April 9, 1940 A Dish Best Served Cold

On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge.  Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.


The Encyclopedia Britannica describes Croton oil as a “poisonous viscous liquid obtained from the seeds of a small Asiatic tree…”  Highly toxic and a violent irritant, the substance was once used as a drastic purgative and counter-irritant in human and veterinary medicine, but is now considered too dangerous for medicinal use. Applied externally, Croton oil is capable of peeling your skin off.  Taken internally, the stuff may be described as the atomic bomb, of laxatives.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or subject to Nazi occupation.  France fell to the Nazi war machine in six weeks, in 1940.  The armed forces of the island nation of Great Britain were left shattered and defenseless, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk.

On the Scandinavian Peninsula, longstanding policies of disarmament in the wake of WW1 left the Nordic states of Denmark and Norway severely under-strength, able to offer little resistance to the Nazi invaders.

On this day in 1940, German warships entered Norwegian harbors from Narvik to Oslo, as German troops occupied Copenhagen and other Danish cities.  King Christian X of Denmark surrendered almost immediately.  To the northwest, Norwegian commanders loyal to former foreign minister Vidkun Quisling ordered coastal defenders to stand down, permitting the German landing to take place, unopposed.  Norwegian forces refused surrender demands from the German Minister in Oslo, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Nazi Germany responded with an airborne invasion by parachute.  Within weeks, Adolf Hitler could add a second and third scalp to his belt, following the invasion of Poland, six months earlier.  The Kingdoms of Denmark and Norway, were out of the war.

Norway was out of the war, but not out of the fight.   One Nazi officer passed an elderly woman on the street, who complained at the officer’s rudeness and knocked his hat off, with her cane. The officer apologized, and scurried away.  The gray-haired old matron snickered, to herself:  “Well, we’ll each have to fight this war as best we can.  That’s the fourth hat I’ve knocked into the mud this morning.

Norwegian Resistance was quick to form, as patriotic locals united against the Nazi occupier and the collaborationist policies of the Quisling government.

“Anti-Nazi graffiti on the streets of Oslo, reading “Live” above the monogram for the Norwegian king, who had fled when the Germans invaded in 1940”. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

The Norwegian secret army known as Milorg and led by General Otto Ruge, was at first loath to engage in outright sabotage, for fear of German reprisals against innocent civilians.  Later in the war, Milorg commandos attacked the heavy water factory at Rjukan and sank a ferry carrying 1,300 lbs of heavy water, inflicting severe damage to the Nazi nuclear research program.

Sven Somme, tree
Norwegian Resistance member Sven Somme demonstrates one of the techniques by which he evaded capture in the mountains.

In the beginning, Resistance activities centered more around covert sabotage and the gathering of intelligence.  One of the great but little-known dramas of WW2 unfolded across the snow covered mountains of the Scandinavian peninsula, as the civilian-turned-spy Sven Somme fled 200 miles on foot to neutral Sweden, pursued by 900 Wehrmacht soldiers and a pack of bloodhounds.

Operations of all kinds were undertaken, to stymie the Nazi war effort. Some actions seem like frat-boy pranks, such as coating condoms destined for German units, with itching powder.  Hundreds of Wehrmacht soldiers (and presumably Norwegian women) showed up at Trondheim hospitals, believing they had contracted Lord-knows-what kind of plague.

Other operations demonstrate a kind of evil genius.  This is where Croton oil comes in.

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As dedicated as they were, Norwegian resistance fighters still had to feed themselves and their families.  Many of them were subsistence fishermen, and that meant sardines.  For centuries, the small fish had been a staple food item across the Norwegian countryside.  It was a near-catastrophic blow to civilian and Resistance fighters alike, when the Quisling government requisitioned the entire sardine crop.

The Battle of the Atlantic was in full-swing by this time, as wolf packs of German submarines roamed the north Atlantic, preying on Allied shipping.  Thousands of tons of sardines would be sent to the French port of Saint-Nazaire, to feed U-Boat crews on their long voyages at sea.

U-864
German Type X Submarine, U-864

Norwegian vengeance began with a request to the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Great Britain, for the largest shipment of Croton oil, possible.  The “atomic laxative” was smuggled into canneries across Norway, and used to replace vegetable oil in sardine tins.  The plan worked nicely and no one suspected a thing, the pungent taste of the fish covering the strange flavor of the oil.

From midget submarines such as the BiberHaiMolch, and Seehund models to the behemoth 1,800-ton “Type X“, the Kriegsmarine employed no fewer than fifteen distinct submarine types in WW2, including the workhorse “Type VII”, of which some 700 saw service in the German war effort. 

On the surface of the ocean, the Battle of the Atlantic raged on with torpedo and depth charge.  Under the surface, there unfolded a different story.

Revenge, it is said, is a dish, best served cold. Excepting the participants in this tale, no one knows what it looks like when ten thousand submariners simultaneously lose control of their bowels. It could not have been a pretty sight.

April 8, 1942 In the Zone

Rodman was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed his life, forever.

Military forces of Imperial Japan appeared unstoppable during the years leading to World War 2, attacking first Thailand, then the British possessions of Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong. The US military bases in Hawaii, Wake Island, Guam and the Philippines all fell, in quick succession.

On January 7, 1942 Japanese forces attacked the Bataan peninsula in the central Luzon region, of the Philippines. The prize was nothing short of the finest natural harbor in the Asian Pacific, Manila Bay, the Bataan Peninsula forming the lee shore and the heavily fortified island of Corregidor, the “Gibraltar of the East”, standing at the mouth.  Before the Japanese invasion was to succeed, Bataan and Corregidor must be destroyed.

In early December, the Far East Air Force (FEAF) outside Luzon possessed more aircraft than the Hawaiian Department, defending Pearl Harbor. In the event of hostilities with Japan, “War Plan Orange” (WPO-3) called for superior air power, covering the strategic retreat across Manila Bay to the Bataan peninsula, buying time for US Naval assets to sail for the Philippines. 

In reality, the flower of American naval power in the pacific, lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  Eight hours after the attack on Oahu, a devastating raid on Clark Field outside of Luzon left 102 aircraft damaged, or destroyed. Army chief of staff general George C. Marshall later remarked to a reporter: “I just don’t know how MacArthur happened to let his planes get caught on the ground.”

General Douglas MacArthur abandoned Corregidor on March 12, departing the “Alamo of the Pacific” with trademark dramatic flair: “I shall return”.  Some 90,000 American and Filipino troops were on their own, left without food, supplies or support with which to fight off the onslaught of the Japanese 14th Army.

Starving, battered by wounds and decimated by all manner of tropical disease and parasite, the “Battling Bastards of Bataan” fought on until they could do no more. 

War correspondent Frank Hewlett was the last reporter to leave Corregidor, before it all collapsed. It was he who coined the phrase “Angels of Bataan“, to describe the women who stayed behind to be taken into captivity, to care for the sick and wounded. Hewlett wrote this tribute to the doomed defenders of that place:

Battling Bastards of Bataan

We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces
And nobody gives a damn
Nobody gives a damn.

by Frank Hewlett 1942

Allied war planners turned their attention to defeating Adolf Hitler.

In the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the river gunboat USS Mindanao earned the distinction of taking prisoner the sole survivor of the midget submarine attacks carried out that day, Kazuo Sakamaki. Now short on fuel, Mindanao was reduced to harassing shore artillery and covering small boats evacuating soldiers, from the beaches. On April 8, 1942, Mindanao Executive Officer David Nash confided to his diary: “This has been a hectic day. It looks like the beginning of the end. The planes get nearer each day and this evening the word was received to get up steam and standby to get underway. Meanwhile Ft. Mills started shooting across our heads toward the Bataan lines. All night long our forces were obviously destroying equipment. It looks like evacuation from the Peninsula”.

Bataan fell the following day, some 75,000 American and Filipino fighters beginning a 65-mile, five-day trek into captivity known as the Bataan Death March. Lieutenant Nash was taken prisoner, surviving a captivity many did not to pass the remainder of the war at Bilibid, Davao, Dapecol and the infamous Cabanatuan prison camps.

With a commanding position over Pacific shipping routes, holding the Philippine archipelago was critical for Japanese war strategy. Capturing the islands was important to the US by the same logic with the added reason, this was a personal point of pride for General Douglas MacArthur. Two years almost to the day from that ignominious departure, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered MacArthur to come up with a plan to take the place back. Luzon would come first with the invasion of Leyte in the north, slated for early 1945.

