Women Conscripted First Time Ever

Women Conscripted in Great Britain

The first country in the Western world to conscript women

An Auxiliary Territorial Service spotter with binoculars at an anti-aircraft command post, December 1942. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

BBC: “In December 1941, the National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 percent of single women and 80 percent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.”

Motor Mechanic Princess Elizabeth
WOMEN AT WAR 1939 – 1945 (TR 2835) Auxiliary Territorial Service: Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck. In the background is a medical lorry. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194945

 

WOMEN OF THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE VISIT A FACTORY, UK, 1942 (P 1092) Two women of the ATS watch a woman war worker welding during a visit to a factory, somewhere in Britain. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202761

The government avoided conscription of women as long as possible relying on what Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin called “voluntaryism.” Eventually that didn’t produce the large numbers of people required to keep the country at war. When conscription of women came about, it didn’t cause much comment. There was simply no other way to keep factories working. What surprised the men in charge, was how competent women were.

bbc.co.uk Women Conscripted

‘ATS girls’ operate a mobile power plant on an anti-aircraft gun site at night. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Until the advent of radar controlled AA fire, which did not come until much later in the war, and radar equipped RAF night fighters, which took years, the ack-ack barrages during German bombing attacks didn’t shoot down many German planes but were a major boost to morale.

ANTI-Aircraft command faced critical shortage of personnel

Anti-Aircraft Command and its subordinate commands such as Balloon Command (barrage balloons) were a key component of the combined arms formation known as “Air Defence of Great Britain” which came under the operational control of RAF Fighter Command.

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 474) ATS girls operating the height and range finder. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188353

 

The British armed forces had been compelled to abandon an enormous number of their anti-aircraft guns in France after they fell back on Dunkirk and were lifted off by the famous “little ships.” (Actually, the Royal Navy lifted off 80% of British soldiers rescued at Dunkirk but the myth is more interesting and inspiring).

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 478) A battery of 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns firing at night. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188356

 

As more and more anti-aircraft guns were manufactured and put in place to protect British cities from German bombers, a critical shortage of personnel developed in Anti-Aircraft Command. By the end of 1940, Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief of AA informed the government he was short of more than 100 officers and almost 18,000 enlisted personnel or ‘other ranks’ as known in the UK.  (Wartime: Britain 1939 to 1945 by Juliet Gardiner)

“Something drastic had to be done. I suggested… that women should be employed in large numbers in an operational role…” Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief, Anti-Aircraft Command, 1939 to 1945.

 

A member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) serving with a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun battery, December 1942.

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 480) ATS girls using an identification telescope. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188358

Military and labour requirements of World War Two could not be met by solely by males or by women volunteers.  Great Britain thus became the first nation in the Western world to conscript women into both industry and support functions in the Forces.

Great Britain mobilized a larger percentage of its population, 55%,  for war-related work either in the Forces or in supporting roles than any of the Western powers including Nazi Germany. We assume that a totalitarian state such as Nazi Germany would be able to compel its citizens to work in a larger percentage than a democracy but that wasn’t the case. The National Service (#2)  Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.

Because of their ideology that women belonged in the home raising the next generation of National Socialists, the Nazis hesitated to compel German women to work. Eventually they were forced to but nonetheless, they never reached the 55% civilian mobilization of the British.

Of course, the Nazis used slave labor conscripted at gunpoint from nations they had conquered and the British did not. The National Service (#2)  Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.

 Women producing bullets and cannon shells in an underground munitions factory on the Wirral, Merseyside, 1945
Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

Land Army members sawing larch poles for use as pit props at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Culford, Suffolk, 1943.
Photograph: IWM/PA

There 5,000 women in the Timber Corps at it largest. They referred to themselves as “polecats.” Timber was an urgent wartime need of the British. Prior to the war, the Great Britain had imported a much of their wood including telegraph poles and pit props for use in coal mines. Pit props were especially critical because an adequate supply of coal was crucial since the country ran on coal.

Railroad engines, electric generating plants required immense amounts of coal. Further, combustible coal gas similar to natural gas was produced from coal and used for cooking and heating and for various uses by industry. Many householders and building owners used coal either in boilers or directly into coal burning fireplaces.

Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) plotters at work at Coastal Artillery Headquarters in Dover, December 1942
Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

While not well known, Great Britain had a number of heavy artillery pieces mounted in fixed positions along the coast of the English Channel. Some of these were meant to help repel a German invasion and others were used to fire on German ships using the English Channel. (Germans had coastal artillery on the French side of the Channel). Coastal artillery was never very effective.

Men and women at a war workers’ canteen watch lunchtime entertainment. Millions of women were conscripted into factory work. 

Comments Charles McCain: The British version of the USO was known as ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) and had the responsibility of supplying entertainment of all types to the forces and the civilian workforce. Programs were of mixed quality and there were many who said ENSA was an acronym meaning “Every Night Something Awful”

HRH PRINCESS ELIZABETH IN THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE, APRIL 1945 (TR 2832) Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS standing in front of an ambulance. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124047

Now Queen Elizabeth II, she trained as a mechanic and was supposedly quite good at it.

 

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 452) An ATS spotter with binoculars at the anti-aircraft command post. A 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205123845

 

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 465) ATS girls working the Kine-Theodolite, which photographs the shell bursts, thereby checking the results of the Predictor crews. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188347

Chamberlain Betrays Czechs & Countdown to War Begins

“You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”
WInston Churchill to Chamberlain in 1938 on the munich agreement.
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“…a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Chamberlain (centre, hat, and umbrella in hands) walks with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (right) as the Prime Minister leaves for home after the Berchtesgaden meeting, 16 September 1938. On the left is Alexander von Dörnberg, German diplomat, and SS officer, Chief of Protocol Foreign Office of Nazi Germany. (German National Archive)

 

From left to right, Chamberlain, Daladier, Hitler, Mussolini and Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano as they prepare to sign the Munich Agreement. German National Archive.

This agreement was then forced on the Czechs by Britain and France.

[Ciano was Mussolini’s son-in-law who later played in role in overthrowing him. There are several versions of how Ciano came to be shot. This is my favorite although apocryphal:  Hitler told Mussolini to have Ciano shot. Musso said Ciano was the father of his grandchildren. He could not have him shot. Hitler replied that Musso was not tough enough to be a dictator. “I will have him shot.” Shortly thereafter the SS in the Salo Republic shot Ciano.]

In the fall of 1938, Hitler had made a fool of Prime Minister Chamberlain through his sham negotiating in Berchtesgaden. The PM had returned to England after betraying the Czechs and forcing both them and the Skoda Works, the finest armament works in Europe, into the hands of a madman.

“I believe it is peace for our time.”

Commentary from the Imperial War Museum: “Neville Chamberlain holding the paper containing the resolution to commit to peaceful methods signed by both Hitler and himself on his return from Munich. He is showing the piece of paper to a crowd at Heston Aerodrome on 30 September 1938.

He said: “…the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace.

This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine…

….(waves paper to the crowd – receiving loud cheers and “Hear Hears”). Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you …”.

Later that day he stood outside Number 10 Downing Street and again read from the document and concluded: ‘”My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.” (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Charles McCain: Except, of course, it wasn’t.

Hitler was hardly going to keep his word and anyone who had observed him for a time knew that. The Czechs had been betrayed by Chamberlain.

Said Chamberlain in a radio broadcast, “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” 

Chamberlain (left) and Hitler leave the Bad Godesberg meeting, 23 September 1938. German National Archive)

Czechs had been supplying steel of the highest quality to the Royal Navy

Yet many in Great Britain did know something about Czechoslovakia including this most critical fact: the Czechs had been supplying steel of the highest quality to the Royal Navy, steel of the quality required for warships no longer cast in sufficient amounts in Great Britain. *

The Admiralty knew this. Men of industry and finance knew. Chamberlain and the cabinet knew–but persisted in lying to the people of Great Britain as well as deluding themselves. They continued to live in what Aristophanes referred to as “Cloud-cuckoo-land”

*(Source: “Engage the Enemy More Closely: the Royal Navy in te Second World War” by Correlli Barnett)

Lord Halifax revealed as guilty of high treason–tried to negotiate peace with the Nazis without disclosure to war cabinet.

