Aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes?
Yep, there were two during WWII. The model in the picture is of the USS Wolverine (IX-64). During the war, the Navy purchased two large side wheel excursion steamers and converted them into aircraft carriers. The ships were used to train pilots and landing signal officers on the intricacies of their crafts. The ships were based out of the Glenview Naval Air Station near Chicago.
Commissioned 2 August 1942 the Wolverine served during the war even though it had a few issues. It had no elevators or hanger deck, so once the flight deck was full the operations were over for the day. Also in low wind conditions, the ship could not generate enough speed on its own to generate the wind needed to successfully simulate the landings. Still, they served their purposes well.
On 7 November 1945, with the war over. The Wolverine was decommissioned and in December 1947 sold for scrap.
Always remember for a brief couple of years we did have aircraft carriers on the Great Lakes. If ever we had the chance to bring Canda into the fold, it may have been then…
The Original Thunderbolt
Yes, we call the A-10 the Warthog, but that’s just a pet name. Officially it is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The plane in the photo is its original namesake. The P47 Thunderbolt which was one of the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter planes that ever got off the ground.
How heavy? Well, put it like this. Fully loaded a single P47 could carry almost half of what the bigger B-17 could carry as far as the ordinance. That’s almost 2,500 pounds of explosive goodness. And versatile! She could serve as short to medium range escort for the bombers, was very effective at high altitude air to air and excelled at the ground attack role.
Though a very large part of US military in WWII it was used by France, Russia, Britain, Mexico, and Brazil! It sure did get around. With over 15,000 units manufactured during the war, it is no wonder that it found so many homes.
How effective was the Thunderbolt in WWII? Estimates credit the numerous P47 squadrons with the destruction of 86,000 German railway cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored fighting vehicles, and 68,000 trucks. That does not count the enemy aircraft or infantry that found itself on the business end of its eight Browning .50 cal machine guns, bombs and possibly ten rockets. She was a tank with wings.
The best story about the P47 though has to be its nickname, the “Jug”. Apparently when it first sent to Britain its profile bore a striking resemblance to the milk jugs in use at the time. So the name Jug stuck. What do you think? Better or worse than Warthog?
The Quonset Hut, A Home Away From Home
A small city in the middle of nowhere made up of the same style buildings. Semi-circular, corrugated metal, long and low. That is a Quonset Hut you see making up these small cities that have served as makeshift homes and office for the military since the early days of WWII.
In 1941 the US Navy was looking for a lightweight, general purpose prefabricated building that could be shipped anywhere in the world. The George A. Fuller construction company won the bid and the first of many of these huts rolled off the assembly line.
During WWII over 150,000 of these buildings were produced and after the war, they were sold for about $1,000 to the civilian market with many turned into small starter homes for families. Colleges turned them into cheap student housing, many churches and small business invested in the steel half-shells. Some military bases, especially overseas, still make use of these and other similar designs. You can even buy the kits on eBay if you wanted to have a new one for whatever purposes.
Odds are you have seen them in one place or another. If you were or are military I can almost guarantee it. They will always be a symbol of the industriousness and flexibility of the armed forces. The ones in the picture above were deployed during the Vietnam War and served as a hospital and administration.
Oh and the name, Quonset Hut? It comes from where they were originally manufactured, Quonset, Rhode Island. Which is famous for exactly nothing else!
The IJN Kongo
Above is a model of the IJN Kongo one of the main battleships of the Imperial Japanese fleet during WWII. It was constructed in 1913 and had a total displacement of about 36,000 tons. She had a max speed of about 30 knots and had a main armament of 8 14″ guns as well as a smaller number of 6in and 5in guns. She was a beast. One of the most amazing aspects of the Kongo was that it was actually built by Vickers in England having been designed by Sir George Thurston. Yep, one of the main Japanese ships was built by England, someone kicked themselves thirty some years later.
Of course, it was not as if the Japanese were not able to build capital ships of its size, they had already built several but were very interested in finding out how the British were doing it. So they ordered one and when is received used as a template for three sister ships.
