Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Japanese in Burma

The fall of Malaya and Singapore left the Japanese free to turn their attention to Burma, where the British were to wage their longest Second World War campaign. Yet it was certainly not an exclusively British campaign, for Indian and African troops, along with combatants from many of Burma's indigenous peoples, fought in it, and American aircraft and special forces played their own distinguished part. Invasion proper began on January 19, 1942, the Japanese cut the land route between India and China in April, and by May the surviving defenders, now commanded by Lieutenant General “Bill” Slim, had reached the borders of India after a gruelling retreat. The photograph above, which just predates the Japanese invasion, shows Indian troops, upon whom the defence of Burma largely depended, marching past a pagoda.

The British destroyed much equipment m order to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands. Here the task of demolition goes on.

Although photographs like this were useful for propaganda purposes, this shot of Japanese entry into the southern Burmese town of Tavoy makes the point that many Burmese regarded Japanese invasion as an opportunity to escape British rule.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Japanese Invasion of Singapore

After landing in Thailand and Malaya on December 8, 1941, the Japanese moved swiftly southwards and on January the causeway linking Singapore island with the mainland was blown by British engineers. On the night of February 8, the Japanese crossed the Johore Strait, and made good progress against a disorganized defense. Although Churchill had ordered that the battle should be fought “to the bitter end,” the loss of much of the city’s water supply persuaded Lieutenant General Arthur Percival to surrender. Churchill called the surrender, of some 85,000 men, “the worst disaster… in British military history.”

Singapore’s coast defense guns, like this one, became the topic of ill-informed postwar criticism. They were designed to engage warships, and so they naturally pointed out to sea — though some could also fire inland. From 1937, British planners recognized that the main threat to Singapore came from landings to it’s North.

Some women, children, and key specialists were evacuated. The decision as to whether wives and children should be evacuated was an agonizing one, and for many families this grim parting in Singapore’s bomb-ravaged docks was the last.

Surrender negotiations began at 11:30 on the morning of Sunday, February 15th, when a ceasefire was arranged. There was a surrender ceremony in the Ford factory at Bukit Timah that afternoon: the British delegation was kept waiting outside before it began.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Japan Advances in Southeast Asia

The raid on Pearl Harbor was part of a coordinated plan for attack on U.S., British and Dutch bases across a wide area. Japan's opponents were over-extended and ill-prepared, and the Japanese initially met with stunning success, snatching Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong from the British, taking the American commonwealth of the Philippines and swamping the Dutch East Indies.

Indian troops (above) manning a coast defense gun at Hong Kong. Both Hong Kong and Singapore were well-provided with guns to face a naval threat, but lacked the resources to deal with an invasion from inland.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pearl Harbor

In mid 1941, America reacted to Japanese occupation of French Indo-China by freezing Japanese assets. In October Prince Konoye's moderate cabinet was replaced by a government headed by General Tojo, and, despite the recognition by several leading figures that she could not win a long war, Japan prepared a devastating strike. On December 7, carrier-borne aircraft struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Surprise was complete, although the Americans had received warnings which should have enabled them to meet the attack. American losses were heavy, but aircraft carriers were at sea and escaped the carnage.

Above, Battleship row at Pearl Harbor. From left to right are the USS West Virginia, Tennessee and Arizona. All three, along with the battleships California and Nevada eventually sank, but only Arizona and Oklahoma were total losses.

Anti-aircraft fire bursts among Japanese aircraft attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The Japanese lost 29 aircraft.

Small craft rescue survivors from the battleship USS California, sunk by Japanese aircraft. The Americans suffered over 3,000 casualties in the attack.

Roosevelt denounced December 7 as “a date which will live in infamy,” and, here, grim-faced, signs a declaration of war against Japan. Some historians have suggested that the Japanese attack gave him a pretext for action he wished to take in any event, but the extant evidence does not prove his complicity in what may best be seen as “the ultimate intelligence blunder.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Siege of Leningrad

Leningrad, now known by its old name of St Petersburg, was encircled by the advancing Germans, and in the ensuing siege perhaps one million soldiers and citizens died. These civilians have been killed by German shelling.

The Russians kept Leningrad supplied by running trucks across the frozen Lake Ladoga.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Russian Winter — 1941

The Russian counterattack of December 1941 used troops trained and equipped to operate in the sub-zero conditions. German commanders were badly shaken, and Hitler assumed personal command of the army, ordering his men to hold on regardless of cost.

A nation at war: members of the Moscow Young Communists digging an anti-tank ditch outside the Russian capital.

German prisoners captured during the Russian winter offensive. It is unlikely that any of the soldiers depicted here survived the war.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Murder in Russia

This photograph, released by the Russians in January 1942, shows the bodies of civilians shot by the Germans in a schoolyard at Rostov-on-Don.

German occupation was harsh and helped alienate national groups who had initially welcomed the Germans. This undated photograph, attributed by its original caption to a captured German soldier, shows a German officer hanging a prisoner.

Much of the city was reduced to rubble by the German forces who occupied it twice during the Great Patriotic War — in 1941 and 1942. The first occupation was in the autumn 1941. It lasted seven days. In the plans of Hitler's generals Rostov was a city of special importance, a strategic railway junction and a river port, a gateway to the Caucasus, rich in minerals, especially in oil. The city was badly damaged by bombing. The best units of the Nazi tank army were driven out of Rostov. But in summer the 1942, the Nazi army managed to occupy the city for the second time. The second occupation lasted seven months. It took ten years to raise the city from the ruins.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Barbarrosa in the Ukraine

A German machine gun post (above) covers a street in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov, which was taken by Rundstedt's German Army Group South in October 1941.

During World War II, Kharkov was the site of several military engagements. The city was captured by the German Army on October 24, 1941, and its military allies, recaptured by the Red Army, captured a second time by the Germans on May 24,1942; retaken by the Soviets on February 16, 1943, captured for a third time by Germans on March 16, 1943 and then finally liberated on August 23, 1943. Seventy percent of the city was destroyed and tens of thousands of the inhabitants were killed. It is mentioned that Kharkov was the most populous city in the Soviet Union occupied by Nazis, since in the years preceding World War II, Kiev was the smaller of the two by population.

Between December 1941 and January 1942, an estimated 30,000 people (mostly Jewish) were killed by the Germans. They were laid to rest in a large mass grave that located at Drobitsky Yar.