That summer, US 3rd fleet operations revealed Japanese defenses were weaker than expected. The invasion was moved forward to October. Before it was over, the Battle of Leyte would trigger the greatest naval battle, of World War 2.

With deep-water approaches and sandy beaches, Leyte Island is tailor-made for amphibious assault. Preliminary operations for the invasion began on October 17. MacArthur made his grand entrance on the 20th announcing to the 900,000 residents of the island: “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

The fighting for Leyte was long and bloody involving 323,000 American troops and Filipino guerrillas. Day and night through mountains, swamps and jungles, by the time it was over some 50,000 Japanese combat troops were destroyed. Organized resistance ended on Christmas day. By the New Year there was little left, but isolated stragglers.

Not many can find humor in such a place as that. Private Melvin Levy was one who could. A member of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, that November, Levy and his comrades were fighting as infantry. He was part of the 511th‘s demolition platoon, nicknamed the “Death Squad” for its high casualty rate.

The C-47 came in low that day, but this wasn’t your normal bombing run. The plane was armed with “biscuit bombs”, crates of food and provisions intended to resupply the 511th regiment. With a comedian’s sense of timing, Levy was holding court before an enthralled group of soldiers, resting under a palm tree. Laughter filled the air as Private Levy delivered the punchline and asked his best friend Rodman, for a cigarette. Rodman took the one out of his mouth and handed it over before turning, for the pack. The biscuit bomb came in at 200 miles per hour, tearing Levy’s head from his shoulders, where he stood.

As the only other Jewish guy in the unit, Rodman presided over Levy’s funeral, the following day. He spoke a few words and placed a star of David, on Levy’s grave.

Nearly half his comrades were killed, fighting in the Philippines. Rodman himself was wounded twice and finished the war, in occupied Japan. He was no stranger to the brutal twists and the horrors of war. The survivor’s guilt. What the man saw during WW2 changed him, forever. The human wreckage wrought by the atomic bomb, the fire bombing, the results of the aerial mining of Japanese harbors literally code-named, “Operation Starvation”.

Rodman Edward Serling had opened a door, never to be closed. A door unlocked, with the key of imagination. Beyond that door is another dimension. A dimension of sound. A dimension of sight. A dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into, the Twilight Zone.

April 7, 1942 Relocation

“Sometime [the train] stop[ped], you know, fifteen to twenty minutes to take fresh air-suppertime and in the desert, in middle of state. Already before we get out of train, army machine guns lined up towards us-not toward other side to protect us, but like enemy, pointed machine guns toward us”. – -Henry Sugimoto, artist

In January 1848, carpenter and sawmill operator James W. Marshall discovered gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in California. Prospectors flocked to the Golden State from across the United States, and abroad. The California Gold Rush had begun.

While not exactly welcoming, prospectors tolerated Chinese immigrants in the early period. Surface gold was plentiful in those days. Some even found the chopsticks and the broad conical hats of the Chinese mining camps, amusing. As competition increased, resentment began to build. Meanwhile in southern China, crop failures and rumors of the Golden Mountain, the Gam Saan, brought with it a tide of Chinese immigration. San Francisco saw a tenfold increase in 1852, alone. Now anything but amused, California lawmakers imposed a $3 per month tax on foreigners, explicitly aimed at Chinese miners.

Large labor projects like the trans-continental railroad and Canadian Pacific Railway fed the influx of Chinese “coolie” labor, eager to work for wages too small to be of interest to American laborers.

By 1870, a full 25% of the California state budget came from that single tax on Chinese miners. In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting the further immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the first and remains to this day the only law specifically targeted at one ethnic group.

Meanwhile, the “gunboat diplomacy” of President Millard Fillmore determined to open Japanese ports to trade, with the west.  By force, if necessary. By 1868, internal Japanese issues and the growing pressure of western encroachment had brought about the end of the Tokugawa Shōgunate and restoration of the Meiji Emperor. 

The social changes wrought by the “Meiji Restoration” combined with abrupt opening to world trade plunged the Japanese economy, into recession. Japanese emigrants had left the home islands since the 15th century, in pursuit of new opportunities. That was nothing compared with the new “Japanese diaspora” begun in 1868. 3.8 million “Nikkei” emigrated between 1868 and 1912, bound for destinations from Brazil to mainland China, the United States, Australia, Peru, Germany and others. Even Finland.

These were the Issei, first generation immigrants, ineligible for citizenship under US law. The immigrant generation kept to the ways of the land they had left behind forming kenjin-kai, social and aid organizations built around the prefecture, from which they had come. Not so, the second generation. These were the Nisei, American-born US citizens, thoroughly assimilated to the culture to which their parents had arrived.

As with the earlier wave of Chinese immigrants, west coast European Americans became alarmed at the tide of Japanese immigration. Laws were passed and treaties signed, attempting to slow their number.

Japanese immigrants in Hawaii

In 1908, an informal “Gentleman’s agreement” between the US and Japan prohibited further immigration of unskilled migrants. A loophole allowed wives to join their husbands already in the United States leading to an influx of “picture brides” – marriages arranged by friends and families and executed by proxy – many happy couples meeting for the first time, upon the arrival of the blushing bride. The immigration act of 1924 followed the example of the Chinese exclusion act of 1882, outright banning further immigration from “undesirable” Asian countries.

By this time 200,000 ethnic Japanese lived in Hawaii, mostly laborers looking for work on the island’s sugar plantations. A nearly equal number settled on the west coast building farms, and small businesses.

From 1937, the rapid conquests of the Asian Pacific raised fears that the Imperial Japanese military, was unstoppable. As relations soured between Japan and America, the Roosevelt administration took to surveillance of Japanese Americans, compiling lists.

Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, public sentiment came down largely on the side of Japanese Americans. The Los Angeles Times characterized them as “good Americans, born and educated as such,” but that would soon change. A member of the second attack wave on December 7, “Zero” pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi downed his crippled fighter on Ni’ihau, the westernmost island of the Hawaiian archipelago. Ignorant at first of what had taken place, Ni’hauans showed the downed pilot, hospitality. By the time it was over the whole thing turned violent, pitting the pilot and a small number of Issei and Nissei, in a deadly struggle against native Hawaiians.

The “Ni’hau incident” combined with fears of 5th column activity to turn the tide, of public opinion.

General John Dewitt, a vocal proponent of what was about to happen, opined: “The fact that nothing has happened so far is more or less . . . ominous, in that I feel that in view of the fact that we have had no sporadic attempts at sabotage that there is a control being exercised and when we have it it will be on a mass basis”.

On January 2, a Joint Immigration Committee of the California legislature attacked “ethnic Japanese” citizen and non-citizen alike, as “totally unassimilable”. The presidentially appointed Roberts Committee assigned to investigate the attack on Pearl Harbor accused persons of Japanese ancestry of espionage, leading up to the attack. By February, California Attorney General and future Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren was doing everything he could to persuade the federal government, to remove all people of Japanese ancestry from the west coast.

This and other images of the period leads us today, to the place where Dr. Seuss in “cancelled”.

On January 14, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Proclamation 2537 requiring “enemy aliens” to procure identification and carry it with them, “at all times”. The War Department, and Department of Justice were sharply divided but, no matter. Executive order 9066 signed February 19 directed the establishment of exclusion zones.

Roosevelt Attorney General Francis Beverley Biddle

Secret Presidential commissions were appointed in early 1941 and again in 1942, to determine the liklihood of an armed uprising among Japanese Americans. Both reported no evidence of such a thing, one reporting: “the local Japanese are loyal to the United States or, at worst, hope that by remaining quiet they can avoid concentration camps or irresponsible mobs.”

That didn’t matter, either. The Senate discussed Roosevelt’s directive for an hour and the House, for thirty minutes. The President signed Public Law 77-503 on March 21 providing for enforcement, of his earlier directive.

Roosevelt’s measure made no specific reference to ethnicity. Some 11,000 ethnic Germans and 3,000 ethnic Italians were sent away to internment camps but the vast preponderance, were of Japanese descent. Throughout the west coast some 112,000 ethnic Japanese were rounded up and held in relocation camps and other confinement areas, throughout the country. Surprisingly, only a “few thousand” were detained in Hawaii itself despite a population of nearly 40% ethnic Japanese.

