Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lingering Effects of World War II

World War II Lingers Long After the Fighting Ended

Comfort Women
Comfort women being taken away, along with their luggage.
There is no question that World War II affected the modern world in which we live. The lingering effects of World War II are all around. Family histories became riddled with missing spaces, national boundaries changed, fortifications remain throughout Europe and parts of Asia that are little changed from that time, advanced technologies such as jet engines, missiles, and nuclear power were given a major boost… the list is very long. Those are easy and obvious changes.

This is such a huge topic that just a list of lingering effects would fill a large book. Instead of doing that, which would be pointless, let’s look at some of the “small change” of history, the flotsam and jetsam of a warring world. At least that will put a human dimension on it.

Comfort Women
Japanese soldiers lined up for their turn (The Seoul Times).

Diplomatic and Personal Effects: The Comfort Women

Normal laws often disappear during vicious wars. When the goal is simply victory, the niceties of civilization can get lost in the shuffle. Axis soldiers committed a lot of atrocities, many sanctioned and even encouraged by the state. One area of those was the peculiar case of Comfort Women.

If you’re not a student of Asian politics, the phrase “comfort women” may mean nothing to you. However, it has a very specific and ominous meaning. During World War II, the Japanese military set up official brothels for their troops throughout their sphere of control. The military staffed them with local women who had no choice in the matter and essentially became sex slaves.

While Comfort Women came from many different occupied nations, a major supplier was Korea. This, along with other war-related issues, has led to lingering tensions between the two countries. It is important to emphasize that these captive women were not willing prostitutes who were paid for their services. Instead, they were abused and degraded while receiving nothing beyond their daily keep.

It wasn’t just a few women, either. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of women were removed from their homes and forced to service Japanese soldiers. Very little was known about this for decades after World War II. In the 1990s, some academics began poking around. Finally, Tokyo admitted that Comfort Women had been an official part of the military organization. However, it claimed that claims by the people affected were barred by past post-war treaties.

The Prime Ministers of Japan and South Korea discuss Comfort Women
Pres. Park Geun-Hye shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before their bilateral summit at the National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, on 7 September 2016. They discussed the issue of Comfort Women at this meeting (photo by Kim Gyoung-ho, Hankyoreh staff photographer in Vientiane).
Despite repeated efforts to make the issue go away, it has lingered. In January 2016, the Japanese government finally agreed to provide $8.3 million in compensation to 46 survivors. Prime Minister Abe officially apologized for the matter. Japan hoped this had finally put the matter to rest. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye noted:
I think the comfort women agreement is significant because of the improvement in our relations with Japan since the agreement is allowing us to broaden the foundation for taking joint action on a variety of issues and challenges.”
So, attempting to resolve these issues can help overall relations. But this statement came over 70 years after the end of World War II - these seemingly minor issues can poison relations for many decades. The reality of Comfort Women lingers on, and many think Japan has not sufficiently atoned for its crimes. It is just one example of the personal toll on ordinary people that created permanent harm and a feeling of injustice.

There were many other atrocities committed during World War II that remain unresolved. The Japanese massacred many people in Singapore (the Sook Ching Massacre), for instance. These kinds of tears in history can't be defined, they can't be photographed - but they are there just the same.

Remnants of Camp Hale
Camp Hale in Colorado now is a memorial, but many want it restored to its natural beauty and remnants of wartime construction removed.

Environmental Effects: Camp Hale and USS Arizona

Camp Hale was the home of the US Army 10th Mountain Division. It is located high in the Colorado Rockies. Even for people who live in the Rockies, it is out of the way. Among many others, politician Bob Dole trained there.

Dismantled after the war, Camp Hale was left for nature to reclaim. However, the US military made a lot of changes - many of them done by German POWs held there during the war - to the surrounding area. There is a lot of unexploded ordnance. Simply taking down buildings did not restore the site to its natural state. Streams were rerouted, foundation slabs remain on the site, roads were built, and other effects linger. There have been plans over the years to use Forest Service money (the Forest Service now owns it) to put the site back as it originally was, but this is an ongoing issue.

Now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Camp Hale receives few visitors and many want it gone. Incidentally, Vail Ski Resort was founded by a former soldier, Pete Seibert, who became familiar with the area because he trained at Camp Hale. The effects of wartime activities can pop up in unexpected ways.

There are sites like Camp Hale around the world. Many will never return to their pre-war state.

Oil seeping from USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor
Oil leaks out of the USS Arizona every single day.
The case of the USS Arizona is well known. Sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor, its battered hulk remains exactly where it has been since December 1941. Among other reasons, Arizona has not been disturbed because it serves as a war gravesite.

However, Arizona has another lingering effect beyond being a memorial and gravesite. It also is an environmental time bomb. Its oil tanks were filled only days before the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941. Essentially, it was loaded with oil that is still inside it. Nobody knows exactly how much oil is there, but it is easy to tell that it remains because it drips out of the wreck every day. Estimates of how long this may continue vary, but it may be as long as another 500 years. However, some experts think the metal may corrode away long before then and release all that oil into Pearl Harbor one fine day. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Landscapes around the world, many far from the scene of battle and some at the scene itself, were changed by World War II. That isn’t going away anytime soon.

The Gurlitt art trove house in Austria
A large cache of the Gurlitt art trove was stored in this unassuming Salzburg house (Financial Times).

Financial and Cultural Effects: The Gurlitt Art Trove

Predatory Germans stole a lot of property throughout Europe from 1933–1945. Much of it was recovered and restored to its rightful owners, but a large fraction of it remains missing. Art is an area that remains a Sword of Damocles over many in the art world, with artwork often being discovered or identified that turns out to have been stolen. Stolen artwork may have changed hands many times, or it may not even have been discovered by anyone yet. Art theft was almost state policy, practiced by Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and other military and civilian leaders.

