23 May 1941

23 May 1941

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HMS Suffolk and HMS Norfolk, under Admiral Wake-Walker, become the first British ships to sight the Bismarck on her way into the Atlantic.

The War at Sea, 1939-1945, Volume I: The Defensive, S. W. Roskill. This first volume in the British official history of the war at sea covers the period from the outbreak of the war through to the first British disasters in the Pacific in December 1941. Amongst other topics it covers the Norwegian campaign, the evacuation from Dunkirk and the first two years of the Battle of the Atlantic. The text is meticulously researched, and is rooted in a detailed study of wartime records, both British and German. [see more]

23 May 1941 - History

-History of H.M.S. Hood-
Extract from ADM234/509
Narrative of H.M.S. Suffolk Operations 23 - 26 May 1941
Updated 07-May-2014

This is an extract covering H.M.S. Suffolk's report on the Battle of the Denmark Strait.
A longer version is available here.

Extract starts at page 160

0332 (B). Set courses (200°-230°) and speed as requisite for shadowing from 15-16 miles on enemy's starboard quarter. Enemy sometimes obscured, but visibility gradually increasing.

0447 (B). Enemy bore 186°*, 15 miles, course 220°, speed 27-28 knots and bore 196° at 0456 (B).

0520 (B). Enemy bore 203°, 15 miles, possibly increasing speed and shortly afterwards altered course 30° to port and then back to starboard.

17. 0542 (B). Received Norfolk's 0541 reporting sighting enemy, followed by Prince of Wales' 0537 and Hoods 0543. The mean of these placed the enemy some 280°, 14 miles from Suffolk's plot position, and sights obtained shortly afterwards confirmed this. As, however, the Battle Cruiser Squadron was now in touch with the enemy, no amending position report was made at this point.

Enemy appeared to be approaching, and in case he had reversed course at 0538 (being "turned" by the Battle Cruiser Squadron), Suffolk circled to keep northward of enemy. It was soon realised, however, that the enemy was not approaching, the appearance being due to mirage, which also explains the similar (false) appearances at 0325.

Reports.- Made reports at 0447, 0456, 0522, 0533 and 0538 during the above phase.

18. 0550 (B). Suffolk's course 220°, 29 knots, following the enemy.

0553 (B). Heavy gun flashes bearing 185°. Half a minute later Bismarck opened fire to port.

0556½ (B). Prinz Eugen opened fire to port.

0605 (B). Course and speed as requisite to keep on enemy's starboard quarter.

0612 (B). Firing ceased, except for some A.A. fire by Bismarck. During the action three hits were observed on Bismarck from the heavy ships' fire.

0615 (B) and 0616 (B). Enemy (bearing 210°) altered course to starboard.

19. 0616 (B). Although the plot showed the enemy to be outside gun range, Prinz Eugen appeared at this time to be closing (now realised probably due to mirage), and at the same time Type 284 reported an echo at range 19,000 yards while trained on the Prinz Eugen.

0619 (B). Opened fire (six broadsides) using Type 284 range (initially 19,400 yards).

0623 (B). Type 284 ranges started decreasing rapidly.

0624 (B). Type 284 range 12,400 yards.
Ceased fire as there was clearly something wrong.

A large aircraft had just been sighted closing the ship from the enemy's direction, which turned across the line of fire at about six miles distant at 0624½, and it was then appreciated that this aircraft (not showing I.F.F.) was the object on which Type 284 had been ranging while trained on the enemy.

0629 (B). Bismarck bore 206°, Prinz Eugen bore 208°, 18 miles, course 240°.

Enemy then appeared to be altering course. Circled to northward to maintain distance.

20. 0638 (B) - 0734 (B). Course and speed as requisite for following enemy in general direction 210°, at 18 miles distance, and for working on to his starboard quarter, Norfolk being (from her reports) to port.

23 May 1941 - History

By Blaine Taylor

On the evening of May 23, 1945, in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, five men in a British Army jeep were driving down a dark road. Four were guards and the fifth was one of the most important Nazi prisoners of war to have been found in the collapsed Third Reich. The commander of the expedition, a colonel, thought that they were lost, but when he turned to say so, the prisoner set him straight: “You are on the road to Lüneberg.” The prisoner in question was none other than Heinrich Himmler, SS number 168, head of Germany’s dreaded SS and Secret State Police, and his capture, almost accidental, was of great importance to the victorious Allies. Here was the highest ranking Nazi taken alive since the arrest of Hermann Göring on May 9, 1945. What secrets about the Hitler regime might he reveal?

Heinrich Himmler: Head of the SS

Himmler was the third of four Reichsführer-SS (RFSS or National Leader of the SS). The first had been Josef Berchtold and the second Erhard Heiden. After Heiden resigned, Himmler assumed the post on January 6, 1929. He was already a close supporter of Hitler, having taken part in Hitler’s abortive 1923 Beer Hall Putsch that had tried to overthrow the Bavarian government.

Although meek- and frail-looking—certainly nothing like the tall, blond, broad-shouldered, and athletic Aryans pictured on the SS and Wehrmacht recruiting posters—Himmler had an instinct for cunning and self-survival that few others possessed.

When Hitler appointed Himmler head of the SS, the organization was nothing more than a small, elite bodyguard for the Führer within Ernst Röhm’s much larger Sturmabteilung, or SA, and numbering only 280 men. Through his organizational skills, Himmler had, by 1933, built up the SS to 52,000 men. The uniform had changed, too. Instead of the brown shirts that marked the SA, Himmler went for an all-black costume for his SS (although, at one time, the SS wore brown shirts with black trousers and black kepis). It was Himmler who, along with Göring, persuaded Hitler that Röhm must be eliminated and the brawling SA brought to heel if the Nazi Party were ever to gain the support of the German Army generals and industrialists.

Wewelsburg Castle: “Schoolhouse” of the SS

Himmler had grandiose dreams for his SS. After his first visit on November 3, 1933, he had the SS lease the 17th-century Wewelsburg Castle near Paderborn, a structure that he envisioned being converted into an SS shrine and his official SS “Schoolhouse.”

The castle was built in a triangular form of walls and towers on a pointed limestone spur that had been a Germanic stronghold at the time of the Roman invasion in ad 9. There was in Himmler’s day the famed Knight’s Hall and a trio of towers that were each five stories tall. The North Tower became the SS Valhalla, the fabled “Realm of the Dead.” Moreover, the castle’s crypt contained a dozen pedestals where it was planned that urns containing the ashes of the highest SS leaders of the Third Reich would someday rest. Himmler himself, captivated with the idea of Nordic mythology, fully expected to be interred with great Nazi solemnity in the fortress vault, designed by his hand-picked architect, Hermann Bartels.

Reconstruction performed by slave laborers from a nearby concentration camp began after the SS acquired the castle in 1934, and it was the intention of Himmler to make it the core of an SS city radiating 450 kilometers in all directions.

The castle’s highlight was an Arthurian-like round table for Himmler’s own dozen SS “Knights” that included Reinhard Heydrich Himmler’s administrative deputy SS General Karl Wolff, who would surrender northern Italy to the Allies in 1945, thus eluding the hangman’s noose and even their sometime rival, Chief of the German Order (Regular) Police, General Kurt Daluege, who would be hanged by the Czechs as a war criminal after the war.

Himmler’s private study was in the West Tower, and he also had two rooms where he stayed on his frequent visits. During the war, Himmler’s personal weapons collection was hidden within its walls, and thus the legend and mysteries of Wewelsburg persist to this day for treasure hunters.

An SS museum was at the castle, too, as well as a 30,000-volume library of rare books, plus a repository of SS rings. In 1938, Himmler announced that in the future all top SS generals would take their oaths of allegiance at the Wewelsburg each spring. He planned for his 12 department heads to one day be the forerunners of a new pan-European SS State after Nazi Germany won World War II, projected for 1950 by Hitler.

The last major reconstruction project was the North Tower during 1941-1942, but all work ceased in April 1944.

Over the castle’s main entrance there was a Latin inscription that read, “Many would gladly enter, but they will not succeed,” and none did, until Himmler ordered SS General Heinz Macher on March 30, 1945, to destroy the Wewelsburg before the Americans arrived. Much damage was done, but the castle was not completely destroyed.

Although meek in appearance, SS chief Heinrich Himmler was the evil force behind many of the Third Reich’s crimes against humanity.

After the SS withdrawal, the local townspeople looted the castle of 40,000 bottles of wine and champagne, furniture, carpets, art objects, silver utensils, fine china, and linens. Himmler’s personal, top-secret safe was found and blasted open by American GIs, but the contents were never positively identified. It was rumored that the safe contained documents relating to the slain Heydrich. The castle was then occupied by the U.S. Army and is today a tourist attraction.