Japantown handbill: H/T Library of Congress

Below: “A moving van being loaded with the possessions of a Japanese family on Bush Street in San Francisco’s Japantown, April 7, 1942. At right are the offices of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the United States. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) took over the JACL building and repurposed it as a Civil Control Station for the collection and processing of “people of Japanese descent” prior to their transport to detention camps”.

H/T Encyclopedia Britannica

Following the events at Peal harbor, Oakland California-born Fred Korematsu attempted to enlist, in the Navy. Ostensibly rejected due to stomach ulcers, Korematsu believed the real reason was his Japanese ancestry. Korematsu refused deportation orders and went into hiding. The ACLU’s northern California director Ernest Besig brought Korematsu’s case before the courts despite opposition from Roosevelt allies in the national ACLU. Korematsu lost in federal court and the US court of appeals, becoming a pariah even among fellow detainees who felt he was nothing but a troublemaker. The US Supreme Court agreed to take the case and, on December 18, 1944, upheld the lower court verdict. A 6-3 opinion penned by Justice Hugo Black opined that, though suspect, internment was justified due to national circumstances of “emergency and peril”.

“Fourteen Days to Flatten the Curve, “ right?

A second decision released that same day in the case, Ex Parte Endo, unanimously declared it illegal to detain Americans, regardless of ethnicity. In effect the two rulings established that, while eviction was legal in the name of military necessity internment was not, thus paving the way to their release.

“There is but one way in which to regard the Presidential order empowering the Army to establish “military areas” from which citizens or aliens may be excluded. That is to accept the order as a necessary accompaniment of total defense”.

Washington Post, February 22, 1942
“Dressed in uniform marking his service in World War I, a U.S. Navy veteran from San Pedro enters Santa Anita Assembly Center (April 1942)”. H/T Wikipedia

The Japs in these centers in the United States have been afforded the very best of treatment, together with food and living quarters far better than many of them ever knew before, and a minimum amount of restraint. They have been as well fed as the Army and as well as or better housed. . . . The American people can go without milk and butter, but the Japs will be supplied.

Los Angeles Times, December 8, 1942
“Tagged”, and waiting for removal

Among internment camps many were eager to prove themselves, loyal Americans. Some were recruited for service in the armed forces. Many, volunteered. In April 1943 some 2,686 Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and 1,500 incarcerated in mainland camps, reported for duty at camp Shelby, in Mississippi. While many still had families in internment facilities, graduates were assigned to the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat team and sent off to fight the war, in Europe.

With something to prove every one of these guys, fought like tigers. From Naples to Rome to the south of France, to central Europe and the Po Valley, the all-Nisei 442nd infantry lived up to its own motto’ “Go for Broke”. 14,000 men served in the 442nd earning over 4,000 Purple Hearts, 4,000 Silver Stars, 4,000 Bronze Medals and 21 Medals of Honor.

With 275 Texas National Guardsmen hopelessly cut off by German forces in the Vosges Mountains of France, ‘The Lost Battalion”, the 442nd infantry was sent in to get them out. In five days of savage combat, 211 of the Texas men were rescued. The Nisei of the 442nd suffered 800 casualties. Of 185 men who entered the fray from I Company only 8 emerged, unhurt. Company K sent 186 men against the Germans 169 of whom were either killed, or wounded.

For its size and length of service the 442nd became the most highly decorated unit, in US military history.

Fun fact: Ralph Lazo was so angry at the forcible relocation of his friends he voluntarily joined them, on the train. Deported to the Manzanar concentration camp in the foot of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, he stayed there, for two years. The only non-spouse, non-Japanese-American, so detained. Nobody ever asked the man about his ethnicity (half Mexican, half Irish). Lazo was inducted into the US Army in 1944 and served as a Staff Sergeant in the South Pacific where he earned a Bronze Star for valor, in combat.

By this time, many younger Nisei had left to pursue new lives, east of the Rockies. Seven others were shot and killed, by sentries. Older internees had little to return to with former homes and business, gone. Many were repatriated to Japan, at least some, against their will. By the end of 1945, nine of the top ten War Relocation Authority ( WRA) camps were shut down. Congress passed the Japanese-American claims Act in 1948 but, with the IRS having destroyed most of the detainees 1939-’42 tax records, only a fraction of claims were ever paid out.

By the late 1980s, powerful Japanese-American members of the United States Congress such as Bob Matsui, Norm Mineta and Spark Matsunaga spearheaded a measure, for reparations. $20,000 paid to every surviving internee. President Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law on August 10, 1988. Over 81,800 qualified, receiving a total of $1.6 Billion.

February 22, 1943 The White Rose

White Rose survivor Jürgen Wittenstein described what it was like for ordinary Germans to live in Nazi Germany:

The government—or rather, the party—controlled everything: the news media, arms, police, the armed forces, the judiciary system, communications, travel, all levels of education from kindergarten to universities, all cultural and religious institutions. Political indoctrination started at a very early age, and continued by means of the Hitler Youth with the ultimate goal of complete mind control. Children were exhorted in school to denounce even their own parents for derogatory remarks about Hitler or Nazi ideology.

— George J. Wittenstein, M.D., “Memories of the White Rose”, 1979

With Hitler’s appointment as chancellor on January 30, 1933, the National Socialist Worker’s Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP) lost no time in consolidating power. Two days later, the 876-member democratically elected deliberative body, the “Reichstag”, was dissolved.

The National Socialists never did call themselves “Nazis”. That was a derogatory term coined by opponents, long before the party came to power. Throughout the 1930s, it became increasingly dangerous to speak ill of the Nazi party. One such was the Württemberg politician Robert Scholl who criticised the ruling party before, during and after World War 2. Scholl was one of the lucky ones, he lived to tell the story, but not without spending some of that time, behind bars.

Robert and Magdalena (Müller) Scholl had six children together, four girls and two boys. The older of the two brothers, Hans Fritz joined the Hitler youth, against the express will of his father.

He even held a leadership position in the Deutsches Jungvolk in der Hitler Jugend (“German Youngsters in the Hitler Youth”), a section of the Hitler Youth aimed at indoctrinating boys, 10-14.

In 1935, Hans was selected to carry the flag at the 1935 Nazi party rally in Nuremberg, one of three standard-bearers, from Ulm.

He joined the Reich Labor Service for two years before beginning medical school, in Munich. During a semester break, Scholl was drafted as a medic in the French campaign. Back at school, Scholl began to meet teachers and students, critical of the regime. Theirs was a Christian-ethical world view. One of them was Alexander Schmorrell.

Hugo Schmorell was a German-born doctor, living and working in Russia. He married Natalia Vedenskaya, the daughter of a Russian Orthodox priest. Alexander Schmorell was born to the couple in Orenberg Russia and baptised, in the Russian Orthodox church.

Hugo remarried after Natalia died of typhus, this time to a German woman who, like himself, grew up in Russia. Alexander grew up bilingual, able to speak German and Russian, as a native.

The family moved to Weimar Germany following the Russian Revolution. In later interrogations by the Gestapo, Alexander described himself as a German-Russian Tsarist who hated Bolsheviks.

In the Nazi mindset, slavs are part of the great horde of Untermenschen, people considered racially or socially, inferior. Alexander believed no such thing about himself. He was proud of both his German and his Russian sides.

In religion class, Schmorell displayed a stubborn refusal to bend to the will of others, crossing himself right-to-left in the manner of the Russian church, and not left to right. Alexander joined the Scharnhorst youth as a boy, mostly for the love of horseback riding. Once the organization was absorbed into the Hitler Youth movement he gradually stopped attending. Like Scholl, Schmorell joined the Wehrmacht, participating in the Anschluss and eventual invasion, of Czechoslovakia.

In 1941, Scholl and Schmorrell were drafted as medical auxiliaries, for service in the east. There the two witnessed the dark underbelly of the regime in whose service, they risked their lives. The Warsaw ghetto. The savage treatment of Russian prisoners. The deportations and dark rumors of extermination centers.

With the naivety of youth, Scholl and Schmorrell wanted better. Back in school the pair discussed this with Kurt Huber, professor of music and a vocal anti-Nazi. By June 1942, the pair started to write pamphlets, calling themselves, the “White Rose”.