That brings us to the Gurlitt art trove. If you’re an art aficionado, the name Gurlitt probably gives you a queasy feeling. Hildebrand Gurlitt was a German World War II art historian in the employ of the Germans who somehow accumulated a vast treasure trove during the Third Reich. His own family had its share of artists, too, including his father and sister. Some of Gurlitt’s art came to him legally, but much of it just found its way into his secret collection somehow.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, so let's add one fine point: Hildebrand Gurlitt himself was Jewish. The world is a complicated place.

Cornelius Gurlitt
Cornelius Gurlitt lived alone with his art for the last 40 years of his life.
Hildebrand passed away in 1956 and left everything to his son, Cornelius. Cornelius kept the art secret. It comprised about 1500 works of extremely valuable art. A secretive sort, Cornelius managed to sell some of the artwork over the years to support himself. Exactly how many pieces were sold is unclear, but the sales were through prominent auction houses for large sums of money (some for millions of Euros).

The German authorities finally got wind of this odd fellow with the incredibly valuable art to sell and unexplainable wads of cash and raided his mundane apartment in Schwabing, Munich. They seized the artwork and found that Cornelius had additional staches in other places, too. Cornelius passed away in 2014 and left his holdings to a museum, but the hard job was sorting them out to determine which were legally his and which were stolen. The artwork is the subject of an Israel Museum exhibit that closed the day that I am writing this - 15 January 2020.

Cornelius Gurlitt wasn't necessarily a bad man. He was dealt a hand by World War II, and he played it. Art thefts during the Third Reich is an issue that will linger for a long, long time.

Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton look at stolen art
Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton, and Omar Bradley look over some art stolen by the Germans found hidden in a salt mine. I love the look on Patton's face.


My point is that history is not just big things, broad-brush strokes, fancy inventions, and valiant warriors and big battles. History is the small change of life, the little things that affect people and places with a lingering aftertaste. World War II is still with us today, all around us. All you have to do is look hard enough.


Hedy Lamarr, Cellphones, and World War II

Hedy Lamarr Did More Than Just Act

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr (Everett Collection).
Not everything about wars is bad. Things that many of us use every day were invented in an attempt to win wars. Basic cellular phone technology derives from a wartime effort to control the high seas. While that seems like something that derives from the Vietnam War or later, it actually was patented during World War II. One of the inventors was Hedy Lamarr, a famous actress of the era who understood better than others in the United States the threat posed by the Third Reich because she had emigrated from Europe during the 1930s. Hedy Lamarr helped to invent a communications technology during World War II that has increased in importance ever since.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr on the cover of Life magazine, 1 June 1942. 

Who Was Hedy Lamarr?

Hedy Lamarr, whose birth name was Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungarian Empire, to a Jewish family on 9 November 1914. She developed an interest in acting during the 1920s, got her first job as a script girl, and burst into the limelight (under her maiden name Hedy Kiesler) with the Czechoslovakian film "Ecstasy" (1933), which was notable only because of her expressions of ecstasy during sex and some brief nudity. Due to increasing sexual repression in major film industries during the 1930s, "Ecstasy" was one of the last major films to feature any sexual scenes of any kind for many years.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr in "Ecstasy."
During the same year that director Gustav Machaty released "Ecstasy," Hedy married industrialist Friedrich Mandl, who was a friend of the Hitler and Mussolini regimes despite himself being of part Jewish descent. It was the first of a series of unhappy marriages for Hedy, and she later claimed that he locked her away in a remote castle in Castle Schwarzenau in southern Germany. It was during this marriage that Hedy was exposed to scientists working on advanced technology and how they were converting basic science into applied science. Unexpectedly, Hedy developed an interest of her own in science.

Hedy Lamarr

Not long after her marriage, Hedy tired of Mandl and left him. She later claimed that she disguised herself as her own maid to get out of the castle and flee to Paris. From there, she moved to London in 1937, where she met Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM. Taking a big chance, she booked herself onto the same ocean liner on which he was returning to the States and worked her wiles on him. Hedy wound up with a $500 a week studio contract.

This turned out to be the pivotal event in Hedy Lamarr's career. Mayer gave her the stage name "Hedy Lamarr" in honor of silent-screen star Barbara La Marr. She went on to become a huge star in Hollywood, quickly gaining fame in "Algiers" (1938) with Charles Boyer. After that film, Hedy's career was set and she continued headlining major Hollywood films into the late 1950s.

Hedy Lamarr in "Algiers"
Hedy Lamarr in "Algiers."

Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping

Cellphones were not invented until the 1970s, but the basic science underlying them was developed decades earlier. While living in Hollywood, Hedy recalled her days in Mandl's castle, when scientists touting the most advanced technologies came to call. For some reason, their work on torpedoes stuck in her mind. Hedy figured she could use some of that knowledge gained while sitting in on her husband's meetings to help the Allied war effort.

Hedy Lamarr with Clark Gable
Hedy Lamarr with Clark Gable in "Comrade X" (1940).
In 1941, Hedy sought out the inventor George Antheil, a pianist, author, and composer, for other reasons (she was hoping he could enhance her bustline). The two struck it off, and she confided in Antheil her knowledge about advanced torpedoes. Work had stalled on radio-controlled torpedoes because they were easily jammed. This also was an issue in other military areas, such as direction-finding equipment in airplanes, but Hedy was particularly interested in creating guided torpedoes. She thought there might be a way to jumble the signals in such a way to evade jamming.

Why Hedy was so fascinated by torpedoes is unknown. Her family was still in Vienna, and there were many stories about ships being torpedoed by U-boats. It would be dangerous for them to cross even if they could escape the Third Reich. Perhaps she just wanted to make the seas a safer place for everyone.

George, being a composer, was handy with piano rolls. Together, the two worked out a "Secret Communications Systems" which was designed to evade codebreaking. The system changed radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. Specifically, the signal would randomly alternate between the control center and the torpedo with a range of 88 frequences. Why 88 and not 42 or 97 or 145? Because 88 was the number of keys on a piano! Antheil used a player-piano mechanism to develop the basic sequence of frequency changes.