Among the battles she participated in during her career are:
Battle of Midway
Invasion of the Aleutian Islands
The Philippine Sea
Battle of Samar
The old girl got around and was a major thorn in the side of the US Navy, but they finally got their revenge on November 16, 1944, when she was attacked by the submarine U.S.S Sealion in the Formosa Strait. Kongo took two torpedoes to the port side which caused flooding in her boiler rooms. Still able to maintain speed the ship limped along until finally, the damage was just too great. The order was finally given to abandon ship.
All things considered a fairly good career for the ship that’s name translates to “invincible”.
You Audie Know This Guy!
Quick question. When asked to name a WWII hero, what names come to mind? If Audie Murphy is not one of the first names you think of, you need to learn more about this man.
Born June 20, 1925, In Texas, he lied about his age to join the military during WWII. He tried to get into the Navy and the Marines before finding a home in the Army. In 1945, at the ripe old age of 19, he won the Medal of Honor after single handily holding off an entire German company. For over an hour! BY HIMSELF! What did you do today?
But wait, that is not all. After holding them off he helped to lead the counter-attack even though he was out of ammunition and wounded.
During the war, he served with distinction in Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Anzio, Rome, France, the Ardennes and on into Germany. During that time he won every single award for valor that the US Army had. Then added several from France and Belgium for good measure.
After the war, Audie became an actor, best known for playing himself in the movie To Hell and Back and numerous westerns. For the rest of his life, he fought against what would be known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked hard for the cause of getting this disorder into the spotlight. Even our greatest heroes did not go untouched by their experiences. In 1971 he finally met a foe he could not defeat and died in a plane crash.
The picture above shows one of his caps and just a few of the multitude of ribbons that this man earned. There is no greater example of the American Warrior than this man and I behoove you to find out more of the details of his life and actions.
Yes, it used to be en vogue for members of the US Military to carry swagger sticks. See way back in the day Roman Centurions carried rods of vine wood about three feet in length. They used these to guide drills of their soldiers and to discipline them when needed.
Not as long as a full staff or cane it found its way through the ages to the British Army. Where at one point it was part it became part of the “walking out” uniform for all ranks. It survived until off-duty soldiers were able to wear civilian clothes then it kind of faded from popular use.
In the US it started in the late 18th century and took strong hold during WWI when the troops saw how cool the British looked with them and in 1922 it became a part of the US Marines regulation uniform where it would come in and out of vogue several times until finally being dismissed from active service in 1960 when the Commandant of the Marine Corps officially designated it as optional.
It will surprise no one that General George S. Patton carried a swagger stick with him that also managed to conceal a blade, he was always prepared, but the best modern story of the swagger stick belongs to General William J. Livsey. From 1864 to 1987 he was the US 8th Army Commanding General in South Korea. He carried a very special swagger stick made from wood from the poplar tree that was the center of the Axe Murder Incident that occurred in the DMZ in 1976, that will be something we will we cover in another story though…
The above map is a section of a map of Pearl Harbor that one of the Japanese pilots carried. If you look close it shows where the ships were expected to be. Also the designated targets for each Japanese squadron. It is an interesting look at such a seminal historic event. Albeit through a lens different from what we normally see.
Pearl Harbor will always have a special place in our national psyche. The general public had no idea that relations with Japan had degraded so far. Most eyes were focused towards Europe and the rise of Germany. The government, however, knew that Japan was possibly an issue.
Jumping on the bandwagon that we “knew” Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked is sort of silly and actually immaterial. Once Japan invaded China the US took a course of action that made war almost unavoidable. On June 24th, 1941 President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the US. With international cooperation throughout the world, Japan’s access to oil was cut off. Its current reserves were set to last only about three years, half that if it continued to expand its war machine.
