Monday, August 12, 2013

August 13 - On this day in 1940 Germany Bombed England and So Lost the War

Garrison Keillor, a popular U.S. writer, poetry collector and radio personality with a unique Scandinavian-American brand of understated irony, has a serious item today in his emailed daily commentary, The Writer's Almanac:
On this day in 1940 Germany began to bomb England, beginning the Battle of Britain. France had just been conquered, and Germany's plan was to destroy Great Britain's Royal Air Force before it began a land invasion of the country. The British had the most advanced radar systems in the world, which helped them shoot down many of the German bombers, but by the middle of August they had lost a quarter of their aircraft. Everything changed on August 24th, when a German bomber accidentally bombed London. Britain responded by bombing Berlin. Hitler was so angry that he ordered his air force to bomb London exclusively, turning his attention away from the Royal Air Force. If Hitler had focused on destroying the Royal Air Force, he probably would have won the Battle of Britain. Instead, the British weathered the bombing raids until the United States could join the war, and this led to Germany's ultimate defeat. 
Some background: On May 10, 1940 Prime Minister Chamberlain resigned, having lost a vote of no-confidence of the British House of Commons. His offenses:
  • He had signed the Munich Pact with Hitler, ignoring the invasion of Czechoslovakia in favor of a promise of "peace in our time." 
  • After September 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, Chamberlain did declare war against Germany but did not sufficiently address the urgent task of militarization. 
  • In April 1940, Hitler occupied Norway.
  • On May 10, the last straw, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium and quickly defeated them. Nothing but a narrow channel of water separated England from Hitler's fearsome Wehrmacht spread across the entire norther European coast. British and French troops faced German troops that appeared invulnerable.
Parliament replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister with Winston Churchill. Within two weeks, the Wehrmacht had British and French troops trapped near Dunkirk. Churchill was considering a conditional surrender.

Fortunately, bad weather grounded the then-dominant Luftwaffe. During the next week, mainly May 26-29, 338,000 British and French troops were evacuated across the English Channel in small boats.

Some histories have described Hitler as giving the order to let the troops go, hoping for a public outcry in favor of a British surrender and maybe an alliance against Stalin. But Hitler himself was apparently not initially involved. The order to let the evacuation proceed came from Goering, who was not a military expert and was petrified that the Allies would strike back.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

OBITS: Three U.S. Oxonians - Prentice, Darrow, Woodfield

William C. H, Prentice
PRENTICE, William C. H., d. July 28, 2013. Rhodes Scholar and college president. Died in Schenectady, NY. Obituary notice in the NY Times of August 4, 2012, p. 21. He is a 1937 graduate of Swarthmore and presumably matriculated at Oxford that fall. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in psychology in1942.

He was recruited for the Clandestine National Defense Research Committee during WW2. He became chairman of the psychology dept at Swarthmore, then President of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., 1962-1975.

Peter Darrow
DARROW, Peter V., d. May 19, 2013. Athlete and attorney, died in at NY Presbyterian Hospital New York City. He was a resident of NYC and Sag Harbor, NY. His obituary appears in the East Hampton Star of May 23, 2013 and notices were in the NY Times. He graduated from Columbia in 1972, attended Trinity College for the next two years, and then attended the University of Michigan Law School.

He was associated as an attorney with Mayer Brown and DLA Piper. Since 2008 he was married to Denise Seegal. With his first wife Leni he had two children, Meredith and Peter. He was President of the Trinity College, Oxford Society USA.

Denis B. Woodfield
WOODFIELD, Denis Buchanan, d. April 11, 2013. Formerly of Rye, N.Y., died in Princeton, New Jersey. He was born in New York City in 1933, the year that the New York City Oxford-Cambridge Dinner, which he chaired, started. His formative years were spent in Switzerland, where he attended The College de Vevey, and graduated from Harvard University, class of 1954, aged 20. Deferring his acceptance to Lincoln College, Oxford, he served in the U.S. military, attending the Army Language School in Monterey, California to learn Russian. 

He was then sent to the 513th Military Intelligence in Germany to be Chief US Army Interpreter, Armed Forces Central Europe for three years. Returning to civilian life, he attended Oxford, graduating with a D.Phil. in English bibliography. He was a life-long lover and buyer of rare books. His book Surreptitious Printing in England, 1550-1640, became a valuable commodity. Married in London, England, in 1963, to Rosemary Humphries, the couple moved to Rye. At this time, he was employed by the Chase Manhattan Bank. Three years later, he went to work for General Electric followed by six years with Pan American World Airways as director of Cash and Banking. 

Moving to Princeton, NJ, he joined Johnson & Johnson, where he spent 20 years in finance, including as Assistant Treasurer for Cash and Banking. He published four books and for many years was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the British Schools and Universities Foundation. He was elected an Honorary Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 2012. He was active in the Society of the Cincinnati of the State of New Jersey, the Society of Colonial Wars and the Mayflower Society, and the Baronial Order of the Magna Carta.