Growing Up During World War I

Born in Munich on October 17, 1900, the son of a pedantic schoolmaster father, Himmler, whose godfather was Prince Heinrich of Wittelsbach, started keeping a diary at age 10 and in 1914 as a teenager during World War I, he turned it into a war journal: “Aug. 23rd: The Bavarian troops were very brave in the rough battle.” (Read all about the First World War and the conflicts predating the mid-twentieth century inside the pages of Military Heritage magazine.)

Heinrich’s eyesight was too poor for him to join the Imperial Navy. While his older brother Gebhard joined the reserves, Heinrich could only stay at home and play with his toy soldiers. In 1915, though, he joined the Jugendwehr (Youth Forces) for field drilling and military lectures in preparation for later joining the Bavarian Army on the Western Front.

Prince Heinrich, 32, died of wounds sustained at the Battle of Verdun, while his namesake was rejected for service by two regiments. Distraught, Heinrich joined the 11th Bavarian Infantry Regiment as an enlisted man on October 16, 1917. Meanwhile, brother Gebhard had been awarded the Iron Cross before the war came to a sudden end in November 1918, followed by a communist revolt in Munich accompanied by considerable economic and political turmoil. His dreams of a military career dashed, Heinrich then decided to study agriculture but fell ill with paratyphoid fever. The following year, recovered, he enrolled as an agricultural student at the University of Munich, where he remained until graduating in 1922.

Entering Into Politics

Caught up in the unrest that was wracking his defeated country, which the socialists had turned into a republic, Himmler joined a nationalist, paramilitary organization known as the Reichskriegsflagge (Imperial War Flag), headed by veteran Ernst Röhm. At some point, Himmler had occasion to hear a young firebrand named Adolf Hitler speak. Mesmerized by Hitler’s oratory and nationalistic fervor, Heinrich joined the Nazi Party in August 1923 and took part in Hitler’s abortive Beer Hall Putsch that November.

Having avoided arrest himself, Himmler threw himself into politics and began speaking at various rallies, espousing anti-government, anticapitalist, and anti-Jewish sentiments. After Hitler was released from prison in December 1924, and Röhm broke away from Hitler, Himmler threw in his lot with the Nazis and received a paid position at the party’s offices in Landshut. His ambition and skill at organizational matters soon caught Hitler’s eye, and Himmler was entrusted with more and more tasks. In 1927, he married Margarete Boden, a nurse seven years his senior. They had one child, a daughter named Gudrun. During the war, he also had a mistress, Hedwig Potthast, with whom he had a son and a daughter.

In 1929, when he wasn’t yet 30, the shy, quiet, methodical, and organized Himmler was named Reichsführer-SS, commanding the Nazis’ national force that protected Hitler and other leaders personally and broke up the meetings of the party’s political opponents.

“Night of the Long Knives”: Destroying the SA

The unobtrusive Heinrich Himmler was on his way to a career unique in 20th-century history. By January 1933, when Hitler was named to the exalted office of chancellor of Germany, Himmler made the SS a haven for those elite young men who scorned the more plebeian brown-shirted SA storm troopers. By war’s end, the Waffen (Armed) SS alone would number 900,000 men in 40 divisions.

Himmler’s first great chance to shine in Hitler’s eyes came in 1934 when the conservative German Army demanded that the chancellor rein in the unruly SA led by Staff Chief Ernst Röhm. The latter’s goal, allegedly, was to replace the regular army with his own men under arms and, as Himmler’s immediate boss, Röhm also stifled the expansion and independence of the SS.

The wily, cunning Himmler and his major deputy, former junior naval officer Reinhard Heydrich, formed a secret political alliance with Hitler’s second man, Hermann Göring, to destroy Röhm and his main SA subordinates. This was duly accomplished via Operation Kolibri (Hummingbird), which led to the murder of Röhm and dozens of his minions between June 30-July2, 1934, known variously in history as the “Blood Purge,” the “Röhm Putsch,” and the “Night of the Long Knives.”

Heinrich Himmler, holding the imperial war flag, stands with other storm troopers at a Munich barricade during the Nazis’ abortive November 9, 1923, attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government.

Following this national murder weekend, Nazi Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick correctly warned Hitler, “If you don’t proceed at once against Himmler and his SS as you have against Röhm and his SA, all you will have done is to call in Beelzebub to drive out the devil.” This prophecy came true a decade later during 1944-1945.

Consolidating Power

Himmler was rewarded for his organizational break from the humbled SA. On April 20, 1934, Göring had already turned over to the Himmler-Heydrich team his Secret State Police, the feared Gestapo. The black duo’s next goal was to unite all the various German police forces under their lead, even though neither of them had any police training or experience.

They succeeded on June 18, 1936, when Hitler promoted Himmler to Chief of the German Police. At the Kremlin in August 1939, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin introduced Lavrenti Beria to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop as, “My Himmler.” Indeed, the two top cops had much in common, including being involved in their respective country’s rocketry programs.

Like his American counterpart, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Himmler was anticommunist by profession, yet it is possible to imagine Himmler accepting an NKVD police post under Stalin after World War II had it been offered. Like Dr. Josef Goebbels and Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler was a decidedly leftist Nazi in outlook.

The key, common wellspring behind the characters of all these men was naked power and its practical applications, however, not ideology.

Dr. Felix Kersten: Himmler’s Influential Masseur

On March 10, 1939, just six months before the outbreak of World War II, the high-strung, nervous Himmler underwent the first of a series of manual treatments by Finnish-born masseur Dr. Felix Kersten for his extremely painful stomach cramps. Over time, the doctor-patient relationship developed into one of confidant-mentor between the helpful doctor and his charge.

Two years later, in March 1941, the Himmler-Heydrich combine decided to build the first top-secret SS death camps in Poland, occupied by the German Army and SS during the Blitzkrieg campaign of September 1939. Here, they would attempt to systematically murder European Jews, gypsies, and Slavs by gassing.

Simultaneously, in March 1941 was launched a secret SS plan to make occupied Holland an SS state. This would be achieved by deporting the entire Dutch population to the East. As recounted in Dr. Kersten’s 1947 memoirs, this was slated to begin on Hitler’s 52nd birthday, April 20, 1941: “I saw this in secret documents at Himmler’s headquarters on March 1, 1941 … 43 typed sheets … in a yellow folder … signed by Hitler, and countersigned by Himmler … designated as top secret.

“This transfer was to be completed within 13 months and four days … in two installments. The Catholics of southern Holland and the Flemish population of Belgium were to be sent to the eastern states of Greater Germany. The inhabitants of the northern and eastern provinces of Holland and Belgium were to follow. After this, the inhabitants of The Hague, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Utrecht were to be sent eastward … 8,200,000 … to be moved. Trains, ships, and buses were to be used.…

“The capital of the new Holland would be Lublin [Poland]. The region to be assigned … between the Vistula and Bug Rivers.”

With the future planned for the defeat of the Soviet Union, the Lemberg region would also be given to the Dutch pioneers of the new Nazi East the Dutch Jews would be eliminated along the way. Dutch Nazi leader Anton Mussert and his followers would be moved to the new Nazi Warthegau (region) in western Poland, with old Holland being established as Himmler’s first fully SS state. The second would follow after the war in Heydrich’s Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and this would entail a second Holocaust against all Slavic peoples.

SS Province Holland would be peopled by new, young SS farmers. The entire coast would be fortified against a possible Allied invasion.

Exiting his personal Ju-52 aircraft during a tour of the Eastern Front, a smiling Himmler responds to a salute of soldiers. Behind him is his personal masseur and confidant, Dr. Felix Kersten.

Asserting that he was appalled by this plan, Dr. Kersten, who had a home at The Hague, allegedly convinced Himmler that his nerves would never stand the strain of this massive task added to all his other government portfolios. He reportedly convinced Himmler to ask Hitler to postpone the Dutch deportation until after the war, along with Heydrich’s planned slaughter of the Slavs.

Remarkably, the Führer agreed, and thus the Dutch and Belgians were saved. Some authors believed that the portly Finnish masseur controlled his patient outright because he was able to alleviate his crippling stomach pains and thus gain his confidence while the stricken Himmler lay on the table during his manual healing treatments.

Yet, the fate of others was not so easily altered. On November 11, 1941, Himmler told his startled masseur, “The destruction of the Jews is being actively planned.”

