World War II

The Monuments Men: Book Review

Mmen This summer has been anything but quiet. Between the thunderstorms (which seem to occur every day), the Blackhawks, the noise in Washington, and the floundering of my Cubs, I have not had much time, or patience, to write. But for the first summer in 7 years, I have had time to read. It is what I plan on doing a lot this summer.

The first book on the list is The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter. I enjoyed it very much! It is the second history book (Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails) in a row that I read that was not written by a historian. It gives the reader a fresh approach to history.

The book itself follows the exploits of several men and one woman who tried to save and salvage the art of Europe (mainly French, Belgian, and Dutch) in the last days of World War II from Nazi control.  The department known as MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives) traveled along the front lines in Europe trying to find stashes of art the Germans hid.

The book starts out in the years before the war detailing the lives of the main characters who shape the book. When the war starts, three people shape the story and its contents: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland – a French underground spy. When World War II begins, the two authors chronicle the Nazi agenda to strip the conquered territories of wealth including art. Most interesting is the argument that the Nazis saw the value in art as a status symbol but could not analyze its cultural and abstract worth. This is done through the collection of art by the highest ranking members of the Nazi Party, but mainly Herman Goring’s acquisitions.

The book spends most of its time detailing Rorimer’s and Stout’s races against time after D-Day. The authors describe the attempts by the Nazis to make it back into Germany with the looted works, and then the attempts to hide the art so the Americans, French, British, or Soviets could not get their hands on it. However, Rose Valland, working undercover, kept track of the destinations of trains taking the art out of France.

The second half of the book reads at a break-neck speed as the Monuments Men race to find the art before the Nazis, in some cases, could destroy it or hide it. Most interesting is Rose Valland’s ability/inability to trust the Americans to do right by the art. It is tense at several points in the book as Rose wavers on her decision.

The whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking that this topic would make a great NHD topic, and it would. Several of the Monuments Men were from Illinois including two from Chicago. Another interesting aspect is that these men tended to work solo. Rarely did they work in concert with another Monuments Man. There was no division specifically set up. Rather, each Monuments Man was embedded within a division. I also found it interesting to read the role Eisenhower played in the preservation of the art. Here is his letter he wrote as the soldiers made their way though Italy first, then, western Europe in 1944.


The book also has a nice collection of photographs at the end. I kept finding myself Googling the names of the people involved and also the names of the artwork (I read the book on my phone). The character who kept my attention most was none other than Rose Valland – a supposed nondescript person – who was able to work amidst the Nazis in Paris during the war. In that time, she drew suspicion from both sides while working for the resistance.

Rose Valland

The French Woman and Spy, Rose Valland

The Nazis go to great lengths to try to keep the art for themselves including hiding it in mines with booby traps, salt, running water, and Nazi soldiers. The race to find the art takes up the second half of the book and it is hard to put down. Hitler’s role and philosophies about art are also well detailed. The book only covers the Monuments Men in Western Europe. A second book, Saving Italy, describes the efforts there.

The Monuments Men, while a misleading title,  is a very good read and I highly recommend it.

For further reading

This site chronicles what the Monuments men did and lists every single soldier with a brief biography.

This site is the author’s site that also includes the companion book called Saving Italy.


Herbert Haupt: America’s Nazi Spy

Chicago has been a haven for German immigrants for a long time. image020It might be something about the climate, it might something about being on the edge of the frontier in the 1800s, or it might be the thriving cattle and hog industries beckoned the skills they possessed. Whatever it was, German immigrants began arriving on the shores of the lake between 1840 and 1860, German immigrants began filling up the city and the trend continued after the Civil War. In the 1880s, the German immigrants often clashed with their Irish brethren who had come over to build the I&M Canal and escape the Potato Famine. It usually involved drinking beer on a Sunday, politics, or unions. In the 20th century, German-Americans took great pride about their place in Chicago history. However, not all German-American immigrants severed ties with the Fatherland. One, Herbert Haupt from Chicago, along with seven other Nazi sympathizers tried to wreak havoc as saboteurs here in the United States during World War II. Fortunately, they were caught. Six were executed and two eventually were deported after the war. Their tale is a wild one and it begins on the north side of Chicago.

Herbert Haupt’s parents immigrated to the United States from Germany in the early 1920s. Germany was in chaos following World War I and the Weimar Republic was teetering. In Chicago, the Haupts found a home, jobs, and acceptance for their young son Herbert. Herbert grew up and graduated Lane Tech High School.

Chicagoan Herbert Haupt

Chicagoan Herbert Haupt

Herbert worked at Simpson Optical and made atotal of $25 a week. Haupt made friends easily, with both men and women. Friend Wolfgang Wergin said that “Herbie was a sharp dresser and attracted women. One thing he could never get off his mind was women.” Haupt’s fiance Gerda Merlend (Stuckman) was set to marry Haupt. She became pregnant. In response, Haupt and Wergin along with another friend decided to take off for Mexico on a rather spontaneous vacation. Haupt and Wegrin got into Mexico while the other friend was turned back at the border. Haupt and Wegrin then made their way to Mexico City. After a few dalliances with local women, the two men running short on cash, bought a cheap car and tried to cross back into the US. Mexican authorities required the young men of 21 and 18 to pay taxes on the car. They didn’t have the money and somehow wound up working on a freighter bound for Yokohama, Japan. They arrived there on August 24, 1941. The two eventually wound up in December 1941 near Nazi occupied Bordeaux, France when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Wergin enlisted in the German Army, Haupt took another route.


