Category Archive 'WWII'
22 May 2017

US Government Still Handing Out Purple Heart Medals Made for the Invasion of Japan

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A WWII-era Purple Heart (left) next to one received in Afghanistan (right).

We are the Mighty:

The… Battle of Okinawa with its high casualty rates and fierce defenders made it clear to American leadership that the upcoming invasion of Japan’s main island would be a costly one for both sides.

To make matters worse President Roosevelt died and his vice-president and successor, Harry Truman, was faced with a choice: an amphibious invasion that would kill an estimated 1 million Allied troops and upwards of 10 million Japanese or drop the new destructive superweapon – the atomic bomb – and force a Japanese surrender.

As Truman worked on his next move, the military’s top brass had no idea what his choice might be. In preparation for the invasion option, the U.S. military ordered hundreds of thousands of Purple Heart medals made, and stored them in a warehouse in Arlington, ready to be handed to those wounded in Operation Downfall.

The attack, of course, never came. Truman went for the nuclear option.

So what to do with all those medals? Give them to the troops, of course. World War II was over but there was still plenty of American combat to come in the 20th century. Though the U.S. has ordered 34,000 more of them after the Vietnam War, the medals from 1945 are still updated and issued as needed.

“Time and combat will continue to erode the WWII stock, but it’s anyone’s guess how long it will be before the last Purple Heart for the invasion of Japan is pinned on a young soldier’s chest,” historian D.M. Giangreco, said in a 2010 e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

The refurbished medals were distributed to military posts, units, and hospitals between 1985 and 1999. Even if new ones were made, the number given wounded service members through 2010 is still less than the number manufactured in 1945.

My father was in the Special Troops of the Third Marine Division, scheduled to be the spearhead of the Invasion of Southern Kyushu. Having blasting experience from the Pennsylvania coal mines, my father would have been tasked with blowing up Japanese pillboxes. Lucky for me this never happened.

09 Mar 2017

Best Shot With a 1911. Ever.

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Phil Bourjaily, in Field & Stream 2011, remembered the best shot ever made with a Model 1911.

The most unusual shot,(and possibly the best ever) made in wartime with a 1911 pistol had to be the one fired by a USAAF B-24 co-pilot named Owen J. Baggett in March, 1943 in the skies over Burma. …

On a mission to destroy a railroad bridge, Baggett’s bomber squadron was intercepted by Japanese Zero fighters and his plane was badly damaged. After holding off the enemy with the top turret .50s while the gunner tried to put out onboard fires, Baggett bailed out with the rest of the crew. He and four others escaped the burning bomber before it exploded.

The Zero pilots circled back to strafe the parachuting crewmen, killing two and lightly wounding Baggett, who played dead in his harness, hoping the Japanese would leave him alone. Though playing dead, Baggett still drew his .45 and hid it alongside his leg…just in case. A Zero approached within a few feet of Baggett at near stall speeds. The pilot opened the canopy for a better look at his victim.

Baggett raised his pistol and fired four shots into the cockpit. The Zero spun out of sight. Although Baggett could never believe he had shot down a fighter plane with his pistol, at least one credible report said the plane was found crashed, the pilot thrown clear of the wreckage with a single bullet in his head.

If Baggett really did shoot down a fighter with his 1911, it has to count as one of the greatest feats ever accomplished with a .45.

19 Feb 2017

71st Anniversary Battle of Iwo Jima

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V Amphibious Corps Shoulder Patch

February 19, 1945, the Marine Corps landed on Iwo Jima. The battle went on for five weeks and cost 6,821 Americans killed, 19,271 wounded.

My father’s commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Graves B. Erskine, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, said: “Victory was never in doubt. What was in doubt was whether there would be any of us left to dedicate our cemetery at the end.”

My father, William G. Zincavage, later in 1945, a farewell to the service photo taken just before his discharge in December.

09 Dec 2016

USS Nevada on December 7th

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USS Nevada, beached and burning at Hospital Point.

