The Fall of Bataan

These brutal reprisals upon helpless victims evidence the shallow advance from savagery which the Japanese people have made. We serve notice upon the Japanese military and political leaders as well as the Japanese people that the future of the Japanese race itself, depends entirely and irrevocably upon their capacity to progress beyond their aboriginal barbaric instincts.

General George Marshall, Statement on Japanese atrocities, particularly the Bataan Death March (1944)

 

Eighty years ago American and Filipino troops, on starvation rations and wracked with malaria, had finished a heroic stand for months against the Japanese Imperial Army.

Believing themselves deserted by the US, the troops sang this bit of bitter doggerel:

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan,

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.

No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,

No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.

And nobody gives a damn.

General Douglas MacArthur, in command of all American and Filipino troops in the Philippines, continually pleaded with Washington for a relief force to Bataan.  Shamefully, some of the messages from Washington indicated that a relief force was being put together.   These were lies.   After Pearl Harbor the US simply lacked the naval assets to successfully reinforce Bataan.  Any attempt to do so would almost certainly have led to a military disaster for America.

On Corregidor, MacArthur exposed himself to frequent enemy bombing to the point of recklessness.  He visited his troops on Bataan only once, however, who gave him the lasting nickname of Dugout Doug.  Why?

The reason was not lack of physical courage but rather his inability to lie to his troops to their face.  Washington kept telling MacArthur that a relief force was on the way.  MacArthur relayed this news to his troops, but I doubt if he believed it in his heart.  A master strategist, MacArthur knew that neither the forces nor the logistics were there for a successful rescue of Bataan, and he could not bring himself to face his doomed men and lie about this to their faces.

When directly ordered by FDR to leave the Philippines, he came close to disobeying, something almost impossible to even contemplate for a career American officer, saying he would resign and join the troops on Bataan to fight as a volunteer.  He was convinced to obey only with great difficulty.  He refused to go out by submarine, taking a dangerous trip by a PT boat instead on March 11, 1942, to demonstrate that the Japanese blockade could be penetrated.  For the rest of the War his goal was to liberate the Philippines and to rescue the men who had fought under him on Bataan.

The men on Bataan fought on for another month after MacArthur left, until they could fight no more, lacking food, ammunition and medical supplies.  Twenty thousand of them paid with their lives for their gallant stand.  After their surrender they found that their ordeal had only begun. Awaiting them was the Bataan Death March, a 60 mile trek straight out of Dante’s inferno, organized by the Japanese Imperial Army after the fall of Bataan.  Given virtually no food and no water, subject to random beatings and casual murder by their guards, out of a force of 75,000 troops, some 5000-10000 Filipinos died and some 600-650 Americans.  Walt Straka, the last American survivor of the Death March passed away, fittingly enough, on July 4, 2021 at age 101.

 

 

Published in: on April 13, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Fall of Bataan  
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December 6, 1941: FDR writes to Hirohito

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An historical oddity.  The day before “the date which will live in infamy” President Roosevelt wrote a letter to Emperor Hirohito.  Here is the text of the letter:

[WASHINGTON,]

 

December 6, 1941

Almost a century ago the President of the United States addressed to the Emperor of Japan a message extending an offer of friendship of the people of the United   States to the people of Japan. That offer was accepted, and in the long period of unbroken peace and friendship which has followed, our respective nations, through the virtues of their peoples and the wisdom of their rulers have prospered and have substantially helped humanity.

Only in situations of extraordinary importance to our two countries need I address to Your Majesty messages on matters of state. I feel I should now so address you because of the deep and far-reaching emergency which appears to be in formation.

Developments are occurring in the Pacific area which threaten to deprive each of our nations and all humanity of the beneficial influence of the long peace between our two countries. These developments contain tragic possibilities. (more…)

Published in: on December 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 6, 1941: FDR writes to Hirohito  
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August 6, 1945: Bombing of Hiroshima

In 2002 Studs Terkel interviewed retired General Paul Tibbets about the Hiroshima bombing:

 

Paul Tibbets:  I think I went to Los Alamos [the Manhattan project HQ] three times, and each time I got to see Dr Oppenheimer working in his own environment. Later, thinking about it, here’s a young man, a brilliant person. And he’s a chain smoker and he drinks cocktails. And he hates fat men. And General Leslie Groves [the general in charge of the Manhattan project], he’s a fat man, and he hates people who smoke and drink. The two of them are the first, original odd couple.

