Category Archives: Biographies

Charles Martel

Charles Martel (688-741) was mayor of the palace from 715 to 741, during the reign of Theudoric IV, king of the Merovingian Franks, a Germanic tribe that had conquered the Gaul (France) at the Fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. Mayor of the palace was the highest military and political position in the Frankish kingdom. It was a title that he had inherited from his father Pepin of Herstal, mayor of the palace under Theudebert II. Upon his father death, however, Charles did not become mayor of the palace right away, for he was born out of wedlock, being the illegitimate son of Pepin of Herstal and his concubine Alpaida. Pepin’s legal wife, Plectrude, appointed his grandson Theudoald as mayor. Since Pepin’s grandson was only eight years old, many noblemen did not support him, siding wtih Charles, who had been arrested by Plectrude. Having escaped from prison, Charles Martel was finally recognized mayor by the noblemen the following year, in 715. With the full support of the nobility, Charles Martel carried out a military campaign to consolidate his position as mayor, fighting against Plectrude’s forces. He captured her stronghold, which was the city of Cologne, completely defeating Plectrude, but he spared her life, by sending her to a monastery.

The kingdom of the Franks consisted of three regions: Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, which, until 715, had been ruled by Dogobert III. The death of this king in 715, plunged the kingdom into an anarchy. Chilperic II was acclaimed king in Neustria and immediately tried to establish himself as sovereign in Austriasia, too. However, Charles Martel opposed him right away, defeating him in the battles of Ambleve and Vincy. Having routed his enemy, Charles proclaimed Clothar IV as the new king of Austrasia. As the mayor of the palace of Austrasia, Charles Martel continued his military campaign and in time completely defeated Chilperic II and his mayor of palace, Ragenfrid, unifying the Frankish kingdom under Theudoric IV in 721 (Clothar IV had died that year) and proclaiming himself as the only mayor of the palace in the whole kingdom. To secure its borders, Charles Martel began a military campaign in the east against the Saxons, pushing them back into their territory. He also conquered Bavaria and other regions in Germany. In 732, Charles Martel thrashed a large Islamic army, under Abdul Rahman Al-Ghafiqi, at the Battle of Tours, in central France. This Muslim army had poured into France from Spain, which had also been invaded by the Islamic forces from Northern Africa in 711.

When Charles Martel died in 741, he was succeeded by his son, Pepin the Short, as mayor of the palace. In 752, Pepin would depose the king Childeric III and crown himself as the new king of the Franks, ushering in a new dynasty,the Carolingian dynasty. Charles Martel’s grandson, Charlemagne, would establish an empire, which stretched from northern Spain to Germany, the Carolingian Empire.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945) was an Austrian-born Chancellor of Germany and leader of the Nazi Party, being in power from 1933 to 1945. He created the Third Reich as he did away with the Weimar Republic. Before coming to power in Germany, he had fought in the trenches of the Great War as an infantry corporal and was decorated with the Iron Cross.

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Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau-am-Inn, Austria, on the German border, at 6:30 AM, on April 20, 1889, to Alois Hitler and Klara Pölzl. His father was a customs official. He was the fourth son of six children. Hitler’s family moved often, from Braunau am Inn to Passau, Lambach, Leonding, and Linz. The young Hitler was a good student in elementary school. But in the sixth grade, his first year of high school in Linz he failed and had to repeat the grade. His teachers said that he had no desire to work. From an early age Hitler showed strong leadership skills. At school he used the German greeting “Heil”, and enjoyed singing the German anthem “Deutschland Uber Alles.” When he was 11, Hitler had developed a strong habit of reading. He was intelligent and had photographic memory.

Adolf Hitler left school at 16, and, from 1905, lived a bohemian life in Vienna on an orphan’s pension and support from his mother. He struggled to make a living as a painter in Vienna selling his paintings to merchants and tourists. Vienna was the city where many of his extreme political and racial ideas originated. In 1907, his mother died of breast cancer and Hitler had give his share of the orphans’ benefits to his sister Paula. When Adolf Hitler was 21, he inherited some money from an aunt. In 1908, despite his talent, Hitler was rejected a second time by the Academy of Arts. As he ran out of money, he lived in a shelter for the homeless. By 1910, he had settled into a house for poor working men on Meldemannstraße.

