The Unusual Map That Proved Key to D-Day Victory

The Unusual Map That Proved Key to D-Day Victory

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200 Years After the Kiks.ádi People Stood Firm Against Russian Colonialization, Their Fort has Been Found Using Modern Technology

In the early 1900’s Russian traders trying to gain a foothold in Alaska clashed with the indigenous peoples that had lived there for thousands of years. The Tlingit and Haida peoples had learned to live in this inhospitable environment. With the expansion of the Russian trading enterprise, conflict was inevitable.

The Russian traders had already clashed with the Aleut as they hunted fur seals and sea otters, as these pelts carried a premium price in the fur trade. Toward the end of the 17th Century, Tsar Paul I granted The Russian American Company a monopoly license to exploit Alaska’s east coast’s fur trade. In 1799 the Russian traders arrived in the territory belonging to the Tlingit people.

The Russian American Company decided that a location on the Bay of Alaska would suit their trading post. They met with resistance from the Tlingit community, who valued their independence. In 1802, a clan of the Tlingit people, the Kiks.ádi, launched an attack on the Russian trading post named Redoubt Saint Michael. Situated neat Sitka. The clan was victorious and slaughtered nearly all the Russians and Aleut people living in the outpost.

A map of the fort drawn by the Russians at the time was confirmed by recent scans of the island. National Park Service

The clan’s shaman predicted that the Russians would retaliate against the clan and that the Russians would be led by Alexander Baranov. To defend their territory, the Kiks.ádi built a fort. They withstood the initial assault, but after six days of bombardment and food running low, the clan’s elders decided to withdraw and undertake a march to the north to protect the clan members. The Russians took this as a victory, established a fortified presence in Sitka, and declared Alaska as a Russian colony. In 1867, the Russians sold Alaska to the Americans for $7 million.

To commemorate the battle, authorities declared the area part of the Sitka National Park, but the exact location of the Kiks.ádi fort had remained a mystery. Almost 200 years later, archaeologists have pinpointed the fort’s site using electromagnetic instrumentation and ground-penetrating radar.

Baranof Island, where the fort was located, has been an archaeological study site for a long time and, since 1910, has enjoyed federal protection by the American Government. When the Russians destroyed the fort, they documented where it was. The US National Parks Service (NPS) had indicated a specific clearing as the fort’s probable site, but this was not confirmed.

Thomas Urban, a research scientist from Cornell University, in association with Brinnen Carter of the NPS, published the account in the archaeological magazine Antiquity. He said that there had been several investigations into the fort’s location, all of which produced clues to its location but no definitive place. The heavy forestation of the island made any study a tedious and challenging task.

Urban was in Sitka on another project when the NPS asked if he would be interested in locating the fort. Investigating past searches, he found that in the 1950s, trenches were dug, and some pieces of rotting wood were found that could have come from the fort. Cannonballs and other artifacts that indicate this could be the battle site were found by the NPS between 2005 and 2008. All of this was circumstantial evidence and did not definitely prove the location of the fort.

In the summer of 2019, Carter and Urban scanned large areas of the park with Geophysical tools, and they located the footprint of the fort. Trapezoidal in shape, 300 feet long and 165 feet wide, the perimeter surrounds the clearing the NPS had designated.

The design of the fort, named Shís’gi Noow, is unique in Tlingit history and seems to have been built specifically to repel the colonizers. Translated into English, the fort’s name is sapling fort, again a change from the norm. It seems the Tlingit people learned that the young trees would provide some protection against cannonballs as they would absorb the impact better.

A dean at the University of Alaska Southeast, Thomas Thornton, an authority on Tlingit history, has collected oral history from the Tlingit people. Part of the oral history compiled was an account of the survival march undertaken by the Kiks.ádi. An elder of the clan, Herb Hope, spent a great deal of time in the 1980s and 1990s trying to retrace this march’s route. He was determined to show that this was not a retreat but survival.

Two Tlingit girls, near Copper River (Alaska), 1903. Photograph taken by the Miles Brothers

Speaking at a Tlingit Conference held in 1993, he said that their ancestors followed a coastal path and that the march was from the fort to a planned location. He emphasized that at that time, the Russian traders, with their support, could not suppress the Tlingit people.

The oral history of the Tlingit tells us that around 900 people took part in this march. They moved from one camp to the next as they marched north along Baranof Island until they reached Chichagof Island, where they inhabited a deserted fort called Chaatlk’aanoow. This fort gave them the ability to blockade the Sitka Sound, which complicated the Russian fur trade.