Himmler’s Empire Within the Third Reich

Simultaneously, yet another macabre plan was taking shape in Himmler’s feverish mind. On July 16, 1941, even as the first Holocaust got under way in both Poland and the conquered Soviet Union, Hitler named his faithful Reichsführer-SS to establish and then police the newly occupied former Soviet Ukraine as a German colony, again to be populated by SS farmers following the deportation and murder of all its Jews. This grandiose scheme stretched far into the expected Nazi future, even to the 1960s.

On December 12, 1942, Himmler gave Dr. Kersten the Führer’s personal medical files to read. Kersten, in turn, showed them to Dr. Ferdinand Sauerbruch, considered Germany’s greatest surgeon, who said that he was “convinced that Hitler was out of his mind.” Himmler dreamed of succeeding Hitler as SS Führer after the war.

What derailed all of this Nazi racial fantasy and empire building was the trio of Soviet Red Army victories in the Battles of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Kursk, reversing the course of the war and putting the Germans on the run. Reacting, the power-hungry Himmler convinced Hitler to appoint him to succeed his own nominal boss, Dr. Wilhelm Frick, as minister of the interior, in August 1943.

By October, Himmler’s empire included almost two million SS troops and 300,000 Gestapo men, along with 30,000 concentration camp Death’s Head guards.

When Himmler attempted to negotiate peace with the Allies in 1945, another bargaining chip with the Allies included the lives of the remaining Jews in those camps. He saw in Dr. Kersten a possibly useful negotiator who had contacts in Sweden, Finland, Holland, and Switzerland, where American OSS chief Allen Dulles was stationed. Indeed, SS General Karl Wolff opened his own negotiations with Dulles in 1945.

“There is Either Victory or the Rope For All of Us”

After the failed Army bomb plot of July 20, 1944, to kill the Führer in Rastenburg, East Prussia, Hitler further turned over to “the faithful Heinrich” command of the German Home or Replacement Army, for the first time placing the SS leader in charge of significant ground forces of the German Army. This was the late Ernst Röhm’s 1934 goal, realized with a vengeance.

In all of his varied posts, Himmler was uniquely placed to realize that the war was lost. Still, he made a final effort to inspire the Nazi leaders to victory. He gave two speeches in October 1943, and four more in 1944, to more than 300 top German leaders. His message was clear: “This is what we have done—and are doing. We are all involved in collective guilt. There is no turning back. There is either victory or the rope for all of us.”

SA (Sturmabteilung) commander Ernst Röhm, with Himmler trailing, reviews a formation of SS troops in Berlin shortly before the SA chief’s assassination in 1933. At this time, the SS was still subservient to the SA.

Himmler’s Secret Speech

As it became clear that Nazi Germany was losing the war after disastrous battles on the Eastern Front, Himmler gave a top-secret speech on October 4, 1943, at Posen Castle in western Poland to an elite audience of Third Reich brass. Those present included not only party leaders, but also state ministers and industrialists, and later the supreme commanding officers of the entire German armed forces. The aim of his speech was to reveal the extent of the regime’s murderous activities that precluded any going back to normal modes of conduct. If Germany lost the war, they might all hang as war criminals, so the war must not be lost.

Some excerpts from Himmler’s remarks that day:

“Now, I want you to listen carefully to what I have to say here in this select gathering, but never to mention it to anybody…. I refer––in this closest of circles––to a question which you all, my fellow Party members, have obviously addressed, which, however, has become for me the most difficult question of my life: the Jewish question.

“You all take it as self evident and gratifying that in your Gaus, there are no more Jews. All Germans––apart from a few exceptions––are also clear that we would not have endured the bombing, nor the burdens … of perhaps … the sixth year of the war, if we had this festering plague within the body of our people. The proposition, ‘The Jews must be exterminated’ with its few words, gentlemen, is easily spoken. For him who has to accomplish it, it is the hardest and most difficult of tasks….

“I want to talk to you quite frankly on a very grave matter. Among ourselves, it should be mentioned quite frankly, and yet we will never speak of it publicly…. I mean … the extermination of the Jewish race…. Most of you [and here he gestured to his assembled SS generals] must know what it means when 100 corpses are lying side by side, or 500, or a thousand.

“To have stuck it out—and at the same time, apart from exceptions caused by human weakness—to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard! This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written, and is never to be written…!

“We had to deal with the question: what about the women and children? I am determined in this matter to come to an absolutely clear-cut solution! I would not feel entitled merely to root out the men—well, let’s call a spade a spade for ‘root out,’ say ‘kill,’ or ‘cause to be killed.’ Well, I just couldn’t risk merely killing the men, and allowing the children to grow up as avengers facing our sons and grandsons!

“We were forced to come to the grim decision that this people must be made to disappear from the face of the earth! To organize this assignment was our most difficult task yet, but we have tackled it, and carried it through, without—I hope, gentlemen, I may say this—without our leaders and their men suffering any damage in their minds and souls.

“The danger was considerable, for there was only a narrow path between … their becoming either heartless ruffians unable any longer to treasure human life, or becoming soft, and suffering nervous breakdowns….

“Before the end of the year, the Jew problem will be settled once and for all! That’s about all I want to say at the moment about the Jew problem. You know all about it now, and you had better keep it to yourselves! Perhaps at some later time—some very much later period—we might consider whether to tell the German people a little more about all this, but I think we had better not!

“It’s us here who have shouldered the responsibility … for action as well as for an idea…and I think we had better take this secret with us into our graves.” He did.

Himmler and Hitler, along with other officers, view live-fire military exercises at the Münsterlager training area, May 20, 1939.

Himmler Takes Command of Army Group Rhine

Taking another secret tack, in November 1944 the now embattled Himmler, thinking about saving his own neck in the event Germany lost the war and wishing to change his horrific image among the Western Allies, ordered that the gassing of the Jews be halted. These orders, however, were often disobeyed by two of his fanatical Austrian SS colleagues, General Dr. Ernst Kaltebrunner (the assassinated Heydrich’s ultimate successor) and Colonel Adolf Eichmann, who wanted the Holocaust to continue.

They were countered as 1945 began by the team of Kaltenbrunner’s own deputy, SS General Walther Schellenberg, and the more moderate Dr. Kersten. They convinced the skittish Reichsführer-SS to initiate secret peace negotiations with the West and to surrender the death and concentration camps intact to advancing Allied troops.

Before that happened, however, on December 10, 1944, as the Western Allied armies neared the German border, Hitler granted would-be soldier Himmler his heart’s dearest wish when he named him military commander of Army Group Rhine on the Upper Rhine River front. As with his prior career as policeman, Himmler’s martial experience was nil aside from his few days in a Bavarian regiment in 1918.

Acting chief of the General Staff Colonel-General Heinz Guderian believed that Himmler’s new post was a sly political maneuver by his chief Nazi rival for power, Hitler’s secretary, Martin Bormann. If Himmler failed, his prestige would fall in Hitler’s eyes, Guderian and Bormann both believed. It was also hoped that Army leader Himmler would now move the Home Army he still commanded closer to the fighting fronts both east and west.

“He’s Never Led a Platoon Across a River!”

Himmler’s first attack, directed from his command Special Train Heinrich in the safety of a tunnel in Germany’s Black Forest, was to retake Strasbourg from the French the assault failed. Meanwhile, another SS army under Col. Gen. Josef “Sepp” Dietrich helped defeat the Americans in the early phase of the Battle of Bulge in the Ardennes Forest on the German-Belgian border.

As German Army General Siegfried Westphal noted, “He [Himmler] fired off every shell that was sent to him and then simply asked for more.” On January 23, 1945, in the wake of both his Strasbourg debacle and the finally defeated Bulge attack, Hitler shifted Himmler yet again, this time to a third active military field command. This was as commander in chief of Army Group Vistula to defend the Nazi capital city of Berlin against the advancing Red Army from the east.

Wrote Guderian in his postwar memoirs, “He [Himmler] harbored no doubts about his own importance. He believed that he possessed powers of military judgment every bit as good as Hitler’s, and needless to say, far better than those of the generals. ‘You know, my dear colonel-general, I don’t really believe the Russians will attack at all—it’s all an enormous bluff!’”

Guderian later snorted at Himmler’s alleged martial prowess, “He’s never led a platoon across a river!”

In late 1944, Himmler found himself in charge of real soldiers in a desperate battle with the Red Army to stave off the Third Reich’s collapse. One of his officers at Army Group Vistula, Colonel Hans-Georg Eismann, described vividly in his memoir how Army commander Himmler preferred to get his nightly sleep rather than overly trouble himself about his new command’s very real difficulties!

Himmler’s Resignation From Army Group Vistula

In the end, both Bormann and Guderian were proved right. Heinrich Himmler was simply not up to the job militarily. On February 12, 1945, there ensued a furious argument between Guderian and an irate Hitler in the latter’s cavernous office at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.