Neville Chamberlain, Benito Mussolini, Lord Halifax, and Count Ciano at an opera in Rome, Jan 1939

Daily Telegraph of London, 2008:

“Lord Halifax, Britain’s Foreign Secretary at the outbreak of the Second World War, secretly met with an Old Etonian who tried to broker a peace deal with the Nazis, according to newly-declassified security files.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2650832/Lord-Halifax-tried-to-negotiate-peace-with-the-Nazis.html

Charles McCain: A sordid spectacle. History has rightly judged  Chamberlain harshly along with his crony, the leading appeaser of Hitler next to Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary, the arch-schemer, Lord Halifax. Documents released in last 10 years prove Halifax committed treason by carrying on peace negotiations through dubious second parties without informing the war cabinet.

In November of 1937, while Lord President of the Council (a cabinet position), Halifax paid a private visit to Herman Goering, the obese kleptomaniac and drug addled C-in-C of the Luftwaffe. Since Halifax was a member of the Cabinet, the Germans thought of this as an “unofficial” official visit. This was done with Prime Minister Chamberlain’s knowledge and approval.

Lord Halifax with Hermann Göring at Schorfheide, Germany, 20 November 1937 (German National Archive)

Although Halifax was not then Foreign Secretary, he informed Adolf Hitler and “the evil gang who work your wicked will” * that the British government did not oppose Nazi Germany’s stated policy to incorporate Austria, half of Czechoslovakia and several former Imperial German provinces of Poland into the Third Reich.  However, the honourable gentleman, Lord Halifax, loftily said this must be done peacefully.

(*Churchill in a speech during World War Two describing Hitler’s murderous and evil myrmidons.

Lord Halifax with Hitler on 19 November 1937

This interference in foreign affairs by Chamberlain and his trusted fellow appeaser, the noble Lord Halifax, led to the resignation of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. Would Halifax take the position? Certainly, if the Prime Minister asked him then naturally it would be his duty to accept the position which he did.

A deeply religious man was Halifax. Hence, a good man said his acolytes. Not one to dirty his hands with common politics or common people. (As a peer of the realm, he was a member of the House of Lords). There were few among the elite who attended divine service on a more frequent basis then Lord Halifax. Presumably, God was on his side, it was said.  Many who knew him referred to him behind his back as the “Holy Fox.”  It wasn’t a compliment.

CHURCHILL STATES THE TRUTH

Only a few both saw and were willing to state the truth. One of those was Winston Churchill, roundly condemned for what he said in Parliament after Chamberlain returned from Munich waving the piece of paper signed by Hitler which meant “peace in our time.”

Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain reviewing German troops during Chamberlain’s visit to sign the Munich Agreement.

Winston Churchill on chamberlain’s capitulation in Munich to Hitler, house of commons, 5 October 1938.

I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.

The utmost my right hon. friend the Prime Minister… has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia in the matters which were in dispute has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course…”

He was heckled by other Conservative members of Parliament during this speech. Churchill’s judgment on Chamberlain after the signing of the Munich agreement:  “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.”

Chamberlain having a sincere handshake with Adolf Hitler.

You can read Churchill’s entire speech to Parliament on the Munich agreement here:       winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/the-munich-agreement

 

3 September 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany for attacking Poland, whose territorial integrity had been hastily guaranteed by those two countries. After the craven conduct of the British on Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler was stunned. He turned to his vacuous Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had assured him the British and the French would do nothing, and said, “now what?”

Ribbentrop was an opportunistic, immoral, evil toad of man along with being stupid. At the Nuremberg Tribunal, an American interrogator asked him several questions about German foreign policy during the Third Reich. Ribbentrop said he did not know the answers. Are you telling me, the American interrogator said, that as Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany you did not know what the foreign policy was? “I am sorry but I must say ‘yes'” (As in ‘yes he did not know). him on four counts: crimes against peace, deliberately planning a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity

He was rightfully convicted of crimes against peace, deliberately planning a war of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, and hanged 16 October 1946.