“Isn’t it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?”— 1st leaflet of the White Rose

During later gestapo interrogations, Scholl gave differing stories as to the origin of the name. A poem of the same name by the German poet, Clemens Brentano. A work by the Cuban poet, José Martí. Perhaps it was nothing more than the purity of the white rose, in the face of evil. Or maybe Scholl meant to throw his tormenters off the scent of Josef Söhngen, the anti-Nazi bookseller who had helped them, in so many ways.

Since the conquest of Poland, 300,000 Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way … The German people slumber on in dull, stupid sleep and encourage the fascist criminals. Each wants to be exonerated of guilt, each one continues on his way with the most placid, calm conscience. But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty!”— 2nd leaflet of the White Rose.

The group added members and supporters. Willi Graf who, unlike the founding members hated the Hitler Youth movement, from the beginning. Christoph Probst whose step-mother was Jewish and considered the Nuremberg laws an affront to human dignity. Hans’ sister Sophie who joined, despite her older brother’s protests. Like her brother, Sophie detested what the Nazis stood for.

“Why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanised state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eliminate this system?”— 3rd leaflet of the White Rose

Bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen was critical of the Nazi movement from the beginning, denouncing Hitler’s “Worship of Race” as early as 1934.

Galen excoriated the Nazi euthanization program from the Catholic pulpits of Münster and across the German empire, condemning “the innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped and mentally ill, the incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent”.

Bishop Galen’s sermons were seminal in the formation of the White Rose. One of his sermons formed the basis for the first pamphlet.

Hand copied leaflets were inserted into phone books or mailed directly, to teachers and students.

The grotesque sham trials conducted by Hitler’s “Blood Judge” Roland Feisler made short work of any who would oppose “Der Fuhrer”. Today, the “People’s Court” of Nazi Germany is best remembered in the wake of the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. In reality, this perversion of justice had been around for ten years, handing out death sentences, in the hundreds. This video gives a pretty good idea of “justice” meted out, in Roland Feisler’s court.

There were Germans throughout the war who objected to the murder of millions, but theirs was a forlorn hope. Clergymen Dietrich Bonhoeffer would state “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” For his opposition to the Reich, Bonhoeffer would pay with his life.

Helmuth James Graf von Moltke, great grand-nephew of the famous Helmut von Moltke would lead 28 dissidents of the “Kreisau Circle”, against this “outrage of the Christian conscience.” These too would pay with their lives.

The most successful German opposition party came from the universities of Munich, with connections in Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Vienna, including the White Rose. These were a surprise to Nazi leaders as Universities had long been stalwart supporters of Nazi ideology.

On February 18, Hans and Sophie Scholl arrived on campus with a suitcase full of pamphlets. This was their 6th. Hurriedly moving through the campus the Scholls left stacks of leaflets, outside full lecture halls:

Memorial to the “Weiße Rose” in front of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

“…Fellow Fighters in the Resistance! Shaken and broken, our people behold the loss of the men of Stalingrad. Three hundred and thirty thousand German men have been senselessly and irresponsibly driven to death and destruction by the inspired strategy of our World War I Private First Class. Fuhrer, we thank you!…”Excerpt from pamphlet 6

Their task complete, the pair realized they still had a few. From the upper floor of the atrium, Sophie tossed them into the air and watched them flutter to the ground. It was reckless and stupid, an action witnessed by custodian Jakob Schmid who promptly called the police.

The Scholl siblings were quickly arrested. Hans had on his person the draft, of another pamphlet: #7, written by Christoph Probst. He tried to eat it but the Gestapo was too fast. Probst was arrested within hours, eighty more over the following days. On February 22, 1943, all three were tried before judge Feisler’s People’s Court. All three were sentenced to death and executed by guillotine, the same day.

Es lebe die Freiheit! (Let Freedom live!)— Hans Scholl’s last words before his execution

Graf, Schmorrell, Huber and 11 others were tried on April 13. All three received the same sentence: death by decapitation. All but one of the others received prison sentences, between 6 months and 10 years.

The last member to be executed was Hans Conrad Leipelt on January 29, 1945.

Despite the execution of the group’s leaders, the White Rose had the last word. That last pamphlet was smuggled out of Germany and copied, by the allies. Millions of copies rained down from the sky, dropped, by allied bombers.

Today, the “People’s Court” of the schweinhund Feisler is a district court, in Munich. That’s it, at the top of this page.

LLieselotte ″Lilo″ Fürst-Ramdohr

Lieselotte ″Lilo″ Fürst-Ramdohr was a war widow at 29 when she joined the White Rose, hiding pamphlets in an apartment closet and helping to make stencils, for graffiti. In 2013 she gave an interview for BBC Worldwide, three months before she died. She was 99.

Lieselotte was arrested and interrogated for a month by the Gestapo, and released. She thinks they’d hoped she would lead them, to fellow conspirators.

In 2012, Lilo’s friend Alexander Schmorell was awarded sainthood by the Russian Orthodox church.

She thinks it’s all too amusing. “He would have laughed out loud” she said, “if he had known. He wasn’t a saint. He was just a normal person.”

February 19, 1945 Crocodiles of Ramree

To the human participants in this story, this is a tale of four weeks’ combat over a marginally important, tropical island. For the apex predator of the mangrove swamp, it was little more than a dinner bell.


Five hundred feet off the coast of Myanmar, formerly Burma, across the Bay of Bengal from the Indian sub-continent, there lies the island of Ramree, about a third the size of New York’s Long Island.

In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Army aided by Thai forces and Burmese insurgents drove the British Empire and Chinese forces out of Burma, occupying much of the Burmese peninsula and with it, Ramree island. In January 1945, the allies came to take it back.

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RAF 356 Squadron after bombing Japanese positions on Ramree Island

The battle started out with Operation Matador on January 14, an amphibious assault designed to capture the strategic port of Kyaupyu, and it’s nearby airfield.

By early February, a mixed force of British Royal Marines and Indian allies dislodged a force of some 980 Japanese defenders, who abandoned their base and marched inland to join a larger regiment of Japanese soldiers across the island.

ramree-island2On February 7, the 71st Infantry and supporting tanks reached Ramree town where they found determined Japanese resistance. The town fell in two days. Naval forces blockaded small tributaries called “chaungs”, which retreating Japanese used in their flight to the mainland. A Japanese air raid damaged an allied destroyer on the 11th as a flotilla of small craft crossed the strait, to rescue survivors of the garrison. By February 17, Japanese resistance had come to an end.

The route took the retreating Japanese across 10 miles of marsh and mangrove swamp. Bogged down and trapped in the mire, the soldiers found themselves cut off and surrounded, alone with the snakes, the mosquitoes and the scorpions, of Ramree island.

Throughout the four-week battle for Ramree Island, the allied blockade inflicted heavy casualties on Japanese forces.  The thousand men cut off in the swamp, had more immediate concerns.

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:Lured by a tour guide dangling kangaroo meat from a pole, the 18ft, two-ton monster was, er, snapped by photographer Katrina Bridgeford, who was on the Adelaide River cruise with her family”. Tip of the Hat for this image, to the UK Daily Mail Note the missing right arm on this monster was probably eaten by one of his own kind.

NationalGeographic.com describes the Japanese’ problem, the nightmare predator,  Crocodylus porosus. The saltwater crocodile:  “Earth’s largest living crocodilian—and, some say, the animal most likely to eat a human—is the saltwater or estuarine crocodile. Average-size males reach 17 feet and 1,000 pounds, but specimens 23 feet long and weighing 2,200 pounds are not uncommon.

Opportunistic predators, they lurk patiently beneath the surface near the water’s edge, waiting for potential prey to stop for a sip of water. They’ll feed on anything they can get their teeth into including water buffalo, monkeys, wild boar and even sharks. Without warning, they explode from the water with a thrash of their powerful tails, grasp their victim, and drag it back in, holding it under until the animal drowns.

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British naturalist Bruce Stanley Wright participated in the battle for Ramree, and gave the following account in his book, Wildlife Sketches Near and Far, published in 1962:

“That night [February 19, 1945] was the most horrible that any member of the M.L. [marine launch] crews ever experienced. The crocodiles, alerted by the din of warfare and the smell of blood, gathered among the mangroves, lying with their eyes above water, watchfully alert for their next meal. With the ebb of the tide, the crocodiles moved in on the dead, wounded, and uninjured men who had become mired in the mud.

The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left…Of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive”.