Hedy Lamarr signature on a patent diagram
Hedy and George signed a diagram for their patent (National Air and Space Museum).
Hedy came up with the idea of constantly changing frequencies, while George figured out a way to implement the idea using his piano rolls. The key to the "special communications system" was that both the control center and the torpedo would have the same code for changing frequencies. Thus, they would switch frequencies together in a way that someone trying to jam them could not follow. This was basic encryption, though it wasn't called that at the type.

Time Magazine cover with Howard Hughes
Hughes on the cover of Time magazine, 19 July 1948 (with the Hughes H-4 Hercules on the background).
Apparently, around this time, Hedy was dating a friend by the name of Howard Hughes. Supposedly, Hughes allowed some of his engineers to help George and Hedy with developing Hedy's idea. Hedy, in turn, later said on personal cassette tapes kept by a reporter but not rediscovered until a documentary filmmaker was preparing a film on her:
I thought the airplanes were too slow. I decided that’s not right. They shouldn’t be square, the wings. So I bought a book of fish, and I bought a book of birds and then used the fastest bird, connected it with the fastest fish. And I drew it together and showed it to Howard Hughes and then he said, ‘You’re a genius.'
So, Hughes and Hedy helped each other. Hedy and George also received assistance from the National Inventors Council, which led to valuable help from an engineer at CalTech.

George Antheil and Hedy Lamarr submitted a patent for the idea together on 10 June 1941. On 11 August 1942, they received U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387.  and submitted it to the Pentagon for development. Hedy used her married name at the time, Hedy Kiesler Markey. Their proposal to the military was that a high-altitude observation plane would steer a radio-controlled torpedo launched at sea level.

Hedy Lamarr discussed in Stars and Stripes
Hedy's invention was not a secret once the war was won. Here is a story about it in military publication Stars and Stripes on 19 November 1945.
Unfortunately, the US military decided that the clockwork implementation as developed by George was too bulky and unreliable and did not use it at the time. Occupied with her film career, which was proceeding very successfully, Hedy allowed the patent to lapse in 1951. And that, as they say, was that - or was it?

The world slowly caught up with George and Hedy's idea. It took the development of new hardware to make their idea truly useful. The patent was used by a contractor in the 1950s that was building a "sonobuoy" (floating submarine detection platform) for the U.S. Navy. In 1957, coincidentally the year Hedy's film career ended, engineers at Sylvania Electronic Systems Division updated George and Hedy's idea and used the newly invented transistor to implement frequency hopping into efficient systems. The technique gained the name "spread-spectrum technology." The US Navy finally began using Sylvania's frequency-hopping system on its ships during the blockade of Cuba in 1962. Nobody really bothered trying to figure out who had developed frequency hopping, so it just became a useful thing with no credit to anyone as its inventor.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr in "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941). Credit: Everett Collection.
Hedy's career wound down in the 1950s. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States at age 38 on April 10, 1953. Hedy's final film was "The Female Animal" in 1957. After being awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6247 Hollywood Blvd. on February 8, 1960, Hedy began to fade away from the public view. She began a production company in 1946, unusual at the time for a woman, but it ultimately failed and cost Hedy her fortune. She retired to Florida and became a virtual recluse. George Antheil passed away in New York in 1959.

Hedy Lamarr on the cover of Coreldraw 9
Hedy Lamarr's image on a COREL software product.

Hedy is Rediscovered

Frequency hopping turned out to be useful in a lot of ways, and not just for the military. It proved crucial to the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. While some may quibble with exactly how important it was to the development of later technologies, the basic concept became the foundation for virtually all modern wireless communications. Nobody associated Lamarr and Antheil with frequency hopping. That is, nobody did until someone went looking for through old records and stumbled upon the 1942 patent.

Oddly, the technology world began to remember Hedy Lamarr just before her frequency-hopping invention was recognized. An image of Hedy Lamarr drawn using a Corel software won Corel DRAW’s yearly software suite cover design contest in 1996. Beginning in 1997, the boxes of Corel DRAW’s software suites featured a similar large Corel-drawn image of Lamarr. Lamarr sued Corel for using the image without her permission, and Corel countered that she did not own rights to the image. The parties reached an undisclosed settlement in 1998.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr in 1966 (Los Angeles Herald Examiner Photo Collection).
In 1997, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, perhaps stimulated by the Corel controversy or perhaps coincidentally, rediscovered George and Hedy's lapsed patent. The Foundation gave Lamarr, still living out her final years in Florida, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. Also in 1997, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a lifetime achievement award in the arts, sciences, business, or invention fields. This was a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed "The Oscar™ of Inventing."

Informed by telephone of her rediscovery in Florida, Hedy simply remarked, "It's about time." She sent taped congratulations for her awards but never left her house. Hedy Lamarr passed away in n Casselberry, Florida on 19 January 2000 at the age of 86, never having profited from her frequency-hopping invention.

Hedy Lamarr
Hedy Lamarr in her later years.


Recognition of Hedy Lamarr's contribution to modern communications has only grown over time. The first Inventor's Day in Germany was held in her honor on November 9, 2005, on what would have been her 92nd birthday. She and George Antheil were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Director Alexandra Dean released the documentary "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story" in 2017, and film and television references to her invention have only increased with time.

Further research has shown that other scientists through the years had come up with variations of frequency hopping before Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil. These included Nikola Tesla in 1900 and 1903 patents, the US Army Signals Corps during World War I, and Blackwell, Martin, and Vernam in a 1920 patent. None of these resulted in practical inventions. Hedy and George certainly were running in some very fast company.

However, just because brilliant visionaries like Tesla also came up with similar ideas does not detract from the achievement of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil. Inventions do not just suddenly appear, they are worked toward over long periods of time and all inventors stand on the shoulders of others before them. Unlike the others, George and Hedy came up with a workable system that, while not adopted at the time due to lack of adequate hardware support, proved the concept and led ultimately to the use of frequency hopping in real-world applications. The development of frequency hopping during World War II by Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil was one of the more enduring legacies of World War II.

