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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rommel's Little Feller's

During the 1941-1942 tug of war for North Africa, the British benefited from radio-intercept-derived Ultra information. Despite that Allied advantage, however, for six months and 11 days the Germans enjoyed an even speedier, more across-the-board intelligence source. It was what Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the legendary Desert Fox, called die gute Quelle (the good source). It also was known as ‘the little fellows’ or ‘the little fellers,’ a play on the name of its unwitting provider, Brevet Colonel Bonner Frank Fellers. Fellers, a 1918 West Point graduate who previously had served in America’s embassy in Madrid, Spain, was the U.S. military attaché in the Egyptian capital of Cairo.

North Africa Campaign

The battle for North Africa was a struggle for control of the Suez Canal and access to oil from the Middle East and raw materials from Asia. Oil in particular had become a critical strategic commodity due to the increased mechanization of modern armies. Britain, which was the first major nation to field a completely mechanized army, was particularly dependent on the Middle Eastern oil. The Suez Canal also provided Britain with a valuable link to her overseas dominions–part of a lifeline that ran through the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the North African campaign and the naval campaign for the Mediterranean were extensions of each other in a very real sense.

Battling Rommel's Panzers in Normandy's Hedgerows

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was facing one of his greatest battlefield challenges during the first week of July 1944. In spite of a large concentration of German tanks opposite Caen, the Allies continued to expand their Normandy lodgment. Several armored counterattacks against the British Second Army had failed. Worse, the decision to conduct a protracted defense south of Cherbourg also led to defeat. When the full force of the American VII Corps struck the Cotentin Peninsula in mid-June, the Germans were compelled to rapidly retreat and give up the important port city, which surrendered on June 25.

Operation Bragation

Geographically, it dwarfed the campaign for Normandy. In four weeks, it inflicted greater losses on the German army than the Wehrmacht had suffered in five months at Stalingrad. With more than 2.3 million men, six times the artillery and twice the number of tanks that launched the Battle of the Bulge, it was the largest Allied operation of World War II. It demolished three Axis armies and tore open the Eastern Front. Operation Bagration, the Red Army’s spring 1944 blitzkrieg, was designed to support Allied operations in France, liberate Russian territory and break the back of the Wehrmacht once and for all.

Rommel's Defense of Normandy

When World War II ended in Europe in May 1945, most Western military leaders and analysts regarded Erwin Rommel as the war’s greatest German general. But that was not how most German military leaders felt. Instead, in their memoirs they argued that Rommel was at best an adequate tactician and not a bad leader of small units, that he had been an adequate division commander, but his command of corps, army and army groups was often flawed. Rommel, they asserted, had involved himself too much in the day-to-day details of the tactical fight and not enough in the operational and strategic issues that must concern those at the highest levels of command, and he paid too little attention to matters of intelligence and the enemy’s order of battle. Thus, his German critics allege, as the commander of the Afrika Korps, ‘the Desert Fox’ had won some spectacular victories but willfully ignored problems of logistics.

Battle to control Carentan

General Omar Bradley knew he had to have Carentan. The crossroads town of some 4,000 people sat astride the N-13 highway as well as the Cherbourg–Paris railroad, which meant that in June 1944 it was also positioned between the American landing beaches at Utah and Omaha. Taking it, though, would be no simple affair.

Battle of Saipan

In the early morning hours of July 7, 1944, Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Brien, commander of the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry Regiment, 27th Infantry Division, was killed in action at Saipan during a massive Japanese suicide attack. His last words were: ‘Don’t give them a damned inch! It was a gyokusai attack–a suicidal assault ordered by Imperial General Headquarters in which each Japanese soldier on the island was meant to die for the emperor and, in dying, was supposed to kill seven Americans. The Japanese were ordered to take no prisoners.

The gyokusai attack on the Tanapag plain has been described by many historians of World War II as the most devastating attack by the Japanese during the war. For his heroic conduct during that battle, Colonel O’Brien was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. One of his soldiers, Sergeant Thomas A. Baker, who was also killed in the battle, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, as well.

U.S. Army 42nd Infantry Div. in Op. Nordwin

It was bitter cold with a foot of snow on the ground and no moonlight the night of January 24, 1945, as the green GIs of the 42nd ‘Rainbow Division’s 222nd Infantry Regiment strained to see the enemy. But a low ground fog covering the firebreak between their positions in the Ohlungen Forest and the Haguenau Forest before them made this an almost useless exercise. More chillingly, they could hear sounds from the woods beyond, sounds of tramping feet and loud talking. Water turned to ice in the bottoms of their foxholes. Anxiety built as they waited for the unseen enemy to come swarming out of the woods.

By January 1945, Adolf Hitler’s Ardennes offensive was faltering, and in a last-ditch effort to break through Allied lines, the Führer scraped together what forces he could to launch an offensive into Alsace. Earlier German attacks in the area had created two small salients above and below Strasbourg and had forced the U.S. Seventh Army back on an arm that pivoted on Bischwiller, not far from the Rhine River, and extended northwest along the Moder River.

Raid on Rommel's RR in Tunisia

At exactly 2230 hours on Christmas Eve 1942, two Douglas C-47s loaded with paratroopers took off from Thelepte airfield outside Algiers. Suspended under the belly of each was a drop container holding 200 pounds of explosives. On board were 32 Americans from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and two French paratroopers who had been ordered to destroy the vital railroad bridge at El Djem, Tunisia.

