A Call to Spy

I had hoped to give a review of this movie under the “Movies you haven’t seen” topic. I wanted to like this movie. Vera Atkins (as played by Stana Katic) and Virginia Hall are two WWII figures I know about that I know most people don’t know. While I had heard of Noor Inayat Khan, I didn’t know as much about her, and was hoping to learn at least a bit.

I’m sure that the movie, A Call to Spy, is great if you speak English, German AND French, if you just speak English, you are out of luck. At least via Amazon. The version of the movie doesn’t include subtitles for parts in either French or German. Who does that? Apparently the BBC does that.

The first 15 or 20 minutes are in England, and in English. Even then the pacing is slow. I could have lived with that.

If you want to know more about Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, you can see the link to Virginia Hall, above, or my previous History Lesson on Section D.

And I can recommend the book Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat, which manages to be entertaining and informative. Ian Flemming, the author of all things James Bond, was a member of the Special Operations Executive, or one of their competitors, and few characters, like Q, are modeled on people in Section D. (D stands for Destruction.)

As usual Sabaton has a song, with historical content, that mentions saboteurs train in “Scottish Highlands.” That is one of the places that SOE trained operatives to be sent into France, and elsewhere across Europe. The song is “Saboteurs” but I don’t include a link, because I don’t like it very much, and it is easy enough to find on your own.

World War 2 Lessons

We Are The Mighty has a History Lesson for you. 5 Quotes that explain the barbarism of World War II

The first quote may be my favorite.

1. “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity.”

—George Patton, General of the US Seventh Army

I don’t think he was referring to the Maginot Line specifically when he said that, but he may have been.

[Patton] had become interested in tank warfare as early as 1917, when he was charged with establishing one of the first American tank schools, the AEF Light Tank School. Patton was the most experienced tank operator of WWI and led the first American tank offensive of the war.

Patton is only slightly less quotable than William Tecumseh Sherman.

Click thru for the rest of the info on Patton, and 4 other quotes. I promise that learning something won’t hurt. Well, not for more than a minute.

Freddie Oversteegen: Dutch Resistance Fighter

A history lesson, and someone you should know about. This Teenager Killed Nazis With Her Sister During WWII.

Freddie and her sister Truus Oversteegen were amazing.

Freddie Oversteegen was only 14 when she joined the Dutch resistance during World War II, and only a couple of years older when she became one of its armed assassins. Together with her sister—and later, a young woman named Hannie Schaft—the trio lured, ambushed and killed German Nazis and their Dutch collaborators.

The anniversary of her death was on Saturday, but I didn’t think I could get anyone’s attention over the weekend. They would either be the bait, luring SS officers “into the woods” for a “stroll,” where they would either kill them, or be met by resistance fighters. Who would kill the SS officers.

“They were unusual, these girls,” says Bas von Benda-Beckmann, a former researcher at the Netherlands’ Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “There were a lot of women involved in the resistance in the Netherlands but not so much in the way these girls were. There are not that many examples of women who actually shot collaborators themselves.”

When people would ask her how many people she killed…

According to [Jeroen] Pliester, [chair of the National Hannie Schaft Foundation,] Freddie would tell people who asked that she and her sister were soldiers, and soldiers don’t say.

See you learned something, and I bet it only hurt for a minute. Maybe 2.

August 6, 1945: The Bombing of Hiroshima

Tomorrow marks a notable anniversary. Shamelessly stolen from myself, from a few years ago…

Just a few weeks after the first atomic bomb was detonated by the Manhattan Project in the desert Southwest (on July 16, 1945) the US Army Air Force dropped an atomic bomb, code named “Little Boy” on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. Manhattan Project: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

At 8:15 in the morning local time, a 15 kiloton uranium gun-trigger bomb was dropped on a city of 300,000 people.

The blast wave filled the air with broken glass. The flash from the detonation burned the shadows of people onto the walls left standing. 9 out of 10 people within half a mile of ground zero were dead.

The photo above is of the city center some weeks after the bombing. Click for a larger image.

In those areas most seriously affected virtually no one escaped serious injury. The numerous small fires that erupted simultaneously all around the city soon merged into one large firestorm, creating extremely strong winds that blew towards the center of the fire. The firestorm eventually engulfed 4.4 square miles of the city, killing anyone who had not escaped in the first minutes after the attack.

Those farther away had other problems as they thought their buildings had been bombed. Make-shift rescue parties started working shortly after the blast. Outside relief was slow to arrive, because the Japanese high command didn’t understand what happened. They couldn’t imagine destruction on that scale. It wasn’t until the US announcement 16 hours later that the true nature of what happened came to light.

