Pearl Harbor Reconsidered Part III–Hit and Miss…and Wright Brother’s Day

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

This is the third installment of my “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered” essay, and for those of you who have read the other two, thanks for sticking with me. Of course, I know you’ve all bought copies of Why the Samurai Lost Japan for yourselves and for all your friends (perfect Christmas gifts) as soon as it was available (which should have been Saturday).

No? What are you waiting for? This essay is just a sample of our research and analysis. Get the whole picture.

As far as “gambles” go, Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack wasn’t much of one, either strategically or tactically. The strikes were carefully planned practically to the last bomb, torpedo, bullet, and ounce of fuel—they had to be because Japan could not carry more fuel for an attack so far away. The aircraft were fueled and armed in a flurry of activity beginning very early in the morning of 7 December, the second wave being hoisted to the flight deck as the first was taking off, and was launching as the first wave was returning. It was a practiced ballet of logistics, material handling, and timing—and nearly impossible to repeat on the same day with damaged aircraft and tired aircrews and maintainers.

https://pearlharborwarbirds.com/japanese-attack-on-pearl-harbor-maps/

Map of the Japanese attack on Oahu, 7 December 1941

The attack had intended to catch the American aircraft carriers in Pearl Harbor, but those ships were prevented from entering the harbor by the same storm that battered the Japanese task force en route to Hawaii. That the American carriers weren’t in Pearl Harbor (and their air groups parked on the airfields) was a grave disappointment…and created a grave danger. They and their 100+ aircraft were somewhere in the area…but Japanese intelligence was unable to say where. That one was near Wake Island, and two more were at sea a day away from Hawaii was unknown to the Japanese. For that reason, Nagumo had reason to fear for the safety of his command. Worse, he had no good idea how severe the American land-based aircraft losses were. His fleet was already low on fuel, including aviation fuel. Staying an extra day would have meant that some of the escorting destroyers would have been sucked dry of fuel for the carriers and abandoned…not recommended at the beginning of a trans-oceanic war.

https://www.omaha.com/news/military/timeline-of-pearl-harbor-attack-what-happened-on-dec/article_c02f0b0a-8058-5032-8116-17ae16c43077.html

Detail of Pearl Harbor

The first two attack waves had been well planned, timed and executed, but a third wave that some say should have been mounted was impractical. Sending the superbly trained pre-1941 carrier pilots on a third mission that day would have been a tremendous risk for an uncertain (and unlikely) result. Though “sparing” the dockyards, maintenance shops, and the tank farm meant the US could swing into action in the Pacific faster, it is unlikely that these less-than-vulnerable facilities could have been significantly harmed, and would have exposed the fleet to much more risk that the risk-adverse IJN would have been willing to commit to.

…at 250 miles an hour (or more) while being shot at it is impossible for any pilot, regardless of training or nationality, to distinguish between an empty warehouse and a full one, or a storage shed from a machine shop.

Preparing the returning planes for another attack would have taken until at least mid-afternoon, meaning that the aircraft of a third wave would have been recovering at night. In 1941, only the Royal Navy had experience with carrier landings at night. Success would have been uncertain because American anti-aircraft performance improved between the first and second waves. Moreover, the strength of Hawaii’s remaining land-based air power was undetermined. The second wave, while damaging, had not done near as much as the first in part because there was a limit to how much damage any single-engine aircraft could do.

Further, at 250 miles an hour (or more) while being shot at it is impossible for any pilot, regardless of training or nationality, to distinguish between an empty warehouse and a full one, or a storage shed from a machine shop. The odds against hitting the drydocks effectively were even higher, and severely damaging the concrete basins or the massive doors would have been sheer luck for any pilot of that time and place. Great Britain, desperate as they were, mounted a commando raid on St. Nazaire in 1942 to disable the drydocks there and expended a destroyer and several hundred men to do it. Mere air-delivered bombs—regardless of size—weren’t going to do a lot of damage to the drydocks of Pearl Harbor without a great deal of luck.

Presuming that the third wave attack on Pearl Harbor would have been unopposed, perfectly excecuted with a few hours of planning and 100% successful is too much to ask.