The decision was made by their high command to strike out and take the resources they needed from the Dutch East Indies, but they knew the US would not sit idly by and allow it. They decided that the best course of action was to attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbor with the goal of landing such a devastating blow that the US would not have time to recover before the resources were secured, and by then the Japanese hoped to secure a peace treaty without fighting the US. They really underestimated the United States, a mistake that many enemies have made over the years.
In a nutshell, the Battle of Dunkirk was fought in Dunkirk France between May 26 to June 4, 1940. Ther German army had started their blitzkrieg and pushed the combined French and British armies to the beaches of Dunkirk. Surrounded and on the brink of total defeat over 400,000 allies stared death or capture in the eyes. *Spoiler* In the end, thanks to an incredible civilian effort almost 85% of them would be evacuated to the British Isles.
The movie does what it can to capture the desolation and danger of the allies on that beach. Does it actually do that though? Well yes, in a way. See it uses a very interesting storytelling device. It breaks the saga into three different pieces. First dealt with the troops that were stranded on the beach. The second with the British pilots that were trying to keep the enemy aircraft off the beach. Lastly, the civilians that took part in the evacuation with their personal crafts.
Good device for telling the story and the director, Christopher Nolan, does what he can with his device. The thing is all three phases actually happen at different times. The men were on the beach for a week. The pilots over the beach for an hour. The civilians in their vessels for a day. As such, there are a lot of things happening at once, but many scenes are shown from all three “time angles”. Honestly, where it should have made for a compelling story, it just kind of mished and mashed into incoherency.
Did I like it? Not really. I made it through but don’t remember a lot. None of the cast really stuck out and yes, I know there were some big names there. It was just for a war movie it was sort of blah.
See it if you want. Would I recommend it? Eh. Maybe. was it historically accurate? Check here.
The Iron Cross
The Iron Cross is probably one of the most distinctive military decorations that there has ever been. Beyond just a commendation it also became part of the identity of the German army in the past and into the present.
Its design can be traced back to the Crusades when the King of Jerusalem gave the Teutonic Order permission to combine their solid black cross to the silver Cross of Jerusalem. The first award as a military decoration goes back to 1813 and the Napoleonic Wars. The Prussian King decided that it would best symbolize courage and strength. The decoration would be used again during the Franco-Prussian War, World War I and World War II.
As a symbol of the German Army it was used during World War I and retired at the end of the war. Only to be brought to the fore again by the Nazis in 1939. Sometimes even adorned with the swastika. After the war, it fell out of favor but was reinstated in 1956 by the West Germans. After reunification, it remains the symbol of the German Army today in various forms.
Interestingly enough, the Iron Cross citation was never revived in Germany post WWII. Though they did reissue the awards won during the war without the Nazi symbols attached to them. There has been somewhat of a movement to reinstate the Iron Cross award. In the meantime, though a new award has been put in place at the same level, The Cross of Honor for Bravery. Which is more reminiscent in design to an older Prussian medal.
Il Duce Was Here (Mussolini on Display)
Yes, the epaulets on display here were worn on the uniform of Il Duce himself, Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy. He was not always a dictator, however.
Through the use of force, intimidation and pure outright politics he climbed to the top of the heap of the Italian fascist movement. In 1922 he reached the very top. In the March on Rome he and 30,000 of his “black shirts” quickly and surprisingly bloodlessly was handed control of the Italian government. On October 28, 1922 King Victor Emmanuel III signed the order making Mussolini the Prime Minister.
Over the course of the next few years he used the democratic system to set himself up as a dictator. Eventually granting the fascist one-party control of the country. Looking to flex his muscle in a world on the brink of war, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. What proved to be an opening act in a decade of war. He took the chance to side with Germany as a member of the Axis powers.
Knowing that Italy was not completely prepared for a continental war in 1939 he hoped that Germany would be able to defeat France and England quickly. His forces would remain focused on North Africa. He was looking for a seat at the victory celebration without a lot of effort.
In 1943 the Allied invasion of Italy sort of blew up his plan. By 1945 he found himself deposed and on the run. Eventually, he was captured and executed by Italian partisans. An ignominious end for Il Duce, but maybe not ill deserved.