While some things started to get back to normal in a few days, the effects of radiation sickness started to show itself.

Power in undamaged areas of the city was even restored on August 7th, with limited rail service resuming the following day. Several days after the blast, however, medical staff began to recognize the first symptoms of radiation sickness among the survivors. Soon the death rate actually began to climb again as patients who had appeared to be recovering began suffering from this strange new illness. Deaths from radiation sickness did not peak until three to four weeks after the attacks and did not taper off until seven to eight weeks after the attack.

The effects of radiation poisoning are truly hideous. A high enough exposure and you are dead – you are just waiting for the mechanics of dying to be complete. You can find descriptions of the gruesome details elsewhere. All I will say here is that I would not want to wait around for that end.

The D-Day Invasion

In honor of the troops that went ashore in France on June 6th 1944. Shamelessly stolen from myself…

The BBC did 1 hour segment entitled “Bloody Omaha” as part of the series BBC Timewatch. (See the link to the full BBC show below the video.) It concentrates on the American landing at Omaha Beach

I love this short film, and I love the song. This video embedded below is how 3 guys recreated the Omaha Beach landing for the camera in a couple of days. Saving Private Ryan had a few more people, 1000 extras, and a lot more money. Below the video is a link to the full documentary. It is about an hour. (It was an episode on a BBC show.) And if you haven’t seen the 1962 movie The Longest Day, you should. It has truly an all-star cast, from John Wayne and Richard Burton to Red Buttons and Fabian.

The entire episode of BBC Timewatch, “Bloody Omaha” can be found at this link. It is just under an hour long at 56 minutes, more or less. Plan accordingly.

The Preparations for D-Day

For those of you who don’t have an interest in history, you probably don’t remember that the Normandy Invasion took place on June 6th 1944. With that in mind, OldAFSarge, at Chant du Départ has a series of posts on the days leading up to the event. (The AF stands for Air Force, not As F-) More on the order of historical fiction, than the history Sarge is usually known for.

The 2nd of June, 1944

And so begins a small fictional interlude here at The Chant. The Sixth of June approaches, the 76th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy. I thought I’d share a little something to remember those who fought there, especially those who died there. On both sides.

Still the photos are from the time depicted.

The 3rd of June, 1944

The 4th of June, 1944

Another Bletchley Park Cryptanalyst Has Passed Away

Ann Mitchell: 19 November 1922 – 11 May 2020.

I don’t think much was made of the passing of Ann Mitchel. Bletchley Park codebreaker who helped change course of World War II dies aged 97.

Even after that movie about Alan Turing, people still don’t seem to understand what an impact Bletchley Park had on WWII.

She played an integral role in bringing about that peace, thanks to her work in Hut 6, a ramshackle wooden structure home to some of Bletchley Park’s brightest minds.

There, for nine hours a day, six days a week, from September 1943 until the final exultant hours of VE Day, the young Oxford graduate would create complex diagrams used to break strings of incomprehensible Enigma code used by the Nazis.

It is interesting that the journalist/editors at The Scotsman choose the term “incomprehensible” for the Enigma codes. I suppose any sufficiently complex Mathematics is indistinguishable from magic, at least to people in journalism. (With apologies to Arthur Clarke.) In reality, they were not incomprehensible; decoding them was exactly what they did at Bletchley Park. (Haven’t they seen that movie?)

Not many women were studying Math at Oxford University in 1940, but that is exactly what Ann Mitchell did, though after the war she would switch to psychology and become a marriage guidance counselor.

Ann was just a kid, but she was discreet, intelligent, and modest, and although she would never describe herself as a codebreaker, she was recruited for her mathematical ability.

The average age of people who worked at Blechley Park and are still alive is now 97; they won’t be with us much longer. One of the reasons the British are still speaking English and not German, is in a very large part to the work done by the folks at Bletchley Park. They helped the French, the Belgians, and the rest as well, defeat the Nazis. (Hat tip to Schneier on Security.)

Cecile Rol-Tanguy: French Resistance Fighter Passes Away

She died during the remembrance of the 75th anniversary of Germany’s surrender in WWII. She was 101. French Resistance hero Cecile Rol-Tanguy dies at age 101.

She joined the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) with her husband Henri.

She later recalled how she used their children’s strollers to transport messages, weapons and explosive material.

The greatest generation. Today we have a fit if our internet connection isn’t 100 Mbps.

A P-38 Lightning Story

By a veteran who would know. This Veteran Tells What It Was Like to Fly the P-38 in World War II.