This iconic photograph of Churchill was taken by famed photographer Yousuf Karsh on 30 December 1941 immediately after a speech Churchill had given to the Canadian Parliament. This photo came to represent Great Britain’s defiance of the Nazis.

On 10 May 1940, Germany attacked France who surrendered within six weeks. On that same day, 10 May 1940, two days after Chamberlain had suffered a humiliating defeat in Parliament, his majority dropping from 280 votes to 80 in a vote of confidence, Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of Great Britain and led the British Empire to victory over the Nazis.

His speeches as Prime Minister rang with defiance against the Nazis and continue to inspire those who value individual freedom.

“He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle to steady his fellow countrymen and hearten those Europeans upon whom the long dark night of tyranny had descended.” 

Edward R. Murrow on Churchill in 1954.

 

Want to Know What War Is?

It isn’t the headline image. It’s the woman saying farewell.

A woman bids farewell at Paddington Station in 1942 as a train pulls away. This is one of the haunting images taken by Bert Hardy for Picture Post magazine in Great Britain.

How easily we talk of war and bombing people and being the greatest country in the world because we can beat the hell out of our enemies. We do live in a dangerous world and pacifism is not a rational alternative. But wars and armed conflict kill and maim and create emotional scars which never heal.

Look at this photograph. This woman knows she may never see her loved one again. He is off to war. Few photographs have this one’s emotional power to communicate the terrifying abyss into which war can lead us.

This is one of many striking imagines taken by photographer British photographer Bert Hardy for Picture Post magazine, a British version of America’s Life Magazine.

 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300657/Bert-Hardy-From-womans-tears-Paddington-gravestone-jumping-street-urchins-Glasgows-slums.html#ixzz4jM76D4oB
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The featured image is Private Alfred Campin of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during training in Britain, March 1944. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/second-world-war/15-rare-colour-photographs-from-the-second-world-war

 

 

“It’s the Invasion!….Ten Thousand Ships Headed Right at Me!”

the Germans on D-Day
D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23844) Landing ships and other invasion craft seen from HMS BEAGLE, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155881

“Which way are the ships headed?” 

 “Right for me!”

Major Werner Pluskat, First German to Sight Allied Invasion Fleet, informs his higher echelon headquarters of the German 352nd Infantry Division.

At dawn on 6 June 1944, from this German bunker on a rise above Omaha Beach, Major Werner Pluskat was the first German officer to see the Allied invasion fleet which he described as headed  “straight at me.”  During the Normandy invasion, he served as the commander of the artillery battalion of the German 352nd Infantry Division, a scratch division built around a handful of surviving veterans from the 321 Infantry Division which had been torn to shreds during the Battle of Kursk in July and August of 1943 and the subsequent Soviet offensives.  *

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German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day, based on the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan.

(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

“The Longest Day,” an account of D-Day written by American journalist and narrative historian Cornelius Ryan, Pluskat told him the following in a personal interview.

Dawn of 6 June 1944

 

From his bunker overlooking Omaha Beach, Major Pluskat rang through to the headquarters of the 352nd Infantry Division to which his artillery battalion was assigned:

“It’s the invasion! There must be ten thousand ships out here!”

Division HQ: “Which way are the ships headed?”

Pluskat: “Right for me!”

Division to Pluskat several minutes later: “What’s the situation?”

“We’re being shelled!”

“Exact location of shelling?”

“For God’s sake, they’re falling all over. What do you want me to do? Go out and measure the holes with a ruler?”

 Pluskat obviously survived the war, surrendering to the Allies on 23 April 1945.

Hans Christian Blech in The Longest Day

German actor Hans Christian Blech playing Major Werner Pluskat in the 1962 movie, the Longest Day.

In this movie still from 20th Century Fox, Major Pluskat is talking to his division command after intense shelling. Most German bunkers were well constructed and survived Allied naval gunfire. 