When American traders learned of the Tlingit move and their blockade, they quickly moved in to exploit the Russian difficulties. They established a trading post on Catherine Island, close to the Tlingit fort. People from all over Southeast Alaska came to trade with the Americans at this post. Today, this bay is still known as Traders Bay.

The Tlingit people returned to Sitka in 1821 but would never regain sovereignty over their land.

“TORA, TORA, TORA!”: Japanese Strategy in Pearl Harbor Unfurled

Leading the first wave over Pearl Harbor was Lieutenant Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, Akagi’s senior aviator. Flying as observer in a Nakajima B5N horizontal bomber, he issued the order to proceed with the attack, as described in his memoir:

One hour and forty minutes after leaving the carriers I knew that we should be nearing our goal. Small openings in the thick cloud cover afforded occasional glimpses of the ocean. . . . Suddenly a long white line of breaking surf appeared directly beneath my plane. It was the northern shore of Oahu.

Veering right toward the west coast of the island, we could see that the sky over Pearl Harbor was clear. Presently the harbor itself became visible across the central Oahu plain, a film of morning mist hovering over it. I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen.

It was 0749 when I ordered the attack. [The radioman] immediately began tapping out the pre-arranged code signal: “TO, TO, TO . . . ”

Leading the whole group, Lieutenant Commander Murata’s torpedo bombers headed downward to launch their torpedoes, while Lieutenant Commander Itaya’s fighters raced forward to sweep enemy fighters from the air. Takahashi’s dive-bomber group had climbed for altitude and was out of sight. My bombers, meanwhile, made a circuit toward Barbers Point to keep pace with the attack schedule. No enemy fighters were in the air, nor were there any gun flashes from the ground.

The effectiveness of our attack was now certain, and a message, “Surprise attack successful!” was accordingly sent to Akagi at 0753. The message was received by the carrier and relayed to the homeland.

Mitsuo Fuchida ended the war as a captain. Subsequently he became a Christian evangelist, spending much time in the United States. He died in 1976.

Once Fuchida signaled “Tora, tora, tora,” the Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor proceeded largely as planned. The first B5Ns over the target were sixteen from Soryu and Hiryu. Briefed to hit carriers on Ford Island’s northwest coast, they went for alternate objectives, destroying the target ship USS Utah (née BB-31, re-designated AG-16) and damaging a cruiser.

Akagi’s torpedo squadron led a devastating attack. The Nakajimas swept in from the north shore of the harbor, skimming low between Hickam Field and the fuel tank farm, then nudging downward over the water. Making one hundred mph at sixty-five feet, they deployed as per individual briefings and turned onto their attack headings. A quarter mile ahead lay the gray monoliths along Battleship Row.

Of thirty-six torpedoes dropped, probably nineteen found their targets. Hardest hit were West Virginia (BB-48) and Oklahoma (BB-37) moored outboard at the head of Battleship Row. California (BB-44), resting farther ahead of the others, drew further attention and took two hits and slowly settled onto the mud.

Five torpedo planes were shot down, all from succeeding waves as the defenders responded and fought back. After-action reports showed that most ships began returning fire within two to seven minutes.

The high-level B5Ns each carried an 800 kg armor-piercing bomb, designed to penetrate a battleship’s thick armor. The ten planes targeting Arizona (BB-39) scored four hits and three near misses. One of them found the sweet spot, smashing into Arizona’s forward magazine. The 1,760-pound weapon ignited tons of gunpowder, destroying the ship in seconds with three-fourths of the crew.

At 8:40, almost half an hour after the first attack, 167 aircraft of the second wave were led by Zuikaku’s senior aviator, Lieutenant Commander Shigekazu Shimazaki. No torpedo planes participated, but fifty-four Nakajima level bombers struck three air bases. The seventy-eight Aichi dive bombers were assigned any carriers in port with cruisers as secondary goals. Nearly three dozen Zero fighters established air superiority over Hickam and Bellows Fields plus Kaneohe Naval Air Station.

Much of the effort was wasted as many dive bomber pilots probably misidentified ship types perhaps twenty-eight Aichis dove on destroyers or auxiliary vessels. The brunt of the second dive bombing attack was Nevada (BB-36), the only battleship to get underway. Already holed by a torpedo, she took six bombs in a few minutes and developed a list. To avoid sinking, she was beached near the harbor entrance.

When the second wave departed northward, the entire attack had lasted not quite two hours, from 7:55 to 9:45. In their slipstream the Japanese left Oahu stunned, both physically and emotionally. The attack killed 2,335 U.S. military personnel and 68 civilians.