Once an insignificant spot on the rail line from Tunis to Gabes, it now linked the brilliant German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel — battling British General Bernard L. Montgomery’s Eighth Army in the south — to vital supplies being sent by rail from northern Tunisia. During the initial stages of the North Africa campaign, the fighting had taken place primarily in Egypt and Libya, far to the east of the El Djem bridge. Since Montgomery’s autumn offensive had forced Axis armies to retreat westward from the Egyptian frontier toward Tunisia, however, the bridge at El Djem had become an important link between supply depots and Axis front lines.

Charles de Gaulle

The turmoil of World War II made heroes and household names of many in the military, most of whom were already in positions of military power and whose decisions and actions shaped their countries’ military policies and directions. Charles de Gaulle, however, held a position of relative obscurity within his military. That is, until the Germans invaded his homeland in May of 1940.

In his youth, de Gaulle was interested, above all else, in the fate of France, whether as a subject of history or as it affected his stake in public life. Born in Lille in 1890 and growing up in Paris, he was the son of a traditionalist father and a mother who, in his memoirs, de Gaulle described as having ‘uncompromising passion for her country, equal to her religious piety.’ He joined the army in 1909 and, as then required, served in the ranks for one year. In 1910 he entered the military academy at Saint-Cyr. His first assignment to the 33rd Infantry Regiment brought him in contact with a Colonel Henri Pétain. Pétain would later rise to the rank of marshal of the army and become the savior of France at Verdun during World War I. De Gaulle credited Pétain with teaching him the art of command. During World War I de Gaulle learned firsthand the harsh reality of combat. He was wounded three times and spent the last 32 months of the war as a prisoner.

Battle of Badoeng Strait

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, signaled the beginning of a massive Japanese thrust into Southeast Asia, with the capture of the vast oil fields and refineries of the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) as its primary goal. This oil was vital to Japan to enable it to continue its war of conquest in China, which had been dragging on since 1931.

The primary Allied powers in the region formed a joint command to coordinate the defense of their respective territories and empires. The command, called ‘ABDA’ (for American, British, Dutch and Australian), was disjointed and poorly organized, as were the Allied defenses it was formed to coordinate.

German Counterattack at Debrecken

Throughout the summer of 1944, the men of General der Artillerie Maximilian Fretter-Pico’s German Sixth Army were literally fighting for their very existence. The Red Army, pushing ever westward, was nearing the zenith of its strength. Although German soldiers were killing Russian soldiers at a rate of 4.5 to 1, conscripts from newly liberated Soviet territory made good the losses.

Tough, confident generals had long since replaced the inefficient Red Army commanders responsible for the disasters of 1941 and 1942. The commander of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, Marshal Rodion Yakovlevich Malinovsky, was one such general. Born near Odessa in 1898, he joined the Czarist army at age 15 and was wounded in World War I. In 1919, he became a machine-gun instructor in the Red Army.

William Bull Halsey

William F. Halsey was a sailor born and bred. His heart was Navy blue and gold, and it pumped salt water each of his seventy-six years. As a first to last combatant of the Pacific War, he launched aircraft into the Sunday surprise on December 7, 1941, and forty-five months later stood witness to the end of Imperial Japan on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Along the way Halsey became America’s most acclaimed fighting admiral and his own worst enemy.

Battle of the Bismark Sea

Last night I dreamed I saw a dragon rising out of the sea,” an unknown Japanese soldier wrote in his diary on February 24, 1943. He was sailing aboard Tosei Maru, a passenger-cargo ship traveling to Rabaul, on New Britain, to deliver soldiers and supplies for transport to New Guinea. The Japanese were preparing to launch a flotilla of eight transport ships and eight destroyers destined for Lae, on the eastern coast of New Guinea, to reinforce the garrisons tenuously defending Japan’s grip on the Southwest Pacific.

The Race to Malta

By the summer of 1942, the small Mediterranean island of Malta had been under Axis siege for two years. That April and May, more bombs fell on Malta than fell on London during the Battle of Britain. Like ants, the Maltese moved by the thousands into man-made caves and tunnels in the island’s limestone, some remaining from the Great Siege in 1565, when the Ottoman Turks attacked the Knights of Malta—Muslims vs. Christians, an earlier round.

Herman Balk

December 1942 was a time of crisis for the German army in Russia. The Sixth Army was encircled in Stalingrad. Gen. Erich von Manstein, the commander of Army Group Don, planned to break the siege with a dagger thrust to the Volga River from the southwest by the Fourth Panzer Army, supported by the XLVIII Panzer Corps to its immediate north attacking across the Don River. But before the two German units could link up, the Soviet Fifth Tank Army under the command of Gen. P. L. Romanenko crossed the Chir River, a tributary of the Don, and drove deep into German lines.

Lt. Commander Eugene Fluckey

In May 1944, Lt. Comdr. Eugene Fluckey, seeking his own submarine command, promised the Pacific Fleet sub commander at Midway Island that he would sink five Japanese ships on his first patrol. It was a bold gamble; the ship Fluckey had been eyeing, the USS Barb, had sunk only a single ship in six patrols under its previous commander. But with Fluckey placed in temporary command, the Barb got five freighters and two trawlers with the Barb’s guns its next time out—and Fluckey got the Barb.

