November 9, 2013 In the Company of Heroes

On April 18, 2015, Richard Cole and David Thatcher fulfilled their original bargain, as the last two surviving members of the Doolittle raid.  Staff Sergeant Thatcher passed in June of last year, at the age of 94.  As I write this, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole age 102, Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot, is the only man in the world who has earned the right to open that bottle.

On November 9, 2013, there occurred a gathering of four, a tribute to fallen heroes. These four are themselves heroes, and worthy of tribute. It was to be their last such gathering.

This story begins on April 18, 1942, when a flight of 16 Mitchell B25 medium bombers took off from the deck of the carrier USS Hornet.   It was a retaliatory raid on Japan, planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Forces.  It was payback for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, seven months earlier.  A demonstration that the Japanese home islands were not immune from attack.

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Launching such large aircraft from the decks of a carrier had never been attempted, and there were no means of bringing them back. This was to be a one-way mission, into enemy occupied territory.

Fearing a breach in operational security, the mission was forced to launch 200 miles before the intended departure spot.  The range now made fighter escort impossible, and left the bombers themselves with the slimmest margin of error.

Japanese Premier Hideki Tojo was inspecting military bases at the time of the raid. One B-25 came so close that he could see the pilot, though the American bomber never fired a shot.

After dropping their bombs, all but one aircraft was able to continue west into Japanese occupied China. That one landed in Vladivostok, where the pilot and crew were interned for a year by our Soviet “allies”.

A quarter of a million Chinese were murdered by Japanese soldiers, as they hunted for Doolittle’s raiders. Eight of them were captured, three were executed and one died in captivity, but most of the 80 who began the mission survived the war.

There was little serious damage done to the Japanese home islands, but the raid had a decisive effect. Japan withdrew its powerful aircraft carrier force to protect the home islands. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto attacked Midway, thinking it to have been the jump-off point for the raid. Described by military historian John Keegan as “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare”, the battle of Midway would be a major strategic defeat for Imperial Japan.

The Doolittle raiders have held a reunion every year, from the late 40’s, until 2013. In 1959, the city of Tucson presented them with 80 silver goblets, each engraved with the name of one of their number. They are on display at the National Museum of the Air Force, in Dayton Ohio.

Goblets

With those goblets is a fine bottle of vintage Cognac, 1896, the year Jimmy Doolittle was born. There’s been a bargain among the Doolittle raid survivors that, one day, the last two of their number would open that bottle, and toast their comrades.

In 2013 they changed their bargain, just a bit. Jimmy Doolittle himself passed away in 1993. Twenty years later, 76 goblets had been turned over, each signifying a man who had passed on. The last four were Lieutenant Colonel Richard E. Cole, co-pilot of crew No. 1; Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Hite, co-pilot of crew No. 16; Lieutenant Colonel Edward J. Saylor, engineer-gunner of crew No. 15; and Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher, engineer-gunner of crew No. 7. These four agreed that they would gather one last time. It would be they who would finally open that bottle.

Doolittle_70th

Robert Hite, 93, was too frail to travel, so his son stood in for him.  So it was that a 117 year-old bottle of cognac was cracked open on this date in 2013, and enjoyed in the company of heroes. If there is a more magnificent act of tribute, I cannot at this moment think of what it might be.

On April 18, 2015, Richard Cole and David Thatcher fulfilled their original bargain, as the last two surviving members of the Doolittle raid.  Staff Sergeant Thatcher passed in June of last year, at the age of 94.  As I write this, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole age 102, Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot, is the only man in the world who has earned the right to open that bottle.

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October 13, 1926  “We’ll come back for you.”

Thomas Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that frozen mountainside, the only Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor in the entire Korean Conflict.

Jesse LeRoy Brown was born this day in 1926 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the son of a schoolteacher and a warehouse worker.  He had all the disadvantages of a black boy growing up under depression-era segregation, but his parents kept him on the “straight & narrow”, insisting that he stuck with his studies.

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Thomas Jerome Hudner, 1950

Thomas Jerome Hudner, Jr. was born in 1924, the son of a successful Irish grocer from Fall River, Massachusetts who went on to attend the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, in 1939.