Combined Army-Navy-Marine aircraft losses were about 175 immediately assessed as destroyed plus twenty-five damaged beyond repair. Some 150 sustained lesser damage.

The Japanese lost twenty-nine aircraft and sixty-five men, mostly aircrew, but including ten sailors in five miniature submarines.

Far at sea, at 11:15 Kido Butai began landing the second wave, completed an hour later. The fliers were jubilant. They knew they had inflicted severe damage and were eager to complete the task. But Nagumo opted for prudence. More than one hundred returning planes were damaged to varying extents, and most critically he needed to conserve fuel oil. The Imperial Navy had too few fleet tankers in 1941 and never caught up. Nagumo turned for home, with Second Carrier Division diverting to attack Wake Island.

Pearl Harbor was a rarity in history—a clearly defined day when the old order ended, abruptly, violently, and permanently. Not only had Kido Butai initiated a new way of warfare, but it upset the conventional wisdom that naval airpower could not compete with land-based planes. Japanese strategy in Pearl Harbor was a complete disruption of aerial combat. Historian John Lundstrom did not exaggerate when he described Kido Butai as “a 1941 atomic bomb.” But retribution was coming.

Of the twenty-nine ships that had departed Japan, one escaped destruction over the next four years. The destroyer Ushio, among those diverted en route to shell Midway, survived the Solomons bloodletting and Leyte Gulf and was surrendered at Yokosuka in 1945.

By then, U.S. aircraft carriers had turned the world’s greatest ocean into an American lake.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Pearl Harbor attack. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to Pearl Harbor.

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Preparation and Planning

The planning of Operation Overlord and its implementation on June 6, 1944 involved many different components. One of those vital parts was the presence of able leadership. These men were tasked with such decisions as how many men would land on each beach and which ships they would use to cross the English Channel. Landing soldiers on the beaches of Normandy was not the end of their planning however. Allied leadership had to devote considerable attention to issues such as supply logistics to ensure a sufficient amount of food and medicine and establish secure lines of communication. Everything had to be prepared prior to landing in Normandy, even before the ships left Britain to cross the English Channel. Having the right leadership in place was essential to the success of Operation Overlord.

After the Allies decided on Normandy as the invasion point at the end of 1943 and set a date for May 1944, they appointed Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of Europe. The determined general faced an enormous task and only had a few months to plan the operation on which many laid their hopes for decisively ending World War II. Working with the various personalities in Allied leadership made his task more difficult. Eisenhower and President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not always agree, and Eisenhower even struggled at times in his relationship with Winston Churchill. As D-Day approached, Eisenhower finally convinced the British prime minister that he could not accompany the invading force across the English Channel into Normandy on June 6.

Eisenhower dealt with other difficult personalities besides Roosevelt and Churchill. Because planning such a huge operation could not be done by one person, various other military figures received appointments as naval, air, and ground commanders. Trafford Leigh-Mallory was appointed to command the Air Forces of Allied Expeditionary Forces. While planning the invasion, he advocated the Transportation Plan the Allied aircraft would focus on destroying the railway system throughout occupied France to ruin German supply and communication lines. Although Eisenhower approved this plan, Leigh-Mallory clashed with other Allied leaders about his strategy and tactics.

Both Arthur William Tedder and Carl Spaatz disagreed with Leigh-Mallory. Tedder had served as Air Commander in North Africa and was named Deputy Supreme Commander of the Normandy invasion in early 1944. His efforts to have the dominant air power in France conflicted with Leigh-Mallory due to an overlap in duties. Spaatz commanded the U.S. Strategic Air Force in Europe, and advocated a different air strategy for France than Leigh-Mallory. Contrary to the Transportation Plan, Spaatz wanted to target German oil production and industry to cripple them. Eisenhower’s approval of the Transportation Plan over the Oil Plan likely did not elevate Leigh-Mallory in Spaatz’s opinion.

Leaders were needed for ground and naval forces as well. Bertram Ramsay was appointed Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force. He oversaw Operation Neptune, the amphibious landing of Operation Overlord. His position as Deputy Naval Commander in North Africa and Operation Husky in Sicily provided him with the experience to plan an amphibious assault on the Normandy beaches. Bernard Montgomery was placed in charge of the Allied ground forces for D-Day. Eisenhower’s preference was General Harold Alexander for that position, but he diplomatically gave the appointment to Montgomery and even approved his plan for expanding the invasion force and landing area. Montgomery commanded the British and Canadian 21st Army Group as well.