 
Studs Terkel:  They had a feud, Groves and Oppenheimer?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Yeah, but neither one of them showed it. Each one of them had a job to do.

 
Studs Terkel:  Did Oppenheimer tell you about the destructive nature of the bomb?

Paul Tibbets:  No.

 
Studs Terkel:  How did you know about that?

 
Paul Tibbets:  From Dr Ramsey. He said the only thing we can tell you about it is, it’s going to explode with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT. I’d never seen 1 lb of TNT blow up. I’d never heard of anybody who’d seen 100 lbs of TNT blow up. All I felt was that this was gonna be one hell of a big bang.

 
Studs Terkel:  Twenty thousand tons – that’s equivalent to how many planes full of bombs?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Well, I think the two bombs that we used [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki] had more power than all the bombs the air force had used during the war in Europe.

 
Studs Terkel:  So Ramsey told you about the possibilities.

Paul Tibbets:  Even though it was still theory, whatever those guys told me, that’s what happened. So I was ready to say I wanted to go to war, but I wanted to ask Oppenheimer how to get away from the bomb after we dropped it. I told him that when we had dropped bombs in Europe and North Africa, we’d flown straight ahead after dropping them – which is also the trajectory of the bomb. But what should we do this time? He said, “You can’t fly straight ahead because you’d be right over the top when it blows up and nobody would ever know you were there.” He said I had to turn tangent to the expanding shock wave. I said, “Well, I’ve had some trigonometry, some physics. What is tangency in this case?” He said it was 159 degrees in either direction. “Turn 159 degrees as fast as you can and you’ll be able to put yourself the greatest distance from where the bomb exploded.”

 
Studs Terkel:  How many seconds did you have to make that turn?

 
Paul Tibbets:  I had dropped enough practice bombs to realize that the charges would blow around 1,500 ft in the air, so I would have 40 to 42 seconds to turn 159 degrees. I went back to Wendover as quick as I could and took the airplane up. I got myself to 25,000 ft and I practiced turning, steeper, steeper, steeper and I got it where I could pull it round in 40 seconds. The tail was shaking dramatically and I was afraid of it breaking off, but I didn’t quit. That was my goal. And I practiced and practiced until, without even thinking about it, I could do it in between 40 and 42, all the time. So, when that day came….

 
Studs Terkel:  You got the go-ahead on August 5.

 

 

 

Paul Tibbets:  Yeah. We were in Tinian [the US island base in the Pacific] at the time we got the OK. They had sent this Norwegian to the weather station out on Guam [the US’s westernmost territory] and I had a copy of his report. We said that, based on his forecast, the sixth day of August would be the best day that we could get over Honshu [the island on which Hiroshima stands]. So we did everything that had to be done to get the crews ready to go: airplane loaded, crews briefed, all of the things checked that you have to check before you can fly over enemy territory. General Groves had a brigadier-general who was connected back to Washington DC by a special teletype machine. He stayed close to that thing all the time, notifying people back there, all by code, that we were preparing these airplanes to go any time me after midnight on the sixth. And that’s the way it worked out. We were ready to go at about four o’clock in the afternoon on the fifth and we got word from the president that we were free to go: “Use me as you wish.” They give you a time you’re supposed to drop your bomb on target and that was 9:15 in the morning , but that was Tinian time, one hour later than Japanese time. I told Dutch, “You figure it out what time we have to start after midnight to be over the target at 9 a.m.”

 
Studs Terkel:  That’d be Sunday morning.’

 
Paul Tibbets:  Well, we got going down the runway at right about 2:15 a.m. and we took off, we met our rendezvous guys, we made our flight up to what we call the initial point, that would be a geographic position that you could not mistake. Well, of course we had the best one in the world with the rivers and bridges and that big shrine. There was no mistaking what it was.

 
Studs Terkel:  So you had to have the right navigator to get it on the button.