The two could not have come from more different backgrounds, but both men became United States Navy pilots, and served together during the conflict in Korea.

On June 25, 1950, ten divisions of the North Korean People’s Army launched a surprise invasion of their neighbor to the south.  The 38,000 man army of the Republic of Korea didn’t have a chance against 89,000 men sweeping down in six columns from the north.  Within hours, the shattered remnants of the army of the ROK and its government, were retreating south toward the capital of Seoul.

The United Nations security council voted to send troops to the Korean peninsula.  In November, the People’s Republic of China entered the conflict in support of their Communist neighbor.

Ensign_Jesse_L._Brown
Jesse LeRoy Brown, 1950

By December, nearly 100,000 troops of the People’s Volunteer Army had all but overrun the 15,000 men of the US X Corps, who found themselves surrounded in the frozen wasteland of the Chosin Reservoir.  Dozens of close air support missions were being flown every day to keep the Chinese army at bay.  On December 4, Jesse Brown and Thomas Hudner were flying one of those missions.

The two were part of a 6-plane formation of F4U Corsairs, each pilot flying “wing man” for the other.  Brown’s aircraft was hit by small arms fire from the ground, crash landing on a snow covered mountain side.  Flying overhead, Hudner could see his wing man below, severely injured, his leg trapped in the crumpled cockpit as he struggled to get out of the burning aircraft.

Hudner deliberately crash landed his own aircraft and, now injured, ran across the snow to the aid of his wing man.  Hudner scooped snow onto the fire with his bare hands in the 15° cold, burning himself in the progress while Brown faded in and out of consciousness.  A Marine Corps helicopter pilot landed, and the two went at the stricken aircraft for 45 minutes with an axe, but could not free the trapped pilot.

The pair was considering Jesse’s plea that they amputate his trapped leg with the axe, when the pilot faded away for the last time.  Jesse Brown’s last words were “Tell Daisy I love her”.

They had to leave.  “Night was coming on” Hudner would later explain, “and the helicopter was not equipped to fly in the dark.  We’ll come back for you”, he said.   Jesse Brown could no longer hear him.

Cmoh_armyHudner pleaded with authorities the following day to go back to the crash site, but they were unwilling to risk further loss of life. They would napalm the crash site so that the Chinese couldn’t get to the aircraft or the body, though pilots reported that it looked like the Brown’s body had already been disturbed.

Jesse LeRoy Brown was the first Black Naval Aviator in history.  The first to die in the Korean War.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart, posthumously.  Thomas Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on that frozen mountainside.  One of eleven to be so honored following the battle of the Chosin Reservoir, he was the only Naval aviator awarded the Medal of Honor, during the entire conflict in Korea.

Thomas Hudner visited the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in July 2013, where he received permission to return to the site.  He was 88 at the time, but weather hampered the effort.  North Korean authorities told him to return when the weather was more cooperative.

At the time I write this story, Thomas Hudner is 93, living in Concord Massachusetts with his wife, Georgea.  The remains of Jesse LeRoy Brown are still on that North Korean mountainside.

Lieutenant-Thomas-Hudner

October 8, 1942 “Once!” 

Knowing he was about to die, Harl Pease uttered the most searing insult possible against an expert swordsman and self-styled “samurai”.  Particularly one with such a helpless victim. It was the single word, in Japanese.  “Once!”.

The Municipal Airport in Portsmouth NH was opened in the 1930s, expanding in 1951 to become a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base. The name was changed to Pease Air Force Base in 1957, in honor of Harl Pease, Jr., recipient of the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism that led to his death in World War II.

The Japanese war machine seemed unstoppable in the early part of the war.  In 1942, that machine was advancing on the Philippines.

United States Army Air Corps Captain Harl Pease was ordered to lead three battered B-17 Flying Fortresses to Del Monte field in Mindanao, to evacuate General Douglas MacArthur, his family and staff, to Australia. One of the planes was forced to abort early, while the other developed engine trouble and crashed.  Pease alone was able to land his Fortress, despite inoperative wheel brakes and used ration tins covering bullet holes.

Harlan Pease
Captain Harl Pease, Jr.

