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So the other day I took the missus to see that Suicide Squad movie-- it was hot garbage by the way-- and during the trailers before the film, they showed this.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM9BWtppzko

 

I can't wait to see it. However, immediately after the trailer, when it was nice and quiet in the theatre, I heard several people ask "what is Dunkirk'? I almost lost my god damned mind. It was just one more damning indictment of our public education systems.

 

That said, maybe they don't teach Dunkirk in American high schools. I can't remember. I am an avid student of history, myself. Especially world war 2 history. It occurs to me that there is probably a lot of interesting bits of history from other countries, and here we can share that collective knowledge so we never find ourselves looking like idiotic idiots at the movie theater. 

 

First up, Dunkirk. This is British history, but I know it well enough. After the Germans invaded France via the lowlands at the beginning of World War 2, they flanked the British Expeditionary Force and French 1st Army and cut them off from other forces in France to the South and defending the Maginot line. About 330K soldiers were cut off with their backs to the sea. The Germans called a halt order, bafflingly, and the French and British forces used that time to dig in and set up defenses while the British government organized a massive evacuation. They sent everything they had, up to and including fishing boats, and within 11 days they managed evacuate the 330K British, French and Belgian troops that were trapped.

 

France surrendered a couple weeks later, and they had to leave a massive amount of equipment behind which was captured by the Germans. It was still a massive morale boost for the Allies at one of the darkest points of the war. It became known as the miracle of Dunkirk. 

 

 

 

Feel free to add other cool stories from history for everyone's benefit.

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it was Hitlers first big blunder

 

there would be many to follow

I'd have to find the thread, but I seem to recall reading that there is debate about who exactly ordered the halt. It's usually attributed to Hitler, but some Historians claim that it was actually the General in charge of the pursuit, and Hitler just signed off on it. 

 

I'm an avid reader of the ask historians subreddit. I was reading more about Dunkirk after seeing this trailer and I seem to recall that being discussed.

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This is from a reddit poster by the name of Heimdall2061

 

Heinz Guderian was one of the German commanders on the ground during the operation in question, and his memoirs talk about this.

 

According to Guderian in Panzer Leader, "On [the 24th of May] the Supreme Command intervened in the operations in progress, with results which were to have a most disastrous influence on the whole future course of the war. Hitler ordered the left wing to stop on the Aa. [italics his.] ...We were not informed of the reason for this... The order contained the words: "Dunkirk is to be left to the Luftwaffe. Should the capture of Calais prove difficult, this port too is to be left to the Luftwaffe." (I quote here from memory.) We were utterly speechless."

 

He goes on to report being repeatedly given stop-and-go orders to advance on Dunkirk, then stopping within sight of it, watching the Luftwaffe attack and seeing the massive British evacuation fleet.
Guderian then says "The operation would have been completed much more quickly if Supreme Headquarters had not kept ordering XIX Army Corps to stop and thus hindered its rapid and successful advance. What the future course of the war would have been if we succeeded... it is now impossible to guess. ...Unfortunately the opportunity was wasted owing to Hitler's nervousness. The reason he subsequently gave for holding back my corps- that the ground in Flanders with its many ditches and canals was not suited to tanks- was a poor one."

 

Guderian goes on to mention the theory Churchill posits in his memoirs of the war, "that some of the German generals suggested that by holding up his tanks outside Hitler was hoping either to give the English and opportunity to sue for peace or to increase Germany's chances of negotiating a settlement. Neither then nor at any later period did I ever hear anything to substantiate this suggestion." He then goes on to criticize Churchill's version some more regarding von Rundstedt- Guderian doesn't seem to have much cared for old Winston's take on the war, unsurprisingly.

 

Anyway, it's up to you whether you want to take Guderian's word for it or not. He was there, but of course his perceptions and memories may have been colored by his closeness to the whole affair. But Guderian, who is elsewhere in Panzer Leader quite good about mentioning logistical issues and difficulties, doesn't say a word about them here.

 

N.B.: For what it's worth, this is not the only time Guderian piles the majority or entirely of the blame for German operational failures on Hitler. Not saying he's wrong, but you could certainly interpret it as him having an axe to grind with Hitler (for some unfathomable reason.)