Hedy Lamarr


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Dieppe Raid and the Invasion of France

Timing is Everything in Life and War

Allied prisoners after the Dieppe raid
British/Canadian prisoners from Operation Jubilee being paraded through the streets of Dieppe, 19 August 1942 (Hausmann, Federal Archive Bild 101I-611-2124-08).
Why the Allies waited until June 1944 to invade France is a question that came up during the war itself. Joseph Stalin was demanding a “second front” within weeks of the Soviet Union's entry into the war (18 July 1941). However, there were many problems with invading France earlier than the Allies did. The success of the Overlord landings makes them seem easy - they weren’t. They could have gone wrong very easily.

Allied prisoners under guard after the Dieppe raid
German troops guarding some of the 3623 Allied soldiers killed, wounded, or captured at Dieppe, 19 August 1942 (© IWM (HU 1895)).
For one, the Allies did invade France before 1944. Several Commando raids achieved spotty results even given their limited objectives, but these were just preliminaries to the grandest raid of them all. The large Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) of 19 August 1942 was a test case that went disastrously wrong almost immediately. While not a full-scale invasion, it was a major operation using first-class equipment and men (6,050 crack infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, with extensive Royal Navy support) to make a contested landing. There were 29 Allied tanks lost at Dieppe, not an inconsequential sum. The Dieppe raid was a major undertaking that failed within hours.

Germans on British Churchill Mk I tanks after the Dieppe raid
German Panzerbergungtrupp Zugfuhrer Lt. Epple Strand astride one of the 29 captured Churchill Mk I tanks at Dieppe, 19 August 1942.
The Allies learned many valuable lessons from Dieppe. These harsh lessons included the futility of trying to take a well-defended port in the initial landings, that the Wehrmacht was guarding the coast closely, that the Germans had powerful Luftwaffe forces nearby, and that the Allies' own tactics and equipment were inadequate. It is undeniable that the Allies were not ready to invade France in 1942.

The Dieppe raid
A wounded Canadian soldier after the Dieppe Raid, 19 August 1942 (Meyer, Wiltberger, Federal Archive Bild 101I-291-1229-11). 
Airpower was the most important factor in the delay. The Luftwaffe remained a powerful force on the Channel Front through 1943. Landings facing locally superior air defenses were just too risky. The Luftwaffe didn’t even have to call in special forces to counterattack the Dieppe Raid, local planes on hand were sufficient to pulverize the Allied troops and tanks. The Allies realized from this colossal failure that the might of the Luftwaffe over the Continent had to be reduced before they could risk an all-or-nothing large-scale invasion.

German soldiers examining a captured landing craft after the Dieppe raid
Victorious German soldiers examine one of 33 Allied landing craft lost during the Dieppe Raid (Hausmann, Federal Archive Bild 101I-611-2124-24).
Another factor was the overall health of the Wehrmacht. The Germans were still full of vim and vigor before 1944. They were attacking in the Soviet Union well into 1943 during the Manstein counteroffensive and at Kursk. Everyone knew that the Germans had about 300 divisions and the means to move them rapidly to threatened areas. Nobody wanted to put a half-dozen Allied divisions on the beaches to face potentially dozens of German divisions who still had good morale and a savage desire to prevail.

The first US soldiers arriving in Europe, 26 January 1942
The first US troops arriving in Europe, 26 January 1942.
One more factor was the time it took to build up the United States presence in Great Britain. The first American formations did not even arrive there until 26 January 1942. There had to be a massive buildup of men, equipment, and logistics to support landings in France. The U-boat menace was only contained in April and May of 1943, making vulnerable sea operations more palatable. The landings at Gela in Sicily on 10 July 1943 were an uncomfortably close-run affair and further refined the Allied landing strategy.

USAAF B-17 bombers during Operation Pointblank,
USAAF B-17 bombers during an October 1943 Schweinfurt raid, part of Operation Pointblack (USAF).
So, the decision was made to attack all of these problems in different ways. The Luftwaffe crumbled over time due to targeted raids at their factories (Operation Pointblank) and the demands of other theaters. At the same time, the Americans brought in their own Eighth Air Force and worked it up while the RAF still carried the brunt of the fighting. The combined operations bureau, or COSSAC (Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander, led by General Frederick Morgan), plan of 1943 for the D-Day landings noted specifically that Luftwaffe strength had to be reduced before any successful landings:
The most important characteristic of the German Air Force in Western Europe is the continuous growth of fighter aircraft strength that, if not set to a minimum, could reach such a size that an amphibious landing is unthinkable. That is why, in the first place, it is necessary to reduce the German air strength between now and the moment of the attack ... That condition, more than any other, will determine whether an amphibious attack can be launched on a given date.
The new P-51 Mustang and advanced Spitfires gave the US Army Air Force and RAF confidence they could protect the beachhead. The victory of the convoy system and advanced electronic warfare defeated the U-boats. The huge Wehrmacht losses at Tunis and Stalingrad in 1943 stretched the Wehrmacht’s manpower. A new secondary front in Italy occupied the German reserves. Everything came together by the spring of 1944.

The P-51D Mustang fighter
The P-51D Mustang first became available to USAAF 8th Air Force in the winter of 1943-44. They were a game-changer, enabling continuous fighter coverage during Pointblank raids (USAF). 
The Western Allies sort of turned the tables on Stalin - instead of sacrificing their own men to make things easier for the Soviets, the Western Allies waited for Stalin’s armies to grind down the Germans to make D-Day easier. That’s war.

Anyway, by 1944, the Allies finally felt confident that they had overwhelming superiority on the Channel Front. Still, even then, D-Day was a very risky operation and the Allies were prepared for a massive catastrophe. Was a successful invasion in 1943 possible? Probably, but the disastrous January 1944 landing at Anzio (Operation Avalanche) showed just how quickly an inadequate invasion could go wrong. The Allies did not realize just how weakened the Wehrmacht in France was by then - we do, but hindsight is perfect.