Other prominent military leaders involved in the planning of Operation Overlord were Omar Nelson Bradley, Miles Dempsey, and even George Patton. Bradley was appointed to command the 1st U.S. Army in the invasion, and Montgomery selected Dempsey to command the mixed British and Canadian 2nd Army. Because the Germans considered Patton central to any plan to invade Europe, the Allies made him a prominent figure in the deceptive Operation Fortitude. Through Fortitude, they successfully fed the Germans false intelligence including Patton’s name to throw them off the true preparation of Operation Overlord.

Even with exceptional leadership, planning and practice for such a large invasion does not always go smoothly. Eisenhower and the Allied leaders postponed D-Day from the beginning of May to June 5. They later postponed the invasion one last time just a few days before implementation due to bad weather. Lack of landing craft and supplies ended the hope of launching an invasion of southern France, Operation Dragoon, at the same time as Operation Overlord. Dragoon was postponed until later in the summer. Even rehearsal of the invasion encountered problems. On April 28, 1944, Exercise Tiger took place off the British coast at Slapton Sands. German E-boats intercepted the large convoy and hit three ships with torpedoes. Nearly 1,000 men were killed in the sinking or damaging of the three LSTs. Amidst the tragic loss of life in the rehearsal, Allied leadership worried that Allied soldiers might have fallen into German hands during the attack, and they nearly changed important operation details. Secrecy was so vital that families did not even know how their loved ones died. One British mother did not learn how her son really died until forty years later while watching a documentary about Exercise Tiger and making a connection between the dates. Operation Overlord remained a secret despite the disaster.

Despite the daunting task facing the Allies, the military leadership managed to plan and prepare for the eventual success of the Normandy invasion. Eisenhower skillfully navigated the various personality types of military commanders and politicians, and he approved the necessary plans for the operation. Montgomery, Tedder, Spaatz, Leigh-Mallory, and others carried out their portions of the operation as expected by their leader. Leadership maintained the secret of Operation Overlord, and the Germans remained oblivious to the true invasion site.

Normandy Chosen

The need for a cross-channel invasion to liberate France was recognized early during the war. Although this necessity was understood, actually finding a suitable route took extensive preparation. While the Allies were considering invasion sites, the BBC broadcasted an appeal for any information about geography, enemy defenses, and presence along the coast. The public response was stunning in its abundance. Millions of postcards and photographs provided data that helped influence the choice of an invasion site. Geographically, the beaches of Normandy appeared to be the best landing sites. Normandy allowed a gateway to the European continent and an exit from the mainland to the British Isles.

Normandy was chosen as the invasion site, but many strategic and geographical considerations were evaluated. Among them were the nature of the beaches, moon phases and tidal range, sites of airfields, sailing distances from channel harbors, and the selections of ports to be captured. Another major characteristic to research was the strength of German defenses at certain vital points. A dominant German defense along France’s beaches was the Atlantic Wall. The Atlantic Wall was a series of concrete fortifications that Hitler had ordered to be built along the coast. Although the wall was incomplete in 1944, it was still a fierce defensive structure. Normandy was favorable when considering the Atlantic Wall because it had many weak sections.

Another geographical reason for choosing Normandy was its location in proximity to the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight had naval ports and railways in southern England that were away from major civilian populations. This allowed an easier route for the movement of troops and supplies while planning for the invasion. The waterways in the area also provided suitable cover to hide the invasion vessels. The beaches of Normandy were geographically close to the port of Cherbourg as well. This city was deemed essential to capturing supply routes that could help further the invasion once the beaches were overtaken.

After the geographical site was decided, the date of the invasion was the next major decision to be made. The date would be based on moon phases and the weather. The most skilled meteorologists were chosen to help decide the appropriate invasion date. The prevalent issue would be the limitations of long-range forecasting, which first came into play during the North African landings in 1942. The Allied army wanted a high tide to shorten the amount of exposed sand as the soldiers stormed the beach. The Allied navy wished for the water to be low, so that items, such as mines, could be identified and cleared. The Allies determined that a full moon would be needed for a successful operation. The meteorologists decided that the desired conditions were only available for about six days each month as well. Based on all the information gathered by the meteorologist and geologist teams, the date of June 5 was initially selected.

Soon enough though, the weather during the projected June 5 landing seemed to show that air support would be useless and the boat landings would be difficult. The meteorologists decided that the weather window after June 5 would allow a thirty-six-hour period of suitable weather. The weather was still not perfect the day of Operation Overlord, but it allowed the Allies to gain the footing they needed on the European mainland.