D-DAY – ALLIED FORCES DURING THE INVASION OF NORMANDY 6 JUNE 1944 (A 23934) The Normandy coast around Bernieres-sur-Mer, Juno assault area, with smoke rising from burning buildings during the Allied naval bombardment which preceded the landings, 6 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205155953

 

Unfortunately, the naval guns of the era had a relatively flat trajectory. While battleships could, and did, hit German units 30 miles inland, targets as close as Pluskat’s bunker were harder to destroy because naval guns could not generate plunging fire like an army howitzer. So complete was Allied control of the sea, that many battleships assigned to the bombardment force were able to anchor in a long row in the English channel.

On Omaha, for instance, where very few tanks made it ashore, smaller ships such as destroyers and destroyer escorts closed the beach and directly engaged the German artillery firing from bunkers. There were occasions when the Germans were firing over the heads of the GIs on the beach at Allied destroyers who were firing back.

Naval captains took their ships in as close as they could, scraping bottom occasionally. But the invasion had to succeed. There wasn’t a “Plan B.”

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Like most accounts of historical events, there is controversy over Pluskat’s whereabouts at dawn on 6 June.  Speculation on a number of World War Two discussion boards suggests Pluskat wasn’t at his post at dawn on 6 June and fabricated his entire story which became part of the historical record and has been repeated a thousand times in various books until taken for truth.

Yet Pluskat did command the artillery battalion of the 352nd German Infantry Division. This division was dug in behind Pluskat’s artillery. The task of 352nd was to defend the stretch of beach known as “Omaha” to the Allies.

And Pluskat’s command bunker was on the heights above Omaha and remains there to this day as shown in the first photo of this post. His battalion did not retreat until they had fired all of their ammunition. So we know that he basics are true.

In an article about D-Day  in the German weekly news magazine, Der Spiegel, on 3 June 1964, their reporter writes:

“Major Werner Pluskat, commander of four coastal batteries the 352nd Division in the landing section “Omaha” was one of the first who saw the Armada. From his forward command post, he peered through the telescope, when morning dawned and the mist of the night lifted above the sea: The horizon was dotted with ships – ten thousand estimated the Major. The inferno broke out.”

 

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR: OPERATION OVERLORD (THE NORMANDY LANDINGS), JUNE 1944 (A 23977) HMS RODNEY bombarding gun positions in the Caen area as seen from the cruiser HMS FROBISHER. In support of the Normandy landings British Naval guns have been constantly bombarding enemy positions, often many miles inland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187109

 

Cornelius Ryan, who wrote the book, The Longest Day, was a well-known journalist of the era and a careful researcher. Born in Ireland (he became an American citizen in 1957) he worked as a war correspondent for The Daily Telegraph of London.

Incredibly, he flew 14 bombing missions over Germany as part of his work as a journalist although not required to do so. He also witnessed the D-Day landings as a journalist. It would have been difficult to fool him.

Since Ryan interviewed so many participants in the battle, Allied and German, I find it hard to believe that Pluskat made up the story about himself he told Ryan. Further Pluskat only died in 2002 at age 90 so other German veterans of D-Day from the 352nd Infantry Division had decades to accuse Pluskat of lying. To my knowledge, such accusations were never made.

Ryan’s book is a well-written narrative history of the D-Day. It contains a number of small inaccuracies. However, these are mainly due to his lack of access to records about D-Day which were still classified at the time he wrote the book in 1957 and 1958. But his interview with Pluskat is accurate.

“The Longest Day” was published in 1959.

ryan1

Sadly, Cornelius Ryan died tragically early in his life at age 54 in 1974 of prostate cancer.

*a fascinating “look behind enemy lines” can be found in the correctly translate reported written for the Allies after the battle by one of the captured regimental commanders of the 352nd German Infantry Division. Historian Stewart Bryant tracked down the original document in German written by the officer. About twenty years ago, historians discovered that hundreds of these documents had been incorrectly translated.

Bryant has translated this German report into English himself and has added valuable commentary and explanations.