MacArthur was horrified at the sight of that beat up aircraft, and refused to put his wife and son on board. The family would wait two more days before MacArthur made his famous exit, saying, “I shall return”.

Harl Pease wasn’t supposed to go on the “maximum effort” mission against Rabaul, since his aircraft was down for repairs. But he was determined. Harl Pease and a few volunteers grabbed an old trainer aircraft on August 7, too beat up for combat service. Its engines needed overhaul, some armament had been dismounted, and the electric fuel-transfer pump had been scavenged for parts. Pease had a fuel tank installed in the bomb bay and a hand pump was rigged to transfer fuel.  In fewer than three hours, he and his crew were on their way.Cmoh_army

Captain Pease’ Medal of Honor citation tells the story: “When 1 engine of the bombardment airplane of which he was pilot failed during a bombing mission over New Guinea, Capt. Pease was forced to return to a base in Australia. Knowing that all available airplanes of his group were to participate the next day in an attack on an enemy-held airdrome near Rabaul, New Britain, although he was not scheduled to take part in this mission, Capt. Pease selected the most serviceable airplane at this base and prepared it for combat, knowing that it had been found and declared unserviceable for combat missions. With the members of his combat crew, who volunteered to accompany him, he rejoined his squadron at Port Moresby, New Guinea, at 1 a.m. on 7 August, after having flown almost continuously since early the preceding morning. With only 3 hours’ rest, he took off with his squadron for the attack. Throughout the long flight to Rabaul, New Britain, he managed by skillful flying of his unserviceable airplane to maintain his position in the group. When the formation was intercepted by about 30 enemy fighter airplanes before reaching the target, Capt. Pease, on the wing which bore the brunt of the hostile attack, by gallant action and the accurate shooting by his crew, succeeded in destroying several Zeros before dropping his bombs on the hostile base as planned, this in spite of continuous enemy attacks. The fight with the enemy pursuit lasted 25 minutes until the group dived into cloud cover. After leaving the target, Capt. Pease’s aircraft fell behind the balance of the group due to unknown difficulties as a result of the combat, and was unable to reach this cover before the enemy pursuit succeeded in igniting 1 of his bomb bay tanks. He was seen to drop the flaming tank. It is believed that Capt. Pease’s airplane and crew were subsequently shot down in flames, as they did not return to their base. In voluntarily performing this mission Capt. Pease contributed materially to the success of the group, and displayed high devotion to duty, valor, and complete contempt for personal danger. His undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit”.

Pease was presumed lost, until Father George Lepping was captured, finding him and one of his airmen languishing in a Japanese POW camp. Captain Pease was well respected by the other POWs, and even some of his Japanese guards. “You, you ah, Captain Boeing?“, they would say.  Pease would stand up straight and say, “Me, me Captain Boeing.

Japanese officers were a different story.  They would beat the prisoners savagely on any provocation, or none at all.

On October 8, 1942, Captain Harl Pease, Jr. was taken into the jungle along with three other Americans and two Australian prisoners. They were given picks and shovels and forced to dig their own graves.  And then each was beheaded, by sword. Captain Pease was 25.

Decades later, an elderly Japanese veteran passed away, and his family found his war diary.  This man had been one of the guards ordered along, on the day of Pease’ murder.

Pease_planeThe diary tells of a respect this man had for “Captain Boeing”. Beaten almost senseless, his arms tied so tightly that his elbows touched behind his back, Captain Pease was driven to his knees in the last moments of his life. Knowing he was about to die, Harl Pease uttered the most searing insult possible against an expert swordsman and self-styled “samurai”.  Particularly one with such a helpless victim. It was the single word, in Japanese.  “Once!“.

September 17, 1940 Battle of Britain

Prime Minister Winston Churchill captured the spirit of the period, as only he could. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”. – Winston Churchill

When the allies invaded Europe in 1944, they had to land on the beach in order to get a foothold. At that point, they controlled none of the European continent. The Nazi war machine had been so successful, that a map of Europe at that time could have been drawn in only two colors. One for the occasional neutral nation, the other for Nazi controlled or occupied territory.