Operation Fortitude

The Allies wanted to give Overlord the best chance for success they could. The planners thought it would be helpful to set up decoy operations to trick or confuse the Germans. The code name for this deception was Operation Fortitude and the operation consisted of many different parts. The main goal of Fortitude was to convince the Germans the cross channel invasion was to be aimed at Norway or Pas de Calais in Northern France. This was not the first time the Allies used deception to aid in military operations but it would be one of the most successful uses of military deception during World War II.
Operation Fortitude South was created to convince the German’s that the landing force was bigger than it actually was. Fortitude South created a fake US army group, First Army Group. This group was “based” out of southeast Britain. The Allies supplied this group with faux equipment such as inflatable tanks and gave fake radio signal and movement commands to make the Germans believe there would be a large invasion at Pas de Calais, Northern France. At night the men would play recordings of airplane engines starting up over a loud speaker. Automobile lights were also attached to carts and men would run up and down fake runways to make it appear like planes were taking off and landing. During the daytime the “planes” themselves were nothing but canvas and tubing. Fortitude South also wanted to contain information of the actual buildup of Allied troops in Southern Britain preparing for the true invasion. The Allies had to create eleven faux divisions, that is 40,000 to 60,000 imaginary men. Spies played a key role in sharing this information to Nazi command. Two agents named Garbo and Brutus played a key role in delivering convincing information to Hitler and his leadership.

Likewise, the goal of Fortitude South was to convince German leaders of the Allied plans to invade Norway. The false plans to invade Norway and then push into Germany had to look official and convincing. British General Sir Andrew Thorne was selected for the task of “commanding the invasion into Norway.” The Allies then turned to the use of double agents, men claiming to work as spies for Germany when they were truly employed by the Allies, to spread the false intelligence. The two spies who would do the majority of the work for Fortitude North were given the code names Jeff and Mutt.

Fortitude South also featured the well-known General George Patton. Patton was selected largely due to the reputation he had among American and German leaders. Patton, who at the time Fortitude South was being planned, was in charge of the US Third Army. In order for the plan to look fluid, Patton was “removed” from command and a replacement general plugged in his place. Patton’s flamboyant character and philosophy of war earned him great respect among the German Army and greatly added to the success of Operation Fortitude.

The impact of Operation Fortitude played a key role in the success of the D-Day landings. Hitler sent troops out of France into Norway, convinced the Allied invasion would take place there. Hitler would still be holding onto this belief on June12 he was certain the main invasion would come from Norway. Fortitude would continue to function until 1945. However, the further the Allied troops pushed into Germany, the less the Allies needed the hoax to stay in place. Operation Fortitude proved the dedication Allied commanders had to giving the true invasion at Normandy the best chance possible. Operation Fortitude helps illustrate the vast dynamics of Operation Overlord and the cost of a successful invasion.

Eisenhower and D-Day: His Role in Operation Overlord

Born in Texas and reared in Kansas, Eisenhower graduated sixty-fifth in the West Point class of 1915. It was called ‘‘the class the stars fell on’’ including Eisenhower and Omar Bradley, sixty-one of the class’s 164 second lieutenants achieved general-officer rank during their careers, an astonishing 37.2 percent ratio.

Lieutenant Eisenhower was assigned to San Antonio, Texas, where he met Mamie Doud, whom he married in 1916. During World War I Eisenhower was largely engaged in training units of the U.S. Army’s nascent tank corps. However, his considerable administrative and political skills were soon noted, and he was promoted to major in 1920—a rank he held until 1936. ‘‘Ike’’ was first in his Command and Staff School class, and he was an early selectee for the Army War College. His supporters and contemporaries included leaders such as Douglas MacArthur, George C. Marshall, Leonard T. Gerow, and George S. Patton.

Interwar assignments included duty in the Panama Canal Zone and France before joining MacArthur’s staff in Washington and the Philippines, where the former tanker and infantryman learned to fly. MacArthur said of Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower, ‘‘This is the best officer in the army’’ and predicted great things for him. Such praise from the megalomaniacal army chief of staff was almost unprecedented.

In 1940–41 Eisenhower commanded a battalion of the Third Infantry Division and served as division and corps staff officer. He was promoted to full colonel in March 1941, and as chief of staff of the Third Army he enhanced his reputation during extensive maneuvers involving nearly half a million troops in Louisiana. By year end he was a brigadier general—exceptional progress, considering that he had been a major for sixteen years. In the War Plans Division, Eisenhower renewed his acquaintance with Marshall, then chief of staff, reporting to him on plans and operations. Within a few months Eisenhower pinned on his second star and was addressing joint operations with the navy and other Allied forces. The foundation was being laid for Eisenhower’s eventual appointment as supreme commander for the invasion of France.

