This week in the War, 19–25 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea

This week in the war, the last of the great carrier-versus-carrier battle took place near the Mariana Islands, on 19 and 20 June 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter returning to the USS Lexington (Flagship of Task Force 58) June, 1944 [Public domain]

Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat fighter returning to the USS Lexington (Flagship of Task Force 58) June, 1944 [Public domain]

The Japanese force under Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa included 5 fleet carriers. The US’s Task Force 58 included 7 fleet carriers and was commanded by Vice-Admiral Marc Mitscher from his flagship carrier, the USS Lexington (with Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in overall command as commander of the US 5th Fleet).

The battle began above the Marianas on 19 June when US carrier-based aircraft engaged Japanese aircraft coming from both their carriers and their bases on land. The Americans had not yet located the position of the Japanese fleet.

On 20 June, the Americans found the Japanese fleet and attacked with bombers, dive-bombers and torpedo-carrying planes.

Three of the Japanese fleet carriers were sunk and losses in aircraft were over 600. One American battleship was damaged and over 100 aircraft were lost (most through running out of fuel or not being able to find their carriers in the dark).

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, it was clear to the Japanese High Command that the outcome of the war had been decided.

 

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This week in the War, 12–18 June 1944: V-1 flying bombs launched against London

V-1 flying bomb over London, 1944 [Public domain]

V-1 flying bomb over London, 1944 [Public domain]

One of Hitler’s secret weapons, the jet-propelled V-1 ‘flying bomb,’ which also went by the name of doodlebug or buzz-bomb (because of the sound it made), had been developed in the Germany Army Research Centre at Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.

This week in the war, on 13 June 1944, the first V-1s were launched against London from launching pads on the French coast. The ‘V’ stood for Vergeltung, meaning ‘reprisal.’

Ten V-1s were launched that day but only four of them reached Britain and only one of the four reached London. Six Londoners were killed.

Cutaway of V-1 flying bomb [Public domain]

Cutaway of V-1 flying bomb [Public domain]

The range of a V-1 was over 150 miles and the warhead contained over 1,800 pounds of explosive. The speed was around 400mph—faster than almost any aircraft of the day. Over 8,000 V-1s were launched during the course of the war.

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This week in the War, 5–11 June 1944: D-Day—Allied invasion force lands in Normandy

US Navy LSTs deliver vehicles to a beach in Normandy, likely D-Day +1 [Public domain]

US Navy LSTs deliver vehicles to a beach in Normandy, likely D-Day +1 [Public domain]

On 6 June 1944, Field Marshal Rommel, the commander of the German forces on the Channel Coast (Army Group B), was at his home in southern Germany. It was his wife’s birthday. He had planned to travel on to Berchtesgaden to persuade Hitler to reposition his panzer divisions closer to the coast. Rommel was too late. The D-Day invasion of northern France was underway. The Allies had already landed. Operation Overlord had begun.

Vast numbers of troops and over 50,000 tanks, armoured cars, and other vehicles had been massed in southern England. The Americans, alone, fielded more than one and a half million personnel. The British had been waiting and planning for this day ever since they were driven from the continent at Dunkirk.

Hitler had been planning and preparing, too. The French coastline was fortified from the Spanish border all the way to Belgium with concrete gun emplacements and millions of mines and other beach obstacles: Hitler’s ‘Atlantic Wall.’ The Germans expected the Allies to invade at the Pas de Calais. Instead, the Allies landed on the Normandy coast—further to travel from Britain, but less heavily defended.

Dans Paris occupe: Journal d'Helene Pitrou-----by Paule du Bouchet (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Dans Paris occupe: Journal d’Helene Pitrou—–by Paule du Bouchet (Gallimard Jeunesse, 2005) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

By the time Rommel had driven back to his headquarters in France, the Allied beachheads were well established and D-Day was almost over.

In her diary entry for 6 June 1944, Dans Paris occupé—Journal d’Hélène Pitrou, 1940–1945 (by French children’s book author Paule du Bouchet), the fictional Hélène writes (in French): “They have landed! Our allies, the Americans, the British and even the Canadians are . . . on the soil of France!” The year 1944, she hopes, will be the year of liberation and the last year of the war.

 

 

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This week in the War, 29 May–4 June 1944: Liberation of Rome

Saint Peter's Square, Rome; two American GIs talk with a British soldier, 1944 [Public domain]

Saint Peter’s Square, Rome; two American GIs talk with a British soldier, 1944 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 4 June 1944, as the German rearguard retreated northwards out of Rome, the first few units General Mark Clark’s US 5th Army entered the southern part of the city. By mid-evening, the US 88th Division had reached the Piazza Venezia in the centre of Rome.