“I want General [Walter] Wenck at Army Group Vistula as chief of staff. Otherwise, there will be no guarantee that the attack will be successful,” Guderian shouted to Hitler as he looked at a sheepish Himmler, adding acidly, “The man can’t do it. How could he do it?” Ironically, trying to curry Himmler’s favor in 1938, Guderian had predicted then that one day Himmler would, indeed, run the entire
German Army.

September 1941: Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich (second from left), the military governor of Czechoslovakia and the person who carried out many of Himmler’s most diabolical schemes (such as the Holocaust), review SS guards at the Hradcany Palace in Prague. Heydrich was ambushed by Czech partisans the following May and died of his wounds.

His own judgment now called into question in front of everyone at the daily military situation conference, Hitler roared back, “The Reichsführer is man enough to lead the attack alone!” not realizing that Himmler and the colonel general had met previously to agree to let Guderian ask Hitler for Himmler’s resignation because he was weighed down by too many offices.

After much shouting, Hitler at last wearily gave in: “Well, Himmler, General Wenck is going to Army Group Vistula tonight to take over as chief of staff.” Turning to Guderian, Hitler smiled wanly, “Herr Colonel General, today the Army General Staff won a battle!” In March 1945, Himmler was replaced altogether as commanding officer of the army group by regular soldier Col. Gen. Gotthard Heinrici.

In the Reich Chancellery Park on March 21, 1945, General Guderian further told the stricken Himmler, “The war can no longer be won.… You must go with me to Hitler and urge him to arrange an armistice.” But Himmler refused: “My dear general, it’s too early for that.” Guderian later asserted, “There was nothing to be done with the man—he was afraid of Hitler.”

When General Heinrici arrived at his new Vistula headquarters to take over, Himmler whisked him aside for a private chat and revealed what he had not told Guderian: “Through a neutral country, I have taken the necessary steps to start negotiations with the West! I’m telling you this in absolute confidence, you understand.” Why Himmler chose an Army general he did not know to confide in no one knows. The crusty old soldier recalled, however, “Himmler was only too happy to leave. He made me want to vomit.”

Himmler, accompanied by his entourage, inspects the Shirokaya Street camp in Minsk, Byelorussia, where thousands of captured Soviet soldiers were imprisoned, in August 1941. It was here that Himmler witnessed his first execution of a prisoner, an event that left him shaken.

Contemplating a Fourth Reich

Oddly, just like Göring and even the jailed Rudolph Hess in Britain, Himmler saw himself as the head of a new, postwar, neo-Nazi Fourth Reich in the case of Himmler, as leader of his own Party of National Union, replacing the Nazis. Recalled his boyhood friend and head of the German Red Cross SS Dr. Karl Gebhardt, hanged as a convicted war criminal by the Allies in 1948, “He believed what he was saying at the moment he said it, and everybody else believed it, too.”

Himmler likewise veered from intimating to Dr. Kersten that Germany’s atomic bomb would be ready if the war could last just a few more months (which he knew was untrue) to regretting that the Reich had not invaded neutral Sweden and Switzerland in 1940 when it had the chance. Meanwhile, the ever more radical Nazi SS peacenik General Walter Schellenberg was pressing Himmler daily to make peace, even to consider shooting or poisoning Hitler if necessary. For his part, the timorous Himmler quaked in his boots at such assertions, and his stomach pains grew worse.

Besides, the Reichsicherheitsdienst (Reich Security Service or RSD) men protecting the Führer reported to Hitler, not to Himmler, and with good reason. Hitler was taking no chances with anyone concerning his personal security, not even with “the faithful Heinrich,” as he touted Himmler.

Himmler’s Secret Meetings to End the War

While SS General Schellenberg arranged two secret meetings with former Swiss President Jean-Marie Musy with Himmler to discuss the release of Jews, another deputy of Himmler, SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Heydrich’s successor as head of the Reichsicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office or RSHA), went to Hitler about it. The Führer immediately issued an order that anyone who released Jews and/or Allied POWs to the Western powers would be shot. Nevertheless, Himmler persisted, but more stealthily than before.

On April 21, 1945, the day after Hitler’s 56th and last birthday, Himmler drove to Dr. Kersten’s home outside Berlin for a top-secret meeting with Swedish Jew Norbert Mazur, a stand in for Hillel Storch of the World Jewish Congress in New York.

One of the Reichsführer-SS’s duties was inspecting various facilities around the Greater Reich. Here, photographed in 1942, Himmler visits the I.G. Farben synthetic fuel and rubber plant at Monowitz-Buna (Auschwitz III), where thousands of slave laborers worked.

Himmler gave Mazur his rationale for the alleged Holocaust thus: “These men helped the Resistance. They fired on our troops from their ghettos, they carry diseases such as typhus. It was to stop epidemics that we sent them to the ovens, and they’re threatening to hang us for this!”

Mazur was incredulous: “You cannot deny that crimes were committed against the prisoners in the concentration camps,” to which Himmler conceded: “Oh, I’ll grant you that there were excesses every once in awhile.” They agreed on one thing: the killing would stop. But the dying continued.

Meeting With Count Bernadotte

There was more. A series of four equally top-secret peace meetings to end the war had also been arranged by Schellenberg for Himmler with the vice president of the Swedish Red Cross, Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg, and a relative of the Swedish royal house. Thus, at the end of his career, Himmler was dealing once more with royalty.

Their first meeting took place on February 12, 1945, at the SS Hohenlychen Hospital, 75 miles north of Berlin. After the war, the count published his detailed remembrance of these negotiations with the dreaded Himmler. “When I suddenly saw [Himmler] before me in the green Waffen SS uniform without any decorations and wearing horn-rimmed spectacles, he looked a typical, unimportant official, and one would certainly have passed him in the street without noticing him.

“He had small, well-shaped, delicate hands, and they were carefully manicured…. He was, to my great surprise, extremely affable. He gave evidence of a sense of humor, tending rather to the macabre. Frequently, he introduced a joke when conversation was threatening to become awkward or heavy. Certainly there was nothing diabolical in his appearance, nor did I observe any of the icy hardness in his expression of which I had heard so much.”

Himmler was, however, the man who ordered the killings of the SA in 1934, launched the Holocaust, and possibly had a hand in the plots to kill Hitler both in 1939 and 1944. Now, in early 1945, Himmler’s name and face were becoming infamous worldwide for the death and concentration camps that were then being overrun and liberated by the Allied armies.

The world gasped in horror as the camp crematoria doors swung open, yet, curiously, Himmler had a blind spot in this regard. He refused to believe that the West would not see in him the logical leader of the new Fourth Reich that would be a bulwark against the advance of Bolshevism—Germany’s and the West’s common enemy. He was now in for a rude awakening, however.

Himmler Offers an Anticommunist Alliance

Count Bernadotte’s terms were that Hitler must give all powers to Himmler, who must in turn remove all Nazi Party officials, cease Werewolf guerrilla activities, and release all Danish and Norwegian prisoners to Sweden via the Swedish Red Cross. The big shock was saved for last: Himmler could not possibly hope for any political role in a future, non-Nazi Germany.

Himmler wanted a message sent to Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower offering a cease-fire in the West and an alliance against the Red Army. In fact, the new U.S. president, Harry S. Truman, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed the Himmler offer by trans-Atlantic telephone on April 25.

Truman rejected it, and Churchill agreed forthwith. Might Winnie, with his well-known anticommunist bias, have considered it without Truman’s prior objection?

On April 29, Reuters news correspondent Paul Scott Rankine in San Francisco got the story from British Information Services head Jack Winocur, who in turn had received it directly from British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, that Himmler had offered a German surrender in the West.

When Hitler learned of the Reuters radio broadcast describing such events, he immediately fired Himmler and ordered him shot on sight, replacing him with Karl Hanke. In a fit of rage, the Führer also had Himmler’s personal liaison officer in the Berlin Führerbunker, SS Cavalry General Hermann Fegelein, shot. Fegelein was the husband of Eva Braun’s younger sister, Gretl.

“They Will Never Find Me”

Hitler committed suicide with wife Eva on April 30, 1945, in the bunker below the Reich Chancellery. His successor as Reich leader, Navy Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, told a downcast Himmler that there was no place for him in his own new government at Flensburg on the German-Danish frontier. Having any connection with the loathed and despised Himmler would be a political and public relations kiss of death.

According to British author Dr. Hugh Thomas, an arrogant Himmler boasted, “They [the Allies] will never find me…. I, for one, shall certainly not commit suicide.” He considered possible escapes to neutral Sweden or, perhaps, even to Franco’s Falangist Spain, just as Belgian Waffen-SS leader Leon Degrelle actually succeeded in doing.