In 1913, Adolf Hitler moved to Munich where he lived until the outbreak of World War One, when he voluntarily enlisted in the German army. Hitler served in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment in Belgium and France, fighting in a number of ferocious battles on the Western Front, including the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, the First Battle of Ypres, and the Third Battle of Ypres, Because he was a despatch runner, the most dangerous job on the Western Front, and often exposed to enemy fire, he was wounded three times and won five medals, one of them was the Iron Cross. The First Battle of Ypres of 1914 saw approximately 40,000 German soldiers killed in twenty days, and Hitler’s own company of 250 was reduced to 42 by December. This experience made of Hitler an aloof and withdrawn man for the remaining years of war. But Hitler also liked the excitement of fighting in a war and did not mind risking his life, impressing his commanding officers for volunteering for dangerous missions. When the war ended, he reached the rank of corporal.

A photo of Adolf Hitler taken during WWI. The one sitting on the left

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In 1919 Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party. He played to the resentments of right-wingers, promising extremist ‘remedies’ to Germany’s post-war problems which he and many others blamed on Jews and Bolsheviks. By 1921 he was the unquestioned leader of what was now the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party. In September 1921, Hitler was sent to prison for three months for being part of a mob who beat up a rival politician. When he was released from prison, he organized his own private army called Sturm Abteilung.

In 1923 Hitler attempted an unsuccessful coup in Munich and was sent to prison for nine months, during which time he wrote “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), which outlined his political ideology. When he was released, he began to rebuild the Nazi Party and used new techniques of mass communication to get his message across. Against a background of economic depression and political turmoil, the Nazi party grew stronger and in the 1932 elections became the largest party in the Reigstag (German Parliament). On January 30, 1933 Hitler became chancellor of a coalition government. He quickly assumed dictatorial powers, dissolving the Reigstag and passing anti-Jewish laws.

Adolf Hitler began an arms race and German militarization, following a policy of territorial expansion, annexing Austria in March 1938, and Czechoslovakia in March 1939. He entered into a defensive alliance with Italy, then with Japan, creating the Axis. On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s invasion of Poland triggered World War Two. After his military conquest of Denmark, Norway, and Western Europe, Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union. The Jewish populations of the countries conquered by the Nazis were rounded up and killed. Millions of others whom the Nazis considered racially inferior were also killed or worked to death. In December 1941, Hitler declared war on America.

In 1943 seven assassination attempts were planned but none of them was successfully carried out. The most dramatic of these attempts was the July Plot. On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who was attending one of Hitler’s military conferences, laid a bomb in a briefcase under the table. When the bomb exploded it killed four people and seriously injured ten others, but Hitler only suffered minor cuts and burns. With war on the eastern front draining Germany’s resources, the British and Americans landed on Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. With Soviet troops poised to take the German Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker of the German capital, on April 30, 1945.

Wilhelm List

Wilhelm List (1880-1971) was a German General who served in the Imperial German Army, the Reichswehr, and the Wehrmacht, from 1898 to 1943.

He was born in Oberkirchberg, Württenberg, Germany. In 1898, at eighteen, he joined the Bavarian Army. By 1914, when War World I broke out, he had become a Captain, serving as a Staff Officer on the Western Front.  When the Imperial German Army got dissolved after the Great War, he continued in service but in the Reichswehr, which was the German Armed Forces created by the Weimar Republic government.

When World War II broke out, he was the commander of the 14th Army that invaded Poland as part of Army Group South led by Gerd von Rundstedt. In 1940 and 1941, during the Battle of France, the invasion of Greece and the attack on the Soviet Union, he commanded the 12th Army. In 1942, during the German military operation towards the Caucasus, Wilhelm List was the commander of the newly-formed Army Group A. In early 1943, he was forced into retirement by Adolf Hitler. In 1948, the Nuremberg Military Tribunal found List guilty of war crimes allegedly committed in Greece and Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1942. However, he would be released in 1952 by the American authorities because his age-related health problems.

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Fedor von Bock

Fedor von Bock (1880-1945) was a German Army’s General. During World War I, he was assigned to the 4th Foot Guards Regiment, being promoted from Lieutenant to Major. During the first years of this armed conflict, he fought on the Western Front as battalion commander and was awarded Pour le Mérite, a Prussian military decoration granted to someone who performed an act of extreme bravery. In the 1920s, he went up through the ranks and, by 1933, the year Hitler rose to power, he had become General. In 1935, the Führer designated Fedor von Bock commander of Third Army Group of the newly established Wehrmacht, which had replaced the Reichswehr of the Weimar Republic.

