Sunday, July 19, 2009

Raid on Dieppe

On August 19,1942, the British mounted Operation Jubilee, a large scale raid on the port of Dieppe, Seine-Maritime, France. Some 4,900 Canadian, 1,000 British and 50 U.S. troops left five English ports in a fleet of 237 warships and landing craft. Air support was inadequate and intelligence poor, and despite some minor successes the main assault was a bloody failure, with 3,367 Canadian casualties. The Royal Navy lost a destroyer and several landing craft, and the RAF 106 aircraft to only 48 German. Although useful lessons were learnt from Dieppe, the operation's unjustifiable risks were worsened by its labyrinthine planning. Landing craft run in towards the beach (above) under cover of floating smoke dischargers.

The frontal assault was mounted by The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry and The Essex Scottish, with armour from the 14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Tanks), supported by the Fusiliers Mont-Royal. Twelve tanks were stopped on the beach because shingle jammed their tracks, and the 15 that made their way inland were soon knocked out. Here a German infantryman picks his way among blanketed Canadian dead.

Canadian prisoners are marched through Dieppe.

Propagandists found some crumbs of comfort: No. 4 Commando, seen here after returning to Newhaven, had taken the Varengeville battery. The U.S. Ranger makes the point that this was the first time Americans had been in action on the ground in Europe during the war.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Britain at War, 1942 — Part 2

Members of the Women's Land Army ploughing in Hertfordshire, March 1942.

Between January 1942 and D-Day in 1944 more than a million and a half U.S. servicemen arrived in Britain. There were complaints that the Americans were “overpaid, oversexed and over here,” but paradoxically most civilians were sympathetic to black G.I.s, victims of colour bars in their own army.

Although women did not fly in direct combat, 166 served in the Air Transport Auxiliary which ferried aircraft from factories to their bases, and servicewomen like this Wren (from WRNS, Women's Royal Naval Service) radio mechanic flew to test radios.

In 1942 the Germans mounted hit and run “Baedeker raids” on historic cities in retaliation for raids on L├╝beck and Rostock. Canterbury cathedral was damaged in June.

Many anti-aircraft batteries has male and female personnel. These women of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) operate a mobile power-plant on an anti-aircraft site in December 1942.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Britain at War, 1942 — Part 1

Britain was emphatically a nation at war. Food rationing began in January 1940, and that autumn saw the beginning of the London Blitz, with endemic air raids thereafter. A 1940 extension of the 1939 Emergency Powers Act gave the government “complete control over… all persons, rich and poor… and all property.” Britain mobilized a higher proportion of its population than any other combatant: by June 1944, 22% of the working population was in the services and another 33% in war work. Women replaced men in factories, public transport and on the land. Men were not only drafted into the forces, but eventually down the mines as well.

Mrs Minnie Murless of the Wynnstay guest house (above) clips the ration books of her guests. There were weekly forms for butcher and grocer, and every two month the local Food Office required detailed lists of consumption. Fuel and animal food required separate permits.

“Local defense,” reads the original caption, “releases men for overseas offense.” Like most Home Guard units, this one includes those too old or too young for regular service as well as men in some key occupations which spared them regular call-up.

Rail travel was cramped and uncertain. Here a member of the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) and a soldier sit on their luggage in the corridor of a London to Scotland express.

In May 1942 Molotov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, flew to England to sign a Treaty of Alliance and Mutual Assistance. Here he is walking next to Churchill in the garden of No 10 Downing Street. Clement Attlee, Deputy Prime Minister, is shrouded in tobacco smoke in the centre of the photograph, and Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, is just behind Churchill.

Russian ambassador Ivan Maisky accepts the first tank produced under the “Tanks for Russia” scheme. War material was shipped to Russia, often at great cost, in the arctic convoys through the Norwegian and Barents seas.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

North Africa — Part 3

British infantry advance in open order on October 24. The infantry was tasked with “crumbling” Rommel's defences.

An Advanced Dressing Station, October 24. An officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps gives a drink to one of the wounded.

German prisoners await transport at El Alamein corner, October 25. Some 30,000 prisoners of war were taken.

General von Thoma, commander of the Afrika Korps (now an elite minority in the larger German-Italian force in North Africa) introduced to Montgomery after capture, November 4.

Crusader cruiser tanks in pursuit after Alamein.

Cecil Beaton's view of the crew of a Martin Maryland light bomber receiving a last-minute briefing before take-off. Slick co-operation between ground and air forces characterized Montgomery's conduct of the battle in North Africa.

