Private Snafu and His Gas Mask

 

A 1944 training film featuring the Army’s favorite foul up, Private Snafu.  The film is centered on teaching GI’s to keep their gas masks with them at all times.  Troops in the field tended to ditch gas masks as being useless weight in a war where none of the combatants were using gas.  My guess is that the troops found the film amusing and that it had zero impact on their unwillingness to lug around a gas mask.

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Published in: on October 3, 2017 at 3:35 am  Comments Off on Private Snafu and His Gas Mask  
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Alvin C. York Addresses the 82nd Division

 

The things you find on the internet.  Alvin C. York addresses his old outfit the 82nd Division “All-American” in May of 1942.

Published in: on September 25, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Alvin C. York Addresses the 82nd Division  
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Darkest Hour

 

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940

The second Winston Churchill movie this year will appear in the US at Thanksgiving. The first was a bigger bomb than any dropped by the RAF in World War II. Go here to read British historian Andrew Robert’s scorching review. However Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldham in the title role, looks magnificent. It focuses on Churchill’s role in summoning the British people to fight on alone after the Fall of France.

If the English had negotiated peace with Nazi Germany in 1940, I have no doubt that Hitler would likely have conquered the Soviet Union in the next year. In circa 1948-1952 the US might have faced Japan and a nuclear armed Nazi Germany, controlling Europe and the former Soviet Union, with missile technology, and the world may well have been a much darker place indeed after the rubble settled from such a conflict. The resolution of one man, Churchill, likely changed history for the better, and no greater accolade can be given to any statesman. I am looking forward to seeing this film with great anticipation.

Published in: on September 5, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Darkest Hour  
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August 15, 1945: The Voice of the Crane

 

 

Allied bombers had been used on August 13, 1945 dropping leaflets over Japan which described, in Japanese, the surrender offer and the Allied response.  On August 14, 1945 Hirohito met with his military leaders, several of whom spoke in favor of continuing the War.  Hirohito urged them to help him bring the War to an end.  Meeting then with the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War and heard out those who recommended a rejection of the Allied offer unless there was a guarantee that the Emperor would continue to reign.  Hirohito then spoke:

I have listened carefully to each of the arguments presented in opposition to the view that Japan should accept the Allied reply as it stands and without further clarification or modification, but my own thoughts have not undergone any change. … In order that the people may know my decision, I request you to prepare at once an imperial rescript so that I may broadcast to the nation. Finally, I call upon each and every one of you to exert himself to the utmost so that we may meet the trying days which lie ahead.

In normal times in Japan that would have been that.  It was quite rare for the Emperor to so overtly intervene in a decision of the government, indeed it was forbidden under the then current Japanese constitution, but when he did, it would have literally been unthinkable for any Japanese not to instantly obey.  However, these were far from normal times.

The rest of the day was taken up with Hirohito preparing an address to his people and having a recording played to be broadcast on August 15, 1945.  Washington was advised that Japan had surrendered via the Japanese embassies in Switzerland and Sweden and the Allied world went wild with joy. (more…)

Published in: on August 15, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on August 15, 1945: The Voice of the Crane  
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Dunkirk: A Review

 

My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday.  I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall.   My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dunkirk: A Review  
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July 26, 1945: USS Indianapolis Delivers Hiroshima Bomb to Tinian

The delivery of the Hiroshima bomb by the crew of the USS Indianapolis to Tinian on July 26, 1945 received screen immortality in Quint’s (Robert Shaw) speech in the movie Jaws (1975).  Although historically inaccurate on several points, the scene has an understated power that makes it a gem of the filmmaker’s art:

 

“Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes.

Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission was so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’ by, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was sorta like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away.

Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces.

You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks there were, maybe a thousand. I do know how many men, they averaged six an hour. Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.

At noon on the fifth day, a Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he spotted us, a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper here, anyway he spotted us and a few hours later a big ol’ fat PBY come down and started to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.

Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

Published in: on July 26, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 26, 1945: USS Indianapolis Delivers Hiroshima Bomb to Tinian  
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D-Day on Film

 

There have been surprisingly few movies on D-Day, as indicated by the fact that three out of the five videos looked at below are from television miniseries.  Here are the five best from  a scarce lot:

5. Ike: The War Years (1978)

Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance.  The late Lee Remick  gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower.  Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.

4.  Ike: Countdown to D-Day (1995)

Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day.  The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted:  getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc.  The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.

3.  Band of Brothers (2001)

The epic miniseries covering the exploits of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, captures well the chaos of the parachute and glider operations behind German lines that were so critical a part of the Allied victory on D-Day. (more…)

Published in: on June 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day on Film  
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D-Day Factoids

 

Random observations on D-Day.