Omar Bradley

Shortly before the American invasion force embarked for Normandy on June 6, 1944, Gen. Omar Bradley, assigned to command 12th Army Group, convened his corps and division commanders at Bristol for a final review. There, General Bradley, the “old schoolteacher” from West Point and the Infantry School, personally conducted the class of generals. D-Day was full of awful imponderables. Facing the unknown, Bradley fell back upon the familiar—the world of the classroom and of the Missouri schoolteacher father he idolized. One by one, he called each general up to a map of France, proffered a pointer, and asked each to describe in detail his outfit’s scheme of maneuver. Maxwell Taylor, one of the generals present that day, could not help but reflect on a similar scene that had unfolded very differently just a year earlier, when George S. Patton Jr. met with his commanders before the assault on Sicily. For Taylor, the contrast between the two men was stark. Patton had “turned on us with a roar and, waving a menacing swagger stick under our noses, concluded: ‘I never want to see you bastards again unless it’s at your post on the shores of Sicily.’” But when Bradley concluded his lesson, he “folded his hands behind his back, his eyes got a little moist, and in lieu of a speech, he simply said, ‘Good luck, men.’”

Mongolia 1939

The Khalkha River winds from north to south near the tip of a flat, grassy salient of Mongolia that juts about 100 miles eastward into Manchuria. In the 1930s, Manchuria’s Japanese overlords regarded the river as an international boundary line: Manchuria to its east, and Outer Mongolia—then a protectorate of the Soviet Union known as the Mongolian People’s Republic—to the west. Those on the Mongolian side of the border claimed that line ran some 10 miles east of the river, near the tiny hamlet of Nomonhan. While the precise location of the border meant little to the nomadic Mongols who had followed their herds back and forth across the river for centuries, the Kwantung Army, the elite Japanese force that controlled Manchuria, took a different view.

Patton letter

Dear George:
At 0700 this morning the BBC announced that the German Radio had just come out with an announcement of the landing of Allied Paratroops and of large numbers of assault craft near shore. So that is it.
This group of unconquerable heroes whom I command are not in yet but we will be soon—I wish I was there now as it is a lovely sunny day for a battle and I am fed up with just sitting.

I have no immediate idea of being killed but one can never tell and none of us can live for ever so if I should go dont worry but set your self to do better than I have.
All men are timid on entering any fight whether it is the first fight or the last fight all of us are timid. Cowards are those who let their timidity get the better of their manhood. You will never do that because of your blood lines on both sides. I think I have told you the story of Marshall Touraine who fought under Louis XIV. On the morning of one of his last battles—he had been fighting for forty years—he was mounting his horse when a young ADC [aide-de-camp] who had just come from the court and had never missed a meal or heard a hostile shot said: “M. de Touraine it amazes me that a man of your supposed courage should permit his knees to tremble as he walks out to mount.” Touraine replied “My lord duke I admit that my knees do tremble but should they know where I shall this day take them they would shake even more.” That is it. Your knees may shake but they will always take you towards the enemy. Well so much for that.

There are apparently two types of successful soldiers. Those who get on by being unobtrusive and those who get on by being obtrusive. I am of the latter type and seem to be rare and unpopular: but it is my method. One has to choose a system and stick to it people who are not themselves are nobody.

To be a successful soldier you must know history. Read it objectively–dates and even the minute details of tactics are useless. What you must know is how man reacts. Weapons change but man who uses them changes not at all. To win battles you do not beat weapons you beat the soul of man of the enemy man. To do that you have to destroy his weapons but that is only incidental. You must read biography and especially autobiography. If you will do it you will find that war is simple. Decide what will hurt the enemy most within the limits of your capabilities to harm him and then do it. Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash. My personal belief is that if you have a 50% chance take it because the superior fighting qualities of American soldiers lead by me will surely give you the extra 1% necessary.

In Sicily I decided as a result of my information, observations and a sixth sense that I have that the enemy did not have another large scale attack in his system. I bet my shirt on that and I was right. You cannot make war safely but no dead general has ever been criticised so you have that way out always.

I am sure that if every leader who goes into battle will promise him self that he will come out either a conquerer or a corpse he is sure to win. There is no doubt of that. Defeat is not due to losses but to the destruction of the soul of the leaders. The “Live to fight another day” doctrine.

The most vital quality a soldier can possess is self confidence utter complete and bumptious. You can have doubts about your good looks, about your intelligence, about your self control but to win in war you must have no doubts about your ability as a soldier.

What success I have had results from the fact that I have always been certain that my military reactions were correct. Many people do not agree with me; they are wrong. The unerring jury of history written long after both of us are dead will prove me correct.

Note that I speak of “Military reactions” no one is borne with them any more than any one is borne with muscles. You can be borne with the soul capable of correct military reactions or the body capable of having big muscles but both qualities must be developed by hard work.

The intensity of your desire to acquire any special ability depends on character, on ambition. I think that your decision to study this summer instead of enjoying your self shows that you have character and ambition—they are wonderful possessions.

