February 8, 2018




Lodz, 1st large ghetto established by Nazis in Poland.(Note: It was the second-largest ghetto in all of German-occupied Europe after the Warsaw Ghetto). The ghetto was originally intended as a preliminary step towards the more extensive plan of creating the Judenfrei (free of Jews) province of Warthegau, but was transformed into a major industrial centre, using the prisoners as slave labor to manufacture war supplies for Nazi Germany. A total of 204,000 Jews passed through it but only 877 remained when the Soviets liberated it.


Demyansk Pocket was a pyrrhic victory for the Germans:  German troops were encircled by the Red Army in what was called the Demyansk Pocket, near Demyansk, Leningrad. The pocket existed between February 8 to 21 April 1942.  In March, German forces tried to maneuver through the "Ramushevo corridor". Soviet resistance on the Lovat River delayed II Corps' attack until April 14 but the corridor was widened over the next few weeks. On April 22, a battle group broke through the siege, resulting in very high casualties: Out of the approximately 100,000 men trapped, 10,000 were wounded and 3,335 missing.  Throughout the battle, the two pockets (including Kholm) received 65,000 short tons (59,000 t) of supplies (both through ground and aerial delivery), 31,000 replacement troops, and 36,000 wounded were evacuated. Supplies were delivered on a daily basis by over 100 flights of whitewashed Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft at great cost. The Luftwaffe lost 265 aircraft, including 106 Junkers Ju 52, 17 Heinkel He 111 and two Junkers Ju 86 aircraft, and the loss of 387 airmen. (Fighting in the area continued until 28 February 1943. The Soviets did not liberate Demyansk until 1 March 1943, with the retreat of the German troops.)


SS Petrella was a German merchant ship, which was torpedoed and sunk on February 8,  1944, north of Souda Bay, Crete, killing about 2,670 of the Italian POWs aboard:  Crete was under occupation of German-Italian forces since since May 1941. About 21,000 troops of the Italian 51st Infantry Division Siena occupied the easternmost prefecture of Lasithi.  Following the armistice of September 1943 the Italians in Crete were disarmed, but were given the choice to remain allies with Germany, or be sent to the Reich as internees as forced labor.  The few who chose the former, formed the Legione Italiana Volontari Creta. Under Hitlers orders, the remaining Italian internees were shipped back to Germany in un-seaworthy vessels.  On February 8, 1944 3,173 prisoners had been crammed into the hull of the Petrella. The British submarine HMS Sportsman detected the ship and launched a torpedo, sinking the ship taking the lives of 2,670 prisoners. The high death toll was due to the fact that the guards did not open the holds where the POWs were contained, and that they fired on those trying to get out.


In the last stages of World War II, the Allies launched Operation Veritable:  The Operation was the northern part of an Allied pincer movement under the command of Montgomery's Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group (First Canadian Army under Crerar) and the British XXX Corps under  Horrocks, and included the U.S. Ninth Army.  Their mission was to clear German forces from the area between the Rhine and Maas rivers, east of the German/Dutch frontier, in the Rhineland. The plan was part of General Eisenhower's "broad front" strategy to occupy the entire west bank of the Rhine before crossing it. Initially the Operation was slated for early January 1945, when the ground was frozen and advantageous to the Allies. The Operation faced a number of obstacles which impeded troops and armour, that is, the thick forested terrain, exacerbated by muddy ground which had thawed. Added to the difficulties was the deliberate flooding of the adjacent Rhine flood plain by the Germans.  Secondly, Veritable was the northern arm of a pincer movement. The southern pincer arm, Operation Grenade, commanded by Hood Simpson's U.S. Ninth Army, was postponed for two weeks as a result of the higher river levels (the Germans released the waters from the Roer dams). Allied military action came to a virtual halt until the water subsided.

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