Archive for the ‘WWII History’ Category
Celebrated British actor David Niven (1910-1983), who played in about a hundred movies including A Matter of Life and Death, Around the World in 80 Days and Separate Tables,was born into a military family. His father served in World War I and died at Gallipoli when David was 5 years old. His maternal grandfather was an officer killed by the Zulus in the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879.
Niven attended a strict private school as a child. Being an incorrigible prankster, he faced frequent corporal punishment and was eventually expelled. He eventually enrolled at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, where he did well and cultivated the air of an “officer and gentleman” that later became his trademark as an actor. Being of Scottish descent, he had his heart set on joining the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) as his second choice. When filling in his form, he jokingly wrote “anything but the Highland Light Infantry” as his third, since they wore tartan trews rather than kilts. To his chagrin, he was assigned there.
He was made a lieutenant in 1933 but considered his career to be a dead end in the peacetime army. The last straw for him was mandatory attendance at a lecture on machine guns, which interfered with his plans for dinner with a young lady. When the general holding the lecture asked if there were any questions, Niven asked “Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train.” The insubordination earned him an immediate arrest, which led to him and the officer guarding him downing a bottle of whisky. This, in turn, allowed him to escape with help from the same guard and Niven boarded a ship headed for America, resigning his commission by telegraph.
After a few false starts as a whisky salesman, a rodeo promoter and cleaning and shining rifles for American hunters in Mexico, he started acting and slowly but surely became a well-known star. When World War II broke out, he returned home to serve. He was the only British actor in Hollywood to do so and ignored the Embassy’s advice to stay.
Once back in Britain, Niven received commando training and became the commander of ‘A’ Squadron in the misleadingly named GHQ Liaison Regiment, better known as Phantom, where he reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel by the war’s end. Before the Invasion of Normandy, he also acted in two films: a war drama and a biopic about the designer of the Supermarine Spitfire fighter. He was also involved in organizing Operation Copperhead, a deception operation in which an actor pretended to be General Montgomery to confuse German intelligence.
Phantom was a unit born as No 3 British Air Mission during the Battle of France. Its job was to stay in forward positions and send back information about the movements of “bomb lines,” areas devoid of Allied troops and thus safe to bomb. The task was later expanded: patrols of up to 11 men stayed at the front (and sometimes behind enemy lines) monitoring troop movements and listening in on Allied tank radio communications. They then used small, specially-made radios to report back to Corps HQ, giving them clear and up-to-date information on the battle faster than the information could filter through any other line of command.
Over the course of the war, Phantom patrols served in Africa, Italy, Southeast Europe and, of course, France. In Normandy, some jumped with the other paratroopers the night before, while the rest landed on D+1 to move around and report back on the location of all British, Canadian and American troops after the chaos of the night jumps and the first day.
Phantom was also present in other significant battles. During Operation Market Garden, Phantom officers were the only line of communication between the trapped British airborne at Arnhem and the XXX Corps unsuccessfully trying to relieve them. It was these same officers who brought Major General Urquhart’s famous, desperate message from the besieged forces: “… unless physical contact is made with us early 25 Sept…consider it unlikely we can hold out long enough …”
Phantom patrols were responsible for giving first news on many other events during the war. They were the first to report on the closing of the Falaise Gap, they provided some of the first information on concentration camps and they tracked the movement of German armor during the Battle of the Bulge. In fact, when American and Soviet troops linked up for the first time at the Elbe River on April 25, 1945, a Phantom patrol attached to the U.S. 1st Army was sent to the planned location in advance, witnessing and reporting on the historic moment.
David Niven’s exploits in Phantom are little-known, as the actor remained tight-lipped about his wartime experience for the rest of his life. He shunned the limelight given to celebrities who served and scorned journalists who covered the war with florid prose. He once said “Anyone who says a bullet sings past, hums past, flies, pings, or whines past, has never heard one – they go crack!” He once explained the reason behind his silence and humility: “I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war.”