 

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/4eqt6c/do_most_contemporary_historians_agree_on_the/

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From user Chairs_missing

 

Hitler's decision was made after consultation with Field Marshal von Rundstedt at his field headquarters on the morning of May 24. The decision was based on the advice of von Rundstedt, who wanted to preserve his motorised forces for the push on Paris, Hitler agreed, trusting in Goering's promise that the Luftwaffe would wipe out the pocket.

 

At the time it didn't look like a bad decision: confidence in the Luftwaffe's ability to destroy concentrated forces was at an all-time high, and no one expected the pocket to survive. The day the halt order was given Churchill's orders were for the perimeter forces to go down fighting, buying time for a French counter-offensive that was never likely. When the evacuation order was given two days later, the expectation was that perhaps 45,000 men would be rescued; the eventual total was 224,301 British soldiers - virtually the entire British Expeditionary Force - and 111,172 French and Belgian soldiers.
 

Kershaw, Ian Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941

 

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/39ouru/why_did_hitler_suddenly_stop_all_attacks_against/

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it may be that the german commanders stopped of their own accord because nobody had ever discussed what to do in such an event

 

but it was Hitler that invaded Russia and refused to retreat and retrench or negotiate a peace

 

that was all she wrote

Invading Russia was always the goal for Hitler. He talked about it Mein Kampf and openly in speeches. Basically everything he did was for the purpose of taking land in the East in Poland and Russia to move Germans in.

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further on Churchill he was also responsible for siting on his fat **** for 3 years while the Russians got the crap beat out of them

 

don;t get me going on churchill

 

he was a fat little **** who was no better than hitler.

 

there would have been no world wars without the likes of him

lol. I am not going to wade into this one because I don't know enough about Churchill personally to comment.

 

I'm just going to wait for the British to weigh in.

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I read about this story years ago and for some reason it stuck with me.

 

Russian Wolves

 

In the winter of 1916-1917, the Eastern Front stretched for more than a thousand miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. During that winter, half-starved Russian wolves converged on both the German and Russian lines in the northern part of the front in the Vilnius-Minsk region. As their desperation increased beyond their fear of humans, the wolves started attacking individuals but were soon attacking groups of soldiers so viciously and often that something had to be done. The soldiers tried poisoning them, shooting them with their rifles and machine guns and even using grenades against them, but the large and powerful Russian wolves were so hungry, fresh wolf packs simply replaced those that were killed.

 

The situation grew so severe that the Russian and German soldiers convinced their commanders to allow temporary truce negotiations to enable them to deal with the animals more effectively. Once the terms were worked out, the fighting stopped and the two sides discussed how to resolve the situation. Finally, a coordinated effort was made and gradually the packs were rounded up. Hundreds of wolves were killed during the process while the rest scattered, leaving the area once and for all to the humans. The problem was solved, the truce was called off and the soldiers got back to killing each other properly.

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I read about this story years ago and for some reason it stuck with me.

 

Russian Wolves

 

In the winter of 1916-1917, the Eastern Front stretched for more than a thousand miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. During that winter, half-starved Russian wolves converged on both the German and Russian lines in the northern part of the front in the Vilnius-Minsk region. As their desperation increased beyond their fear of humans, the wolves started attacking individuals but were soon attacking groups of soldiers so viciously and often that something had to be done. The soldiers tried poisoning them, shooting them with their rifles and machine guns and even using grenades against them, but the large and powerful Russian wolves were so hungry, fresh wolf packs simply replaced those that were killed.

 

The situation grew so severe that the Russian and German soldiers convinced their commanders to allow temporary truce negotiations to enable them to deal with the animals more effectively. Once the terms were worked out, the fighting stopped and the two sides discussed how to resolve the situation. Finally, a coordinated effort was made and gradually the packs were rounded up. Hundreds of wolves were killed during the process while the rest scattered, leaving the area once and for all to the humans. The problem was solved, the truce was called off and the soldiers got back to killing each other properly.