Many “counterfactual” claims for the value of a third strike emphasize the potential damage caused by the destruction of the millions of gallons of fuel stored at Pearl Harbor. While possible, these claims require the Americans either do absolutely nothing to stop the attacks on those big targets or that they do everything wrong. Letting out a few thousand gallons and setting it alight would have created a good smokescreen in a few minutes that could have baffled any further attacks…and a single successful bomb on one tank or pump complex might have done the same thing. Presuming that the third wave attack on Pearl Harbor would have been unopposed, perfectly executed and 100% successful with a few hours planning is too much to ask.

Though the never-planned third strike on Pearl Harbor has been much touted over the years, and it is said that Yamamoto later regretted Nagumo’s decision to withdraw (though he supported that decision at the time), he afterward said it had been a mistake not to order a third strike. Sorry, but that sounds a great deal like second-guessing for the history books after the tide had already turned. While the raid on Pearl Harbor was at least a tactical success, the strategic value of it was diminished because it missed the American carriers.

In my next and final installment of “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered,” I’ll examine the consequences of the Pearl Harbor attack, and its long-term effects on Japan and, more important, on the samurai leadership that ordered and planned it. While the Eastern Operation may have been perfectly executed, that perfect attack resulted in a disastrous war with an enemy they knew they could not defeat.


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Langley’s Aerodrome

Today is Wright Brothers Day, one of the many commemorative days that is codified in US law. Though the brothers first flew on 17 December 1903, it took until 2014 before Congress passed the bill recognizing the fact. One of the reasons for the long delay was the inventor of the contraption on the left, Samuel P. Langley. He was said to have launched an unmanned powered kite in 1896 and convinced Congress to give him a contract to continue his research. It helped that Langley was the head of the Smithsonian Institutions at the time.

He had two failed manned launches in October and December 1903, and never went back to his experiments afterward in part because of the Wright brother’s success, and in part, because he couldn’t get money to continue. Langley died in 1906, having spent orders of magnitude more on several decades of failed tries to build a powered, manned, controllable heavier-than-air vehicle than the Wrights spent to succeed.

Even as the aviation industry took off and the Wrights undeniably went into the business of building airplanes, the battle for bragging rights over who flew first continued well into the 20th century. Though the first Wright Flyer was destroyed in a storm in early 1904, the Smithsonian wouldn’t even have a replica of it in its halls, instead emphasizing Langley’s efforts and even denying that the Wrights were first until well into the 20th century.

 

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Iwo Jima and President’s Day

And so, here we are in mid-February. doubtless cold and wet in the Great Lakes. If we had a nickel for every snowstorm in February…lots of nickels. Every February day I don’t have to haul out the snowblower’s a good day…

But this is 19 February, when we celebrate the birth of Copernicus in 1473 (remember him, the guy who said that the Earth was not the center of the universe?). And we remember the non-promotion of Benedict Arnold on 19 February 1777: he was so mad he was willing to sell out the country.  Also, on 19 February 1861, Tsar Alexander II of Russia freed the serfs: unlike slavery in the US, the practice wasn’t universal in Russia. Edison patented his phonograph on this day in 1878. And Cuban strongman FIdel Castro resigned his offices on this day in 2008. But today we talk about high spots in the ocean, and Monday holidays.

That made Iwo a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Volcano Islands, just south of the Bonins, were the first overseas acquisition for the Empire of Japan when they were annexed in 1891. No one else really wanted them, so no one minded, at the time. But by 1944 they were a bastion for the Home Islands as the Americans moved inexorably towards Japan. Iwo Jima, the flattest of the island group, had the beginnings of three airfields on it by the end of 1944. That made Iow a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

But HH “Hap” Arnold, commanding the US Army Air Forces, didn’t like the idea that the Japanese could use Iwo to attack his bombers on their way to Japan. As unpleasant a prospect as it was, he couldn’t show that any of his airplanes had been shot down by Iwo-based fighters. Then Arnold got the idea that he could base fighters on Iwo to “escort” the bombers, and maybe crippled B-29s could use it as an emergency airfield. All of which was true, but “escorting” B-29s wasn’t practical. The Japanese weren’t real good at intercepting B-29s over Japan, and the way fighter “escort” worked that late in the war was more like “be at this map grid at this time when the bombers are expected to be there.” The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

