February 8

1264 Wunderwaffen: A "ground-rat," a primitive type of firework and one of the earliest devices utilizing internal-combustion rocket propulsion, horribly frightens guests at a feast held by the Emperor Lizong. Reportedly, the Empress-Mother Kung Sheng, in whose honor the feast is being held, is the most frightened of all. (Needham) [For further details, Click here.]

1725 Death: Peter the Great: Emperor of Russia:

The reign of Peter, who became sole czar in 1696, was characterized by a series of sweeping military, political, economic, and cultural reforms based on Western European models. Russian victories in major conflicts with Persia and the Ottoman Empire greatly expanded Peter's empire, and the defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War won Russia direct access to the Baltic Sea. Here, Peter founded the new Russian capital of St. Petersburg, and Russia became a major European power: politically, culturally, and geographically. In 1721, Peter abandoned the traditional Russian title of czar in favor of the European-influenced title of emperor. Four years later, he died. (History.com)

1877 Birth: Albert Voegler: leading German industrial tycoon and chairman of the board of the United Steel Works:

In 1928 he began to fund the Nazi Party. He joined with other industrialists in signing the letter that urged Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as chancellor. This was successful and on 20th February, 1933, he attended the meeting with Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering and Hjalmar Schacht where the Association of German Industrialists raised 3 million marks for the party in the forthcoming election. During the Second World War Voegler worked under Albert Speer the Minister of Armaments and was responsible for war production in the Ruhr. Albert Voegler committed suicide on 14th April, 1945 following his arrest by American troops. [For further details, Click here.]

1887 Native Americans: President Grover Cleveland signs devastating Dawes Act into law:

The Act split up reservations held communally by Native American tribes into smaller units and distributed these units to individuals within the tribe. Also called the General Allotment Act, the law changed the legal status of Native Americans from tribal members to individuals subject to federal laws and dissolved many tribal affiliations The Dawes Severalty/General Allotment Act constituted a huge blow to tribal sovereignty.

Cleveland's goal was to encourage Native Americans to integrate into American agrarian culture. Cleveland, who once said though the people support the government; the government should not support the people, led a socially reformist yet financially conservative government that did not believe in welfare handouts. He signed the act in a sincere but misguided attempt to improve the Native Americans' lives by incorporating them into white culture, rejecting earlier policies toward Native Americans that forced them to live on desolate reservations where it was difficult to make a living. However, his support of the Dawes Severalty Act actually did more damage than good.

Under the Dawes Act, the head of each Native American family received 160 acres in an effort to encourage Native Americans to take up farming, live in smaller family units that were considered more American and renounce tribal loyalties. The government held such lands in trust for 25 years, until the recipients could prove themselves self-sufficient farmers. Before the family could sell their allotment, they were required to get a certificate of competency. If the family did not succeed at farming, the land reverted back to the federal government for sale, usually to white settlers. The Dawes Act reduced Native American landholdings from 138 million acres in 1887 to 78 million in 1900 and continued the trend of white settlement on previously Native American-held land.

In addition, the law created federally funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. Family and cultural ties were practically destroyed by the now-notorious boarding schools, in which children were punished for speaking their native language or performing native rituals.

The Dawes Severalty Act was finally abolished in 1934, during President Franklin Roosevelt's first term.

1904 The Russo-Japanese War begins:

Following the Russian rejection of a Japanese plan to divide Manchuria and Korea into spheres of influence, Japan launches a surprise naval attack against Port Arthur, a Russian naval base in China. The Russian fleet is decimated.

During the subsequent Russo-Japanese War, Japan won a series of decisive victories over the Russians, who underestimated the military potential of its non-Western opponent. In January 1905, the strategic naval base of Port Arthur fell to Japanese naval forces under Admiral Heihachiro Togo; in March, Russian troops were defeated at Shenyang, China, by Japanese Field Marshal Iwao Oyama; and in May, the Russian Baltic fleet under Admiral Zinovi Rozhdestvenski was destroyed by Togo near the Tsushima Islands.

