Chapter 1: The rise of Hitler; the outbreak of war; Churchill; the surrender of France; Dunkirk; the Battle of Britain; the Blitz.
Chapter 2: Roosevelt; Lend-Lease; Meeting of Roosevelt and Churchill; Pearl Harbor; Hitler attacks Russia.
Chapter 3: Midway to Morocco: including Japanese conquests; fall of Singapore; battle of Midway; battle of the Atlantic; North Africa
Chapter 4: Calls to prayer; Sicily; Italy; Mussolini; Monte Cassino; death of Mussolini.
DELIVERANCE – The Story of World War II
Now approaching my 81st birthday I have been reflecting upon some of the amazing good things which have happened in my lifetime. Blessings bestowed on all mankind.
Scripture teaches, “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights” (James 1:17 NIV). So, as I look back, I will mention some of the “good gifts” that have come not only upon the countries in which June and I have lived, but also on many other parts of the world. The event upon which I will focus for the next few months is the one that dominated my childhood from the age of 5 – World War II.
DELIVERANCE – 1939-1945
Deliverance from the horrors of World War II, 1939-1945, and its aftermath. Deliverance from the evil of the totalitarian dictatorship of Nazism that robbed nations of freedom. Also, deliverance (eventually) from Communism.
It seems appropriate to focus on this deliverance since 2015 marks seventy years since the end of World War II. June and I have commented recently that we are a part of the last generation to have personal memories of the War that occupied much of our childhood.
I was born in 1934, the same year that Adolf Hitler became the absolute dictator of Germany. In 1933 the National Socialist Party (Nazi) won a majority in the government of Germany. Hitler was appointed Chancellor (Prime Minister). Now, one year later, complete and absolute powers were given to him as Fuehrer (Leader). All military, of whatever rank, must swear a solemn oath of obedience to him personally and to the German Reich (State). The electorate backed this up with a plebiscite – 90% in favor.
Hitler had plans. First, to reverse what he, and the German people, felt to be the wrongs laid upon the nation by the Versailles Treaty, following Germany’s defeat in World War I. But Hitler had other dreams. Dreams of conquest, expansion, and what we now call “ethnic cleansing”!
Anyone opposing the regime was to be annihilated or imprisoned in concentration camps. Jews were to be persecuted and, if possible, driven out of Germany. Better still, to be got rid of from all of Europe. (The unthinkable “Final Solution” of Auschwitz lay in the future.) Jewish professions, property, and possessions, were to be taken from them. They were to wear a yellow star. Backed up by Martin Luther’s antisemitism, Darwinism, and racial eugenics, he sought to create a “master race” of Aryans.
In 1938 Austria was annexed. After all, Austrians spoke German and Hitler himself was Austrian by birth. In the same year the German speaking part of Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) was also annexed.
Three times Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, flew to Germany to meet Hitler seeking peace. He had never flown before. Britain had no stomach for war, and was relatively unarmed except for a strong Royal Navy. But when Hitler, in March 1939, took the rest of Czechoslovakia, and thereby broke the agreement with Chamberlain, this peace loving Prime Minister began to change. So did the mood of the British people. They had heard enough from this “Fuehrer” who could not be trusted.
When, in 1939, Hitler began to threaten Poland the British and French governments declared that if Poland were to be attacked it would be war. On September 1, 1939, Germany attacked Poland and war was declared. The Dominions of the British Commonwealth followed: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. They would share the cost of our deliverance in blood and treasure.
I was a boy of five, on vacation with my father and mother at the coastal resort of Morecambe in the north of England. Though so young, I was mystified. I asked my father, “Daddy, why are people doing such strange things?” All the windows were being covered to prevent light shining out at night. Streetlights were masked; car headlights the same. Trenches were being dug in parks. My father replied (and I remember it vividly), “We are at war, Harry, at war.” He was very grave. People were buying newspapers and were glued to their radios for announcements. I did not understand what it all meant. I was soon to learn.
Poland was conquered in three weeks by “blitzkrieg” (lightning war): massive terror bombing plus tanks and overwhelming armor and infantry. The Polish army was no match for this. Some German panzer (armored) divisions were met by Polish mounted cavalry with lances!