James Gawron, at Ricochet, quotes Walter Lord’s Day of Infamy describing one of the braver incidents that fatal December 7th:

At 8 am on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, the 183 Japanese planes of the first attack wave descended on Pearl Harbor. Admiral Nagumo’s attack fleet was less than 100 miles from Pearl. Luckily the Enterprise, the huge American aircraft carrier, was at sea. Not so lucky was the fact that the American battleship fleet was anchored and inert, tied up in a neat row called Battleship Row in Pearl Harbor. The battleships were huge sitting targets. Even if someone had sounded an alarm when the planes were spotted on radar, it wouldn’t have made that much difference as it takes two hours for a battleship’s boilers to come up to full pressure so she can move properly. All of the battleships at Pearl had dead cold boilers that morning. Completely tied up at anchor, after coming up to full boiler pressure, it would have taken another 45 minutes with the help of multiple tugboats to get a battleship away from Battleship Row and moving.

It was Sunday morning and almost everyone was at Sunday morning services. However, to this fact and everything I stated in the preceding paragraph, there was one exception. The Battleship USS Nevada had about one-third of her crew and one officer and one quartermaster aboard. The boilers of the Nevada were at about half pressure. She was making repairs, even on Sunday morning.

The Japanese planes of the first attack wave descended without any warning whatsoever. Seeing the sitting ducks on Battleship Row, the pilots converged instantly for the attack on the American ships.

The Nevada was the last ship on Battleship Row in position 8. Ahead of her at anchor was the Battleship USS Arizona. In the first 15 minutes of the attack, a bomb struck the Arizona perfectly penetrating her forward deck armor and exploding her forward ammunition magazine. The entire ship detonated in a huge explosion. The explosion killed 1,117 of her crew of 1,400. Half the ship was gone and the other half was a burning inferno.

All of Pearl Harbor was mad confusion. People running everywhere trying to get to their posts, pinned down by strafing Japanese planes. On the Nevada, the highest ranking officer was Ensign Joseph Taussig, Jr. [Read his obituary] He was the youngest officer, just out of the Naval Academy and had only been on the Nevada a few days. Also aboard was Quartermaster Chief Robert Sedberry, a man with many years of experience. Ens. Taussig manned the forward anti-aircraft battery himself. A shell smashed his leg, it would later be amputated. Still conscious, he continued to command the anti-aircraft defense. Meanwhile, Sedberry and others made the decision to take the ship into action. They must swing the ship free from her berth without the aid of tugboats, without two hours to bring the ship to full steam, without a civilian harbor pilot, without the navigator, and without the captain. Sedberry manned the helm.

She got past the burning remains of the Arizona just barely. As the Nevada slowly pulled free of her anchorage and steamed down past Battleship Row wild screaming cheers were heard all over Pearl. There she was, the Nevada moving! She was heading for the harbor mouth. She was heading out to sea for the counter attack! As she got about dead center of Pearl Harbor, out of the sky came 171 Japanese planes, the second wave attack.

The Japanese pilots of the second wave were greeted by a riveting sight. Most of the American ships were in flames but a single American battleship was moving out to sea. They knew very well that this ship had 14-inch guns on board. These guns could fire accurately over 20 miles. This ship could do over 30 knots (about 35 miles per hour). In two hours at full speed, she would be in range of their attack fleet. A single 14-inch shell would pierce the unarmored deck of any of their aircraft carriers. One shot might easily sink a Japanese carrier.

The entire second wave descended on Nevada. It is interesting to note that it is not so easy to hit a moving target as it is to punch holes in a sitting duck. However, Nevada wasn’t moving that fast and there were 171 planes to get her. Soon Nevada was on fire from one end of the ship to the other. She had been torpedoed and was taking on water. Ens. Taussig, although severely wounded, continued anti-aircraft fire at the Japanese planes. Chief Quartermaster Sedberry had been radioed a final order. If the Nevada sunk in the harbor channel she would plug Pearl Harbor for a prolonged period of time. Most of the crew had already abandoned ship. The Quartermaster and a few men guided the huge ship towards Hospital Point just inside the harbor mouth to the east. There they beached the Nevada in the sand like a giant canoe. Still conscious, Taussig was carried off the ship.

