A Devil’s Bargain

Today in History, April 13, 1941:

The Russian and Japanese governments sign a non-aggression treaty. The treaty gave both nations much needed cover.

The Russians didn’t have to fight the Japanese in Manchuria, freeing up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Germans.

The Japanese, likewise, freed up hundreds of thousands of troops to fight the Americans. FDR encouraged Stalin at Malta to declare war on Japan after the defeat of Germany.

They did so, conveniently, between the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ostensibly after the war was over, invading Manchuria and demanding the northern islands of Japan for their “effort”.

A Kamikaze in London

Today in History, April 9, 1937:

A Kamikaze in….London.

In the 1930’s most nations were attempting to set aircraft range records…for the sake of doing so and for military purposes.

The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun sponsored the flight of the “Kamikaze-Go”, a long range reconnaissance aircraft from Tokyo to London in honor of the coronation of King George VI.

Arriving at it’s destination in a little over 51 hours, the aircraft was greeted in London by cheering crowds.

It’s pilot, Masaaki Iinuma, became a Japanese national hero, hailed as the Japanese Lindbergh. He and his navigator, Kenji Tsukagoshi would both be killed during WWII.

The aircraft would crash, be recovered, and placed in a museum which would be destroyed by aerial bombardment.

The aircraft type would be used as a long range recon plane during the war. The whole thing began as the Japanese designed aircraft that could reach their far-ranging territories.

“Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue”

Today in History, February 23, 1945:

After a hard fought battle, the US Marines reach the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

5 Marines and 1 US Navy Corpsman raised the US flag at the peak, and photographer Joe Rosenthal caught it on camera.

3 of the flag raisers would be dead before the Battle for Iwo Jima was won. After many deaths and the earning of 27 Medals of Honor (half posthumous), the tiny island was deemed “secure” on March 16. Then B29 Superfortress bombers and long range fighters could use the airstrip in the bombing of Japan.

The photo became famous, and inspired the US Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The first flag was considered too small, and a second larger flag, scrounged up from one of the landing ships, was raised to replace it.

Admiral Chester Nimitz described the battle as one “where uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

Halsey Takes Command – Its All About Attitude

Today in History, October 18, 1942:

Vice Admiral William “Bull” Halsey is named commander of the South Pacific forces.

Things had not been going well after the invasion of Guadalcanal; a series of losses due to indecision by the previous commander, Admiral Ghormley, had left the troops demoralized.

CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific) Chester Nimitz knew the man for the job and appointed Halsey. Halsey was a no nonsense, get er done leader.

He had issued orders to his task force to shoot first and ask questions later if they spotted Japanese ships or aircraft…on November 28, 1941, ten days before the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

He was famously quoted as saying, “Before we’re done with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell.” His operational order for his command was simple: “Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill more Japs!” In retrospect, this attitude made be considered harsh or even racist. But during the largest conflict in human history, it was all about winning.

The demoralized Sailors and Marines serving on and around Guadalcanal had a sudden burst of confidence when they heard Halsey was their new boss. Things turned around almost immediately. The people under Halsey’s command knew he was willing to take chances for them, and they returned the sentiment.

Consequences of Propaganda

Today in History, July 9, 1944:

Victory at the Battle of Saipan. The US Marines defeat the Japanese military on Saipan, the first island with Japanese civilians to be taken by the US.

It was a difficult battle, made all the more so by the existence of a civilian population. The Marines set up well lit camps for the civilians to be safe from battle.

Fearing that his citizens would find out that the Americans were not the vicious, heartless enemy projected by propaganda, the Emperor issued a communique to the civilian population of Saipan, telling them that if they committed suicide they would receive the same treatment in the afterlife as Japanese soldiers that died in battle.

American servicemen were horrified as Japanese civilians threw their children from cliffs, then followed them to the rocks below. The newly won island would be used as an air base for B-29 Superfortress bombers that would bomb the Japanese mainland.

The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Today in History, June 19, 1944:

Reversal of Fortunes, exhibited by “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, or the First Battle of the Philippine Sea.

US Marines, supported by their parent service, the US Navy, are invading Saipan and other islands in the Marianas Islands, which is such a threat to Japan that the Imperial Japanese Navy finally comes out to fight a definitive battle.

When the war began the Japanese had the most advanced aircraft available, while the US Navy lagged sorely behind. The Japanese Zero, for example, was much faster and more maneuverable than the American Wildcat fighter. But by 1944 the American industrial complex had engaged fully. As late as 1943 the USS Enterprise stood alone in the Pacific against numerous IJN Carriers.

But by June of 1944 the Americans put to sea 15 Aircraft Carriers in 4 Task Groups equipped with modern aircraft that far out matched Japan’s aircraft, which had not been updated since the war began. In addition, Japan’s air service had lost nearly all of it’s experienced pilots, while the Americans had thousands of combat hardened, well-trained pilots and crews.

When the IJN sent it’s carriers and their crews against TF 58, they were massacred. In two days the Japanese lost over 400 aircraft and their crews, 3 aircraft carriers they could not spare, and the Americans lost 29 aircraft (some of the crews were rescued) and no ships. So many Japanese aircraft fell from the skies that a Lexington pilot referred to it as an old time turkey shoot, and the name stuck.

The air crews of the task force had been launched late in the day on the 20th to attack the Japanese fleet. When they returned, it was well after dark and they began landing their planes in the sea, unable to see the carriers well enough for landings aboard.

With the threat from enemy submarines and aircraft during the war, blackout conditions were the rule. Admiral Marc Mitscher wasn’t going to lose his boys and their planes, however. With his order the fleet lit up, and the planes began landing on fumes.

The US Camel Corps – In New Mexico – The USS Supply – A Bizarre Adventure

Today in History, June 4, 1855:

US Army Major Henry C. Wayne sails aboard the USS Supply (commanded by US Navy Lt. David Dixon Porter) for the Middle East to purchase camels that would become part of the US Camel Corps. Either he or Gen. Edward Beale had convinced US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis that the animals would be perfect for transportation in the American Southwest.

70 camels would eventually be part of the Corps, and they WERE perfect for transporting supplies long distances…but they were also cranky and difficult to manage, and scared the Army’s horses. When the US Civil War began, the project was largely forgotten as the new Union Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, didn’t support it. Feral camels were seen roaming the Southwestern United States as late as 1941 as a result.

You may have noticed some other interesting names mentioned. David Dixon Porter was part of an already famous naval family…Farragut. David would serve with distinction in the Civil War.

The USS Supply. If her planks could have talked. The Mexican-American War….she was instrumental. Through her life she make numerous trips to the Levant…served in South Africa, South America, Brazil…she was part of two Expeditions Commodore Mathew C. Perry made to Japan, sailing into Odo Harbor on the Historic dates.

Then Supply returned and became part of the swashbuckling adventures during the Civil War Blockading Squadrons.