A few details arose about Niven from other witnesses. It is sometimes said he was “unofficially” present at the disastrous Dieppe Raid, but there is no solid evidence to this claim. What is more certain is that on one occasion, just before a fight that was likely to result in heavy casualties, he cheered up his men with a quip: “Look, you chaps only have to do this once. But I’ll have to do it all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!” Later, during the Battle of the Bulge, he was stopped by an American sentry. Knowing that Otto Skorzeny’s men were in the area masquerading as Allied troops, the guards asked everyone they met questions to which only “a true American” would know the answer – and Niven, of course, wasn’t American. When asked who won the World Series in 1943, he replied “Haven’t the foggiest idea, but I did co-star with Ginger Rogers in Bachelor Mother!” at which moment the American recognized him and let him pass.Take a look at these other WW2 Posts: Words at War: WW2 Radio Program WW2 Slang WW2 Pin Up: Irene Manning
1940 British railroads are nationalized.
1941 The Italian troops stay between Agedabia and El-Agheila.
In Libya, the British are victorious at Beda Fomm; 20,000 troops of the Italian Tenth Army surrender.
General Graziani ask Mussolini for substitution as a commander of the Italian forces at North Africa, and as Libyan Governor.
1942 After just over 2 weeks of frenetic action, Rommel’s counter-offensive comes to a halt in front of the Gazala line, a series of self supporting fortified boxes running south from Gazala for 100 miles to Bir Hacheim. Although not complete, it presents too much of an obstacle for the Afrika Korps who by this time are running low on fuel and reserves.
Lt. General Percival, the commander at Singapore, says city will be held to the last man. The Japanese launch a feint landing on Pulua Ubin Island to the east of Singapore.
“Double V” campaign proposed by Pittsburgh Courier, the leading black newspaper, to fight for victory at home and abroad.
US Navy Atlantic Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit established at Boston, MA, under Capt. Wilder Baker.
1943 Shoe rationing begins in the USA, limiting civilians to three pairs of leather shoes per year.
802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron embarks from New York for Algeria on USS Lyon.
1944 The first operational ‘Schnorkel’ U-boat arrives in the Atlantic.
The Germans begin a full-scale counter-attack against the Anzio Beachhead.
1945 Russian attacks north of Konigsberg are blocked with the help of naval gunfire by the cruisers Scheer and Lutzow.
The Germans blow up the floodgates in the Ruhr, flooding the area West of Cologne and preventing the use of assault floating bridges by Allies.
Paraguay declared war on Germany and Japan.
The 2nd Ukrainian Front captured the southern rail station at Buda, Hungary.
Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: January 5 WWII Today: November 10 WWII Today: November 2
The Finnish 9th Division finally manages to encircle the Russian 54th Division in Kuhmo.
Finnish pilot Lt. Sarvanto, flying a Fokker, shoots down six out of seven Russian SB-2 bombers in just 5 minutes. The Russian 44th Division’s commander General Vinogradov, authorizes the remainder of his troops to try escape back to Russian lines.
1941 House of Commons vote for war credits of Â£1,600,000,000.
Hitler makes one last appeal to the Spanish leader, General Franco, to enter the war.
The Bishops of Norway start the Church’s struggle against the occupying German forces.
Australian forces capture Benghazi along with six senior Italian Generals. Italian forces make repeated attempts to break through the weak British blocking forces at Beda Fomm, but cannot.
Adolf Hitler sends Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to North Africa to help the Italian forces.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Congress to support the Lend-lease Bill to help supply the Allies.
In his annual message to Congress, President Roosevelt announces the “Five Freedoms”.
Churchill demands that troops be released from Wavell’s offensive and sent to Greece.
The Luftwaffe launches its first attacks against British convoys bound for Malta in the Mediterranean.
1942 Roosevelt announces that US forces are to be based in UK.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister denounces German atrocities in occupied Russia, where in Kiev alone 52,000 people have been massacred. ‘The Soviet Union will never forget or forgive’.
Rommel’s battered forces reach the Tripolitanian frontier having evaded all British attempts to cut them off.
The British are pushed back to Gazala. The British Commonwealth forces lose 40 tanks, 40 field guns and 1,400 troops. This was a disaster for the Allies in more ways than one. Now the Allied convoys to Malta must pass between Axis occupied Crete and Axis airfields in Benghazi.