Jim Kunkle did it all. He flew the Lightning. He shot down German fighters. He earned America’s second highest award for valor in battle. During the mid-1940s’ transition from props to jets, he piloted almost every other fighter and then, when he took his uniform off, Kunkle continued flying. He still flies today, at age 88. Americans don’t use the term as much as our British friends, but James K. Kunkle, of Santa Ynez, California, is a “total aviation person.”

Attacks across the channel before D-Day. A run in with the “Abbeville Boys.” Strafing Germans in the Falaise Pocket. A description of what it was like to fly the P-38. Worth a look.

Your WWII History Lesson for the Day

I know, we just had a history lesson yesterday. You’ll survive. You might actually learn something. (It will only hurt for a minute!) The Friday Flyby – Bombing Germany.

Sarge has some info on the bombing campaigns in WWII to inflict punishment on Germany.

The B-17F, the B-24 Liberator, the Lancaster, Handley Page Halifax B.III. And info on the German Flak guns, and German fighters like the Messerschmitt Bf 109, and the venerated P-51 Mustang, that could provide cover for the bombers all the way to Germany and back.

Click thru. Sarge always has good info.

As for yesterday’s history lesson, it was on the Soviet side of WWII.

Marina Raskova – The Russian Amelia Earhart

Marina Mikhaylovna Raskova (Мари́на Миха́йловна Раско́ва): 28 March 1912 – 4 January 1943. She was the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force in 1933, and the first woman teacher the following year. The Female Soldier: Marina Raskova.

She became famous – at least in the Soviet Union – for setting a number of long-distance records.

This included the famous ‘Flight of the Rodina’ covering 6000km from Moscow to Komsomolsk, which she conducted with two other female pilots, Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova. However the flight ran into difficulties at the end of its 26 and a half hour journey when poor visibility hampered the landing. As the navigator’s pit was vulnerable in crash landings, Raskova bailed out with a parachute while the two pilots completed the landing. She survived with no water and almost no food for 10 days before she found her way to landing site and reunited with her team. All 3 women were decorated with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award, the first women ever to receive it.

At the outbreak of WWII, the Soviets were unprepared, and a lot of men were killed and material was destroyed in the early days.

Raskova proposed the creation of women’s aviation units and used her celebrity status to propose the idea directly to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Following a speech by Raskova in September 1941 calling for women pilots to be welcomed into the war, Stalin ordered the creation of 3 new air regiments, the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, and the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, dubbed The Night Witches [Z-Deb’s Note: The 46th Taman Guards were origianally the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. “Guard status” was an honor they got later, after completing lots of missions.]

Raskova herself commanded the 125th Bomber Regiment. That regiment went on to fly 134 missions, dropping 980 tons of bombs on the German Army.

She died January 4th, 1943 making a forced landing.

The U-boat War in WWI and WWII

OldAFSarge has a your history lesson for the day. Chant du Départ: Sea Wolves.

In both World Wars the enemy was anything but incompetent. Especially those sailors who served in Germany’s Ubootwaffe1. In both wars they nearly brought Britain to her knees. It was, to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington, a damned near run thing.2

When you mention “U-Boats3” most people think of World War II, while some might remember that the sinking of RMS Lusitania was a proximate cause of the United States entering World War I. (Though not really, Lusitania went down in May of 1915, the U.S. entered the war in April of 1917. Though the sinking did shift public opinion in the U.S. against the Germans 4.) Of Germany’s top five submarine captains (based on tonnage sunk), four are from World War I.

Go read the whole thing, but be warned; it is not short. Sarge is very thorough with his naval history. Which I always found a bit odd, since the “AF” stands for “Air Force,” and not something else.

The Night of Black Snow: The Firebombing of Tokyo, 9 March 1945

Operation Meetinghouse: March 9th and 10th, 1945. Operation Meetinghouse: The 1945 firebombing of Tokyo was the single deadliest air raid in history.

When we think of how World War Two came to an end, we recall the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, before the situation escalated to the point of the Allies commissioning a nuclear weapon, some devastating air raids were green-lighted.

An air-raid conducted on the night of March 9-10, 1945, is regarded as the single deadliest air raid in the history of the war. It damaged a greater area and led to more deaths than either of the two nuclear bombings. Reportedly, over 1 million people had their homes destroyed during the Tokyo bombing that night, and the estimated number of civilian deaths is recorded as 100,000 people. Subsequently, the Japanese would dub this event the Night of the Black Snow.

YB-29 SuperfortressThe introduction of the B-29 Superfortress bomber in 1944 meant that bombing raids on Japan could become a more regular occurrence. First from China, then from Mariana Islands. Precision bombing wasn’t working however, so subtlety was abandoned.

