The struggle for Guadalcanal, raging from August to November, 1942 resulted in the utter destruction of the veteran navies of both Japan and the United States. Vicious land, naval, and air battles took place at the remote island.
By November, each side was forced to put in their last reserves. For the Japanese this involved sending a mighty fleet of transports, destroyers, cruisers, and a battleship, Kirishima. The United States could only manage four destroyers and the two new battleships, South Dakota and Washington. In the resultant night battle all four of the American destroyers were sunk, but at the crucial moment in the battle as the Japanese were pummeling South Dakota, the unseen Washington, in seven minutes, opened fire and sank Kirishima. Though the enemy still had an overwhelming fleet with only one American warship still able to resist them, they immediately began their withdrawal, not only of their forces that night, but those engaged on the island as well.
The campaign was won and the United States, able to replace their loses in men and materials while the Japanese could not, began its inexorable march across the Pacific and the destruction of the Empire of Japan.
The flying scenes from three movies have impressed me the most.
For World War One it is 1931’s Flight Commander, remade in 1939 as Dawn Patrol, but using the same flying scenes, but with Errol Flynn and David Niven. The movie is about British flyers in France and they wound up using a nice replica of the Sopwith “Camel” airplane. The flying scenes are terrific, especially watching the fragile little plane fly down a railroad track sort of sideways in a crosswind. In truth, in that era, planes were more like motorized kites than airplanes. You could take a sharp pencil and poke right through the canvas wing surfaces.
For World War 2, God is My Co-Pilot, and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo both from books of the same names stand out. The aerial scenes in the first movie using the P-40 (not very successful for us) are spectacular.
In 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, the B-25 sequences are amazing. There is a story told to me by a family friend and former B-25 pilot that some of the scenes were done by Doolittle raiders themselves, pulled out of combat (the film was made late in the war). The plane flies dangerously close to the water, and our friend said that no stunt pilot was confident enough to make the scene.
It makes a great story, but I have come to think for a number of reasons that it is not true.
The Struggle for Guadalcanal, from August 1942 to the Japanese evacuation in January of 1943, was the Stalingrad of the Pacific war (for the Japanese). The air war was just as bitter as the land and naval battles.
The Japanese committed their very best pilots who had plenty of experience fighting in China, the Philippines and in New Guinea. Their aces had racked up amazing totals mostly against our inferior planes such as the Brewster Buffalo and Curtis P-40: Nishizawa with 104, Saburo Sakai 64, and Ota 34. They flew the Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane with its great range and maneuverability.
Matched against this we had former farm boys like Marine Joe Foss from South Dakota with no combat experience. But he had a better plane than our earlier pilots, the first Grumman monoplane, the F4U “Wildcat.” It was not as quite as maneuverable as the Zero, slightly faster, but had tremendous fire power with six machine guns, and protected our pilots with the infamous 187-pound Jorgenson armor-plated seat, which almost nothing airborne in the world could pierce.
Foss put this toughness to the test. I believe he was shot down three times (although Wikipedia reports twice), a record for any of our top aces in the war. As the Japanese attacked our airfield on Guadalcanal, he was shot down and crashed on the field, then was forced to bail out and came down on the field, and later was shot down and crashed in the ocean.
In the end, Nishizawa escaped, but Sakai was crippled and Oro killed, while Foss’s victory total of 26 matched Edie Rickenbacker’s from World War I.
See Sakai’s very memorable autobiography “Zero.”
Since striking our Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941, the Japanese had taken over the largest empire in history, though it mostly consisted of islands. The United States felt powerless to do anything about the loss of much of the Chinese coastline, the British loss of Burma, or the dominance of the Indian Ocean and advance toward India. We did nothing when our own territory of the Philippine Islands was invaded and conquered. The best we could do was contest the enemy move into the central Pacific and pull off a miraculous defeat of a Japanese fleet heading for Midway island in May of 1942.
