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!“.

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October 3, 1944 The Littlest War Dog

The decks around them were shaking from anti-aircraft and machine gun fire, when Smoky guided Wynne to duck at the moment an incoming shell struck, killing 8 men standing next to them. She was his “angel from a foxhole.”

The first dog may have approached some campfire, long before recorded history.  It may have been hurt or it maybe it was looking for a morsel.  Dogs have been by our side ever since.

Over history, the unique attributes of Canis Familiaris have often served in times of war.  Ancient Egyptian artwork depicts dogs at work in multiple capacities.  The ancient Greeks used dogs against Persian invaders at the Battle of Marathon.

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Sergeant Stubby

The European allies and Imperial Germany had about 20,000 dogs working a variety of jobs in WWI. Though the United States didn’t have an official “War Dog” program in those days, a Staffordshire Terrier mix called “Sgt. Stubby” was smuggled “over there” with an AEF unit training out of New Haven, Connecticut. Stubby is credited with saving an unknown number of lives, his keen sense of hearing giving his companions early warning of incoming artillery rounds. Once, he even caught a German spy who had been creeping around, mapping allied trenches. It must have been a bad day at the office for that particular Bosch, when he was discovered with a 50lb terrier hanging from his behind.

The US War Dogs program was developed between the World Wars, and dogs have served in every conflict since. My son in law Nate served in Afghanistan with a five-year old German Shepherd named Zino, a Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD), trained to detect as many as 64 explosive compounds.

The littlest War Dog first appeared in the jungles of New Guinea, when an American soldier spotted a “golden head” poking out of an abandoned foxhole.  It was a 4lb, 7″ tall Yorkshire Terrier.  At the time, nobody had any idea how she had gotten there. The soldier brought her back to camp and sold her for $6.44 to Corporal William Wynne, who named her “Smoky”.  For the next two years, Smoky lived a soldier’s life.

They first thought she might have belonged to the Japanese, but they brought her to a POW camp and quickly learned that she understood neither Japanese nor English commands.

The little dog flew 12 air/sea rescue and photo reconnaissance missions, secured in Wynne’s backpack. She survived 150 air raids and a typhoon, often giving him early warning of incoming fire. Wynne credited Smoky with saving his life one time, on an LST transport ship. The decks around them were shaking from anti-aircraft and machine gun fire, when Smoky guided Wynne to duck at the moment an incoming shell struck, killing 8 men standing next to them. She was his “angel from a foxhole.”

Smoky-CulvertOnce, the small dog was able to perform a task in minutes that otherwise would have taken an airstrip out of service for three days, and exposed an entire construction battalion to enemy fire. The air field at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, was crucial to the Allied war effort, and the signal corps needed to run a telegraph wire across the field. A 70′ long, 8” pipe crossed underneath the air strip, half filled with dirt.

Wynne recalled the story: “I tied a string to Smoky’s collar and ran to the other end of the culvert . . . (Smoky) made a few steps in and then ran back. `Come, Smoky,’ I said sharply, and she started through again. When she was about 10 feet in, the string caught up and she looked over her shoulder as much as to say `what’s holding us up there?’ The string loosened from the snag and she came on again. By now the dust was rising from the shuffle of her paws as she crawled through the dirt and mold and I could no longer see her. I called and pleaded, not knowing for certain whether she was coming or not. At last, about 20 feet away, I saw two little amber eyes and heard a faint whimpering sound . . . at 15 feet away, she broke into a run. We were so happy at Smoky’s success that we patted and praised her for a full five minutes”.

Smoky-Therapy DogSmoky toured all over the world after the war, appearing in over 42 television programs and entertaining thousands at veteran’s hospitals. In June 1945, Smoky toured the 120th General Hospital in Manila, visiting with wounded GIs from the Battle of Luzon.  She’s considered to be the first therapy dog, and credited with expanding interest in what had hitherto been an obscure breed.

Smoky died in her sleep in February 1957, at about 14, and was buried in a .30 caliber ammunition box. A bronze life-size sculpture of Smoky sitting in a GI helmet was installed over her final resting place almost fifty years later, where it sits atop a two-ton blue granite base.

Smoky-MemorialBill Wynne was 90 years old in 2012, when he was “flabbergasted” to be approached by Australian authorities. They explained that an Australian army nurse had purchased the dog from a Queen Street pet store, becoming separated in the jungles of New Guinea. 68 years later, the Australians had come to award his dog a medal.

