January 31

1915 World War I: Eastern Front: The Central Powers, reinforcing their armies in the east, launch a great offensive under Hindenburg in the Battle of Bolimov, a feint aimed at Warsaw to distract Russian attention. Poison gas shells are used for the first time, but are not highly effective in the freezing temperatures, and the Russians do not report the gas attack.

1917 World War I: Various:

Germany announces it is resuming unrestricted submarine warfare—stating that neutral ships, armed or unarmed, that sail into a German war zone will be attacked without warning—Bethmann-Hollweg on U-Boat Warfare click here. Note: On this same day, Max Warburg lunches at his club with Admiral Arndt von Holtzendorff, HAPAG's Berlin agent, and Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman.) (THP)

German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff to Robert Lansing, US Secretary of State:

The freedom of the seas, being a preliminary condition of the free existence of nations and the peaceful intercourse between them, as well as the open door for the commerce of all nations, has always formed part of the leading principles of Germany's political program. All the more the Imperial Government regrets that the attitude of her enemies, who are so entirely opposed to peace, makes it impossible for the world at present to bring about the realization of these lofty ideals. Germany and her allies were ready to enter now into a discussion of peace, and had set down as basis the guarantee of existence, honour, and free development of their peoples. Their aims, as has been expressly stated in the note of December 12, 1916, were not directed toward the destruction or annihilation of their enemies and were, according to their conviction, perfectly compatible with the rights of the other nations. As to Belgium, for which such warm and cordial sympathy is felt in the United States, the Chancellor had declared only a few weeks previously that its annexation had never formed part of Germany's intentions. The peace to be signed with Belgium was to provide for such conditions in that country, with which Germany desires to maintain friendly neighbourly relations, that Belgium should not be used again by Germany's enemies for the purpose of instigating continuous hostile intrigues.

1937 Danzig: The Senate creates a secret police force modeled on the Gestapo.

1940 Holocaust: By the end of January, the Germans have driven 78,000 Jews out of their homes in Poland. [See: Was the Holocaust Detrimental to Hitler's War Effort?]

1942 World War II: Various:

Philippines: American and Filipino forces retreat from Manila to the Bataan Peninsula.

Malaya: Allied forces retreat from British Malaya to Singapore, ceding control of the country to Japan. [For further information, click here.]

Published in the Verordnungsblatt of France:

Ordinance of 31 January 1942 concerning the requisition of service and goods. By virtue of the plenary powers which have been conferred on me by the Fuehrer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, I decree the following: 1. Whoever fails to comply with these requisitions of service or goods which are imposed upon him by the Military Commander in France, or an authority designated by him, or who performs them in such a manner as to imperil or make fail the purpose of the services or requisitions, shall be punished by penal servitude, imprisonment, or fine. A fine may be imposed in addition to penal servitude or imprisonment. 2. In serious cases the penalty of death may be inflicted.

1943 World War II: Various:


After a week of heavy fighting, Field Marshal Paulus surrenders the German 6th Army to the Russians at Stalingrad; the worst single defeat in German military history. This happens at 19:45 hours local time and after the Univermag building has been surrounded. Vassili Chuikov's Sixty-Second Army has the honor of accepting his surrender. The northern pocket continues to fight on. (THP)

War against Japan: American and Australian forces stopped a Japanese advance in the Battle of Wau, during the New Guinea campaign. [For further information, click here]

1944 World War II: Various:

US amphibious landings begin in the Marshall Islands:

Spanish explorers first contacted the islands in the sixteenth century, but they were named after the British explorer, Captain John Marshall, who charted the area in 1788. The islands were largely ignored until the early 1800s. At that time, whaling ships began more frequent visits for water and refreshment, and in 1852, American missionaries moved from Hawaii to establish stations there. The Protestant mission legacy remains strong today. Later in the 19th century, the demand for coconut oil and copra (the dried meat of the coconut), brought the Marshalls into a new kind of economy. German trading interests became predominant, resulting in the establishment of a protectorate in 1885. When Germany lost World War I, Japan was given the Marshall Islands and other Pacific islands as a mandate of the League of Nations. The Japanese have been described as the only committed colonizers of the Marshall Islands, which was one of six districts of Japanese administration. Copra production and education were expanded during the early years, but in the 1930s, Japanese preparations for war became a high priority. World War II had a terrible impact on the islands as fighting killed many of the local population while bombing devastated the landscape. When the Americans established military control in 1944, they found the Marshall Islands to be of strategic importance.

Genocide: Gypsies: Dr. Ritter mentions 23,822 "conclusively 'clarified' Gypsy cases" in a report to the DFG (the German Association for Scientific Research). (THP)

1945 World War II: Various:

Zhukov's forces reach the Oder River less than 50 miles from Berlin:

At the start of 1945 the Eastern Front had been relatively stable since August 1944 in the aftermath of Operation Bagration. Romania and Bulgaria had been forced to surrender and declare war on Germany. The Germans had lost Budapest and most of the rest of Hungary. The plains of Poland were now open to the Soviet Red Army. The Soviet commanders, after their inaction during the Warsaw Uprising, took Warsaw in January 1945. Over three days, on a broad front incorporating four army Fronts, the Red Army began an offensive across the Narew River and from Warsaw. After four days the Red Army broke out and started moving west up to thirty to forty kilometres per day, taking the Baltic states, Danzig, East Prussia, Poznan, and drawing up on a line sixty kilometres east of Berlin along the Oder River.