 
Paul Tibbets:  The airplane has a bomb sight connected to the autopilot and the bombardier puts figures in there for where he wants to be when he drops the weapon, and that’s transmitted to the airplane. We always took into account what would happen if we had a failure and the bomb bay doors didn’t open; we had a manual release put in each airplane so it was right down by the bombardier and he could pull on that. And the guys in the airplanes that followed us to drop the instruments needed to know when it was going to go. We were told not to use the radio, but, hell, I had to. I told them I would say, “One minute out,” “Thirty seconds out,” “Twenty seconds” and “Ten” and then I’d count, “Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four seconds”, which would give them a time to drop their cargo. They knew what was going on because they knew where we were. And that’s exactly the way it worked; it was absolutely perfect. After we got the airplanes in formation I crawled into the tunnel and went back to tell the men, I said, “You know what we’re doing today?” They said, “Well, yeah, we’re going on a bombing mission.” I said, “Yeah, we’re going on a bombing mission, but it’s a little bit special.” My tail gunner, Bob Caron, was pretty alert. He said, “Colonel, we wouldn’t be playing with atoms today, would we?” I said, “Bob, you’ve got it just exactly right.” So I went back up in the front end and I told the navigator, bombardier, flight engineer, in turn. I said, “OK, this is an atom bomb we’re dropping.” They listened intently but I didn’t see any change in their faces or anything else. Those guys were no idiots. We’d been fiddling round with the most peculiar-shaped things we’d ever seen. So we’re coming down. We get to that point where I say “one second” and by the time I’d got that second out of my mouth the airplane had lurched, because 10,000 lbs had come out of the front. I’m in this turn now, tight as I can get it, that helps me hold my altitude and helps me hold my airspeed and everything else all the way round. When I level out, the nose is a little bit high and as I look up there the whole sky is lit up in the prettiest blues and pinks I’ve ever seen in my life. It was just great. I tell people I tasted it. “Well,” they say, “what do you mean?” When I was a child, if you had a cavity in your tooth the dentist put some mixture of some cotton or whatever it was and lead into your teeth and pounded them in with a hammer. I learned that if Ihad a spoon of ice-cream and touched one of those teeth I got this electrolysis and I got the taste of lead out of it. And I knew right away what it was. OK, we’re all going. We had been briefed to stay off the radios: “Don’t say a damn word, what we do is we make this turn, we’re going to get out of here as fast as we can.” I want to get out over the sea of Japan because I know they can’t find me over there. With that done we’re home free. Then Tom Ferebee has to fill out his bombardier’s report and Dutch, the navigator, has to fill out a log. Tom is working on his log and says, “Dutch, what time were we over the target?” And Dutch says, “Nine-fifteen plus 15 seconds.” Ferebee says: “What lousy navigating. Fifteen seconds off!”

 
Studs Terkel:  Did you hear an explosion?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Oh yeah. The shockwave was coming up at us after we turned. And the tail gunner said, “Here it comes.” About the time he said that, we got this kick in the ass. I had accelerometers installed in all airplanes to record the magnitude of the bomb. It hit us with two and a half G. Next day, when we got figures from the scientists on what they had learned from all the things, they said, “When that bomb exploded, your airplane was 10 and half miles away from it.”

 
Studs Terkel:  Did you see that mushroom cloud?

 
Paul Tibbets:  You see all kinds of mushroom clouds, but they were made with different types of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb did not make a mushroom. It was what I call a stringer. It just came up. It was black as hell and it had light and colors and white in it and grey color in it and the top was like afolded-up Christmas tree.

 
Studs Terkel:  Do you have any idea what happened down below?

 
Paul Tibbets:  Pandemonium! I think it’s best stated by one of the historians, who said: “In one micro-second, the city of Hiroshima didn’t exist.”

Go here to read the rest of the interview. (more…)

Published in: on August 6, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Casablanca and Operation Torch

Something for the weekend.  Ah, the things you can find on YouTube!  An orchestral performance of the scene from Casablanca (1942) where a group of German officers are singing Die Wacht am Rhien, only to be ultimately drowned out by the French patrons in Rick’s Cafe singing La Marseillaise.  Go here for an excellent examination of this moving scene.  At the time the movie was made the Vichy regime had banned the song and it had become the anthem of de Gaulle’s Free French Movement.

