Hitler v 'General Winter'

January 31. The Battle of Stalingrad ended with a crushing defeat for the Nazis. Hitler had ordered Field Marshal von Paulus to fight to the last man and Goering promised to supply the cut-off German forces from the air. But the supplies failed to arrived and Paulus's men, reduced to eating dead cavalry horses, perished by the thousands in the bitter winter.

About 300,000 Germans died in the desperate attempt to capture the city that bore the name of the Soviet leader, Stalin. Like Napoleon before him, Hitler had gone to war with Russia and come up against "General Winter." Yet there was more to this crushing defeat than mere weather. Some ordinary Russians had at first welcomed the Nazis as liberators from communism. But the Germans regarded Slavs as sub-humans, to be moved or or eliminated to providing "living room" for the German people.

German troops killed civilians and laid towns and villages waste. Any opposition was met with public hangings and firing squads. For Russia this became the Great Patriotic War. The entire nation became a war-machine. Women fought alongside men. Whole factories were moved hundreds of miles to the east, producing tanks that rolled straight off the production line and off to battle. As they steadily pushed the invaders back and found evidence of wholesale Nazi brutality, the Red Army vowed revenge.

July 31. The full fury of total war arrived in the heart of Hitler's Third Reich as allied bombers tore the heart out of Hamburg. In Operation Gomorrah, more than 7,000 tons of high explosives and incendiaries were dropped on the city. RAF Lancaster bombers did the damage by night with US Flying Fortresses taking over in daylight.

Hamburg was experiencing what the next two years held in store for dozens of German towns and cities. Unready to launch their Second Front in the form of a ground invasion, the US and Britain took the war to the skies. Although German bombers had laid waste Warsaw and Rotterdam and cities all over Europe, hitler could never hope to match the Anglo-American production of heavy bombers. Germany had sowed the wind and was reaping the whirlwind.

The DoodlebugAugust 16. RAF bombers attacked a top-secret German base on Peenemunde Island in the Baltic. It was believed - correctly, as events proved - to be a centre for the production of secret weapons to be known as "flying bombs". Despite the best efforts of the RAF, the V-1s were soon in production and London faced an anxious end to the war as the cheap but devastating "doodlebugs" homed in on the capital.

May 24. It was the day when the Allies revealed they were finally getting on top of the U-boat scourge. The previous year had seen millions of tons of Allied shipping sent to the bottom as the German submarines, hunting in packs, enjoyed the so-called "happy days". Hitler knew that if his men could sink 800,000 tons of shipping a month, Britain would be crippled.

But things changed dramatically in 1943. Improved convoys, long-range patrol aircraft and a new range of anti-sub weapons resulted in 17 U-boats being sunk in April. In a single attack off Greenland, once a safe area for U-boats, no fewer than eight were sunk in a single attack. Morale among U-boat crews fell sharply. And in Berlin Hitler knew that his last real chance of forcing the Allies to negotiate was slipping away.

September 3. Italy surrendered to the Allies. Driven by their dictator, Mussolini, most Italians had been only luke-warm about the war. To the astonishment, and dismay, of their former German allies, the Italians threw in the towel but kept the declaration secret for five days. As the British and Americans moved steadily up the length of Italy from their invasion beaches in Sicily, they were greeted as friends. On October 13, Italy formally declared war on Germany. Within weeks, Italian partisans were hunting down German soldiers.

December 2. Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin announced the creation of the "Bevin Boys." Lads whose call-up number matched a national lottery would be conscripted not into the armed forces but sent down the mines. The scheme had mixed success. Seventeen-year-olds were no substitute for the experienced miners who had deserted the pits in droves to join up and miners' leaders had little faith in the scheme. Some Bevin Boys had a chilly reception from close-knit mining communities. And after the war, Bevin Boys felt their contribution to the war was overlooked. It was not until 1998 that they were allowed to parade at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day.


In brief

January 31. German forces surrendered at Stalingrad.

February 6. Actor Errol Flynn was acquitted on three rape charges.

March 2. The RAF dropped 900 tons of bombs on Berlin in 30 minutes.

April 3. Free Church members and Salvationists were invited to the installation of the new Vicar of Cannock, the Rev S F Linsley, as a symbol of church unit.

April 26. Mass grave of 4,000 Polish officers was discovered at Katyn, near Smolensk.

April 30. Wolverhampton bottle exchange, set up to deal with a wartime shortage, reported it was washing and recycling at least 1,000 bottles per week.

May 17. RAF Lancasters fitted with bouncing bombs attacked two German dams in the Dambuster raids.

June 12. Tipton passed its £250,000 Wings for Victory target.

June 24. Engineering union leaders called for pay-as-you-earn (PAYE) taxation to be introduced.

June 30. Mr A.J.W. Kiff, in charge at Wolverhampton High Level Station, retired, claiming to be Britain's most-travelled stationmaster.

July 10. First Allied troops went ashore in Sicily.

November 11. In the biggest case of its kind brought by the Fuel Ministry, a Walsall firm was fined £1,400 for failing to keep proper records of coal supplies.

August 17. Whole of Sicily in Allied hands.

September 12. German commando squad snatched Mussolini from prison in Italy

August 25. The Allies named Lord Louis Mountbatten as Supreme Commander, South East Asia.

September 2. Reports from Poland indicated that concentration-camp inmates were being used for medical experiments.

October 19. Church leaders warn of moral laxity following a wartime epidemic of VD.

October 20. The Allies agreed to set up a war-crimes commission.

November 22. US tennis star Billie Jean King was born.

December 24. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed supreme Allied commander for the invasion of Europe.