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After 50 years
"The Picture"

Looking back on... 1940
Events and highlights of the year 1940
by hank mulder

Blitzkrieg! The word strikes terror into the hearts of the people of Europe. Blitzkrieg, lightning war. It is a whole new approach to warfare as Adolf Hitler's armies literally sweep with lightning speed across the sovereign nations of western Europe.

From September of the previous year, when Germany invaded Poland to April of the current year when she invades Denmark and Norway the whole German war effort is a relatively low key affair. In fact so little seemed to be going on that American journalists began calling it the "Phony War".

Then on May tenth, all hell breaks loose. 200,000 German troops equipped with fast moving tanks and armored vehicles, and backed by Ju87 'Stuka' dive bombers, make a concerted push toward the North Sea. In the process Holland and Belgium are overrun by the invading forces, as are parts of France. They didn't know what hit them.

In Dunkirk, on the French coast, the lightning war has encircled and trapped nearly 350,000 English, French and some Belgian troops. Their desperate situation is nearly impossible, but with a combination of audacious determination, courage and luck 338,226 are safely whisked across the Channel to England.

The evacuation dubbed Operation Dynamo, succeeds because of the courage and determination shown by the British navy and because the fog shrouding the Channel provides a perfect cover. Perhaps the greatest factor is the huge flotilla of little ships that provide the capacity and mobility so desperately needed. The sudden change in tactics by the Nazis means that the war is now joined in earnest.

The cloud of war hangs heavily over 1940 which is becoming an eventful year. The population of the U.S. is a little over 132 million. In 1940, women can expect to reach the age of just over 68 years while men can expect to live to an average of nearly 61 years. The median salary is $1,299. and a loaf of bread costs 9 cents. A pound of butter goes for 42 cents, a dozen eggs, 36 cents and a quart of milk costs 15 cents.

In 1940, 'I'll Never Smile Again' tops the hit parade, followed by 'Frenesi', 'When You Wish Upon a Star' and 'Fools Rush In'. Also popular: 'Practice Makes Perfect', 'We Three', 'Darn That Dream', 'The Breeze and I' and who can forget 'When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano'.

The popular singers called "crooners", include Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Kate Smith Tony Martin and Perry Como. Other popular entertainers are Louis Armstrong and Bobby Levine. Big Bands are all the rage and include orchestras led by Harry James, Tommy Dorsey Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

One of current movies of 1940 is 'New Moon released June 28. It features Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the lead roles. Also popular are 'The Philadelphia Story' featuring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, 'The Grapes of Wrath' with Henry Fonda and John Carradine, 'His Girl Friday' starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rebecca' featuring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Finally, there is 'The Great Dictator' featuring Charlie Chaplin in his first speaking role. Also in the movie, Jack Oakie as Napaloni, Dictator of Bacteria.

Although Television was launched in 1939, the war has put most of the plans on hold. Radio is the lifeline for Americans in 1940. It provides news, music and entertainment. Programming includes soap operas, quiz shows, children's hours, mystery stories, fine drama, and sports. Kate Smith and Arthur Godfrey are popular radio hosts. Also popular, shows with Red Skelton, Abbott and Costello, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Truth or Consequences. The government too, relies heavily on radio for propaganda.

"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." With these immortal words Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill assumes the mantle of British Prime Minister on May 13. He succeeds Neville Chamberlain, whose hollow proclamation of "peace in our time" had led to one debacle after another.

Churchill rallies the English people with such timeless prose as "...we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..." and "This is not the end, maybe not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps the end of the beginning.". England has found a leader!

One of the more memorable events during the early part of World War II is the Battle of Britain. Hitler attempts to subdue England by using massive air attacks. The German Luftwaffe strikes, first English military installations and then in an act motivated more by vengeance than military strategy, all her major cities. This tactical error, which devastates the general population but leaves much of the island nation's defenses relatively unscathed, helps turn the tide against the German plan.