In April 1940 Denmark and Norway were conquered; followed, in May, by the “Low Countries” of Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. The fact that they had declared themselves ‘neutral’ meant nothing to the Fuehrer. Then the old enemy, France, was attacked. Clearly England was to be next. Even the German people were uneasy. They had not really signed up for ‘World War’.
A NEW PRIME MINISTER
On May 10, 1940, Neville Chamberlain resigned, and a new Prime Minister was appointed by King George VI. His name – Winston Churchill. Churchill was 65 years old. He felt it was his destiny. The King and the country were apprehensive for Churchill was something of a maverick. He had changed Party twice!
He formed a coalition government of all parties. The people of Great Britain, the United States – and the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan – were to learn he was the man for the hour. Churchill addressed the House of Commons with his agenda: “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”
FRANCE SURRENDERED on June 20, 1940, no doubt considering the cause already lost and to save further loss of life. An agreement with Hitler was that northern and western France would be occupied by Germany and governed from Berlin. Southern France could be described as “free” but with puppet rulers in league with the Nazis. Thus all the horrors such as the deportation of Jews to the labor and extermination camps would be done by French Nazi sympathizers. And it was done. An underground resistance movement was formed and many brave French people sheltered Jewish friends at risk of their own lives. German armies and air force were now on the French coast only twenty-one miles from English shores. Hitler made plans to invade the last European bastion of freedom and democracy.
The remaining troops of the British Expeditionary Force were trapped in the town and on the beaches of the port of Dunkirk. On May 26th the King called for a National Day of Prayer. In a moving broadcast he called upon the British people to commit their cause to God. It was estimated that, at best, about thirty thousand troops could be evacuated. There were three Providential answers to the nation’s prayers: 1) the Channel was relatively calm; 2) the skies were overcast hindering the Luftwaffe from totally slaughtering the troops trapped on the beaches; 3) inexplicably, Hitler ordered his panzers to pause on the perimeter of the port.
The call went out for boats of every kind – fishing craft, pleasure steamers, even private yachts. Remarkably, three-hundred-and-fifty-thousand troops were rescued to fight another day.
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
It seemed that now we, in Britain, stood virtually alone. On June 4 Churchill addressed the House of Commons,
“…we shall defend our island, whatever the cost might be. We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets…we shall never surrender…”
Hitler’s invasion of Britain could not take place until Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe had mastery of the air. The German planes were challenged largely over the English Channel and Southern counties by the Royal Air Force of Spitfires and Hurricanes. These brave pilots suffered terrible losses, but the Germans lost more. Hitler first postponed – and then called off – the invasion. Declared Churchill,
“Never, in the history of human conflict, has so much been owed by so many to so few….”
Churchill began to appeal to President Roosevelt for help. Roosevelt became increasingly sympathetic with the allied cause – for America was also a democracy. However, there was a very strong isolationist movement in the U.S. led, in part, by the pioneer flying ace, Charles Lindberg. He had, of course, German ancestry and had even met Hitler and been shown the growing strength of Germany’s military. Besides, the U.S. had lost men and treasure in World War I and now, it seemed, those belligerent European nations were at it again! “No more involvement in European wars,” said the “America First” campaign. Even Roosevelt, who was running for re-election, had declared, “No American boys will be sent to fight in Europe.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Britain told Roosevelt that he didn’t think England would last very long. A defeated French general declared that England’s “…neck would be wrung like a chicken”. As Churchill later, said, “Some chicken! Some neck!”
BLITZ – September 1940 to May 1941
Hitler was poised for an opportunity to launch his invasion. He waited in vain.
Instead, the Luftwaffe increased bombing attacks. Whereas at first it had been airfields, aircraft factories, and docks, now Goering directed bombing cities with industrial factories. Daylight raids, however, proved too costly for the Luftwaffe. British Fighter Command seemed to know when a squadron of bombers was on its way and to where. Air Chief Marshall Dowding was asked to explain it. He replied, “Because our trust was in God – and radar!” So, from then on raids were mostly at night.