Wegrin is on the left and Haupt is in the center

For Haupt, Germany had sent him to Stettin to live with relatives. When he and Wegrin initially arrived, they were detained by German authorities until the two mentioned they both had born in Germany. They were then sent to live with relatives in Germany and the two went their separate ways. Back home in the US, Haupt had earned a reputation for spouting off about the new greatness of the Third Reich. In fact, the family was known to be supportive of Hitler.

Soon after Haupt arrived in Stettin, he was contacted by a German officer named Walter Kappe. Kappe had spent 12 years living in the US and had returned to Germany in 1937. Kappe was part of a counter-intelligence outfit called Abwehr which was putting together a group of soldiers together who could blend in as Americans and take out military targets in the US. In essence, he was making spies. Haupt signed up but said he had no choice. He stated at his trial:

“When I saw [Kappe the second] time, he asked me if I knew that my mother’s brother was in a concentration camp and my father’s brother had been, and I answered in the affirmative. He asked me if I hadn’t noticed that I couldn’t get a job and whether or not the Gestapo and police had been bothering me, which they had. He pointed out that the only thing left for me to do was to return to the United States.”

In April 1942, Haupt began training near Brandenburg. His return to America would not be long. On June 13, 1942, four German soldiers left a Nazi submarine and landed close to Amagansett, Long Island, New York. Four nights later on June 17, another four landed near Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida. According to the FBI, their purposes were to

agents-1942strike a major blow for Germany by bringing the violence of war to our home ground through destruction of America’s ability to manufacture vital equipment and supplies and transport them to the battlegrounds of Europe; to strike fear into the American civilian population; and to diminish the resolve of the United States to overcome our enemies.

When the Long Island group buried their German uniforms and had put on civilian attire, a Coast Guardsmen approached them. George (John) Dasch, 39, promptly bribed George Cullen with over $200. As soon as the men were out of sight, Cullen reported the incident to his superiors. The hunt was on. For Dasch, he did not give the mission much chance of success. He confided in fellow saboteur Ernest Burger. Upon reaching New York, Dasch called the FBI twice using the name Pastorius , the name of the mission, and ratted out his co-conspirators without their knowledge. He turned himself in when he arrived in Washington, D.C. By June 27, all men were in custody. Five were arrested in New York. Haupt and Herman Otto Neubauer were picked up in Chicago.

The Saboteurs

The Saboteurs

Evidence they were found with (All pictures courtesy of the FBI):


Capsule containing acid in a rubber tubing for protection


electric blasting caps, pen and pencil delay mechanisms, detonators, ampoules of acid, and other time delay devices

Pen and Pencil assembled for use as delay device

The question now became how to go about trying and convicting the saboteurs. Would it be in criminal court or would it be in a military court? It would be hard to convict them in a criminal court as the eight men had not committed any act other than bribing a member of the coast guard. President Franklin Roosevelt felt the six men deserved to be executed as spies. He issued Proclamation 2561 in response. It reads:

75 – Proclamation 2561 – Denying Certain Enemies Access to the Courts
July 2, 1942
Franklin D. Roosevelt
By the President of the United States of America
A Proclamation

Whereas, the safety of the United States demands that all enemies who have entered upon the territory of the United States as part of an invasion or predatory incursion, or who have entered in order to commit sabotage, espionage, or other hostile or warlike acts, should be promptly tried in accordance with the Law of War;

Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the statutes of the United States do hereby proclaim that all persons who are subjects, citizens, or residents of any Nation at war with the United States or who give obedience to or act under the direction of any such Nation and who during time of war enter or attempt to enter the United States or any territory or possession thereof, through coastal or boundary defenses, and are charged with committing or attempting or preparing to commit sabotage, espionage, hostile or warlike acts, or violations of the law or war, shall be subject to the law of war and to the jurisdiction of military tribunals; and that such persons shall not be privileged to seek any remedy or maintain any proceeding, directly or indirectly, or to have any such remedy or proceeding sought on their behalf, in the courts of the United States, or of its States, territories, and possessions, except under such regulations as the Attorney General, with the approval of the Secretary of War, may from time to time prescribe.

The prosecution in a military tribunal was selected for two reasons. First, FDR did not want the public to know that the reason they were captured so quickly was that Dasch turned them in. The second reason was that FDR wanted the death penalty. In a criminal court, intent to commit a crime might only bring about a two-year sentence and a fine.
The eight men were charged with four crimes, Articles of War 81 and 82d and two other charges against the law of war and conspiracy.


All eight were found guilty by a military tribunal. All but Burger and Dasch were sentenced to be executed. Burger and Dasch were given long prison terms later commuted by President Truman and they were deported.
The government quickly capitalized on the crimes in this short video.

At the trial, Haupt maintained all he wanted to do was to return to the US. He said had no intent of going through with the attacks on the American aluminum industry. He told his parents of his plans and he also told Neubauer of his lack of desire. The tribunal did not believe him. Haupt was executed on August 8, 1942 with the others in Washington, D.C.