US Army 1st Division soldiers landing at Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944
Troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) landing at Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944 (Sargent, Robert F., National Archives).


Monday, January 13, 2020

POW Exchanges During World War II

Some POWs Were Repatriated

POW exchanges during World War II
Some of 1500 German Prisoners being loaded on ships in exchange for British prisoners waiting in Dieppe, France, 5 October 1941. There were several such trips during this exchange, including German women nurses repatriated for British nurses. Incidentally, notice that Luftwaffe officer with the cane? He's in the next picture below, too.
When you're captured by the enemy, that's it - right? That means a prison camp for the remainder of the conflict, which could be a long, long time? Well, not necessarily. There was a degree of international cooperation even during the thickest of the World War II fighting that saw some prisoners repatriated. There were scattered POW exchanges during World War II, increasing in number as the conflict grew longer.

POW exchanges during World War II
Here is the more famous photo of that particular German officer. Here, he is disembarking from a hospital ship at Newhaven on 5 October 1941. He doesn't seem to need his cane at this particular moment and is going ashore for some exercise (colorized).
There were exchanges of wounded/injured POWs in the European Theater of Operations done through mediation by Sweden. Gothenburg (Göteborg) was the usual exchange site. Count Folke Bernadotte, vice chairman of the Swedish Red Cross beginning in 1943, was the prime mediator. Everybody was skeptical of Bernadotte and his motives - he was assassinated after the war while mediating in Jerusalem - but he accomplished real results. He began long before his appointment to the Red Cross when he arranged the July 1940 release of some British trapped in the port of Petsamo in the far North (German internees also were released). One of the little-known facts of World War II is the role of private citizens as unofficial diplomats and emissaries (such as Electrolux employee Birger Dahlerus).

SS Gripsholm, used for POW exchanges during World War II
A postcard view of SS Gripsholm, one of two Swedish liners chartered for POW exchanges.
Two chartered Swedish ships were used, the Drottningholm and the Gripsholm. These exchanges took place between April 1942 and May 1945, but the vast majority began in a series of exchanges beginning in October 1943. In this first exchange, 3000 wounded/sick British POWs at Göteborg were released in exchange for 800 Germans and additional Germans released in North Africa. The ships made a total of 36 voyages (14 from Göteborg) and carried 29,600 diplomats, POWs, and wounded men.

POW exchanges during World War II
Prisoners being exchanged at Lorient, France, in November 1944 (Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections (Heslop, J. Malan)).
All told, about 11,000 sick/wounded servicemen were exchanged due to Bernadotte’s assistance. Swedish mediation was critical since some earlier attempts at exchanging wounded/injured POWs directly between Germany and Great Britain in ports of occupied France failed due to mutual mistrust.

Death notice for Count Bernadotte, who arranged POW exchanges during World War II
Bernadotte was assassinated on 17 September 1948 in Jerusalem.
Not all of Bernadotte's initiatives worked. He tried to swap Stalin's captured son Yakov for General Paulus after the fall of Stalingrad, but the Soviets were not interested.

POW exchanges during World War II
German and United States Army officials arrange a POW exchange in Brittany, France, in November 1944. The man in black in the center of the photograph is Andrew Gerow Hodges, the American Red Cross representative who set up the exchange. Notice that the German officers are giving the Hitler salute (Hitlergruß) and the Americans are saluting in return. 
There was at least one other prisoner exchange besides the ones arranged by Bernadotte (some sources say only one). The American Red Cross arranged a POW exchange while fighting was still in progress in France. A total of 149 men from each side were exchanged. The Germans were not particular about who they exchanged, and one of them was Jewish Army Private Harry Glixon of 94th Infantry Division of US Third Army (Glixon claimed they were not aware he was Jewish but easily could have figured it out from his papers). He had been captured by the Germans near Lorient, France, during the fall. This exchange happened on 15 November 1944. Private Glixon was lightly wounded and in poor condition after 45 days in captivity but was back in the front lines within days - a violation of his terms of release. Harry Glixon survived the war and passed away in Sarasota, Florida, in 2007.

SS Gripsholm, used for POW exchanges during World War II
The Gripsholm in diplomatic markings as the POWs would have seen it. Even with those markings, it would have been a dangerous voyage because many clearly marked hospital ships were sunk during the way "by mistake."
The Gripsholm, chartered by the United States, also exchanged Japanese civilians in the United States for similar numbers of American civilians trapped behind Japanese lines. These exchanges were done through Mozambique, controlled by neutral Portugal at the time. Diplomats and others also were exchanged, sometimes on the same voyages as the wounded, sometimes separately.

The Swedes, incidentally, sent the British a bill of 349,252.10 kroner for these services (housing and feeding them, etc.) in 1947. The British paid £24,136 5s 9d.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Why Did the Germans Defend Italy?

Italy Was Defensible, But it Required the Right Man

The ruins of Monte Cassino during World War II
The ruins of the Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino after the battles along the Gustav Line in 1944.
The German decision to defend Italy produced one of the most successful Axis defensive victories of World War II. At a very reasonable cost in units, the Wehrmacht scored several propaganda victories and restored the confidence that had been lost in “Tunisgrad,” the loss of its foothold in North Africa.

Whether or not to defend Italy or retreat to the Alps was fiercely debated within the Wehrmacht. There were two schools of thought, with Erwin Rommel advocating an immediate withdrawal to the north and Albert Kesselring insisting that he could keep the Allies far to the south. The issue came to a head In September 1943, after the Allies invaded the mainland and faced a furious German counterattack at the beachhead in Salerno. The issue had huge political ramifications, as there were still many loyal Italian fascists and industries south of the Alps that could contribute to the war effort. Mussolini and the Axis in general also would benefit by retaining Rome.

