History often overlooks the Coast Guard role as an intelligence gathering operation. This small service, with its unique combination of military, law enforcement, and humanitarian missions is not what comes to mind when describing an intelligence agency.
In 1790, shortly after the Continental Navy was dissolved, Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, created a “system of cutters.” The Revenue Marine has played a significant role in national intelligence Coast Gard.
These ten small ships patrolled the ports of the new United States, enforcing tariffs, arresting smugglers, and ensuring free and open trade. Part of the Revenue Marine’s task was to supply the treasury with a steady stream of intelligence on the movement of pirates, as well as the political and economic situations in American ports. The young service was established as a premier intelligence gathering agency for domestic and criminal issues.
The intelligence operations of the Revenue Marine, and later the Revenue Cutter Service (the name changed in 1894) were mostly informal being a side effect of their counter-piracy operations.
In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson created the United States Coast Guard, combining the Revenue Cutter Service with the US Life Saving Service.
On August 23, 1939–shortly before World War II (1939-45) broke out in Europe–enemies Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union surprised the world by signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact.
in which the two countries agreed to take no military action against each other for the next 10 years. With Europe on the brink of another major war, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879-1953) viewed the pact as a way to keep his nation on Nonaggression Pact terms with Germany, while giving him time to build up the Soviet military. German chancellor Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) used the pact to make sure Germany was able to invade Poland unopposed. The pact also contained a secret agreement in which the Soviets and Germans agreed how they would later divide up Eastern Europe. The German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact fell apart in June 1941, when Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union.
LEADING UP TO WORLD WAR II
The devastation of the Great War (as World War I was known at the time) had greatly destabilized Europe, and in many respects World War II grew out of issues left unresolved by that earlier conflict. In particular, political and economic instability in Germany, and lingering resentment over the harsh terms imposed by the Versailles Treaty, fueled the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) Party.
After becoming Reich Chancellor in 1933, Hitler swiftly consolidated power, anointing himself Führer (supreme leader) in 1934. Obsessed with the idea of the superiority of the “pure” German race, which he called “Aryan,” Hitler believed that war was the only way to gain the necessary “Lebensraum,” or living space, for that race to expand. In the mid-1930s, he began the rearmament of Germany, secretly and in violation of the Versailles Treaty. After signing alliances with Italy and Japan against the Soviet Union, Hitler sent troops to occupy Austria in 1938 and the following year annexed Czechoslovakia. Hitler’s open aggression went unchecked, as the United States and Soviet Union were concentrated on internal politics at the time, and neither France nor Britain (the two other nations most devastated by the Great War) were eager for confrontation.
OUTBREAK OF WORLD WAR II (1939)
In late August 1939, Hitler and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin signed the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which incited a frenzy of worry in London and Paris. Hitler had long planned an invasion of Poland, a nation to which Great Britain and France had guaranteed military support if it was attacked by Germany. The pact with Stalin meant that Hitler would not face a war on two fronts once he invaded Poland, and would have Soviet assistance in conquering and dividing the nation itself. On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland from the west; two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany, beginning World War II.
On September 17, Soviet troops invaded Poland from the east. Under attack from both sides, Poland fell quickly, and by early 1940 Germany and the Soviet Union had divided control over the nation, according to a secret protocol appended to the Nonaggression Pact. Stalin’s forces then moved to occupy the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and defeated a resistant Finland in the Russo-Finish War. During the six months following the invasion of Poland, the lack of action on the part of Germany and the Allies in the west led to talk in the news media of a “phony war.” At sea, however, the British and German navies faced off in heated battle, and lethal German U-boat submarines struck at merchant shipping bound for Britain, sinking more than 100 vessels in the first four months of World War II.
WORLD WAR II IN THE WEST (1940-41)
British treasure hunters discover chest in a sunken ship that could contain up to $130 million of Nazi gold.
Following the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944, the defeat of Nazi Germany loomed. With Soviet forces closing in from the east and Western Allies crossing the Rhine River, it was clear that the war was coming to an end.
Knowing that the end was near, some Nazi leaders sought to hide the treasures they’d looted in their years of power. A huge collection of stolen art masterpieces worth billions of dollars as well as other valuable artifacts taken from museums across Europe, and literally tons of silver and gold, were carefully hidden in out-of-the-way spots.