What is significant about this? Why am I relating this story? Simply because human events, their outcomes and their significance, are so hard to predict. At first, you might think the Nevada‘s short but glorious cruise a total waste and insignificant. However, because she was moving when the second wave appeared, most of the Japanese planes wasted their bombs attacking her. If the Japanese pilots had instead found all of the American ships out of action, they would have immediately turned their attention to the rest of Pearl Harbor’s extensive military facilities. The dry docks most of all. Back in Tokyo, Admiral Yamamoto received the full report. He was furious about the second wave and its failure to bomb the dry docks. He said:

Because of Nevada, most of Pearl remained intact and was fully operational in short order. With Pearl Harbor’s facilities, The American fleet quickly recovered. At the Battle of Coral Sea, the Japanese found themselves to be less than invincible and suffered major damage.


Subsequently salvaged and modernized at Puget Sound Navy Yard, Nevada served as a convoy escort in the Atlantic and as a fire-support ship in four amphibious assaults: the Normandy Landings and the invasions of Southern France, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

07 Dec 2016

Pearl Harbor


The weather was warm that Sunday in the Eastern United States. Several WWII veterans I used to know told me they remembered being outside fixing the roof or painting the house, when news of the attack came over the radio.

I grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania supplied the largest number of men who served in WWII of any of the 48 states, and Schuylkill County provided the largest number of servicemen of any county in the Commonwealth. All of my grandparents’ sons were in the service. The oldest, Joseph, was in the Navy. My father, William and his younger brother, Edward, were in the Marine Corps. Their youngest daughter, my aunt Eleanor, also served in the Marine Corps.

18 Nov 2016

Mystery of the Sea

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HMS Exeter

Science Alert:

The wreckage of six warships and a submarine that have lain on the bottom of the Java Sea since 1942 is now missing, and naval authorities are at a loss to explain the disappearance.

The vessels – including three Dutch ships, six British ships, and a US submarine – all sank during the Battle of the Java Sea in World War II, when allied forces suffered a huge defeat at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Navy off the coast of Indonesia.

The discovery was made during preparations for next year’s 75th anniversary of the battle, with the Dutch defence ministry the first to confirm on Tuesday that the wrecks of two of its ships – HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java – had completely disappeared.

A large piece of a third Dutch ship, HNLMS Kortenaer, has also vanished.

Shortly after, the British ministry of defence confirmed that HMS Exeter and HMS Encounter had disappeared, with much of a third vessel – HMS Electra – gone as well.

A US submarine, the USS Perch, is also missing.

Naval researchers used sonar to create a 3D map of the seabed where the shipwrecks once lay, and while the vessels are no longer there, the indentation they left on the sea floor is still visible.

While the cause of these disappearances hasn’t yet been confirmed, naval authorities are launching an international investigation, suspecting scrap metal salvagers are to blame.

Complete article.

02 Sep 2016

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Rules That the Soviet Union Did Not Invade Poland in 1939

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Human Rights in Ukraine reports on a remarkable ruling, denying obvious fact.

Russia’s Supreme Court has upheld the conviction of Perm blogger Vladimir Luzgin for reposting a text which states that both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939. The Supreme Court’s ruling came on September 1, 2016, the 77th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, 17 days before the anniversary of the Soviet invasion from the east.

Henry Reznik, the well-known lawyer who was representing Luzgin, commented that the Supreme Court has discredited itself through this ruling and promised to appeal further. He added that an application to the European Court of Human Rights was simply demanded.