These three major defeats convinced Russia that further resistance against Japan's imperial designs for East Asia was hopeless, and in August 1905 U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt mediated a peace treaty at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this achievement.) Japan emerged from the conflict as the first modern non-Western world power and set its sights on greater imperial expansion. However, for Russia, its military's disastrous performance in the war was one of the immediate causes of the Russian Revolution of 1905. (History.com)

1915 World War I: Russian Front: The new German Tenth Army hits the Russian right. The Russians are driven back into the Augustow Forest, barely escaping encirclement. 90,000 Russian prisoners are taken by the end of the month.

The second battle of the Masurian Lakes, 7-21 February 1915 (also know as the Winter Battle in Masuria) was part of an over-ambitious German and Austrian plan designed to cut off the Russian armies in Poland. This involved an Austro-Hungarian attack in Galicia, towards Lemberg, and a German attack from East Prussia. It was hoped that the two pincers could meet east of Warsaw. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the German commanders in the east, were not convinced by the grand plan, but did think they could destroy the Russian Tenth Army.

1918 U.S. Army resumes publication of Stars and Stripes:

Begun as a newsletter for Union soldiers during the American Civil War, Stars and Stripes was published weekly during World War I from February 8, 1918, until June 13, 1919. The newspaper was distributed to American soldiers dispersed across the Western Front to keep them unified and informed about the overall war effort and America's part in it, as well as supply them with news from the home front.

The front page of the newspaper's first World War I issue featured A Message from Our Chief, a short valedictory from General John J. Pershing, commander in chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF): The paper, written by the men in the service, should speak the thoughts of the new American army and the American people from whom the army has been drawn. It is your paper. Good luck to it.

The World War I-era Stars and Stripes was largely the creation of Second Lieutenant Guy T. Viskniskki, an AEF press officer and former censor at the American Field Test Headquarters in Neufchateau, France. Featuring news articles, sports news, poetry, letters to the editor and cartoons, among other content, the eight-page weekly publication was printed on presses that had been borrowed from Paris newspapers. Viskniskki's staff was made up mostly of enlisted men and featured prominent journalists like Harold Ross, future co-founder of The New Yorker magazine, Alexander Woollcott, a former drama critic for The New York Times, and Grantland Rice, who went onto become known as the dean of American sports writers. At its peak during the war, Stars and Stripes reached a circulation of 526,000.

Stars and Stripes resumed publication during World War II, during which circulation reached 1,000,000. Serving as a daily hometown newspaper for service members, government civilians and their families stationed around the world, it has been in continuous publication in Europe since 1942 and in the Pacific since 1945. In these two regions, Stars and Stripes reaches 80,000 and 60,000 readers respectively. It also publishes a Middle East edition as well as an electronic edition on the Internet. (History.com)

1920 Winston Churchill writes in the Illustrated Sunday Herald: "From the days of Spartacus‑‑Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, to those of Trotsky . . . this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilization . . . has been steadily growing."

1924 The gas chamber is used for the first time as a form of execution as 29 year old Gee Jon, who was born in China but spent most of his life in San Francisco's Chinatown, is put to death in Nevada for murder. [Note: Execution by poison gas has largely been replaced by lethal injection, partly because of association with the Nazis.]

1933 Zionism: Egypt's King Fuad meets with World Zionist Organization (WZO) president Nahum Sokolow. (THP)

1934 Various:

Church and Reich: The Gestapo orders German Bible Circles to be disbanded. [See: Was Adolf Hitler a Christian?]

USA: Propaganda: Customs agents in America impound 300 pounds of Nazi propaganda materials.

1937 Spanish Civil War: General Franco captures Malaga with the help of 15,000 Italians.

1939 Romania: Six members of the Legion of St. Michael (Iron Guard) are arrested in Romania and later murdered by Armand Calinescu's police.