It did not work out that way, though. While Schellenberg was trying to surrender 400,000 German troops in Norway, his former boss and his entourage set off on their final, strange odyssey.

Himmler’s corpse lies on display after committing suicide while in British custody in Lüneburg, May 23, 1945.

Thus it was that on May 10, 1945, Himmler and 14 disguised SS accomplices began their trek from Flensburg across northern Germany, first by car, and then on foot, sleeping in barns and sometimes outdoors. The group included Hitler’s escort surgeon SS General Karl Brandt Himmler’s surgeon Dr. Karl Gebhardt Berlin Gestapo chief Otto Ohlendorf Himmler chauffeur and bodyguard Josef Kiermaier General Heinz Macher adjutant Werner Grothmann two more escort battalion officers and seven noncommissioned officers.

Himmler had taken the identity papers belonging to the dead Field Policeman Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger—whom, ironically, he earlier had had executed for defeatism—shaved off his moustache, and put on a black eye patch.

Noted Dr. Thomas, “All carried papers claiming that they were a newly demobilized detachment of the secret Feldpolizei (Field Police), who were ill, and on their way to Munich under the supervision of Dr. Gebhardt. They’d removed all insigniafrom their uniforms, and in their assorted unmarked jackets and rain coats, they were a memorably conspicuous bunch of cutthroats.”

They hoped their exodus would lead them to safety in the high Bavarian Alps, where they would attempt to be secretly spirited out of the country by Werewolf agents––the clandestine Odessa operation. Instead, on May 18 the group reached Bremervörde. There they mingled with a crowd of Germans heading west on a bridge over the Oste River. Unfortunately for them, at the bridge was a British Army security roadblock manned by members of the Black Watch Regiment. Their papers did not seem to be in order and, since the German Field Police had been marked as a suspect group by the Allied intelligence services, the small group was taken into custody as prisoners of war.

Suicide in British Custody

On the morning of May 23, the group was taken to a civil internment camp at Westertimke. Himmler and two others were separated from the group and taken that evening to the 031 Civil Interrogation Camp at Barnstedt. After two days of interrogation by the British, the fugitive former Reichsführer-SS said, “You don’t seem to realize who I am.”

“I am Reich Minister Heinrich Himmler, Reich Führer of the SS!” he boasted proudly.

“Oh, yeah?” said the sergeant. “Well, I’m Winston Churchill!”

“I am Himmler, you fool!” the prisoner shouted angrily. “I demand to be taken to General Eisenhower or Montgomery!”

The sergeant sent for Captain Sylvester, the camp commandant. Himmler repeated his claim, and Sylvester telephoned Colonel Michael Murphy, Chief Intelligence Officer at Second British Army Headquarters at Lüneburg. Intrigued that one of the most-wanted war criminals in all of Nazi Germany might actually be in British custody, Murphy told Sylvester that he would be there shortly.

Murphy arrived at Barnstedt at 9:45 pm to take charge of Himmler. The former Reichsführer, who had been stripped of his clothing, refused to put on a British uniform for the trip and so was given a blanket to wrap around him, then was put in a jeep with Murphy and an armed escort and driven the 10 miles to British headquarters at Lüneburg, arriving there at 10:45.

Himmler’s wife Marga (left) and daughter Gudrun in American captivity at Nuremberg in 1945. Marga was seven years older than Heinrich.

They pulled up in front of 31a Uelzenerstrasse, a red brick villa that British intelligence officers were using as an interrogation center. Although C.J. Wells, a British doctor, examined him carefully, he somehow missed the tiny vial of cyanide of potassium that was concealed in Himmler’s mouth. The questioning began anew, and Himmler repeated his claim to be the Reichsführer-SS and again demanded to see one of the Allies’ top generals. He even wrote out his signature to prove his real identity.

Even as a British POW, Himmler still believed it impossible that the Western Allies would not see the eminent sensibility of using his gifts as a secret policeman par excellence in their future rule of postwar Europe.

During questioning, Dr. Wells again became suspicious and ordered Himmler to open his mouth to be searched one more time. As Wells stuck his fingers in Himmler’s mouth, the German clamped down on the doctor’s fingers, worked the vial out of its hiding place with his tongue, and then bit down hard on the fragile glass. After briefly going into convulsions, he slumped to the floor. The officers quickly grabbed a bucket of water and, holding Himmler by the ankles, repeatedly dunked his head into the water, trying to dilute the poison.

“We immediately upended the old bastard,” recalled one eyewitness, “and got his mouth into the bowl of water, which was there to wash the poison out. There were terrible groans and grunts coming from the swine.… It was a losing battle, and the evil thing breathed his last.”

At 11:14 pm on May 23, 1945, Himmler, wearing only a British Army shirt and socks, was declared dead. With an Army blanket around his shoulders, someone placed a pair of eyeglasses on his face that made the corpse look more like Himmler. On May 26, after an autopsy, Himmler was buried by Major Norman Whittaker, Command Sergeant Major Edwin Austen, and Sergeants Ray Weston and Bill Ottery in a secret grave somewhere on the Lüneburg Heath, its exact location kept secret to this day. There was no funeral service of any kind.

“Utterly Mediocre”

As for the other players in the grim SS drama, Kaltenbrunner was hanged as a convicted war criminal at Nuremberg on October 16, 1946, where Schellenberg, too, was tried and sentenced, then pardoned in 1950. Schellenberg died in Italy of stomach cancer on March 31, 1952. Count Bernadotte, serving as a United Nations mediator in the Middle East, was assassinated in 1948 by Jewish Zionist terrorists who believed that he stood in the way of their planned State of Israel.

Arch-criminal Himmler, whom German historian Joachim Fest characterized as being “utterly mediocre … a romantically eccentric petty bourgeois … who attained exceptional power and hence found himself in a position to put his idiocies into bloody practice,” still lies in his unmarked grave, gone but not forgotten.

Today In History: May 23

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Rockefeller Friends and Family

Rockefeller Friends and Family

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Warren G. Harding

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Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw

Gene Tunney and George Bernard Shaw

Date : May 23, 1929 12:00:00 AM

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JP Morgan Senate Inquiry 1933

JP Morgan Senate Inquiry 1933

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Italian Long Distance Flier 1933

Italian Long Distance Flier 1933

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Bonnie And Clyde 1934

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Bonnie And Clyde Death 1934

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Explorers Otto Schmidt and George Ushakov

Explorers Otto Schmidt and George Ushakov

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Highest temperatures in Cleveland history

Mark Duncan, Associated Press Akron firefighter Al Strong II, cools children during a July 2011 heat spell.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The record high temperature in Cleveland is 104 degrees, set on June 25, 1988.

Here is a listing of the 100 hottest days in Cleveland since 1900.

These are days in which the official high recorded by the National Weather Service reached at least 96 degrees.

For the past several decades, the official readings have been recorded at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.

