On October 2, 1942, the ocean liner the RMS Queen Mary was sailing to Glasgow, Scotland carrying some 20,000 American troops to fight in Europe during World War II. The mighty ship was escorted by the HMS Curacoa, a light cruiser, to protect the Queen Mary from German U-Boat attacks. The Queen Mary was also engaging in a classic zig-zag pattern meant to make targeting by U-Boats difficult. However, the Curacoa was not zig-zagging, and, since it was slower than the ocean liner, the zigs eventually caught up with the cruiser’s straight line. The two ships collided and the Queen Mary “sliced the cruiser in two like a piece of butter, straight through the six inch armoured plating.” The ocean liner continued on since there was a standing order to not help stricken ships due to fears of lurking submarines. The British admiralty were attempting to avoid a Lusitania-type disaster that struck them during World War I. All of these safety precautions led to the tragic deaths of nearly 250 crewmen aboard the HMS Curacoa.
On September 17, 1948, Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte was in Palestine during the fight for Jewish statehood serving as a representative of the United Nations. Bernadotte had been a hero during World War II when he used his position as a neutral diplomat to negotiate with Heinrich Himler to save many Jews from Nazi gas chambers. However, by 1948, his reputation among many Jews had taken a hit. He had put forth a proposal for a peaceful solution to the conflicts surrounding Jewish statehood – it was, however, unacceptable to Jews since it forced them to give up control of Jerusalem to an international committee. One group of Israelis that was particularly vehement against Bernadotte’s policy was the Lohamei Herut Yisrael (LEHI). LEHI was a group of militant Zionists willing to use violence against anyone not actively supporting Jewish statehood. On the evening of September 17, LEHI set up a roadblock in Bernadotte’s path and as his UN vehicle came to a stop, opened fire on the diplomat, killing him almost instantly. LEHI announced that while Bernadotte’s death was tragic, it was necessary for the birth of the state of Israel.
Featured Image: “Folke Bernadotte.” Public Domain.
Source: “Modern History of Israel: The Assassination of Count Bernadotte.” Jewish Virtual Library.
In August 1940, the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany and Italy signed an agreement known as the Vienna Award that arbitrated some territorial disputes between two neighbors in Eastern Europe. In particular, this agreement awarded a portion of Northern Transylvania to control of the Kingdom of Hungary. The land had been help by Romania and had long been a source of contention between Romanians and Hungarians. Shortly after control of the land was handed over to Hungary, the Hungarian Army entered the town of Ip in the Salaj region of Transylvania on September 14, 1940 in response to the death of a Hungarian solider a few days previously. The soldier had died in an accident that involved a grenade exploding unintentionally. The Romanian villagers, however, were blamed. The Hungarian troops hunted down the residents and massacred some 158 ethnic Romanians that day. While atrocities such as this during World War II are over overlooked due to the massive Holocaust, the victims of such crimes also need to be remembered.
Featured Image: “Coat of Arms of Salaj Country, Romania.” By Version of , Public Domain.
Source: Keefe, Thomas E. “Ip Massacre.” This Day in Genocide.
On June 17, 1940, the HMT Lancastria was sitting in the estuary of the River Loire on the west coast of France. The ship was laden with thousands (perhaps as many as 9,000) British subjects escaping France following its fall to the Nazi onslaught at the beginning of World War II. The Lancastria was once a fine ocean liner, but with the outbreak of war, had been turned into a troop transport ship. This was certainly not the first time this had happened to a grand ocean liner. During World War I, many of these large ships were converted to do war duty. The most famous of these is certainly the Lusitania which famously was sunk by a German submarine in the Atlantic in 1915, killing about 1,200 people. We’ve all heard about this ship – but many fewer of us have heard of the Lancastria – the site of a much worse naval disaster.
On that fateful June day, German warplanes appeared overhead and dropped bomb after bomb on and around the ship. In what must have a truly terrifying 20 minutes, the ship sank – bringing an unknown number of retreating soldiers, women, and children with it in the depths. Of the victims of the attack, it is known that at least 1,700 people died – but that number is more likely to be closer to 4,000 – with many of the unfortunates trapped inside the ship’s massive hull. This sinking is the single worst maritime loss of life in British history – and was covered up at the behest of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s government. The ship was sunk during a time when Britain was in particularly dire straits and morale was already very low among the military and civilian populations alike. As such, the government decided that it was best to keep the story from the newspapers. Memorials to the ship and its passengers finally began to be unveiled in the 1980s.