Have heard so many side stories to the war and have never heard this. I like to think that somewhere Liam Neeson is sharpening his Russian accent for the impending movie script.

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I read about this story years ago and for some reason it stuck with me.

 

Russian Wolves

 

In the winter of 1916-1917, the Eastern Front stretched for more than a thousand miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. During that winter, half-starved Russian wolves converged on both the German and Russian lines in the northern part of the front in the Vilnius-Minsk region. As their desperation increased beyond their fear of humans, the wolves started attacking individuals but were soon attacking groups of soldiers so viciously and often that something had to be done. The soldiers tried poisoning them, shooting them with their rifles and machine guns and even using grenades against them, but the large and powerful Russian wolves were so hungry, fresh wolf packs simply replaced those that were killed.

 

The situation grew so severe that the Russian and German soldiers convinced their commanders to allow temporary truce negotiations to enable them to deal with the animals more effectively. Once the terms were worked out, the fighting stopped and the two sides discussed how to resolve the situation. Finally, a coordinated effort was made and gradually the packs were rounded up. Hundreds of wolves were killed during the process while the rest scattered, leaving the area once and for all to the humans. The problem was solved, the truce was called off and the soldiers got back to killing each other properly.

 

now THAT would make an awesome movie

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Obviously not counting the Civil War

I was going to say that the civil war might not count since it wasn't a foreign power, but then again, neither were the plains wars.

 

At any rate, the surrender on the Bataan peninsula in WW2 is the biggest defeat ever suffered by the American military.

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So I lied a bit... Search mad jack Churchill for the full story.

 

Lieutenant-Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming "Jack" Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996) was a British Army officer who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, bagpipes, and a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword.

 

Nicknamed "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", he is known for the motto: "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed." It is claimed that Churchill also carried out the last recorded longbow and arrow killing in action, shooting a German NCO in 1940 in a French village during the Battle of France.

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until we redefined "defeat" in Viet Nam.

We never lost a single military engagement in Vietnam. Furthermore, we lost about 23,000 men killed captured and wounded in just five months in the Philippines in 1942-43. The Vietnam war doesn't come even remotely close to being that bad.

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So I lied a bit... Search mad jack Churchill for the full story.

 

Lieutenant-Colonel John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming "Jack" Churchill, DSO & Bar, MC & Bar (16 September 1906 – 8 March 1996) was a British Army officer who fought throughout the Second World War armed with a longbow, bagpipes, and a basket-hilted Scottish broadsword.

 

Nicknamed "Fighting Jack Churchill" and "Mad Jack", he is known for the motto: "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed." It is claimed that Churchill also carried out the last recorded longbow and arrow killing in action, shooting a German NCO in 1940 in a French village during the Battle of France.

I've heard about this guy. What a legend.

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We never lost a single military engagement in Vietnam. Furthermore, we lost about 23,000 men killed captured and wounded in just five months in the Philippines in 1942-43. The Vietnam war doesn't come even remotely close to being that bad.

 

 

The Viet Nam war - which we initiated - ended up killing about 1.5 million people

 

It is the worst mistake we have ever made - although the Invasion of Iraq looks like it may turn out oven worse.

 

The fact that we won every battle and lost the war should indicate that the way we consider loses and wins has been redefined.

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Let's not make this a Vietnam thread please.

 

No doubt you've read this but it's a great story.

 

The Christmas truce (German: Weihnachtsfrieden; French: Trêve de Noël) was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, French, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behaviour was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.

 

The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting fraternisation. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the incorporation of poison gas.

 

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a growing mood of "live and let live", where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades, while in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in full view of the enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.

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The Viet Nam war - which we initiated - ended up killing about 1.5 million people

 

It is the worst mistake we have ever made - although the Invasion of Iraq looks like it may turn out oven worse.

 

The fact that we won every battle and lost the war should indicate that the way we consider loses and wins has been redefined.

You're trying to describe a complex situation in black and white terms. I am currently playing in a poker tournament, so I don't have the time to give you a proper write up about my thoughts about the Vietnam. Instead, I will copy and paste a paper I wrote for my "U.S in the Vietnam Conflict" class last semester. I got an A, and citations are included. Enjoy.