Meanwhile, Eisenhower represented the United States during British planning for bringing American forces in the United Kingdom. In June 1942 Eisenhower was appointed to command U.S. Army forces in the European Theater of Operations, but almost immediately he moved to the Mediterranean to conduct offensives in North Africa and Sicily during 1942–43. There he gained greater knowledge of U.S. and Allied forces and personalities, including Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, Adm. Bertram Ramsay, and Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery.

As a lieutenant general, Eisenhower commanded the Allied invasion of French Morocco in November 1942, pursuing the campaign to completion six months later. By then he was a four-star general, directing the conquest of Sicily in the summer of 1943 and landings on the Italian mainland that summer and fall. He was appointed Allied supreme commander for Neptune-Overlord on Christmas Eve of 1943 and, after extensive briefings in Washington, he replaced Britain’s Lt. Gen. Frederick Morgan at COSSAC, establishing SHAEF headquarters in London in January 1944. Many of the American and British commanders he had known in the Mediterranean assumed crucial roles in SHAEF, enhancing Anglo-American coordination.

Still, it was no easy task. Apart from Marshall (who had been promised the slot by President Roosevelt), Eisenhower may have been the only American who could have operated the sometimes testy coalition so well. (Assertions that the Allies might have fallen out except for Eisenhower’s acumen are gross exaggerations Britain was in no position to conduct the war alone.) Relations with Montgomery were particularly strained at times, but U.S. dominance in manpower and materiel required an American as theater commander. Though criticism was leveled at Eisenhower for his lack of combat experience and his highly political orientation, the results proved the wisdom of his selection. He was, after all, manager of perhaps the most political coalition of all time, involving as it did military and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.

The original date for D-Day was 5 June 1944 (see the D-Day timeline), but unseasonably rough weather forced a reconsideration. Eisenhower accepted the optimistic assessment of Group Captain J. M. Stagg, the chief meteorologist, who called for about thirty-six hours of decent weather over the sixth. Though concerned that the first landing waves would be isolated ashore with insufficient strength to repulse German counterattacks, Eisenhower felt justified in proceeding with Overlord. The order was issued at 0415 on 5 June, and at that point the process became irrevocable. ‘‘No one present disagreed,’’ Eisenhower recalled, ‘‘and there was a definite brightening of faces as, without a further word, each went off to his respective post to flash out to his command the messages that would set the whole host in motion.’’

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By 1944, American victories in the Southwest and Central Pacific had brought the war closer to Japan, with American bombers able to strike at the Japanese main islands from air bases secured during the Mariana Islands campaign (June–August 1944). There was disagreement among the U.S. Joint Chiefs over two proposed strategies to defeat the Japanese Empire. The strategy proposed by General Douglas MacArthur called for the recapture of the Philippines, followed by the capture of Okinawa, then an attack on the Japanese mainland. Admiral Chester Nimitz favored a more direct strategy of bypassing the Philippines, but seizing Okinawa and Taiwan as staging areas to an attack on the Japanese mainland, followed by the future invasion of Japan's southernmost islands. Both strategies included the invasion of Peleliu, but for different reasons. [9]

The 1st Marine Division had already been chosen to make the assault. President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to Pearl Harbor to personally meet both commanders and hear their arguments. MacArthur's strategy was chosen. However, before MacArthur could retake the Philippines, the Palau Islands, specifically Peleliu and Angaur, were to be neutralized and an airfield built to protect MacArthur's left flank.

Japanese Edit

By 1944, Peleliu Island was occupied by about 11,000 Japanese of the 14th Infantry Division with Korean and Okinawan labourers. Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, commander of the division's 2nd Regiment, led the preparations for the island's defense.

After their losses in the Solomons, Gilberts, Marshalls, and Marianas, the Imperial Army assembled a research team to develop new island-defense tactics. They chose to abandon the old strategy of trying to stop the enemy on the beaches, where they would be exposed to naval gunfire. The new tactics would only disrupt the landings at the water's edge and depend on an in-depth defense further inland. Colonel Nakagawa used the rough terrain to his advantage, by constructing a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions, all interlocked in a "honeycomb" system. The traditional "banzai charge" attack was also discontinued as being both wasteful of men and ineffective. These changes would force the Americans into a war of attrition, requiring more resources.

Nakagawa's defenses were centered on Peleliu's highest point, Umurbrogol Mountain, a collection of hills and steep ridges located at the center of Peleliu overlooking a large portion of the island, including the crucial airfield. The Umurbrogol contained some 500 limestone caves, connected by tunnels. Many of these were former mine shafts that were turned into defensive positions. Engineers added sliding armored steel doors with multiple openings to serve both artillery and machine guns. Cave entrances were opened or altered to be slanted as a defense against grenade and flamethrower attacks. The caves and bunkers were connected to a vast tunnel and trench system throughout central Peleliu, which allowed the Japanese to evacuate or reoccupy positions as needed, and to take advantage of shrinking interior lines.