Field Marshals Rommel and Kesselring in North Africa, June 1942
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in discussion with Field Marshal Kesselring in June 1942 (Moosmüller, Federal Archive Bild 101I-785-0300-33A).
By mid-1943, Erwin Rommel was a troubled man due to the loss of the Afrika Korps. He basically felt that the war was lost, though he did not come right out and say it. The best option in his view was to pull back into a concentrated area of power supported by geographical features favorable to the defense. This tactic was favored within the Wehrmacht and was used successfully at the “Gotenkopf” on the Taman Peninsula, at Tunisia in North Africa, and in the Courland Pocket on the Eastern Front. This was akin to an inferior army retreating to the castle walls rather than being slaughtered out in the open field. The Courland pocket and several German bases on the Atlantic French coast held out until the end of the war against far superior Allied forces using this strategy.

Kesselring, on the other hand, was renowned throughout the Wehrmacht for being an optimist who felt that he could achieve objectives that others felt were unachievable. Everybody knew that Hitler preferred to not give up ground without a struggle ("We must bleed them white for every meter of ground!"), and Kesselring had a plan to do just that in Italy. Keeping the enemy as far away from the Reich's cities was extremely important to the war effort because it lengthened the distance the Allied bombers had to fly and increased the Luftwaffe's odds of shooting them down. As a Luftwaffe general, Kesselring was very sensitive to airpower and how withdrawals only helped the enemy's bomber streams get through to their targets. The further away were the Allied airbases, the better.

Since both men had marshal’s batons, this was a dispute that only Hitler could resolve.

Map of the invasion of Italy in September 1943
How would you respond to this situation? Hitler received two completely different and irreconcilable recommendations from two of his best field marshals.
The amazing thing is that Hitler even considered Rommel's suggestion of voluntary withdrawal. Hitler routinely rejected such requests from other generals. However, Rommel was Hitler’s favorite, which is difficult to remember given all that came later. Rommel argued, based upon his experience in North Africa, that Allied command of the air made any attempt to hold central and southern Italy foolhardy. He advocated the construction of a defensive line on the southern slope of the Alps to which the German formations should immediately withdraw. Hitler was hesitant to disregard this advice from the commander who had produced so many victories against the Western Allies in North Africa.

US soldiers pinned down at Salerno during World War II
The US invasion of mainland Italy was not as easy as it may appear in retrospect. This photograph shows American soldiers pinned down on the beach landing mats at Salerno (Official US Coast Guard photograph, Gift of Stacy Hutchinson, from the Collections of the National WWII Museum).
So, to “split the baby” and create a “two-track” command system, Hitler formed Army Group B in northern Italy (not the same as the one destroyed in the Soviet Union at Stalingrad). He put it under Rommel’s control. This was a bit of a slight to Kesselring, who was technically Rommel’s superior as Commander, Southeast Theater. To make the decision palatable to Kesselring, Hitler also formed Army Group C, composed of all units in southern Italy, and placed it under Kesselring’s control. Kesselring’s area was defended by the 10th Army. This formation could have used reinforcement from Rommel’s forces in northern Italy, but German generals rarely surrendered units to fellow commanders except under compulsion. Hitler, feeling he had made his decision, did not force Rommel to help Kesselring. The net result was that Kesselring did not receive reinforcements from the north when they might have made a difference at Salerno.

The ruins of Monte Cassino during World War II
Among the ruins of the Monte Cassino abbey, a German Fallschirmjaeger (paratrooper) gives instructions to a mortar team (Credit: FonthillMedia).
Kesselring made the best of a bad situation despite his understrength units and the complete destruction of the Luftwaffe during the battle at Salerno. As a Luftwaffe commander, unlike Rommel, he intimately knew both the strengths and limitations of airpower. He analyzed the situation shrewdly with an eye toward Allied aerial supremacy and came up with a brilliant plan. The topography of southern Italy gave him the solution. He established the Gustav Line south of Rome. Based on the mountain ranges anchored by Monte Cassino, he realized that he did not require much Luftwaffe support to defend this rough ground. Kesselring also had the advantage of some excellent subordinate commanders, including the superb panzer general General Hans Hube (before he was called away to command First Panzer Army) and the vastly underrated (by historians) General Frido von Senger und Etterlin. Senger was both a brilliant tactician and also a bit of a diplomat, which came in very handy in Italy. The Wehrmacht men in southern Italy were all veterans of the tactically brilliant defense of Sicily led by Hube and had developed successful defensive tactics there.

The ruins of Monte Cassino during World War II
The 2nd NZ Infantry Division marches into the town of Monte Cassino past the ruins of the Hotel Des Roses. The hills and ruins were perfectly suited for the defensive battles planned out by Kesselring (Credit: FonthillMedia).
After months of deliberation (he was notorious for slow decisions on important questions), Hitler finally made up his mind. On 6 November 1943, he named Kesselring as supreme commander in Italy and reassigned Rommel to Normandy. Thus, Kesselring’s optimism prevailed over Rommel’s pessimism.

Anzio Annie during World War II
"Anzio Annie" was a Krupp K5 rail gun. First used in 1940 for the invasion of France, it became notorious for shelling the Americans at Anzio.  The barrel of this gun is at an impressive 280mm and was capable of launching 550lb shells over 38 miles. Note the turntable which made precision aiming possible. Anzio Annie was later captured by the Allies at Civitavecchia and now is on display in the United States at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Hitler made the right call. The decision paid off beautifully. Kesselring’s defense of the Gustav Line was so successful that it drove Winston Churchill crazy. At this stage of the war, the British still essentially controlled strategy in the European Theater of Operations. To speed things up, Churchill and his generals cooked up the Anzio landings (Operation Avalanche), intended to break the stalemate. This turned into a disaster that was just short of a catastrophe, as the Germans quickly sealed the landing grounds and came very close to pushing the US VI Corps of General Mark Clark's Fifth Army into the sea. The US Army had its highest "battle fatigue" rate of the war at Anzio. US General John Lucas was fired on 22 February 1944 as a result. Huge German guns such as "Anzio Annie" and the "Anzio Express" battered the Allies who had little cover and could only hope and pray the big shells did not land near them.