 

Dominos and Proxies: The United States in Vietnam

            The United States involvement in Vietnam had very little to do with Vietnam as a country or people. Vietnam became, in the eyes of the United States, a battleground in a larger struggle against the Soviet Union. The United States involvement began with it bankrolling a dying French empire in Vietnam, before escalating to the point of combat operations by American troops. The key strategies and philosophies that influenced American decision making was George Kennan’s Cold War policy of containment, and the Domino Theory. What began as a populist rebellion against a colonial occupier would eventually escalate into a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

            The Domino Theory held that if one country fell to communism, then its neighbors would fall to Communism, one after the other. Cause and effect. One event triggers a series of events that changes the course of history. There are two events that could be argued to have caused a domino effect that would eventually bring the United States into the Vietnam conflict years and decades after they occurred.

The first event was Ho Chi Minh’s conversion to communism in the 1920’s. “In later years, people would debate which was his true love, nationalism or communism? In the United States, anticommunists would see only his communism, arguing that nationalism was just a subterfuge.” (Olson and Roberts 11) The second event was the sudden death of President Roosevelt in the closing days of World War Two. An outspoken critic of imperialism with a much softer view of communism, President Roosevelt had a vision of a post-war world where countries were free to decide their own future. “Earlier, he had spoken openly to the White House correspondents: ‘there has never been, there isn’t now and never will be, any race of people on Earth fit to serve as masters over their fellow men… We believe that any nationality, no matter how small, has the inherent right to nationhood’.” (Brinkley)

With Roosevelt’s sudden death, Harry Truman ascended to the Presidency, and he brought with him a drastic change in U.S foreign policy. Truman was less cordial with the Soviet Union, and immediately after World War Two began financially supporting the Turkish and Greek governments as they battled their own homegrown Communist rebels. “Truman justified his request on two grounds. He argued that a Communist victory in the Greek Civil War would endanger the political stability of Turkey, which would undermine the political stability of the Middle East. This could not be allowed in light of the region’s immense strategic importance to U.S. national security.” (Office of the Historian)

The Truman doctrine put the final nails into the coffin of U.S isolationism. The United States, moving forward, would use its economic and military might to stop the spread of communism through a policy of containment. “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union,” Kennan wrote, “must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” (United States Department of State)

 In practice, this policy of containment was implemented through mutual defense treaties, foreign military aid, and supporting insurgencies and/or coups against communist states. At times, like the Korean war, the U.S military would be used if all else has failed. As the Soviets continued to extend their sphere of influence and support for international communism, the United States decided to draw a line in the sand. That line ran across the 17th parallel. “If the United States allowed itself to be humiliated by the communist-nationalist regime, then its military credibility would be seriously undermined. The regional alliance that the United States led might dissolve as the area's countries lost faith in American protection.” (Lind)

The fear of a chain reaction to Vietnam falling to communism was in line with the domino theory. The domino theory, whether it was believed by politicians or just useful rhetoric, was popular during the Cold War. In the 1950’s, then a Senator, John F. Kennedy expressed this concern in a speech to the American friends of Vietnam. “First, Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike. Burma, Thailand, India, Japan, the Philippines and obviously Laos and Cambodia are among those whose security would be threatened if the red tide of communism overflowed in Vietnam.” (Kennedy)

            The American friends of Vietnam, also known as the Vietnam lobby, were strong advocates of the Republic of Vietnam in the fifties, and had powerful members of the United States government amongst their ranks. Most notably, Kennedy and his future vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson. (Olson and Roberts 51) Years of lobbying and advocating for Vietnam as a Senator no doubt influenced their decision making once they ascended to the nation’s highest offices. Eight days after being inaugurated, President Kennedy approved additional foreign aid to South Vietnam as part of a counter-insurgency plan. (Boston Beacon Press)

While every President since Roosevelt had their hands in Vietnam, to varying degrees, it was ultimately the Johnson administration that escalated the war by committing the U.S military to the troops. The longtime member of the Vietnam lobby, now President, received the opening he was perhaps looking for, after the controversial Gulf of Tonkin incident. “Last night I announced to the American people that the North Vietnamese regime had conducted further deliberate attacks against US naval vessels operating in international waters, and that I had therefore directed air action against gun boats and supporting facilities used in these hostile operations.” (Johnson)