 

As a personal aside, Nate and Zino were separated after their tour in Afghanistan.  They were reunited in 2014, when the dog came to live with Nate and our daughter Carolyn in their home in Savannah.  Last fall, Sheryl and I went with a friend to Houston, to celebrate our anniversary at the “Redneck Country Club”.  2,000 miles from home and completely by chance, who do we meet but the trainer who taught Zino to be a TEDD in the first place.  Small world.

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.

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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”.

 

September 16, 1906 Mad Jack

Of all the hundreds of amphibious landings carried out in WW2, no other soldier ever stepped off a landing craft with bow and arrow and Scottish broadsword. Usually, while playing bagpipes.

A child was born on this day in 1906.  He was John Malcolm Thorpe Fleming Churchill, the first son and grandson of British civil servants in the Ceylon Civil Service.  The family lived in Hong Kong at the time, returning to England in 1917.  “Jack” graduated from the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, serving in Burma with the Manchester Regiment, before leaving the military, ten years later.

Churchill worked as a newspaper editor for a time in Nairobi Kenya, along with an occasional career as male model, and a couple appearances in motion pictures.  From there he might have faded into obscurity, unlike his fellow Englishman of no relation, with the same last name.  Then came World War II, where John Churchill would earn the name, “Mad Jack”.

It was around this time that Churchill learned to play bagpipes, a bit of an eccentricity for an Englishman of his era.  Mad Jack was nothing if not eccentric.  He also taught himself to shoot a bow and arrow, becoming quite good at it.  Good enough to represent his country in the world archery championship in Oslo, in 1939.

Jack-Churchill

Churchill resumed his military commission and rejoined the Manchester Regiment later that year, when Germany invaded Poland.  Part of the British Expeditionary force to France in 1940, Churchill signaled an ambush on a German unit, by taking its Feldwebel (staff sergeant) out with a broadhead arrow.  No one could have been more surprised than that German NCO, whose dying thought must have been “How did I get an arrow in my chest?”

The unfortunate German is, to my knowledge, the only combatant in all of WWII, to be felled by an English longbow.

Not long after, allied military forces were hurled from the beaches of Europe.  The only way back in, was via those same beaches.  We’ve all seen the D-Day style waterborne assault:  invading forces pouring out of Higgins Boats and charging up the beaches.  Amphibious landings were carried out from the earliest days of WWII, from Norway to North Africa, from the Indian Ocean to Italy.  In all those landings, there’s likely no other soldier who stepped off a Higgins Boat, with a bow and arrows.

On December 27, 1941, #3 Commando raided the German garrison at Vågsøy, Norway. As the ramp dropped on the first landing craft, out jumped Mad Jack Churchill playing “March of the Cameron Men” on the bagpipes, before throwing a grenade and charging into battle.  Mad Jack made several such landings, usually while playing his bagpipes, a Scottish broadsword at his belt.

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“Mad Jack” Churchill, speaking at a landing exercise

Churchill was attached to that sword, a basket hilted “Claybeg”, a slightly smaller version of the Scottish Claymore.  He said “Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” Mad Jack could be seen at the Catania (Sicily) and Salerno landings of 1943, trademark broadsword at his belt, bagpipes under an arm and an English longbow and arrows, around his neck.

Churchill lost the sword in confused, hand to hand fighting around the town of Piegoletti, for which he received the Distinguished Service Order.  Almost single-handed but for a corporal named Ruffell, Churchill captured 42 Germans including a mortar squad.   “I always bring my prisoners back with their weapons”, he explained.  “It weighs them down. I just took their rifle bolts out and put them in a sack, which one of the prisoners carried. [They] also carried the mortar and all the bombs they could carry and also pulled a farm cart with five wounded in it….I maintain that, as long as you tell a German loudly and clearly what to do, if you are senior to him he will cry ‘Jawohl’ and get on with it enthusiastically and efficiently whatever the … situation. That’s why they make such marvelous soldiers…”  It looked, he said, like “an image from the Napoleonic Wars.

Churchill later trudged back to town, to collect his sword.  He encountered an American squad along the way, who seemed to have lost themselves and were headed toward German lines.  When the NCO refused to turn around, Churchill informed him that he was going to be on his way, and he “wouldn’t come back for a bloody third time”.

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Archery historian Hugh Soar, pictured with four of “Mad Jack’s” English longbows

Mad Jack’s luck ran out in 1944 on the German-held, Yugoslavian island of Brac.  He was leading a Commando raid at the time, in coordination with Josip Broz Tito’s Partisans.  Only Churchill and six others managed to reach the top of hill 622, when a mortar shell killed or wounded everyone but Churchill himself.  He was knocked unconscious by a grenade and captured.

He’d been playing “Will Ye No Come Back Again?” on his pipes.