The government next went after Haupt’s parents and their friends. A total of six more people were charged and convicted with treason. An appeals court would overthrow most of the rulings against Haupt’s parents and friends, although his parents would eventually be deported.

In recent years, the US government has referred back to the Haupt case, and others surrounding it, to uphold the use of military tribunals in the war on terror. George Dasch had filed a lawsuit during the proceedings to stop the tribunal. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court ruled the government was within its rights during wartime to try the case using a military tribunal. Ex parte Quirin (1942), as Dasch’s case became known, is the precedent for both the Bush and Obama administrations. However, what most historians fail to account is that FDR did not follow the precedent later in 1944 when a similar incident occurred. This document lays out the case for both sides in this wonderful PDF file that examines the issue in more detail.

For Haupt’s family, his parent’s hometown back in Germany was absorbed into Poland after the war. They had no home to go home to when the Polish kicked out the German population after the war. Gerda Merlend (Stuckman) had the baby, a son, but gave the child up for adoption. His whereabouts or identity are not known.

Gerda Merlund (Stuckman)  Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune  June 29, 1942  Page 2

Gerda Merlend (Stuckman)
Photo Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune
June 29, 1942
Page 2


Chicago Tribune Newspaper Articles
Proclamation 2561:
Military Tribunals File:

They Came to Kill
Shadow Enemies
Saboteurs, Nazi Raid on America
In Time of War

Haupt’s Chicago Home
Home of Nazi Spy Herbert Hans Haupt

The 1984 NBA Draft: Drafting Jordan – Not a Done Deal

MJ at his signing press conference

MJ at his signing press conference

On September 12, 1984, Michael Jordan signed his first NBA contract with the Chicago Bulls. It was a 5 year guaranteed contract with two option years. The whopping total was for a little over $6 million and that included a $1 million signing bonus. At the time, it was the third highest contract ever given to a rookie (behind Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon). In 1984 the salary cap for the entire team was only $3.8 million. But for Thorn and the Bulls, they thought Jordan and his $1 million a year salary was worth it. A myriad set of circumstances took place that spring and summer for Jordan to fall to the Bulls, but also for the Bulls to use the pick to draft Jordan.

When the 1984 NBA season ended on April 15, 1984, the Indiana Pacers had the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they did not own their first round pick, Portland had traded Tom Owen for it in 1981. The Houston Rockets, who had landed 7’4″ Ralph Sampson the year before, were also in the running for the first pick having the worst record in the Western Conference. A coin flip would decide who would own the pick. The NBA was gaining popularity thanks to great players like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving. The draft in 1984 was seen as huge new part of the NBA’s marketing scheme and business model under new commissioner David Stern.

A lot of maneuvering took place before the coin flip took place. The consensus #1 pick that year was Hakeem (then spelled Akeem) Olajuwon. The 7’0″ center from the University of Houston was coveted by every General Manager (GM) of every NBA team. He was smooth, sleek, quick, and a winner having won a NCAA Championship as part of Phi Slamma Jamma at the University of Houston. After Olajuwon, the second pick was anybody’s guess. If Patrick Ewing of the Georgetown would have come out a year early, he would have been the second pick. In fact, the Portland Trail Blazers tried to convince Ewing to leave school a year early. Ewing did not. Ewing only wanted to play for the Lakers or the Knicks. But, the Trail Blazers got caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. The result was a then staggering $250,000 fine placed by brand new commissioner David Stern.

Stern, asserting his authority, called both the Rockets and the Blazers executives to his office to discuss the matter. The Rockets, having documented their contacts with NCAA coaches came away with no damages, fines, or draft picks taken away. The Bulls meanwhile, sat on the sideline hoping that either team would be stripped of its pick allowing the Bulls to possibly move up and take Olajuwon. That did not happen either.

Before the coin flip, the Bulls were in active talks with several teams about the #3 pick. Some of the talks were not so pleasant. Former Bulls coach and then Dallas Mavericks head coach, Dick Motta, complained openly the Bulls had tanked several games in the 1983-1984 season in order to enhance their draft slot. Despite Motta’s objections, Philadelphia GM Pat Williams adored Jordan and was willing to talk a deal. Everything depended on the coin flip. Either team was going to take Olajuwon with first pick. But Houston was not going to take Bowie second if it lost the first pick. Had this scenario played out, that meant that 7’1 Kentucky big man Sam Bowie would fall to the Bulls. Then, in turn, the Bulls would have shipped Bowie off to Seattle for All-Star and Illinois native Jack Sikma, then a 28 year old center for the Super Sonics. The Rockets won the coin toss killing the Sikma deal.

May 27, 1984 Tribune Trade Account

May 27, 1984 Tribune Trade Account

The Bulls also took in and pondered offers from the Atlanta Hawks of Center Tree Rollins for the third pick. The San Diego Clippers (soon to be Los Angeles) offered Forward, and Chicago native, Terry Cummings. Thorn turned down all offers.


But even drafting Jordan was not a done deal. The Portland Trail Blazers sat at number two and they controlled the draft and the Bulls’ fortunes. According to Hakeem Olajuwon, in his memoir, the Trail Blazers offered the Rockets an unbelievable scenario to snag Ralph Sampson instead of Bowie. It would have gone down like this: Olajuwon would have been drafted at one by the Rockets. Then Ralph Sampson would have gone to Portland in exchange for Drexler and the #2 pick and Jordan could have picked #2 by the Rockets. But that deal, like many others, was either just a pipe dream or received little merit by the Rockets. The Rockets saw Olajuwon as once in a lifetime player to pair with Sampson.

