75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid

In early morning on April 18, 1942, a small Japanese vessel detected a large American

Doolittle Raid Takeoff
” Take off from the deck of the USS HORNET of an Army B-25 on its way to take part in first U.S. air raid on Japan.” Doolittle Raid, April 1942. 80-G-41196. National Archives Identifier: 520603

naval force powering toward Tokyo. That the Americans were intent on attacking the Empire was without question: the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, scarcely 4 months prior, was still a recent, searing memory. However, the fleet was still 600 miles from the coast. Because of the limited range of conventional carrier-borne aircraft, detection at such a distance normally would have given the Japanese ample time to intercept the invaders. Yet this invasion was far from conventional.

 

Shortly after detecting the Japanese vessel, 16 highly modified Army Air Forces (AAF) B-25 bombers took off in rapid succession from the USS Hornet. Led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, the aircraft skirted over Tokyo at mid-day, dropped their bombs, and egressed toward China without immediate loss. Unable to reach landing strips on mainland China, they were forced to ditch their aircraft. Eight airmen were ultimately captured by the Japanese, with three being executed. One crew, accidentally landing in Russia, were detained there. The rest returned safely.[1]

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17 B-25’s arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 17 April, 2017 as part of the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. They are on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force until 18 April.

April 18th 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of this most amazing military feat. As part of the commemoration, 17 B-25s touched down at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, behind the Museum of the United States Air Force, early this morning on the 17th. I walked among the restored aircraft, took pictures, and marveled at the thought of that daring, and highly symbolic, mission. Doolittle was well aware that the likely impact to Japanese warfighting capability would be limited. But what was important was to show America, her friends, and her enemies that even in the wake of such a disaster as Pearl Harbor, the United States could fight. In that, the mission was a powerful success. Doolittle and his Raiders were instant American heroes, and the commander would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the raid.

The 17 B-25s will be on display through the morning of the 18th. Weather permitting, they will then conduct a flyover of the museum, followed by a memorial service, and then a B-1 Lancer flyover. LtCol Richard E. Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider (he’s 101 years old) plans to attend.

 

[1] Geoffrey Perret, Winged Victory, The Army Air Forces in World War II (New York: Random House, 1993) 150-153.).

One of the most frightening and humbling pictures I’ve ever taken (Thoughts on June 6)

The view at low tide, coming from the English Channel, of Utah Beach

I actually get choked up when I look at this picture and think on it. I took it at low tide, at Utah Beach, Normandy, France back in the early 2000s.

Some of you WWII historians might be able to correct me on some details, but the intent of the military planners of Operation OVERLORD was to hit the beaches at high tide. The Germans expected that, of course, so that’s why there were all the obstacles you see in the movies …the iron triangles and such, many of which were rigged with explosives. They were there to impede ingressing amphibious craft, which would find them difficult to detect when they were submerged under the water. So why would you want to hit the beach at high tide? Because otherwise your soldiers, marines, and sailors had this to look forward to: a long stretch of open, wet sand to cross on foot while the Nazis laid down withering machine gun fire, grenades, mines, etc from entrenched positions. Due to some delays, Allied Forces missed high tide, and had to hit the beaches at low tide.

So one day in late May, only a week or so removed from the anniversary date, I found myself in Normandy, France. I walked out at low tide, turned, and tried to imagine jumping off of my Higgins boat, and then racing toward the hardened defenses of Normandy. Take a look and imagine.

It was a humbling experience. God bless those men.

(Originally Posted on The Weathered Journal.)

The American Soldier Experience, from World War One to Vietnam

American Soldiers
Peter S. Kindsvatter explores the experiences of American soldiers from the First World War through Vietnam.

Book Review.

In American Soldiers – Ground Combat in the World Wars, Korea, & Vietnam (University Press of Kansas, 2003), Peter S. Kindsvatter examines war diaries and memoirs to help understand the wartime experiences of U.S. soldiers over the course of half a century. Of specific interest are the individual soldiers and small unit dynamics. To further his analysis, Kindsvatter also incorporates the analyses of other social scientists and psychologists. Interestingly, he also uses literary analysis as he discusses the depiction of the soldier’s experience by wartime novelists such as Ernest Hemmingway. This mix of sources, contends Kindsvatter, allows us to search for a “collective truth.”  Although an excellent book, I found the author’s relatively seamless inclusion of fictional accounts in the midst of primary sources – as when discussing white soldier attitudes toward working with their black counterparts – somewhat distracting and unconvincing.