You can read his excellent work here:

http://www.omaha-beach.org/US-Version/352/352US.html

P51 Mustang Saves Bomber Offensive

P51 to the Rescue

Lieutenant Vernon R Richards of the 361st Fighter Group flying his P-51D Mustang nicknamed ‘Tika IV’, during a bomber escort mission in 1944. (photograph and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

D-Day was not the Second Front.
The Anglo-American Strategic Bombing Offensive against Germany was the second front
d-day was the Third Front.
The First Front was the massive battle on the Eastern front between the Germans and the Soviets. 

 

Graves of German soldiers somewhere in Russia. (Bundesarchiv)

Because the Soviets killed over 80% of German soldiers killed in World War Two, something Stalin frequently pointed out to Churchill and FDR, the most important strategic goal of the Allies (the US and the British Empire) was to keep the Soviets in the war. The P-51 ended up playing an important role in this.

We absolutely had to think of a way to relive the intense German military power being unleashed on the Soviets by the Germans (who had a kill rate of one German soldier to 27 Soviet soldiers). The British had begun a small bombing campaign against Nazi Germany and its allies before America was in the war because there was no other way for the Brits to attack Germany.

Pilots of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron RAF in front of Hawker Hurricane Mk I at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, 7 September 1940. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

Germans Bomb London and Other Cities Throughout the UK

From the late summer of 1940 to the early summer of 1941, the German Luftwaffe bombed London and other major British cities and ports in a savage campaign which killed more than 40,000 people in the UK, half of them in London. More than one million homes were destroyed. So, the British felt little remorse at bombing the Germans.

RAF Bomber Command took unacceptable casualties in daylight bombing and began bombing only at night. The US Army Air Force and the Bomber Barons were convinced that daylight bombing was the best way in spite of the British experience.

Boeing B-17F 42-29513. 346th Bombardment Squadron, 99th Bombardment Group

In our arrogance, the US believed that properly staged formations of B-17 Flying Fortress’s would be self-defending and wouldn’t need fighter cover. This assumption was proven to be completely wrong by the horrifying losses suffered during 1943 and early 1944 by the USAAF 8th Air Force flying from Great Britain.

Unfortunately, no fighter had the range to accompany American bombers all the way to Berlin and points east and then fly all the way back to Great Britain. Someone thought of drop tanks which were easy to make. However, there needed to be a rugged and fast heavy fighter to take on the German fighters over Germany.

What About the P51?

P-51D Mustang at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

American bombers finally accompanied by fighters for the entire flight

The P-51 had been a disappointment. It wasn’t fast enough. Someone thought of putting a Rolls Royce Merlin engine from a Spitfire on the airframe of a P-51. The rest is history. Fitted with drop tanks and the Merlin engine, the P-51 was able to provide fighter cover to American bombers all the way to Berlin and back. This allowed the bombing of Germany to continue and allowed American fighter to destroy the fighter arm of the German Air Force.

Every week, long before D-Day, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, sent Stalin a book of photographs of German cities Americans had bombed. Churchill did likewise. As the Anglo-American bombing offensive took hold, the Russians felt the effects. German aircraft were withdrawn from Russia and most importantly, the famed German 88 artillery piece, anti-tank gun, and anti-aircraft gun were withdrawn in large numbers from the Eastern front to defend German cities.

P-51D cockpit in the WWII Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Fire! Royal Navy Battleships at War

The awesome power of a battleship

Firing all main battery guns at once was a broadside. Usually, battleships fired salvos. This consisted of firing every other barrel of the main batteries and was the usual practice.

BRITISH BATTLESHIP BOMBARDS CATANIA. 17 JULY 1943, ON BOARD HMS WARSPITE. WHEN HMS WARSPITE, ANSWERING A CALL FROM THE ARMY, HURLED TONS OF SHELLS, FROM A RANGE VARYING BETWEEN 15,000 AND 11,000 YARDS, AT ENEMY TROOPS STILL HOLDING OUT AT CATANIA, SICILY. (A 18486) The big guns of HMS WARSPITE firing on Catania from about 5 miles. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151234

 