It was up to Portland. They brought in Sam Bowie in for a round of tests and examinations. According to Bowie, the physical exam lasted seven hours. Bowie was not that far from Olajuwon athletically, but Bowie sat out 2 years in college with shin splints and leg issues. He was only 22. But at 7’1″, the Blazers, who had won 48 games the year before, felt Bowie could push them over the edge to a championship caliber club. The NBA game at the time was built around the center being a dominant offensive and defensive force. Bowie fit that mold as a college player when he was healthy.

In the recently released ESPN Films “Going Big,” Bowie said of the process,

“I can still remember them taking a little mallet, and when they would hit me on my left tibia, and ‘I don’t feel anything’ I would tell ‘em. But deep down inside, it was hurting,” Bowie said in the documentary. “If what I did was lying and what I did was wrong, at the end of the day, when you have loved ones that have some needs, I did what any of us would have done.”

Still, despite Bowie’s admission of hiding pain, the Doctors for the Blazers cleared him. He did have a productive rookie season before missing most of the next two seasons. The Blazers pick was later seen as a disaster and a cautionary tale of millions of dollars lost investing in a high pick. In the film, then Coach Jack Ramsey said that Jordan wasn’t even a consideration. It was alluded that Blazers were more interested in Auburn forward Charles Barkley.

At the draft, it was well-known who was taking whom ahead of time. Draft picks were not held close to the vest like today. Olajuwon went first.

He would go on to win two back-to-back NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995.

Sam Bowie went second to the Trail Blazers. Listen closely to the commentary about Bowie and how he was projected.

While his second and third years were spent missing a lot of games, he did wind up playing in the league for over ten years, some very productively for the New Jersey Nets. He was no lost pick like Greg Oden.


Basketball Reference’s chart on Bowie’s career


Jordan, he went third to the Bulls. Six Championships later and the greatest player ever label was not foreseen. Most scouts thought he would be a good player, but they even had no idea.

The summer of 1984 was a magical one for Jordan and the Bulls. Jordan went to the Olympics and helped the US win Gold in Los Angeles. Jordan’s prowess was on display that summer and it became clear to Bulls GM Rod Thorn that he had made the right choice with the third pick. Rave reviews came in from not only Coach Knight, but basketball reporters across the world as Jordan led the Olympic team in scoring at over 17 points per game.

Jordan olympics

After the Olympics ended, negotiations began in earnest for Jordan’s services. The highest contract the Bulls had previously given was to Center Artis Gilmore when he arrived after the 1976 merger and that was for $4.5 million. Jordan in one fell swoop became the richest Bull and led the Bulls to many riches. over the next 13 years.

That summer of 1984 saw many other changes in the NBA. The Clippers moved to LA, Stern and the NBA sued and lost. A draft lottery was instituted to keep teams from tanking and losing on purpose in order to move up in the draft. It was not popular as many owners and GMs felt that the worst team should have the best pick. It rarely has happened in the 28 drafts since. When New York won the lottery in 1985, the right to draft Patrick Ewing along with charges of conspiracy came along with it.

However, in one summer in 1984, what some call the greatest draft class ever, changed the fortunes of many NBA teams and was a turning point in the history of the game. Jordan, along with Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and 16th pick John Stockton ruled the NBA in the 1990s at the height of its popularity.

73626_ni5n8jtxji6bi_al Michael-Jordan-1984-NBA-Draft-ICEDOTCOM-e1308861217808

Watch the whole 1984 NBA Draft here.

Turning Points: The Battle of Midway

Beginning on December 7, 1941, the Imperial Fleet of the Japanese Navy began one of the most destructive campaigns the world had seen in one day. Whenever December 7, 1941 is discussed, most people think of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. December 7 was a lot more. All across the Pacific Ocean, Japan attacked the US wherever it had bases, ships, or men stationed. In one fell swoop, Japan had come perilously close to wiping out the Pacific fleet in one day. By early 1942, the refueling station at Midway was one of the few targets left standing. However, the failure of Pearl Harbor for the Japanese was that while the Japanese planes took out most of the battleships at Pearl that Sunday morning in 1941, the planes failed to take out the US aircraft carriers. In 1942, Admiral Yamamoto, the man who designed the Pearl Harbor attack began to design a second attack on an atoll, northwest of Hawaii, called Midway. This time, Yamamoto would not carry out the attack. He would leave that to someone else in June 1942.

USS Hornet – One of the 3 Aircraft Carriers at the Battle of Midway

The Japanese on Paper
Had battles been fought on paper, the Japanese should have won easily. They had more experience pilots. They had more experienced commanders. They had planes which could fly farther and faster. They had more ships and support vessels. Vice Admiral Chūichi Nagumo was in charge of the fleet. His experience would play a key role. Nagumo’s greatest strength was he always did what he was told. He was a good soldier. He followed battle plans to the letter. However, these strengths would also be Nagumo’s undoing.

