Tag: World War II

The Anatomy of a Victory


The Battle of Midway, fought in the Northern Pacific during World War II, changed everything. Four Japanese fleet aircraft carriers were sunk.  Japan’s advance stopped and its retreat began. Fought only 80 years ago one of the most written-about battles in history.

“The Silver Waterfall: How America Won the War in the Pacific at Midway,” by Brendon Simms and Stephen McGregor shows more remains to be said. They offer a fresh look and a fresh interpretation of the events of the battle.

They contend the outcome when beyond a lucky accident. Simms and McGregor argue the “luck” achieved by the US Navy was the luck Thomas Edison meant when he said, “I believe in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get.” It was the product of hard work. The United States Navy had the right tool (the Douglass Dauntless dive bomber) manned by professional and highly skilled pilots. They show how aircraft and aircrews were in the right spot due to superb strategic level management.

Victory Through Engineering Prowess


Many nations have created military alliances over the centuries. Few have gone beyond coordination of military activities. Yet in World War II, the United States and Great Britain forged a collaborative association virtually unique in history.  It led Winston Churchill, in his post-war Iron Curtain speech to speak of a special relation between the two nations.

“Churchill’s American Arsenal: The Partnership Behind the Innovations that Won World War Two,” by Larrie D. Ferreiro, examines that alliance and the fruits that emerged from it, including victory.

Ferreiro shows it could have gone differently. His opening chapter shows the rivalries and jealousies that existed between the two nations in the years leading up to World War I and between the two world wars. Both nations suspected the motives of the other. He also shows how an accommodation formed due to the threat posed by Hitler, and examines the results of that partnership.

Discussion Question: Did We Need to Ally with Stalin?


There’s a line you get all the time in debates: “After all, we allied with Stalin to beat Hitler.” I don’t like it much as an argument because the implication is that anyone who isn’t worse than Stalin is fair game, and there are very few people who can’t clear that bar. But never mind that, what about it as a historical question; should we have allied with Stalin?

Take the same history right up until June 22, 1941. The Wehrmacht rolls Panzers into the Soviet Union. Roosevelt cables Churchill, “The important thing is to beat Hitler, but do we really need to supply the communists?” Churchill cables back, “If Hitler invaded hell, I wouldn’t invite the devil to tea.”

Enigma Fully Revealed


One thing “everybody knows” about World War II is Allied cracking of the German Enigma code machine allowed the Allies to win World War II. It has become an article of faith since the secret was first revealed in the 1970s. Is that accurate?

“The Enigma Story: The Truth Behind the ‘Unbreakable’ World War II Cipher,” by John Dermot Turing tackles that question along with many others. It provides a fresh look at the history of Enigma, dispelling many myths and placing World War II codebreaking in proper historical context.

Turing opens the book with a history of the Enigma machine. He tells of its development in post-World War I Germany. Originally intended for commercial purposes, improved version were eventually used by the German government, and licensed abroad. (Italy’s military used a simpler version, while Britain used a much-improved version for their Typex coding machines.)

Defiance in the Philippines


Lt. William Frederick “Bill” Harris was an officer with the China Marine, the elite 4th Marine Regiment stationed in Shanghai, China, prior to World War II to protect American citizens. In the summer of 1941, with war clouds gathering, Harris and the 4th Marine were withdrawn from China to the presumably safer Philippines.

“Valor: The Astonishing World War II Saga of One Man’s Defiance and Indomitable Spirit,” by Dan Hampton, shows how illusory that presumption was. Japan invaded the Philippines in December 1941. The 4th Marine ended up defending the American Philippines, first in Bataan and later as part of the garrison at Corregidor, the island fortress guarding passage into Manila Bay.

Harris led a platoon during the siege, commanding a company after Japan landed on Corregidor in May 1942. The overwhelmed and outnumbered Americans were forced to surrender. Although Harris was taken prisoner, he refused to quit. With two fellow officer friends he escaped, swimming eight hours in the shark-infested channel between Corregidor and Bataan to reach freedom.