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Current Distribution – Saltwater or Estuarine Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

The actual numbers will never be known. Skeptics question how so many of these beasts could support themselves in such a small space but, consider this:  Saltwater crocodiles are excellent swimmers and are regularly spotted miles out to sea.  Individuals have even been discovered in the relatively frigid Sea of Japan – thousands of miles from their native habitat.  In 2016, Australian Rangers counted 120 “salties” in a 6-kilometer (3.7 mile) stretch of the East Alligator River, in the Northern Territory.

To the human participants in this story, this is a tale of four weeks’ combat over a marginally important, tropical island.  For the apex predator of the mangrove swamp, it was little more than a dinner bell.

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February 9, 1945 An Underwater Chernobyl

Only 4kg of mercury are estimated to have leaked so far, about nine pounds, and surrounding waters are already off limits, to fishing. The Nazi submarine sank this day in 1945 carrying 67 tons.

A light rain fell on Heston Aerodrome in London, as thousands thronged the tarmac awaiting the return of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Searing memories of the Great War only 20 years in the past, hung over London like some black and malevolent cloud.

Emerging from the door of the aircraft that evening in September, 1938, the Prime minister began to speak.  The piece of paper Chamberlain held in his hand annexed that bit of the Czechoslovak Republic known as the “Sudetenland”, to Nazi Germany. Germany’s territorial ambitions to her east, were sated. It was peace in our time.

With the March invasion of Czecho-Slovakia, Hitler demonstrated even to Neville Chamberlain that the so-called Munich agreement, meant nothing. That Poland was next was an open secret.  Polish-British mutual aid talks began that April. Two days after Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, the Polish-British Common Defense Pact was added to the Franco-Polish Military Alliance.  Should Poland be invaded by a foreign power, England and France were now committed to intervene. That same month the first fourteen “Unterseeboots” (U-boats) left their bases, fanning out across the North Atlantic. 

The German invasion of Poland began on September 1, the same day the British passenger liner SS Athenia departed Glasgow for Montreal with 1,418 passengers and crew.  Two days later Great Britain and France declared war, on Germany. With the declaration only hours old, Athenia was seating her second round of dinner guests, for the evening.

At 19:40, U-30 Oberleutnant Fritz Julius Lemp fired two torpedos, one striking the liner’s port side engine room.   14 hours later, Athenia sank stern first with the loss of 98 passengers and 19 crew. The Battle of the Atlantic, had begun.

In a repeat of WWI, both England and Germany implemented blockades on one another.   And for good reason.  At the height of the war England alone required over a million tons a week of imported goods, to survive and to stay in the fight.

The “Battle of the Atlantic” lasted 5 years, 8 months and 5 days ranging from the Irish Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Caribbean to the Arctic Ocean. 

New weapons and tactics would shift the balance first in favor of one side, and then to the other.  Before it was over 3,500 merchant ships and 175 warships were sunk to the bottom. 500,000 tons of allied shipping was sunk in June 1941, alone.

Nazi Germany lost 783 U-boats.

Submarines operate in 3-dimensional space but their most effective weapon, does not.  The torpedo is a surface weapon operating in two-dimensional space:  left, right and forward.  Firing at a submerged target requires that the torpedo be converted to neutral buoyancy. The complexity of firing calculations are all but insurmountable.

The most unusual underwater action of the war occurred on February 9, 1945 in the form of a combat between two submerged submarines. 

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U-864

The war was going badly for the Axis Powers in 1945, the allies enjoying near-uncontested supremacy over the world’s shipping lanes.  Any surface delivery between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was sure to be detected and destroyed.  The maiden voyage of the 287-foot, 1,799 ton German submarine U-864 departed on “Operation Caesar” on December 5, delivering Messerschmitt jet engine parts, V-2 missile guidance systems and 67 tons of mercury to the Imperial Japanese war production industry.

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The mission was a failure, from the start. U-864 ran aground in the Kiel Canal and had to retreat to Bergen, Norway, for repairs. The submarine was able to clear the island of Fedje off the Norway coast undetected on February 6.  By this time British MI6 had broken the German Enigma code and were well aware, of Operation Caesar.

The British submarine Venturer, commanded by 25-year-old Lieutenant Jimmy Launders, was dispatched from the Shetland Islands to intercept and destroy U-864.

ASDIC, an early name for sonar, would have been helpful in locating U-864, but at a price.  That familiar “ping” would have been heard by both sides, alerting the German commander he was being hunted.  Launders opted for hydrophones, a passive listening device which could alert him to external noises.  Calculating his adversary’s direction, depth and speed was vastly more complicated without ASDIC but the need for stealth, won out.

U-864 developed an engine noise and commander Ralf-Reimar Wolfram feared it might give him away. The submarine returned to Bergen for repairs.  German submarines of the age were equipped with “snorkels”, heavy tubes which broke the surface, enabling diesel engines and crews to breathe while running submerged.  Venturer was on batteries when those first sounds were detected.

The British sub had the advantage in stealth but only a short time frame, in which act.

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A four dimensional firing solution accounting for time, distance, bearing and target depth was theoretically possible but had rarely been attempted under combat conditions.  Unknown factors could only be guessed at.

A fast attack sub Venturer only carried four torpedo tubes, far fewer than her much larger adversary.  Launders calculated his firing solution, ordering all four tubes and firing with a 17½ second delay between each pair.  With four incoming at different depths, the German sub didn’t have time to react.  Wolfram was only just retrieving his snorkel and converting to electric, when the #4 torpedo struck.  U-864 imploded and sank, instantly killing all 73 aboard.

So, what about all that mercury?

In our time, authorities recommend consumption limits of certain fish species. Sharp limitations are recommended for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Fish and shellfish have a natural tendency to concentrate or bioaccumulate mercury in body tissues in the form of methylmercury, a highly toxic organic compound of mercury. Concentrations increase as you move up the underwater food chain. In a process called biomagnification, apex predators such as tuna, swordfish and king mackerel may develop mercury concentrations up to ten times higher than prey species.

The toxic effects of mercury include damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs and long term neurological damage, particularly in children.

Exposures lead to disorders ranging from numbness in the hands and feet, muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision and damage to hearing and speech.

In extreme cases, symptoms include insanity, paralysis, coma, and death. The range of symptoms was first identified in the city of Minamata, Japan in 1956 and results from high concentrations of methylmercury.

In the case of Minamata, methylmercury originated in industrial wastewater from a chemical factory, bioaccumulated and biomagnified in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea. Deaths from Minamata disease continued some 36 years among humans, dogs and pigs. The problem was so severe among cats as to spawn a feline veterinary condition known as “dancing cat fever”.

Today, 67 tons of mercury lie under 490-feet of water at the bottom of the north sea, in the broken hull of Adolf Hitler’s last best chance. Rusting containers have already begun to leach toxic mercury into surrounding waters.

The wreck has been called an “underwater Chernobyl”.

Only 4kg are estimated to have leaked so far, about nine pounds, and surrounding waters are already off limits, to fishing. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children are advised not to eat fish caught near the wreck.

The wreck was located in 2003. Discussions began almost immediately to retrieve the deadly cargo from what Oslo’s newspaper Dagbladet called, “Hitler’s secret poison bomb.”

Now, 76 years to the day from the last dive of the U-864, the submarine’s hull and mercury containment vessels are believed too fragile to be brought to the surface.

In the fall of 2018, the Norwegian government decided to bury the thing under a great sarcophagus, of concrete and sand. Much the same technique as that used in Chernobyl to sea off contaminated reactors. The work was projected to cost $32 million (US) with completion date, of late 2020. The work was was delayed and once again, the government is now examining the possibility of retrieving the cargo.

January 29, 1944 Worse than Separation

We marched to Waterloo Station behind our head teacher carrying a banner with our school’s name on it. We all thought it was a holiday, but the only thing we couldn’t work out was why the women and girls were crying


Desperate to avoid war with Nazi Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain convened in Munich in September, 1938 to resolve German claims on western Czechoslovakia. The “Sudetenland”.

Representatives of the Czech and Slovak peoples, were not invited.

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For the people of the modern Czech Republic, the Munich agreement was a grotesque betrayal. “O nás bez nás!” “About us, without us!”

On September 30, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London declaring “Peace in Our Time”.  The piece of paper Chamberlain held in his hand annexed the Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and bore the signatures of Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Édouard Daladier, as well as his own.