The movie was rushed into release shortly after Allied, mostly American, troops had landed in North Africa in Operation Torch.  After some initial fighting, the French garrisons came over to the Allied side, so the film had a strong contemporary resonance for American audiences which was completely fortuitous.

Published in: on May 30, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Casablanca and Operation Torch  
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Tomorrow the World!

Emil Bruckner: If it is necessary, I will die for the Führer!

Mike Frame: Oh, I see. You want to die.

Emil Bruckner: It is my duty. Are you – going to beat me?

Mike Frame: Well, since you find death so pleasant, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll kill you first and beat you afterwards.

Screenplay, Tomorrow the World! (1944)

 

 

I watched a very interesting movie yesterday, Tomorrow the World ! (1944).  Based on a successful Broadway play, it tells the story of a German boy, a completely indoctrinated Nazi, who comes to live with relatives in America after his mother dies.  His father was a leader of the German resistance, murdered in a Nazi concentration camp.  The boy, however, is a true believer in Hitler, who views his dead father as a traitor.

I was expecting a fairly lighthearted swift conversion of the Nazi youth to truth, justice and the American way.  The film was quite different and not at all what I expected.  Twelve year old Skip Homeier gives a chilling performance as Emil Bruckner.  For the time it was fairly strong, including Bruckner denouncing his teacher, who is also the fiancee of his American uncle, as a “Jewish tramp”.  Bruckner comes around eventually in a fairly unconvincing feel good ending, but the substance of the film was how difficult it is to change people who are heavily indoctrinated when young.

In the film Agnes Moorehead gives a great performance as the American Aunt of Emil, who he uses as a pawn in his schemes.  When she sees him initially in his Hitler Jugend uniform she opines that all Germans should be exterminated.  After two world wars, and casualty lists rapidly mounting, that was not an uncommon sentiment in the country in 1944.  Under the Morgenthau Plan, proposed by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Germany after the war was to be de-industrialized and partitioned into harmless agricultural states.  Fortunately wiser heads prevailed.

Skip Homeier died at age 86 in 2017.  In the Star Trek episode Patterns of Force he returned to the Nazi ranks as the evil Deputy Fuehrer Melakon.

 

Published in: on October 3, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Tomorrow the World!  
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Your Job In Germany

An interesting film to be shown to Army troops serving in occupied Germany in 1945.  The film was made by Frank Capra’s film unit in the Army Signal Corps and written by Theodor Geisel, in his pre-Dr. Seuss days.  It is a reminder of just how daunting a task it was to manage the occupation without creating animosities that would lead to a future war, or without having such a light occupation that the Germans would be tempted to roll the iron dice of war a third time.  A reminder to the troops that though the war was over and won, winning the peace was still very much up in the air.

Published in: on November 6, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Your Job In Germany  
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The Great Crusade

 

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

 

Published in: on June 9, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Great Crusade  
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Eighth Air Force Bombs Germany For the First Time

The Eighth Air Force staged its first daylight raid on Germany on January 27, 1943.  The target was the Wilhelmshaven port.  The raid was a success, with 53 of the 64 planes reaching the target.  Three bombers were lost, while shooting down 22 enemy fighters.  Heavy damage was inflicted on the factories and warehouses of Wilhelmshaven.  Just a taste of what was to come as the Eighth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command turned the cities of Germany into smoking ruins, materially hastening the fall of the Third Reich.

Published in: on March 3, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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The Fighting Lady

A great wartime propaganda film from 1944, The Fighting Lady.  The film was made aboard the USS Yorktown, but for wartime security considerations it was designated The Fighting Lady in the film.  Hollywood star Robert Taylor, then serving in the Navy as a flight instructor, supplied the narration.  I do not mean to disparage the film when I call it propaganda:  it is also grittily realistic.  At the end the film pays tribute to the men who appeared in the film who have died in combat.

Published in: on January 8, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Sixty-Nine Years Ago

Sixty-nine years ago at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War. Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans. During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. Massively outnumbered, battle weary from already having done more than their share of fighting in Normandy and Operation Market Garden and short on food and ammo, they stopped the advancing Germans cold in their tracks. On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas. General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: (more…)

Published in: on December 23, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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