Kindsvatter delves into the formative collective experiences of American soldiers, such as the reasons which prompted the decision to enlist (if voluntary) or to not desert (if drafted), experiences through basic training, and ultimately through combat. The author finds that, contrary to broad-brush understandings of the motivations of soldiers during each war (e.g. soldiers enlisting in the First World War were naïve and gung-ho, the soldiers in the Second World War were more grim but determined, while those in Vietnam were largely disillusioned and unwilling), soldiers entering each conflict were driven by a mix of motives. His discussion on the “soldierization process” – the “tear down” and “build up” that transformed the civilian into a soldier, establishes how citizens from a multitude of backgrounds were brought to a common capability prior to being deployed for war. Following this the bulk of American Soldiers details the experiences of the Army and Marines as they experienced the reality of combat – from dull drudgery to “life-or-death struggle…”

A vital dynamic that gets attention throughout the book is the soldier’s identification with his unit and the Army (or Marines). Basic training laid the foundation for identification as a warrior, but one that existed as part of a larger group. This group psychology was essential to developing loyalty, and “[s]uch loyalty to the group is the essence of fighting morale.” The relationship between soldiers, both horizontally with peers and vertically with leaders and subordinates, had a significant effect on performance and morale. Nowhere was this more evident than with the experiences of black soldiers. The American military was segregated until 1949, when the U.S. Marine Corps integrated, leading the way towards eventual full integration by the end of the Korean War (Kindsvatter points out that Executive Order 9981, signed by Harry Truman in 1948 and often credited with abolishing military segregation, only directed equal treatment of soldiers). Although the experiences of blacks and other minorities are brought up throughout the monograph, an entire chapter is devoted to analyzing race relations throughout these wars.

WEL

Military Intelligence History: Ciphers in WWII ENIGMA and SIGABA.

SIGABA
SIGABA
ENIGMA
ENIGMA

I wrote an article for Yahoo! a few years ago (that I intend on updating this year) that proposed the top five intelligence victories that turned the tide of war. The ENIGMA story is arguably one of the most significant of these victories. I have yet to see The Imitation Game (it’s on the list!), but from what I understand, it omits quite a bit of the intelligence work (and luck) that went into breaking the unbreakable code. Cracking Enigma took a combination of old fashioned spy work, signals collection (meaning the interception of radio transmissions), and cryptography. Polish breakthroughs combined with a German traitor (provided by the French) resulted in the first successes against Enigma. The British and Americans were able to expand this success into breaking the even more resilient Enigma machines used by the German Navy.

These photos were taken at the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Pic 1: SIGABA – SIGABA was a US cipher machine based on the electromechanical rotor principle. It was developed in the late 1930s as a joint effort of the US Army and Navy [1]. At the time it was considered a superior cryptomachine, intended to keep high-level communications absolutely secure. It was used throughout WWII and was so reliable that it was used well into the 1950s, when it was replaced by machines like theKL-7. As far as we know, SIGABA was never broken. (Cryptomuseum.com)

More: http://www.cryptomuseum.com/crypto/usa/sigaba/

Pic 2: ENIGMA – The Enigma machine is an electro-mechanical device that relies on a series of rotating ‘wheels’ or ‘rotors’ to scramble plaintext messages into incoherent ciphertext. The machine’s variable elements can be set in many billions of combinations, and each one will generate a completely different ciphertext message. If you know how the machine has been set up, you can type the ciphertext back in and it will unscramble the message. If you don’t know the Enigma setting, the message remains indecipherable. (Bletchleypark.org.uk)

More: http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/machines.rhtm

For an awesome introduction to ciphers and the workings of ENIGMA, check out Tony Sales’s Ciphers and Codes at  http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk/enigma/

WWII Imagery Intelligence: K-24 Camera

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K-24 Camera

I took this picture at the National Museum of the US Air Force. My first job in the Air Force was as an Imagery Analyst, so cameras and other Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) platforms always draw my interest. Some info:

The K-24 camera, developed in 1942, is a modification of the British F-24 camera. More than 9,000 K-24 cameras were made for use in tactical reconnaissance aircraft in World War II, including the Supermarine Spitfire, the North American F-6 (modified P-51), and the Canadian-built De Havilland F-8 (modified Mosquito). The K-24 camera had two basic functions: night aerial reconnaissance and orientation, or verifying a bomber’s position over a target when a bomb is released. (from US Air Force Fact Sheet).

The camera consists of four major units: Magazine, Gear Box, and shutter body and lens cone. IT takes a picture 5 inches square, and has “no altitude limitations…as long as the photoflash bomb provides sufficient illumination on the subject during the period the shutters are open.” (From K-24 Aerial Reconnaissance Manual)

Link to US Air Force Fact Sheet:

http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=15523

Link to K-24 documentation:

http://aafcollection.info/items/detail.php?key=320