North Africa — Part 2

The fall of Tobruk on June 21, was a heavy blow to Churchill. Here the first German vehicle to enter the town pauses in front of abandoned vehicles and a sign, couched in Tommy's humour, pointing to a barber shop.

By September 1941 there were nearly 60,000 South African troops in Egypt, 15,000 of them black: all had volunteered to serve outside South Africa, and wore an orange strip on their epaulettes to mark the fact. 1st South African Division was bloodily engaged during Operation Crusader, and the over 10,000 South Africans were captured when Tobruk fell. These South Africans take cover while their truck is bombed, June 4, 1942.

German tanks roll eastwards following British withdrawal from Gazala.

One of a series of photographs taken in July, just after Rommel had been checked at “First Alamein,” showing British guardsmen practising an advance with tanks. At this juncture the “brave but baffled” 8th Army was holding a strong position just west of the little railway halt of El Alamein, but it did not fully find its feet until the arrival of Montgomery in mid-August.

German reinforcements moving up by train to the El Alamein front in October.

Montgomery preferred to let metal, not flesh, do the business of battle. On the night of October 23-24, 882 guns pounded the Axis defences before his men began to break into them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

North Africa — Part 1

In 1942, Allied fortunes in North Africa ebbed at first, when the German General Erwin Rommel turned the strong defensive line running from Gazala on the coast to Bir Hacheim in the desert, took Tobruk, and went on to cross the Egyptian frontier. There he was checked, initially at First Alamein on July 1, and then at Alam Haifa at the very end of September. In October, British General Montgomery, the newly appointed commander of 8th Army, won the battle of El Alamein. The following month an Allied army landed in French North Africa, catching Axis forces in the theatre in a gigantic pincer which would eventually snap shut in 1943. Above, A Hudson MkVI bomber over the Pyramids, Summer 1942.

A January 1942 photograph of an Italian convoy caught by the RAF on the coast road during Rommel's withdrawal the previous month.

Although this photograph is blurred and undated (though it passed the censor in 1942) it gives a good impression of infantry of the 4th Indian Division moving up with a shell bursting dangerously close.

The British might have won the Gazala battles of May-June 1942, but superior German generalship and all-arms tactics eventually proved too much for them. Neverthrless, the Germans did not have it all their own way. Here a new U.S.-supplied Grant tank, which mounted a 75mm gun in its hull and a 37mm in the turret, passes a burning German tank.

A 25-pounder in action at night, June 2. These weapons were often used in the anti-tank role in the desert, and during the Gazala battles their detachments frequently fought them to a finish as German tanks overran their positions.

The Stuka dive-bomber, so useful for providing close air support, was very vulnerable without fighter support. These Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters aircraft wait at their desert strip while ground crew snatch an alfresco lunch.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Eastern Front — 1942

In Russia the Germans survived the crisis of the Russian winter counteroffensive, and in April 1942 Hitler issued orders for Operation Blue, a major offensive in the south aimed at the oilfields of the Caucasus. In June the attack began well, with scenes reminiscent of victories the previous year, and the Germans pushed deep into the Caucasus. But by mid-September the offensive had stalled, and German 6th Army was making heavy weather of its attack on Stalingrad, on the Volga. On November 19, the Russians launched carefully husbanded reserves to began the attack which led to the encirclement of the 6th Army in one of the war's most terrible battles. Above, a Russian heavy machine-gun in the snow, winter 1941-42.

The Russian winter not only caught the Germans without proper clothing but caused serious difficulties for vehicles not designed with this climate in mind. Here a tank drags an assault gun from a snowdrift.

Although the Germans occupied the Crimea in 1941, the naval base of Sevastopol held out. It was eventually taken in July 1942 after heavy bombardments which reduced the city to rubble.

In early August 6th Army destroyed most of a Russian army in the bend of the Don north of Kalach. This is the apocalyptic scene on the river bank in the first week of August.

Operation Edelweiss, initiated when Hitler cancelled Operation Blue in July, sent Army Group A deep into the Caucasus. Here a German anti-tank unit is silhouetted by smoke from burning oilfields at Maikop, fired by their defenders, in the last week of August.

Operation Heron saw Army Group B drive for the Volga with the aim of taking Stalingrad and extending down the river as far as Astrakhan. Here German infantry move up as Stalingrad burns on the horizon.

The bitter fighting at Stalingrad placed overwhelming emphasis on the courage and determination of small groups of men fighting in what soon became a blighted landscape. Here a German machine-gun detachment — the empty ammunition boxes to its rear are evidence of heavy fighting — defends the ruins of suburban cottages.