As reported here, 37-year-old Vladimir Luzgin was convicted in July this year by the Perm District Court and fined 200 thousand roubles. The charge was under Article 354.1 of Russia’s criminal code (‘rehabilitation of Nazism’) and concerned Luzgin’s repost of a text on his VKontakte social network page entitled ’15 facts about Bandera supporters, or what the Kremlin is silent about’.

It may be no accident that the ‘offending text’ should be Ukrainian, and fairly nationalist, however it was specifically over the following paragraph in the repost that the criminal proceedings against Luzgin were initiated:

    “The communists and Germany jointly invaded Poland, sparking off the Second World War. That is, communism and Nazism closely collaborated, yet for some reason they blame Bandera who was in a German concentration camp for declaring Ukrainian independence”.

Russia’s Supreme Court has now agreed that this paragraph constitutes “the public denial of the Nuremberg Trials and circulation of false information about the activities of the USSR during the years of the Second World War”.

It is hard to know what is most shocking in all of this. A prime contender must be Alexander Vertinsky, dean of the History Faculty of the Perm Humanitarian-Pedagogical University. He proved willing to appear for the prosecution and claim that the paragraph really did contain “statements that do not correspond with the position accepted at international level”.

There are also two Russian courts willing to agree that since the Nuremberg Trials did not mention the Soviet invasion, the information was ‘knowingly false’. With the Soviet Union as one of the victors exerting considerable influence at Nuremberg, it was highly unlikely that Soviet collaboration with the Nazis and its invasion would get a mention.

The rulings are extraordinarily cynical. Whatever was said at Nuremberg, any genuine historian will confirm that the Soviet Union invaded what was then Poland on September 17, 1939.

To deny this is absurd when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols which carved up Poland between the Soviet Union and Germany have long been in the public domain, and can be read about in any history book.

Complete story.

31 Aug 2016

Clive Caldwell


Group Captain Clive “Killer” Caldwell”

WWII Today (August 29):

On 29 August 1941 Clive Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s North-West of Sidi Barrani. One of his attackers was the Bf 109 E-7 “black 8” of 2./JG 27 piloted by one of Germany’s top aces, Leutnant Werner Schroer who was credited with 114 Allied planes in only 197 combat missions.

Caldwell’s P-40 “Tomahawk” of 250 Squadron was riddled with more than 100 rounds of 7.9 mm slugs, plus five 20 mm cannon strikes which punctured a tyre and rendered the flaps inoperative. In the first attack Caldwell suffered bullet wounds to the back, left shoulder, and leg. In the next pass one shot slammed through the canopy, causing splinters which wounded him with perspex in the face and shrapnel in the neck. Two cannon shells also punched their way through the rear fuselage just behind him and the starboard wing was badly damaged. Despite damage to both himself and the aircraft, Caldwell, feeling, as he remembers, “quite hostile” turned on his attackers and sent down one of the Bf 109s in flames.

The pilot of the second Messerschmitt, the renowned Leutnant Schroer, shocked by this turn of events, evidently made off in some haste. Caldwell’s engine had caught fire, however he managed to extinguish the flames with a violent slip. He then nursed his flying wreck back to base at Sidi Haneish.

Hat tip to Woodpile Report.

08 Aug 2016

Mapping The Blitz

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Bomb Sight is an interactive map project of the University of Portsmouth, allowing to viewer to see where each of more than 30,000 German bombs fell on London between 7 October 1940, and 6 June 1941, killing 30,000 people.

31 Jul 2016

You Kids, Get Off My Plane!

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1943 Boeing-Stearman Model 75

Philip Handleman, in the Wall Street Journal, vents over the disrespect for WWII heroism, and other people’s property, that’s rife in America these days.