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Allied evacuation of Dunkirk, May 1940

Your eyes would have to cross the English Channel on that map to find a third color, that of Great Britain, which in June of 1940 stood defiant and alone in the face of the Nazi war machine.

Rooftop Observer

In his “Finest Hour” speech of June 18, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said “What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin“.

In Germany, street decorations were being prepared for the victory parades which were sure to come, as Hitler considered plans for his surprise attack on his ally to the East, the Soviet Union. After Great Britain and her allies had been hurled from the beaches of Dunkirk, Hitler seemed to feel he had little to do but “mop up”.

Battle of britain, children evacuatedGermany needed air supremacy before “Operation Sea Lion”, the amphibious invasion of England, could begin. Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring said he would have it in four days.

Military planners of the 1930s believed that “The Bomber will always get through”, and Luftwaffe strategy was based on that assumption. Air Chief Marshal Sir H.C.T. “Stuffy” Dowding, leader of RAF Fighter Command, had other ideas. Dangerously low on aircraft and the pilots to fly them, the “Dowding System” employed a complex network of detection, command, and control to run the battle. The RAF hadn’t the faintest prayer of defending their entire coast, but Dowding’s system allowed them to dispatch individual squadrons to intercept each German air raid.

Battle of Britain, cleaning up
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940 (HU 104718) Workmen carry part of the bullet-riddled fuselage of a Dornier Do 17, alongside the wreckage of other crashed German aircraft at a scrapyard in Britain, August 1940. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205227877

The “Channel battles” beginning on July 10 were followed by a month of Luftwaffe attacks on English air fields. Losses were catastrophic for the RAF, but worse for the Luftwaffe. On only one day during this period, September 1, did the Germans succeed in destroying more aircraft than they lost.

German tactics changed on September 7. For almost two months, Luftwaffe attacks concentrated on cities and towns.

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The Imperial War Museum online library (http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=battle+of+britain&items_per_page=10) overflows with images of every day English life, set against a backdrop of catastrophic destruction. Children climbing over piles of rubble on their way to school. A milk man on his rounds, picking his way through shattered streets.  Adults browsing through stacks of library books, the ceilings open to the sky, great beams and rubble littering the aisles between the stacks.

23,002 English civilians died in the raids.  Another 32,138 were injured.

Battle of Britain, score
BATTLE OF BRITAIN (HU 810) A newspaper seller in the street watching a dog-fight during the Battle of Britain. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205226579

Interestingly, the most successful RAF squadrons to fight in the Battle of Britain weren’t British at all, but Polish.

battle of britain, kidsCzechoslovakia fell to the Nazis on the Ides of March, 1939, Czech armed forces having been ordered to offer no resistance. Some 4,000 Czech soldiers and airmen managed to get out, most escaping to neighboring Poland.

Tales of Polish courage in the face of the Nazi invasion of September 1 are magnificent bordering on reckless, replete with images of Polish horse cavalry riding out to meet German tanks. Little Poland never had a chance, particularly when the Soviet Union piled on two weeks later. Poland capitulated in a month, but the German victory was more costly than expected. Much more.  It’s estimated that the Wehrmacht expended twice as much ammunition defeating Poland as they did France the following Spring.  A country with a third larger population.

Battle of Britain, where from

The combined fighting forces of the two nations wound up in France in accordance with the Franco-Polish Military Alliance of 1921, thence to Great Britain following the French capitulation of June, 1940.

Battle of Britain, MilkmanBritish military authorities were slow to recognize the flying skills of the Polskie Siły Powietrzne (Polish Air Forces), the first fighter squadrons only seeing action in the third phase of the Battle of Britain. Despite the late start, Polish flying skills proved superior to those of less-experienced Commonwealth pilots. The 303rd Polish fighter squadron became the most successful RAF fighter unit of the period, its most prolific flying ace being Czech Sergeant Josef František.  He was killed in action in the last phase of the Battle of Britain, the day after his 26th birthday.

145 Polish aircrew served with the RAF during this period, making up the largest non-British contribution to the Battle of Britain.  The smallest is a two-way tie at one each, between Barbados and Jamaica.