Hottest days ranked 96-degree days by date
RankDateHigh temp.DateHigh temp.
1 6/25/1988 104 7/21/2011 97
2 7/27/1941 103 7/15/1995 96
3 8/27/1948 102 7/14/1995 98
4 9/3/1953 101 7/28/1993 96
4 9/2/1953 101 7/20/1991 97
4 9/1/1953 101 7/4/1990 98
4 6/28/1944 101 7/10/1989 96
8 7/16/1988 100 8/17/1988 99
8 8/19/1955 100 8/3/1988 96
8 6/28/1934 100 8/2/1988 97
8 8/6/1918 100 7/16/1988 100
12 8/17/1988 99 7/14/1988 96
12 7/8/1988 99 7/9/1988 96
12 7/7/1988 99 7/8/1988 99
12 9/5/1954 99 7/7/1988 99
12 7/14/1954 99 7/6/1988 97
12 8/31/1953 99 6/25/1988 104
12 7/22/1952 99 6/22/1988 98
12 6/26/1952 99 6/20/1988 96
12 6/25/1952 99 6/27/1983 96
12 8/19/1947 99 7/15/1980 97
12 7/26/1941 99 7/22/1978 96
12 7/25/1941 99 7/3/1966 96
12 7/11/1936 99 7/24/1965 98
12 7/24/1934 99 8/19/1955 100
26 7/14/1995 98 8/4/1955 96
26 7/4/1990 98 8/2/1955 96
26 6/22/1988 98 7/31/1955 97
26 7/24/1965 98 7/27/1955 97
26 9/6/1954 98 7/4/1955 96
26 8/29/1953 98 9/6/1954 98
26 8/28/1953 98 9/5/1954 99
26 9/12/1952 98 7/14/1954 99
26 7/4/1949 98 7/2/1954 97
26 7/3/1949 98 6/15/1954 97
26 6/27/1944 98 9/3/1953 101
26 6/8/1933 98 9/2/1953 101
26 7/20/1930 98 9/1/1953 101
26 7/20/1926 98 8/31/1953 99
40 7/21/2011 97 8/30/1953 96
40 7/20/1991 97 8/29/1953 98
40 8/2/1988 97 8/28/1953 98
40 7/6/1988 97 8/27/1953 97
40 7/15/1980 97 9/13/1952 96
40 7/31/1955 97 9/12/1952 98
40 7/27/1955 97 7/26/1952 96
40 7/2/1954 97 7/22/1952 99
40 6/15/1954 97 7/21/1952 97
40 8/27/1953 97 7/14/1952 97
40 7/21/1952 97 6/26/1952 99
40 7/14/1952 97 6/25/1952 99
40 8/26/1948 97 6/24/1952 96
40 8/25/1948 97 6/16/1952 96
40 8/14/1944 97 8/9/1949 96
40 8/10/1944 97 7/5/1949 96
40 8/3/1944 97 7/4/1949 98
40 7/6/1944 97 7/3/1949 98
40 6/25/1943 97 6/28/1949 96
40 6/26/1941 97 8/27/1948 102
40 7/10/1936 97 8/26/1948 97
40 7/9/1936 97 8/25/1948 97
40 7/8/1936 97 8/21/1947 96
40 8/4/1930 97 8/19/1947 99
40 7/21/1926 97 8/18/1947 96
66 7/15/1995 96 8/16/1944 96
66 7/28/1993 96 8/15/1944 96
66 7/10/1989 96 8/14/1944 97
66 8/3/1988 96 8/11/1944 96
66 7/14/1988 96 8/10/1944 97
66 7/9/1988 96 8/4/1944 96
66 6/20/1988 96 8/3/1944 97
66 6/27/1983 96 7/11/1944 96
66 7/22/1978 96 7/6/1944 97
66 7/3/1966 96 6/28/1944 101
66 8/4/1955 96 6/27/1944 98
66 8/2/1955 96 6/18/1944 96
66 7/4/1955 96 6/25/1943 97
66 8/30/1953 96 7/17/1942 96
66 9/13/1952 96 8/8/1941 96
66 7/26/1952 96 7/30/1941 96
66 6/24/1952 96 7/27/1941 103
66 6/16/1952 96 7/26/1941 99
66 8/9/1949 96 7/25/1941 99
66 7/5/1949 96 6/28/1941 96
66 6/28/1949 96 6/26/1941 97
66 8/21/1947 96 7/11/1936 99
66 8/18/1947 96 7/10/1936 97
66 8/16/1944 96 7/9/1936 97
66 8/15/1944 96 7/8/1936 97
66 8/11/1944 96 7/24/1934 99
66 8/4/1944 96 6/28/1934 100
66 7/11/1944 96 7/23/1933 96
66 6/18/1944 96 6/8/1933 98
66 7/17/1942 96 7/17/1931 96
66 8/8/1941 96 8/4/1930 97
66 7/30/1941 96 7/20/1930 98
66 6/28/1941 96 7/21/1926 97
66 7/23/1933 96 7/20/1926 98
66 7/17/1931 96 8/6/1918 100
66 7/5/1911 96 7/5/1911 96

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Wonder Woman

Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, swifter than Hermes, and stronger than Hercules, Princess Diana of Themyscira fights for peace in Man's World.

One of the most beloved and iconic DC Super Heroes of all time, Wonder Woman has stood for nearly eighty years as a symbol of truth, justice and equality to people everywhere. Raised on the hidden island of Themyscira, also known as Paradise Island, Diana is an Amazon, like the figures of Greek legend, and her people's gift to humanity.

As Themyscira's emissary to Man's World, Diana has made it her duty to lead by example, even if the differences between her birthplace and new home sometimes present hurdles for her to jump. She has come to represent the possibility and potential of life without war, hate or violence, and she is a beacon of hope to all who find themselves in need. She stands as an equal among the most powerful Super Heroes, with a sense of purpose to protect the world from injustice in all forms.

Diana's job, however, is anything but easy. Constantly torn between her mission to promote peace and her need to fight back against the pervasive violence of her new home, Diana struggles to walk a line between her warrior strength and endless compassion each and every day.

Calls for Fire Archive

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                                  23 May 1941 - History

                                  After just over 75 years of penicillin’s clinical use, the world can see that its impact was immediate and profound. In 1928, a chance event in Alexander Fleming’s London laboratory changed the course of medicine. However, the purification and first clinical use of penicillin would take more than a decade. Unprecedented United States/Great Britain cooperation to produce penicillin was incredibly successful by 1943. This success overshadowed efforts to produce penicillin during World War II in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands. Information about these efforts, available only in the last 10–15 years, provides new insights into the story of the first antibiotic. Researchers in the Netherlands produced penicillin using their own production methods and marketed it in 1946, which eventually increased the penicillin supply and decreased the price. The unusual serendipity involved in the discovery of penicillin demonstrates the difficulties in finding new antibiotics and should remind health professionals to expertly manage these extraordinary medicines.

                                  According to British hematologist and biographer Gwyn Macfarlane, the discovery of penicillin was “a series of chance events of almost unbelievable improbability” (1). After just over 75 years of clinical use, it is clear that penicillin’s initial impact was immediate and profound. Its detection completely changed the process of drug discovery, its large-scale production transformed the pharmaceutical industry, and its clinical use changed forever the therapy for infectious diseases. The success of penicillin production in Great Britain and the United States overshadowed the serendipity of its production and the efforts of other nations to produce it. Information on penicillin production in Europe during World War II, available only in the last 10–15 years, provides new insights into penicillin’s story.

                                  Dawn of Chemotherapy and the “Magic Bullet”

                                  At the beginning of the 20th century, Paul Ehrlich pioneered the search for a chemical that would kill a microorganism and leave the host unaltered—the “magic bullet.” Ehrlich also coined the term chemotherapy: “There must be planned chemical synthesis: proceeding from a chemical substance with recognizable activity, making derivatives from it, and then trying each to discover the degree of its activity and effectiveness. This we call chemotherapy” (2). After extensive testing, he found a drug with activity against the bacterium Treponema pallidum, which causes syphilis. The introduction of this drug, arsphenamine (Salvarsan), and its chemical derivative neoarsphenamine (Neosalvarsan) in 1910 ushered in a complete transformation of syphilis therapy and the concept of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, despite exhaustive searches, the promise of more magic bullets for microbial therapy remained elusive. For 20 years, Salvarsan and Neosalvarsan were the only chemotherapy for bacterial infections.

                                  Alexander Fleming’s Discovery

                                  A chance event in a London laboratory in 1928 changed the course of medicine. Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist at St. Mary’s Hospital, had returned from a vacation when, while talking to a colleague, he noticed a zone around an invading fungus on an agar plate in which the bacteria did not grow. After isolating the mold and identifying it as belonging to the Penicillium genus, Fleming obtained an extract from the mold, naming its active agent penicillin. He determined that penicillin had an antibacterial effect on staphylococci and other gram-positive pathogens.

                                  Fleming published his findings in 1929 (3). However, his efforts to purify the unstable compound from the extract proved beyond his capabilities. For a decade, no progress was made in isolating penicillin as a therapeutic compound. During that time, Fleming sent his Penicillium mold to anyone who requested it in hopes that they might isolate penicillin for clinical use. But by the early 1930s, interest had waned in bringing to life Paul Ehrlich’s vision of finding the magic bullet.

                                  Discovery of Prontosil and Sulfa Drugs

                                  This dismal outlook on chemotherapy began to change when Gerhard Domagk, a German pathologist and bacteriologist, found bacteriologic activity in a chemical derivative from oil dyes called sulfamidochrysoïdine (also known as Prontosil). This compound had bacteriologic activity in animals, but strangely, none in vitro. Prontosil had limited but definite success when used to treat patients with bacterial infections, including Domagk’s own child. A German company patented the drug, and ultimately, Domagk won a Nobel Prize in 1939. The paradox of Prontosil’s in vivo success but lack of success in vitro was explained in 1935, when French scientists determined that only part of Prontosil was active: sulfanilamide. In animals, Prontosil was metabolized into sulfanilamide. Within 2 years, sulfanilamide and several derivative sulfa drugs were on the market. The success of sulfanilamide changed the cynicism about chemotherapy of bacteria (1).