Hitler’s infamous ‘Commando Order” had long since taken effect, and Churchill and his surviving men escaped immediate execution at the hands of the Gestapo, thanks to the decency of one Wehrmacht Captain Thuener. “You are a soldier“, he said, “as I am. I refuse to allow these civilian butchers to deal with you. I shall say nothing of having received this order.” Churchill was able to pay Thuener back for his kindness after the war, keeping him out of the merciless hands of the Red Army.

Churchill was flown to Berlin and interrogated on suspicion that he might be related to the more famous Churchill, before being sent off to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany.  There, Mad Jack and Royal Air Force officer Bertram James escaped that September, slipping under the wire and crawling through an abandoned drain, walking all the way to the Baltic coast. They almost made it, too, but the pair was captured near the coastal city of Rostock, just a few miles from the coast.

churchill2Mad Jack was sent off to Burma, following the defeat of Nazi Germany.  He was disappointed by the swift end to the war brought about by the American bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying “If it wasn’t for those damn Yanks, we could have kept the war going another 10 years!”

As a Seaforth Highlander, Mad Jack was posted to the British Mandate in Palestine, in 1948. He was one of the first to the scene of the ambush and massacre of the Haddassah medical convoy that April, banging on a bus and offering evacuation in an armored personnel carrier. His offer was refused in the mistaken belief that Hadassah was mounting an organized rescue.

No such rescue ever arrived. Churchill and a team of 12 British Light Infantry were left to shoot it out with some 250 Arab insurgents, armed with everything from blunderbusses and old flintlocks, to Sten and Bren guns. Seventy-eight Jewish doctors, nurses, students, patients, faculty members and Haganah fighters were killed along with one British soldier. Dozens were burned beyond recognition and buried in mass graves. Churchill later coordinated the evacuation of some 700 Jewish patients and medical personnel from the Hadassah hospital at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem.

Churchill served as an instructor at the land-air warfare school in Australia, where he became passionately devoted to surfing.  Returning to England upon his retirement, he became the first to surf the 5′ tidal surge up the River Severn, on a board of his own design.

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Surfing the Tidal Bore, up the Severn River

Mad Jack Churchill remained an eccentric, even in his later years.   He loved sailing radio-controlled model warships on the Thames, and little seemed to bring him more joy than to horrify fellow train passengers, opening the window and hurling his briefcase into the darkness.

No one ever suspected that he threw it into the garden of his own back yard.  It saved him the trouble of carrying it home from the station.

He scribbled a couplet once on a postcard, and mailed it to a friend.  The face of the card bore the regimental colors.

On the back, Mad Jack Churchill had written these words.

“No Prince or Lord has tomb so proud / As he whose flag becomes his shroud.”

He may have been talking about himself.

 

August 23, 1942 War of the Rats

A German infantryman wrote to his family, “Animals flee this burning hell of a city. The hardest stones do not last for long. Only men endure”.

WWII could have ended differently, had two of the most homicidal dictators in history become allies. It actually started out that way, when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, in August, 1939. That would end two years later with “Operation Barbarossa”, the German surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, beginning on June 22, 1941.

We’re accustomed to thinking of World War II in terms of the European and the Pacific “Theaters”, but the most horrific casualties of the most destructive war in history, took place on the “Ostfront”, (Eastern Front).  95% of all German Army casualties between 1941 and 1944, and 65% of all Allied military casualties from the entire war, took place on the Eastern Front. The bloodiest battle of the Eastern Front, probably the bloodiest battle in all of history, began this day in 1942, in the city of Stalingrad.

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Photo by Nara Archives / Rex Features (2093505a) October 1942, Stalingrad – Soviet Guardsmen Fighting In The Streets Of The Stalingrad Outskirts

Soviet propagandists called it a “harvest victory”, when most of the cattle, grain and rail cars were shipped out of the city in advance of the German assault.

Most of Stalingrad’s civilian residents remained however, leaving the city short of food, even before the commencement of German attacks. Making things worse, the Luftwaffe bombed Volga River shipping, sinking 32 ships and crippling another 9 in the narrow waterway, cutting off this vital link in the city’s supply chain.

Wilfred von Richtofen, cousin of the famous “Red Baron” of WWI, opened up with his heavy bombers on August 23rd, dropping over 1,000 tons of high explosive on Stalingrad.

The Soviets suffered from extreme manpower shortages in the beginning.  The burden of the early defense of the city fell to the 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, a primarily female unit of young volunteers who had no training and the wrong weapons to engage ground targets. These women were all alone at this point with no support from other units, but they traded shot for shot with the German 16th Panzer Division until all 37 AA guns had been wiped out or overrun. When it was over, 16th Panzer soldiers were shocked to learn they’d been fighting women.