Soldiers, all men in fact, are natural hero worshipers. Officers with a flare for command realise this and emphasize in their conduct, dress and deportment the qualities they seek to produce in their men. When I was a second lieutenant I had a captain who was very sloppy and usually late yet he got after the men for just those faults; he was a failure.

The troops I have commanded have always been well dressed, been smart saluters, been prompt and bold in action because I have personally set the example in these qualities. The influence one man can have on thousands is a neverending source of wonder to me. You are always on parade. Officers who through lazyness or a foolish desire to be popular fail to inforce discipline and the proper wearing of uniforms and equipment not in the presence of the enemy will also fail in battle and if they fail in battle they are potential murderers. There is no such thing as: “A good field soldier” you are either a good soldier or a bad soldier.

Well this has been quite a sermon but dont get the idea that it is my swan song because it is not I have not finished my job yet.

Your affectionate father

WWII Air War over Iraq

At 2 a.m. on April 30, 1941, officials in the British Embassy in Baghdad were awakened by Iraqi military convoys rumbling out of the Rashid Barracks, across bridges and into the desert toward the Royal Air Force (RAF) training base near the Iraqi town of Habbaniya. They immediately sent wireless signals to the air base’s ranking commander, Air Vice Marshal Harry George Smart. With his base not set up or prepared for combat, Smart initially could think of little to do other than sound the general alarm — neglecting to announce the reason. The base speedily degenerated into a madhouse of scared, sleep-sodden, bewildered cadets, instructors and sundry other personnel.

Condor's Legion Tactical Air Power

During the first week of July 1937, the German Condor Legion launched a spectacular coordinated attack on Spanish Republican forces at the Battle of Brunete, about 15 miles west of Madrid. Messerschmitt Bf-109B fighters flew top cover to maintain air superiority while Heinkel He-111 bombers attacked both strategic and tactical targets. At the same time, Heinkel He-51 biplanes barreled in below 500 feet, strafing and bombing troops and anti-aircraft batteries. The biplanes came in waves of nine-across formations, wingtip to wingtip, each carrying six 22-pound fragmentation bombs and dropping them simultaneously. The resulting carnage demolished the morale of the surviving troops. So effective was the onslaught that by the time the Heinkels completed their runs, the attacking Spanish Nationalist troops were within hand grenade range of the Republican defenders. That beautifully coordinated attack was just one example of the striking aerial combat techniques developed during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War by the Condor Legion.

German Raid on Bari

On the afternoon of December 2, 1943, 1st Lt. Werner Hahn piloted his Messerschmitt Me-210 reconnaissance plane over the port of Bari, in southeastern Italy. Cruising at 23,000 feet, his aircraft made a telltale contrail as he streaked across the sky, but Allied anti-aircraft crews took little notice. Still unmolested, the German pilot made a second pass over the city before turning north toward home. If Hahn’s report was promising, the Luftwaffe would launch a major airstrike against the port.

Operation Varsity

When military strategists debate the outcomes of great battles, one of the toughest questions is whether the advantage gained by the victor was worth the cost. The high-level decisions that initiate battles are also under continuous debate. Airborne operations are frequently subjected to this type of analysis. Almost every Allied airborne assault of World War II has been examined and re-examined, and strong cases have been made against several of them. Should airborne troops have been used in Sicily given that they had to fly over friendly forces during hours of darkness? Was Operation Market Garden in Holland truly ‘a bridge too far,’ as Lieutenant General Frederick A.M. Browning called it?

Spitfire and Hurricane

Which is better, the Supermarine Spitfire or the Hawker Hurricane? That question has been asked by pilots, historians and air enthusiasts since 1940. It does not have a definitive answer, however, each aircraft had its strong points and its disadvantages. Although both aircraft played a decisive role in the Battle of Britain they could not have been more different from one another. Each was created under a completely different set of circumstances and came from totally different backgrounds and antecedents. The Spitfire owed its famous graceful lines and speed to its early ancestors, evolving as a fighter from a series of extremely successful racing seaplanes that were designed in the 1920s–and 1930s. All of those racers were built by the firm of Supermarine Ltd. and were designed by one man–Reginald J. Mitchell. The innovative Mitchell has been called one of the most brilliant designers Britain has ever produced. His designs really were ahead of their time. In 1925, when he began building racing airplanes, streamlining was considered more a theoretical exercise than an engineering possibility. But Mitchell made engineering theories more than just possibilities; he turned them into brilliant successes.

General George C. Kenney

Every major war produces leaders whose influence is long felt by succeeding military generations. General George Patton was such a man, General Douglas MacArthur another. One airman of World War II whose influence is still felt more than 50 years later was General George Churchill Kenney, Allied air commander in the Southwest Pacific.

China Air Task Force

At midnight on July 4, 1942, the American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, ceased to exist. They were replaced by the China Air Task Force (CATF), a group that was, in the words of Tiger founder and leader Brigadier General Claire Lee Chennault, ‘patched together in the midst of combat from whatever happened to be available in China during the gloomy summer of 1942.’

Operation Matterhorn

When the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941, it possessed no aircraft capable of reaching the Japanese mainland from land bases. The nearest friendly territory (discounting Siberia, from which the Soviet Union had banned any flights) lay 1,600 miles away in central China, well beyond the operating radius of existing Boeing B-17s and Consolidated B-24s.