A German infantry officer, whose decorations include the Iron Cross 1st Class and the infantry assault badge, issues orders. The soldier on the left has equipped himself with a captured Russian sub-machine gun.

After the encirclement of Stalingrad Hitler gave Manstein command of the newly created Army Group Don and ordered him to break into the pocket. Here a German tank hits a Russian mine during an abortive counterattack, December 20.

Friedrich Paulus, commander of 6th Army, was promoted to field-marshal on 30 January in Hitler's expectation that he would commit suicide rather than capitulate. However, he surrendered the following day. These Russian officers — the term was reintroduced by Stalin in 1942 — are still wearing collar rank badges, soon to be replaced by tsarist-style shoulder boards, all part of an attempt to restore the army's morale and efficiency.

The Germans lost some 200,000 men at Stalingrad: most of their prisoners of war did not survive captivity. Here a column of prisoners winds its way across the frozen steppe. Those in white fur hats are Romanians: defeat at Stalingrad struck a chill into Germany's allies.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway was a major naval battle widely regarded as the most important of the Pacific Campaign of World War II. It took place between and June 4-7, 1942, approximately one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea and six months after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States Navy decisively defeated an Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) attack against Midway Atoll, inflicting irreparable damage on the Japanese navy and seizing the strategic initiative. Above, U.S. Douglas Dauntless planes fly high above a burning Japanese carrier.

The Japanese operation, like the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, aimed to eliminate the United States as a strategic Pacific power, thereby giving Japan a free hand in establishing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It was hoped another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to negotiate an end to the Pacific War on conditions favorable to Japan.

The Japanese plan was designed to lure the United States’ few remaining carriers into a trap. The Japanese also intended to occupy Midway Atoll as part of an overall plan to extend their defensive perimeter in response to the Doolittle Raid. This operation was considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji and Samoa. The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of American reaction and poor initial dispositions.

The carrier U.S.S. Yorktown at Midway under air attack which damaged her badly, leaving her to be finished off by a submarine on June 7, 1942.

American codebreakers were able to determine the date and location of the attack, enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to set up an ambush of its own. Four Japanese aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser were sunk in exchange for one American aircraft carrier and a destroyer. The heavy losses, particularly the four fleet carriers and their aircrews, permanently weakened the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japan was unable to keep pace with American shipbuilding and pilot training programs in providing replacements.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Battle for the Pacific

Japanese strategy in the Pacific was initially successful, and a shortlived ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command collapsed before the Japanese advance. But although the Japanese won the battle of the Java Sea in February and hammered the British Admiral Somerville's Far Eastern Fleet on a raid into the Indian Ocean in April, they lost a carrier in the Coral Sea in May. The following month they lost four large carriers at Midway, and with them the prospect of maintaining the initiative in the central Pacific.

Above, the cruisers
HMS Dorsetshire and Cornwall under air attack, April 5 — both were sunk. So great was the superiority shown by Japanese aircraft on the Indian Ocean raid that Somerville sent his elderly battleships to safety in the East African port of Mombasa.

The Battle of the Coral Sea was the first major naval action in which opposing warships did not sight one another. American aircraft sank the light carrier Shoho, but the USS Lexington — “Lady Lex” — was hit by bombs and torpedoes and sank after a huge internal explosion. Here members of her crew can be seen
jumping from the stricken vessel.

In May the Japanese attacked the island of Midway, then America's most westerly outpost, having first diverted part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet to the north. On June 4, Japanese aircraft attacked Midway, doing widespread damage and killing these servicemen (above).

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Although the Philippines had become an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, in 1941 the United States integrated its armed forces into the American military, and General Douglas MacArthur, military adviser to the Philippine government, was recalled to active duty and appointed Far East army commander. The northern Philippines were invaded in December 1941, and, profiting from air and sea superiority, the Japanese soon overran the islands, with the exception of the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon and the island fortress of Corregidor. After brave resistance Bataan fell on April 9, 1942, and Corregidor on May 6. MacArthur himself, on Roosevelt's order, was evacuated in a fast patrol boat. About 78,000 survivors of the fighting on Bataan (above) were herded on a 65-mile (105-km) "death march" on which many of them died from exhaustion or the brutal treatment of their guards.

American victims of the death march (above). In the controversial Far East war crimes trials the Japanese Lieutenant General Homma Masaharu was held responsible for the death march, whose excesses he blamed on officers under his command: he was executed on April 3, 1946.