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Polish Air Force memorial, St Clement Danes, London

In the end, Great Britain could not be defeated. German resources greatly outnumbered those of the English, but the ratio was reversed when it came to losses. The two nations were at a stalemate and none but a Pyrrhic victory was possible for either. Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Sea Lion on September 17. By the end of October, the air raids had come to an end.

In the end, the Battle of Britain remains a story we remain free to tell, in English.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill captured the spirit of the period, as only he could.

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

 

August 17, 1917  Black Swallow of Death

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit with a black elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James Bullard was born October 9, 1894 in Columbus Georgia, the seventh of 10 children born to William Octave Bullard and an indigenous Creek named Josephine “Yokalee” Thomas.  Bullard’s father had come from Martinique, where his people could trace their lineage back to the Haitian Revolution.

Eugene wanted to leave behind the racial discrimination of his day.  The near-lynching of his father became the catalyst in 1902, when the boy was eight.  He ran away from home, spending the next four years doing odd jobs to survive  The elder Bullard had always told him “in France a man is accepted as a man regardless of the color of his skin”.   In 1906, the boy stowed away on a German ship to Aberdeen.

Bullard worked a number of odd jobs to support himself.  By age 16 he was becoming well known as a boxer, and moved to Paris at the first opportunity.

WWI broke out in August of 1914.  By the end of the year the French nation had suffered over a half million casualties.Ace-Website-Banner-1

Bullard enlisted in the French Foreign Legion, an American serving as one of 54 different nationalities serving in the Moroccan Division, Third Marching Regiment.

The Regiment was sent to the Somme front in 1915, where 300,000 Frenchmen were lost by the end of November. One unit of 500 men began the disastrous Champagne offensive of September.    At the end of the battle, 31 responded to the first evening’s roll call.

What remained of Bullard’s unit was disbanded to form the 170th Infantry, and sent to Verdun.  He thought he had arrived in hell, saying, “I thought I had seen fighting in other battles but no one has ever seen anything like Verdun – not ever before or ever since.”

Erich von Falkenhayn had designed his battle plan for Verdun to “bleed France white”, calling Verdun Operation Gericht.  Operation Execution Place.  Over 250,000 died in the 10 months long battle, more than 100,000 were missing and 300,000 gassed or wounded.

Bullard had been wounded four times before.  On March 5th 1916, he received the wounds that took him out of the ground war.  He was 8 months in hospital when the opportunity arose to join the French Flying Corps.  A white American buddy bet him $2,000 that he couldn’t get into aviation and become a pilot, and he took the challenge.  Bullard earned his wings on May 5, 1917, and received his $2,000 soon thereafter.

Bullard and JimmyBullard was assigned to the 93d Spad Squadron on August 17, 1917, flying Spad V11s and Nieuports with a mascot, a pet Rhesus Monkey he called “Jimmy”.  He said, “I was treated with respect and friendship – even by those from America.  Then I knew at last that there are good and bad white men just as there are good and bad black men.”

The first black combat pilot and the only one to serve in the Great War, Bullard painted a bleeding red heart pierced by a knife on the side of his Spad biplane. Below the heart were the words “Tout le Sang qui coule est rouge!” The phrase roughly translates as “All Blood Runs Red”.

Bullard is credited with two kills while flying for the 93rd, though one of the Germans crashed behind enemy lines so it remained unconfirmed.  He tried to join the American squadron when the US entered the war, but the whites only policy of the time prevented him from doing so.

Bullard married in 1923.  The marriage ended in divorce, with Bullard gaining custody of their two surviving daughters (a son had died of pneumonia in infancy).   He became a drummer at the jazz club, “Le Grand Duc”, later buying his own club and calling it “L’Escadrille”.  Bullard made several famous friends during this time, including Josephine Baker, Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes and the French flying ace Charles Nungesser.

He volunteered with the 51st Infantry when WWII broke out, becoming wounded and escaping to the United States in 1940.Bullard, medals

Bullard spent his last days in obscurity. His daughters had married by the 1950s, and he lived alone in a New York apartment, decorated with pictures of his famous friends and a framed case containing his fifteen French war medals.  He worked as an elevator operator at the Rockefeller Center, where nobody knew anything about his service.