1077th

Stalingrad was quickly reduced to rubble, with the German 6th Army controlling 90% of the city.  Still, Lt. Gen. Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov’s army held on.  With backs to the Volga, they fought for the very sewers of the city, men and women alike reduced to a primitive level of existence. The Germans called it “Rattenkrieg”. “War of the Rats”. A German infantryman wrote to his family, “Animals flee this burning hell of a city. The hardest stones do not last for long. Only men endure”.

As many as 80,000 Red Army soldiers lay dead by the middle of October, 1942. Counting German losses and civilian deaths, the battle cost a quarter of a million lives up to this point, and the fighting still had months to go.Stalingrad

Ice floes in the Volga river further cut off the defender’s supplies, reducing them to cannibalism as a massive Soviet counter-attack was building on the German’s exposed left flank.

By November, General Georgy Zhukov had assembled over a million fresh troops, 1,500 tanks, 2,500 heavy guns, and three Air Armies for the assault on Stalingrad. The rumble of artillery, the “Great Soviet God of War” could be heard across the steppe as the Soviet counter-attack commenced in a blinding snowstorm on November 19th, 1942. It was now the Germans who were trapped.

German General Friedrich von Paulus asked Hitler’s permission to withdraw before they became surrounded.  The response was that he should fight “to the last soldier and the last bullet.”stalingrad1

German forward movement on the Eastern Front came to an end in February, 1943, when 91,000 freezing, wounded, sick and starving Germans were surrendered to the Red Army.

Even then, as many as 11,000 Germans refused to lay down their arms and continued to fight from the cellars and the sewers of Stalingrad, holding on until early March.

Disease, death marches, cold, overwork, mistreatment, and malnutrition would all take their toll on the prisoners.  Of the nearly 110,000 who went into captivity after the Battle of Stalingrad, fewer than 6,000 lived to return to Germany, after the war.

  August 16, 1945  The Last Emperor

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll to anything closer than the nearest 30 million.

At the age of 2 years and 10 months, Puyi was taken from his parents and installed on the Qing Dynasty throne, in the Chinese Imperial Palace in Beijing.  The year was 1908.

It must have been bewildering for this toddler who was terrified by the sound of the ceremonial drums. Grown men would kowtow and avert their eyes in his presence.  His wet nurse, Wen-Chao Wang, was the only familiar face in the Royal Court.  She was the only one who could console him.  She alone was allowed to accompany him to the Forbidden City.

Puyi’s abdication of the throne four years later marked the end of 1,000 years of dynastic rule in China, earning him the sobriquet “The Last Emperor” of China.

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Japanese experts gathered to inspect the scene of the ‘railway sabotage’ on the railway line.

Today, the Tsingtao beer available in Chinese restaurants the world over, is one of the last cultural vestiges of European colonization of China. In the latter half of the 19th century, China became increasingly subjugated through colonization by British, French and German powers.

American President Millard Filmore dispatched Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1852, forcing an opening of that nation’s economy to trade with the West, and commencing a half-century’s period of rapid industrialization in resource-poor Japan. The smaller nation grew in both economic and military power, while China suffered the humiliations of the first and second opium wars, and forced colonization by European interests.

Japan piled on in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, culminating in the massacre of much of Lüshun City (formerly “Port Arthur”), cession of Chinese territories, and the recognition of an independent Korea.

China declared war on Imperial Germany in August 1917, intending to send combat units to the western front, but never getting around to doing so. The move entitled them to a seat at the Paris Peace Conference, but all that got them was a secret list of 21 demands issued by the Japanese Empire.  Japan emerged from this period with greater influence over the Chinese economy, and increased Japanese control over the resource-rich regions of Northern China and Manchuria.

On September 18, 1931, a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Japanese Lt. Kawamoto Suemori, near a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway near Mukden, in modern Shenyang.  It was a ruse, a bald pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in Northern China, and everyone knew it.Mukden_1931_japan_shenyang

The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the line and a train passed minutes later, but the script was already written.  The Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the “Mukden Incident”, launching a full scale invasion.

Japan installed Puyi as Emporer Kangde of the puppet state of “Manchukuo”, all the while suppressing the native Han Chinese in one of the most brutal and genocidal occupations of the 20th century.

Puyi was kept on a short leash by his Japanese handlers, his life mainly consisting of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.

The Second world war was drawing to a close when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, beginning its invasion of occupied China two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the day before Nagasaki.  Puyi was captured at an airfield on this day in 1945, and held in a Soviet gulag in Siberia until Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist party came to power in 1949.