A Socialite Turned War Correspondent


In 1935 socialite Virginia Coles was a society-girl columnist for toney magazines like Harper’s Bazzar, writing about fashion and gossip. She traveled the world writing light pieces about the places visited. Then in Italy she encountered Mussolini and his fascists and her career took a different turn. She became a war correspondent.

“Looking for Trouble: The Classic Memoir of a Trailblazing War Correspondent,” by Virginia Cowles tells that story. It is her memoirs during the period 1936 through 1941, collected from the columns she wrote for various US magazines over that period.

During that period she was everywhere. She covered the Spanish Civil War, her first attempt at being a war correspondent. She was the only correspondent to report from both sides of the conflict, visiting both Republican and Nationalist Spain during the struggle.  It proved addictive. From there she went on to cover events in Europe as the continent slid into World War II.

Jim and Greg set aside the usual format to discuss the life and legacy of Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who died Thursday at age 96 after more than 70 years on the throne. They discuss her steadfast support of the United States, her commitment to tradition and a stoic public demeanor, her astonishing connection to so much world history, and some fun anecdotes that show a surprisingly feisty side.

A Pilot’s View of the Battle of Britain


Ian Richard Gleed was one of Churchill’s few, the RAF fighter pilots who fought the Battle of Britain and defeated the Luftwaffe. He put his experiences down on paper, detailing his experiences during the Battle of France, The Battle of Britain, and the 1941 nighttime Blitz.

“Arise to Conquer: The ‘Real’ Hurricane Pilot,” edited by Dilip Sakar is a new release of this classic. Sakar adds an extensive introduction, framing this forgotten story for the modern reader. It also contains footnotes that explain Gleed’s slang and technical terms which might baffle today’s readers.

Gleed’s memoirs were originally published in 1942. It was one of the earliest first-person accounts of the battle available to the public. Although fictionalized, it shows what it was like to be a fighter pilot during the opening days of World War 2. You experience Gleed’s triumphs, terrors, and disappointments.

The Filipino Struggle Against Japan


The United States suffered its biggest World War II defeat in the Philippines. More US soldiers were captured there than in any other campaign in United States military history. The number of Filipino soldiers surrendered dwarfed the US totals. Despite that, after the surrender of US forces, the war in the Philippines continued in a guerilla struggle.

“War and Resistance in the Philippines, 1942-1944,” by James Kelly Morningstar, documents that struggle. It is the first generally-accessible attempt to place the guerilla struggle in the Philippines in a single, coherent story.

Morningstar starts by describing the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the conventional struggle that followed. He shows the difficulties faced by Allied forces in the Philippines, both US and Filipino. He captures the tensions between the US and Philippine government. The Philippines were a reluctant colony of the United States, but on a path to independence when Japan invaded. The nascent Philippine Army was still forming and unprepared. US forces were underequipped, despite major commitments of aircraft.

For the Love of a Child


Stories of heroes during the Holocaust are abundant, but every now and then a particular story catches my eye and grabs my heart, especially if it connects to current events. The story of Janusz Korczak is one of those stories.

Janusz Korczak was born into an assimilated Jewish family in Poland in 1878. He became a writer, then a pediatrician, and even served as a doctor in the military in the Russo-Japanese war. Eventually, he realized that his true passion rested with education, and in 1911 he founded an orphanage in Warsaw, Poland, called Dom Sierot.

He loved teaching and empowering children, too:

Was the Doolittle Raid a Mistake?


Recent events have me thinking about military strategy, and the importance of morale. I found myself mulling over the famous Doolittle raid during World War II.

For those who might not recall the details, this was an air raid on Tokyo in April 1942 by a handful of American bombers, B-25 Mitchells, which were land-based bombers but were, in this instance, launched off the carrier Hornet. The damage to Tokyo was minimal, but the propaganda victory was significant, after a series of catastrophic American and allied losses in the first months of the war.

A Memoir of Endurance and Survival


In January 1945 Major Donald J. Humphrey commanded a B-29 Superfortress. During a 1900-mile mission from India to bomb Singapore, his bomber was shot down over Malaya. Humphrey and four other members of the crew of Postville Express successfully parachuted out of the dying bomber. The rest of the crew failed to escape.