The French government requested his presence in 1954, when he and two white Frenchmen were accorded the honor of relighting the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown French Soldier at l’Arc de Triomphe.

France honored Bullard once again in 1959, naming him a Knight of the Légion d’honneur in a lavish ceremony in New York City. Dave Garraway interviewed him on the Today Show, but he remained alone and unknown in his native country.quote-tout-le-sang-qui-coule-rouge-all-blood-is-red-eugene-bullard-71-83-05

French President Charles de Gaulle came to New York City in 1960, surprising media and dignitaries alike when all he wanted to do was to visit the black elevator operator who worked at the Rockefeller Center.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard died on October 12, 1961.  He was buried with the tri-color of France draping his coffin, laid to rest with full honors by the Federation of French War Officers at Flushing Cemetery in New York.

The first black fighter pilot, the “Black Swallow of Death”, was honored by the country he had loved and served during two world wars.  On August 23, 1994, 77 years after Bullard’s American flight physical, the USAF posthumously awarded Eugene Bullard a commission as a Lieutenant.

 

August 12, 1944 Operation Aphrodite

Kennedy and Willy remained aboard as BQ-8 completed its first remote controlled turn at 2,000′, near the North Sea coast. They removed the safety pin arming the explosive, Kennedy sending the code “Spade Flush”, to signal the task was complete. They were his last words.

The Normandy landings were two months in the past in August 1944, with yet another 9 months of hard fighting to go before the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Allied strategic bombing was having little effect on German submarine pens and rocket launch sites. Operations “Aphrodite” and “Anvil” were supposed to help. The idea was to load old Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberator bombers with tons of explosives, fly it via radio control, and crash it directly onto a target.

The drone was to fly at 2,000′ with the controlling aircraft directing the flying bomb onto its target from 20,000′. The converted bombers required a minimum of two crew to take off and operate.  The plan was to have them bail out over the English Channel, a waiting boat picking up the two pilots while control of the drone passed to the operating aircraft.Kennedy, Aphrodite

On August 12, 1944, Lt. Joseph Patrick “Joe” Kennedy, Jr. and Lieutenant Wilford John Willy stepped into a converted B-24 Liberator, designated BQ-8. It was the seventh Aphrodite mission, and Willy had “pulled rank” on Kennedy’s usual co-pilot, Ensign James Simpson, in order to be on the mission.

Two Lockheed Ventura mother planes with radio control sets took off from RAF Fersfield at 6:00pm, followed by the BQ-8 aircraft, loaded with 21,170 lbs of Torpex, a British high explosive 50% more powerful than TNT.  Two P-38 Lightning fighters followed, as mission escort. A sixth aircraft followed the formation, a de Havilland Mosquito, come to film the operation. In an unlikely historical coincidence, the Mosquito was piloted by Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, USAAF, son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The target was the Fortress of Mimoyecques and its V-3 cannons, in the north of France.

Operation-Aphrodite-Drones-versus-V2-Rockets-4Kennedy and Willy remained aboard as BQ-8 completed its first remote controlled turn at 2,000′, near the North Sea coast. They removed the safety pin arming the explosive, Kennedy sending the code “Spade Flush”, to signal the task was complete. They were his last words. The aircraft exploded two minutes later, a shower of wreckage coming to earth near the village of Blythburgh in Suffolk, England.  A series of small fires were started and 59 buildings were damaged, but there were no casualties on the ground. The bodies of Kennedy and Willy were never recovered.

There would be fourteen such missions in total.  Only one caused damage to the intended target, and that may have been accidental. In the end, the program killed more American airmen than it did Nazis.  More damage was done to the British countryside, than to German interests.

Operation-Aphrodite-Drones-versus-V2-Rockets-5When Joseph Kennedy Jr. was born, his grandfather John F. Fitzgerald, then Mayor of Boston, said, “This child is the future President of the nation”.  He had been a delegate to the Democrat’s National Convention in 1940, and planned to run for Massachusetts’ 11th congressional district in 1946.

