Today we cannot imagine or fathom the resources and manpower needed for this highly complex operation. It took years of planning, putting together needed resources, and training the men needed. Even then things went wrong right away but despite the terrible odds and the high casualty rate, the Allied forces prevailed. With many junior officers wounded or killed right away, it was the ordinary soldier that won the day.
The world of 6 June 1944 was this: Nazi Germany held total control over Western Europe except for Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland who remained neutral. However its invasion of Russia had collapsed at this point with the German army now forced to retreat. It had already been forced out of North Africa and Allied troops had landed in Sicily in 1943 and by 1944 were in Italy. Mussolini had been deposed in 1943, rescued by German paratroopers, and put in charge of a German supported puppet state in Northern Italy. The Germans knew the allies were planning a major invasion along the coast of France.
Crossing the English Channel was going to be an enormous challenge. Despite what some want to believe, it was easier in concept that actual implementation. While cries of a second front had been going on for years, it required a vast amount of resources to pull off. You not only needed the men, but they all had to be trained, fed, and properly outfitted. Not just the foot soldiers but also the special units. Then you needed ships not only to bring them over to England, but camps to house them and continue their training. The Army Air Corp needed runways and facilities. The list goes on and on. Imagine a list of needed items that stretches, when laid out flat, from San Francisco to Los Angeles and you get an idea of how enormous an operation this was going to be. And that is just on the planning and supply side.
Then the problem of getting men over to France was a major hurdle. Landing craft at the start of the war were not very good and unreliable. New ones would have to be devised (they were, the Higgins boats) that would allow troops to be dropped off as close to shore as possible. Then you needed accurate intelligence to tell you what the troops were going to face. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had put up every possible fortification on the beaches and the area around. From mines in the water to barbed wire to turrets filled with guns and German troops. Hitler wanted an Atlantic wall and Rommel was pretty darn close in getting it done.
That is why D-Day is important. This was a massive operation unlike anything in history. A full fledged invasion of Europe on a tricky North Atlantic where weather was hardly ever your friend. It did not go to plan, some parts went hideously wrong (landing at wrong places etc). Yet the Allied forces prevailed because of the determination of the soldiers, mostly noncoms and enlisted, to get it done. It came at great cost in lives yet when it was over began the march to push Germany out of many conquered lands. Today some talk down this military success out of some desire to lessen having to celebrate in any way war or military accomplishment. Yet had this invasion not happened or been unsuccessful, the Third Reich likely would have lasted a lot longer or worse perhaps not fallen at all.
Further Information & Suggested Reading
Ambrose, Stephen (1994) . D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Gilbert, Martin (1989). The Second World War: A Complete History. New York: H. Holt.
Keegan, John (1994). Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris. New York: Penguin Books.
Ryan, Cornelius (1959). The Longest Day. New York: Simon & Schuster.
In June 1942 the Empire of Japan had become the dominant power in Asia and ruled a sizable empire. It acquired Formosa (Taiwan) in 1895, Korea in 1905, and Manchuria (renamed Manchukuo) in 1931. It invaded China in 1937 seizing control of key cities such as Shanghai, Nanking and Peking (Beijing). French Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Thailand) were invaded after the fall of France in 1940 to prevent it from being used by the Chinese to funnel arms. A treaty with German backed Vichy France made French Indochina neutral but within the Japanese sphere of power. British Hong Kong fell to the Japanese after 18 days of heavy fighting on Christmas Day in 1941. Fortress Singapore, so-called because it seemed impregnable to attack, would fall to the Japanese on 15 Feb 1942. The Japanese avoided a frontal assault by coming through the less protected jungle at its rear. The Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) was conquered by March 1942 and The Philippines would fall in May. Burma would also be taken over as well. To protect their position in Dutch West Indies they began attacking northern Australia to prevent it from being used as a staging area. With the old imperial powers gone and Japan firmly in charge, nothing seemed to be in the way of Japan. The Battle of Midway changed that.