The Americans on Paper
Frank Jack Fletcher was an American Admiral. His greatest experience had come at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May of 1942. The Americans and Australians had repelled an attempt by the Japanese to invade Australia, New Guinea, and other South Pacific targets. As the Admiral in charge of the Yorktown, the Coral Sea had left the Yorktown near listless. Somehow, Fletcher over saw the refit of the Yorktown. In what should have taken months, was done in days as over 1,400 men put the aircraft carrier back on its proverbial feet. This was done out of need as they were not many US aircraft carriers left. At the Battle of Midway, the Japanese would have 4 of them while the Americans only 3. The Japanese had every advantage on paper. However, it was the advantage of paper that swung the battle.

The American Secret Weapon: The Code
The Americans were close to breaking the Japanese code system in the fall of 1941. To many code breakers, the failure to break the code before Pearl Harbor stuck in their craw. One such analyst was Joe Rochefort.  In the spring of 1942, the Japanese code JN-25, the operational code of the Imperial Navy, was extremely complex; more so than other Japanese codes. JN-25 contained 33,333 five-digit code groups. Rochefort and his decryption code team used guesswork to finally break the code in the week before Midway. It was an amazing accomplishment as the team was deciphering between 500 and 1,000 messages a day. The US then put out a message saying Midway was almost out of water. Within hours, Japanese messages begin chattering about AF having a water emergency. The code was broken and a trap was put in motion.

Joe Rochefort

Joe Rochefort

The Battlefield
The military significance of the Midway Island was almost insignificant. The US had little use of the base early in the war. But for the Japanese, it would get them one step closer to Pearl Harbor. Once the code had been broken, Fletcher moved his fleet away from the islands to open up the islands and enabled the Japanese to show their hand.

The Battle
Nagumo sent seven Japanese scout planes to confirm that the American were not at Midway. Their own hubris of their attack plan would be their undoing. And in believing the plan to be invincible, Nagumo would not waver from it or put much stock in scouting. There would be no improvising, no changing of tactics. The US sent out over 20 scouts and found the Japanese fleet. Fletcher sent in torpedo bombers. However, initial attacks by US torpedo bombers on the Japanese fleet were a complete failure. All but 3 torpedo bombers were destroyed. This fact only cranked up Nagumo’s and the Japanese confidence.

When the first wave of Japanese planes attacked Midway, they failed to put the nail in the coffin. When word comes of a US aircraft carrier being sighted by a Japanese scout plane, Nagumo has to make make a key decision about whether to continue the attack on Midway or to go after the Aircraft Carrier. This was not part of the plan. The US aircraft carriers were supposed to be in Pearl Harbor. Nagumo chooses to reconfigure the bombs on his planes for an attack on the carriers. This would take an additional 60 minutes. To do this, the planes would be reconfigured on the decks of the aircraft carrier. It would be a fatal mistake.

When Fletcher’s attack force arrives to attack the Japanese carriers, the torpedo bombers continue a string of bad luck for the US. The first wave did no damage. The first wave of bombers got separated from its escort of fighters and were shot down easily by the Japanese fighters.

The Thach Weave – US Fighter Tactics which helped to destroy the Japanese planes. The Japanese had no answer to the confusion the tactic caused.

The second wave by the US was not going to make the same mistake. 6 US Wildcat fighters were set to face over 20 Japanese Zeroes in the skies over the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Sōryū.  The Zero was a superior machine. It was faster, more maneuverable, and had more range. However, its one weakness was the fuel tank easily caught fire. In addition, the hubris of the Japanese commanders spread throughout the fighter ranks. In addition, they could not improvise. In what becomes known as the Thach Weave, US fighters fight in pairs but by flying inter-locking patterns which confuses the Japanese and they are unable to adjust to the American tactics. The bombers now had free reign to attack the JAkagi, Kaga, and Sōryū.

While US carriers were made of metal, Japanese carriers had wooden decks. In a mere five minutes, 3 out carriers were in flames. Between the bombs the US dropped, the Japanese carriers were sitting ducks with their own bombs on deck, the armaments underneath, and the wood. The battle was nearly over. Nagumo, despite losing the flagship, was not going to be stopped. He thundered on towards Midway. Despite only having 1 carrier to the 3 of the US, Nagumo pressed forward undaunted and undeterred. The Japanese found the Yorktown and thought they laid it waste with three bombs. Quick thinking by the US stopped the fire on the Yorktown. Nagumo thought the odds were closing to his favor. The Yorktown, while badly damaged could still float and would play a key role in the outcome of the battle.


The Japanese quickly regroup and attack what they think is another carrier but it is the Yorktown again. This time, the Yorktown is dead in the water. Nagumo thinks he has evened the odds. As Nagumo thinks he has taken out 2 carriers, he begins to attempt a final attack. Before the Yorktown is abandoned Fletcher sends out scout planes to find the final Japanese carriers. And the Americans find the final Japanese carrier. The Hiryū was hit with 4 bombs. A key to the sinking was that the Japanese pilots were eating below deck when the Americans arrived.

Midway reports for June 5 contained a variety of activity going on that day. For Fletcher and the US, a key to the battle was deciphering the reports that were coming in. While history records the key details, it also can reveal the small details. Fletcher had to sort through the large amount of data to make decisions. Here is a list of just June 5, 1942.