                                  Isolation of Penicillin at Oxford University

                                  The success of sulfa drugs sparked interest in finding other agents. At Oxford University, Ernst Chain found Fleming’s 1929 article on penicillin and proposed to his supervisor, Howard Florey, that he try to isolate the compound. Florey’s predecessor, George Dreyer, had written Fleming earlier in the 1930s for a sample of his strain of Penicillium to test it for bacteriophages as a possible reason for antibacterial activity (it had none). However, the strain had been saved at Oxford. In 1939, Howard Florey assembled a team, including a fungal expert, Norman Heatley, who worked on growing Penicillium spp. in large amounts, and Chain, who successfully purified penicillin from an extract from the mold. Florey oversaw the animal experiments. On May 25, 1939, the group injected 8 mice with a virulent strain of Streptococcus and then injected 4 of them with penicillin the other 4 mice were kept as untreated controls. Early the next morning, all control mice were dead all treated mice were still alive. Chain called the results “a miracle.” The researchers published their findings in The Lancet in August 1940, describing the production, purification, and experimental use of penicillin that had sufficient potency to protect animals infected with Streptococcus pyogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Clostridium septique (4).

                                  After the Oxford team had purified enough penicillin, they began to test its clinical effectiveness. In February 1941, the first person to receive penicillin was an Oxford policeman who was exhibiting a serious infection with abscesses throughout his body. The administration of penicillin resulted in a startling improvement in his condition after 24 hours. The meager supply ran out before the policeman could be fully treated, however, and he died a few weeks later. Other patients received the drug with great success. The Oxford team then published their clinical findings (5). At the time, however, pharmaceutical companies in Great Britain were unable to mass produce penicillin because of World War II commitments. Florey then turned to the United States for assistance.

                                  Penicillin and US Involvement

                                  In June 1941, Florey and Heatley traveled to the United States. Concerned about the security of taking a culture of the precious Penicillium mold in a vial that could be stolen, Heatley suggested that they smear their coats with the Penicillium strain for safety on their journey. They eventually arrived in Peoria, Illinois, to meet with Charles Thom, the principal mycologist of the US Department of Agriculture, and Andrew Jackson Moyer, director of the department’s Northern Research Laboratory. Thom corrected the identification of Fleming’s mold to P. notatum it was initially identified as P. rubrum (1).

                                  Thom also recognized the rarity of this P. notatum strain because only 1 other strain in his collection of 1,000 Penicillium strains produced penicillin. The strain that was eventually used in mass production was a third strain, P. chrysogenum, found in a moldy cantaloupe in a market, which produced 6 times more penicillin than Fleming’s strain. When a component of the media that Heatley used to grow the mold in England was unavailable, A.J. Moyer suggested using corn steep liquor, a waste product from the manufacture of cornstarch that was available in large quantities in the midwestern United States. With corn steep liquor, the investigators produced exponentially greater amounts of penicillin in the filtrate of the mold than the Oxford team had ever produced. Heatley remained in Peoria for 6 months to work on methods of growing Penicillium strains in large quantities. Florey headed east to interest the US government and multiple drug companies in penicillin production. The US government took over all penicillin production when the United States entered World War II. Researchers at drug companies developed a new technique for producing enormous quantities of penicillin-producing Penicillium spp.: deep-tank fermentation. This process adapted a fermentation process performed in swallow dishes to deep tanks by bubbling air through the tank while agitating it with an electric stirrer to aerate and stimulate the growth of tremendous quantities of the mold. Unprecedented United States/Great Britain cooperation for penicillin production was incredibly successful. In 1941 the United States did not have sufficient stock of penicillin to treat a single patient. At the end of 1942, enough penicillin was available to treat fewer than 100 patients. By September 1943, however, the stock was sufficient to satisfy the demands of the Allied Armed Forces (6).

                                  Public Awareness: The Fleming Myth

                                  Early in 1942, Florey and Heatley went back to England. Because of the shortage of penicillin supplies coming from the United States, the Oxford group still had to produce most of the penicillin they tested and used. In August 1942, Fleming obtained some of the Oxford group’s supply and successfully treated a patient who was dying of streptococcal meningitis. When the patient recovered, the cure was the subject of a major article in The Times newspaper in Great Britain, which named Oxford as the source of the penicillin. However, neither Florey nor Fleming was acknowledged in the article, an oversight quickly corrected by Fleming’s boss, Sir Almroth Wright. He wrote a letter to The Times expounding on Fleming’s work and suggested that Fleming deserved a “laurel wreath.” Fleming happily talked to the press. Florey not only did not speak with the press but prohibited any member of the Oxford team from giving interviews, leading many to erroneously believe that Fleming alone was responsible for penicillin.

                                  Secrecy in Wartime England

                                  The British government went to great lengths to prevent the means for producing penicillin from falling into enemy hands. However, news about penicillin leaked out. A Swiss company (CIBA, Basal, Switzerland) wrote to Florey requesting P. notatum. Concerned about responding, Florey contacted the British government. Agents attempted to track down where Fleming’s Penicillium cultures had been distributed. Fleming wrote, “During the past 10 years I have sent out a very large number of cultures of Penicillium to all sorts of places, but as far as I can remember NONE have gone to Germany” (7). Florey believed that, without the mold, no one in Germany could produce penicillin even though his publication had provided a “blueprint” for its small scale manufacture. Florey was wrong, and so was Fleming.

                                  Fleming had sent a culture of Penicillium strains to “Dr. H. Schmidt” in Germany in the 1930s. Schmidt was unable to get strain to grow, but even though the Germans did not have a viable strain, other Europeans did.

                                  Production during World War II


                                  Someone at Institut Pasteur in France, had Fleming’s strain. In 1942, efforts began at Institut Pasteur and Rhone-Poulenc to produce penicillin. Eventually, German officials found out and, in early 1944, the Germans asked the French for their P. notatum. They were given a false strain that did not produce penicillin. With limited supplies, the French produced only enough penicillin to treat ≈30 patients before the war’s end.

                                  The Netherlands

                                  The situation in the Netherlands was different. The Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS) near Utrecht had the largest fungal collection in the world. A published list of their strains in 1937 included P. notatum. A letter found at CBS shows that in February 1942 the Nazis asked CBS to send their strain of P. notatum to Dr. Schmidt in Germany, mentioning penicillin in the letter. CBS told the Germans they did not have Fleming’s strain of P. notatum. In fact, they did. In the 1930s, Fleming had sent his strain to Johanna Westerdijk, the CBS director. Westerdijk could not refuse the German request for their strain of P. notatum but sent them the one that did not produce penicillin.

                                  Efforts to produce penicillin in the Netherlands went underground at a company in Delft, the Nederladsche Gist-en Spiritusfabriek (the Netherlands Yeast and Spirit Factory, NG&SF). After the German occupation in 1940, NG&SF was still allowed to function. Because Delft was not bombed in the war, NG&SF’s efforts were unaffected. In early 1943, NG&SF’s executive officer, F.G. Waller, secretly wrote to Westerdijk at CBS, asking for any Penicillium strains that produced penicillin. In January 1944, Westerdijk sent all of CBS’ Penicillium strains to NG&SF.

                                  Figure. Bacinol 2, building named in honor of the site of efforts in the Netherlands to produce penicillin during World War II and the drug produced by the Netherlands Yeast and Spirit.

                                  Four reports in NG&SF records detailed their efforts (8). In the first report, NG&SF scientists tested 18 Penicillium strains from CBS they found 1 strain with the greatest antibacterial activity, which was coded P-6 and was identified as P. baculatum. The second report discussed how NG&SF scientists then isolated an extract from P-6. They gave the substance in the extract the code name Bacinol after the species from which it was derived and to keep the Germans unaware of what they were doing (Figure). As Waller wrote, “When we first started looking, in 1943, only one publication was available, that of Fleming in 1929. It was on that basis we started our research” (6). NG&SF researchers then had help from an unanticipated source. In 1939, Andries Querido was employed by NG&SF as a part-time advisor. By January 1943, however, his Jewish background limited his visits. On his last visit in the summer of 1944, Querido met someone in Amsterdam‘s Central Train Station who gave him a copy of the latest Schweizerische Medizinische Wochenschrift (Swiss Medical Journal), which he passed on to the NG&SF scientists. The June 1944 issue contained an article entirely devoted to penicillin, showing the results that the Allies had achieved, including details of penicillin growth in corn steep extract, the scaling up of penicillin production, the measurement of strength by the Oxford unit, results of animal and human studies, and identification of the bacteria known to be susceptible to penicillin. The third report described how NG&SF scientists isolated Bacinol from the extract using the information supplied secretly by Querido.