The Anzio Express during World War II
The Anzio Express was another of the two K5 guns used at Anzio. The name came from the express train-like sound of the shells.
The Gustav Line held out until May 1944 and prevented the capture of Rome until June. It became a huge German propaganda victory, with Reichsmarchal Hermann Goering, whose Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) were the stars at Monte Cassino, boasting that it hadn’t even required “picked troops.” Many valuable resources, such as hidden Italian Navy fuel depots at Genoa and other northern ports, were kept in Axis hands by holding the Allies in the south. Major cities such as Milan which would have been threatened by Rommel's strategy continued producing weapons for the Axis for another year. Conceivably, a quick withdrawal could have given the Allies easier access to lightly-defended southern France much sooner. An Allied breakout into the Balkans also was one of Hitler's personal fears (due to that being the source of all of the Reich's oil). This would have been made much easier by uncovering the defenses of Venice and Trieste when Rommel proposed doing so. If there was any bright spot in the Axis military situation in the last two years of the war, it was Kesselring’s defense of Italy.

Allied troops at Monte Cassino during World War II
A squad of Allied troops, obviously veterans of a tough war, plans a raiding patrol at Cassino (Credit: FonthillMedia).
For the Allies, the long, hard slog up Italy was very unproductive. Once they had secured the airfields at Foggia in southern Italy during September 1943, they had what they really needed from Italy. Occupying more territory north of the airbase added little value. It did, however, divert attention and troops from areas where real results could be produced, such as northern and southern France.

The ruins of Monte Cassino during World War II
The Allies grew frustrated by the German defense of Monte Cassino abbey. So, on 15 February 1944, the US Army Air Force bombed it. Perversely, the German Fallschirmjaeger defending the heights found the ruins easier to defend than the intact abbey had been  This Allied bombing was and remains highly controversial as a pointless desecration of a historical landmark (Credit: FonthillMedia).
The Allies never broke the German lines even after forcing the Wehrmacht out of the Gustav Line and taking Rome. The Germans were still launching counteroffensives in Italy during the final six months of the war. The only possible conclusion is that the German defense of Italy was a brilliant demonstration of arms and a blot on the Allied conduct of World War II.


Hitler's Focke Wulf FW-200 Condor

Condors Terrified British Shipping During World War II

FW 200 Condor

The Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor was the Third Reich's only effective four-engine bomber. It was used in a variety of roles, which was quite common for effective German aircraft of the period such as the Junkers Ju-88, He-111, Bf-110, and Ju-52. While the Condor could not do all the things that the Allied bombers could do as effectively as they could, and had several major drawbacks in its design that were never really addressed, what it could do, it did very well.

FW 200 Condor

The Condor was an all-metal four-engined monoplane. As was often the case with German military aircraft, it had its origins as a long-range airliner.

FW 200 Condor

Kurt Tank was one of the top aircraft designers in history. He had to his credit the Focke-Wulf 190, widely considered the most effective German fighter of the middle years of World War II, along with other top aircraft such as the Ta 152. He was partly responsible for the FW 200 Condor.

FW 200 Condor Empress of Britain
The biggest prize: 42,348 ton Empress of Britain. A Focke-Wulf Fw 200 piloted by  Oberleutnant Bernhard Jope dropped two 250 kg bombs on it on 26 October 1940, setting it ablaze and making it easy prey for U-32 (Kptl. Hans Jenisch) on the 28th. This was the largest liner hit during the war.
During the early 1930s, he proposed to Lufthansa, headed at that time by Dr. Rudolf Stuessel, the creation of a trans-Atlantic passenger airliner. It was a novel idea for the time, but the airline company agreed, and in June 1936 issued the specifications.

FW 200 Condor

Design chores were handled by Ludwig Mittelhuber. Wilhelm Bansemir served as project director. Tank himself took the first prototype, V1, into the air on 27 July 1937. It was powered by four American 875 hp Pratt & Whitney Hornet radial engines. Two more prototypes were built, V2 and V3, these using German 720 hp BMW 132G-1 radial engines.

FW 200 Condor

Ostensibly, the FW 200 was still a civilian aircraft, despite the gathering clouds of war. However, the Japanese military liked the plane's flight characteristics and ordered a re-design for search and patrol duties. Tank dutifully prepared V10, which was loaded with military equipment.

FW 200 Condor

However, by the time it was ready, the war had broken out, and the military design was used by the Germans instead. This may in part have been simply a ruse by the Germans, with Japanese assistance, to be open about a military re-design of this widely known civilian airliner: the Japanese had very capable long-range seaplanes of their own for reconnaissance purposes.

FW 200 Condor

The military version of the FW 200 differed from the civilian version by virtue of having bomb racks, a lengthened and strengthened fuselage, and gun positions. The small gondola was greatly expanded and converted into a bomb bay.

FW 200 Condor

This version of the Condor could carry either a 900-kilogram (2,000 lb) bomb load or naval mines to use against shipping. All of these modifications, of course, added tremendous extra weight to the frame, and one of the black marks against the aircraft throughout its service was that the undercarriage had a tendency to collapse upon landing. This was not a crippling problem, but many aircraft were lost or damaged due to this inherent structural defect. In addition, the brakes had a tendency to catch on fire when landing. This also was not disabling, but the undercarriage went right under the fuel tanks when in the "up" position, so this had many possibilities of disaster. In one famous incident, the brakes on Hitler's own fancy Condor burst into flames upon landing in Finland for a meeting with Marshal Mannerheim.