The following day, the Allies staged their triumphant entry and received an ecstatic welcome from the citizens of Rome. The Allied armies would continue to push northwards, in pursuit of the retreating Germans.

As arranged, King Victor Emmanual III departed, leaving his kingdom in the hands of his son, Prince Umberto.

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In the news: Memorial Day 2016

Staff Sgt. Christopher Jarrell grooms his military working dog companion, Uran, at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan [Public domain]

Staff Sgt. Christopher Jarrell grooms his military working dog companion, Uran, at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan [Public domain]

We honour our troops and veterans on Memorial Day, Monday 30 May 2016.

The above photograph shows Christopher Jarrell grooming his military working dog companion, Uran, at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan.

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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This week in the War, 22–28 May 1944: Breakout at Anzio

Men of 'D' Company, 1st Battalion, The Green Howards, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944 [Public domain]

Men of ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion, The Green Howards, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944 [Public domain]

The British and Americans had landed at Anzio on 22 January 1944, but strong German pressure had kept the Allied invasion force confined to the beachhead. This week in the war, on 23 May 1944, the Allies mounted a general offensive in the Anzio area. The Germans held firm and Allied losses were high.

However, by 25 May, the Americans had broken through the German forces encircling Anzio. US commander, General Mark Clark, ordered his troops to push on towards Rome.

 

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Book review: Hotel Boy

Hotel Boy ----- by John Trythall/Robert Henley (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2013) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

Hotel Boy —– by John Trythall(Austin Macauley Publishers, 2013) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

The novel Hotel Boy by John Trythall (Austin Macauley Publishers, 2013) takes the reader through the early years of the Second World War from the viewpoint of ten-or-so-year-old Michael Treloar. In that sense, Hotel Boy can be compared to John Boorman’s Hope and Glory, which is another account of wartime boyhood (although a film, not a novel).

Hotel Boy introduces an interesting and unusual perspective in that the setting is a hotel (smallish, almost a boarding house) in the English seaside town of Forbury. Michael’s father was killed in 1940 while serving in France with the British Expeditionary Force. Michael and his mum are uprooted from their home and transplanted to Roselea, where Michael is dismayed to learn that he is not to have a bedroom of his own. His sleeping quarters will be in the hotel’s hairdressing salon, run by the hotelkeeper’s daughter, Lorna. (Why is it that fictional boy heroes so often find themselves lacking a bedroom? Harry Potter slept in a closet beneath the stairs!)

Trythall cleverly keeps pace with wartime goings-on through quotes from Churchill’s speeches. My favorite, given at the beginning of Chapter 10, is from Churchill’s 1941 speech to the boys of his old school: “These are not dark days; these are great days—the greatest days our country has ever lived;”

The experience of the times is evoked in many small details. A radio really was called a wireless, and there was a warming-up period between turning (switching) on the radio and being able to hear any sound; the valves (vacuum tubes to Canadians and Americans) needed time to heat up and become active. Unless you kept chickens of your own, egg powder would be your wartime substitute for actual eggs. Coupons were needed to buy clothes, or to buy almost anything at all: meat, poultry, sugar, coal, . . . The list was long.

Tidbits mentioned in the book include listening to radio broadcasts from Germany by Lord Haw-Haw, the British traitor whose ‘la-di-dah’ accent so amused the British public. A less well known tidbit is the bombing raid by Vichy French aircraft against Gibraltar—retaliation for the Royal Navy’s attack on the French naval base at Oran.

The author never lets us forget that Michael is a boy and is doing boy’s stuff. This includes reading the ‘Just William’ books. These were written by female author Richmal Crompton and might be considered the Harry Potter books of the time. She wrote over forty of them, beginning in the nineteen twenties and ending in the early seventies. Just William is the title of the first book. Michael, our boy hero in Hotel Boy, sees the resourceful, up-for-anything William as his role model and tries to live life accordingly.

His life, of course, is impacted by those around him. The central theme of Hotel Boy revolves around the microcosm of society represented by the people of Roselea: guests arriving for the weekend, guests who stay year round, the owner and his wife, their daughter, the RAF pilots who are regular customers at the hotel bar, their girlfriends, the RAF Wing Commander who is the love interest of Michael’s mother and, of course, Michael and his mother, themselves, whose relocation from the city gives them a status akin to being refugees. Toss in violent death, youthful sex, jealousy, and unwanted pregnancy, and one has an entertaining piece of fiction that closely mirrors life.

All in all, if you were fortunate to have lived during “the greatest days our country has ever lived,” or if your parents or grandparents lived through those times, or if you are simply curious, you will find Hotel Boy by John Trythall both enjoyable and informative.

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