Sunday, 27 February 2011

Adding insult to injury

Following D-Day, all Canadian infantry regiments in Europe travelled with rabbis who performed Jewish rites on captured Nazis. Leave it to the Canadians to find a perfectly ironic form of humiliation that's totally and utterly legal.

Monday, 21 February 2011

False Alarm In LA

In late February 1942, an unknown object was seen in the sky above LA. The day before, a Japanese submarine had bombed the American oil field of Ellwood so the Americans were on edge.

Immediately, the sky was lit up by search lights and the anti-aircraft guns were fired almost at once. Whatever was in the sky was unharmed, but several buildings in LA were destroyed by the anti-aircraft guns, and six American civilians were killed, plus many more injured.

To this day it's unclear exactly what was seen above the city that day, but it quickly became clear that it was not hostile, and 'all clear' was declared at 4:14 in the morning, the panic was passed off as a case of 'war nerves'.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Everyone knows D-Day, literally everyone, but there was another, similar and no less significant landing in the South of France on the 14th of August, it was known as Operation Dragoon. It lacked the widespread international support as D-Day (Greek, Australian, New Zealander, Polish, Belgian, Dutch, Czech, Luxembourgish and Norwegian troops took part in D-Day), but was still an important battle.

Dragoon lacked the staggering success of Juno Beach, or the abysmal failure of Omaha Beach, and as such, remains largely unknown to this day. The allies lost 130,000 men, mostly French, whereas the Germans lost a meagre 7,000. Despite the heavy cost in men, the territorial gains by the allies were invaluable.
American soldiers coming ashore.

Thursday, 17 February 2011


The IRA (Irish Republican Army) is a terrorist organization which supports Irish independence that plagued the British isles for over 50 years. Their main objective during WW2 (and for years before and after) was to reunite Northern Ireland with Eire. With the outbreak of the war, the IRA and the Germans found themselves with a common enemy; the British.

The IRA conducted many attacks against the British totally regardless of the war with Germany, but they also actively worked with the Germans against the British.

IRA Soldiers in traditional getup
When the war broke out the IRA was already engaged in what they called 'The S-Plan' against the UK which involved the planting and detonating various explosives. The bombs had reduced in frequency in the run up to the war; this was purely coincidentally however. The first attack of The S-Plan during the war was a group of mail bombs that went off in Euston Station, and another bomb in Birmingham in February 1940, there were no reported casualties from this. Just over a week later, more bombs detonated in Birmingham, again, not killing anyone. Nine days later, there was another series of explosions in the West of London, killing thirteen people. This fatal attack was the last bombing in The S-Plan.

Another series of IRA attacks was The Northern Campaign. This started roughly three years after the outbreak of war. It lasted about two years and was largely insignificant. The IRA lost 3 men during the campaign, whereas the British lost 4 men, plus loads of supplies and infrastructure. The campaign more or less fizzled out in 1944.

The Germans picked up in the IRA-British conflict and exploited it, mainly for intelligence. The intel gathered by the Germans was fairly trivial, but not totally insignificant.

A man named Seamus O'Donovan was the leader of the German-IRA collaborations, he was a staunch IRA man who had fought in the Irish War Of Independence a few years earlier. He had set up relations with the Nazis long before the outbreak of war, but Seamus had a keen eye for politics and could see war coming over the horizon. In his diary, he wrote on the 28th of August, 1939 that "England would be at war with Germany within a week.". The Germans referred to him as V-Held, German for 'agent hero'. One of his lesser known feats was inventing various IEDs used by the IRA in their various campaigns, many of which he used during the Northern Campaign, in which he actively participated. At one point during the campaign, he got into a firefight with British soldiers who caught him planting explosives. He was by himself against five British soldiers, all of which he successfully held off with suppressive fire, wounding two and routing the rest.

All in all, the IRA made very little difference to the war, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

American Brawls

The Americans were often stationed overseas during the war. It was far from uncommon for allied troops in the Pacific to go on leave to Australia or New Zealand. The Americans were not always good guests however. They caused two major riots on allied soil over the course of the war.

The first scuffle was in Brisbane in November 1942, when drunken American soldiers confronted Australian civilians on the street. Stories remain varied regarding just who said or did what but in just over an hour, over 5,000 people were brawling in the streets. Military policemen on both sides shed their armbands to get involved. The fight continued well into the next day with many, many injuries on both sides. One Australian soldier was shot in the chest, killing him instantly, he was the only fatality.