200px-Iwo_jima_location_mapSagredo

As the map shows, Iwo is in a direct line between the Mariana Islands and Japan. Now, the airfields weren’t a problem for anyone other than the B-29s, and that a minor irritant in the long run. But the Marines had three divisions rebuilding in Hawaii that formed V Amphibious Corps, and the Army was scrambling for as many men as they could get for their Philippine campaign. On that basis, Arnold convinced the Marines that using the otherwise idle Marines to take Iwo would save them from Douglas MacArthur’s clutches.

The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since.

Nonetheless, eventually, Arnold sold the Iwo Jima project to everyone he needed to, and the Marines stormed ashore on 19 February 1945. The savage fighting lasted until mid-March, and resulted in nearly 7,000 Marine and over 17,000 Japanese dead. The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since. But later scholars have asked:

  • How many “escort” missions were conducted from Iwo? Answer–three (1191 sorties), and all lost more fighters than bombers due to the fighter’s lack of over-water navigational aids that they were too small to accomodate. The effort was soon abandoned.
  • How many B-29 crewmen were saved by using Iwo for emergency landings? Answer–About 5,000, give or take. At least half of the subsequent emergency landings were of convenience, not dire emergency.
  • Given those two answers, does that mean that the 7,000 Marines who died were worth less than the 5,000 or so Army air crewmen saved? And herein lies the controversy.

This dispute brewed up in the 21st century between scholars of the Pacific War, and pointed out that not all operations there were without debatable results. My book, Tug of War: The Super-Heavy Bomber and the Invention of Strategic Warfare (tentatively,  sometime in 2019) discusses the nascent theories of “strategic bombardment” and the struggle of Arnold and others to bring them into practice.


And today is Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday, observed in the US as an alternative to Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday since the late 1980s, depending on where you are and who you ask. It’s the federal holiday (my wife the banker doesn’t work and there’s no mail) in observance. But, as the image at the top implies, it’s also an excuse for businesses to hold sales, as if they need one. The lass in question is shilling for some California resort’s Presidents’ Day Weekend. Although she’s pretty, I’m not sure that old George would have approved of her use of the flag. I mean, seriously: standing on a boat crossing the Delaware with a flag that wouldn’t be invented for another two years is one thing, but she’s much too scantily clad for New Jersey in December. She’d catch her death. Drape one of those over her shoulders…

Rennell Island and National Puzzle Day

Ah, another January comes to an end, and the snow piles up outside…maybe here, maybe where you are. But that minor inconvenience shall not forestall us until it collapses the roof.

And so…29 January, known for the birth of Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, in England in 1737,  and for the birth of “Light Horse” Harry Lee, the father of Robert E Lee and Revolutionary War cavalryman, in Virginia in 1756.  King George III of England, poor mad soul, finally gave up the ghost on this day in 1820. Seth Thomas, pioneer of the mass production of clocks in the United States, died on this day in Connecticut in 1859. The battle of Spion Kop began on this day in 1900 in the Natal region of southern Africa, pitting the Boers against the British that ended in British disaster. In the US, the Seeing Eye Dog organization was formed on 29 January 1929. And on 29 January 1991 the battle of Khafji in Saudi Arabia began, a two-day gunfight that was the culmination of the air war against Iraq, and a demonstration of the capabilities of the Saudis in the coalition. Too, today is Library Shelfie Day (you’re supposed to take pictures of your library shelves…umm…), and National Corn Chip Day (I usually don’t indulge, so you go ahead), and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (pop it, wear it, eat it, or use it for packing material, whatever).  But today we’re back to Guadalcanal, and puzzles.

Halsey misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16 to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers of TF-16 were left behind.

By January 1943, it was pretty clear to even the most die-hard Japanese that holding onto Guadalcanal was not only impractical but becoming impossible. Growing American naval and air strength would soon destroy the Japanese forces in the area. To facilitate evacuating their land forces from the southern side of Guadalcanal, Yamamoto Isoroku and Jinichi Kusaka implemented Operation Ke, to brush back Task Force 18, the heavy American surface forces operating in the triangle formed by Guadalcanal, Rennell Island and San Cristobal island under Robert C. Giffen. William Halsey, commanding all the American forces in the area, misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16, with USS Enterprise (CV-6) and three other flattops, to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers were left behind.

