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”
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 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”
After World War I, the Joint Planning Committee (the predecessor to today’s Joint Chiefs of Staff) created a series of strategies should we find ourselves at war against various countries. War Plan BLACK was for a war with Germany, ORANGE for Japan, GREEN for Mexico, GOLD for France, YELLOW for China, several colors for operations in Central and South America or the Carribean, and the list keeps going.
We even had War Plan RED for war with the United Kingdom in addition to several sub-plans for wars against British territories like Australia, Canada, Ireland, and India. Plus, there was War Plan RED-ORANGE in the event of a war against both the UK and Japan.
These plans assumed the United States was fighting alone and on one front. Before Japan’s surprise attacks at Pearl Harbor and the Philippine Islands, the committee wanted a plan in the event of a war in both Europe and the Pacific. War Plan RAINBOW was the result, and it had several contingencies:
- RAINBOW 1: defensive war with no allies, protecting the Western Hemisphere north of the 10th parallel (south)
- RAINBOW 2: the same scenario, but allied with France and the UK
- RAINBOW 3: same as ORANGE, only an initial priority of securing the area defined in RAINBOW 1
- RAINBOW 4: same as RAINBOW 1, only covering the entire Western Hemisphere
- RAINBOW 5: allied with France and Britain, with American troops conducting offensive operations — this is the plan we based our World War II strategy on
Regarding “Churchill Addresses Historic Joint Session” on page 7, the British prime minister crossed a U-boat-infested Atlantic for ten days aboard the battleship HMS Duke of York, arriving at Norfolk, Va. on 22 December. Churchill lived at the White House for a couple of weeks, coordinating grand strategy for World War II with President Franklin Roosevelt. During his stay, the American and British leaders established a unified command and also declared that there would be no separate peace agreements with Axis members. The prime minister returns to Britain on a British Overseas Airway Corp. (the predecessor to today’s British Airways) Boeing 314 flying boat.
The sports section features a preview of the East-West college all-star football game mentioning University of Minnesota tailback Bruce Smith, who recently won the 1941 Heisman Trophy. Smith will join the Navy after graduating and becomes a fighter pilot.
“In the Far East they may think American boys are soft,” Smith said during his acceptance speech, “but I have had, and even have now, plenty of evidence in black and blue to prove that they are making a big mistake. I think America will owe a great debt to the game of football when we finish this thing off. If six million American youngsters like myself are able to take it and come back for more, both from a physical standpoint and that of morale. If teaching team play and cooperation and exercise to go out and fight hard for the honor of our schools, then likewise the same skills can be depended on when we have to fight to defend for our country.” Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 27 December 1941”
Too little, too late
There are plenty of reasons why Nazi Germany lost World War II, but near the top of the list would have to be horrible economic planning and logistics. The Germans fielded perhaps the best infantry units of the war, but a great soldier who freezes to death isn’t as effective as a good soldier that has food, warm clothes, and dependable weapons. Adolf Hitler predicted that the Red Army was no match for his forces and his invasion of the Soviet Union would be over before his troops would require winter clothing. But the former corporal learned the same lesson that Imperial Japan learned: the enemy you think you can beat in 1941 can turn into something you can’t beat once they mobilize.
While his troops could see Moscow on the horizon, that’s as close as they would get to capturing the Soviet capital. Temperatures at this point are far below zero and creating a nightmare scenario for the invaders that we can’t even imagine: hundreds of thousands suffering from frostbite, weapons and ammunition seized up from frozen grease, vehicles requiring hours to warm up, piles of snow making movement difficult… the Soviets faced the same challenges, but were better acclimated to the extreme temperatures of “General Winter.”
According to the AP, German radio broadcasts indicate that Germany’s clothing industry has only now been ordered to shut down whatever they had been producing and make the winter clothing that should have been sent to the front weeks ago. It doesn’t take long to make gloves and a stocking cap, but consider that it probably takes a considerable amount of time to a) switch over your operation, b) then having to order new textiles and c) waiting on its delivery, then d) packaging, and e) shipping your finished product 1,000 miles across frozen enemy territory. Continue reading “World War II Chronicle: 24 December 1941”