Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Pacific — 1943

In early 1943, Australian troops, fighting in dreadful conditions, extinguished the Japanese beachheads of Buna, Gona, and Sanananda Point on New Guinea. The Casablanca conference that January suggested that one-third of Allied resources should be deployed against Japan, but the British felt unable to agree to a fixed formula. The U.S. Joint Chiefs agreed a broad strategy, with MacArthur and Admiral William F. Halsey pushing on through the Solomons and along the New Guinea coast, while Nimitz “island hopped” across the central Pacific towards Japan.

An Australian forward post (above) near Sanananda, less than thirty yards from the Japanese. The robust and reliable .303 Bren was the light automatic weapon in British and Commonwealth infantry sections.

Australian infantry, assisted by a Stuart light tank, during the final assault on Buna.

The battle for Buna sorely tried the U.S. 32nd Infantry Division, which had not been trained for jungle warfare and was poorly equipped: it lost almost ninety per cent of its strength from battle casualties and sicknesses. But it was a disaster for the Japanese: this photograph shows Japanese bodies on the shoreline.

Japanese prisoners were very rare. These, both badly wounded, were taken when Gona fell.

After expelling the Japanese from southern New Guinea, the Australians moved northwards. In September 1943, the Japanese strongholds of Lae and Salamua were taken. Here U.S. paratroops jump into the Markham Valley in an effort to block the Japanese escape from Lae.

New Zealanders had already played a distinguished part in the war in the Western Desert, and added to these laurels in the Pacific. Here, New Zealand troops (in their distinctive "lemon-squeezer" hats) land from U.S. landing craft on Vella Lavella in the Solomons.

Rabual, on the island of New Britain, was a powerful Japanese air base. It was so heavily defended that a decision to capture it was reversed at the Quebec conference in August 1943, and it was so badly hammered from air and sea that the Japanese substantially scaled it down. Here a U.S. aircraft attacks with a white phosphorus incendiary bomb.

On November 1, 1943, the Americans landed on Bougainville, strategically placed between MacArthur’s and Nimitz’s areas of operations. The Japanese held a tiny part of the island to the very end of the war, but most of their positions had been taken in this sort of knock-down drag-out fighting: a flame thrower scorches a Japanese bunker while riflemen give covering fire.

Almost all Japanese preferred suicide to surrender. These infantrymen on Tarawa have shot themselves in the head, using a toe to pull the trigger.

This essence of the war at sea: a Japanese torpedo-bomber is hit by short-range fire from a U.S. carrier, December 4, 1943.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Katyn — 1943

When Poland was divided between Russia and Germany in 1939, over 180,000 Polish prisoners of war fell into Soviet hands: officers were segregated in special camps. In April 1943, the Germans discovered a mass grave in Katyn forest near Smolensk, later found to contain the remains of 4,400 Polish officers, and accused the Russians of mass murder, summoning an international team of experts to investigate the crime. Although the Russians long blamed the Germans for the atrocity, in 1990 they at last admitted responsibility.

The victims had their hands wired behind their backs (above) and had been shot in the back of the head. This evocative photograph sums up the fate of tens of thousands of victims of mass murder during the war.

The German-sponsored international experts (below, all but one from Axis or occupied countries) examining of the bodies of Katyn. When the London-based Polish government in exile suggested an impartial International Red Cross investigation, the Russians broke off diplomatic relations.