Winston Churchill was in the minority in 1938, in a continent haunted by the horrors of the “war to end all wars”. To Churchill, the Munich agreement was an act of cowardly appeasement.  Feeding the crocodile in hopes he will eat you last. For much of Great Britain, the sense of relief was palpable.

In the summer of 1938, the horrors of the Great War were a mere twenty years in the past.  Hitler had swallowed up Austria, only six months earlier.   British authorities divided the home islands into “risk zones” identified as “Evacuation,” “Neutral,” and “Reception.” 

In some of the most gut wrenching decisions of the age, these people were planning “Operation Pied Piper”. The evacuation of millions of their own children, should war come to the home islands.

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When Nazi Germany invaded Poland the following September, London mayor Herbert Morrison was at 10 Downing Street, meeting with Chamberlain’s aide, Sir Horace Wilson.  Morrison believed the time had come for Operation Pied Piper. 

Only a year to the day from the Prime Minister’s “Peace in our Time” declaration, Wilson demurred.  “But we’re not at war yet, and we wouldn’t want to do anything to upset delicate negotiations, would we?”

Morrison was done with the Prime Minister’s dilatory response to Hitler’s aggression, practically snarling in his thick, East London accent “Look, ’Orace, go in there and tell Neville this from me: If I don’t get the order to evacuate the children from London this morning, I’m going to give it myself – and tell the papers why I’m doing it. ’Ow will ’is nibs like that?”

Thirty minutes later, Morrison had the document. The evacuation, had begun.

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Next weekend, the Superbowl champion Kansas City Chiefs will face off with the G.O.A.T (Greatest of all Time) 43-year-old Tom Brady, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The venue, Raymond James Stadium, holds a crowd of 65,618, expandable to 75,000.

In 1938, 45 times that number were mobilized in the first four days of the evacuation, primarily children, relocated from cities and towns across Great Britain to the relative safety of the countryside.

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BBC History reported that, “within a week, a quarter of the population of Britain would have a new address”.

Zeppelin raids had killed 1,500 civilians in London alone during the ‘Great War’.  Since then, governments had gotten so much better at killing each other’s citizens. 

As early as 1922, Prime Minister Arthur Balfour had spoken of ‘unremitting bombardment of a kind that no other city has ever had to endure.’  As many as 4,000,000 civilian casualties were expected in London alone.

BBC History describes the man in charge of the evacuation, Sir John Anderson, as a “cold, inhuman character with little understanding of the emotional upheaval that might be created by evacuation”.

Children were labeled ‘like luggage’, and sent off with gas masks, toothbrushes and fresh socks & underwear. None of them knew to where, or for how long. What must That have sounded like.

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The evacuation of all that humanity ran relatively smoothly, considering.  James Roffey, founder of the Evacuees Reunion Association, recalls ‘We marched to Waterloo Station behind our head teacher carrying a banner with our school’s name on it. We all thought it was a holiday, but the only thing we couldn’t work out was why the women and girls were crying.’

Arrivals at the billeting areas, were another matter.  Many kids were shipped off to the wrong places, and rations were insufficient.  Geoffrey Barfoot, billeting officer in the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare, said ‘The trains were coming in thick and fast. It was soon obvious that we just didn’t have the bed space.’

Kids were lined up against walls and on stages, potential hosts invited to “take their pick”.

For many, the terrors and confusion of those first few days grew and flowered into love and friendships, to last a lifetime.  Some entered a hell on earth of physical or sexual abuse, or worse.

For the first time, “city kids” and country folks were finding out how the “other half” lived. Results were sometimes amusing.  One boy wrinkled his nose on seeing carrots pulled out of muddy fields, saying “Ours come in tins”.  Richard Singleton recalled the first time he asked his Welsh ‘foster mother’ for directions to the toilet.  “She took me into a shed and pointed to the ground. Surprised, I asked her for some paper to wipe our bums.  She walked away and came back with a bunch of leaves.”

John Abbot, evacuated from Bristol, had his rations stolen by his host family. He was horsewhipped for speaking out while they enjoyed his food and he was given nothing more than mashed potatoes. Terri McNeil was locked in a birdcage and left with a piece of bread and a bowl of water.

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In the 2003 BBC Radio documentary “Evacuation: The True Story,” clinical psychologist Steve Davis described the worst cases as, “little more than a pedophile’s charter.”

Eighty-odd years later, the words “I’ll take that one” are seared into the memories of more than a few.

Hundreds of evacuees were killed because of relocation, while en route or during stays at “safe havens”.  Two boys were killed on a Cornish beach, mined to defend against German amphibious assault.

No one had thought to put up a sign.

Irene Wells, age 8, was standing in a church doorway when she was crushed by an army truck.  One MP from the house of Commons said “There have been cases of evacuees dying in the evacuation areas. Fancy that type of news coming to the father of children who have been evacuated”.

When German air raids failed to materialize, many parents decided to bring the kids home.  By January 1940, almost half of evacuees were returned.

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Authorities produced posters urging parents to leave the kids where they were, and a good thing, too. The Blitz against London itself began on September 7. The city experienced the most devastating attack to-date on December 29, in a blanket fire-bombing that killed almost 3,600 civilians.

Sometimes, refugees from relatively safe locations were shipped into high-risk target areas. Hundreds of refugees from Gibraltar were sent into London, in the early days of the Blitz. None of them could have been happy to leave London Station, to see hundreds of locals pushing past them, hurrying to get out.

This story doesn’t only involve the British home islands, either.  American Companies like Hoover and Eastman Kodak took thousands of children in, from employees of British subsidiaries.  Thousands of English women and children were evacuated to Australia, following the Japanese attack on Singapore.

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By October 1940, the “Battle of Britain” had devolved into a mutually devastating battle of attrition, in which neither side was capable of striking the death blow. Hitler cast his gaze eastward the following June with a surprise attack on his “ally”, Josef Stalin.

“Operation Steinbock”, the Luftwaffe’s last large-scale strategic bombing campaign of the war against southern England, was carried out three years later.  285 German bombers attacked London on this day in 1944, in what the Brits called the “Baby Blitz”.

You’ve got to be some tough cookie to call 245 bombers, a Baby Blitz.

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Later in the war, the subsonic “Doodle Bug” or V1 “flying bomb” was replaced by the terrifying supersonic V2.  1,000 or more of these, the world’s first rocket, were unleashed against southern England, primarily London, killing or wounding 115,000. With a terminal velocity of 2,386mph, you never saw or heard this thing coming until the weapon had done its work.

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In the end, many family ‘reunions’ were as emotionally bruising as the original breakup.   Years had come and gone and new relationships had formed.  The war had turned biological family members into virtual strangers.

Richard Singleton remembers the day his mother came, to take him home to Liverpool.  “I had been happily living with ‘Aunty Liz and Uncle Moses’ for four years,” he recalled. “I told Mam that I didn’t want to go home. I was so upset because I was leaving and might never again see aunty and uncle and everything that I loved on the farm.”

Douglas Wood tells a similar story.  “During my evacuation I had only seen my mother twice and my father once,” he recalls. “On the day that they visited me together, they had walked past me in the street as they did not recognise me. I no longer had a Birmingham accent and this was the subject of much ridicule. I had lost all affinity with my family so there was no love or affection.”

The Austrian-British psychoanalyst Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, commissioned an examination of the psychological effects of the separation. After a 12-month study, Freud concluded that “separation from their parents is a worse shock for children than a bombing.”

January 27, 1945 POW

Some thirty to forty managed to escape the killing zone, only to be hunted down and murdered, one by one. Eleven managed to escape the slaughter, and lived to tell the tale. 139 were burned, clubbed or shot to death.

Today, the city of Cabanatuan calls itself the “Tricycle Capital of the Philippines”, with 30,000 motorized “auto rickshaws”.  79 years ago, Cabanatuan became home to one of the worst POW camps of World War 2.

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1942 was a dreadful year for the allied war effort in the Pacific.  The Battle of Bataan alone resulted in 72,000 prisoners being taken by the Japanese, marched off to POW camps designed for ten to twenty-five thousand.

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20,000 died from sickness, hunger or murder at the hands of Japanese guards on the “death march” from Bataan into captivity at Cabanatuan prison and others.

Cabanatuan held 8,000 prisoners at its peak though that number dropped considerably as the able-bodied were shipped out to work in Japanese slave labor camps.