For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

The Japanese may have been somewhat myopic about the Americans in the Solomons in the late summer of 1942, but by January 1943 they had the right idea,  They reasoned that the Americans couldn’t be strong everywhere all the time, so they planned to overwhelm TF 18 with air attacks around Rennell Island, compelling at least a temporary withdrawal from Guadalcanal so that a fast destroyer convoy could get in and out. For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

Chicago came to a dead stop but Wichita managed to keep moving. Louisville  took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18.

As the sun set on 29 January, TF 18 radars picked up a number of unidentified aircraft inbound from the north–30-odd torpedo bombers of the Japanese 701st and 705th Air Groups out of Rabaul and Bougainville. Circling around to the east so as to attack out of the gathering night gloom, the first group launched its torpedoes at 19:19 hours but all missed, losing one airplane to antiaircraft fire. A second attack at 19:38 was more successful, putting two torpedoes into USS Chicago (CA-29), a recently-returned-to-the-fleet survivor of the earlier battles around Savo Island six months before, and two into USS Wichita (CA-45), the TF flagship, but only one exploded while losing two more aircraft. Chicago came to a dead stop, but Wichita managed to keep moving. USS Louisville (CA-28) took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18. The last Japanese attacker left the area just before midnight. The next day the Japanese, determined to sink crippled Chicago, attacked again and again, finally putting four more torpedoes into her, and she was abandoned: she sank some 20 minutes later. The Japanese also heavily damaged USS La Vallette (DD-448), which had shot down at least six Japanese aircraft during the two-day fight–all the more remarkable because it was the first time La Vallette had fired her guns in anger.

Later, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.

Losses were relatively light. Despite the loss of Chicago the Americans lost only 85 men, while the Japanese lost 12 aircraft and about 80 fliers. While the results of the fight were less than remarkable from a win/loss standpoint, the loss of Chicago and effective loss of Wichita and La Vallette compelled TF 18 to pull out of the area, allowing the Japanese to complete their evacuation of Guadalcanal. As naval battles go RUssell Island wasn’t much of one, but it is an excellent example of how, given the resources and the compelling need, the Japanese could still pull off an operation in the face of American opposition at this stage in the war. Later, however, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night at that range, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.


Today, 29 January, is National Puzzle Day, founded by Jodi Jill in 2002, a professional travel writer and puzzle and quiz creator who, according to sources, was raised in a storage container in Colorado. But, regardless, this day is supposed to celebrate the challenges of puzzles, word games, acrostics, magic squares, Sudoku and the thousands of other man-made brain-teasers that amuse, annoy, entertain and frustrate many millions every day. Personally I don’t care for those intentional puzzles that are intended to be solved: I prefer the unintentional puzzles of human behavior and natural phenomenon that are not.

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

Hap Arnold and National Hat Day

Mid-January already. Where does the time go?  Next thing you know it will be Easter, then Christmas, then…um…what’s the next greeting card holiday?

There’s a little time dysmorphia here, since this is drafted in mid-November Thanksgiving is next week for me, for you, the next holiday is…well, today in the US, Martin Luther King Day (which this year is also his birthday).  But other 15 January events include the birth of Joan of Arc in 1412, about whom surprisingly much-and little–is known for certain. And on 15 January 1535, Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England; I suppose when you create the thing you can take charge of it. His daughter, Elizabeth I was crowned queen on this day in 1559. Frigate USS President was captured by four British ships outside New York Harbor on 15 January 1815, one of the last naval actions of the War of 1812. The dismembered and brutalized body of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, was found in Leimert Park in Los Angeles on this day in 1947, a case that remains unsolved at this writing. And on this day, the Miracle on the Hudson, when Sully Sullenberger landed US Airways flight in the Hudson River off Manhattan, saving all passengers on board, inspiring one of the better films of 2016, Clint Eastwood’s Sully. But today we’re talking about aviation pioneers, and hats.