5 June, 1942.
Daily search, 10 planes, sector 250 to 020 to 250 miles. Co-verage about 100%.
0000 – Flight 102, 2 PBY5A’s with torpedoes off to attack transport group.
0130 – Submarine shelled Midway. Batteries returned fire. Three hits on SS are claimed.
0415 – Submarine reports large enemy force at 28-23 N., 179-09 W, at 1417 Zed.
0430 – All B-17’s in the air.
0510 – 1V102 requests MO’s.
0530 – Search group in the air.
0600 – 7V55 reports 3 men in boat, 29-08 N., 178-07 W.
0615 – V92 reports unable to locate target, unfavorable wea-ther, verify position, advise.
0625 – Ordered V92 to proceed to Kure.
0630 – 2V55 reports sighted 2 battleships bearing 264, dist-ance 125 miles, course 268, speed 15.
0632 – 2V55 reports ships damaged, streaming oil.
0700 – 4V58 reports 2 enemy cruisers bearing 286, distance 174, course 210, speed 20.
0719 – 7V55 reports 5 ships bearing 325, distance 200.
0735 – 7V55 reports 5 ships on course 338, speed 25, latitude 31-15, longitude 179-55.
0800 – 6V55 reports 2 battleships and one carrier afire, 3 heavy cruisers bearing 324, distance 240, course 310, speed 12.
0815 – 6V55 reports cruisers and destroyers screening burning carrier. Battleship well ahead.
0820 – 8V55 reports bearing 335, distance 250, one carrier course 245.
0821 – 10V55 reports ENTERPRISE on fire and sinking.
0850 – Submarine reports land plane out 279½°, distance 570.
0945 – 10V55 reports TF 16 bearing 020, distance 90, course 270, speed 25.
1000 – V92 reports making hits on Jap battleship.
1020 – 10V55 reports TF 16 bearing 018, distance 80.
1220 – 10V55 reports destroyer rescued crew of 1V58 (23P2).
1220 – Remains of Marine Air Group, 8 dive bombers, scored one hit on damaged cruiser to westward. Lost one plane by AA fire.
1250 – 7V55 picked up man at 20-27 N., 179-17 W.
1320 – Flight V92 in air to attack crippled carriers to north-ward.
1430 – V92 reports TF 16 bearing 322, distance 105, course 322, speed 25.
1430 – PT boat reports attacked by cruiser aircraft bearing 150, distance 170.
1545 – V93 on attack mission.
1610 – 1V56 reports one carrier, two battleships, three heavy cruisers, five destroyers, course 280, speed 10, bearing 325, distance 110, friendly ships.
1800 – V92 reports finding only one cruiser. Scored only near misses.
1845 – 2V56 reports being attacked by 12 enemy planes bearing 313, distance 350.
1930 – 5V93 dropped bomb bay tanks instead of bombs on enemy.

Nagumo limped home in defeat. The Americans, while losing the Yorktown, only lost over 300 men. The Japanese lost 3000 experienced sailors and airmen. For the Japanese it wasn’t the pilots who were the key loss, but rather the maintenance crews and the aircraft carriers. A lot of technical know how went down in the ocean. An invasion was deterred. A turning point in the war in the Pacific changed the course of the war. From now on, the Americans could rebuild their fleet, planes, and begin an offensive against the Empire of Japan. The Battle of Midway was the high water mark for the Japanese. Their navy nearly destroyed was now on the defensive. The battle also marked an important turning point as it showed the importance of aircraft carriers as the key to the Pacific theater of operations. Air power by sea was going to win the war. However, on June 6, 1942, the US had no strategy on how to defeat Japan. They only hoped to stop it. Midway changed that mindset.

“After a battle is over, people talk a lot about how decisions were methodically reached, but actually there’s always a hell of a lot of groping around.” – Jack Fletcher

For Fletcher, he groped better thanks to his ability to improvise and make adjustments throughout the battle. This trait would be a key for the Americans in the Pacific against the Japanese and in Europe against the Germans.

Dr. Seuss puts the Battle in perspective

Dr. Seuss puts the Battle of Midway in perspective in 1942

Here are three excellent educational films about the Battle of Midway.

The Pacific: Okinawa

Before it began, Okinawa was a lush island 60 miles long, filled with 400,000 civilians and around 110,000 Japanese soldiers. The battle took place on the heels of Iwo Jima. It would be the largest air, land, and sea battle of the entire war. Its outcome would shape how the US and the British were going to end the war in the Pacific. For HBO’s The Pacific, episode 9 takes place here. From April 1, 1945 to June 22, 1945, over 240,000 people on the island would die.

Ryukyu is a chain of islands south of Japan. Once the US was able to take the island, it would serve as a base of operations for air, land, and sea forces. The battle of Okinawa would be more like Saipan than it would be Iwo Jima. The

Island Hopping strategy foreseen many years before had now reached the doorstep of the home islands of Japan. Okinawa was Japan. The Operation would be given the code name Iceberg. Iwo Jima was to be taken to protect the right flank of the American forces. The five weeks of fighting there stalled the invasion of Okinawa by a month. Once taken, the airstrips at Iwo Jima began strafing Okinawa. The US was well aware the war was nearing an end. How would Okinawa play into the endgame?

L-Day took place on April 1. The US stormed ashore with 183,000 men. The goal was to divide the island between the US Marines and the US Army. The Marines were to take the north and the Army would take the south. Japanese Genral Mitsuru Ushijima had moved the bulk of his forces to the southern end of the island. Within 3 weeks the Marines had secured the northern end of the island.