When command of the 20th Air Force came to General Curtis LeMay in January 1945, he immediately set about planning a new tactic. His first change was to switch from general purpose to incendiary bombs and fragmentation bombs. These were used from high altitude in February on Kobe and Tokyo. The next step, boosted by the fact that Japanese anti-aircraft batteries had proved less effective at the low altitude of 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet, was to launch a low-altitude incendiary attack.

Bombs carrying jelled gasoline, and napalm ignited a huge flaming “X” in the city. Fire services were destroyed within 2 hours. 16 square miles were incinerated. 100,000 people died and a million were made homeless.

Tokyo was only the first city to be bombed in this fashion. The Fire Raids on Japan.

On March 12, Nagoya was hit. About 1 square mile of the city burned. Osaka was hit on the 13th. Kobe was targeted on the 16th.

In the space of ten days, the Americans had dropped nearly 9,500 tons of incendiaries on Japanese cities and destroyed 29 square miles of what was considered to be important industrial land.

Given what the Japanese were doing to POWs, there was little to say this wasn’t justified. Shot down pilots were tortured, killed with boiling water, and subjected to medical “experiments” that even the Nazis hadn’t tried. I leave you to find references. I won’t inflict those nightmares on you.

Germany surrendered on the 7th of May 1945, but the Japanese still refused to surrender. And so in August, we had the bombing of Hiroshima on the 6th, and three days later there was the bombing of Nagasaki. The Japanese surrendered six days after Nagasaki.

The Polish Navy in Exile During WWII

ORP Błyskawica A history lesson from Old AF Sarge at Chant du Départ: Storm, Lightning and Thunder. Plus an Eagle. You might learn something. (It will only hurt for a minute.)

The Polish destroyer, ORP Błyskawica. (The photo is by Piotr Parda – występujący czasami pod pseudonimem Topory. Click for more info.)

Note that “ORP” stands for Okręt Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, “Warship of the Republic of Poland.” So ORP is analogous to “USS” and “HMS.”

Błyskawica is Polish for “Lightning.” ORP Błyskawica is currently a museum ship in Poland.

Her sister ship ORP Grom (Thunder) was lost.

ORP Grom was lost in the Norwegian campaign after being hit by two bombs from a German Heinkel He-111 bomber.

A third ship (different class) was named “Gale,” ORP Wicher was first ship sunk during WWII. ORP Burza (“Storm”), a Wicher-class ship, was evacuated to Great Britain and with ORP Błyskawica survived the war.

The decision was made to evacuate the destroyers of the Polish navy at the start of the war, because it was clear that they would be either captured or destroyed. It was styled Operation Peking or the Peking Plan.

Anyway Sarge has more info on the service of these ships in the effort to defeat the Nazis. The Polish government in Exile, which existed in London until 1990 (after Lech Wałęsa became President, the government in exile was dissolved.)

As for the title of this post, The Polish Home Army was based in Great Britain during the war. I’m not sure how the Polish naval ships serving with the allies during WWII styled themselves.

The Liberation of Auschwitz: January 27, 1945

History. Ignorance. Rinse. Repeat. The Shocking Liberation of Auschwitz: Soviets ‘Knew Nothing’ as They Approached.

The first Soviet Soldiers entered the camp at 9 AM.

Eighty-eight pounds of eyeglasses. Hundreds of prosthetic limbs. Twelve thousand pots and pans. Forty-four thousand pairs of shoes. When Soviet soldiers poured into Auschwitz in January 1945, they encountered warehouses filled with massive quantities of other people’s belongings. Most of the people who owned them were already dead, murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust’s largest extermination and concentration camp.

The Germans had spent some time trying to destroy evidence of the camp, but much remained, including about 9000 prisoners. Only 7500 would survive.

Most of the other perpetrators of the Holocaust denied their involvement. [Rudolf] Höss [the SS officer who served as Auschwitz’s commandant for more than four years] did not. While he awaited his execution, he wrote his memoirs and expressed remorse for his crimes. He was hanged near the Gestapo quarters at Auschwitz—Poland’s last public execution.

New US Aircraft Carry to Be Named After WWII Hero

I expect that the media will ignore this story, because they probably can’t use it to make Trump look bad. Navy Will Name A Future Ford Class Aircraft Carrier After WWII Hero Doris Miller.

This will be the second ship named in honor of Miller, and the first aircraft carrier ever named for an African American. This will also be the first aircraft carrier to be named in honor of a Sailor for actions while serving in the enlisted ranks.

And there’s a history lesson….