Although the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 Dec 1941 was considered a success in Japan, the United States was still in the game. The unexpected bombing of Tokyo on 18 April 1942(The Doolittle Raid) and its ability to fight as shown at the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942) convinced Japanese leaders they needed to so demolish American morale they would not want to fight any further. They choose a small virtually unknown atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Midway to draw out the American fleet to be destroyed. Midway is aptly named and 1300 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor and nearly halfway between Japan and the West Coast of the United States. Its strategic importance meant it was valuable for both sides. A military base was already there and seizing it from the United States would draw out their remaining carriers along with support craft to be destroyed. The plan was to send four carriers and support craft for the initial attack. Then a larger task force comprised of destroyers, support craft and troops commanded by Admiral Yamamoto would follow up to destroy the American ships than came to liberate Midway. A feint of attacking American outposts in the Aleutian Islands was used to distract the U.S. while it attacked Midway.
The Japanese, however, did not know that its code had been broken. A special naval intelligence unit called HYPO had broken it in March resulting in much of the plan becoming known to the U.S. A task force was assembled of three carriers (Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown) seven heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 15 destroyers, and 16 submarines would go out to meet the Japanese fleet. The Yorktown, already in badly need of repair, was patched up and its depleted aircraft and pilots scrounged up from whatever was available. In overall command was to have been Vice Admiral William Halsey but fell sick prior to the mission. Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance, who headed up the escorts under Halsey, would command Enterprise and Hornet. Rear Admiral Frank Fletcher was in command of Yorktown.
On 4 June 1942, Admiral Nagumo aboard the carrier Akagi launched the initial air attack on Midway comprised of dive and torpedo bombers escorted by Zeroes. PBY’s launched that morning from Midway would sight two Japanese carriers and radar picked up incoming Japanese fighters. Midway sent up unescorted bombers to delay the attack while the fighters remained behind to defend Midway. Midway came under heavy attack and its air interceptors took a heavy beating fighting the Japanese. Anti-aircraft fire from ground personnel proved to be more precise. Midway took a beating but was still functional and could launch planes.
Meanwhile scouting reports flying ahead of the American carriers placed the Japanese carriers at the extreme range for air attack. Making matters more difficult was the fact that Japanese scout planes had sighted the American fleet. Despite the extreme range, Spruance ordered the planes to be launched and increased the speed of the task force to close the distance. The torpedo squadrons left first but due to mechanical problems in launching the dive-bombers, had to fly unescorted. They would reach the Japanese and be quickly shot out of the sky by Japanese Zeroes and anti-aircraft fire. Not one torpedo launched did any serious damage.
Admiral Nagumo had a problem. His planes returned from Midway and were being re-armed for the next bombing run. But he had just gotten a report that the American navy was in the area. Its exact composition was unknown. So he ordered a change in the ordnance for the attack planes. Instead of attacking land-based targets they would arm to destroy ships. The result was there was a lot of ordnance out on the deck on the carriers where this was being done. With the Japanese combat air patrol out of position having dealt with the torpedo squadrons they were not able to intercept the next wave of attack. American dive-bomber squadrons from Enterprise, Hornet, and Yorktown would seemingly arrive nearly at the same time. It was one of the greatest coincidences in military history. Three Japanese carriers–Akagi,Kaga, and Soryu–would be sunk that day. The surviving carrier Hiryu counter-attacked by sending our air squadrons to attack any American carrier they could find. They found Yorktown and dropped three bombs heavily damaging the ship but not sinking it. Admiral Fletcher moved over to cruiser Astoria while it was being repaired. A second air attack an hour later would further damage Yorktown. She would later sink when being towed on 6 June by a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine, which also sank the destroyer Hamman.