London was bombed for fifty-seven consecutive nights. On December 29th it was the turn of the historic “City”. Incendiary bombs were used and the resulting seven-hundred fires could be seen from sixty miles away. Historic buildings were destroyed, including eight Wren churches. St. Paul’s cathedral seemed to be spared only by a miracle. One night Buckingham Palace was severely damaged and the House of Commons in the Westminster Parliament Building was completely destroyed. The clock tower housing “Big Ben”, however, still stood tall.
Night after night Londoners took to whatever shelters they could, including the Underground (Tube) Stations. People would emerge each morning to see if their home was gone.
Besides London other cities were attacked including: Portsmouth, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Hull, Coventry (see also the hymn at the end of this article), Plymouth, and Bristol. On November 20th 1940 a sustained incendiary bombing raid destroyed the entire center of the city of Bristol. My wife, June, was but three years old but she remembers it vividly. Her parents were returning home having been visiting friends when the raid took place. As they came to an open space at the top of the hill leading to their home June looked down and saw the city ablaze with fire.
My own personal memories of the Blitz of 1940 and 1941 are scanty. I was only six years old. We lived in the northern city of Bradford – the center of the wool trade – and therefore saw few deliberate bombing raids. However, though like many children of that age I resisted going to bed, I most certainly did not like being wakened in the night to the wailing sound of the air-raid warning sirens. That meant scampering down to the cold basement and huddling together until the “all clear” was sounded. It seemed to me this happened on far too many nights.
I remember also evacuees from London and other target cities being sent to safer places – some Jewish children too. In fact, June, and her mother, were evacuated to a rural village near Bristol in the months before June’s sister was born.
In all eighty-six British cities were attacked. Forty thousand civilians died – half of that number in London.
What of British – and eventually Allied – retaliation.
Well – when the first German bomb dropped on London civilians, April 24th 1940, Churchill ordered a retaliation raid on Berlin the following night. It was amazing a British bomber could fly that far, and get home again, avoiding the German defenses. Hitler was apoplectic. Goering had promised the German people that no ‘enemy’ bomb would ever fall on a German city.
The sustained destruction of British cities – including the beautiful Coventry Cathedral was eventually to reap a terrible harvest for the German people
It is awful to report that later in the war on one terrible night July 27th, 1943 more than 700 RAF bombers bombed the city of Hamburg resulting in the deaths of 40,000 civilians. Near the end of the war a raid of one thousand U.S. and British bombers destroyed the beautiful city of Dresden. A controversial raid argued about to this day. Historian Andrew Roberts describes the bombing raid thus, “Dresden was not merely a city, but a work of art in itself, an architectural jewel whose aesthetic attraction had made it Saxony’s pride and joy for nearly half-a-millennium.” The one thousand bomber raid created a firestorm that burned for forty-eight hours. Between 25,000 and 40,000 people were incinerated. Roberts justifies the raid on strategic grounds. Other, later, historians have described it as a “war crime.”
War is certainly a horrible business.
In 1941 Dr. James Conant, President of Harvard University, said to Churchill, “The American people want us to keep out of this war because they feel that there is nothing worse than war.”
Churchill replied: “Slavery is worse than war. Dishonor is worse than war.”
One of the hymns often sung at national occasions is the paraphrase of Psalm 90 by Isaac Watts, “Our God, our help in ages past”. It was sung at the funeral of Winston Churchill.
The version featured here was recorded in the new Coventry Cathedral in 1992 by the St. Michael’s Singers.The new Coventry Cathedral was built to replace the beautiful 14th century Gothic Cathedral that was destroyed in the Blitz on Coventry in November 1940. The roofless ruins of the old Cathedral remain hallowed ground next to the new Cathedral.
Our God, our help in ages past – Audio
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast;
And our eternal home;
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
AMERICA ENTERS THE WAR
As the bombs kept falling on London and other British cities in the autumn of 1940, so Winston Churchill kept up a frequent correspondence with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), pleading for his help.