“8 Miraculous Months in the Malayan Jungle: A WWII Pilot’s True Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival,” edited by Donald J. “DJ” Humphrey II, tell what happened next.

They landed in Malaya, then occupied by the Japanese. Had they been found by the Japanese or the pro-Japanese militia they would likely have been executed or spent the rest of their war in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The Japanese even offered a $10,000 reward for every Allied airman turned over to them.

This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Paul Reid, co-author, with William Manchester, of the New York Times best-selling biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.

Reid shares how he was enlisted to complete William Manchester’s biographical trilogy on the greatest political figure of the 20th century, which became a best-seller. They discuss Churchill’s remarkable foresight about the dangers of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, his courageous World War II leadership, and what students should know about his central role in the Allies’ defeat of Hitler, as well as big-picture lessons on statesmanship during times of crisis. They review the significance of Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech, delivered in Missouri 75 years ago, a seminal Cold War event warning about communist totalitarianism. Reid offers insights on Churchill’s liberal arts education and grounding in classical history, which informed his actions as well as his 43 book-length works and extraordinary speeches. He also sheds light on the more private side of this great figure, who was an ambitious, driven workaholic, yet also charismatic, playful, and artistic. The interview concludes with a reading from Reid’s Churchill biography.

Adventure in the Roaring Forties


Jack Pembroke is a Royal Navy officer badly injured during the Dunkirk evacuation, now assigned to command a minesweeping flotilla in South Africa. Emil Falk commands a Nazi auxiliary cruiser – a disguised and armed merchantman conducting commerce raiding far from Europe.

In “The Cape Raider,” a novel by Justin Fox, the two have a rendezvous in the waters between Africa and Antarctica.

Pembroke is a reluctant warrior. A member of a prominent naval family, he bucked family tradition to become a journalist in the 1930s. When World War II started, he accepted a commission in the Royal Navy, serving aboard minesweepers and destroyers.  A long recovery from battle injuries and his civilian mother’s death from bombs during the Battle of Britain led to him asking for a posting in the Union of South Africa, where his Admiral father is stationed

This Week’s Book Review: Liberty Factory


Before Portland, OR, became the upscale city mocked in Portlandia, it was a down-at-the-heels lumber town and port hard hit by the Great Depression. Its transformation began in World War II, when Portland and its cross-river companion, Vancouver, became major shipbuilding centers. Henry Kaiser established shipyards in the two cities.  These produced ships by the score: Liberty ships, Victory ships, escort carriers, troop transports, and tankers. The wartime shipyards turned Portland into an industrial powerhouse, financing its future prosperity.

“Liberty Factory: The Untold Story of Henry Kaiser’s Oregon Shipyards,” by Peter J. Marsh, tells the story of that transformation. Marsh reveals how Portland acquired the shipyards and chronicles their activities during World War II. Along the way, these shipyards produced over 700 ships. Big ships – all displaced over 10,000 tons.

Marsh shows why Henry Kaiser chose Portland for the location of two major shipyards and Vancouver for a third.  Marsh shows how the shipyards were built – all within months. As Marsh shows, this included more than building the manufacturing centers. Kaiser also built the offices these shipyards needed and housing, child care centers, and hospitals for its workers.

7 Inspiring Baseball Players Who Overcame Adversity


Mordecai Brown, Chicago Cubs

It’s tough to make it to the major leagues and it’s even tougher to stay there. It takes a not-insignificant amount of natural physical ability, a lot of hard work, and plenty of self-confidence to get there and stay there. It’s a battle that plays out every day through competition from the amateur level through the minor leagues and at the major league level. It’s even tougher for some who have an additional opponent they have to conquer along the way. That’s the purpose of this post – to briefly tell the stories of a few of those who had an additional obstacle on their way to the majors. I think I’ll proceed in chronological order.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown

Fighting On Despite Desperate Odds


Why do men fight, and why are willing they willing to continue to fight to the last man, preferring death to surrender? T. E. Lawrence’s said men go to war “because the women were watching.” According to Michael Walsh, in his new book, Lawrence’s answer holds more truth than irony. Men fight for their families.

