29 November 1944

Albania is liberated by the Partisans during World War 2.

After Italy was defeated by the Allies, Germany occupied Albania in September 1943, dropping paratroopers into Tirana before the Albanian guerrillas could take the capital, and the German army soon drove the guerrillas into the hills and to the south. Berlin subsequently announced it would recognize the independence of a neutral Albania and organized an Albanian government, police, and military. Many Balli Kombëtar units collaborated with the Germans against the communists, and several Balli Kombëtar leaders held positions in the German-sponsored regime.

The partisans entirely liberated Albania from German occupation on November 29, 1944. The National Liberation Army, which in October 1944 consisted of 70,000 regulars, also took part in the war alongside the antifascist coalition. The Albanian partisans also liberated Kosovo, and assisted Tito’s communist forces in liberating part of Montenegro and southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. By that time, the Soviet Army was also entering neighboring Yugoslavia, and the German Army was evacuating from Greece into Yugoslavia.

27 January 1944

The 900 day Siege of Leningrad is lifted.

The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade, was a prolonged military blockade undertaken from the south by the German Army Group North, Spanish Blue Division and the Finnish Army in the north, against Leningrad, historically and currently known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theater of World War II. The siege started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed. Although the Soviets managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on 18 January 1943, the siege was only lifted on 27 January 1944, 872 days after it began. It is regarded as one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history. It was possibly the costliest in terms of casualties.

Leningrad’s capture was one of three strategic goals in the German Operation Barbarossa and the main target of Army Group North. The strategy was motivated by Leningrad’s political status as the former capital of Russia and the symbolic capital of the Russian Revolution, its military importance as a main base of the Soviet Baltic Fleet, and its industrial strength, housing numerous arms factories. By 1939, the city was responsible for 11% of all Soviet industrial output. It has been reported Adolf Hitler was so confident of capturing Leningrad that he had invitations printed to the victory celebrations to be held in the city’s Hotel Astoria.

Although various theories have been put forward about Germany’s plans for Leningrad, including renaming the city Adolfsburg and making it the capital of the new Ingermanland province of the Reich in Generalplan Ost, it is clear Hitler’s intention was to utterly destroy the city and its population. According to a directive sent to Army Group North on 29 September, “After the defeat of Soviet Russia there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban center. Following the city’s encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for our very existence, we can have no interest in maintaining even a part of this very large urban population.” Hitler’s ultimate plan was to raze Leningrad to the ground and give areas north of the River Neva to the Finns.

12 August 1944

Waffen-SS troops massacre over 560 people in Sant’Anna di Stazzema.

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On that day in 1944, four columns of Hitler’s crack 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Division, noted for their ideological fervour, made the grinding journey up to Sant ‘Anna from the plains. Rome had been liberated two months before; slowly and expensively the British and the Americans were forcing the Germans back up the Italian peninsula, down which they had come roaring earlier that year after Mussolini was sacked by the Italian king and Italy switched to the Allied side.

In August 1944 the Nazis were defending the “Gothic Line” which ran from north of Viareggio on the Ligurian coast to the peaks of the Appenines. But they were fighting on another front, too, because on the fall of Mussolini, groups of anti-Nazi Partisans sprang up in towns and villages across northern Italy, waging guerrilla war on the Nazis from strongholds in the hills.

As four companies of the SS came up the hills before dawn, Sant’Anna slept the sleep of the innocent and the relatively secure. With war now raging up and down the Gothic Line, and thousands of Nazi troops encamped in the nearest town, Santa Pietra, terrorised civilians had fled for the hills in large numbers. “Men fled from the town because the Nazis were rounding them up for forced labour, either in Italy or in Germany,” says Enio Mancini, curator of Sant’Anna’s Historical Museum of the Resistance.

“Additionally the Allies had started bombarding the German frontline. So whole families fled from the towns and about 1,000 refugees arrived in Sant’Anna. They came because it was so isolated, there was no motorable road in those days so it seemed safe. There were families from the surrounding area but also from as far away as Genoa and Naples.”

17 June 1944

Iceland declares independence from Denmark and becomes a republic.

Iceland during World War II joined Denmark in asserting neutrality. After the German occupation of Denmark on 9 April 1940, Iceland’s parliament declared that the Icelandic government should assume the Danish king’s authority and take control over foreign affairs and other matters previously handled by Denmark on behalf of Iceland.Both countries are full members of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, Nordic Council, NATO, and Council of Europe. There are around 18,000 Icelanders living in Denmark and 2,900 Danes living in Iceland.

The relationship between Iceland and Denmark remained close after Iceland’s independence, and for many years Danish was taught as the second language in Iceland, and is still taught as a third language from seventh grade onward.

A month later, British Armed Forces occupied Iceland, violating Icelandic neutrality. In 1941, responsibility for the occupation was taken over by the United States with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade landing in the country. Allied occupation of Iceland lasted throughout the war.

On 31 December 1943, the Act of Union agreement expired after 25 years. Beginning on 20 May 1944, Icelanders voted in a four-day plebiscite on whether to terminate the union with Denmark and establish a republic. The vote was 97% in favour of ending the union and 95% in favour of the new republican constitution. Iceland formally became an independent republic on 17 June 1944, with Sveinn Björnsson as the first president.