Eight Air Force Raid on Schwinfurt

Schweinfurt translates as ‘pig ford’ or ‘pig crossing.’ But it is unlikely that many of the 3,000 airmen who clambered into their Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses during the cold, damp morning hours of October 14, 1943, gave much thought to the meaning of the word. For them, Schweinfurt meant only one thing: a killer town that was one of the most savagely defended targets along the aerial high road, above Hitler’s Third Reich.

101st AB Div. in Op. Overlord

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division landed heavily in a French pasture near the village of Ste. Marie-du-Mont in Normandy. Major General Maxwell Taylor had no time to reflect on the fact that he was the first United States general ever to parachute into combat, as well as the first American general on enemy soil in Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France.

Manipulating his shroud lines, Taylor narrowly avoided a tree. Next he struggled to extricate himself from his harness. From a nearby field came the sound of a German machine pistol like ‘a ripping seat of pants. After ten frustrating minutes of fighting buckles and snaps, Taylor used a knife to cut himself free. Pistol in one hand and an identifying metal cricket in the other, the general set out in the darkness in search of American soldiers.

B-29 Superfortress in the Korean War

At 4 a.m. on June 25, 1950, North Korean troops poured across the 38th parallel into South Korea. The Soviet Union had supplied North Korea with large quantities of military equipment, including tanks, artillery, trucks, guns, ammunition, uniforms, rations and all the supporting elements necessary to field a modern military force. The North Korean air force was equipped with 62 Ilyushin-10 ground-attack aircraft, 70 Yakovlev Yak-3 and Yak-7B fighters, 22 Yak-16 transports and 8 Polikarpov Po-2 trainers. The force completely outclassed South Korea’s air force.

On June 27, 1950, the United Nations authorized the use of military force to stop North Korea’s attack. Eight hours after the authorization, the United States Far East Air Force (FEAF), the air element of the Far East Command (FEC), began flying the first combat air sorties over South Korea. President Harry S. Truman directed General Douglas MacArthur to supply South Korea’s military forces from U.S. quartermaster depots in Japan and to commit available U.S. forces to attack North Korean forces crossing the 38th parallel. American ground troops would be supported by land- and sea-based airstrikes. As the ground situation worsened for the retreating South Korean forces, Truman authorized MacArthur to expand airstrikes north of the 38th parallel against North Korean supply depots, railyards and supporting strategic targets.

U.S. 93rd Bombardment Group

While the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses did their share in the air war against Germany, they were far from alone in their efforts. One-third of the U.S. Eighth Air Force’s total heavy-bomber strength was consolidated within the three combat bomb wings of the 2nd Air Division, the Consolidated B-24 Liberator division. Those three combat wings grew out of the 93rd Bombardment Group–the first B-24 group and the third U.S. Army Air Forces heavy-bomber group to see combat in the European Theater of Operations.

Operation Pointblank

On October 14, 1943, the air war over Europe reached a critical turning point. On that Thursday, the United States Eighth Air Force mounted Mission No. 115 against the city of Schweinfurt, the center of the German ball bearing industry.

Sixteen bomber groups from the 1st and 3rd Air divisions would participate in the strike. In all, 291 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses took off from bases in England and headed east toward the German border. As the bombers formed up over the Channel, short-range British Supermarine Spitfire fighters climbed to escort the heavies to the Continent. There, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts took over, escorting the flying armada to the German border. But insufficient range prevented the Thunderbolts from keeping the bombers company all the way to the target. Turning back somewhere around Aachen, just inside the German border, the P-47s left the unescorted bombers to a catastrophic fate.

Martin B-26B Marauder

Employees of the Glenn L. Martin Company rolled the B-26B Marauder that would soon be dubbed Flak-Bait off the Baltimore production line on April 26, 1943. Identified as B-26B-25 MA Bureau No. 41-31173, the twin-engine medium bomber then took its place in a long line of identical aircraft on the Martin Company’s airfield awaiting transfer into the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Japanese Bomb U.S. West Coast

Most Americans probably believe that continental United States has never been bombed. The relative isolation of America, plus the defensive strengths of its Air Force and Navy, have supposedly eliminated such a threat. But is that really true? The answer is no–America has been bombed from the air, not once but twice. These little-publicized events took place in September 1942, and the attacker was an aircraft launched from a submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

If the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was not the best fighter in the arsenal of the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) when the United States entered the conflict, it was the most numerous type available. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning could outperform the P-40, especially at high altitude, but the P-40 was less expensive, easier to build and maintain, and — most important — it was in large-scale production at a critical period in the nation’s history when fighter planes were needed in large numbers.

A total of 11,998 P-40s were built before production was finally terminated in 1944. Warhawks constituted the principal armament of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighter squadrons throughout 1942 and 1943. Even after the appearance of newer types of fighter aircraft in the USAAF rendered the P-40 obsolete, it continued to contribute to victory in a variety of Allied air forces.

The P-40 was the product of a long development process that began when the USAAC invited vari

Aerial Defense of Port Moresby

For every thoroughbred World War II fighter that engendered fond memories for its fliers, there is another whose pilots may feel lucky just to have survived flying it. Among the latter was the Bell P-39 Airacobra, a promising high-performance design with the engine mounted behind the pilot and a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller shaft. By the time Bell had completed the P-39’s development to meet U.S. Army Air Corps requirements, however, the Airacobra had lost its turbosupercharger and was overweight. Its performance was inferior to that of most of the aircraft it would have to fight.

