Thursday, October 19, 2017

September 19, 1943: Fun Facts

Article by Opa for Mercury Chronicle


Refugee Writer For Mercury Interprets Italian Situation

Editor's Note

The following article is the first of a series to be written for this paper by Thomas W. Doeppner, formerly of the United Press Amsterdam, Holland, office, and now a senior in electrical engineering at Kansas State College. The writer was born in Germany and lived there until 1938, when he escaped from a German concentration camp and went to Holland. In November, 1939, he came to this country, entering McPherson College on a scholarship. In September 1941 he enrolled at Kansas State.

Because of his training and experience in Europe, Mr. Doeppner writes with a knowledge not ordinarily possessed by American writers, and it is believed that his column will prove of real interest and benefit to the readers of this paper.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

Observing the difficulties which the Allied armies had in the battle of Salerno, one starts wondering why Italy has been taken as a first step on the road to Berlin. Dominated by high mountains and in every respect rough terrain, Italy forms an almost perfect defense.

Should Clark and Montgomery succeed in occupying the entire southern and central part of Italy, the northern part, which culminates in the natural barrier of the Alps, will form a series of Mt. Etna nests which are as unpregnable as any modern fortress. The only two possible paths which the Allies could take to cross the Alps fro Italy, are the Simplon Pass to Switzerland and the Brenner Pass. The chances that the Allies would violate the neutrality of Switzerland are ?? (minuscule), therefore the Brenner Pass seems to be the only way left. This pass, an ancient cause for arguments between Italy and Germany, is a rather narrow valley which can be defended as easily from the mountains surrounding it as the Strait of Gibraltar from the Rock.

Since the penetration of the Allies appears to be such a terrific job, it seems probable that the Allies used the invasion of Italy for a different reason. Until then, the Allies had not succeeded in diverting any great number of German troops from other Western fronts. Could it be that the Allies are waiting with their major offensive against the Festung Europa until they have forced the Nazis to ease up on other coastal defense lines in order to strengthen Nazi forces in Italy?

If this should be the case, the entire Italian campaign appears in a different light. It would no longer be of primary importance whether the Allies advance 20 or 200 miles in a week or whether they are forced to consolidate their present position: significant could be the number of Nazi troops which the Allies engage in battle and thereby divert from the potential invasion ?bridgeheads along the Western coast.

Apparently this new strategy has been decided upon only very recently and involved complete changes in the original schedule of invasion. This is apparent from Roosevelt's statement in his message to Congress last Friday, saying that the plans for an invasion of Europe were worked out during the conferences at Quebec. The plans for the invasion of Italy must have been laid before that time. Also, it seems improbable that Italy has been invaded without the existence of a follow-up plan for future actions. If, therefore, future actions have been decided upon again at Quebec, the original plans must have been upset for some reason or other.

The sudden collapse of Italy might have been one reason for this; the Italian armistice, however, did not have any effect on the speed of the Italian invasion since the Germans seem to be putting up a rather effective struggle. The only visible effect Italy's surrender has is the fact that German troops now have to defend Italy, while the Italian Army is out of the picture. These German troops, taken away from some Balkan country, perhaps, may have changed the location of the "vulnerable points" to which Roosevelt referred.
There are seven families of frogs and toads in the United States
Ninety-nine per cent of the body's calcium is in the bony structure.
The Indians once believed the consumption of salt hastened death.
An amphibian landing tractor costs $18,000.

This is a fascinating article, but I think even more fascinating is Opa's introduction by the Editor. The Editor presents Opa in such a way that you assume he worked as a journalist for the United Press in Holland. I really don't know for sure if he did. I think he worked for his father's company in Holland, but this introduction makes it sound much more official. I'll have to double check on that.

Once again we hear the tale of the concentration camp. Did Opa tell it again, or had the editor heard of it from previous sources and included it? We discussed earlier in the blog about the accuracy of this story, and where it came from. Long story short- I don't have hard evidence that Opa was ever in a concentration camp. 

The rest is tried and true information, and then we get into Opa's column.

Opa uses his knowledge of the geography of Italy and Germany to educate his readers, and provide smart commentary on the reason why the Allied forces are moving the way they are. Thanks to Opa, those unfamiliar with the territory now know that it wasn't the most logical choice to get to Germany via Italy. Opa guesses that the strategy was quickly developed to take advantages of some weakness in the Italian front to draw Nazi manpower from some stronger fronts. 

Italy had sort of gone belly up by this point, and now the Nazis had to defend their ground in Italy alone as occupiers rather than allies with shared military resources. Now they can't rely on Italy to hold the line. There is chaos and confusion, and that is perfect for the Allies. If the Allies can gain a foothold in Italy, then Hitler will have to send at least enough protection to hold them back. Like Opa said:
It would no longer be of primary importance whether the Allies advance 20 or 200 miles in a week or whether they are forced to consolidate their present position: significant could be the number of Nazi troops which the Allies engage in battle and thereby divert from the potential invasion ... along the Western coast. 
We as people in the future know that one large invasion on the western front does happen, in June of 1944. I would assume invasions tend to be planned for when the weather is clear, (and to give Hitler enough time to spread his resources thin) so early June makes sense. I would bet money Opa thought/hoped it would happen sooner. 

Back to September of 1943. Opa analyzes the war tactics, and if I were reading his article, I would feel confident and hopeful after his analysis. Especially knowing that a man from Berlin wrote it, with personal knowledge of the area. Opa assumes throughout his analysis that the process and invasion is all well-thought out and careful calculation. That must be nice to have that kind of confidence.

Perhaps my favorite part of this whole thing is the random fun facts at the bottom of the article. My guess is that there was an allotted space for each article, and if one was a little on the short side, these facts acted as great fillers. So now we know about the seven families of frogs and toads in the United States. I tried to fact check that, but it's kinda hard. The information was given in number of species and then I found out over 180 species had died off since 1980. The last fact I thought was about frogs, but then I realized and amphibian landing tractor is a military vehicle/boat for water invasions. I'm sure the paper advertised war bonds.

This article: introduction, essay, and tidbits at the end; is full of fun facts. 

1 comment:

  1. I wonder which "Indians" they mean...because actual Indians have fought wars over access to salt and Native Americans were also probably aware of its necessity to life.


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