1943 Russians cut off Army Group A by reaching Yeysk on the Sea of Rostov.
The Americans outflank the retreating Japanese on Guadalcanal.
1944 The allies announce that jet-propelled aircraft will soon to be in production.
The Air Ministry says that Bomber Command dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Germany in 1943, while the Luftwaffe dropped only 2,400 tons on Britain.
The Red Army crosses the 1939 Polish frontier after a 170-mile advance in just two weeks.
The Japanese pressure in Arakan forces the British to retreat.
Kwajalein Island in the Central Pacific falls to U.S. Army troops.
1945 The 1st Belorussian Front makes further advances to reach the Oder between KÃ¼strin and Frankfurt.
General MacArthur announced the imminent recapture of Manila while his staff planned a victory parade. But the battle for Manila had barely begun.
The ban on dancing is lifted in Finland, where it had been illegal to dance during wartime.
Boeing B-29 bombers in the Pacific strike new blows on Tokyo and Nanking.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: August 1 WWII Today: December 14 WWII Today: September 9
1940 British and French governments agree to land an expeditionary force in northern Norway without regard for Norway’s neutrality in order to aide Finland, although it was never carried out.
First sinking of a U-boat by a lone British destroyer: in convoy OA-84 off Land’s End, HMS Antelope sinks U-41.
1941 An advanced column of armoured cars from the 7th Armoured Division intercept the Italian retreat about 70 miles south of Benghazi.
Battle of Beda Fomm begins: British and Australian troops encircle bulk of Italian army in Libya.
US Navy designates new class of ship—the auxiliary aircraft vessel (AVG), later known as escort carriers—able to be constructed quickly on merchant ship hulls.
1942 First US C-47 cargo plane lost in combat, strafed by Zeros on Bathurst Island, Australia.
Japanese begin bombarding Singapore from Malaya.
US National Naval Medical Center is established in Bethesda, MD.
US Far East Air Force renamed Fifth Air Force; Caribbean AF renamed Sixth AF; Hawaiian AF renamed Seventh AF; Alaskan AF renamed Eleventh AF.
1943 Mussolini sacks his son-in-law, Count Ciano from Foreign Ministry and takes control himself.
1944 U.S. troops reach the outskirts of Cassino, but are repulsed.
The ‘Chindits’ begin moving towards Indaw, 100 miles behind the Japanese lines in Burma.
1945 Red Army troops approach Elbing and Marienburg in East Prussia.
RAF balloon command to be disbanded as the air raid threat lessens. 278 V1’s have been claimed by balloons.
US Seventh and French Armies link, splitting the Colmar pocket in France.
MacArthur orders a containment in the northern Philippines, as the main effort is directed to the capture of Manila. The Australians land on the Japanese stronghold of New Britain, East of New Guinea.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: February 17 WWII Today: April 8 WWII Today: April 12
1941 The Battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau sail from the Baltic to the Atlantic, causing absolute havoc to shipping routes and timetables.
RAF reconnaissance planes report that the Italians are beginning to evacuate Benghazi in a withdrawal towards El Agheila. The 7th Armoured Division is given immediate instructions to advance from Mechili across the desert in order to cut off the Italians escape route.
1942 The Afrika Korps recaptures Derna.
In North Africa, British retreat from German drive ends at Gazala, Libya.
Hahas Pasha forms a new Egyptian Cabinet, becomes the Military Governor and dissolves Parliament the next day.
Japanese take Ambon, Netherlands East Indies from small Australian garrison.
British seize Egyptian palace in Cairo to force the abdication of pro-Axis King Farouk.
The British refuse to surrender at Singapore, heavy bombardment by the Japanese continues for 4 days.
1943 Red Army troops achieve a landing near the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.
General Bernard Montgomery’s British Eighth Army crosses from Libya into Tunisia.
European Theater of Operations (ETO) branches into North African Theater of Operations (NATO) in North Africa and Mediterranean under General Dwight Eisenhower and ETO (UK, Iceland, continental Europe except Spain and Italy) under General Frank Andrews.