The Japanese were well armed with 81 mm (3.19 in) and 150 mm (5.9 in) mortars and 20 mm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft cannons, backed by a light tank unit and an anti-aircraft detachment.

The Japanese also used the beach terrain to their advantage. The northern end of the landing beaches faced a 30-foot (9.1 m) coral promontory that overlooked the beaches from a small peninsula, a spot later known to the Marines who assaulted it simply as "The Point". Holes were blasted into the ridge to accommodate a 47 mm (1.85 in) gun, and six 20 mm cannons. The positions were then sealed shut, leaving just a small slit to fire on the beaches. Similar positions were crafted along the 2-mile (3.2 km) stretch of landing beaches.

The beaches were also filled with thousands of obstacles for the landing craft, principally mines and a large number of heavy artillery shells buried with the fuses exposed to explode when they were run over. A battalion was placed along the beach to defend against the landing, but they were meant to merely delay the inevitable American advance inland.

American Edit

Unlike the Japanese, who drastically altered their tactics for the upcoming battle, the American invasion plan was unchanged from that of previous amphibious landings, even after suffering 3,000 casualties and enduring two months of delaying tactics against the entrenched Japanese defenders at the Battle of Biak. [10] On Peleliu, American planners chose to land on the southwest beaches because of their proximity to the airfield on south Peleliu. The 1st Marine Regiment, commanded by Colonel Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, was to land on the northern end of the beaches. The 5th Marine Regiment, under Colonel Harold Harris, would land in the center, and the 7th Marine Regiment, under Colonel Herman Hanneken, would land at the southern end.

The division's artillery regiment, the 11th Marines under Colonel William Harrison, would land after the infantry regiments. The plan was for the 1st and 7th Marines to push inland, guarding the 5th Marines' flanks, and allowing them to capture the airfield located directly to the center of the landing beaches. The 5th Marines were to push to the eastern shore, cutting the island in half. The 1st Marines would push north into the Umurbrogol, while the 7th Marines would clear the southern end of the island. Only one battalion was left behind in reserve, with the U.S. Army's 81st Infantry Division available for support from Angaur, just south of Peleliu.

On September 4, the Marines shipped off from their station on Pavuvu, just north of Guadalcanal, a 2,100-mile (3,400 km) trip across the Pacific to Peleliu. A Navy Underwater Demolition Team went in first to clear the beaches of obstacles, while warships began their pre-invasion bombardment of Peleliu on September 12.

The battleships Pennsylvania, Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee and Idaho, heavy cruisers Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis and Portland, and light cruisers Cleveland, Denver and Honolulu, [1] : 29 led by the command ship Mount McKinley, subjected the tiny island, only 6 sq mi (16 km 2 ) in size, to a massive three-day bombardment, pausing only to permit air strikes from the three aircraft carriers, five light aircraft carriers, and eleven escort carriers with the attack force. [11] A total of 519 rounds of 16 in (410 mm) shells, 1,845 rounds of 14 in (360 mm) shells and 1,793 500 lb (230 kg) bombs pounded the islands during this period.

The Americans believed the bombardment to be successful, as Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf claimed that the Navy had run out of targets. [11] In reality, the majority of Japanese positions were completely unharmed. Even the battalion left to defend the beaches was virtually unscathed. During the assault, the island's defenders exercised unusual firing discipline to avoid giving away their positions. The bombardment managed only to destroy Japan's aircraft on the island, as well as the buildings surrounding the airfield. The Japanese remained in their fortified positions, ready to attack the American landing troops.

Key Facts:

Date: 29th March, 1461

Location: Near Towton, Yorkshire

Belligerents: Lancastrians and Yorkists

Victors: Yorkists

Numbers: Lancastrians 30,000 – 35,000, Royalists 25,000 – 30,000

Casualties: A total of around 28,000 dead, unknown wounded or captured

Commanders: Henry Beaufort (Lancastrians), King Edward IV of England (Yorkists)

A defining moment for a young nation

With all four divisions in action, the Vimy Ridge saw men from every part of Canada going into battle at the same time. Canada was a young nation that had heavily relied on immigration.

At the beginning of the Great War, 70 per cent of the men who served in the Canadian Army were born in Britain and would have probably identified themselves as British first.

