Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 14 January 1942

Col. Robin Olds, son of Brig. Gen. Robert Olds

Looking at the promotion list on page A-2 we find several soon-to-become-important names moving up in ranks. Col. Robert Olds, a World War I veteran aviator, former aide to Gen. Billy Mitchell, and advocate for strategic bombing and an independent Air Force branch, will pin on his first star.

His son Robert Jr. — better known as “Robin” — is a cadet captain at the U.S. Military Academy in 1942. Just a week before Pearl Harbor, Robin was part of the squad that lost to Annapolis in the Army-Navy game, but this season he will be named the top lineman in the country, and renowned sportswriter Grantland Rice dubs him “Player of the Year.”

Disappointed by the pettiness at West Point, Robin scorned the practice of “ring knocking,” where service academy graduates enjoyed advancement and other preferential treatment over other soldiers and sailors. He became the only pilot to make ace in both a P-38 Lightning and a P-51 Mustang. Olds briefly served as an assistant coach for West Point’s football team before the Vietnam War and after his legendary time as commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, he was named Commandant of the Air Force Academy. After his time at Colorado Springs, the triple ace became an inspector and warned the USAF that their combat doctrine and training program left fighter pilots dreadfully unprepared for dogfights. Once North Vietnamese fighters began shooting down Air Force pilots on a 1:1 basis during Operation LINEBACKER, Olds volunteered to drop back to colonel so he could return to Southeast Asia as a commander where he could correct the issue. The Pentagon refused, so Olds retired in 1973. In 1985 he was named to the college football hall of fame. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 14 January 1942”

Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 10 January 1942

On 10 January, the situation in the Southwest Pacific remains more or less the same, albeit the Japanese invaders on Luzon have driven the Philippine and American troops further back. Gen. Douglas MacArthur conducts an inspection of Bataan and Japanese warplanes drop a message — their first demand that the isolated defenders surrender. The chronicle serves as somewhat of a pipeline for fascinating stories on a more personal level that we wouldn’t easily find all these years later, so let’s take this opportunity to focus on a few personal interest stories from today’s paper.

Raymond and William Wells were one of 38 sets of brothers that served together aboard USS Arizona on 7 December 1941. Yesterday, Raymond Sr. (a veteran of the first world war) and Alice Wells of Nevada, Mo. learned that their sons were both killed in last month’s attack. Raymond Jr. had served on Arizona since 1938 and William had just joined the crew in June 1940.

Engravings from the Courts of the Missing in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific

It was quite common for family members to serve together on the same ship, especially during peacetime. A father and his son were also killed aboard Arizona. Click here to read about the brothers killed on USS Oklahoma.

Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 10 January 1942”

Posted in World War II Chronicle

World War II Chronicle: 9 January 1942

Cmdr. Jack Dempsey (center)

In the 5 January edition we discussed the Navy appointing former heavyweight champion Gene Tunney to head up their physical fitness routine. On the front page of today’s paper is Jack Dempsey, the man who lost his title to Tunney — and then lost their rematch. 11 years older than the service’s maximum entry age of 35, Dempsey still passed the physical exam and wants to serve as a private. In June 1942 he accepts a commission in the Coast Guard Reserve where he serves as their Director of Physical Education. Cmdr. Dempsey also served aboard troop transports in the Atlantic and Pacific, and he remains in the Reserve until 1952.

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see a Dempsey-Tunney rematch-by-proxy between their Navy and Coast Guard trainees?

Tech. Sgt. Joe Louis in 1945 (U.S. Army photo)

Also on the front page is the sensational Joe Louis, who is nearly five years into his 12-year reign as boxing’s heavyweight champion. Louis will soon enlist in the Army (as does his challenger, Buddy Baer — brother of former heavyweight champ Max Baer), serving in a segregated cavalry unit out of Fort Riley (Kan.). His celebrity status comes in handy on occasion, such as when he helps several black soldiers stationed at Fort Riley whose Officer Candidate School applications were being delayed by their chain of command. One of those soldiers is future baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who would receive his commission in January 1943.

The legendary Sugar Ray Robinson joined the Army along with his friend Louis, and the childhood neighbors would stage boxing expeditions during the war. Rocky Marciano, who would become the heavyweight champion in 1952, was drafted into the Army, involved in shipping supplies across the Atlantic.

James Braddock defeated Max Baer in 1935, becoming heavyweight champ in one of boxings greatest upsets. Braddock enlists in the Army, earning a commission and serving as a hand-to-hand combat instructor in the Pacific Theater. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 9 January 1942”

Posted in Military History

Miracle at sea

At 9:00 p.m. on 6 December 1941, the first of 16 B-17 bombers took off from Hamilton Field (just north of San Francisco), headed to reinforce the Far East Air Force on the Philippine Islands. It was Saturday night and the nation was still at peace, so all non-essential items like ammunition were removed to save weight. When the heavy bombers reached Hawaiian airspace at 0800 on Sunday morning, they were welcomed by Japanese machineguns and found themselves ten minutes into a war.

Capt. Raymond T. Swenson’s B-17C

Enemy machinegun fire found the magnesium flares on Capt. Raymond T. Swenson’s B-17C as he was on final approach for Hickam Field, igniting a fire that had burned the plane’s fuselage in two by the time the aircraft rolled to a halt. But 1st Lt. Earl J. Cooper and the other 38th Reconnaissance Squadron pilots managed to safely land their damaged B-17s at Hickam.

Once ground crews repaired their bullet-riddled bombers, the newly arrived airmen were given new orders to fly patrol missions over Hawaii. On 26 December, Lt. Cooper’s crew were one of 16 Flying Fortresses scouring the waves for enemy activity. Patrol range had just been extended to 800 miles, meaning crews would be in the air for 12 hours. When Cooper’s plane returned that evening, the control tower confused their B-17 with an inbound PBY-5 Catalina, assigning both planes the wrong headings. The Navy crew’s assigned vectors caused them to crash, killing all aboard. Cooper followed the instructions, which sent them back out to sea where they ran out of fuel.

After bailing out, nine men crammed into just two life rafts, with no food or water, drifting in the Pacific Ocean with no land in sight. Continue reading “Miracle at sea”

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”