This week in the War, 28 June–4 July 1943: The United States Women’s Army Corps

WWII recruitment poster for the Women's Army Corps [Public domain]

WWII recruitment poster for the Women’s Army Corps [Public domain]

In the USA this week in the war, on 1 July 1943, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was renamed the Women’s Army Corps and the organization was granted full status.

Possibilities for employment within the WAC included telephone operator, baker, seamstress, and also (expanding into the then more male domains) mechanic and armorer.

Despite resentment from some male colleagues (and some male colleagues’ wives) the WACs played an important role in the war, not only on home territory but also in Europe, North Africa and New Guinea. General Douglas MacArthur was a staunch fan.

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This week in the War, 21–27 June 1943: Baldur von Schirach falls from grace

Happier days: Baldur von Schirach (centre) with Japanese boy scout leaders in Bremen, 1937 [Public domain]

Happier days: Baldur von Schirach (centre) with Japanese boy scout leaders in Bremen, 1937 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 24 June 1943, the one-time Hitler Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) Baldur von Schirach quarreled with Hitler over the need to make peace with the Allies. Although Hitler did not dismiss him from his post of Gauleiter of Vienna, the rift between the two men was permanent.

Von Schirach had been appointed head of the Hitler Youth in 1933 and had featured prominently in the Nazi hierarchy and in the Nuremberg rallies. When he left Germany to fight in the Battle of France, he lost his Reichsjugendführer position to Artur Axmann but returned home to be appointed Nazi chief in Vienna.

After the war, during his trial at Nuremberg, he condemned Hitler and the Nazi regime. (As did Albert Speer.) Even so, he served over twenty years in prison for his role in sending Viennese Jews to the extermination camps in the east.

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This week in the War, 14–20 June 1943: The Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen in the Mediterranean theatre, WWII [Public domain]

Tuskegee Airmen in the Mediterranean theatre, WWII [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 18 June 1943, six American P-40 Warhawks, piloted by some of the soon-to-be-famous Tuskegee Airmen, were attacked by German Focke-Wulfs over the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria—which had recently fallen into Allied hands.

The ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ was the name given to the African-American pilots who flew fighter planes or bombers during World War II. They trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield near Tuskegee, Alabama, and were all graduates of Tuskegee University.

Tuskegee Airmen receive Congressional gold medals from US President George W. Bush, Washington DC, 2007 [Public domain]

Tuskegee Airmen receive Congressional gold medals from US President George W. Bush, Washington DC, 2007 [Public domain]

The 18 June 1943 encounter was the Tuskegee Airman’s first taste of combat. They fought off the attack by the dozen or so enemy fighters and both sides returned to their bases without suffering any losses.

The Tuskegee Airmen would serve in Italy and central Europe and many received DFCs for their bravery. They shot down a large number of enemy planes including, near the end of the war, some of the Luftwaffe’s most up-to-date jet fighters.

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This week in the War, 7–13 June 1943: Pantelleria

Men of The Duke of Wellington Regiment on Pantelleria, June 1943 [Public domain]

Men of The Duke of Wellington Regiment on Pantelleria, June 1943 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 11 June 1943, the garrison of the Italian island of Pantelleria surrendered when troops of the British 1st Division landed. The tiny island of Lampedusa surrendered the following day.

Pantelleria is 100km southwest of Sicily, which the Allies had already marked down as the target to be invaded next. (See Operation Mincemeat.) The occupation of Pantelleria (Operation Corkscrew) was an essential step in assuring the success of the Sicily Invasion (Operation Husky).

Round-the-clock bombing of Pantelleria had begun in May and had continued until early June.

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This week in the War, 31 May–6 June 1943: Death of Leslie Howard

British actor Leslie Howard [Public domain]

British actor Leslie Howard [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 1 June 1943, British actor Leslie Howard died when his plane was shot down over the Bay of Biscay.

Howard was a star of both stage and screen and famous for playing the title role in the film The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and for playing Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). He was actively engaged in anti-German propaganda.

Leslie Howard was on board a KLM/BOAC civilian airliner, flying between Britain and Lisbon, in neutral Portugal, when the plane was attacked by a German fighter.

Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes in 'Gone with the Wind' [Public domain]

Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes in ‘Gone with the Wind’ [Public domain]

Theories explaining the attack include: (i) the Germans believed that Howard was working for British intelligence and so the Luftwaffe was ordered to intercept his plane, (ii) the Germans believed that Winston Churchill was on board the flight.

The latter theory was supported by Churchill himself who claimed that German agents, who were watching passengers board the plane, had noticed ‘a thickset man smoking a cigar’ [Winston S. Churchill: The Second World War, Abridged One-Volume Edition (Cassell & Company, 1959), page 671].

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This week in the War, 24–30 May 1943: Jean Moulin calls a meeting

Jean Moulin/Cross of Lorraine background [Attr: I, Gmandicourt, GNU Free Documentation License, Creative Commons]

Jean Moulin/Cross of Lorraine background [Attr: I, Gmandicourt, GNU Free Documentation License, Creative Commons]

This week in the war, on 27 May 1943, French Resistance leader Jean Moulin called a meeting on rue du Four in Paris. Representatives of eight different resistance groups were in attendance.

Jean Moulin was the personal envoy of Charles de Gaulle, with orders to unify the various resistance movements under the umbrella of the Conseil national de la Résistance (CNR). The gathering of 27 May was the first meeting of the CNR and Moulin’s efforts produced major changes in the organization of resistance to the Nazis.

Within the month, Jean Moulin was arrested in Lyon where he was brutally tortured by Gestapo head, Klaus Barbie (‘The Butcher of Lyon’).

Moulin was killed—some say beaten to death—en route to Germany.

His tomb can be seen at the Pantheon, in Paris, among other tombs of France’s honoured dead.

 

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In the news: Memorial Day 2015

Military Working Dog Quaid T183 [Photographer: Markus Rauchenberger, Public domain]

Military Working Dog Quaid T183 [Photographer: Markus Rauchenberger, Public domain]

We honour our troops and veterans on Memorial Day, Monday 25 May 2015. In the photograph, US Army Staff Sergeant Agnieszka Sosnowska of the 131st Military Working Dog Detachment praises her military working dog, Quaid T183, who has just completed explosive detection training.

The use of dogs in warfare goes back to ancient times. The US K-9 Corps was created on 13 March 1942.

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