Arnold became one of the first qualified pilots in the Army, with a flying license signed by Orville Wright. 

Henry Harley Arnold was born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania on 25 June 1886, scion of the prominent Arnold family whose members included governors, churchwardens, generals, historians, and at least one notorious traitor, Benedict. After the primary grades Henry intended to become a Baptist minister, but family pressure sent him to West Point.  He graduated in the middle of his class and was commissioned a lieutenant in the infantry in 1907. Under protest, he was sent to the Philippines and helped to map Luzon. In 1909 Arnold saw his first airplane in Paris, flown by Louis Bleriot. After his transfer to the Signal Corps in 1911, Arnold became one of the first qualified pilots in the Army, with a flying license signed by Orville Wright.

Arnold spent most of WWI building schools and bases in the US, but arrived in France on 11 November 1918, just in time for the victory parades.

With the Aeronautical Division in Maryland, Arnold set and broke altitude records one after another, was the first man to fly over the US Capitol, and the first to carry a US Congressman in an airplane. This was also when he gained his best known nickname, “Hap” or “Happy,” for reasons unclear to this day. Nonetheless, flying in pre-WWI crates was excessively dangerous, and when the third of his pilot-friends in two years was killed in a crash, Arnold went off flying status. After five years away from flying, and after befriending George C. Marshall in the Philippines,  Arnold was invited back into the Signal Corps by none other than Billy Mitchell.  Arnold spent most of WWI building schools and bases in the US, but arrived in France on 11 November 1918, just in time for the victory parades.

When Malin Craig summoned Arnold to Washington DC in 1933, it wasn’t to punish him, it was  to make Arnold the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. When the chief was killed in 1938, Arnold was appointed to replace him.

The inter-war years was a tumultuous time for everyone, but Arnold managed to survive reprimands, exiles, and both the Command and General Staff School and the War College with high marks, though his irascible temper got him into hot water from time to time.  He built bases and CCC camps, commanded earthquake relief missions, and directed the Army Air Mail fiasco in the Rocky Mountain region without scandal himself. When Malin Craig, the Army Chief of Staff, summoned Arnold to Washington DC in 1933, it wasn’t to punish him, it was to make Arnold the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. When the chief was killed in 1938, Arnold was appointed to replace him.

By Pearl Harbor, the US had the second-largest heavy bombardment force in the world, second only to the RAF, and were the only ones using the Norden bomb sight. 

As head of the Army Air Corps, then the Army Air Force, then the Army Air Forces, then the US Air Force, Arnold was a passionate advocate for air power, particularly for long-range bombardment. At the same time, he recognized that Claire Chennault’s pursuit aviation, and the US Navy’s passion for air supremacy over the fleet, also required fleets of single-engine planes, as well.  But Arnold was an excellent politician, and recognized that bombers were more popular with Congress than fighters, and thus perhaps put more of his pre-1941 energies into B-17s than into P-40s. By Pearl Harbor, the US had the second-largest heavy bombardment force in the world, second only to the RAF, and were the only ones using the Norden bomb sight.

Arnold, alone among senior officers, insisted that the Allied ground invasion of France was unnecessary, that Germany would have been defeated by aerial bombardment alone…eventually.

Arnold’s pursuit of long-range aviation met its peak with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Arnold and the other air power advocates insisted that strategic bombardment of enemy infrastructures (as opposed to the “tactical” bombardment of torpedo factories and ball bearing plants) were the key to victory: Arnold, alone among senior officers, insisted that the Allied ground invasion of France was unnecessary, that Germany would have been defeated by aerial bombardment alone…eventually.

Arnold and the postwar US Air Force could easily claim that it was by the destruction of Japanese warfighting ability by war power alone that the war was ended, saving millions of lives that would have been the result  of a bloody and costly invasion.

In the Pacific, where the B-29’s were Arnold’s and his alone to command, the huge distances required the services of the longest-range aircraft of the day, with the largest bomb loads. Led by Curtis E. LeMay, the B-29s devastated Japan, and were the only aircraft in the world capable of dropping the atomic bombs. As the war against Japan came to a sudden halt after their deployment, Arnold and the postwar US Air Force could easily claim that it was by the destruction of Japanese warfighting ability by war power alone that the war was ended, saving millions of lives that would have been the result  of a bloody and costly invasion.