The Japanese believed they had turned the tide and would be able to go on with the Midway plan. They knew a huge fleet of destroyers and support craft was on the way. However the Hiryu was found late in the afternoon. An air attack by Enterprise and Yorktown bombers resulted in four or possibly five bombs seriously crippling her. The fires prevented any planes taking off or landing. The crew would evacuate and later Hiryu would sink. Spruance, not wanting to risk exposure to Japanese forces and wanting to protect Midway would retire to the west. Admiral Yamamoto still wanted to invade Midway and proceeded on course. Had Spruance not changed course, the remaining two carriers of the American fleet would have been exposed to Yamamoto’s destroyers. Spruance would go after the stragglers. Yamamoto ultimately ordered the fleet back to Japan not knowing the full composition of the American forces that might be pursuing.
The U.S. Navy lost 1 carrier, 1 destroyer, 150 aircraft and 307 killed. Many of those killed were from the torpedo squadrons that lost 80% or more of their pilots. The Japanese lost 4 carriers, 1 heavy cruiser, 248 aircraft and 3,057 killed. It was a major victory for the U.S. but most Japanese would never learn the full details until after the war was over. The survivors of the sunken carriers and those aboard the ships that survived would be quarantined or sent on duty assignments far away from home. None of the senior officers would face any serious repercussions. Only those at the very top were informed as to what really happened. Only the Emperor and the top naval officers knew the full details. The public was told it was a great victory and the Imperial Japanese Army believed the navy was in good condition. However Admiral Yamamoto and the other senior leaders of the Japanese Navy knew the truth. The United States would soon come out stronger than it had been before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
For the United States it would prove the value of intelligence gathering and code-breaking. It would continue to be an important part of the war effort and would yield even more useful information down the road with dire consequences for Admiral Yamamoto. The code breaking led directly to his plane being shot down in 1943 as payback for Pearl Harbor.
(Please note this is a very condensed description of the Battle of Midway and had a lot more stages in it than reflected in this writing).
1. Lord, Walter (1967). Incredible Victory. New York: Harper and Row.
2. Prange, Gordon W.; Goldstein, DonaldM.; Dillon, Katherine V. (1982). Miracle at Midway. New York: McGraw-Hill
On 19 December 2020 at 2:11 pm local time the volcanic island of Whakaari/White Island, located in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, erupted. The eruption was classified as a phreatic eruption, an eruption of steam, water, ash, rock, and volcano bombs. Such eruptions can also produce deadly gasses which, if in sufficient amounts, can result in asphyxiation. 47 people were on the island at the time as part of tour groups visiting that day. 21 would die and two bodies initially found were likely swept into the sea by rains.
The island itself is remarkable. What you see is the top of a stratovolcano as nearly the entire volcano is underwater. As one of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes, it offers the opportunity to see its crater up close. Over the years it has had frequent eruptions sending ash and gas plumes high into the sky. Lava bombs from eruptions tossed into the bay can be seen glowing red at night. The island itself is uninhabited (there were some sulfur operations in the distant past but those are long since abandoned). The other item of note is that the island is one of the main breeding colonies for Australasian gannets.
Geonet had raised the alert for the volcano to Level 2 meaning that an eruption was possible. White Island Tours informed of this on its website and at the embarkation point. Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas also had a tour to the island that day. However it appears they did not notify those who signed up for the tour of this warning. Legal action by families of those who died as part of the Royal Caribbean tour in the eruption is underway.
Currently there are no tours to the island and even aerial tours are restricted at this time. The island is still classified as being in Level 2 according the latest bulletin on Geonet.
Results from the most recent gas flight on Wednesday 27 May indicate an increased gas flux since the previous flight on 20 May. While previous observations indicated a trend back to levels that are typical for this volcano, the recent increase in SO2 and CO2 gas flux, one of our main indicators of volcanic unrest, could be attributed to a new batch of the magma beneath the volcano at shallow depth.
Such eruptions are unpredictable according to most experts. There is no hard and fast way to say they will erupt. It is like pressure cooker that once it reaches that critical point bursts quickly and without warning. It happens with such speed that if you are too close to it, you probably will have little chance to react. On a small volcanic island like this one, vents are common.
The actions of White Island Tour boats and the helicopter pilots were remarkable. After the eruption subsided, White Island sent in its inflatables to get people off the nearby jetty. Helicopters arrived on the island to pick up survivors and carry them back as well. Their actions saved lives and will be long remembered by the survivors.