Three factors determine the outcome. First there are the valiant efforts of the RAF pilots. Then there is a new weapon called "radar" and finally, the British have succeeded in "cracking" the enemy's Enigma Code. The Germans pay a heavy price for their bombing. By the end of October, when the winter weather makes the threat of invasion unlikely, the Germans have lost 2,375 planes, compared to a loss of only 800 British planes. Hermann Goering is not a happy man.

On July 3, 1940, the Royal Navy carries out one of the more bizarre actions of the war. Dubbed Operation Catapult, it wipes out a number of French battle ships. Determined to prevent France's warships from falling into German hands, the English navy led by the HMS Hood, after a suitable warning, sinks three French naval vessels berthed in French Algeria. More than 1,200 French sailors are feared dead. The French are outraged.

On June 16, General Charles De Gaulle escapes to England. From there he rallies the French people who are now firmly under Nazi rule. These are desperate times for the leader and his people.

Meanwhile the war expands. On June 10, Italy officially enters war as she aligns herself with the Nazis against the allies. On September 27, Japan joins the war by signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy. They now form what is being called the Axis Powers.

One of stranger stories surrounding the war was that of William Joyce. Dubbed Lord Haw Haw by the English press, Joyce, a Nazi sympathizer, had fled to Germany accompanied by his wife Margaret. From Germany, Joyce makes a series of broadcasts aimed at his native Britain which he hoped would help the Nazi cause. The evidence suggests that his efforts are largely dismissed as some collossal joke. He is executed after the war.

Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin's right hand man, had fled to Mexico in 1929 to escape the murderous intentions of Joseph Stalin when the latter had succeeded Lenin as Russian leader. On August 21, 1940, a Spaniard who calls himself Frank Jackson, kills Trotsky by burying an ice axe in his skull. The assassination is generally considered Stalin's ultimate revenge.

In Warsaw Poland, Polish Jews are beginning to learn the true scope of Nazi vitreol. On November 15, Hans Frank, Poland's new puppet governor, orders 400,000 Jews to be herded into the tiny Warsaw ghetto. The ghetto becomes a prison. The goal is to starve them to death. Conditions only get worse.

As the war intensifies it becomes difficult to find any positive news. Europe rapidly slides into chaos. On the other side of the Atlantic, the news is raising grave concerns. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is president. Although the Americans are not eager to get involved in the conflict, there is a sense of inevitability.

In Tibet, a small mountainous country bordering on China, there is news. In 1933, the 13th Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, had died. In time honored tradition, his successor had been selected by senior Tibetan monks. In 1937 they had picked a peasant child, two year old Lhamo Dhondrub, to be the new supreme leader. Now, on February 22, 1940 the new Dalai Lama is officially enthroned.

On a more prosaic note 1940 sees the unveiling of a tough little four wheel drive army vehicle. Unceremoniously dubbed a "jeep" for GP or General Purpose vehicle, it is the beginning of a legend. After struggling for a number of years to make his system work, Chester Carlson finally receives a patent on November 22, 1940, for a revolutionary photocopy machine. He eventually sells his patent to the Haloid Company, which later changes its name to the Xerox.

One of the things that had bedevilled doctors trying to successfully tranfuse blood from one individual to another was the rather arcane subject of compatibility or matching. By 1940 they had already discovered the basic blood groups, namely 'A', 'B', 'AB' and 'O'. In 1940 another piece of the puzzle is found by Karl Landsteiner and Alexander Solomon Wiener with the discovery of the 'Rh' factor. Named for the rhesus monkey it was found that blood either had it, "Rh postive" or didn't, "Rh negative".

Finally on September 12, 1940, four teenagers, Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel and Simon Coencas with the help of their pet dog make the archeological discovery of a lifetime. On Lascaux Hill, at Montignac in the South of France not occupied by the Nazis, they enlarged a small opening in the hillside to discover what has since become the world famous Lascaux Caves.

What makes the discovery so exciting are the magnificent paintings on the walls of the caves that are found in an amazing state of preservation. Carbon dating reveals that the Lascaux cave paintings were created sometime between 15,000 - 10,000 B.C. They are believed to be some of the first artworks created by humankind.

1940! Looking back, it was a year to remember.

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