But the building of an airfield on the unknown and malaria-ridden island of Guadalcanal located within striking distance of Australia, which threatened to cut it off from the rest of the world, caused the U.S. to strike for the first time. On August 7, 1942, the First Marine Division was landed there and took over the airstrip. The result was an epic battle for the island which offered no material wealth to either side. But its strategic value made it a must win for each, and set up a titanic grudge match to the end, the prize being the Pacific Ocean.
The reader might know that the first atomic bomb was exploded in the United
States on July 12, 1945, seventy-four years ago this month. Subsequently, an
atomic bomb was then dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, and upon Nagasaki on
August 9 th and World War Two ended as a result.
The bombs, and five were built, were developed near Alamogordo in southern
New Mexico, in an area almost devoid of populous. The government thought that
the site’s remoteness would ensure the complete secrecy of the Manhattan
Project. And for fifty years it was considered one of the best kept secrets of the
Actually, the Soviet Union, Russia of today, knew everything that went on a day-
to-day basis. Many of the scientists involved, while hating the Fascist
governments of our enemies (Germany, Italy, and Japan) thought communism
was better than our capitalism and leaked the information.
As a result of this idealism, the Soviets were not far behind us in the development
of their own bomb, and the arms race had begun.
Another unfortunate result was the sinking under still controversial circumstances
of the U. S. heavy cruiser Indianapolis, the carrier of our bombs to the Pacific.
Because of space requirements that story will have to follow in another blog.
June 6th is the 75th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of German held France in World War II. There were five beaches: two American, Omaha and Utah; two British, Gold and Sword; and one Canadian, Juno. One, Omaha was nearly a disaster with hundreds of American casualties, principally because the overall D-Day commander, Allied commander Dwight D. Eisenhower’s principal subordinate, American General Omar Bradley flubbed the preparations for the landing. Heedless of American experience in the Pacific in the invasion of Tarawa, he failed to use the support battleships he had to pound Omaha and the other beaches into oblivion.
For the United States, much was saved while the battle for Omaha raged by the work of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., the assistant division commander of the 4th Division over on Utah beach. He was the only general officer to land on the first wave. Despite suffering from serious ailments such as arthritis, which he hid from his superiors, he struggled ashore aided by a cane, and established a solid beachhead despite the fact that his division had been landed at the wrong place! “The war starts right here,” he told his staff.
He went ahead for about a month, logging as much time at the front as any of our generals. Though a short guy, his rapport with the men supported by his raspy voice and salty language endeared him to those around him. A famous story about him is that while riding in a jeep in complete darkness with Omar Bradley he bet that his troops (bedded down for the night in on both side of the road, could recognize his voice. He stopped and yelled off into the darkness. In a moment many voices came back, “Yes, General Roosevelt.” In the assault on the city of Cherbourg, just as the orders had been cut for him to get his own division, he died of a massive heart attack and died on the battlefield.
His career as soldier (World War I and II, founder of the American Legion) and statesman (Governor General of the Philippines and Puerto Rico), has been equaled by few Americans. His service to the nation lasted until the last moment of his life.
Sources: there are two biographies of Roosevelt, neither scholarly. The Dictionary of American Biography and Wikipedia have capable texts. Roosevelt’s wife’s autobiography, “Day Before Yesterday.” is excellent
May 23rd 2019, is the eightieth anniversary of the sinking of the U. S. submarine Squalus off the Isles of Shoals in 1939, some nine miles off the New Hampshire coast in 243’ of water. Squalus was one of the pre-war classes of subs which were succeeded by the Gato and Tench classes, the so-called “Fleet Boats,” which were the backbone of our forces in the war. Although some famous subs came from the pre-war classes, such as Seawolf and Tautog, they were not nearly as powerful as the Gatos (diving depths 300’ to 400,’ and usually a 3” deck gun to the later 5”), and of the 31 built, 15 were lost in the war. Anyone might argue that their high loss rate is because those subs were in service for so long.
Of course, Japanese action had nothing to do with the sinking of Squalus which went down on its sea trials due to equipment problems. As sister ship Sculpin stood by, Squalus was eventually raised with 33 of the 59 crewmen being rescued by the “Momsen Lung” and a diving chamber. She was, refitted, renamed Sailfish, and served throughout the war in the Pacific with twelve war patrols.