But by 1912 when Titanic sailed, there was another, competing distress signal on the scene: “SOS.” There’s a common misnomer that the distress call is short for “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls,” but the letters didn’t stand for anything—it was an adaptation of an existing German radio call. The signal consisted of three dots, three dashes, and another three dots—simple to tap out in Morse code during an emergency and easy to understand, even in poor conditions. An international group including the United Kingdom had ratified SOS as the official international distress signal four years earlier in 1908, but British and Marconi telegraph operators took their time adopting the new signal. (The United States, which resisted early international radio regulation, did not initially sign on to the SOS agreement.)
Acclaimed historian and lifelong Titanic researcher, Dr Michael Martin is collaborating with American travel experiences company Walks to provide an online tour of Cobh, the Titanic’s last port of call. The Titanic Trail, established in 1998 by Dr Martin is a daily guided walking tour that explores the heritage of Cobh, providing an insight into the maritime, military and social heritage of the town and harbour. The renowned tour is now going online for a limited time as part of Walks ‘Spotlight Series’ With many walking tours affected as a result of Covid-19, the Spotlight Series brings fascinating tours online, which people can enjoy from the comfort of their own home.
June is the sixth month on both the Gregorian and Julian calendars. June has the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Traditionally this is on June 21 but that can vary each year. Ancient Romans thought the period from Mid-March to Mid-June was a bad time to get married. June’s birthstones are the pearl, alexandrite and moonstone. The rose and honeysuckle are June flowers.
[Sorry for not posting sooner-been busy with work!]
Judge Okays Titanic Salvage
A federal judge has ruled in favor of R.M.S. Titanic (RMST)to go on an expedition to recover artifacts from the Titanic wreck. The company had petitioned to court to allow it to retrieve the Marconi telegraph and other artifacts. The company argued that due to deterioration these items had to be removed or they would be lost forever. The company, which has salvor-in-possession status, was seeking a modification of a July 2000 order which forbade it from cutting into the hull.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) opposed by filing an amicus curiae with the court. NOAA challenged the evidence justifying the expedition and arguing it was illegal under a 2017 Commerce Appropriations Act that prohibits this activity unless approved by the Secretary of Commerce. They also argued it was out of bounds due to an international agreement. Judge Rebecca Smith found the only issue before the court was whether RMST had followed the requirements required by previous court rulings. Since NOAA was not an actual party to the case, she did not rule on any of the merits raised in their brief to the court.
District Court Allows Salvage Company To Recover Telegraph from Titanic Wreck (Jurist, 24 May 2020)
This was not wholly unexpected. While many in the Titanic community were against the salvage, RMST claimed it was trying to preserve important artifacts from being lost as the wreck deteriorated. They were able to show to Judge Smith had to merely determine if this was a proper request, that how it would be done be consistent with previous authorized salvage, and that the items would be properly conserved. She was satisfied with what they presented to her.
NOAA’s involvement with the case was odd. Since they were not an actual party, they could only file a friend of the court brief. Their brief though was clearly meant as if they were an actual party to the case. One gets the distinct impression that folks at NOAA believe the federal government and not the court has jurisdiction here. They argued that the Secretary of Commerce is the one that makes decisions here and that an international treaty was also an issue. Judge Smith acknowledged the treaty but made it clear that NOAA has no seat at the table. They were essentially in the stands looking down waving paper at the judge. This must have miffed those behind it at NOAA. They can choose to appeal but on what grounds? If they go the route the Department of Commerce has authority, it sets up an interesting fight on maritime law. They may very well appeal this to stop the salvage. Providing of course they can convince a higher court to stop it. That may not be so easy as it sounds.
Titanic Chronology Updates
Two boys thought orphaned when Titanic sank-Michel Navratil, Jr., 3, and Edmond Navratil, 2, were reunited with their mother. Their father had placed them in a lifeboat and perished when Titanic sank. A worldwide appeal to find relatives of the two boys led to finding the mother.