Eight Air Force Pilsen Mission

By mid-April 1945 the war in Europe was rapidly winding down. The Soviets were fighting in the suburbs of Berlin and had occupied much of the eastern region of Germany to the north and south of the city. From the west, American and British forces were moving swiftly across central and southern Germany. Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army was closing on the Czechoslovakian border. It was obvious to all that the final collapse of German ground forces was only a matter of days away.

Still, the air war continued unabated. Bombing missions were being flown nearly every day, although substantive strategic targets were harder to find. While the Luftwaffe still had a large number of fighters, many of them Messerschmitt Me-262 jets, it lacked sufficient fuel and experienced pilots to seriously oppose the Allied bombers. Allied fighters controlled the skies over Europe, but German anti-aircraft defenses were still murderously effective. The U.S. Eighth Air Force was therefore faced with the problem of identifying targets of sufficient strategic importance to warrant risking airmen’s lives.

Grumman F4F Wildcat

‘It was not as you remember it, Saburo. I don’t know how many Wildcats there were, but they seemed to come out of the sun in an endless stream. We never had a chance….Every time we went out we lost more and more planes. Guadalcanal was completely under the enemy’s control….Of all the men who returned with me, only Captain Aito, [Lt. Cmdr. Tadashi] Nakajima and less than six of the other pilots who were in our original group of 80 men survived.’

Aerial Destruction of Hamburgh

The weather that July in Hamburg had been very hot, mostly dry. Two days before, a heavy thunderstorm had rumbled through, but the rain evaporated in the heat. On Saturday, July 24, 1943, the citizens of Hamburg were taking a rest from the heat and the backbreaking strain of World War II.

All across Germany’s leading seaport, Hamburg’s 1.75 million people enjoyed her cafes on the Alster and Elbe rivers, the huge zoo and the Ufa-Palast cinema, the Reich’s largest. Once again Hamburg was free of air raids. To the average citizen, it must have seemed unlikely that the city would ever be bombed.

But Hamburg was about to be destroyed.

Japan's Air Forces in WWII

World War II in the Pacific was a fight to seize and defend airfields. The Japanese made gaining and maintaining control of the air as much a requirement in their basic war strategy as they did the destruction of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. But as Commander Masatake Okumiya charged, “The Pacific War was started by men who did not understand the sea, and fought by men who did not understand the air.” He might well have added that the war was planned by men who did not understand industry, manpower and logistics.

Polish Airmen in the Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain was still gaining momentum when a flight of young Royal Air Force pilots climbed into their Hawker Hurricanes on the morning of August 8, 1940. Bringing up the rear of the formation was a young Polish pilot, Witold Urbanowicz, who had escaped his country when the Germans and their Soviet allies overran it in September 1939. Assigned to the vulnerable “tail-end Charlie” position, he knew that if the enemy attacked he would probably be their first target, but he did not care. He was grateful beyond words for any opportunity to strike back at the Nazis.

The Leatherneck Resistance

Dunham House loomed out of the English countryside that November evening in 1943, a dark shape in a dark setting. Marine Platoon Sergeant Jack Risler stepped up to the heavy front door, knocked and watched it swing open to reveal a colleague, Major Bruce Cheever, in Marine-issue trousers and shirt, a white silk scarf wrapped around his neck. Framed by a massive fireplace, Cheever pulled a cord dangling next to it, summoning an aide to take their drink orders. “Welcome, we’ve been expecting you,” he told the small group of men before him.

The air of mystery was fitting given the mission Risler was about to undertake, even if Cheever’s welcome seemed like something straight out of a B movie. Risler and seven other Marine paratroopers had arrived in England that night to report for duty with the Office of Strategic Services, the wartime precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. The OSS was involved in a series of clandestine missions in support of resistance movements in occupied Europe, and Cheever had recruited the eight men to serve as instructors at a newly created British-American parachute school that was a key part of the effort.

40th Bomb Group

They were formed as a combat unit in the spring of 1941. From all parts of the United States they came — young, fearless and thirsty for adventure. Well-trained and highly qualified, they fiew the powerful Boeing B-29 Superfortress, the biggest and deadliest bomber of World War II. With it, they bombed the Japanese from their base on Tinian Island in the Marianas. They were the crews of the 40th Bomb Group.

In the realm of World War II historical accounts, the 40th Bomb Group’s accomplishments might seem rather small, for they did not receive the headlines accorded to Paul Tibbet’s 509th Composite Group, which dropped the first atomic bomb. However, like many other groups that fiew out of the three Mariana bases on Tinian, Guam and Saipan in the months before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks, the 40th helped to lay the groundwork for ending the war.

Cutting Rommel's Aerial lifeline to North Africa

Eleven Junkers Ju-52/3m transport planes skimmed the waves of the Mediterranean on December 12, 1941, their green-and-black camouflage contrasting sharply with the brilliantly blue water. They were heading for the coast of Libya in North Africa to bring desperately needed supplies to the famed German Afrika Korps, led by General Erwin Rommel.