1941 World War II: Bulgaria joins the Axis Powers:

Bulgaria was forced to join the Axis Powers in 1941, when German troops prepared to invade Greece from Romania reached the Bulgarian borders and demanded permission to pass through Bulgarian territory. Threatened by direct military confrontation, Tsar Boris III had no choice but to join the fascist bloc, which officially happened on 1 March 1941. With the Soviet Union in a non-aggression pact with Germany, there was little popular opposition to the decision.

1942 Various:

Death: Fritz Todt:

At the time of his death in 1942, Fritz Todt was among the most powerful men of the Third Reich. By training a civil engineer, Todt first caught Hitler's attention in 1932 by emphasizing the importance of road building for national economic recovery. Upon taking power, Hitler made Todt responsible for what would become Germany's great Autobahn project. Every aspect of Autobahn construction—its design, aesthetic (to harmonize with the German landscape), and model role in National Socialist labor relations—was stamped with Todt's personality. As was his other great achievement, the building of the massive network of bunkers and fortifications known as the West Wall—described here as the first battle in the war against France. With the outbreak of war, Todt's organization provided German troops an exemplary corps of engineers, filling out Germany's expanding imperium with new roads, bridges, aircraft fields, and fortifications.

Albert Speer succeeds Fritz Todt as German minister for armaments and war production. Speer was to have been with him on this fateful flight, but backed out at the last minute. In his new role, Speer will increase German armament production many times over, allowing Hitler to continue the bloodletting for an estimated one to two years longer. Speer:

Hitler's decisions led to a multiplicity of parallel projects. They also led to more and more complicated problems of supply. One of his worst failings was that he simply did not understand the necessity for supplying armies with sufficient spare parts. General Guderian, the Inspector General of Tank Ordnance, frequently pointed out to me that if we could repair our tanks quickly, thanks to sufficient spare parts, we could have more available for battle, at a fraction of the cost, than by producing new ones. But Hitler insisted on the priority of new production.

1943 World War II: Various:

Japanese troops evacuate Guadalcanal, leaving the island in Allied possession:

Guadalcanal is the largest of the Solomons, a group of 992 islands and atolls, 347 of which are inhabited, in the South Pacific Ocean. The Solomons, which are located northeast of Australia and have 87 indigenous languages, were discovered in 1568 by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra (1541-95). In 1893, the British annexed Guadalcanal, along with the other central and southern Solomons. The Germans took control of the northern Solomons in 1885, but transferred these islands, except for Bougainville and Buka (which eventually went to the Australians) to the British in 1900.

The Japanese invaded the Solomons in 1942 during World War II and began building a strategic airfield on Guadalcanal. On August 7 of that year, U.S. Marines landed on the island, signaling the Allies' first major offensive against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific. The Japanese responded quickly with sea and air attacks. A series of bloody battles ensued in the debilitating tropical heat as Marines sparred with Japanese troops on land, while in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, the U.S. Navy fought six major engagements with the Japanese between August 24 and November 30. In mid-November 1942, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, died together when the Japanese sunk their ship, the USS Juneau.

Both sides suffered heavy losses of men, warships and planes in the battle for Guadalcanal. An estimated 1,600 U.S. troops were killed, over 4,000 were wounded and several thousand more died from disease. The Japanese lost 24,000 soldiers. On December 31, 1942, Emperor Hirohito told Japanese troops they could withdraw from the area; the Americans secured Guadalcanal about five weeks later.

Britain's Chindits begin guerrilla operations in Burma:

Under the command of Major General Orde Wingate, the 77th Indian Brigade, also called the Chindits, launch guerrilla raids behind Japanese lines in Burma. Wingate was an eccentric British officer famous both for quoting the Bible and advocating irregular warfare tactics. His career as a guerrilla fighter began when he organized Jewish underground patrols to beat back Arab raids in British-controlled Palestine in the 1930s. In 1941, Wingate led a mixed Ethiopian and Sudanese force in retaking Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, from the Italians, who had invaded in 1935.