In September 1939, during the invasion of Poland, von Bock was commander of Army Group North and in 1940, he was appointed commander of Army Group B, which pushed their way across the Low Countries and into France. In 1941, during Operation Barbarossa, he was the commander of Army Group Center, which had the task of capturing Moscow. However, he was unable to defeat the Red Army at the Battle of Moscow as he had to fall back with heavy losses, especially due to the Russian Winter. As a result, he was dismissed as commander of Army Group Center, but he was put in charge of Army Group South in early 1942. By July 2, he had seccessfully commanded his troops during the Siege of Sevastopol, in Ukraine. However, he would be dismissed again from his post by mid July that year as Hitler deemed him not aggressive enough because von Bock tried to delay the offensive on Stalingrad. In 1943, he was forced to retire from the German Army. He had the rank of Field Marshal. On May 4, 1945, he was killed by a British fighter aircraft, which attacked the car in which he was traveling to Kiel.

Place of Birth: Küstrin, Prussia, on December 3, 1880. Married to Mally von Reichenbach.

Decorations: Pour le Mérite, Iron Cross, Knight Cross of the Iron Cross.

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Francisco Franco

Francisco Franco (1892-1975) was a Spanish General and political leader who governed Spain without democratic elections from 1939 to 1975. In 1936, as commander-in-chief of the Spanish Army garrison of Morocco, he rebelled, along with other Generals throughout Spain, against the Second Spanish Republic socialist government, triggering the Spanish Civil War. In this three-year-long armed conflict, the Nationalists, commanded by Francisco Franco, would fight against the Soviet-backed government forces. By March 1939, he had taken control of the whole country as he was proclaimed chief of Spain and head of State.

Francisco Franco was born on December 4, 1892, in Ferrol, Galicia, northern Spain. to a Catholic and conservative family. He began his military career when he was 14, in 1907, at the Spanish Army’s Infantry Academy in Toledo. By 1910, he was a lieutenant. As a captain, he would fight in the Spanish colonial wars against Muslim guerrillas in northern Africa. In July 1936, after the assassination of the conservative oposition leader, Jose Calvo Sotelo, by the Republican government police, Franco rose up against the government, stating the reasons for his uprise through a declaration.

Once in power, Franco managed to keep Spain neutral during World War II, but agreed to provide Germany with military support in Hitler’s Russian Campaign, contributing with a 20,000-man division, which would be the 250th Division, known as the Blue Division to fight against the forces of communism. Although he had maintained excellent diplomatic relations with Axis nations in the WWII, during the post-war period, Francisco Franco aligned with the free Western capitalist countries, signing a pact with the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, in 1953, by which he allowed the United States to establish a military base in Spain in exchange for a trade agreement and US economic assistance.

Before he died on November 20, 1975, General Francisco Franco had a democratic Constitution draft drawn up, ushering in the return of the monarchy, but with a parliamentary system, whose members (and president) would be elected through free democratic popular vote. This new Constitution would be approved by a Constituent Cortes in 1978.

George Stephenson (Summary)

George Stephenson (1781-1848) was a British mechanic, inventor, and the initiator of the Second Industrial Revolution. He was born in Wylam, Northumberland, England, in 1781. His parents were humble, illiterate, but honest hard-working people. He father was a coal miner. Thus, George began to work when he was eight years old. However, despite the adverse circumstance he was born into, he undertook the task of educating himself, learning to read at 18. When he turned 20 he had become a steam engine mechanic.

In 1813, he began to build a steam engine locomotive, which took him ten months to finish. He named it “Blucher”, which hauled 25 tons of coal on the first day it was set to work on a four-mile long, sloping stretch of railway track. Between 1824 and 1825, he designed and built the first steam locomotive for use in a public railway system for passenger transportation, which successfully ran between Stockton and Darlington. In 1830, he inaugurated the second public railway system that plied between Liverpool and Manchester, using a new type of steam locomotive, which was safer, faster, and more efficient. It was called the “Rocket”.

Six years later, George Stephenson and his son Robert, who was educated in a private school, would establish a mechanical design center for railway construction in London. Stephenson’s steam locomotives and the 1.435m-wide track gauge would become the standard in the railway industry for many years. George Stephenson died of pleurisy in 1848, in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He got married three times, but had only two children: Robert and Fanny.