The renamed submarine was also involved in one of the great tragedies in U. S. submarine history when on December 3 and 4, 1943, she torpedoed and sank the small carrier Chuyo near the Japanese coast. On board were 21 survivors of the recently sunk Sculpin. Only one of the Americans lived through the ordeal.
For more information, see Wikipedia, Pig Boats by Theodore Roscoe, and Paul Silverstone’s U.S. Warships of World WarII.
Since April 18 is the seventy-seventh anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Japan in World
War II, it is appropriate to have a narrative on this remarkable mission. It was the only time
medium bombers (two motors) were ever used to take off from an aircraft carrier. The planes
were too large to be landed back on the carrier (USS Hornet, which was later sunk) and so after
taking off about 600 miles from Japan, the planes flew on to China, an ally of ours at the time.
The decision of which of our bombers to use and how it was to be made to take off from a tiny
carriers’ deck was left to Jimmy Doolittle, a very unusual person. It is rare in history to have a
person who combines such diverse qualities as he had: he was a daredevil pilot, had a Ph.D.
from Stanford in Aeronautical Engineering, and later proved he had the administrative skills to
command our gigantic 8th Air Force in England.
There being to no catapults as there were later to “throw” planes into the air from a carrier,
and with the 16 planes crowding the deck, the problem Doolittle faced was that it was
impossible for a medium bomber to roll down the deck and build up enough speed to get off by
itself. Doolittle solved this by examining each of our medium bombers and adding a lot of
ingenuity as he reports in his book, “I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.”
It came down to the North American company’s B-25 and the Marin B-26. He had to discount
the B-26 because it required a take-off speed of close to its landing speed of 90 mph. The B-25
was the choice. It had a stalling speed of 58 mph. While he knew that a loaded B-25 could not
reach nearly that speed in its roll down the deck, he took more into his calculation. If it was a
windy day on the Pacific, which it was, and if the carrier was headed into the wind at full speed
(30knots) there would be plenty of lift under the wings.
It worked beautifully. All 16 planes got off and all struck one of the five designated cities.
These books feature American weaponry in World War II from small arms like the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), to our tanks, planes and ships.
Two of most interesting of these were two fighter planes, the Lockheed P-38, and the Republic Corporation’s P-47. The P-38 is described in detail in the first book, Reluctant Warriors, in the stories of Jimmy DeValery, and the P-47 in the third of the series, Chances and 312 stories.
Both were weird or ungainly looking, or both. The p-38 had two parallel fuselages (each with a 1,710-horse motor) connected by a nacelle wing holding the cockpit. This gave the plane a tremendous 52’ wingspan which was half that of the B-17 heavy bomber. It also afforded rather great capacity for internal fuel tanks, and produced terrific ranges of 2,000 miles or more; a nice feature in the vast distances of the Pacific where it became the principle Army Air Corp fighter, a monster compared to the tiny Japanese Zero.
The Republic plane also attained great size due to the installation of a large super-charging system for high attitude work. It’s loaded weight topped out at some 20,500lbs (a Zero’s was a little over 5,000lbs.) which in turn demanded a giant engine with an emergency war-rating of almost 2,800hp. It was fitted with a four-bladed 16’ Hamilton-Standard solid steel propeller. While not as speedy or maneuverable as a P-51, it could absorb much more punishment and dive almost at the speed of sound. Some 15,329 were produced.
This is a blog for the Reluctant Warrior series of books: Reluctant Warriors, Redemption and hopefully a third book entitled Chances. The books contain fictional short stories about U.S. servicemen in World War II. Considering that the pre-war services jumped from only a hundred thousand prior to the war to sixteen million, it is fair to conclude that most of our fighters were civilians unprepared for a world conflict. And yet they were victorious on every front against experienced and very successful foes.
These books try to explain how this was accomplished by placing Americans from most every state in every front of the war, Atlantic and Pacific, and in the types of ships, planes and terrain in which they served.
This blog will be used to add extra detail about the weaponry, from heavy cruisers to P-47s, and also talk about the sources that were used if the reader wishes more information.