Determined to deny the Germans those supplies were 16 Martin 167F Maryland bombers flying for the British Royal Air Force (RAF), crewed by men from South Africa. That day the South Africans were using the twin-engine bombers as improvised long-range fighters, and when they first swooped down on the Junkers Ju-52s about 50 miles from the coast, the Marylands had an easy time of it. Two of the transports were quickly set ablaze. Their crews leaped from the planes without parachutes before the burning aircraft plunged into the sea.

Fourth Crusade

Early in October 1202, a fleet of 200 ships set sail from the lagoon of Venice. Banners whipped from every masthead, some bearing the lion of Venice, others charged with the coats of arms of the noblest houses of France.

Leading the fleet was the state galley of Doge Enrico Dandolo, the elected ‘duke of the Venetian Republic. He was more than 80 years old and nearly blind, but undimmed in vigor and ability. His galley was painted imperial vermilion, and a vermilion silk canopy covered the poop on which the doge sat in state. In front of him, four silver trumpets sounded, answered from the other ships by hundreds of trumpets, drums and tabors.

Caesar's triumph in Gaul

At the start of 52 b.c., a rebellion that spread rapidly throughout much of Gaul surprised and wrong-footed Gaius Julius Caesar. Even though it was his seventh year in the region, he had completely misread the situation. His army was dispersed and vulnerable, and he himself was far away—south of the Alps—keeping an eye on the disturbed politics of Rome.

The Battle of Actium

The sea at the mouth of the strait was filled with ships both large and small, vying with one another for room to fight. Flaming missiles shot between them, filling the sky with thick black smoke. Smaller vessels taunted the larger, heavier ships, their crewmen determined to attack despite the spears and arrows that showered down on their heads. Eventually, the fighting became so crowded that the ancient historian Plutarch said that it took on the character of a land battle.

The Roman Navy

In 31 bc the last two great generals of the Roman civil wars faced each other at Actium off the coast of Greece in a naval battle that would settle the future of Rome. For months Mark Antony and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra had tried in vain to break Octavian’s land and naval blockade of their forces in Greece. By late summer Antony’s armies were low on supplies and ravaged by disease. On September 2 his fleet of more than 200 ships carrying 20,000 marines and 2,000 archers put to sea to challenge the blockade. They faced a fleet of some 400 ships carrying 16,000 marines and 3,000 archers under the command of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa.

Operation Catapult

On July 3, 1940, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to make one of the most momentous decisions of his career. Early that morning, he ordered a British fleet to arrive off the naval base of Mers-el-Kebir in North Africa and demand the surrender of the French vessels there. The British were to offer the French admiral four alternatives intended to prevent the French fleet’s falling into the hands of the Germans. If the French commander refused the terms, his ships would be sunk by the British force. If the British were compelled to open fire, it would be the first time in 125 years that the two navies were arrayed against one another in hostility.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Recently we celebrated the sixty-fifth anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. To many of us who were alive in 1944 it seems as if it were a short time-hack ago in history.

Broadfront Strategy

It has been sixty-five years since Dwight Eisenhower articulated his broad front strategy for ending the war in Europe and the consequences of that decision still linger on to this day. At the time the Allied generals quarreled over Ike’s decision, and from the time the war ended historians have taken sides to praise or condemn it. Some of the war’s most contentious debates have sprung from this decision. For his part, Eisenhower stubbornly never wavered in his belief that he had chosen the correct strategy. This is what it was all about.

Allied Air Power

Over the years there has been much controversy about the Allied air campaign and particularly Bomber Command’s role in the campaign. Many Bomber Command veterans and those who lost love ones have been made to feel a sense of shame in their role. I often wondered if my uncle, F/Sgt. John Kopchuk who was killed on June 22, 1943 as a navigator in 429 Squadron, Bomber Command had died in a vain attempt.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Barbary Wars

From 1801 through 1805 the US engaged North African (Barbary; a general term which derived from Barbarossa - or red bearded - after the Ottoman regent of the Maghrib) pirates in what became the first undeclared wars outside our boundaries. The North African pirates had been engaged in piracy from the time of the Crusades were they raided commerce ships bound for Jerusalem. During the period that the US was a British colony the British navy protected American commerce ships from the raiders but that stopped when the Americans obtained their independence. Encouraged by British government the North African pirates began to raid American ships in the eastern Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, exacting tribute from a defenseless US. The US paid tribute until 1801 when the US refused to pay increasing tribute to the Pasha of Tripoli for safe American merchant traffic across Tripolitanian waters. This led to the Pasha declaring war on the US. Under the slogan 'Millions for Defense: Not one cent for Tribute' the US sent it's small navy to blockade North African ports, bombing several enemy harbors and engaging in naval battles with the Barbary pirates.

One of the battles was the famous raid to burn the captured American frigate USS Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor.

In this raid Botswains Mate Ruben James made his mark on the annals of US Navy history by bodily protecting the raids commander from attack. Later on in October 1941 the American destroyer USS Ruben James became the first American warship to be sunk by hostile action while escorting a convoy bound from Newfoundland to Iceland.