“Last Stands: Why Men Fight When All is Lost,” by Michael Walsh, investigates the last man phenomena. It explores why men fight, and why they are willing to continue fighting even when they know they will lose.

Walsh examines history through the lens of combat, starting with the Ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae and continuing through the Marine retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in the Twentieth Century. In thirteen chapters he explores sixteen last-stand battles.  Some, including Thermopylae, Masada, and the Alamo, the defenders lost and dying almost to the last man. In others, like Rorke’s Drift and the Battle of Pavlov’s House at Stalingrad, defenders triumphed against terrible odds.

Action in the Dark Days of the Battle of the Atlantic


C. S. Forester was one of the most popular authors of the middle twentieth century. He died in 1966. Best known for his Horatio Hornblower novels, he wrote many other books, including mysteries and many other sea stories.

“The Good Shepherd,” by C. S. Forester, was one of those other sea novels. Originally published in 1955, it was adapted into the movie “Greyhound” by Tom Hanks. Released in 2020, the movie led several publishers, including the Naval Institute Press, to republish the book.

“The Good Shepherd,” set in World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic, recounts 52 hours of a 1942 winter crossing of the Atlantic by a slow convoy. It was the worst part of the Battle of the Atlantic. The escort is inadequate; German U-boats numerous.

Robinson’s Rescues


This is about a World War II Navy Chaplain, Charles Robinson, who helped free the first Allied POWs in Japan. I’m posting this on Ricochet partly because I was irritated by the recently discovered comments by the Democrat candidate Raphael Warnock in the Georgia special election for Senate, who orated from the pulpit that people cannot serve the military and God. I didn’t find this to be true during my Navy career, whether one was serving as a Chaplain or just an adherent of a religion. Some of the people I respected the most were men of the cloth and I still value their friendship and the time we served together.

The essay is unrelated to the politics of the moment, so if you’d like a break from news about the election, the essay is safe to read. I doubt any of you have heard about Father Robinson, but his story is one that is worthy of sharing and, I believe, undercuts the narrative that Reverend Warnock peddles. Father Robinson pursued studies in theology that led him to become a Jesuit Priest almost 100 years ago, and he went overseas to Japan for his first posting. What he learned while in Japan ended up helping hundreds of prisoners of war in the Tokyo area who had been tortured or were starving at the end of the war.

The full essay is based on a research project for a history class I completed earlier this year. The professor described how Father Robinson had accomplished a mission of mercy for the Jesuits at the Jesuit Sophia University in Tokyo, and due to my Navy background, she suggested I research it for the term paper. My research determined that he had done a lot more of consequence before his rescue mission to Sophia. At the war’s end, he was stationed onboard the Battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), which arrived at the entrance to Tokyo Bay a few days before it would host the surrender ceremony on 2 September 1945. Of the tens of thousands of sailors who came to Tokyo Bay and were present for the surrender ceremony, Father Robinson had a skill that ended up being critical for rescuing hundreds of prisoners of war (POW) languishing in Japan’s numerous POW camps. He used his knowledge and abilities with distinction, in ways that helped smooth the process of quickly freeing the first group of POWs and saving other lives.

Pioneering Allied Airborne Operations Recounted


The Germans were the first nation to airborne troops in combat, using them decisively in 1939 and 1940.  The British were not far behind, developing their own airborne forces in 1940. They initially used their airborne troops as raiders.

“Churchill’s Shadow Raiders:  The Race to Develop Radar, WWII’s Invisible Secret Weapon,” by Damien Lewis examines the first two combat operations by British paratroopers, Operations Colossus and Biting. It combines these stories with a look at the “Wizard War” – the battle between Britain and Germany for electronics superiority.

Colossus and Biting were intended to smash vital targets unapproachable to soldiers, except by air. Operation Colossus was a February 1941 landing by paratroopers to destroy an aqueduct delivering water to Southern Italy. Operation Biting, in February 1942, was supposed to appear to be a British attempt to destroy a German radar station. In reality, it was to carry off the radar for intelligence analysis.