Although the Allies managed to find and reclaim some of the cultural treasures, there is almost $40 billion worth of loot that is still missing. The hunt for the hidden Nazi gold started almost immediately after Germany was defeated and it continues to this day.
The legend of the train packed with gold buried beneath the mountains in Poland is just one rumor that has haunted treasure hunters for more than 70 years. There are also many reports of billions in Reichsbank gold that was supposedly dumped in various lakes throughout Europe.
These legends have inspired thousands of people to join the hunt for the lost Nazi gold, only to return home empty-handed. Eventually most people stopped searching. But this was not the case with a group of British treasure hunters who recently found a chest allegedly containing $130 million (£100 million) in Nazi gold on a sunken German cargo ship off the coast of Iceland.
Robert Lichte was a medical officer in the German army during World War I. He took a series of photographs that give a glimpse into life in the German trenches. In all, he took nine albums worth of photographs in the trenches and operating rooms on the other side of enemy lines.
Marius Moneth, 33, is a Ph.D. student in Düsseldorf at the Heinrich Heine University who obtained the photos. He feels the albums are a “historical treasure” as they show a unique aspect of the war from a German soldier’s viewpoint.
He said that the collection is special. It is eight photo albums and an album of postcards. Moneth believes that the doctor created each photo album for a different family member.
Not only did Lichte capture life in the trenches and the destruction caused by the war, he shared his own experiences. Included in the photos is one of Lichte and his medical team operating on a patient – a rare artifact since photographers were not allowed in the operating room. Moneth believes that the photo was staged.
The photograph is the first time Moneth has seen a picture of a medical procedure during WWI out of all the photos in his large collection of photographs from the war.
A quick look at the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany in 33 facts:
1. The invasion of the Soviet Union was the most ambitious campaign of the Second World War, and yet Hitler believed that it could be won within three months with a fast, powerful blitzkrieg strike.
2. The campaign was launched with Fuhrer Directive 21. Signed on 18th of December 1940, it set out the intention to “crush Soviet Russia in one rapid campaign”.
3. In February 1941, British and American intelligence learned of the planned invasion of the USSR. Hoping to encourage Stalin to act against Hitler, they informed him of the plan. Stalin did not believe them, as he believed that Hitler would stick to the non-aggression pact the two countries had signed before the war.
4. The German navy was to play a part in the operation, blocking Soviet ships from breaking out of the Baltic Sea.
5. Ready for the invasion, the Germans mustered over 3 million soldiers in 152 divisions. This included 17 Panzer and 13 motorized divisions.
6. Transport was provided by 625,000 horses and 600,000 motor vehicles.
7. The initial invasion force included 3,350 tanks, 7,146 artillery pieces, and 1,950 aircraft.
8. The Finnish army also took part in the invasion. They supplied 17 divisions and 2 brigades. Following the Soviet invasion of Finland earlier in the war, they were eager for revenge.
9. Romania also contributed to the army, with 14 divisions, 7 brigades and one reinforced panzer regiment.
10. The German ambassador in Moscow delivered a declaration of war at 0530 on 22 June 1941, citing Soviet violations of their pact as the excuse for invasion.
11. The frontier across which the Germans invaded ran from the Baltic to the Black Sea, a distance of 1,900 miles.
Explore the WWII history of the company that later became a part of Boeing and made more aircraft from 1938 to 1944 than any other company in the United States.
During WWII, industry in Los Angeles was booming. By the end of the war, the L.A. area had been responsible for meeting 17 percent of all of America’s war needs. North American Aviation, operating out of their main Inglewood plant – which is south of and adjacent to the city – was a key player in that work.
From 1938 to 1944, NAA built over 40,000 aircraft – more than any other company in the United States. The bulk of them were of three iconic types designed by NAA:
- The P-51 Mustang, arguably the best fighter of WWII.
- B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, which saw worldwide combat.
- Two-seat military pilot trainers, such as the AT-6 Texan.
This is a fascinating story of a remarkable time in aviation history, when American businesses helped fund the arsenal of democracy that helped defeat the Axis powers. Warbird Factory tells this story with over 200 photographs, many of which come directly from the NAA/Boeing archives, where they have resided since WWII. This is an essential book for anyone interested in warbirds, aviation, Boeing/NAA, WWII, and/or the history of Southern California!