In 1805 several Marines (10) and about 500 Christian and Muslim mercenaries - led by William Eaton, Naval Agent to the Barbary Estates, led an overland mission begun from Alexandria to capture the Pasha of Tripoli. After an ardous journey of 45 days in which he had to contend with near mutinies from the Muslim mercenaries, fighting amongst the Muslim and Christian mercenaries, and almost running out of food and money, his group reached the stronghold port city of Derna. When his demand for the surrender of Derna was rejected the group maneuvered for two days before attacking, capturing the city by late afternoon for the first time in US history the flag was raised in foreign battlefield.

After defending the city off an attack by re-enforcements sent by the Pasha of Tripoli and some dubious but successful diplomatic machinations by other agents of the US government a peace treaty was signed with the Pasha of Tripoli on June 4, 1805.

It was the battle of Derna which gave the line ''to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine Corps Hymn as well as the adoption of the Mamaluke sword by the Corps.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

D-Day June 6, 1944 Normandy, France.

D-Day, Operation Overlord, the Normandy landings.  It is, IMO, the pivotal battle of the western campaign  in WWII. The following material is taken from various books. It's stuff which I find interesting.

"A mass of men, vehicles and equipment piling up on the beaches, the strip of sand steadily narrowing as the tide came in; the beach exists blocked or inadequate: the leading troops pushing on, but the follow up formations delayed; the slowing down process inexorably transmitted to the giant organizational machine behind them, in England, inevitably affecting the tempo of the whole campaign." Caen: Anvil of Victory, pg 12.

This description of the beaches in the British sector on the morning of June 6 covers it all. From here you can understand and appreciate why most of the first day objectives were not reached.

"Above all, the university town of Caen and the dominating heights around it should have fallen quickly and easily to the British on D-Day. But because they advanced only six miles instead of ten that day, it was not to fall for another six weeks" ibid., page 13.

Caen was the most important objective for the British. This town is the nerve center in the British sector with roads radiating east, west, and south like spokes on a wheel. There's also the Orne river and the Caen Canal cutting the city in two. These two waterways can be used by barges to bring supplies to the area. There's also Carpiquet airfield and surrounding countryside which leads to Paris and is excellent tank country.

"the fate of the 'New Order' depended largely on some ten Panzer divisions, which the British and Canadians were to try to pin down at Caen, in order to allow their American allies to make the decisive breakthrough at the other end of the beachhead." ibid, page 16.

IMO, regardless of the propaganda pushed by Montgomery and his supporters this area was perfect for a breakout. That British and Canadian divisions could not do so can be attributed to both German defensive prowess and British/Canadian hesitancy. Monty tried, and very successfully thanks to a very efficient propaganda machine, to convince the public that it was always his intention to use the forces under his direct command (Monty was overall ground commander until Bradley became 12th AG commander) that is, the British sector of the Normandy campaign, to act as a magnet for German armor so as to permit the Americans under Bradley to breakout further west.

"The countryside in the British and Canadian sectors - a relatively open, flat, dry expanse stretching from Caen to Paris - was more favorable for offensive warfare. Paradoxically, those conditions made fighting there perhaps more difficult than in the American sector. The nature of the ground and the strategic importance of the area compelled the Germans to mass the bulk of their panzer units and their best troops in the path of Montgomery's forces. They turned the checkerboard of villages that dotted the region into an interlocking, mortar-and-concrete version of the bocage.
Montgomery's commanders appear to have been little more prepared than the Americans for the sort of resistance the Germans mounted. Poorly versed in combined arms tactics, they allowed their tanks to advance without the protection of accompanying infantry units. That approach gave German soldiers wielding highly effective Panzerfausts (the enemy version of the American bazooka) and teams firing formidable, high-velocity antitank cannons a relatively free hand in dealing with the advancing forces.
What Montgomery intended to do remains shrouded in controversy. Time and again he appeared to delay. The terrain and the heavy weight of the German defenses facing his forces were undoubtedly part of the reason. He may also all along have planned to allow the
offensive to develop in the direction that time and circumstance dictated, whether in the American sector or his own. In that sense, it is possible that he decided Bradley's front offered the most opportunities and that his own army should concentrate on holding the enemy in place to allow his ally the fullest latitude. Or he may have thought that Allied advances elsewhere would allow him to achieve his objectives without incurring the level of casualties that had consumed an entire generation of his countrymen during World War I. He had been warned of a shortage of infantry replacements well before D-Day. During July the British Adjutant General had underscored the point by personally traveling to Normandy to notify him that some British battalions had already been divided to fill gaps in the line and that divisions might be next. Whatever the reason, Montgomery's forces, commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Miles Dempsey, took the town of Bayeux and moved several miles inland but - despite three full-scale attempts between 6 June and I July - failed to take Caen." Normandy U.S. Army Campaigns of WWII; see also CMH online.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Focus of Spaceship Harvey

Wow!! I can't believe it's been over a year and a half since I last blogged. Much has happened since then. For one I now am the grandfather of two, a girl and the most recent addition Sir William. I'm also going to focus on my collection of books and will quote certain items of interest to me from the following books for now. Most of my books relate to World War II.

Caen: Anvil of Victory by Alexander McKee (Anvil, haha.)
Eisenhower's Lieutenants by Russell F. Weigley
Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life by Carlo D'Este
The Second World War: Triumph and Tragedy by Winston S. Churchill
War As I Knew It by George S. Patton, Jr.