After the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the war that the United States had tried so hard to win without fighting, was now an American war. A war that would leave a scar on the soul of a generation, and on the legacy of President Johnson. Vietnam was perhaps the first conflict that defined the new way that major world powers waged war, through proxies. The Soviet Union and China would fight the United States in Vietnam with the Viet Minh as their proxy—a favor the United States would later return to the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The United States fought the Vietnam war because they felt compelled to make a stand against communist expansion. Many in Washington prescribed to the domino theory about communist expansion across the globe, and advocated a measured approach of containment when dealing with the Soviet Union. A unique set of circumstances and events led the United States on a collision course in Vietnam. The untimely passing of Roosevelt shifted the postwar world from Roosevelt’s optimistic worldview to one of mistrust and fear of the Soviet Union. Ho Chi Minh’s decision decades earlier to embrace communism brought the Vietnam conflict onto the radar of wary American politicians, and the ascension of Vietnam lobby politicians Kennedy and Johnson to the executive office made the Vietnam war a higher priority than in Washington than it had been in the past. The controversial Gulf of Tonkin incident was the last domino in a series of events that brought the United States into the Vietnam war.

 

Works Cited

Boston Beacon Press. The Pentagon Papers. N/A N/A 1961. 29 June 2016. <https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/pentagon2/pent1.htm>.

Brinkley, Alan. The New York Times. 07 September 2012. 28 June 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/books/review/embers-of-war-by-fredrik-logevall.html?_r=0>.

Johnson, Lyndon B. The American Presidency Project. 5 August 1964. 29 June 2016. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=26422#axzz2hl9fydBl>.

Kennedy, John. F. John F Kennedy Presidential library. 1 June 1956. 29 June 2016. <http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKSEN-0895-014.aspx>.

Lind, Michael. New York Times. N/A N/A N/A. 29 June 2016. <https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/lind-vietnam.html>.

Office of the Historian. Department of State. 1947. 29 June 2016. <https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/truman-doctrine>.

Olson, James S. and Randy Roberts. Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam 1945-2010. West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2014.

United States Department of State. Office of the Historian. N/A N/A N/A. 29 June 2016. <https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/kennan>.

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I may read that some day but not today.

 

Viet Nam was a disaster.

I didn't say that it wasn't. I just disagreed with your characterization of Vietnam as the greatest military defeat for the American military.

 

It was more of a political defeat than a military one. For example, the Tet offensive was a tactical disaster for the NVA. They failed to achieve any of their objectives and suffered massive losses that they couldn't hope to replenish in any reasonable amount of time. However, it ended up being an unintended strategic victory. The American public saw photos of the Viet Minh attacking the embassy and the fighting in Huey city, and they lost confidence in war effort. At that point, it just became a waiting game for the North.

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I've never heard that before. I'll see if I can find a reputable source for that answer, one way or the other.

I've heard it before. Here is a pretty well written article explaining where it came from and debunking the myth.

 

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1999-09-12/news/9909100393_1_committed-suicide-vietnam-veteran-veterans-have-committed

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I used to love reading history. It's been a while though. Anything ancient having to do with Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Feudal Japan, China, India, the Mongols, the Huns, Medieval Europe, the dark ages, The age of enlightenment etc.. etc.

 

Basically all manner of savagery, ancient warfare, origin stories, politics, religion, culture, civilization way back in time i find them all fascinating. 

 

All modern history from the Napoleonic & Victorian eras onward and America's history are not nearly as interesting to me.

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I used to love reading history. It's been a while though. Anything ancient having to do with Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Feudal Japan, China, India, the Mongols, the Huns, Medieval Europe, the dark ages, The age of enlightenment etc.. etc.

 

Basically all manner of savagery, ancient warfare, origin stories, politics, religion, culture, civilization way back in time i find them all fascinating. 

 

All modern history from the Napoleonic & Victorian eras onward and America's history are not nearly as interesting to me.

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