Vimy Ridge was the beginning of a budding Canadian consciousness.

Until then the Canadian Corps had been used in a piecemeal fashion, division after division, and the reputation of the Canadian soldier had steadily grown. At Vimy that reputation was confirmed.

Vimy Ridge was a dominant position that had had proved incredibly hard to capture. The French had suffered somewhere in the region of a quarter of a million casualties trying to take the position in 1915 while the British had never had a go at it – they’d held the line there simply because it wasn’t on their radar at that point.

The Canadian Corps stormed the ridge, utilising the experience the whole army had developed throughout the previous year and in five days it was captured. It was a great victory for the Canadians, but a victory, as with so many World War One battles, that came at a heavy price – more than 10,000 Canadian casualties.


Luger P.08

One of the icons of the German military was the Luger pistol, adopted by the navy in 1904 and the army in 1908. Ironically, its distinctive togglelink system was devised by a Connecticut inventor, Hugo Borchardt, who had been hired by Georg Luger of the Lowe factory near Berlin. Chambered in the then-new 9 mm Parabellum cartridge, the Luger became the most widely issued sidearm of its era, serving in many countries besides Germany. It was even evaluated in the United States. Recoil operated with an action inherited from the 1893 Borchardt design it fed from an eight-round magazine inserted in the grip. Light and handy, the P.08 had a standardlength 4.5-inch barrel, but much longer ‘‘artillery’’ models were produced with detachable shoulder stocks.

Though susceptible to dirt and debris, which could cause malfunctions, the Luger was revived as a military weapon before World War II. In most European armies, sidearms were as much a badge of authority as serious fighting tools, and the fact that the Luger needed to be kept clean was not perceived as a serious problem.

In the 1930s Mauser was contracted to begin producing Lugers based on the 1914 design with a four-inch barrel. Mauser production was placed at some 413,000 from 1938 until the Walther P.38 replaced the Luger in 1942.

Walther P.38

The first double-action autopistol accepted for military use, the 9 mm P.38 set the precedent for many sidearms entering the twenty-first century. When the safety was applied the external hammer fell but the firing pin locked, permitting the weapon to be carried safely while loaded. When needed, the safety was disengaged and the chambered round was fired merely by pressing the trigger. However, the first round’s trigger pull was always heaviest, whereas subsequent rounds from the eight-round magazine were essentially fired in single-action mode. The difference in strength required for cycling the trigger was not conducive to accuracy.

A user-friendly feature of the P.38 was a pin that protruded from the rear of the slide when a round was chambered. The shooter thus could tell by look or by feel whether his pistol was ready to fire.

Records vary, but Walther and other companies probably built about 1.2 million P.38s. The type was revived as the P.1 when the West German Bundeswehr was formed.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the Normandy Invasion. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to D-Day.

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Pickett's Charge

Pickett's Charge was an infantry assault ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union positions on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg in the state of Pennsylvania during the American Civil War.

  • George G. Meade
  • Winfield S. Hancock
  • John Gibbon
  • William Harrow
  • Alexander S. Webb
  • Norman J. Hall
  • Robert E. Lee
  • A.P. Hill
  • James Longstreet
  • George Pickett
  • Isaac R. Trimble
  • J. Johnston Pettigrew

Its futility was predicted by the charge's commander, Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, and it was arguably an avoidable mistake from which the Southern war effort never fully recovered militarily or psychologically. The farthest point reached by the attack has been referred to as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. The charge is named after Maj. Gen. George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who led the assault under Longstreet.

Pickett's Charge was part of Lee's "general plan" [1] to take Cemetery Hill and the network of roads it commanded. His military secretary, Armistead Lindsay Long, described Lee's thinking:

There was . a weak point . where [Cemetery Ridge], sloping westward, formed the depression through which the Emmitsburg road passes. Perceiving that by forcing the Federal lines at that point and turning toward Cemetery Hill [Hays' Division] would be taken in flank and the remainder would be neutralized. . Lee determined to attack at that point, and the execution was assigned to Longstreet. [2]

On the night of July 2, Meade correctly predicted to General Gibbon, after a council of war, that Lee would attack the center of his lines the following morning.

The infantry assault was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment that was meant to soften up the Union defense and silence its artillery, but was largely ineffective. Approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades advanced over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. Although some Confederates were able to breach the low stone wall that shielded many of the Union defenders, they could not maintain their hold and were repelled with over 50% casualties, a decisive defeat that ended the three-day battle and Lee's campaign into Pennsylvania. [3] Years later, when asked why his charge at Gettysburg failed, Pickett reportedly replied, "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it." [4] [5]

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