Upon the beginning of Japan's China-Burma campaign, Wingate was sent to India to use his experience as a guerrilla fighter to train and organize the Chindits: a brigade of specially trained Gurkha (Nepalese), Burmese, and British troops. The Chindits were composed of two units of Long Range Penetration Groups, each made up of men and mules. Wingate and his brigade entered Japanese-controlled Burma from the west, crossed the Chindwin River, and launched their campaigns: penetrating Japanese-held territory, attacking supply lines, and cutting communications. Once in the field, the Chindits were cut off from other units and could be supplied only by airdrops.

One of the Chindits most effective attacks was against the Mandalay-Myitkina railway, when they blew up three bridges while also beating back Japanese troops determined to stop the demolitions. The Chindits continued to wreak havoc‑‑at one point killing 100 Japanese soldiers while suffering only one loss themselves‑‑until a lack of supplies and troublesome terrain forced them back to India. They were disbanded in the latter half of 1944. (History.com)

Russian Front: Advancing Russian troops recapture Kursk, which they had lost to the Germans in November 1941.

1945 World War II:

Churchill (at Yalta) to Atlee:

Today has been much better. All the American proposals for the Dumbarton Oaks constitution were accepted by the Russians, who stated that it was largely due to our explanation that they had found themselves in a position to embrace the scheme wholeheartedly. They also cut down their demand for sixteen membership votes of the Assembly to two . . . . Our position appears to me to be somewhat different. For us to have four or five members, six if India is included, when Russia has only one is asking a great deal of an Assembly of this kind. In view of other important concessions by them which are achieved or pending I should like to be able to make a friendly gesture to Russia in this matter. That they should have two besides their chief is not too much to ask, and we shall be in a strong position, in my judgment, because we shall not be the only multiple voter in the field . . . . In spite of our gloomy warning and forebodings Yalta has turned out very well so far. [See: The Last Days of the Third Reich.]

From Stalin: A Political Biography by Isaac Deutscher:

When Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt met at Yalta . . . victory was within their grasp. They knew that it could elude them only through their own discord. This was, indeed, the only hope of Hitler, reading and rereading the story of Frederick the Great, who miraculously escaped defeat in the Seven Years War when his enemies fell out with one another. The three allied leaders, eager to inflict their last blows on the enemy, were therefore busy shelving the issues that divided them . . . .

In their thoughts the 'Big Three' still tended to project their present unity into the peace and to see the future in terms of their condominium and of spheres of influence . . . . It is curious to watch how throughout this phase of the war Stalin, on the one hand, advocated with the greatest perseverance the world condominium of the 'Big Three,' resenting any suggestions that tended to weaken it, and how, on the other, he at every step betrayed his fear and suspicion of Russia's partners in that condominium.

When Churchill and Roosevelt proposed that France be given a share in the control of Germany he objected, because 'France had opened the gates to the enemy.' It was his stock argument that the place any nation was to be allowed to keep in peace should be proportionate to the strength it had shown and the sacrifices it had borne in war. That this principle favored Russia more than any other nation goes without saying, for no other nation had borne sacrifices comparable to hers. When Churchill ironically remarked that the 'Big Three' were 'a very exclusive club, the entrance fee being at least five million soldiers or the equivalent,' Stalin must have bitterly reflected that the entrance fee that Russia had paid was many more than five million dead soldiers. He stubbornly opposed any suggestion that would allow the small nations to speak up against the great powers in the future league of nations. What he apparently feared was that the great powers might incite the small ones against Russia . . . .

Finally, with a singular lack of sense of humor, the 'Big Three' called from Yalta on all neutral states of the world to declare war on Germany before 1 March 1945, that is after the war had practically been won, in order to gain admittance to the founding conference of the United Nations at San Francisco. After 1 March, the box office was closed. [See: Did Adolf Hitler Cause the Cold War?]