The lasting and most damaging legacy of his life and career had been Arnold’s claim that air power alone defeated Japan, and it is my and my co-author’s aim to refute that claim in our book, How the Samurai Lost, expected for publication at the end of 2018.  

But Arnold was not a well man when the war ended, having suffered four heart attacks in two years between 1943 and 1945. He left the active list in 1946, retired to a ranch in Sonoma, California in 1947, and died on 15 January, 1950. Arnold’s legacy in the air forces is both broad and deep, with numerous awards for excellence and scholarship named for him. The lasting and most damaging legacy of his life and career had been Arnold’s claim that air power alone defeated Japan, and it is my and my co-author’s aim to refute that claim in our book, How the Samurai Lost, expected for publication at the end of 2018.


Today is also National Hat Day, for reasons unknown to our friends at the National Day Calendar. It is claimed by some that John Hetherington, a London haberdasher, first wore a top hat in London on 15 January 1797, causing a sensation. This claim has been discredited, however, and most sources credit the topper/stovepipe/high/silk/beaver hat’s invention to the French at the end of the 18th century, as an evolution of the sugarloaf hat (see above).

Overall, the notion of a National Hat Day is…a little disturbing.  Why? But, here in the Great Lakes, mid-January should have everyone wearing a hat.  That said, it isn’t this cold in the whole country (think Hawaii and Puerto Rico), so…why National Hat Day. Eh, but who am I to argue with tradition, silly or not?

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Hamburg and National Tequila Day

So, 24 July marks a lot of things. The Great Fire of Rome (the one Nero fiddled through…not) ended in 64 AD; Mary Queen of Scots was compelled to abdicate in 1567; the Rochester (New York) Riot started in 1964; and Apollo IX returned from its Moon mission in 1969, fulfilling JFK’s pledge to send a man to the Moon and bring him back.  Too, today is Amelia Earhart Day (born in 1897), and Fast Food Day, and Cousin’s Day (I only ever had two and one’s gone, so that one’s lost on me.  But today we’ll talk about Operation Gomorrah and Mexican booze.

By 1943, the RAF and the USAAF were able to pick and choose targets in Germany with some impunity, having built up an inventory of over 1,000 heavy bombers and crews.  After a five month campaign against the Ruhr, RAF Bomber Command decided to switch targets and concentrate on Hamburg, on the North Sea coast.  The first RAF raid was on 24 July, 1943 included a pathfinder force that saw the first use of chaff (called “Window” at the time) to jam the German radar. The fires the first raid started burned for three days.

A daylight raid followed on 25 July, and another night raid. After a 24 hour respite, over 700 RAF bombers struck on the night of 27 July, igniting the first recorded man-made firestorm: a cyclonic blaze so big it was seen in England and Norway (read Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII for a description).  After 27 July, the Luftwaffe wrote off Hamburg, declaring that it was no longer worth defending–or that they were capable of defending it.  There were two more raids before the British and Americans were done on 2 August.  In the end, Operation Gomorrah caused more than 80,000 German casualties at a cost of less than 500 Allied, caused over a million Germans to flee the city, and essentially knocked Hamburg off-line for better than a year.

Why Hamburg?  There’s some debate about that.  Though Germany had a large armaments industry there, the concentration of 4,000 pound blockbuster bombs in the early part of the 27 July raid suggests an “operational experiment” on the behalf of the Bomber Command eggheads and the American National Fire Prevention Association that created the surveys and data for evaluating the relative flammability of targets. The early “thousand-plane” raids in 1941 hit on a formula that made optimum use of the masonry that was used in German construction: blow it to dust and light the dust on fire. In addition, the larger bombs would be better for destroying the infrastructure (like water mains and telephone networks, city streets and fuel stocks) the defenders used to fight fires and evacuate casualties. Some defenders of the Allied air offensive claim that all of this was coincidental, but the record makes it fairly clear that using the ancient Hanseatic city’s very construction and age against it was planned.  It is known that some of the data gleaned from Gomorrah was used again in planning the fire raids on Japan in 1945,  Yes, it all sounds very callous, but it was a war.