From April 24 on, it was an uphill grind to take out the Japanese. With over 1400 ships aiding the American forces offshore, the Japanese began to use Kamikaze attacks on the American ships. But by this point in the war, the Japanese ability to make war in the air and at sea had been utterly destroyed. The Kamikaze did more damage than any shell could.

A young Eugene Sledge

When word of the German surrender on May 8 came to Okinawa, Eugene Sledge said:

Nazi Germany might as well have been on the moon. On Okinawa no one cared much. We were resigned only to the fact that the Japanese would fight to total extinction as they had elsewhere, and that Japan would have to be invaded with the same gruesome prospects.

In mid-May, the wet season arrived to Okinawa. The battlefield turned to muck. Tanks were made almost useless. But the fighting continued. One hill, Sugarloaf, exchanged hands 14 times. It wasn’t just the soldiers the US had to deal with, but the civilians  were brought into “hell’s own cesspool.” It is estimated that around 120,000 civilians were killed on Okinawa.

The Japanese also had cave complexes just like other Pacific battles. An estimated 20,000 Japanese soldiers are buried alive in the caves. Flamethrowers, grenades and tanks entombed them. By late May, the Marines took Sugarloaf for good and broke the Shuri (Japanese) Line and moved into Naha and took Shuri Castle, the HQ of  Ushijima.

Just like at Saipan, many of the Japanese civilians committed suicide. In addition, Ushijima committed Seppuku. The civilians were starving and the Japanese were running out of supplies. The Japanese fought nearly to the last man. The US lost 12,000+ in combat and over 38,000 wounded in addition to another 33,000 suffering from disease and combat fatigue.

Six weeks after Okinawa was over, plans for X-Day were being finalized, the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Okinawa may have hastened the use of atomic weapons as the staggering toll on military and civilian casualties was astounding. When news of surrender reached the 1st Marine Division (The Old Breed), Eugene Sledge was stunned. He states:

We thought the Japanese would never surrender. Many refused to believe it. Sitting in stunned silence, we remembered our dead. So many dead. So many maimed. So many bright futures consigned to the ashes of the past. So many dreams lost in the madness that had engulfed us. Except for a few widely scattered shouts of joy, the survivors of the abyss sat hollow-eyed and silent, trying to comprehend a world without war.

Okinawa was the last battle of World War II. For many of the soldiers, they would head home and try to make some sense of why they lived through the war. And, to try to live in a peace they created.

Sidney Phillips plays a huge role in The Pacific. he is often seen in the introduction to each episode talking about the war, the conditions and the physical and mental toll the  war took on these men and women who served. As a member of the first marines on Guadalcanal, Phillips knew both of the main characters of the Pacific in Leckie and Sledge. Sledge was his best friend in childhood and Leckie was in his unit.  He states:

Robert was nobody. Eugene was nobody. Just so happens they wrote these incredible books. Now Sledge is dead and Leckie is dead. I’m all that’s left. Those Hollywood producers were so excited to learn I was still around.

Leckie’s book, A Helmet for a Pillow was published in 1957. Sledge’s With the Old Breed did not see the light of day until 1981. The Pacific is mostly based on these two books.

For further reading on places in the mini-series The Pacific:
Iwo Jima
Australian War Effort

The Pacific: Iwo Jima

The picture echoes through the ages. In 2010, it is more than just a flag. It has come to mean so many things: bravery, sacrifice, death, horror, honor, courage, etc. The American soldiers who landed on the black sand of Iwo Jima were battle hardened. They knew what to expect from their enemy. They had met them at Guadalcanal, the Marianas, and Peleliu. But as the island hopping campaign grew closer and closer to the mainland of Japan, the fighting spirit of the Japanese grew more and more deadly.

Eugene Sledge said of the Pacific War:

“You developed an attitude of no mercy because they had no mercy on us. It was a no-quarter, savage kind of thing. At Peleliu, it was the first time I was close enough to see one of their faces. This Jap had been hit. One of my buddies was field-stripping him for souvenirs. I must admit it really bothered me, the guys dragging him around like a carcass. I was just horrified. This guy had been a human being. It didn’t take me long to overcome that feeling. A lot of my buddies hit, the fatigue, the stress. After a while the veneer of civilization wore pretty thin.”

From February 19, 1945 to March 26, 1945, over 110,000 American soldiers would take on an estimated 18,000 forces of the Empire of Japan. Through those five weeks, some of the bloodiest and most savage fighting in the war took place. The Island itself was an insignificant piece of land except for its airfields. 650 nautical miles from the homeland, the island could provide US forces much easier access to attack the Japanese mainland without bombers running out of fuel.

The Japanese had dug a massive tunnel complex throughout the island including inside the dormant volcano of Mount Suribachi. The US Marines were to land on the beaches and to take the airfields – basically, cutting the island in two. The Marines landed to no resistance. The Japanese strategy was to let the Americans fill the beaches with men and equipment before opening fire. Form their positions, the Japanese had pinpoint artillery to most places on the island. For the next five weeks, the fighting was fierce. During the day, the US attacked Japanese positions. At night the Japanese would launch assaults on US positions.