Kennedy could have gone home, he had already completed the 25-mission requirement, to do so.  Clearly, Joseph Kennedy Jr. had the resume, and he had the pedigree.  He showed every indication of following the path which would later lead his brother to the Presidency.  Joe Senior had already begun to lay the campaign groundwork when his son was killed.

‘What if’ histories are always tricky, but in this particular alternate universe, it seems safe to say.  A future President of the United States was killed over the Blyth Estuary.  73 years ago, today.

August 9, 1945 Nagasaki

The 10,000lb, 10’8″ weapon was released at 28,900′. Seconds later, a perfect circle of 64 detonators exploded inside the heart of the bomb, compacting the plutonium core into a supercritical mass and  exploding with the force of 20,000 tons of high explosive.

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds“.

Trinity_Test_Fireball_16ms
Trinity Test Fireball

The line comes from the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu epic which Mohandas Gandhi described as his “spiritual dictionary”. On July 16, 1945, these words were spoken by J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project, as he witnessed “Trinity”, the world’s first nuclear detonation.

The project had begun with a letter from prominent physicists Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein to President Franklin Roosevelt, warning that Nazi Germany may have been working to develop a secret “Super Weapon”.  The project ended with the explosion of the “Gadget” in the Jornada del Muerto desert, equaling the explosive force of 20 kilotons of TNT.Trinity_site_plaque

The Manhattan Project, the program to develop the Atomic Bomb, was so secret that even Vice President Harry Truman was unaware of its existence.

President Roosevelt passed away on April 14, and Harry Truman was immediately sworn in as President. He was fully briefed on the Manhattan project 10 days later, writing in his diary that night that the US was perfecting an explosive “great enough to destroy the whole world”.

Nazi Germany surrendered on May 7, but the war in the Pacific theater, ground on. By August, Truman faced the most difficult decision ever faced by an American President. Whether to drop an atomic bomb on Imperial Japan.

The morality of President Truman’s decision has been argued ever since. In the end, it was decided that to drop the bomb would end the war faster, with less loss of life on both sides, compared with the invasion of the Japanese home islands.

So it was that the second nuclear detonation in history took place on August 6 over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. “Little Boy”, as the bomb was called, was delivered by the B29 Superfortress “Enola Gay”, named after the mother of United States Army Air Forces pilot Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets. 70,000 Japanese citizens were vaporized in an instant.  Another 100,000 later died from injuries and the delayed effects of radiation.

FatMan
Fat Man

Even then the Japanese Government refused to surrender. ‘Fat Man’, a plutonium bomb carried by the B29 “Bockscar”, was dropped on Nagasaki, on August 9.

The three cities originally considered for this second strike included Kokura, Kyoto and Niigata. Kyoto was withdrawn from consideration due to its religious significance. Niigata was taken out of consideration due to the distance involved.

Kokura was the primary target on this day, but local weather reduced visibility.  Bockscar criss-crossed the city for the next 50 minutes, but the bombardier was unable to see well enough to make the drop.  Japanese anti-aircraft fire became more intense with every run, and Second Lieutenant Jacob Beser reported activity on the Japanese fighter direction radio bands.

In the end, 393rd Bombardment Squadron Commander Major Charles Sweeney bypassed the city and chose the secondary target, the major shipbuilding center and military port city of Nagasaki.

The 10,000lb, 10’8″ weapon was released at 28,900′.  43 seconds later at an altitude of 1,650′, a perfect circle of 64 detonators exploded inside the heart of the bomb, compacting the plutonium core into a supercritical mass which exploded with the force of 20,000 tons of high explosive.

In the early 1960s, the Nagasaki Prefectural Office put the death count resulting from this day, at 87,000.  70% of the city’s industrial zone was destroyed.

Japan surrendered unconditionally on the 14th of August, ending the most destructive war in history.

Nazi Germany was, in fact, working on a nuclear weapon, and had begun before the allies. They chose to pursue nuclear fusion, colliding atomic particles together to form a new type of nuclear material, instead of fission, the splitting of the atom which resulted in the atomic bomb.

That one critical decision, probably taken in some laboratory or conference room, put Nazi Germany behind in the nuclear arms race. How different would the world be today, had Little Boy and Fat Man had swastikas painted on their sides.