And then there’s tequila.  Today, 24 July, is National Tequila Day for reasons unknown to anyone.  Now, I personally can’t physically stomach the stuff (long story that intimates know), but I can appreciate that mezcal wine distilled from the blue agave has done more for the region that it’s made in than any other export.  It is a shining example of what alcoholic beverages were first made for: to extend the commercial trading range and shelf life of agricultural products. The agave plant’s sap itself, undistilled, is of little commercial interest other than as a sweetener. But, turn it into mezcal, call it by the region’s name (Tequila) and suddenly you can sell certain bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars on the other side of the world, as it has been since it was first exported in the 1880s.

And you can drown you sorrows in it when your house burns down because your leader can’t keep his mitt off other countries.

Harry Truman and VE Day

The 8th of May has been a very popular day for momentous events.  For one thing, it’s early enough in the traditional Northern Hemisphere’s spring “campaign season” to be able to mark battles like Palo Alto in 1846, and Spotsylvania in 1864, among many others.  But also on this day in 1541 Hernan DeSoto reached the Mississippi River near modern Memphis, Tennessee, and a new celebration for Armistice Day–11 November–was proposed in a London newspaper on this day in 1919.  But today, we’re going to remark on a coincidence too big to miss.

On 8 May 1888, Harry S. Truman was born at Lamar, Missouri (the “S” was chosen to honor both his grandfathers).  Living most of his youth on various farms in central Missouri, he didn’t attend a conventional school until he was eight. Truman worked various non-agricultural jobs around Independence and Kansas City, including haberdasher.  He finished high school in Independence but never finished college.  Even though he was legally blind he joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905.  In WWI he rose to the rank of captain in Battery D, 129th Artillery in the hard-luck 35th Infantry Division.  Even after the war, Truman officially stayed in the Army Reserves until he was retired a Colonel in 1953.

After WWI Truman became active in Missouri politics until 1934, when he won election to the US Senate with the backing of the notorious Pendergast political machine.  Despite the stink of corruption that wafted around him, Truman kept winning elections, freinds, and a reputation for integrity and plain-speaking. While investigating waste and fraud in the War Department during WWII he is thought to have saved billions of taxpayer dollars–and enough notoriety to get him on the cover of Time Magazine. Truman was popular…and electable.

When Truman was approached by party officials at the 1944 Chicago Democratic Convention to stand as FDR’s Vice President, it was realized at the time that Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating, and that a replacement for the sitting VP–the unpopular Henry A. Wallace–had to be found. FDR was elected to a fourth term with Truman as his running mate in November, but less than three months after he was sworn in as VP, Roosevelt died and Truman took the oath as president.

April 1945 was an awkward time for a two-term senator from a rural state to become the Commander in Chief of the most powerful force of military projection the world had yet seen. Nearly four million Americans were in uniform in over a hundred countries, and only fifteen sovereign states worldwide had not gone to war by that fateful spring.

Though the end of the war in Europe was in sight, the war against Japan did not appear to be abating.The Soviets were hammering Berlin from the suburbs while they shook hands and swapped uniforms with the Americans on the Elbe; Vienna was on fire; concentration camps containing stark testimony of the enormity of the Nazi’s crimes were being found daily; Tokyo or some major city in Japan was being razed every fifth night; on a high spot in the ocean called Okinawa nearly 70,000 American soldiers and Marines had begun a campaign that was planned to last a month but was to go on for nearly three.

By the end of April the carnage in Europe reached it’s horrible crescendo.  Hitler killed himself on 30 April; German forces in Italy surrendered effective 2 May; the Berlin surrendered on 3 May.  On the evening of 8 May, 1945–Harry Truman’s 61st birthday–the German authorities signed an Instrument of Surrender at Karlshorst, a Berlin suburb. “The mission of this command was concluded…” Dwight Eisenhower telegraphed his Commander in Chief that evening.  One wonders if Ike knew (or if Truman remembered) that Eisenhower’s older brother Arthur worked and lived with Truman in Kansas City before they both became famous.

When we think of all the coincidences in daily life, this one–VE Day on Truman’s birthday– hangs on for a while.

