Tuesday, December 30, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Dec 30, 1884: Tojo is born

On this day, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan during the war, is born in Tokyo.
After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan's military attache after World War I

Having already earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon return to Japan. In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. Returning again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military's increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in 1940 that made Japan an "Axis" power. In July of 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the Prime Minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting to reform his government by demilitarizing its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded as prime minister while holding on to his offices of army minister and war minister, and assuming the offices of minister of commerce and of industry as well.

Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a "New Order in Asia," and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo's aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo's increasing control over his own country, even assuming the position of the chief of the general staff, he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific. When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army, Tojo's government collapsed. Upon Japan's surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but was saved by an American physician who gave him a transfusion of American blood. He lived only to be convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal—and was hanged on December 22, 1948.

Asao Uchida portrayed him in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!.

Monday, December 29, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Dec 29, 1940: Germans raid London

On this day, German aircraft blanket incendiary bombs over London, setting both banks of the Thames ablaze and killing almost 3,600 British civilians.

The German targeting of the English capital had begun back in August, payback for British attacks on Berlin. In September, a horrendous firestorm broke out in London's poorest districts as German aircraft dropped 337 tons of bombs on docks, tenements, and teeming streets. The "London Blitz" killed thousands of civilians.

December 29 saw the widespread destruction not just of civilians, but of great portions of London's cultural relics. Historic buildings were severely damaged or destroyed as relentless bombing set 15,000 separate fires. Among the architectural treasures that proved casualties of the German assault were the Guildhall (the administrative center of the city, dating back to 1673 but also containing a 15th-century vault) and eight Christopher Wren churches. St. Paul's Cathedral also caught fire but was saved from being burned to the ground by brave, tenacious firefighters. Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and the Chamber of the House of Commons were also hit but suffered less extensive damage.

Fighting the blazes was made all the more difficult by an unfortunate low tide, which made drawing water a problem.

Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-raid-london [29.12.2014]

Sunday, December 28, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Dec 28, 1941: Request made for creation of construction battalions

On this day, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell requests authority from the Bureau of Navigation to create a contingent of construction units able to build everything from airfields to roads under battlefield conditions. These units would be known as the "Seabees"—for the first letters of Construction Battalion.

The men chosen for the battalions were not ordinary inductees or volunteers—they all had construction-work backgrounds. The first batch of recruits who made the cut had helped build the Boulder Dam, national highways, and urban skyscrapers; had dug subway tunnels; and had worked in mines and quarries. Some had experience building ocean liners and aircraft carriers. Approximately 325,000 men, from 60 different trades, ages 18 to 60, would go on to serve with the Seabees by the end of the war. The officers given the authority to command these men were also an elite crew, derived from the Civil Engineer Corps. Of the more than 11,000 officers in the Corps all together, almost 8,000 would serve with the construction units.

Although the Seabees were technically supposed to be support units, they were also trained as infantrymen, and they often found themselves in combat with the enemy in the course of their construction projects. They were sent to war theaters as far flung as the Azores, North Africa, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, and the beaches of Normandy.

Some of the Seabees' feats became legendary. They constructed huge airfields and support facilities for the B29 Superfortress bombers on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian, as well as the ports needed to bring in the supplies for the bombing of Japan. The Seabees also suffered significant casualties in the process of providing innovative new pontoons to help the Allies land on the beaches of Sicily. During D-Day, the Seabees' demolition unit was among the first ashore. Their mission: to destroy the steel and concrete barriers the Germans had constructed as obstacles to invasion.

The Seabees' motto was "We Build, We Fight."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Dec 25, 1941: British surrender Hong Kong

On this day, the British garrison in Hong Kong surrenders to the Japanese.

Hong Kong was a British Crown colony whose population was overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese. It was protected by a garrison force composed of British, Canadian, and Indian soldiers. The British government, anticipating a Japanese attack, had begun evacuating women and children on June 30, sending them to Manila, capital of the Philippines. The Japanese had responded to the evacuation by posting troops across the Kowloon peninsula, blocking escape from Hong Kong by land.

One day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese began their raid on Hong Kong as part of their broad imperial designs on China and the South Pacific. The British governor, Sir Mark Young, mobilized his forces, which were slim, and his weaponry, which was antiquated. Within two weeks, Japanese envoys issued an ultimatum-surrender or perish. The governor sent the envoys back with a definite refusal. Consequently, the Japanese followed up with a land invasion on the 18th of December. Ordered to take no prisoners, the Japanese rounded up captured soldiers and bayoneted them to death.

Continued bombing raids severed water mains, and Japanese infantry took control of remaining reservoirs, as well as the power station, leaving the British with the threat of death by thirst. Despite cries from the governor to "hold fast for King and Empire," no further resistance was possible by the dwindling garrison forces. On 3:30 p.m. Christmas Day, white flags of surrender were flown.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

This Day in WWII History: Dec 24, 1942: French Admiral Jean Darlan is assassinated

On this day, a pro-Free French assassin in Algeria kills Jean Francois Darlan, French admiral and collaborator in the Vichy government. He was 61.

Born on August 7, 1881, in Nerac, France, Darlan graduated from the French naval academy in 1902, and advanced quickly through the ranks, reaching the position of admiral of the fleet in June 1939. He was made commander in chief of the French navy two months later.

Upon the surrender of France to the German invaders in June of 1940, Darlan let it be known that he was inclined to sail the fleet to Great Britain, to keep it out of German hands. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill conceded, "...I would cheerfully crawl on my hands and knees for a mile if by doing so I could get him to bring that fleet of his into the circle of Allied forces."

But it was not to happen. Darlan was quickly "bought off" by a power position: He was made navy minister and then supreme commander of all Vichy French military forces under Philippe Petain's government. He became a collaborator with the German puppeteers (even passing on to the Germans sensitive U.S. military information that had landed in the French embassy in Washington, D.C.), and, to add insult to injury, ordering most of the French fleet to North Africa to avoid Allied capture. (The Royal Navy at Oran would nevertheless attack it shortly thereafter.)

In November 1942, when Anglo-American forces launched its North African campaign, Operation Torch, Darlan was in Algiers, Algeria, visiting his seriously ill son. General Dwight Eisenhower took advantage of Darlan's proximity by ordering American diplomat Robert Murphy and Major General Mark Clark to convince Darlan to aid the Allies in their invasion (Darlan had hinted that he might switch his allegiance again in exchange for heavy financial aid for France from the United States). Darlan vacillated, in part because he still distrusted and disliked the British because of the attack on his fleet at Oran, but in light of the German invasion of France, which the Vichy government's concessions were supposed to prevent, he eventually acquiesced. He ordered a Vichy-force ceasefire to permit the Allied landings in North Africa to move forward unopposed. Darlan finally signed an armistice with the Allies, folding his Vichy forces into the Free French military.

Nevertheless, Darlan was never fully trusted by the Free French; he was deemed too much of an opportunist. On Christmas Eve, 1942, he was shot dead by Bonnier de la Chapelle, a Charles de Gaulle follower who was training to be a British agent. Despite the help Darlan ultimately provided, the Allies rejoiced. "Darlan's murder, however criminal, relieved the Allies of their embarrassment at working with him," admitted Churchill.