvement grew. The German Condor Legion in particular began to take an active role in the aerial bombing of Republican areas, most notably the Basque town of Guernica, on the 26th April 1937.

The causes and effects of the Nazi-Soviet Pact

On 23rd August 1939, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop – the Soviet foreign minister and the German foreign minister – signed the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, otherwise known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Outwardly it was a guarantee that neither side would fight against the other in war, but a ‘secret protocol’ also outlined how Eastern Europe would be divided between the two countries. This agreement cleared the way for the Nazi invasion of Poland just nine days later.

Stalin’s Communist USSR distrusted Hitler’s Nazi Germany, knowing that ultimately Hitler intended to invade and annex Russia. Similarly, Britain distrusted Stalin due a fear of Communism. Although talks took place between Britain and Russia in early August 1939 regarding a possible alliance against Hitler, they were never taken seriously by the British government who sent their representative by a slow boat and gave him no authority to actually make any decisions.

Frustrated, Stalin’s government received Ribbentrop later that month. He proposed the Nazi-Soviet agreement which, in the face of continued British reluctance to form an alliance, was accepted. The Soviet government almost certainly knew that Hitler would break the non-aggression pact at some point and would invade Russia, but at least the pact delayed that and gave time to prepare.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact was broken less than two years after it was signed, when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on the 22nd June 1941. All the territory gained by Russia under terms of the ‘secret protocol’ was lost in just a matter of weeks.

Nazi invasion of Poland

The Nazi invasion of Poland

On the 1st September 1939, German forces invaded Poland in a move that was to trigger the Second World War.

Germany had already removed the threat that the USSR might respond aggressively by signing the Nazi-Soviet Pact a week earlier. Furthermore, the Nazis manufactured a situation in Poland to claim that their military response was an acting of self-defence.

During the night of the 31st August, Nazi SS troops dressed in Polish uniforms and staged an attack on the Gleiwitz radio tower in Upper Silesia. This ‘false flag’ operation was part of a wider series of staged attacks by Germans and German property called Operation Himmler that was designed to make it appear that Poland was exercising aggression against Germany.

Just hours after the Gleiwitz incident, at 4.45am on the 1st September, the first of approximately 1.5million German troops launched their attack on Poland. The effective encirclement of Polish forces by launching the coordinated attack at the same time from the north, south and west. The attack from the south came across the border with Slovakia, which had declared its independence in March under pressure from Hitler.

Known as the Battle of the Border, the three-pronged ground attack was supported by air raids that targeted Polish cities. It took just 5 days for troops on the ground to force the Polish army to retreat to their secondary defensive lines. The USSR joined launched its own invasion from east on the 17th September, and this crushed Polish hopes of victory.

The Polish government refused to surrender to Germany and instead evacuated the country and regrouped in Allied countries.

WW2

The start of the Second World War

On the 3rd September 1939, the Second World War officially began when France and the United Kingdom – together with Australia and New Zealand – declared war on Germany.

Nazi forces had invaded Poland two days earlier, claiming to be acting in self-defence. Although both France and Britain had each signed Pacts with Poland regarding mutual assistance in case of invasion, no significant military action was taken for eight months against Germany. As a result, this period became known as the Phoney War.

However, to call the war ‘phoney’ ignores some key elements of this period. The French, for example, launched an attack across the German border known as the Saar Offensive but the troops were pulled back to their defensive Maginot Line on the 17th October after it became clear that a full-scale assault would not be successful.

Further action took place at sea, where both the British and French navies both began a blockade of Germany’s ports the day after the declaration of war. The previous evening the British passenger ship SS Athenia was hit by torpedoes fired from a Nazi U-boat off the coast of the Hebrides. 128 civilian passengers and crew were killed as a result of the attack, and it is seen by some as marking the start of the Battle of the Atlantic.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by Winston Churchill, on Chamberlain’s own suggestion, on the 10th May 1940. This coincided to the day with Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries using the tactic of blitzkrieg and effectively marked the end of the Phoney War.