BRITISH BATTLESHIP BOMBARDS CATANIA. 17 JULY 1943, ON BOARD HMS WARSPITE. WHEN HMS WARSPITE, ANSWERING A CALL FROM THE ARMY, HURLED TONS OF SHELLS, FROM A RANGE VARYING BETWEEN 15,000 AND 11,000 YARDS, AT ENEMY TROOPS STILL HOLDING OUT AT CATANIA, SICILY. (A 18494) The big guns of the WARSPITE hurling shells at the Catania enemy. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205151240

 

HMS RENOWN FIRING. 1 DECEMBER 1942. (A 13013) HMS RENOWN firing a 15-inch salvo. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205146371

 

ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY AT SEA. 1940. (A 2069) HMS RODNEY firing her 6’s. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205136482

comments Charles McCain: HMS Rodney was one of two Nelson class battleships constructed in the late 1920s. (Commissioned in 1927). These two battleships were unique in the Royal Navy. They were the only battleships armed with 16 inch main batteries, the heaviest guns in the fleet, all three main battery turrets were forward of the bridge.

They were the only two RN battleships which had armament equal to the Bismarck’s.

 

 

NAVAL FORCES THAT TOOK PART IN THE BOMBARDMENT OF GENOA, 9 FEBRUARY 1941. ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS MALAYA. (A 4046) HMS RENOWN firing at Genoa. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205138380

Comments Charles McCain: battlecruiser HMS Renown firing. During this carefully planned attack on the dockyards at Genoa by the famed Force H from Gibralter (the ‘H’ did not stand for anything), HMS Renown served as the flagship of Admiral James Somerville.

Known to the men as “our Jimmy,” or “Slim” Somerville was a respected, popular and effective fighting admiral. He was never pretentious and radiated calm and good humour. He was knowledgeable about new technology and how to best use such new inventions as radar.

Curiously, he had been retired before the war due to what we call today as a “false positive” on an x-ray for tuberculosis although it became clear as time went on that he did not have that disease. Somerville was recalled to the colours when the war began and served throughout the conflict on the retired list.

Tuberculosis was a serious problem in the Royal Navy and medical officers were deeply concerned about the disease. Given how contagious this disease was, it could spread rapidly through the damp and often poorly ventilated mess decks of a warship.

After testing positive for TB,100 men immediately taken off HMS Renown

In late December 1944, HMS Renown arrived in Durban for a refit prior to returning to Europe. While the ship was being refitted and critical maintenance on engines and other machinery performed, every member of the ship’s company was given a chest x-ray. More than 100 were found to have tuberculosis and were immediately removed from the ship.

(Source: The Battlecruiser HMS Renown by Peter C. Smith)

BISMARCK ACTION. 27 MAY, ON BOARD ONE OF THE ATTACKING WARSHIPS CHASING AND SINKING THE GERMAN BATTLESHIP BISMARCK. (A 4387) BISMARCK on fire, at the closing stages of the battle. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205138675

 

NORTHERN CONVOY, FEBRUARY 1943. (A 15432) HMS HOWE firing a broadside in Northern waters, seen from HMS KING GEORGE V. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205148496

 

Death of a Battleship

Lest We Forget

25 November 1941

HMS Barham, torpedoed and sunk with the loss of 55 officers and 806 ratings.

This vid clip is one minute and eleven seconds long. In these 71 seconds, the Royal Navy battleship, HMS Barham, rolled over on her beam ends, explodes, and then sinks. At the end of the vid clip, the ship is gone, disappeared beneath the sea.

In the time it takes to watch it, fifty-five officers and eight hundred six ratings died–men who were fighting against “a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime,” as the Nazis were so aptly described in their evil by Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 13 May 1940 in his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister.

Incredibly, the sinking and explosion was caught on film by a news reel cameraman from Gaumont News. The cameraman who caught the sinking and explosion, John Turner, was standing on the deck of the nearby Royal Navy battleship, HMS Valiant, which was on station close to Barham.

You can read accounts by the crew members who survived here:

http://www.hmsbarham.com/ship/accounts.php

HMS Barham in the Royal Navy fleet anchorage of Scapa Flow circa 1917. (US Navy photograph)
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