The next such conflict was in 1943 in Wellington, New Zealand. Some American soldiers began stopping Maori (Indigenous New Zealanders) from entering the club they were at; claiming that they were 'dirtying the club'. The New Zealanders, caucasian and otherwise, rallied against the Americans. The fight lasted two hours, consisted of over 2,500 people and resulted in two American deaths, plus countless injuries.

This second riot was symbolic of American military racism at the time, which also manifested itself in the Zoot Suit riots in the same year.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The White Death

Snipers played a pivotal role in the second world war, with the best sniper of the whole conflict being
Simo Hayha, a Finnish soldier during the 1939-1940 Winter War against Russia.

He joined the Finnish army in 1925 and was entered into active service the day the war began. He spent his service going into the woods with a few days worth of supplies, then covering himself in sometimes up to two feet of snow and hiding, waiting for Russian troops. His best was 25 kills in one day.

The Russians called him 'The White Death' and were so terrified of him that they launched heavy artillery barrages at locations where they thought he might be; they'd rather expend artillery shells than risk their men fighting him.

One Soviet got lucky and hit Simo in the face with an explosive bullet, ending his career, but not his life. The White Death was down and out, but he had already killed 720 Soviets in less than 100 days. EVERY kill was a clean headshot... done WITHOUT a telescopic sight of any kind.

Simo retired after The Winter War; unable to join in the rest of WWII due to his face injury. He lived in Finland until his death at age 97.
Simo 'White Death' Hayha in his usual facemask.

Monday, 14 February 2011

HMS Campbeltown

In May 28th 1942, the British conducted a commando raid against Nazi-occupied France. The British wanted to strike at this target as it was the only major German controlled dock on the Atlantic. British commandos landed in the dock and proceeded to wreak havoc. Eventually, having caused considerable damage, yet having not totally destroyed the dock, the commandos retreated having lost 169 men.

The HSM Campbeltown, run aground
in the docks, minutes before it exploded
They left behind the HMS Campbeltown, an obsolete battleship that was originally American but was transferred to the British in 1940. It sat in the dock, seemingly abandoned until around noon, when the ship exploded, destroying the dock and killing 239 Germans soldiers and 251 French civilians.

The ship had been intentionally packed with explosives and left as a sort of time-bomb in the docks. All in all, the raid was a great success.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Balloon Warfare

In world war II, all the main participants converted every resource possible into their war machine. One of the more bizarre tactics was attack balloons, and no; not hot air balloons with gunners in them or something. Actual explosive balloons.

British barrage balloons
The British were the first to attempt this, calling it 'Operation Outward'. Weather balloons were already commonplace, and even before the war, the British conducted experiments regarding what would happen if balloons with metal parts collided with enemy power lines. In 1940, several British barrage balloons (which were also already common) were lost in a storm. They flew East into Scandinavia, causing a minor panic in Finland where the origin and nature of the balloons was unknown and therefore suspect. This sparked interest in balloon weaponry in the UK.

On the 20th of March 1942, the British let loose their balloons, equipped with small bombs, intended to be more of an irritation than an actual threat, at £73 each in today's money, it was deemed worth it. Intercepted German transmissions told British high command that the balloons had had the intended effect; the Luftwaffe were wasting their time shooting the balloons, only half of which actually had bombs on, the others were harmless.

The only actual known fatalities caused by Operation Outward was in neutral Sweden where the balloons caused a train wreck. The operation was ended in September 1944.

Diagram of the Japanese Fu-Gos
The Japanese; however, deployed a more deadly war balloon. Known by the Japanese as 'Fu-Go', large balloons were made in Japan's schools by school children who unaware what they were making, then equipped with firebombs and sent across the Pacific against Canada, America and Mexico. The idea was to ignite forest fires as the balloons were impossible to guide against any small target. The Japanese balloons were much more sophisticated then the British ones; the Fu-Gos had sandbags on them, which were periodically released when an electronic sensor detected that the balloon was flying too low.

The balloons; despite their sophistication failed to ignite any forest fires. They did however kill 6 Americans; making them more successful than their British counterparts. One balloon also hit The Manhattan Project, knocking out a generator, the backup generation came on before any real damage was done however. The Japanese claimed mass casualties and widespread panic as part of their propaganda war despite the somewhat limited success.