FW 200 Condor
An FW 200 showing Lorenz FuG 200 Hohentwiel low UHF-band ASV radar in the nose. In 1943, a version entered service that could carry the Henschel Hs 293 guided missile, mandating fitment of the associated Funkgerät FuG 203 Kehl radio guidance gear on a Condor to steer them.
Strangely enough, the FW 200 remained in civilian use throughout World War II and even afterward. Regularly scheduled flights continued to Spain even after the Allied re-conquest of France in 1944. One imagines that these were harrowing flights that veered well south across the Mediterranean. These flights increasingly had a quasi-military purpose of ferrying military or diplomatic officers to neutral Spain, from which they could travel to Lisbon and continue onward anywhere in the world. Brazil, Denmark, and even the United Kingdom (operating an impounded FW 200) used the aircraft for civilian purposes.

FW 200 Condor

The last such flight was on 14 April 1945, when Spanish leader Francisco Franco finally halted them due to the military/political situation. Other airlines such as Danish Air Lines and Cruzeiro do Sol of Brazil continued to use the FW 200 during the post-war period, including Spain, which confiscated several which landed on its territory during the conflict. Incredibly, there were still Lufthansa flights within German after that.

FW 200 Condor
The civilian version of the Condor at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York. The crowd suggests this may have been taken after the first transatlantic flight from Berlin. This is a very rare instance of a future Luftwaffe bomber landing in the US. 
An FW-200 made a first when it flew non-stop from Berlin to New York in August 1938. It also flew back a couple of days later. Regular flights from Berlin to Tokyo, with stops in Basra, Karachi, and Hanoi, began a few months later.

FW 200 Condor
Armaments Minister Albert Speer (third from left) at the airfield in front of Hitler's personal FW 200 (Federal Archive).
The FW 200 also was used by German leaders for their own personal use. Adolf Hitler had been using a Junkers Ju 52 throughout the 1930s, but in 1939 switched to an FW 200 after his personal pilot, Hans Bauer noted that its fast speed would offer more protection. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop used one to fly to Moscow in August 1939 and finalize the non-aggression pact that began World War II.

FW 200 Condor

Operational History

The FW was a fast bomber with long-range - it was not a heavy bomber, despite the four engines. Its cruising speed of 335 km/h (181 knots, 208 mph) was comparable to that of a fighter aircraft at the start of the war. While eventually, fighters could outrun them, the margin of difference remained small enough that the defensive gunners on the Condor retained a better chance of zeroing in the slower-moving (relative to the bomber) fighters than with slower bombers trying to defend against fighters whizzing past them. It was all about relative speeds. The FW 200 was used by the Luftwaffe to interdict convoys which were England's lifeblood. Condors would make great traverses of the Atlantic until they found merchant ships, and then bracket them with three bombs in order to score a hit. Despite the fact that bombing shipping is extremely difficult, and that the Condor had a very crude bombsight, the aircraft proved extremely deadly at this mission.

FW 200 Condor

The first Condor 200 (bomber) squadron was in Denmark, from which it could fly out into the north sea. This gave it a limited radius of action, especially since the Soviet Union was not yet an enemy and there were no convoys to Murmansk to interdict. After the conquest of France, though, the base moved to Bordeaux-Merignac, France, which opened up the entire Atlantic Ocean. The plane remained effective in a reconnaissance role even after it ceased attacks on shipping, continuing its sweeps across the Atlantic and reporting on shipping positions to U-boats, vectoring them toward their targets. This led British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to label the FW 200 the 'Scourge of the Atlantic' in addition to their less-fearsome Allied sobriquet of 'Kurier.'

FW 200 Condor

The Condor operated against shipping in 1940 until mid-1941. It was claimed that they sank 331,122 tonnes of shipping during this period. Eventually, though, the British developed counter-measures, including merchant ships that could fly off a fighter ('Cam ships').

FW 200 Condor

The Condor was extremely vulnerable to fighter attack despite its defensive armament, so the Luftwaffe ceased low-level attacks on shipping. Instead, the Condors would shadow convoys and report their positions to wolf packs of U-boats.

FW 200 Condor

Condors flew far afield. In fact, the first United States kill of a Condor on 14 August 1942 was over Iceland. Eventually, the Condor was pressed into service solely as a transport aircraft, as the Wehrmacht faced more and more encirclements that required air supplies.

FW 200 Condor
Even if you don't really study old planes, this is a beautiful shot.
As was often the case with German aircraft during the closing years of the war, the Condor was used in roles to which it was not suited, and its reputation suffered as a result. They remained difficult to bring down until the end, though, and it is notable that the Condor became one of the best-known aircraft of the conflict despite the fact that only 276 were built.

FW 200 Condor

Germany developed other four-engine bombers, such as the troublesome 'Flying Fireworks' He 177 and various late-war attempts that had varying levels of success. In terms of effectiveness as a weapon in combat, though, the Condor outclassed all of them and made a real impact on the early stages of the war.

FW 200 Condor

One intact copy remains, re-assembled from a Condor recovered from the Trondheimsfjorden in Norway in 1999 and another that crashed on the Kvitanosi mountain near Voss in Norway.

FW 200 Condor

Characteristics of the FW 200:

Crew: five
Capacity: 30 fully armed troops in transport configuration
Length: 23.45 m (76 ft 11 in)
Wingspan: 32.85 m (107 ft 9 in)
Height: 6.30 m (20 ft 8 in)
Wing area: 119.85 m² (1,290 ft²)
Empty weight: 17,005 kg (37,490 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 24,520 kg (50,057 lb)
Powerplant: 4 × BMW/Bramo 323R-2 nine-cylinder single-row air-cooled radial engine, 895 kW (1,200hp) each
Maximum speed: 360 km/h (195 knots, 224 mph) at 4,800 m (15,750 ft)[14]
Cruise speed: 335 km/h (181 knots, 208 mph) at 4,000 m (13,100 ft) (Max cruise)
Range: 3,560 km (1,923 nmi, 2,212 mi)
Endurance: 14 hrs
Service ceiling: 6,000 m (19,700 ft)
1 × 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon in forward gondola
4 × 13 mm MG 131 machine gun (dorsal and waist positions)
Bombs: Up to 5,400 kg (11,905 lb) of bombs

FW 200 Condor