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Japanese occupation of Beijing, 1937 – 1945

Puyi spent ten years in the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province until he was declared “reformed”, moving to Peking in 1959 and taking up residence as an ordinary citizen.Puyi-Manchukuo

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll any closer than the nearest 30 million.

The Last Emperor was an easy target of the “Red Guards”.  He probably wouldn’t have survived the tender ministrations of the communist government, but he died quietly due to complications of Kidney Cancer on October 17, 1967.

The ashes of the last Emperor, a man who had  found himself at the head of over a half-billion people at a time when the world population was only 2 billion, were placed at the Babaoshan Cemetery, the former burial ground of imperial concubines and court eunuchs.

August 14, 1945 A Kiss in Times Square

The lit message running around the Times Building read, “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ” as George Mendonsa grabbed a stranger and kissed her. Two seconds later the moment was gone, but Alfred Eisenstaedt and his camera had been in the right place at the right time.

The most destructive war in history ended this day in 1945, with the unconditional surrender of the Empire of Japan.

It was morning on the East Coast.  President Harry Truman had not yet received the formal surrender. The White House official announcement was still hours away, but rumors had been flying since the early morning hours.

Born and raised in Austria, Greta Zimmer was 16 in 1939. Seeing the war bearing down on them, Greta’s parents sent her and her two sisters to America, not knowing if they would ever see them again. Six years later she was a dental assistant, working at the Manhattan office of Dr. J. L. Berke.

Greta’s lunch break came just after 1:00 that day.  Patients had been coming into the office all morning with rumors that the war was over. She set out for Times Square, knowing that the lit and moving type on the Times news zipper would give her the latest news.

Mendonsa, Zimmer
George Mendonsa, Greta Zimmer-Friedman

Petty Officer 1st Class George Mendonsa was on his last day of shore leave, spending the day with his new girlfriend, Rita Petry. They had heard the rumors too, but right now they were enjoying their last day together. The war could wait until tomorrow.

The couple went to a movie at Radio City Music Hall, but the film was interrupted by a theater employee who turned on the lights, announcing that the war was over. Leaving the theater, the couple joined the tide of humanity moving toward Times Square. The pair stopped at the Childs Restaurant on 7th Ave & 49th, where bartenders were pouring anything they could get hands on into waiting glasses.  Revelers were scooping them up as fast as the glasses were filled.

Mendonsa’s alcohol-powered walk/run from the restaurant left Rita trailing behind, but neither one seemed to mind. Times Square was going wild.

The sailor from the USS Sullivans had seen bloodshed. He’d been there on May 11, as kamikaze planes smashed into the USS Bunker Hill.  Explosions and fires killed 346 sailors that day.  43 of their bodies would never be found. Mendonsa had helped to pull the survivors, some of them hideously burned, out of the water. He had watched while Navy nurses tended to the injured and the dying.

When the sailor spotted Greta Zimmer, the dental assistant was dressed the same way.  To him, she must have seemed like one of those white-clad angels of mercy from those earlier months.

kiss-in-times-square-leica-2Reporters from the AP, NY Times, NY Daily News and others descended on Times Square to record the spontaneous celebration.

As a German Jew in the 1930s, Alfred Eisenstaedt had photographed the coming storm. He had photographed Benito Mussolini’s first meeting with Adolf Hitler in Venice in 1934. Now he and his Leica Illa rangefinder camera worked for Life Magazine, heading to Times Square in search of “The Picture”.

The lit message running around the Times Building read, “VJ, VJ, VJ, VJ” as George Mendonsa grabbed a stranger and kissed her. Two seconds later the moment was gone, but Eisenstaedt and his camera had been in the right place at the right time.Times Square Kiss

The image of the sailor kissing the nurse would become as famous as Joe Rosenthal’s photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima, but not until years later.

The German made camera which took the iconic image recently went to auction at the Westlicht auction house in Vienna, where it was expected to sell for $30,000. The winning bid was almost $150,000.

After the war, Greta Zimmer learned that both of her parents had died in the camps. She later married and made her home in Frederick, Maryland.  Greta Zimmer Friedman never returned to Austria, and passed away last September, at the age of 92.

George Mendonsa and Rita Petry later married. George never saw the famous photograph until 1980.  At first he wasn’t sure he recognized himself.  Today, framed copies of it hang on the wall of their Rhode Island home.

MendonsaThis year, the couple celebrates their 68th wedding anniversary.  Rita says she wasn’t angry that her husband kissed another woman on their first date.  She points out that she can been seen grinning in the background of the famous picture.  She will admit, however, ‘In all these years, George has never kissed me like that.’