In Canada, balloons were found as far inland as Winnipeg. These balloons caused no damage, in fact quite the opposite; the Canadians took the balloons apart and used the materials for their own causes.

The Japanese balloon launches ceased in May 1945.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Attack on Iran

In August 1941, neutral Iran was attacked by the British and the Soviets. Iran had large stocks of oil and the allies were worried it would fall into axis hands. Iran was officially neutral, but was Axis-friendly so the British and the Soviets teamed up and invaded.

The invasion lasted less than a month and only cost the allies 62 soldiers. Once Iran was fully occupied, the Soviets took control of the North and the British took control of the South.

Iran's leadership was furious and appealed to the USA for help, stating:
"I beg Your Excellency to take efficacious and urgent humanitarian steps to put an end to these acts of aggression."
 The Americans fully backed their allies and offered the Iranians no support.

The occupation was mostly uneventful with the British withdrawing on VJ day and the Soviets withdrawing in 1946, which caused some friction between them and the Americans as part of the Cold War, but there was no major incident.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Shin'yo, Fukuryu & Kairyu

The Japanese Kamikaze planes are fairly well known, but the desperate Japanese deployed many other sorts of suicide attacks against the allies when it became clear that the war was going all but in their favour.

An American warship burning
after a Kairyu attack
First of all, there was the Shin'yo; the suicide boat. These boats were all motorboats, piloted by a single man and were driven at high speeds at allied warships. There were two main types of Shin'yo; one that was loaded with explosives and was designed to plow into ships then explode in the standard suicide attack. The other one was given depth charges which the pilot dropped overboard then sped away. However, the blast invariably killed the pilot somehow, yet theoretically provided him with an escape route.
These ships were not extensively used during the war as they were mostly reserved for the invasion of Japan itself, which never actually came to be due to Japan's unconditional surrender.

The Fukuryu, which literally meant 'crouching dragon' were divers that were equipped with mines on the end of a long wooden pole. The idea was that they would submerge themselves then walk under the allied ships, swim up, then detonate their mine. Of course; this would kill them too.
As with the Shin'yo, this tactic was reserved for the invasion of Japan, and therefore rarely practically used.

Lastly, the Kairyu: manned torpedoes. Fitted with 3,200 pounds of high explosives each were man-guided to their targets with devilish accuracy.

All the families of assorted suicide attackers were paid 10,000 yen, this comes to 74 British Pounds, 122 US Dollars, 119 Canadian Dollars or 88 Euros.

The American military took to calling all Japanese suicide attackers 'baka', which was Japanese for 'idiot'.

All in all, the various types of Japanese suicide attacks did as much damage to allied morale as to their ships/men as it showed then in no uncertain terms just how determined the Japanese were to defend their homeland at all costs.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Double Hibakusha

'Hibakusha' is the word used by the Japanese to mean anyone who was effected by either of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. However, one unfortunate man (or incredibly lucky, depending on how you look at it), survived BOTH attacks. Tsutomu Yamaguchi worked in Hiroshima, where he was when the bomb was dropped. He survived it, then returned to his home city: Nagasaki, which was then bombed. He survived that bomb too, although he died in 2010 of cancer, undoubtedly caused by the nuclear fallout.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Pointe du Hoc

D-Day: One of the most important operations of World War II. Everyone knows about the Canadians defying all expectations on Juno, the Americans blundering on Omaha and scraping ashore on Utah, plus the British taking Sword and Gold. However, there was a 6th landing point most people don't know about; Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc was located on a cliff top between Omaha and Utah beaches and was home to a number of powerful guns capable of seriously threatening the landing on these beaches. The Americans sent a group of marines to scale the cliff and disable the guns. The timing had to be precise to the very minute: too soon and the marines would be stranded with no chance of survival, too late and the other landings would be doomed.

Suffering some similar logistical problems as the landings on Omaha, the marines landed over half an hour late. The guns had already been taking their toll on the other American landings, and the marines now had lost the element of surprise which they were counting on. To make up for this, two British ships rushed in to provide the men with fire support while they were scaling the cliff.

Once the marines had successfully scaled the cliff, they came under heavy fire from the German guns, yet managed to take the position. However, their success came at a cost, due to their various logistical errors, the Americans took 135 casualties, compared with the Germans, who retreated from the position without losing a single man.