1944 The Germans start their offensive to relieve the Korsun pocket.
Chinese advances in Hukawng Valley, continue while the Japanese offensive on Arakan front gains strength in order to push the British back into India.
US forces take Kwajalein Island in Marshall’s, losing 486 killed and 1,495 wounded, but inflicting 8,386 casualties on the Japanese.
1945 Yalta Conference begins: A summit conference between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt opens at Yalta in Crimea, to discuss plans for the treatment of postwar Germany, its division into zones of occupation, reparations and the future Polish western border.
The U.S. First Army takes the first of seven Ruhr dams. Belgium is now reported as completely free of German troops.
First Allied truck convoy over the reopened Burma Road arrives in Kunming, China.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: February 19 Mamoru Shigemitsu Quote “Hell is on us. WWII Today: November 7
1941 33 Italian Fascist Party leaders are dispatched to bolster morale on the Albanian front.
Hitler reviews the plans for Operation ‘Barbarossa’, as German intelligence estimates that 155 Red Army divisions are deployed in western Russia against just 116 German and Axis divisions. The starting date is again confirmed as the 15th May 1941.
The British ‘Northern Force’ bumps into the Italian defenses at Keren, but fail to crack them open. General Platt decides he must build up his forces for a major assault.
1942 German forces of Army Group Centre launch a counterattack at Vyazma, cutting off and encircling several Red Army divisions.
Japanese air raids on Port Moresby.
President Quezon of the Philippines proposes to President Roosevelt that his country should be granted total independence from the USA so that it could declare itself neutral, but Roosevelt dismisses this idea. General MacArthur warns Roosevelt that the Bataan garrison has suffered over 50 per cent casualties and it was ‘near done’. MacArthur was given permission by Roosevelt to surrender Filipino, but not US troops who were to fight until the end.
Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera predicts the war will continue for at least 4 more years.
1944 An attempt to breakout of the Anzio Beachhead ends after an advance of just three miles in three days. The German begin their first counterattacks against Anzio.
The Japanese open their counter-offensive against the British in Arakan, Burma.
The United States shells the Japanese homeland for the first time at Kurile Islands.
The United States captures the Marshall Islands.
1945 The Russians capture Landsberg, 80 miles Northeast of Berlin.
The US 8th Air Force, with 937 bombers and 613 fighters, carries out the heaviest attack to date against Berlin which levels large areas of the city and kills more than 25,000 civilians.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: Yank Magazine Pin Up: Frances Vorne WWII Today: September 3 WWII Today: September 23
1939 Hungary breaks relations with the Soviet Union.
1940 Big Russian offensive continues on the Karelia front.
Italian Jews banned from serving as engineers, professors, or journalists, and from serving Gentiles as doctors or lawyers.
1941 5th Indian Division captures Barentu, forcing the Italians to withdraw towards the mountain fortress at Keren.
Indian & British forces take Italian fortifications at Barentu, Eritrea, and take 8000 POWs.
In East Africa, aircraft from HMS Formidable attack the harbor installations at Mogadishu.
1942 Japanese invade Java in the Dutch East Indies.
The Japanese launched their 1st air raid on Port Moresby in New Guinea.
The commander of the British XIII Corps, Godwin-Austen, resigns as a result of Lieutenant General Ritchie bypassing him and dealing direct with his divisional commanders.
A supply convoy bound for Malta sets sail from Alexandria. It consisted of 3 fast freighters, 2 cruisers, 8 destroyers and an anti-aircraft ship. However, the Luftwaffe still managed to sink all three merchantmen before they reached Malta.
Congress appropriates $26.5 billion for the U.S. Navy, bringing total U.S. war costs since June of 1940 to more than $115 billion.
US 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion arrives in Melbourne to build airfields near Darwin, Australia.
Allied ships begin withdrawal from Singapore to East Indies.
1943 The remnants of 6th Army under General Strecker in the northern pocket cease fighting and surrender to the Red Army. In all, over 96,000 survivors of the once 300,000-strong Army are captured, of which, only about 5,000 will live to return to Germany after the war. At Moscow, the victory over the Germans is celebrated with a salute of several hundred guns.