Budapest, Dresden, Hal Moore, and National Clean Out Your Computer Day

 

Mid-February, and even though tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about WWII because this is the 13th of February.  Oh, there was Galileo before the Inquisition in 1633, and William and Mary of Nassau being proclaimed joint sovereigns of England in 1689, and the beginning of ASCAP in 1914, and the birth of Chuck Yeager in 1923, and Andrey Chernienko was named Premier of the Soviet Union in 1984.  But today we talk about massacres in war, and brave men, and clean computers.

The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets.

By late 1945, the German Army was entirely on the defensive.  In an effort to slow the Soviet drives into Germany, and above all to prevent them from linking with the Anglo-Americans, the Germans planned to hold several urban areas in Eastern Europe and to knock the Soviet mobile offensives off-balance.  One of these cities was Budapest, the capital city of Hungary that had been a German ally until October 1944. The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets. The Soviets, on the other hand, were to capture Budapest quickly before Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta.  To do this, Rodion Malinovski commanded something over half a million men. The fighting over Budapest started in October, 1944.  The last road out was cut on 26 December. The remnants of the German Luftwaffe could barely support itself, but tried valiantly to supply Budapest until the last airfield fell 27 December.  The Germans tried three separate offensives in January 1945 to break out or relieve the siege, and all failed.  On 11 February a last breakout attempt resulted in tens of thousands of German and Hungarian casualties and the capture of Wildenbruch.  On 13 February, the last of the German garrison in Budapest surrendered about 60,000 or so German and Hungarian troops (with an unknown number of civilians added as padding).  Predictably, while the German/Hungarian casualties amounted to 130,000 in the fifty-day siege, the Soviet/Romanian casualties were somewhat more.

Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes…

While the siege of Budapest is not well known in the West, the bombing campaign of Dresden is.  Starting on 13 February 1945, the RAF and the USAAF struck the “Florence of the Elbe” three times in three days.  In all over 1,300 heavy bombers dropped some 3,900 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city, destroying 2 and a half square miles of the city (in contrast, the March 9-10 1945 firebombing of Tokyo destroyed a little over 15 square miles in a single raid).  Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes, and Holocaust-denier David Irving has put them as high as 500,000 in his 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden.  American author Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombing and wrote about his experience in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, declared that 130,000 casualties were either buried or incinerated. However, a 2010 study commissioned by the Dresden city council found that no more than 25,000 people were killed in the three raids.

Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.  

Not every general gets to be better known for what he did as a colonel.  Custer was one of that exclusive club; Hal Moore was another.  Moore died last Friday, 10 April 2017 at the age of 94. Moore’s career before and after Ia Drang was notable only for its relative routine: he had no one of influence to help his career, and as a Kentuckian no particular hindrances, either.  He graduated West Point a year early in 1945 because the Army needed replacement officers.  Branched to the Infantry, he served in the 11th Airborne and 82nd Airborne divisions, and the 7th Infantry in Korea.  In 1965, Moore was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In November of that year, 2/7th Cav was in the Ia Drang valley of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, short-stopping two North Vietnamese Army regiments in a long fight over Pleiku, operating out of a place called Drop Zone X-Ray.  While Moore and his men were credited with “winning” the fight at the time and Moore won a DSC, the fight convinced Ho Chi Minh that he could win. After Ia Drang and a series of career progressions, Moore retired from the Army a Lieutenant General in 1977.  He wrote three books, the best known being We Were Soldiers Once, and Young with Joseph Galloway published in 1992.  The 2002 Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers was based on the book.  Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.

Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  

Then, there’s Clean Your Computer Day, which is the second Monday in February.  The day was originally sponsored in 2000 by the Institute for Business Technology, a for-profit trade school in Santa Clara, California. IBT probably once had some computer training, but at this writing they concentrate on other skilled trades, including HVAC technician, massage therapy, and various medical office jobs.  Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  I have two computers that I have to keep clean, and all that scrubbing and dusting does get tedious…and that bitbucket…always full.  Does anyone know of a way to keep the RAM from getting so dirty and full of fleas…wait…there it is again…come back here, you ignorant herbivore…there’s no ewes over there…!