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Author Topic: Some Late Summer History
Timothy-
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Post Some Late Summer History
on: August 18, 2018, 12:27
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The last month of summer is a busy period in history, and probably every day has been significant in many years, though calendar differences can make it difficult to determine the date of an event. In this article, I plan to focus on key dates in 1812 in Russia, 1862-4 in the United States, and 1939 in Europe. Additional years may get added later.

To start with, the first major battle of Napoleon's invasion of Russia came at Smolensk on August 16-18, 1812. Like most of the campaign's battles, it was a hard slog (it didn't help Boney that the city was fortified). No precise count of casualties exists, but the estimates are that the French lost about 10,000 men and the Russians a little more. It was technically a French victory, in that the Russians under their best general, Michael Barclay de Tolly (odd name for a Russian), retreated toward Moscow, scorching the croplands behind him (after foraging them first). It wasn't much of a victory for La Grande Armée, though that is better than a defeat. But the Russians weren't too happy about Barclay de Tolly's retreats and his non-Slavic ancestry -- especially their other, more aggressive main army commander, General Pyotr Bagration of the Georgian royal dynasty of Bagrationi. Tsar Alexander I would replace him with Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov on August 27.

In 1863, William S. Rosecrans and Ambrose Burnside had already started out for Chattanooga and Knoxville respectively in mid-August. The first significant action came on August 21, when John T. Wilder's Lightning Brigade (mounted infantry armed -- through Wilder's own action -- with Spencer repeating rifles) began shelling Chattanooga. This helped keep Bragg's attention there rather than at Bridgeport, where Rosecrans made his main crossing.

The next important date is August 23, 1939. What is commonly called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (officially a non-aggression pact) was signed on this day, probably guaranteeing an invasion of Poland. (Hitler wanted to invade it, but may have drawn back from it without such a deal and without Italian support. His only other "ally" was the puppet state of Slovakia.) This also enabled him to import badly needed resources, thus greatly mitigating the effects of the British blockade of the North Sea shipping lanes. Other raw materials were available from Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia, at least to some extent. In addition, they had a secret protocol dividing eastern Europe into spheres of interest. (This would be modified somewhat a month later.) Germany gave up more than Hitler would have liked, but it hardly mattered since he never planned on keeping the non-aggression pact any longer than he had to.

As just a minor addition here, the final offensive of the Second Boer War took place in August, culminating in a minor action at Bergendal on August 26-27, 1899. In a pattern that went back to the first significant battle of the war (Talana Hill), the Boers inflicted heavier losses but then retreated. The British quickly took the rest of the railway line to Lourenço Marquest, and formally annexed the South African Republic on September 1. After this the Boers resorted to guerrilla war before finally surrendering in 1903.

This was also when the Second Bull Run campaign was reaching its climax. Stonewall Jackson occupied Bristoe Station on John Pope's supply line on August 26. then sent Jeb Stuart's cavalry and an infantry brigade under Isaac R. Trimble on an overnight march to the fabulous Union supply base, which they captured the next morning. The VI Corps, having arrived in Alexandria by then, sent a New Jersey brigade under Nelson Taylor to find out why communications with the supply base had been broken. By then most of Jackson's men had arrived (except for Richard Ewell's division, minus Trimble's brigade, which had been left behind to delay Pope at Bristoe. Jackson then retreated back to a good defensive position while arriving the arrival of Lee with Longstreet's wing of the Army.

It's worth noting that Pope was hated not only by the Confederates (especially Lee, who said he needed to be suppressed) but by his own men. I believe it was Brigadier General John Hatch who told a colleague, "I don't care for John Pope one pinch of owl dung." His performance in the next few days would justify that hostility.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 18, 2018, 14:04
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Of course, World War II would have actions all over the place, usually part of slogging battles that meant just one more bloody advance for the Germans (1941-2) and then the Russians (1943-5). A few of these were significant. In 1941, the Kiev campaign was beginning, which would lead to one of the two greatest encirclements of Soviet forces, with the First Panzer Army crossing the Dnieper on August 22 and the Second Panzer Army taking the key Desna River bridge at Novgorod-Seversky on August 26. There was also the usual bloody fighting on the other fronts. In 1942, the Germans reached the outskirts of Stalingrad on August 23 while their advance in the Caucasus saw mountain troops place the German flag atop Mount Elbrus on August 21 and captured Mozdok on the Terek River (the last major barrier before the oil center of Grozny) on August 25. In 1943, the Soviets were already attacking the Germans north and south of the Kursk salient, having already overrun the German Orel salient. Kharkov fell on August 23, which would soon lead to the German retreat to the Dnieper.

Meanwhile, in France the Germans had replaced Field Marshal von Rundstedt with Field Marshal von Kluge, and then in mid-August with Field Marshal Model. The Allies had landed in southern France that same day, and quickly started advancing north as the Germans retreated to northern France. The struggle to close the Falaise-Argentan gap and then clear the resultant pocket was in process, both Falaise and Argentan having fallen. The gap would be closed August 21, and the Allies would quickly advance beyond that even as they cleared the pocket.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 20, 2018, 07:51
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I just came across an important historical event for today. On August 20, 1968, the Warsaw Pact (i.e., Soviet Russia and its lackeys) invaded Czechoslovakia to overthrow Alexander Dubcek and end the Prague Spring, one of only two efforts to humanize Communism. (The other, by Mikhail Gorbachev, led to the fall of Communism, so it's easy to understand why the apparatchiks wanted no such reform. This is also why they didn't act against Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, who exited the Warsaw Pact but maintained the strictest totalitarian practices.)