On Dec. 7, 1941, Miller was collecting laundry on the battleship West Virginia (BB-48), when the attack from Japanese forces commenced. When the alarm for general quarters sounded he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Miller was ordered to the ship’s bridge to aid the mortally wounded commanding officer, and subsequently manned a .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition. Miller then helped move many other injured Sailors as the ship was ordered abandoned due to her own fires and flaming oil floating down from the destroyed Arizona (BB-33). West Virginia lost 150 of its 1,500 person crew.

Miller received the Navy Cross for his actions. (Hat tip to Godfather Politics.)

Flinging Calamari at Submarines?

Not quite. The Rise of the Attack Cephalopods. “Squid Anti-Submarine Mortar, it was a thing.”

Sarge at Chant du Départ has a history lesson. Pay attention; you might learn something. (It will only hurt for a minute!)

Now lest you think that this was a device for flinging calamari at enemy submarines (also known as “pigboats,” wait for it…), nope it was actually just the Brits with their penchant for giving things interesting names. Such as the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. If ya can’t figure out who will use it or what it will be used against or even if you really need it, then assign the project to the DMWD. (No doubt where the LCS got its start…)

DMWD was responsible for the Hedgehog (another anti-submarine weapon, see the link above) and the Mulberry Harbor, used to create landing docks at the D-Day beaches, to offload ships and get material ashore.

Go read the whole thing. (I will warn you, it goes downhill from highbrow history to lowbrow humor pretty quickly.)

The Ardennes Counteroffensive and the Belgian village of Noville

A History Lesson. You might learn something. (It will only hurt for a minute.) This Was the Most Horrific Battle at the Battle of the Bulge.

The Ardennes Counteroffensive, known colloquially as The Battle of the Bulge, took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945.

Shortly after 10:30 am on December 19, 1944, 26-year-old Major William Desobry picked up his field telephone, called his combat commander, Colonel William Roberts, and asked if he could withdraw from the Belgian village of Noville. Desobry had been holding off the entire German 2nd Panzer Division—some 16,000-men with more than 120 tanks and assault guns—for the last six hours with only 400 men and a handful of tanks and tank destroyers.

With so many Germans bearing down on him, Desobry knew that staying could mean suicide. Roberts, from his Bastogne headquarters in the Hotel LeBrun, gave an answer that probably made Desobry’s blood run cold. He told the young officer to hold the phone line.

With the sounds of battle reverberating against his headquarters walls, Desobry held the line. After what must have seemed like an eternity, Roberts came back on the line. “You can use your own judgment about withdrawing,” he said, “but I’m sending a battalion of paratroopers to reinforce you.”

There is much more of course. Go read the whole thing for a story of bravery, like you wouldn’t see out of today’s 26-year-olds or 18-year-olds. Bastogne you may have heard of, Noville not so much. Hat tip to The Feral Irishman, who has some thoughts on the 1965 film “Battle of the Bulge.”

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

December 7th, 1941. The Japanese, surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in order to convince the USA to let them do as they wanted to in the Pacific. Epic Fail.

Pearl Harbor is a U.S. naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, that was the scene of a devastating surprise attack by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. Just before 8 a.m. on that Sunday morning, hundreds of Japanese fighter planes descended on the base, where they managed to destroy or damage nearly 20 American naval vessels, including eight battleships, and over 300 airplanes. More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including civilians, and another 1,000 people were wounded. The day after the assault, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan.

After Pearl Harbor came Midway. After Midway came Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And after that came unconditional surrender. So like I said. Epic. Fail.

The New Midway Movie Actually Might Be Good

Given that they seem to actually be concentrating on the history. ‘Midway’ movie takes war in the Pacific seriously – We Are The Mighty – Americas Tactical Military Entertainment Brand.

When I first heard of this movie, I was sure it was going to be a joke. The director of Independence Day and Godzilla (the 1998 version, not the new version). Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz. These two things didn’t sound like a winning combination to me. But then I saw the Bonnie and Clyde movie that Harrelson was in, and I thought he might actually have promise.

And Roland Emmerich did direct the 2000, Mel Gibson movie The Patriot. And now they seem to be trying to get the history right. They’ve spent a fair amount of time visiting the actual places, and talking to navy personnel to understand what it must have been like.

Once the Department of Defense approved a production support agreement with the movie’s producers, the writers got busy working to get the script as accurate as practicable. Multiple script drafts were provided to the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). Those same historians viewed the rough and final movie productions.

At the same time, I’m sure that the special effects (mostly digital) will be over the top, as you can see in the trailer.

I think when all is said and done, I will still prefer the Charlton Heston version.