Category Archives: WWII

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor


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.



The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun

The Rising Sun

It is known by several names but the most widely used is Hinomaru, “circle of the sun”. Like many flags through history, it has seen its share of good and bad. This flag has represented  Japan since 1870.  Even before that the sun motif was used to represent Japan and the history of the Japanese people. During WWII it became a symbol of empire and domination. Since the end of the war, it has become a symbol of a past that many would soon forget.

It has been a long road since the war ended. Mainly among the Japanese themselves who turned away from their militaristic past and have tried to distance themselves from it. For a period the flag was seldom used, almost hidden from sight but once Japan sought to rejoin the world it could no longer be hidden raising the question on the validity of having such a symbol representing their nation.

Protests at home and abroad have sought the removal of the flag for generations now. The issues of displaying it in their schools have divided the people. In many places across the country, it is never seen flying, even on national holidays. Yet there are many that see it as a symbol of pride and strength, and while many wrongs were done under it they question the validity of attempting to erase the history that it represents.

In August 1999 the Diet, Japan’s ruling body, officially passed legislation making the Hinomaru the official national flag of Japan. It would seem that it was decided that the best way to avoid repeating the past is to never forget it.


Movie Review: Dunkirk


Dunkirk (2017) (BD) [Blu-ray]


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

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)


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.





Wednesday Words and Phrases: Dear John Letter

Dear John Letter

Dear John Letter

Let’s hope that none of you have received (or have sent) a Dear John letter. You probably already know that it usually means a break up that is carried out via the US Post Office.

The origin of the Dear John specifically could be traced back to WWII. An era when men and their families were separated by vast distances. For long periods of times. Normally when the men received their mail the letters would start with something recalling the emotion and longing of the long separation, “Dear Johnny”, “My Dearest Johnny” and sometimes just “Darling” or “My Love”. Something that showed familiarity. If one opened a letter and saw simply, “Dear John” the cold and formal heading would usually give the purpose of the letter away.

By the end of the war people had begun referring to any sort of break up letter as a Dear John. One of the first recorded uses of the phrase was in the March 21st, 1944 St. Petersburg Times where a down and out soldier was described as having just received a “Dear John” letter. Pretty cool how a little turn of phrase has lasted this long as part of our language.


Battlefield Communications

Battlefield Communications

Battlefield Communications

Communication on the battlefield has always been a major concern of armies. In the early days, leaders could shout commands to their troops. Even with a relatively small number of men and close quarters, this became almost impossible.

Some armies developed a system of flags that could be waved during a battle that would pass on the orders of the general to their men. This increased the distance over which the commands could be given. It did rely on the men being able to see the flags. As the size of the battlefields grew the less valuable this method became.

Eventually, music became the standard. Drums and trumpets translated commands down the line and to anyone within earshot. Much more effective than flags, but as the size of armies grew so did the size of battlefields. Battles were being fought over miles now and even relaying orders from the leaders to the men either took too long or were too easily misunderstood.

During the Civil War, the telegraph changed everything. President Lincoln could stand in the War Office in Washington and get real-time updates of a battle in Tennessee. Heck if he wanted (and occasionally he did) he could give orders to Generals commanding on the front lines. (They loooved that.)

Fast forward a hundred years and the advent and proliferation of radios like the one above battles could be fought by men on one side of an ocean commanding men on the other.  Today we have satellites and near instantaneous communications with nearly any point on the globe. We’ve come a long way.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Doodlebug

Image result for doodlebug
What a cute little doodlebug!


The first thing comes to mind is a pet name for a little kid. That is how I always heard it and when I hear it I think, “Awwww…” So that is what I thought it was.

It turns out that doodlebug has been around the American vernacular for a very long time but came to more prominence during WWII. American soldiers stationed in the UK during the war gave the nickname to the German V1 bombs that were being hurled against the British.

Now you may think that based on the word doodle, or “to play about”, that the name was given based on the sometimes erratic patterns the bombs would take to their targets. But no. See the name doodlebug was also given to a type of mini race car that was popular in the 1930’s. As it turns out the V1 in flight sounded a lot like the straight-through exhaust system of the mini-cars. So the name stuck.



A Controlled Crash

A Controlled Crash

A Controlled Crash

That above is a glider of the model used by the Allied forces during D-Day. A glider, if you are not familiar, is a plane shaped vehicle that has no engines, is towed by another plane and when released, glides gently to the ground.

That is until you load it with infantrymen, equipment, and everything needed to confront the Nazi’s. At that point it basically becomes a rock that falls quickly and instead of the nice soft landing, generally becomes a controlled crash. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well, it was, but it served a really good purpose.

First of all, gliders once released from their tow plane are basically silent. No noise means they are more difficult to find in the sky and thus more difficult to shoot down. It also makes it harder to determine where the will land.

Second of all, the troops that were parachuted onto a battlefield, they would often scatter and be dispersed. This means that it would take longer to get them into the fight and time would be lost getting them organized. Coming in with a glider meant the troops would land in the place and in theory be ready to get into the fight. (If they survived the landing.)

Lastly, they were cheap. Most of the trips for these were one way, as many did not survive the experience. So they were made of the wood and cheaper materials, which meant the could be mass-produced cheap.

End of an Era

The end of WWII saw pretty much the end of gliders. The advent of helicopters pretty much replaced them for military use. Unlike gliders, helicopters can pick the troops back up after the battle is over. Today some special forces teams will use gliders for their missions, but pretty much the gliders were something that had its one specific moment in time.

The Buzz on the V-1 (Not VH1 Totally Different!)

The Buzz on the V-1

The Buzz on the V-1

You now how it is when you read about something and then when you see it in reality you are sort of taken aback? That was the feeling when I came across this V-1 rocket. During WW2 the Germans rained these down on Britain. In all almost 10,000 were produced and fired. Even with only about 25% hitting anything close to a target they were an effective and cheap method of warfare that allowed Germany to harass British soil after the Blitz had been turned back.

Power by a pulse jet engine it made a very distinctive sound and became known as the buzz bomb. The guidance system was sate of the art for the time, weights pendulums and gyroscopes, flight control given by compressed air this “autopilot” system meant all you had to do was point in the general direction and watch it fly. If you were lucky the almost 2000lb payload would hit something important. If not, then just hearing them in the air was enough to rattle the civilians.

An Effective Distraction?

Where the V-1 was most effective was in sapping resources from the allied war effort. Not only did Britain have to concentrate on the methods and tactics of intercepting and defeating them, but almost a quarter of all the strategic bombing missions that the Allies carried out on the mainland centered around the underground bunkers that housed the launch and building facilities in Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. On March 29th, 1945 the last V-1 struck British soil and brought the buzz bomb era to an end.

 There were lessons learned from these instruments of terror. In a way we still use these weapons today. Everything from the Tomahawk Cruise Missiles to the drones that current are being used to great effect.