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 20, 2018, 08:45
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Yes, the Prague Spring. The Hungarians tried something similar in 1956 and were rewarded with something worse than what happened to Czechoslovakia.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 20, 2018, 09:39
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Quite so. Imre Nagy (who may have been mainly an opportunist) was executed. Dubcek was given a nice sinecure and survived to see the fall of Communism. This reflects the fact that Nagy tried to end Communist Party rule (which was much further than Dubcek planned to go). He also pulled out of the Warsaw Pact, though that would have mattered less if it hadn't been for his decision to eliminate the party state.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 22, 2018, 08:30
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Even as the Normandy offensive was about to break out, wreck the main German forces in France, and then liberate Belgium and most of France, the Russians were winning a series of massive victories in the East. Most of these had already been completed by the time I started this, though there were still some late phases in Poland -- especially the grinding defeat of the Polish Home Army in Warsaw. The Finns had finally succeeded in halting the Russian offensive in Karelia, but doubted they could hold on very long and soon surrendered.

The most significant action at this point was in Romania. The Soviets began an offensive known as the Jassy-Kishinev operation on August 20, aided by idiotic German dispositions: In a replay of Stalingrad, the rebuilt 6th Army (with 6 divisions from the 8th) was placed between the 3rd and 4th Romanian Armies. The results were even worse than in November 1942 because instead of fighting hard if unsuccessfully, the Romanians soon switched sides, took control of the bridges, and trapped the Germans in Bessarabia on the far side of the Pruth, Sereth, and Danube. On August 23, King Mihai staged a coup in Bucharest, overthrowing Marshal Ion Antonescu pro-German government. (This was virtually simultaneous with the fall of Paris, August 24-5.)

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 25, 2018, 16:38
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On August 25, 1944, Paris surrendered to the Free French 2nd Armored Division under General Philippe Hauteclocque (who called himself LeClerc, a middle name, to protect his family). Also that day, the German forces around Ploesti attacked Romanian forces in the Bucharest area. Other Romanian meanwhile seized their supply line through the Predeal Pass as well as the heavily German city of Brasov. German Luftwaffe General Gerstenberg surrendered August 28, giving up Ploesti, and the next day the Jassy-Kishinev offensive itself ended with the surrender of the last of 6th Army. By the end of the month, the Soviet and Romanian forces held the whole country except for the portions lost to Hungary in 1940.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 27, 2018, 21:59
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The Second Bull Run campaign approached its climax. On August 28, 1862, Longstreet forced James Rickett's division to retreat from Thoroughfare Gap, allowing Longstreet to march to Jackson's assistance. Jackson himself attacked a Union force (unfortunately for him, it was John Gibbon's brigade, henceforth known as the Iron Brigade, that bore the brunt of the disjointed fighting). The Second Battle of Bull Run, August 29-30, ended in a Union rout. Lee naturally tried to pursue them, which led to the Battle of Chantilly September 1. It was a Confederate victory, but not much of one, except for the Union's loss of highly regarded division commanders I. I. Stevens and Phil Kearny.

Timothy-
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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: August 29, 2018, 14:54
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The campaign in Normandy was coming to and end as the Allied chase across France was in process. The Falaise pocket was being cleared, with heavy losses to Germany (and significant Allies losses as well). The Germans pulled out August 29, and the next day retreated across the Seine even as Canadian troops crossed the river and took Rouen. The Free French, of course, were already across the river at Paris. With the Normandy campaign formally at an end, Eisenhower arrived in France September 1 to take personal control of Allied forces (displacing the British rabbit, Montgomery -- well, that's what Patton called him -- from his temporary command of ground forces).

In southern France, meanwhile, the American VI and Free French II Corps were starting their own chase out of Provence, completing the entrapment of about half of the 19th Army August 29. They entered Lyons September 2.

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Post Re: Some Late Summer History
on: September 1, 2018, 18:45
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In the fall of 1862, the Confederates were on the offensive on 5 different fronts. The invasion of Kentucky had already begun, with Edmund Kirby Smith winning a devastating victory over William Nelson (whose division consisted almost entirely of green troops) on August 30 (Union losses, mostly prisoners were almost 9 times the Confederate losses), enabling Smith to move into the Bluegrass and even threaten Cincinnati (though that was more of a bluff). Braxton Bragg had already set out from Chattanooga on August 28 but hadn't yet entered Kentucky. (The original idea was for Smith to take Cumberland Gap, then join Bragg in taking Nashville, and only then invade Kentucky. When the division of George W. Morgan chose to remain, fortified all around, at the Gap, Smith instead chose to start the invasion.)

Lee's invasion of Maryland was about to begin, and after that the Confederates moved from southwestern Virginia into the weakly defended Kanawha Valley. Later they would advance in Missouri and northern Mississippi.

In 1942, Rommel began his last-ditch assault at Alam el Halfa on August 30. Heavy Allied bombing doomed the effort, which was over by September 5. Losses weren't severe on either side (and the British lost more tanks than the Germans and Italians did), but growing American assistance had probably already made victory impossible. After Alam el Halfa, the Germans had shot their bolt in North Africa.

In 1944, Allied forces were on the move both east and west. Montgomery, in particular, was on a free chase through northern France and Belgium, all the way to Antwerp on September 4. The port was captured so quickly the port facilities were undamaged, but they were also useless until Monty cleared the approaches on both sides of the Scheldt -- and that took a couple of months (partly because the British chose Market-Garden over clearing the Scheldt). With Bulgaria quitting the Axis on August 26 and the Jassy-Kishinev offensive being completed as a German disaster August 29, the Soviet forces were on the move in Romania and then Bulgaria (which they invaded September 8).

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