80th Anniversary of World War 2: August 1941

In August 1941, German forces continued to advance towards Kiev in the Ukraine and Leningrad on the Baltic Sea. While senior German commanders proposed a concerted assault on Moscow, the German leader Adolf Hitler continued to divert German forces to other objectives. The United States of America and Great Britain, together with Australia and Canada became increasingly concerned about Japanese moves to expand into the Pacific. America moved to counter the Japanese threat by diplomacy backed with further economic sanctions, agreed on post-world war goals with Britain, and American President Franklin Roosevelt joined with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in sending a joint message of support to the Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin. British North Atlantic convoys commenced, expanding the lend-lease programme to the Soviet Union.

Japan and Southeast Asia

On 1 August 1941, President Roosevelt announced what was effectively an oil and aviation fuel embargo on Japan, in response to the Japanese occupation of airfields and the Cam Ranh naval base in French Indochina. Japan relied on the United States for eighty percent of its fuel supplies, so the American embargo compelled the Japanese leadership to consider seizing the extensive oil fields in the Dutch East Indies.  Five days later Anthony Eden the British Foreign Secretary, and Cordell Hull the American Secretary of State, separately warned Japan against threating Thailand’s independence. On 7 August the Australian Government expressed its opposition to any Japanese expansion into the Pacific, while Japan denied that it had designs on Thailand. The following day the Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku was commissioned. On 19 August United States Marine Corps personnel established the first permanent military garrison on Wake Island, a strategic American possession located in the North Pacific between Hawaii and Guam.

The Eastern Front

President Roosevelt announced on 2 August that the Lend-Lease programme would be expanded to include the Soviet Union. Officials in Washington and London had not expected that the Soviet Union would survive the German invasion for more than six weeks, but they had not bargained on either the Soviet Union’s capability to resist despite huge losses of territory and troops or Adolf Hitler’s arbitrary strategic decisions. Hitler met with his senior generals on 4 August, and while the generals agreed that the principal goal was the capture of Moscow, Hitler ordered that the attacking forces split and concentrate instead on Leningrad to the north and Kiev in the Ukraine. A week later, Joseph Stalin issued Order Number 270, calling upon the Red Army to ‘selflessly fight to the last’ and ‘defeat the fascist dogs’. Roosevelt and Churchill sent a joint message of support on 15 August, recognising the ‘brave and steadfast resistance of the Soviet Union’ and promising to ‘act quickly and immediately’ in planning ‘the future allocation of our joint resources’. On 23 August General Heinz Guderian attempted to convince Hitler to resume the attack on Moscow, but Hitler was adamant that Kiev should be captured first .

The Atlantic Charter

On 7 August President Roosevelt arrived at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland on board the USS Augusta. Prime Minister Churchill arrived two days later aboard the HMS Prince of Wales. The two leaders spent the next three days discussing the war, the prospects for peace and a post-war international system. While Churchill wanted the United States to enter the war on the Allied side, Roosevelt was more interested in seeing a preferential tariff system within the British Empire dismantled, and the right of all people to choose their own system of government after the war. The Atlantic Charter was issued on 14 August, with the eight principal clauses setting out the Anglo-American vision for post-war peace. The clauses included global economic cooperation, the advancement of social welfare, freedom from want and fear, freedom of the seas and disarmament. In a broadcast on 24 August, Churchill assured listeners that the Atlantic Charter was different from the punitive peace imposed upon Germany at the end of the First World War. Both he and Roosevelt had ‘definitely adopted the view that it is not in the interests of the world and of our two countries that any large nation should be unprosperous or shut out from the means of making a decent living for itself and its people by its industry and enterprise.’

Operation Countenance

The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, code-named ‘Countenance’, commenced on 25 August and concluded on 31 August. British concerns of the security of the Ango-Iranian oil fields, German military successes in the Soviet Union, and the threat of an invasion of Egypt posed by German forces in Libya were matched with Soviet concerns that the Trans-Iranian Railway, a more secure route for the supply of Lend-Lease military supplies than the sea route to Arkhangelsk, might fall into German hands. The failure of the Shah to expel German nationals from Iran provided a convenient pretext for the invasion. British and Australian naval forces attacked from the Persian Gulf, British Commonwealth forces crossed into Iran from Iraq, while Soviet forces attacked from the north. The Iranian forces were overwhelmed, and in the wake of the 31 August surrender by the Iranian Government Reza Shah went into exile. Iran was partitioned between the Soviet Union and Great Britain for the remainder of the war.

Lili Marleen

The German Soldiers’ Radio in occupied Belgrade was transmitted across Europe and the Mediterranean. On 18 August the station played a 1939 recording of the little-known song ‘Lili Marleen’ by German singer and actress Lale Andersen. The First World War poem, set to music in 1938, told of a German soldier’s longing for his girlfriend Lili, who used to wait for him ‘Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate’. Soldiers’ Radio Belgrade, with only a small selection of records available, played the song frequently. Lili Marleen became a favourite of the Afrika Korps and went on to become popular with British troops after an English version was recorded by Andersen for broadcast to North Africa. Andersen later received a gold disc in recognition of over one million sales of her recording of the song.

Photo Credit: https://sputniknews.com/analysis/201809191068156395-uk-ussr-ww2-iran/

Author’s Profile:

Dr Aaron Fox is a New Zealand-based military and security intelligence historian. He trained as an historian at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, before directing medallic policy for the New Zealand Defence Force. He later worked as a senior local government manager, and as a specialist advisor to the renowned Weta/Te Papa exhibition ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’. His current projects include a biography of the notable New Zealand soldier and politician, Brigadier James Hargest.