The military used my Boeing Stearman, built in 1943, to instruct eager cadets in the basics of airmanship, a skill desperately needed in the war against ruthless totalitarian foes. Near war’s end, the aircraft wound up at the Livermore, Calif., naval air station. It was assigned to the shore establishment of the USS Bunker Hill, one of the most battle-hardened aircraft carriers of the Pacific campaign. …

When I stop to think of the young men who flew this magnificent wood-and-fabric creation in its heyday, I get goosebumps. They were the swashbuckling daredevils of the Greatest Generation, tempting fate in the open air. They vanquished vicious enemies and set the country on a trajectory to longstanding aerospace pre-eminence.

With such a patriotic introduction, you would think that the people strolling across the ramp would be especially respectful. Indeed, most passersby were polite, pausing to gaze in quiet awe at the authentically restored biplane in the bright-yellow paint scheme used by the Navy in the early war years. Others, usually on crutches or confined to wheelchairs, stopped to share splendid memories of learning to fly in an aircraft like mine.

Unfortunately, a small but persistent stream of attendees approached my Stearman with a sense of entitlement. Parents let their preteens thrust their hands against the biplane’s fabric. Some raised their children, with feet dragging across the wing, to get a peek inside one of the two open cockpits, as if the 73-year-old trainer were a jungle gym. When I defended the aircraft, telling the pokers and prodders to cut it out, some parents indignantly stared. I wondered if those libertines would tolerate me groping their minivans in a supermarket parking lot.

It struck me how this indulgent attitude differed from the culture of selflessness embraced by the cadets who trained in the biplane. Personal restraint and self-discipline have been spurned in favor of the mentality that says anything goes.

29 Jul 2016

WWII Jurassic Graphic

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An amusing effort to illustrate in an imaginative way the larger scale of WWII conflict on the Eastern Front.

11 Jul 2016

Arguing the Lee-Enfield’s Superiority

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When I was younger, you could find barrels of them in gun stores selling for $35. Nobody wanted them. Their ungainly full-length stocks seemed to have been fashioned from old telephone poles and there is this great big hunk of crude iron dividing the stock into two parts just above the trigger. They have a huge, ugly monstrosity of a magazine hanging out the bottom, and though it is removable, it is not actually intended to be changed or removed, which makes the whole thing a kind of material self-contradiction.

All in all, they look to have been made by subterranean morlocks, a species with no previous acquaintance with firearms, to be as cheap, crude, and inexpensive as possible. The US Springfield is in comparison beautiful. To the American eye, these things simply do not look like a rifle is supposed to look. You cannot make a fine-looking sporter out of one of them whatever you do. And, finally, they fire a rimmed cartridge which has nothing especially positive going for it and which is decidedly inferior to the .30-06. There was just plain never any reason you’d want to own one.

Time, though, has a way of changing things.

Back then, most American shooters turned up their noses at Model 1911 .45 Automatics. Americans liked revolvers. The military .45 was considered loose, sloppy, and intrinsically inaccurate compared to a Smith & Wesson sixgun that functioned like a fine watch. Time went by, Jeff Cooper evangelized, custom gunsmiths accurized them, and target shooters started winning matches with them. As WWII receded into history, the handgun that the marines used to break Banzai charges at Bloody Ridge on Guadalcanal began suddenly to seem bathed in glory. Everybody wanted one.

The same sort of thing has been happening more recently to the old SMLE. It used to be part of the untouchable category, along with Mosins, Arisakas, and Mannlicher Carcanos, of surplus clunkers useless for making into sporters that nobody particularly wanted to own. Now, it is becoming widely regarded as “the best fighting rifle” (the Springfield being described as “the best target rifle” and the Mauser 98 as “the best hunting rifle”) of the Great War.

Bloke-in-the-Range’s video is amateurishly produced, to say the least. (It breaks in the middle because his camera suddenly runs out of battery power.) But I think it is actually, nonetheless, well worth watching, because he makes the best case for the SMLE that I have yet heard.

I picked one up recently at a local farm auction. Now I’m equipped for the Apocalypse. I’ve got myself a modern rapid-fire assault rifle, 1917-style.

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