1946 Nuremberg Tribunal: Fifty-Fourth Day: General Rudenko's Opening Statement:

The defendants knew that cynical mockery of the laws and customs of war constituted the gravest of crimes. They knew it, but they hoped that total war, by securing victory, would also secure their impunity. But victory did not arrive on the heels of the crimes. Instead came the complete and unconditional surrender of Germany, and with it came an hour of grim reckoning for all the outrages they had committed. [For the full text of today's proceedings, Click here.]

Reaction: Hermann Goering, who, along with Rudolf Hess had removed his earphones in disgust during Rudenko's presentation, declares during the lunch break: "I did not think that they (the Russians) would be so shameless as to mention Poland." And later: "You will see—this trial will be a disgrace in 15 years." (Gilbert)

[See: Are There Any Lasting Effects From the Nuremberg Trials?]

1948 Spandau Prison: From Spandau: The Secret Diaries, by Albert Speer:

Some weeks ago the directors [of Spandau Prison] hit on the idea of having us fold and paste envelopes. Raeder conscientiously keeps a record of his daily production. The finished envelopes are heaped in great piles in an empty cell. When there is no paper for starting the stoves, kindly guards permit the use of the envelopes, so that our production is gradually going up in flames. That confuses and torments Raeder. But the authorities are in one sense relieved; they were worried that our handiwork might be sold as souvenirs. (Speer II)

1949 Hungary: Cardinal Mindszenty is convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment:

Mindszenty was no stranger to political persecution. During World War II, Hungary's fascist government arrested him for his speeches denouncing the oppression of Jews in the nation. After the war, as a communist regime took power in Hungary, he continued his political work, decrying the political oppression and lack of religious freedom in his nation. In 1948, the Hungarian government arrested the cardinal. Mindszenty, several other Catholic Church officials, a journalist, a professor, and a member of the Hungarian royal family were all found guilty of various crimes during a brief trial before the Communist People's Court in Budapest. Most had been charged with treason, trying to overthrow the Hungarian government, and speculation in foreign currency (illegally sending money out of the country). All but Mindszenty received prison sentences ranging from a few years to life. Mindszenty was the focus of the trial. During the proceedings, the prosecutors produced several documents implicating Mindszenty in antigovernment activities. The Cardinal admitted that he was "guilty in principle and in detail of most of the accusations made," but he vigorously denied that his activities were designed to overthrow the Hungarian government. Nevertheless, he was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The reaction to Mindszenty's conviction was swift and indignant. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin declared that the trial was an affront to Britain's understanding of liberty and justice. The Vatican issued a statement proclaiming that the Cardinal was "morally and civilly innocent." In the United States, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (Democrat-Texas) stated that the "Christian world cannot help but be shocked over the verdict." Protests were held in a number of U.S. cities, but the protests did not change the verdict. The case was significant in demonstrating the depth of the anticommunist movement in Hungary. In 1956, Mindszenty was released when a reformist government took power in Hungary. Shortly thereafter, Soviet troops entered Hungary to put down anticommunist protests. Mindszenty took refuge in the U.S. embassy in Budapest and stayed inside the embassy grounds until 1971. That year he was recalled by the Vatican and settled in Vienna, where he died in 1975. (History.com)

1951 Death: Fritz Thyssen: Germany's leading industrial tycoon and a partner of Averell Harriman who supported Hitler financially for 13 years, beginning in October 1923. Thyssen had a falling-out with Hitler in 1936 and fled to France in 1939. Thyssen told the American OSS in 1940 that he had seen Austrian documents proving that Adolf Hitler was the illegitimate grandson of Baron Rothschild* of Vienna, and that these documents were responsible for the assassination of Dollfuss in Austria, who had originally compiled them. Thyssen's story was later confirmed by Hansjurgen Koehler, but is now dismissed by most historians. Thyssen was extradited to Germany by the Vichy government in 1941, and survived several concentration camps. After the war, he emigrated to Argentina and died in Buenos Aires.

*[See: Was Adolf Hitler Jewish?, and Does the Hitler DNA Test 'Prove' He Was Jewish"]

Edited by Levi Bookin (Copy editor)

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