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Two rice rations a day, fewer than 800 calories, were supplemented by the occasional animal or insect caught and killed inside camp walls or by the rare food items smuggled in by civilian visitors.

2,400 died in the first eight months at Cabanatuan, animated skeletons brought to “hospital wards”, nothing more than 2’x6′ patches of floor, where prisoners waited to die.

One Master Sergeant Gaston saw one of these wards in July 1942 and described the horror: “The men in the ward were practically nothing but skin and bones and they had open ulcers on their hips, on their knees and on their shoulders…maggots were eating on the open wounds. There were blow flies…by the millions…men were unable to get off the floor to go to the latrine and their bowels moved as they lay there”.

The war was going badly for the Japanese by October 1944, as Imperial Japanese High Command ordered able bodied POWs removed to Japan.  1,600 were taken from Cabanatuan leaving 500 sick, weak and disabled prisoners.  The guards abandoned camp shortly afterward, though Japanese soldiers continued to pass through.  POWs were able to steal food from abandoned Japanese quarters; some even captured two water buffalo called “Carabao”, which were killed and eaten.  Many feared a trick and didn’t dare leave the camp.  Most were too sick and weak to leave in any case, though the extra rations would help them through what was to come.

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On December 14, some fifty to sixty soldiers of the Japanese 14th Area Army in Palawan doused 150 prisoners with gasoline and set them on fire, machine gunning or clubbing any who tried to escape the flames.   Some thirty to forty managed to escape the killing zone, only to be hunted down and murdered, one by one.  Eleven managed to escape the slaughter, and lived to tell the tale.  139 were burned, clubbed or shot to death.

The atrocity at Palawan sparked a series of raids at Santo Tomas Internment Camp, Bilibid Prison, Los Baños and others.  The first such behind-enemy-lines rescue, took place at Cabanatuan.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci of the US Army’s elite 6th Ranger Battalion selected Captain Robert Prince to plan the rescue. “We couldn’t rehearse this”, Prince said. “Anything of this nature, you’d ordinarily want to practice it over and over for weeks in advance. Get more information, build models, and discuss all of the contingencies. Work out all of the kinks. We didn’t have time for any of that. It was now, or not”.

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On the evening of January 27, 1945, a 14-man advance team formed from the 6th Ranger Battalion and a special reconnaissance group called the “Alamo Scouts”, separated into two groups and began the 30-mile march behind enemy lines to liberate Cabanatuan.

The main force of 121 Rangers moved out the following day, meeting up with 200 Filipino guerrillas serving as guides and helping with the rescue.

Other guerrillas assisted along the way, muzzling dogs and corralling chickens so that Japanese occupiers would hear nothing of their approach. 

Japanese soldiers once again occupied the camp, with 1,000 more camped across the Cabo River outside the prison.  As many as 7,000 more were deployed, just a few miles away.

On the night of January 30, a P-61 Black Widow piloted by Captain Kenneth Schrieber and 1st Lt. Bonnie Rucks staged a ruse.  For 45 minutes, the pair conducted a series of aerial acrobatics, cutting and restarting engines with loud backfires while seeming to struggle to maintain altitude. Thousands of Japanese soldiers watched the show as Rangers crawled on their bellies, into position.

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Filipino Guerilla fighters of Captain Juan Pajota

Guard towers and pillboxes were wiped out in the first fifteen seconds of the assault.  Filipino guerrillas blew the bridge and ambushed the large force across the river while one, trained only hours before to use a bazooka, took out four Japanese tanks.

In the camp, all was pandemonium as some prisoners came out and others hid, suspecting some trick to bring them out in the open.  They were so emaciated, Rangers carried them out two at a time.

The raid was over in 35 minutes, POWs brought to pre-arranged meet-up places with dozens of carabao carts.   The long trek to freedom had only begun. Defiant, one POW said “I made the Death March from Bataan, so I can certainly make this one!”  Over three days, up to 106 carts joined the procession, their plodding 2 MPH progress covered by strafing American aircraft.

Two American Rangers were killed in the raid. Another 4 Americans and 21 Filipinos were wounded, compared with 500-1,000 Japanese killed and four tanks put out of action.  One prisoner died in the arms of a Ranger, before leaving the gate.  Another succumbed to illness on the long trip back. 

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Carabao cart, similar to the ones used after the raid on Cabanatuan

Edwin Rose was a civilian, a purser on a ship plying the Singapore – Hong Kong run, when the war broke out.  He was caught in Manila and spent 929 days in captivity.  One of the longest-held POWs of the war in the Pacific. Rose awoke the night of the raid, and “heard all the shooting”.  He “knew the Americans had arrived” but rolled over and went back to sleep, thinking they were there to stay. On awakening the following morning, Rose found he was alone with “Cabanatuan all my own.”

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He dressed and shaved, put on his best clothes and walked out of camp.  Passing guerrillas found him and passed him on to a tank destroyer. 

Give the man points for style.  Edwin Rose strolled into 6th army headquarters a few days later, with a cane tucked under his arm.

The Cabanatuan raid of January 30, 1945 liberated 464 American soldiers along with 22 British and 3 Dutch soldiers, 28 American civilians, 2 Norwegians and one civilian each of British, Canadian and Filipino nationalities.

In 1982, the Cabanatuan American Memorial was erected on the grounds of the former POW camp and dedicated by survivors of the Bataan Death march and the prisoner-of-war camp, at Cabanatuan. A large mural depicts Filipino and American soldiers helping each other, in combat. A marble altar bears the names of 2,656 Americans with this dedication on the back of the Cabanatuan sign:

SITE OF THE JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP 1942 TO 1945
THIS MEMORIAL HONORS
THE AMERICAN SERVICEMEN AND THE CIVILIANS
WHO DIED HERE AND GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGES
THE EQUALLY HEROIC SACRIFICES
MADE BY FILIPINO SERVICEMEN AND CIVILIANS
IN A MUTUAL QUEST FOR HONOR, FREEDOM AND PEACE
IT ALSO REMINDS MANKIND OF MAN’S INHUMANITY
TO HIS FELLOWMAN

ERECTED AND DEDICATED 12 APRIL 1982 BY
AMERICAN AND FILIPINO COMRADES, FAMILIES AND FRIENDS.

It is the only place in the province of Nueva Ecija where the Filipino flag stands side-by-side, with the Stars and Stripes.

December 22, 1944 Forgotten Angel

The Battle of the Bulge is a familiar tale: The massive German offensive bursting out of the frozen Ardennes forest. December 16, 1944. The desperate drive to capture the Belgian port of Antwerp, vital to German re-supply efforts.

Battle of the Bulge

The terrain was considered unsuitable for such an attack. The tactical surprise was complete, British and American forces separated and driven back, their positions forming an inward “bulge” on wartime battle maps.

The story of the “Battered Bastards” is likewise, well known. 22,800 Americans, outnumbered five to one in some places and surrounded, in the do-or-die fight to hold the indispensable crossroads, of Bastogne. The German demand to surrender, of December 22. The response from American General Anthony McAuliffe. The one word response, “Nuts”, the American slang, confusing to the German delegation.

The siege of Bastogne would last another four days, the German encirclement at last broken by elements of George S. Patton’s 3rd Army. By the end of January, the last great effort of German arms was spent and driven back behind original lines.

Bastogne

Historian Stephen Ambrose wrote “Band of Brothers” nearly fifty years later, a non-fiction account later broadcast as an HBO mini-series, of the same name. The story refers to a black nurse named Anna. There is a brief appearance and then she is gone. No one knew who Anna was, or even if she was real.

Sixty-one years after Bastogne, military historian Martin King was conducting research for a book, Voices of the Bulge.  The knock on the door came in October 2007, in a geriatric home outside of Brussels.

In the months following the Great War, Henri Chiwy (pronounced “SHE-wee”) was a veterinarian, working in the Belgian colony of the Congo Free State. The name of the Congolese woman who bore his child is unrecorded, the name of their baby girl, Augusta Marie.

Nurses

Augusta Chiwy came back to Belgium when she was nine, one of the luckier of thousands born to European fathers, and African mothers. Back to the doctor’s home in Bastogne, a small town of 9,000 where Augusta was loved and cared for by her father and his sister, whom the girl knew as “aunt Caroline”.

Augusta was educated and raised a Catholic. She always wanted to teach but, due to the rancid racial attitudes of that time and place, it would not do to have a black woman teaching white children. She became a nurse instead, on the advice of her father and his brother, a well-known Bastogne physician.

