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Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 5 January 1942

“The front needs your skis.”

– Adolf Hitler

Two weeks after issuing an order for German citizens to donate winter clothing to the troops freezing on the Eastern Front, Berlin announces they have gathered 1.5 million fur coats. Among the haul are articles from Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s former president and top commander during the first world war, and flying furs from Max Immelman — Germany’s first ace. Who knows how long it will take for the items to reach the front. It’s entirely possible that pickings were pretty slim by the time the clothing reached the end of the supply chain deep inside Russia. There were undoubtedly plenty of very warm rear-echelon troops while the Immelmann and von Hindenburg donations may have turned into souvenirs for well-connected officers.

This report comes two days after Adolf Hitler’s call for Germans to turn in their skis. In this issue, the Associated Press reports that all German ski competitions have been canceled.

A photo on the top of page A-3 shows new Pacific Fleet commander Rear Adm. Chester W. Nimitz congratulating sailors for their amazing rescue of a B-17 crew that had been lost at sea for three days. So heroic was the mission that Nimitz presented the crew members with medals less than 24 hours after their deeds. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 5 January 1942”

Posted in Images Military

Off we go into the wild blue yonder

Lt. Col. Matthew Griffin, 339th Flight Test Squadron director of operations, and Maj. Gen. Kenneth Lewis Jr., Air Force Reserve Command deputy commander, recover and gather their belongings after flying in an F-15 Eagle aircraft, May 16, 2019, at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. The flight was Lewis’ final in a military aircraft after more than 34 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jamal D. Sutter)

Consider something for a minute.

This month marks the 44th anniversary for the F-15 Eagle, which entered service with the Air Force in January 1976. Several generations of American fighter pilots have flown a fighter that dates back to 1972. Yes, avionics and weaponry have been extensively upgraded — a modern Eagle could easily blast an “A” model out of the sky. Newer, more advanced fighters like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning have come out since, but the F-15 has an outstanding record (over 100 victories and counting, with no losses in combat) and has relatively low operating costs. And the Air Force is still ordering new ones.

But think about the pace of development today versus that of the 1940s. Continue reading “Off we go into the wild blue yonder”

Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 3 January 1942

There was a lot to worry about in 1942.

How can we understand what it must have been like during the beginning days of World War II, experiencing things as they happened instead of reading a summary of what happened three-quarters of a century later? Most of us haven’t experienced anything we can use to grasp what it was like to live through the dark days of December 1941 and January 1942. The closest we can come would be comparing the shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks to Pearl Harbor since both were surprise attacks that killed thousands of Americans. But Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network wasn’t powerful enough to sink a good portion of our Pacific fleet while simultaneously conquering most of the Pacific. You also didn’t have Hezbollah, Fatah, and HAMAS controlling most of Europe and threatening to finish off the Soviet Union. That paints a way more ominous picture, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is playing out in real life.

We know now that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had little hope of winning the wars they started, but that is because we can look back three-quarters of a century later and see clearly what we did right and what our enemies did wrong. There are many things that the Allies could have done differently that could have changed the course of the war. For example, what if President Roosevelt died sooner and we ended up with a timid, meddling, or incompetent commander-in-chief? What if Adm. Nimitz’s plane was shot down over the South Pacific instead of Adm. Yamamoto? What if our strategy stunk or if we didn’t effectively mobilize our war economy? What if the Axis nations coordinated their global strategy more effectively than we did? What if instead of mass-producing constantly improving planes, tanks, and ships, we produced jets and rockets like Germany or spectacular dreadnought battleships like Japan, both of which wasted precious manpower and resources that could have been applied to more useful projects that could have turned the tide for the Axis?

It’s easy to take for granted the countless events, big and small, that added up to an Allied victory that, when you think about it, could have gone right for our enemy instead. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 3 January 1942”

Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 30 December 1941

While not printed in today’s Southeast Missourian, the Associated Press reports that the Vichy French regime is considering dismantling the Eiffel Tower to turn the Paris landmark into 70 tons of steel for German munitions. Either this is Allied propaganda or Adolf Hitler came to the conclusion that melting down the (then 52-year-old) tower would have far greater consequences than the steel could possibly be worth.

Charles A. Lindbergh in front of a P-38 Lightning in 1944 (U.S. Air Force photo)

Charles Lindbergh has abandoned isolationism and the former Air Service Reserve colonel offered his services to the Army Air Forces (see page 7). As Lindbergh had been an outspoken critic of President Franklin Roosevelt’s policies, the White House denied his request. However, after serving as a consultant to the aircraft manufacturing industry, Lindbergh will fly 50 combat missions in the Pacific Theater — as a civilian. Lindbergh finds a way for Marine F4U Corsair pilots to double their bomb load and comes up with a procedure to extend the range of the P-38 Lightning. And he manages to shoot down an enemy plane while escorting bombers over Indonesia.

In 1954, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower will reactivate Lindbergh and appoint him brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 30 December 1941”

Posted in Military History

Never Forget: Capt. Joseph S. Smith

Smith was posthumously promoted to captain

On 4 April 1971, two 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-100 Super Sabres took off from the Republic of Vietnam’s Phan Rang Air Base just before 3:30 p.m. to hit a large warehouse deep in central Cambodia. Behind the controls of the lead plane — codenamed BLADE 05 — was 1st Lt. Joseph S. Smith, a 25-year-old Notre Dame graduate from Assumption, Ill. who had started his tour in August 1970.

After four successful passes over their target, Smith was lining up for a strafing run when his aircraft suddenly leveled off before reaching the warehouse. Smith’s F-100 started trailing white smoke. His wingman and the forward air controller watched as the jet descended slowly and rolled over before impacting the ground half a mile away. He did not eject. There was no emergency beacon. Visibility at the crash site was obscured by smoke so there was no way the pilots could know what happened. But there was no parachute and no emergency beacon. With little to no chance of survival, they would have to wait.

The military determined that Lt. Smith had been hit by unseen enemy ground fire and died instantly. Aircrews observed heavy enemy activity in the area the next day when they returned to investigate the crash site — too heavy to send in ground units to recover the body. Continue reading “Never Forget: Capt. Joseph S. Smith”