1944 The Germans stop an Allied attack at Anzio, Italy.
The 1st Ukrainian Front captures Luzk and Rovno. Stalin agrees to USAAF using Russian bases.
U.S. Marines complete the capture of Roi and Namur in the Marshall Islands.
1945 Ecuador declares war on Germany.
The 1st Belorussian Front reaches the Oder River near Frankfurt-an-der-Oder.
French troops occupy Colmar.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: February 13 WWII Today: April 9 WWII Today: August 11
A mid-air collision on February 1, 1943, between a B-17 and a German fighter over the Tunis dock area, became the subject of one of the most famous photographs of World War II. An enemy fighter attacking a 97th Bomb Group formation went out of control, probably with a wounded pilot then continued its crashing descent into the rear of the fuselage of a Fortress named All American, piloted by Lt. Kendrick R. Bragg, of the 414th Bomb Squadron. When it struck, the fighter broke apart, but left some pieces in the B-17. The left horizontal stabilizer of the Fortress and left elevator were completely torn away. The two right engines were out and one on the left had a serious oil pump leak. The vertical fin and the rudder had been damaged, the fuselage had been cut almost completely through connected only at two small parts of the frame and the radios, electrical and oxygen systems were damaged. There was also a hole in the top that was over 16 feet long and 4 feet wide at its widest and the split in the fuselage went all the way to the top gunners turret.
Although the tail actually bounced and swayed in the wind and twisted when the plane turned and all the control cables were severed, except one single elevator cable still worked, and the aircraft still flew – miraculously! The tail gunner was trapped because there was no floor connecting the tail to the rest of the plane. The waist and tail gunners used parts of the German fighter and their own parachute harnesses in an attempt to keep the tail from ripping off and the two sides of the fuselage from splitting apart. While the crew was trying to keep the bomber from coming apart, the pilot continued on his bomb run and released his bombs over the target.
When the bomb bay doors were opened, the wind turbulence was so great that it blew one of the waist gunners into the broken tail section. It took several minutes and four crew members to pass him ropes from parachutes and haul him back into the forward part of the plane. When they tried to do the same for the tail gunner, the tail began flapping so hard that it began to break off. The weight of the gunner was adding some stability to the tail section, so he went back to his position.
The turn back toward England had to be very slow to keep the tail from twisting off. They actually covered almost 70 miles to make the turn home. The bomber was so badly damaged that it was losing altitude and speed and was soon alone in the sky. For a brief time, two more Me-109 German fighters attacked the All American. Despite the extensive damage, all of the machine gunners were able to respond to these attacks and soon drove off the fighters. The two waist gunners stood up with their heads sticking out through the hole in the top of the fuselage to aim and fire their machine guns. The tail gunner had to shoot in short bursts because the recoil was actually causing the plane to turn.
Allied P-51 fighters intercepted the All American as it crossed over the Channel and took one of the pictures shown. They also radioed to the base describing that the empennage was waving like a fish tail and that the plane would not make it and to send out boats to rescue the crew when they bailed out. The fighters stayed with the Fortress taking hand signals from Lt. Bragg and relaying them to the base. Lt. Bragg signaled that 5 parachutes and the spare had been “used” so five of the crew could not bail out. He made the decision that if they could not bail out safely, then he would stay with the plane and land it.
Two and a half hours after being hit, the aircraft made its final turn to line up with the runway while it was still over 40 miles away. It descended into an emergency landing and a normal roll-out on its landing gear.
When the ambulance pulled alongside, it was waved off because not a single member of the crew had been injured. No one could believe that the aircraft could still fly in such a condition. The Fortress sat placidly until the crew all exited through the door in the fuselage and the tail gunner had climbed down a ladder, at which time the entire rear section of the aircraft collapsed onto the ground. The rugged old bird had done its job.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: November 1 Words at War: Der Fuehrer WWII Today: October 30
1940 General Timoshenko launches his big offensive across the iced up straits of Viipuri Bay, although Finnish aircraft raids disrupt these attacks.