                                  Large-scale production would be difficult to do and to keep secret from the Germans, especially with a German guard on site. However, NG&SF scientists used an obvious ploy to keep the German guard, who knew nothing about microbiology, at bay: they kept him drunk. “We did have a German guard whose job it was to keep us under surveillance, but he liked gin, so we made sure he got a lot. He slept most afternoons” (6). NG&SF scientists used milk bottles for growing large quantities of Penicillium mold. From July 1944 until March 1945, production of Bacinol continued, as detailed in the fourth report. At the end of the war, the NG&SF team still did not know if Bacinol was actually penicillin until they tested it against some penicillin from England, proving it to be the same compound. NG&SF began marketing the penicillin they produced in January 1946. Although the original building where Bacinol was produced was demolished, NG&SF named a new building in honor of their WWII efforts (Figure).

                                  The Nazis eventually succeeded in making penicillin by October 1944. However, Allied air raids crippled mass production of the drug (9).


                                  The issue of a patent for penicillin was a controversial problem from the beginning. Chain believed that obtaining a patent was essential. Florey and others viewed patents as unethical for such a life-saving drug. Indeed, penicillin challenged the basic notion of a patent, considering it was a natural product produced by another living microorganism. The prevailing view Great Britain at the time was that a process could be patented, but the chemical could not. Merck (New York, NY, USA) and Andrew Jackson Moyer each filed patents on the process of penicillin production with no opposition. Eventually, at war’s end, British scientists were faced with paying royalties for a discovery made in England. The penicillin production at NG&SF turned out to be more than of historical interest. Because NG&SF had researched and developed their own penicillin using their own mold culture, P. baculatum, and used their own production methods, they were not embroiled in any patent clash the marketing of their penicillin eventually increased penicillin supply and decreased prices.

                                  Nobel Prize in 1945

                                  Penicillin’s colossal effects led to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1945 to Fleming, Chain, and Florey. Penicillin was isolated from other microorganisms, which led to a new term, antibiotics. Using similar discovery and production techniques, researchers discovered many other antibiotics in the 1940s and 1950s: streptomycin, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, vancomycin, and others.


                                  Lessons can be learned from the circumstances surrounding the discovery of penicillin. The US government’s successful takeover of penicillin’s production and the unprecedented cooperation among drug companies (and nations) should strongly encourage public/private partnerships as we search for additional effective antimicrobial drugs. In addition, despite their essential value in modern medicine, antibiotics are also the only class of drugs that lose their efficacy with large-scale use as bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. We now are struggling with resistant bacteria that cause infections that are virtually untreatable. Infections such as those occurring after transplantation and surgical procedures, caused by these highly antibiotic-resistant pathogens, are threatening all progress in medicine. Yet, drug companies, some of the same companies that helped develop penicillin, have nearly abandoned efforts to discover new antibiotics, finding them no longer economically worthwhile. The dry pipeline for new antibiotics has led the Infectious Diseases Society of America and others to call for a global commitment to the development of new agents (10). We also must expertly manage the drugs that are currently available. The noteworthy serendipity involved in the discovery of penicillin should remind us that new antibiotics are difficult to find and, more important, should make us mindful when using these limited medical treasures.

                                  Dr. Gaynes is professor of medicine/infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and the Rollins School of Public Health. He worked for >20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is an award-winning author of Germ Theory: Medical Pioneers in Infectious Diseases.

                                  Fan Magazines Collection

                                  Fan magazines gave audiences a way to experience the magic of the movies beyond the theatre. The magazines also gave producers a way to promote their stars and coming films. You can observe a shifting in emphasis across the historical span of this collection. Whereas the volumes of Motion Picture Story Magazine (1913-1914) and the British Picture Stories Magazine (1913-1914) reproduced the stories of films, the fan magazines of the late-teens and beyond focused on the most important audience draw -- the stars.

                                  Our own greatest draw in this collection is our five decade run of Photoplay. Scanned from the original color magazines, the MHDL’s collection of Photoplay begins in 1914 and extends through 1963. Our digital edition of Photoplay is the cumulative result of years of coordination and digitization. Thank you to the collections that provided copies for scanning: Karl Thiede, Bruce Long, the Museum of Modern Art Library and the Pacific Film Archive Library and Film Study Center. Funders include Domitor, an anonymous donor (in memory of Carolyn Hauer), Richard Scheckman, and David Sorochty.

                                  The select holdings of this collection include over one hundred magazine issues digitized by Bruce Long. Bruce Long utilized many of these rare magazines, which include Broadway Brevities, Pantomime, and Captain Billy's Whiz Bang, in the production of his own fanzine, Taylorology.

                                  These were some of the deadliest tornadoes in Pa. history

                                  Here's a look at some of the most destructive tornadoes to have hit Pennsylvania.

                                  Do you know of any that should be included in this list? Let us know in the comment section.

                                  A devastating outbreak of tornados on May 31, 1985 spanned several states, and hit Pennsylvania particularly hard.

                                  In fact, since May 31, 1985, only two tornado days have been deadlier in the entire United States.

                                  In this May 25, 2011 photo, Tom Stanton, a former councilman and mayor of the community, stands by the memorial dedicated in honor of the victims of the devastating tornadoes of May 31, 1985, in Wheatland, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

                                  Forty-three tornadoes and numerous damaging thunderstorms tore across Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario on May 31, 1985, killing a total of 89 people, injuring more than 1,000 others and causing more than $600 million in property damage.

                                  Debra Bennett of Silver Spring, Maryland, begins salvaging at the home of her 95-year-old relative in Albion, Pennsylvania, June 3, 1985. A killer tornado swept the roof off the house and leveled many others in the small northwestern Pennsylvania town. Seven people lost their lives in the twister. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

                                  In Pennsylvania along, 21 tornadoes touched down that day, including a rare F5 -- the most powerful classification on the Fujita scale.

                                  The twisters killed 65 in Pennsylvania, injured more than 700 more, destroyed more than 1,000 homes with damages totaling $375 million.

                                  One of the first tornadoes to hit Pennsylvania is known as the Albion tornado.

                                  It started two miles west of the Ohio state line, then moved into Pennsylvania through Pennside and Albion, to three miles eastnortheast of Cranesville. In Albion, an eight to ten block area and two trailer parks were leveled, with nine dead. In Cranesville, two trailer parks were destroyed, with three deaths and thirteen trailers destroyed.

                                  Another F4 that day was the Atlantic tornado.

                                  This tornado also began in Ohio, and moved east into Pennsylvania, through Mercer Crawford and Venango counties. It caused 23 deaths and damaged or destroyed about 371 homes The small town of Atlantic was practically totaled.

                                  The only F5 tornado in Pennsylvania history was part of the May 31, 1985 outbreak. That tornado also started in Ohio, and moved east, destroying much of the town of Newton Falls and continuing through three other Ohio towns before moving into Pennsylvania and striking Wheatland, two miles southwest of Mercer.

                                  It killed 18 people -- most of the deaths occurred in Ohio -- and injured more than 300. In the Wheatland area, more than 100 buildings were leveled, about 59 homes and and several industrial facilities were severely damaged.

                                  "The storm path was continuous and destruction was total in many areas," the National Weather Service noted.

                                  Another May 31, 1985 tornado moved through Beaver Falls, Zelienople, Evans City and Saxonburg, to one mile south of Sarver. It killed nine people, two in Evans City, one in New Sewickley, two at a shopping center in Beaver Boro, and four in Saxonburg. More than 300 structures were damaged or destroyed and more than 100 cars in a parking lot were damaged or destroyed.

                                  The Tornado Project lists these as the deadliest tornados in Pennsylvania history. Note that six of the 10 listed here occurred on the same day: May 31, 1985.

                                  An outbreak of tornadoes across West Virginia and Pennsylvania killed more than 150 people on this day. According to the History Channel website:

                                  "It was a very hot afternoon when atmospheric conditions suddenly changed and the tornadoes began in Maryland. At about 5:30 p.m., an F3 tornado (with winds between 158 and 206 mph) struck in western Pennsylvania and killed two people. Forty-five minutes later, a very large twister began in West Virginia, moved into Pennsylvania, and then tracked back to West Virginia. By the time this F4 tornado ended, it had killed 151 people and leveled hundreds of homes.

                                  "Another tornado that afternoon struck at a YMCA camp in Washington, Pennsylvania. A letter written by a camper was later found 100 miles away. Coal-mining towns in the area were also hit hard on June 23. There were some reports that a couple of tornadoes actually crossed the Appalachian mountain range, going up one side and coming down the other."

                                  Watch the video: Born on May 23. Birthday. (July 2022).


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