Western Front: The US First Army enters Germany east of St. Vith

The French First Army gains ground in Alsace, near Colmar. [See: The Last Days of the Third Reich.]

Poland: The Czechoslovak Government in London recognizes the Lublin Government in Poland.

Once Soviet forces reentered Poland and, in the course of the next several months, reoccupied that country, time was on the side of the Lublin Committee those forces supported. The Committee could, and did, continually extend its control and weaken internal opposition. The most cynical example of this was the refusal of the Soviet army to assist the Warsaw uprising in August. One apparent reason for this is that the population of Warsaw and the Polish Underground forces engaged in the uprising supported the London Poles rather than the Lublin Poles. The Germans were therefore allowed to exterminate some troublesome political opposition.

The execution of Pvt. Slovik:

On this day, Pvt. Eddie Slovik becomes the first American soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion-and the only one who suffered such a fate during World War II.

Pvt. Eddie Slovik was a draftee. Originally classified 4-F because of a prison record (grand theft auto), he was reclassified 1-A when draft standards were lowered to meet growing personnel needs. In January 1944, he was trained to be a rifleman, which was not to his liking, as he hated guns.

In August of the same year, Slovik was shipped to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division, which had already suffered massive casualties in France and Germany. Slovik was a replacement, a class of soldier not particular respected by officers. As he and a companion were on the way to the front lines, they became lost in the chaos of battle and stumbled upon a Canadian unit that took them in.

Slovik stayed on with the Canadians until October 5, when they turned him and his buddy over to the American military police. They were reunited with the 28th Division, which had been moved to Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought, as replacements getting lost early on in their tours of duty were not unusual. But exactly one day after Slovik returned to his unit, he claimed he was "too scared and too nervous" to be a rifleman, and threatened to run away if forced into combat. His confession was ignored-and Slovik took off. One day later he returned and signed a confession of desertion, claiming he would run away again if forced to fight, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the consequences were serious. Slovik refused and was confined to the stockade.

The 28th Division had many cases of soldiers wounding themselves or deserting in the hopes of a prison sentence that might protect them from the perils of combat. A legal officer of the 28th offered Slovik a deal: dive into combat immediately and avoid the court-martial. Slovik refused. He was tried on November 11 for desertion and was convicted in less than two hours. The nine-officer court-martial panel passed a unanimous sentence of execution, "to be shot to death with musketry."

Slovik's appeal failed. It was held that he "directly challenged the authority" of the United States and that "future discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge." Slovik had to pay for his recalcitrant attitude, and the military made an example of him. One last appeal was made-to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander-but the timing was bad for mercy. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest was resulting in literally thousands of American casualties, not to mention the second largest surrender of an U.S. Army unit during the war. Eisenhower upheld the death sentence.

Slovik was shot and killed by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France. None of the rifleman even flinched, firmly believing Slovik had gotten what he deserved. (History.com)

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: Day 47. Continuation of M. Charles Dubost's Presentation of the case regarding atrocities committed in the occupied countries of the west.

M. Charles Dubost:

From the time Germany understood that her policy of collaboration was doomed to defeat, that her policy of hostages only exasperated the fury of the people whom she was trying to subdue, instead of modifying her policy with regard to the citizens of the occupied countries, she reinforced the terror which already reigned there and tried to justify it by saying it was an anti-Communist campaign.

The Tribunal will recall Keitel's order and will understand what was thought of this pretext. All the French, all the citizens of Europe without distinction, without any distinction of party, profession, religion, or race, were involved in the resistance against Germany and their heroes were mingled in the graves and in the collective charnel houses into which the Germans threw them after their extermination.

But this confusion was voluntary; it was calculated. [For the full text of today's proceedings, Click here.]

1950 Truman announces development of H-bomb

U.S. President Harry S. Truman publicly announces his decision to support the development of the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.

Five months earlier, the United States had lost its nuclear supremacy when the Soviet Union successfully detonated an atomic bomb at their test site in Kazakhstan. Then, several weeks after that, British and U.S. intelligence came to the staggering conclusion that German-born Klaus Fuchs, a top-ranking scientist in the U.S. nuclear program, was a spy for the Soviet Union. These two events, and the fact that the Soviets now knew everything that the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb, led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world's first "superbomb," as he described it in his public announcement on January 31.

On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated "Mike," the world's first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device, built upon the Teller-Ulam principles of staged radiation implosion, instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. The incredible explosive force of Mike was also apparent from the sheer magnitude of its mushroom cloud—within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.

Three years later, on November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb on the same principle of radiation implosion. Both superpowers were now in possession of the "hell bomb," as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history. (History.com)

1958 Cold War: In response to the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1, but officially as part of the United States program for the International Geophysical Year, the US Army launches Explorer 1, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It is America's first satellite, with a total weight just shy of 31 paltry pounds, in contrast to Sputnik's 1,120 pounds. Von Braun's team of German rocket scientists is predominantly responsible for its development. Von Braun himself monitors the launch from a communications room in the Pentagon, in the company of the Secretary of the Army and a gathering of top scientists and generals. [See: Wunderwaffen: Hitler's Deception and the History of Rocketry.]

2015 Death: Richard von Weizsäcker: Former President of Germany: Richard von Weizsäcker, former West German, then German president from 1984 to 1994, dies at the age of 94. [For further information, click here]

Edited by Levi Bookin (Copy editor)

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