The battleship Alabama (BB-60) is laid down at the Norfolk, Virginia.
In Japan, expenditure on the military accounts for half of the national budget for 1940.
1941 The Admiral Hipper slips out of Brest for another sortie into the Atlantic.
Agordat in Eritrea falls to the 5th Indian Division after 2 days of fighting.
The US Navy is reorganized in to the Atlantic, Pacific and Asiatic fleets and ordered to gradually bring ship crews up to war establishment.
1942 The Red Army begins an offensive toward Vyazma. Zhukov is promoted to command the West Theatre, which includes the Kalinin, West and Bryansk Fronts.
Quisling forms a puppet government in Norway.
All U-boats adopt a new Enigma cipher known as ‘Triton’. The new cipher replaces the previous cipher, ‘Hydra’ and has an additional rotor in the Enigma machine. This meant that the British were unable to read U-boat coded communications traffic until much later in the year, seriously affecting there ability re-route their convoys around U-boat wolf packs.
First U.S. aircraft carrier offensive of the war as YORKTOWN and ENTERPRISE conduct air raids on Japanese bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
USS Enterprise is damaged in attacks on Japanese-held airfields in the Marshall and Gilbert Islands.
1943 German troops evacuate Demyansk.
Twenty Japanese destroyers begin the evacuation of 13,000 troops from Guadalcanal.
1944 The Polish underground executes Major Fritz Kurschera, the chief of the Gestapo in Poland.
1945 The U.S. First Army takes Remscheid, 20 miles to the East of DÃ¼sseldorf. The U.S. Seventh Army reaches Moder and Siegfried Line.
Troops of the 1st Belorussian Front surround the fortress town of KÃ¼strin. Since the 20th January, the Kriegsmarine has evacuated 140,000 civilian refugees and 18,000 wounded soldiers by sea from East Prussia.
U.S. troops land unopposed to the Southwest of Manila.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WW2 Manuals WWII Today: October 3 WWII Today: September 24
1940 Sir John Simon announces food subsidies are running at Â£1,000,000 per week.
1941 The new recruits of the ‘Nordland’ Regiment give their oath to SS ReichsfÃ¼hrer Himmler in Oslo.
The Italian garrison at Metemma in northern Abyssinia, having been under increasing pressure for the past 3 weeks, begins to withdraw towards Gondar, allowing the 9th Indian Brigade to occupy the town.
The Japanese intervene in the conflict between Vichy France and Thailand, imposing an armistice on the French, which they are powerless to refuse.
1942 SS Einsatzgruppe A reports a tally of 229,052 Jews killed.
British and Commonwealth forces complete their evacuation of Malaya and withdraw to Singapore Island across the causeway with the Japanese only 8 miles away. Singapore now has the equivalent of four divisions to defend it, but morale is low and there are serious shortages of weapons. An additional Indian Brigade is landed at Rangoon and sent to join the 17th Indian Division.
1943 RAF Bomber Command makes first operational use of H2S radar.
Vichy France creates the Milice (Militia), under the command of Joseph Darnand, an extreme right-wing World War 1 veteran, to combat the Resistance. The Milice effectively becomes an arm of the German Occupation and reaches a strength of more than 20,000 by mid-1944.
The exhausted troops of 6th Army’s southern pocket, having expended their last ammunition, surrender to the Red Army. The Russians capture Field Marshal Paulus and 16 generals.
Eighth Army takes Zuara, near the Tunisian frontier.
1944 The U.S. 34th Division crosses the Rapido.
US forces attack the Marshall Islands, landing on Kwajalein, Roi and Namur. Land fighting begins in the Dutch New Guinea.
1945 Private Eddie Slovik became the only U.S. soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion.
Two of Zhukov’s armies establish a bridgehead on the Oder, to the North of KÃ¼strin and less than 40 miles from Berlin.
U.S. planes sink the Japanese floating dock at Singapore.Take a look at these other WWII Posts: WWII Today: January 4 WWII Today: February 20 WWII Today: January 25