Nursing school was about 100 miles north. Augusta became a qualified nurse in 1943 and returned home the following year for Christmas. She arrived on December 16, the day Adolf Hitler launched his surprise offensive.

Bastogne was soon surrounded, part of one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles, of WW2. Poorly equipped American GIs were outnumbered five to one. These guys didn’t even have winter uniforms.

Bastogne

US Army Doctor Jack Prior was desperate, the abandoned building serving as military aid station, home to some 100 wounded GIs. Thirty of those were seriously wounded. With virtually no medical equipment or medicine and the only other medical officer an Ohio dentist, Dr. Prior badly needed nursing help.

Augusta Chiwy did not hesitate to volunteer, knowing full well that she would be executed, if caught.

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Scene from the HBO mini series, “A Band of Brothers”

Working conditions were grisly in the weeks that followed. With no surgical instruments and no anesthesia, amputations and other procedures were performed with an army knife, with cognac to dull the patient’s pain. On Christmas eve, a direct hit from a 500-pound bomb hit one hospital building, instantly killing dozens of wounded GIs and the only other nurse, Renée Lemaire.  She would be remembered as “The Angel of Bastogne.”

Bastogne building

Augusta Chiwy was in a neighboring building at the time. The explosion blew the petite nurse through a wall but, unhurt, she picked herself up and went back to work.  There were grisly injuries and many died due to inadequate medical facilities, but many lived, their families reunited thanks to the tireless work of Dr. Jack Prior, and nurse Augusta Chiwy.

Given the month of hell the pair had been through, Augusta was heartbroken when Dr. Prior had to move out, in January.  The pair exchanged addresses and stayed in touch, writing letters and exchanging small gifts, of candy.  They last saw each other in 2004, when Dr. Prior returned from his home state of Vermont, for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Prior, Chiwy

Augusta Chiwy suffered symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition poorly understood at that time.  She would go long periods without speaking, becoming quiet and withdrawn even years later.  She married a Belgian soldier in 1959 and the couple had two children.  It would be twenty years, before  she resumed her nursing career.  She almost never spoke of her experience in Bastogne.

The forgotten angel of Bastogne was eighty-six when the knock came on the door of that Belgian nursing home.  It took months for the Scottish historian to coax the story out of her.

Thanks to King’s efforts, Augusta Chiwy would finally receive the recognition she had earned.

Chiwy and King

“On June 24, 2011, she was made a Knight in the Order of the Crown by King Albert II of Belgium. Six months later she received the U.S. Army’s Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service. And on March 21, 2014, Augusta was recognized by her hometown as a Bastogne Citizen of Honor”.  http://www.augustachiwy.org

When asked about her heroism, she’d always say the same thing: “I only did what I had to do.”

Augusta Marie Chiwy died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 94, on August 23, 2015. How many lives would have been cut short, will never be known.  But for the selfless and untiring efforts, of the Forgotten Angel of Bastogne.

Hat tip to http://www.augustachiwy.org, for most of the images used in this essay

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December 8, 1941 A Declaration of War

World War 2 was a time of few restrictions on submarine warfare. Belligerents attacked military and merchant vessels alike with prodigious loss of civilian life, but WW1 didn’t start out that way.

In the early months of the “Great War”, the British Royal Navy imposed a surface blockade on the German high seas fleet.  Even food was treated as a “contraband of war”,  a measure widely regarded as an attempt to starve the German population.   With good reason.  One academic study performed ten years after the war, put the death toll by starvation at 424,000 in Germany alone. The German undersea fleet responded with a  blockade of the British home islands, a devastating measure carried out against an island adversary dependent on massive levels of imports.

1200px-Willy_Stöwer_-_Sinking_of_the_Linda_Blanche_out_of_Liverpool
Sinking of the Linda Blanche out of Liverpoole, by Willy Stöwer

World War 2 was a time of few restrictions on submarine warfare.  Belligerents attacked military and merchant vessels alike with prodigious loss of civilian life, but WW1 didn’t start out that way.

Wary of antagonizing neutral opinion, German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg argued against a “shoot without warning”policy but, strict adherence to maritime prize rules risked U-Boats and crews alike.  By early 1915, Germany declared the waters surrounding the British home Isles a war zone where even the vessels of neutral nations were at risk of being sunk.

shq-ship-gun-dropped
“Q-Ship with gun. The hidden gun emerges as the cover and sides, masquerading as a deck structure, are dropped. From “Q” Boat Adventures: The Exploits of the Famous Mystery Ships by a “Q” Boat Commander, by Harold Auten, published by Herbert Jenkins Ltd” – Hat Tip HistoricEngland.org.uk

Desperate to find an effective countermeasure to the German “Unterseeboot”, Great Britain introduced heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry in 1915, phony merchantmen designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. Britain called these secret countermeasures “Q-ships”, after their home base in Queenstown, in Ireland.

German sailors called them U-Boot-Fälle. “U-boat traps”.

Lusitania warning
Notices taken out in the New York Times and others, specifically warned the Lusitania was vulnerable to attack

The “unprovoked” sinking of noncombatant vessels, including the famous Lusitania in which 1,198 passengers lost their lives, became a primary justification for war.  The German Empire, for her part, insisted that many of these vessels carried munitions intended to kill German boys on European battlefields.

Underwater, the submarines of WWI were slow and blind, on the surface, vulnerable to attack.  In 1916, German policy vacillated between strict adherence to prize rules and unrestricted submarine warfare.  It was a Hobbesian choice. The first put their own people and vessels at extreme risk, the second threatened to bring neutrals like the United States and Brazil,  into the war.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson won re-election with the slogan “He kept us out of war”: a conflict begun in Europe, two years earlier.

In a January 31, 1917 memorandum from German Ambassador Count Johann von Bernstorff to American Secretary of State Robert Lansing, the Ambassador stated that “sea traffic will be stopped with every available weapon and without further notice”, effective the following day. The German government was about to resume unrestricted submarine warfare.

Anticipating this resumption and expecting the decision to draw the United States into the war, German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann delivered a message to the German ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. The telegram instructed Ambassador Eckardt that, if the United States seemed likely to enter the war, he was to approach the Mexican Government with a proposal for military alliance, promising “lost territory” in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for a Mexican declaration of war against the United States.

“We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona…”. Signed, ZIMMERMANN

zimmerman-note

The “Zimmermann Telegram” was intercepted and decoded by British intelligence and revealed to the American government on February 24. The contents of the message outraged American public opinion and helped generate support for the United States’ declaration of war.

In the end, the German response to anticipated US action, brought about the very action it was trying to avoid.

President Woodrow Wilson delivered his war message to a joint session of Congress on April 2, stating that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany would make the world “Safe for Democracy”. Congress voted to support American entry into the war on April 6, 1917. The “Great War”, the “War to end all Wars”, had become a World War.

At the time, a secondary explosion within the hull of RMS Lusitania caused many to believe the liner had been struck by a second torpedo.  In 1968, American businessman Gregg Bemis purchased the wreck of the Lusitania for $2,400, from the Liverpool & London War Risks Insurance Association.   In 2007 the Irish government granted Bemis a five-year license to conduct limited excavations at the site.

causes-of-ww1

Twelve miles off the Irish coast and 300-feet down, a dive was conducted on the wreck in 2008.   Remote submersible operators discovered some 4 million rounds of Remington .303 ammunition in the hold, proof of the German claim that Lusitania was, in fact, a legitimate target under international rules of war.  The UK Daily Mail quoted Bemis:  “There were literally tons and tons of stuff stored in unrefrigerated cargo holds that were dubiously marked cheese, butter and oysters’”.

American historian, author and journalist Wade Hampton Sides accompanied the expedition.  “They are bullets that were expressly manufactured to kill Germans in World War I” he said, “bullets that British officials in Whitehall, and American officials in Washington, have long denied were aboard the Lusitania.‘”

Lusitania, ammunition

Montana Republican Jeannette Pickering Rankin, a life-long pacifist and the first woman elected to the United States Congress, would be one of only fifty votes against entering WWI.  Congresswoman Rankin was elected to a second and non-consecutive term in 1940. Just in time to be the only vote against entering World War 2, in response to President Franklin Delano’s address to a joint session of Congress, December 8, 1941.

Tally sheet for the congressional declaration of war on Japan, December 8, 1941