The day was 1st September 1939. Hitler’s armies marched into Poland. The second world war had started.
I was just a kid of seven years then, but was strangely drawn to it. I used to read in the newspapers with great interest, the day to day happenings on the Western Front.
The famous, so called invincible Maginot Line of defence, of the French, collapsed like a pack of cards, before the “Blitzkrieg” of the marauding Germans. France capitulated in no time. One vivid impression that captured my mind was the miraculous evacuation of the trapped allied forces.
Meanwhile, the Germans had overrun Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Norway.
The air attacks on England with V1 and V2 rockets had played havoc but in the so called Battle of Britain, the British Spitfires proved to be more than a match against the Messerschmidts of the German Luftwaffe.
Come December 71941. Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and America entered the war.
The Japanese were as swift as the Germans and conquered territory after territory and were soon on the outskirts of Imphal and Kohima in Eastern India after having taken Burma.
They proved their prowess in sea too, their Kamikaze bombers(SUICIDE BOMBERS) sinking the Prince of Wales and Repulse, which were prowling in the Pacific and making life difficult for the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, while facing the Parliament.
Talking of sea battles, the Germans had launched with great fanfare the pride of their navy ,the Bismarck, with cries of “SIEG HEIL” “HAIL VICTORY” rending the air.
It sailed out, and in the very first sea battle, blew apart The Hood, the pride of British Navy, within minutes. But a lucky Torpedo hit had made it rudderless, and it was just drifting. A stung Britain vowed revenge and their warships located and sunk the Bismarck.
Against all sane advice, that mad dictator marched against Russia, opening a second front. His eyes were on the oil rich fields of Ukraine. In no time the German armies were on the outskirts of Leningrad and Moscow. But the Russians held on to Leningrad despite massive casualties……..and the tide turned. The German retreat began.
There was another important theatre of war. North Africa. I remember it especially because of the heroic battles between my most favourite commander ,’ROMMEL” and “MONTGOMERY” in the Libyan desert. If memory serves me right, the allies gained an upper hand with the battle of Tobruk and with the defeat in Al Alamein,, the Germans were finally driven out of Africa.
The island of Sicily was taken next, providing a stepping stone to invade Italy.
The writing was clearly on the wall, but that mad man would just not want to read it.
As expected, the allied forces landed in Italy, and started pushing north. The Italian Dictator, Benito Mussolini, was captured by the Resistance fighters, and hanged. His concubine, Clara Petachhi, met the same fate.
For that matter, there were attempts to kill Hitler too, but the plots ether failed or were discovered and the perpetrators paid with their lives.
The final phase of the war began with the allied forces, under the overall command of General Eisenhower ,landing on the beaches of Normandy. World had never before seen such a massive invasion.
The Germans continued to fight valiantly but now they were clearly no match for the combined power of the allies.
The allies reclaimed France and other countries and were now inside Germany , pushing from the west, while the Russians were doing likewise, from the east.
With the German Luftwaffe now unable to give a fight, the allied bombings of German cities increased, and with that, the civilian casualties.
The advancing allies freed the Jews from the concentration camps of Auschwitz, Dachau and elsewhere and many horror stories of the German atrocities came to light. It is a very sad and dark picture of German history.
The allies too, were no saints when it came to taking revenge. With the German Luftwaffe rendered totally ineffective, carpet bombing of cities started. Berlin, Leipzig, Dresden, Hamburg, Munich, Cologne, Nuremberg, to name only a few, were systematically bombed out, resulting in countless deaths and untold destruction. Nuremberg, with which I was going to have a lifelong attachment in future, was bombed out on the 2nd January,1945, just a few months before the war ended.
Well, ultimately the carnage ended in May 1945 , with the death of Hitler, and Germany’s surrender.
But the Japs continued their fight in the east. Subhash Chandra Bose, Our Indian National hero, had formed his Azad Hind Fauj , consisting of the soldiers captured by the Japanese, while fighting for the British. He was hoping to free India from the British yoke, militarily. But ultimately, all that proved to be in vain. With the dropping of two Atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the brave Japs too, surrendered.
As I mentioned earlier, Nuremberg was flattened on January 2, 1945. Little did I know then, that one day, my destiny would take me there and I would form lifelong friendship with many German friends.
Well, I started my apprenticeship there on the 4th February 1952, with Siemens, and made fourteen German friends on the very first day!. I am happy and proud to say that ,from the original fourteen, I am still in touch with the surviving four! A friendship of 69 years….and going strong! Apart from them, I have quite a few other friends with
over 65 years of friendship.
Coming to the end of the story, To-day, on the 82nd Anniversary of the second world war, I would like to pay my homage to all those, who fell, fighting for their country. May God grant eternal peace to their souls.
I hope and pray that we may never again see such carnage.