The first silent disaster movie, Saved From The Titanic, was released. Starring Dorothy Gibson, who had been a passenger aboard Titanic, received positive reviews from critics. Sadly due to a fire in 1914 at the film studio, all prints of the movie were lost. All that we have are production stills and secondary evidence from other accounts of its existence.
RMS Oceanic found the remains three people in a lifeboat from Titanic. The body of passenger Thomson Beattie and two unidentified firemen were recovered. While they apparently survived the sinking, they died from hypothermia or thirst in the collapsible lifeboat. The Canadian ship Montmagny recovered three victims and brought them to Louisberg, Nova Scotia where they were transported to Halifax.
The cable ship Minia returned to Halifax, Nova Scotia with 17 bodies from Titanic . Only 1 had died from drowning and the rest from exposure.
The will of John Jacob Astor IV, who died in the Titanic disaster, was probated. His $150,000,000 estate (worth more than $3.3 billion in 2012) was left to his 22-year-old son, Vincent Astor.[18
Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside to remember those who gave all to serve this country. At national cemeteries and smaller ones around the country, flags and flowers have been placed to remember them. We also remind ourselves that freedom is not easily granted, often requires great sacrifice. President Lincoln made note of this in his famous 1863 Gettysburg Address:
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
May is the fifth month on both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. May is spring in the Northern Hemisphere but in the Southern autumn. It is also the month that is the transition for many towards summer at the end of the month. Many schools plan graduations during this time and weddings are popular as well. May Day (May 1) was originally a day in old Russia for picnic in the countryside or in a park in the early days of May.
There are many days in May set aside for religious observance on the Christian calendar. Other events include Star Wars Day (4 May), Cinco de Mayo (5 May), Mother’s Day (US) on second Sunday of May, various Liberation Days to celebrate the end of Nazi occupation, and Memorial Day (US) on last Monday of May.
Symbols for May are:
Emerald-Love and success (May birthstone)
Flowers: Mayflower, Lilly of the Valley, and Hawthorn.
Zodiac signs for May are the Taurus (till May 19) and Gemini (May 20 onwards)
On April 30. 1912 the cable ship Mackay-Bennett along with RMS Olympic arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia. 200 bodies of people who had died after Titanic sank. Mackay-Bennett recovered 306 bodies but 116 had to be buried at sea due to insufficient embalming fluid. Of those identified included John Astor and Isidor Straus. Minia, another cable ship, took over the duties of Mackay-Bennett
Most of the bodies were unloaded at the Coal or Flagship Wharf on the waterfront. Horse-drawn carriages brought the victims to the temporary morgue in the Mayflower Curling Rink. 59 bodies were shipped out by train to their families. The remaining bodies were interred in three Halifax cemeteries three Halifax cemeteries between May 3 and June 12. Burial services were conducted at various churches in Nova Scotia. Flowers and wreaths for victims were provided by local people and businesses. Coffins of the unidentified had lilies on them.
White Star Line paid for many of the tombstones in the cemeteries. Many of the plain block granite ones were replaced by family members and friends with more ornate tombstones.
On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.
The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksberg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376. Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.
After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.
Sadly other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.
While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.
RMS Olympic was barred by a shipworkers strike in Southampton, England from departing over insufficient lifeboats. At issue were 40 collapsible boats that were thought not seaworthy. After a test that showed only one was unsuitable, the workers were offered to return but objected to non union workers brought aboard during this time. After 54 sailors refused to work and left, the sailing was cancelled. The 54 sailors were arrested and charged with mutiny. They were found guilty but no penalty was imposed due to the circumstances of the case. They were allowed to rejoin the crew and Olympic set sail on 15 May.
RMS Olympic would be refitted in October and would incorporate lessons learned from Titanic. 64 lifeboats were added along with an inner watertight lining for the boiler and engine rooms. The watertight bulkheads were extended and an extra one added for a total of 17 watertight compartments. Olympic returned to service in March, 1913.
Commentary on Titanic news and other related items.