  1. Churchill and the King– Churchill had begun his career in the days of Queen Victoria in the British Army, and had fought in India, the Sudan and in the Boer War.   In World War I he had served briefly as the commander of a battalion in the trenches of the Western Front.  He was determined to land with the British troops on D-Day.  His generals were appalled.  King George VI remedied the problem when he told Churchill at an audience that he, the King, had determined that he should land on D-Day with his troops.   Churchill, aghast, said this was impossible since the King might be killed.  The King responded that since that was the case he didn’t want his Prime Minister risking his life on D-Day.  No more was heard of the idea of Churchill landing with the troops.
  2. German Build Up-There was little doubt that troops would successfully fight themselves ashore on D-Day.  The question was whether the Allies could build up successfully the beachhead and expand it in the face of the German buildup after the invasion.  This concern led to the initial assault force being increased from three to six divisions, not counting the Allied airborne forces dropping behind enemy lines.  The limiting factor was the number of landing craft the Allies had, with a six division assault force requiring bringing landing craft from the Mediterranean theater and delaying until July Operation Dragoon, the amphibious invasion of southern France.
  3. Oil-Modern armies move on fuel and getting enough gas into the D-Day beachhead was a major concern until the solution of laying pipelines, Operation Pluto. under the English channel was hit upon.  Disappointing initially in the amount of fuel transported via this means, by the end of the War 4000 tons was transported daily by these pipelines, providing the absolutely critical margin by which the mechanized Allied armies swept into Germany.
  4. Of Icebergs and Mulberries-Churchill was the quintessential idea man.   The problem was separating his good ideas from his bad ones.  Throughout the War he had the bizarre idea of using an iceberg as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.  His generals and admirals strove successfully throughout the War against his demand that this lunatic proposal be implemented. However he was also the main proponent of mulberries, the construction of prefabricated artificial harbors to be set up in France following D-Day.  These artificial harbors proved critical in the buildup in Normandy following D-Day.
  5. Patton-In the doghouse after slapping a soldier in Sicily, General George Patton still had an important role to play in D-Day.  Patton in the months of 1944 leading up to the invasion of Normandy found himself at the head of an impressive force: the First US Army Group, consisting of the US 14th Army and the British 4th Army.  It was entirely fictitious.  Codenamed Operation Quicksilver, the First US Army Group produced lots of radio chatter and paper reports, along with endless dummy tanks and fake troop bases.  It worked along with the other allied deceptions that made up Operation Fortitude South.  The Germans were convinced that the First US Army Group was a real formation and that the Allies were going to invade with it at Calais.  Patton made speeches and appearances throughout England at this time that received maximum publicity to enhance his assumed position as head of the Allied invasion.  At the same time he was secretly training Third Army for its role after the invasion.
  6. Rommel-The Desert Fox was not an infallible commander, but he did have an eerie ability to often guess the intentions of his foes.  So it was when he requested that the 12th SS Panzer Division, the fanatical Hitler Jugend, be moved to Carentan, which lay between the beaches that would become known as Utah and Omaha.  His request was refused.  Additionally, in early May Rommel ordered the commander of the 352nd Division to withdraw most of his men from reserve and have them concentrated on the beach that would be Omaha.  Fortunately for the Americans who landed there, the commander of the 352nd Division ignored Rommel’s order.
  7. Daily Telegraph-In May of 1944 crucial code-words for Operation Overlord began showing up in crossword puzzles of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.  An intensive investigation by MI5 failed to uncover any security breach.
  8. Mississippi-The flat bottomed landing craft had originally been designed to rescue Mississippi River flooding victims.
  9. Wonder Drug-The assault troops went ashore equipped with the new wonder drug Penicillin which saved thousands of lives.
  10. Casualties-The Allied casualties were much lighter than anticipated, some 10,000 of whom 4500 were killed.  Churchill had feared a second first day of the Somme with some 20,000 Allied KIAs.
Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day Factoids  
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Reagan on D-Day

Reagan gave the above speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, a third of a century ago.  Tomorrow is the 73rd anniversary of the longest day, and there are only a precious few of those men who stormed the beaches who still remain with us.  Time to remember them tomorrow and every day:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty.  For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow.  Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation.  Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue.  here in Normandy the rescue began.  Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers on the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up.  When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only ninety could still bear arms. (more…)

Published in: on June 5, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Reagan on D-Day  
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June 1, 1917: Hank Gowdy Enlists

Hank Gowdy was a great ball player and a great patriot.   The high point of his ball career was in the 1914 World Series where he was the most valuable player for winning the World Series for the Boston Braves.  In 1917 he was 28 years old and at his peak as a ball player.  On June 1, he turned his back on fame and fortune, enlisting in the Army, the first major leaguer to do so .  He served in the 166th regiment of the Rainbow Division in France, going through some of the worst trench fighting that American troops experience in the War.  Coming home from the War in one piece, he resumed his career with the Braves.  In 1923 he was traded to the Giants.  After he retired from ball played, he served as a coach with the Braves, the Giants and the Reds.

When the US entered World War II, Gowdy enlisted in the Army again, despite being 53.  Among other duties he served as chief athletic officer at Fort Benning.  He was the only major leaguer to serve in both world wars.  After the War he served as coach and manager for the Reds, retiring from baseball in 1948.  He passed away in 1966 at age 76. (more…)

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 1, 1917: Hank Gowdy Enlists  
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