Ted Allenby said:

“The casualty rate was enormous. It was ghastly. Iwo [Jima] was a volcanic island with very little concealment … Few trees. No grass. It was almost like a piece of the moon that had dropped down to earth. I don’t think there’s been any place with more dismemberment, more bodies cut to pieces.”

The Japanese would not surrender. Over 18,000 confirmed Japanese casualties were taken on Iwo Jima. The US lost only 6,000+ but suffered another 19,000 injured and wounded. The casualty rate of 25% is shocking in today’s terms, but as the US got closer and closer to the mainland, the casualty rate kept getting higher. For the men who served on Iwo Jima, it was hell on Earth. Time became the enemy of the Japanese as much as the Americans. Supplies of food, water, and ammunition could not last the Japanese forever. As March dragged on, the defeat grew imminent. Nighttime attacks grew in ferocity and frequency.

The capture of Iwo Jima came at a high cost but its capture also sped up the end of the war. Iwo Jima, in addition to its airfields, was also a key listening/radar post which could warn the mainland of approaching US aircraft. After the battle, the US set up shop at the airfields and it became a key airfield in the dropping of the atomic bombs.

On film, Clint Eastwood eloquently captured the horror of this conflict in both Flags of Our Father and Letters from Iwo Jima. There are several fine documentaries on the battle, most notably, the History Channel’s Shootout. Episode 8of The Pacific series  on HBO will put its own spin on Iwo Jima through the eyes of Eugene Sledge and John Basilone who returns to combat after raising war bonds and training soldiers for combat.

For further reading on places in the mini-series The Pacific:
Iwo Jima
Australian War Effort

Here are interesting accounts by soldiers who served on Iwo Jima and were consultants for The Pacific.

The Pacific: The Australian War Effort

On September 3, 1939, the country of Australia entered World War II more than two years before their American allies. Prime Minister Robert Menzies said:

Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war. No harder task can fall to the lot of a democratic leader than to make such an announcement.

And with that, Australia was in. The Great Depression had hit Australia hard. Its forces were understaffed with only 3,000 men in their army. Their naval forces were more prepared but not by much. Their Air Force only had 246 planes and those were not very modern. The only country less prepared for war at the time was the United States.

The Australians would see action all over the globe as part of the allied forces. The Aussies aided the British in North Africa, Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Italy and Croatia. The Australian Air Force also participated in the defense of Britain during the Battle of Britain. However, Australians aided the Americans and the British immensely and vice versa in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

1942 was the pivotal year for Australia. Japan’s advances in 1941 left only Hawaii, parts of Indonesia, Australia, and New Zealand not taken.

The Japanese first attacked the Australian mainland on 19 February 1942 when they launched a devastating air raid on Darwin in the Northern Territory. Two weeks later, more aircraft attacked Broome in Western Australia killing about 70 people. By the end of September 1943, Japanese pilots had flown 97 air raids against towns and bases in northern Australia. On 31 May 1942, the war came to the east coast when three Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour. In June 1942 a submarine lightly shelled the eastern suburbs in Sydney and then Newcastle. Japanese submarines also attacked coastal shipping, causing the loss of some 60 lives and 29,000 tons of shipping during the two months after the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour.

That spring and summer, Australia planned for an invasion. There is some contention on whether the Japanese planned to invade. Some Japanese state their objective was not to invade but rather to isolate Australian shipping. Regardless of Japanese intent, the Australian took the threat to be real and began to put barbed wire along the beaches. Anti-aircraft guns were put in place near strategic targets along with searchlights.

In May of 1942, the US and Australian forces thwarted a Japanese advance toward Port Moresby in New Guinea. Strategically it was a victory for the allies as they did stop the Japanese advance, neither of the allied leaders were satisfied with the outcome of the Battle of the Coral Sea. The allies had cracked the Japanese code and had a carrier force supported by Australian cruisers and destroyers waiting to intercept the invaders. It was also the first battle in which neither naval force saw each other and used airplanes to carry out all offensive tactics.

That summer saw Japanese attacks along the east coast of Australia. Australians would repel any possible Japanese invasion on New Guinea along the Kokoda Track and Milne Bay. These first victories against the Japanese on land were all completed by the Aussies. That fall, the Australians would join US forces at Guadalcanal in the first major offensive against the Japanese. The resulting battle was a huge victory for the Allies.

Throughout the rest of the war, the Australian armed forces would fight along side British and American forces throughout the Pacific. At home, life for Australians was very similar to life at home in the United States. Items were rationed, war bonds were sold, people made due with what they could. Women and children and pitched in where they could.

Historically, Australians always get the shaft in American history books in their importance to the war effort in World War II. Besides providing one million men and women and an outlet for rest and relaxation for American Troops, the Australians provided much needed logistical support and intelligence on Japanese movements. The US used the Australian mainland as a place to maintain headquarters in the South Pacific – mainly General Douglas MacArthur. Throughout the war, MacArthur and Allied Intelligence were centered in Brisbane with over 2000 Australians coordinating intelligence. When the war ended Australia had suffered 40,000 dead. Lastly, Australian civilians also were casualties of the war as the Japanese conducted almost 100 air raids in 1942-43 alone. For such a small country in population, they played a major role in helping stop the Axis Powers.

For Further Reading

For further reading on places in the mini-series The Pacific:
Iwo Jima
Australian War Effort