World War II was one of the bloodiest wars in human history. Millions took part in the fighting, and sadly, millions died. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of amazing stories from the conflict, though some are more well known than others. New stories surface constantly, such as the recently uncovered encounter of Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler. Here are 10 stories that are less well known but no less amazing.
10The Soham Railway Explosion
On June 2, 1944, just before D-Day, driver Benjamin Gimbert and his fireman, James Nightall, were in charge of a freight train delivering bombs to the USAF in White Colne, Essex, UK. As they approached the village of Soham in Cambridgeshire, Benjamin realized that the wagon coupled directly behind the locomotive was on fire. That’s never a good thing, but this fire was particularly dangerous, given that the train was carrying tons of explosives.
He stopped the train, and James came down from the footplate to uncouple the blazing wagon. Only 128 meters (420 ft) from the station in Soham, they attempted to ditch the wagon in the open countryside before the bombs exploded. They failed, and seven minutes after Benjamin originally saw the fire, the wagon exploded. It flattened the station building, damaged 600 others, threw Benjamin almost 200 meters (about 600 ft) away, and killed two other railway workers who had stayed to stop another train that was headed for the wagon’s path of destruction.
Despite the crater the explosion created that was 6 meters (20 ft) deep, the track was up and running again by that evening. Both Benjamin and James were awarded the George Cross, the highest award for non-combat bravery in the British and Commonwealth. Their actions are commemorated with two different plaques in Soham.
9The Ready-Made British ResistancePhoto credit: Gaius Cornelius
After the disastrous campaign in France in 1940, the remnants of the British Expeditionary Force and the Free French Forces found themselves critically short of vehicles, ammunition, and other equipment. This led to the formation of the well-known Home Guard, but Winston Churchill also ordered the creation of a secret, underground army that was known simply as the Auxiliary Units. They remained secret until the 1990s.
Its 3,500 members were recruited mainly from the civilian population and trained in a variety of tasks, including stealth killing, explosives, unarmed combat, and sabotage. To avoid suspicion, they were assigned to Home Guard units. Despite the shortage, they were equipped with the best weapons available, including Thompson submachine guns and PIAT anti-tank rockets. They were also given silenced pistols and rifles, sticky bombs, and single-shot cartridges that could penetrate steel at almost 100 meters (over 300 ft). Their operation bases were built 4.5 meters (15 ft) underground and held 6–8 men each, plus all of their equipment and weeks’ worth of supplies.
In the event of an invasion, the plan was to attack German communication lines, railways, airfields, fuel and supply dumps, and senior German officers. Perhaps most chillingly of all, they had orders to kill any British person collaborating with the occupying German forces. One advantage of the units was that the German army would not expect organized resistance so soon after an invasion. The fatality of such a mission was certain, but luckily, the Auxiliary Units never went into action, although many of its men joined other units after it disbanded.
On February 18, 1944, 18 of the legendary Mosquito fighter bombers of the Royal Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and Royal Australian Air Force embarked on a plan to attack the Amiens Prison in northwest France to free the 700 French Resistance members imprisoned there. The weather that day was so bad that one of the RNZAF pilots thought that it was “either some form of practice or some form of practical joke.” Nevertheless, the group flew across the English Channel at just 15 meters (50 ft) above the waves, though five had to turn back due to radio and engine problems. Now down to 13 planes, Group Captain Charles Pickard carried on with the raid.
At 12:01 PM, the bombers attacked the prison wall to allow the prisoners a route of escape. They went on to demolish the blocks where German officers were standing guard, many of whom were killed or wounded. Two Mosquitos also attacked the nearby train station, buying the prisoners time while the German garrison was distracted. Only two aircraft were lost in the attack, including the one flown by Pickard. While 258 prisoners escaped, 102 were killed in the raid and another 155 were captured. Even today, no one is sure who ordered the raid or why, but the sheer skill and courage shown by the Mosquitos is undeniable.
7Hermann Goering’s Anti-Nazi Brother
Albert Goering was the brother of infamous Nazi leader Hermann Goering, the man who famously vowed to destroy the RAF. Unlike his older brother, Albert was not a Nazi and often risked his life to save those the Nazis hated. He moved to Austria after the Nazis rose to power and often spoke out against the Nazi party, but when Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Hermann kept the Gestapo away from Albert. When the Nazis marched into Vienna, Albert rushed to distribute exit visas to Jewish residents and even went head-to-head with Nazis who were forcing elderly Jewish people to do degrading things, such as washing the street.
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