FDR was very conscious of the Neutrality Act, “no provision of weapons to the belligerents of the war in Europe”, and the overwhelming desire of the American people to keep out of it. Also FDR was running for re-election for an unprecedented third term as President. He had made an election promise – “no American boys to be sent to fight…”
However, when Churchill explained the desperate plight of Britain, dependent upon supply by sea and the terrible losses of destroyers and unarmed merchant ships – sunk by U-boats lurking in the depths – FDR decided to help.
The U.S. would exchange fifty “mothballed” old destroyers, surplus from World War I, in return for U.S. bases in British Caribbean islands; Bermuda; and Newfoundland. He sold this to Congress as a great deal for America to better protect its coast.
FDR won his election and in his State of the Union Address, January 6, 1941, he declared his firm belief in seeking to build a world of all peoples having four freedoms: Freedom of speech; Freedom of worship; Freedom from want; Freedom from fear.
Very influential on FDR’s mind also were the reports from his emissaries who had visited Britain. They had met with Churchill and other leaders, seen the terrible results of terror bombing, but also experienced the courage and determination of the British people.
Perhaps the most influential of all was FDR’s close and trusted friend, Harry Hopkins. He reported back. Of Churchill he said, “My, what a man,” and concluded, “People here are amazing from Churchill down, and if courage alone can win – the result will be inevitable. But they need help desperately.”
At the end of his stay, Churchill and Hopkins went to Scapa Flow, in Scotland – the great naval base. At dinner, Hopkins said to Winston Churchill, “I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well, I’m going to quote one verse from that Book of Books … ‘Whither thou goest, I will go; where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God’ – even to the end.”
Other factors helped to shift America’s mood towards Britain. Newspaper reports came from correspondents in Germany and Britain. William Shirer in Berlin particularly, made clear his distaste for the Nazi regime, the atrocities against Jews, and the frustration of Hitler that Britain did not collapse, as France had done.
Perhaps most telling of all were radio broadcasts. On the CBS radio network, Edward R. Morrow was broadcasting “live” from London in the midst of the Blitz. Millions of Americans tuned in to hear Murrow – “This… (pause)…is London calling.”
President Roosevelt, some years before, had begun a habit of, what he called, “Fireside chats” to the American people. He made each American citizen or family feel that he was there having a chat with them.
Now, in one of these “Fireside chats” he referred to the joining together of three powerful nations, Germany, Italy, and Japan (in a pact in 1940). He said, “The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.” FDR explained, “In a military sense Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. They are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry.”
Churchill’s way, however, was to broadcast great stirring, rhetorical, speeches to “stir the blood.” Britons all over the country gathered around their radios to listen to him. Both June and I remember our parents listening to these speeches – they were not to be missed.
In one of his great broadcasts Churchill told the British people – and the world, including the U.S. – of a letter, containing a poem, he had received from President Roosevelt. It was as follows:
January 20, 1941
I think this verse (by Longfellow) applies to your people as it does to us:
“Sail on, oh ship of State
Sail on, oh Union strong and great
Humanity with all its fears,
With all its hope of future years
Is hanging breathless on thy fate.”
As ever yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Churchill finished this broadcast,
What is the answer that I shall give, in your name, to this great man, this thrice-chosen head of a nation of one hundred and thirty million?
Here is the answer which I will give to President Roosevelt: Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well.
We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.
The result was “Lend Lease.”
FDR called America “the arsenal of democracy”. He persuaded Congress and, as a result, in March 1941 “The Land Lease Act” was passed. The United States would sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, or lend or otherwise disperse – to any country fighting an enemy which might be a threat to the U.S. – ordnance, weapons, or anything else.
In his fireside chat way, FDR explained that if your neighbor’s house is on fire, and you have a hosepipe and he doesn’t, you can’t say, “No. I want $15 for it.” You lend it to him because you want the fire out because the fire is a threat to you also. Then you want the hosepipe back!
Thus supplies worth millions and millions of dollars began to be shipped to Britain and, ultimately, other nations also. Churchill called Lend Lease, “The most un-sordid act in the history of any nation.” An unusual use of litotes, but we get his point!
1941 – As winter turned to spring the question on British minds was whether or not Hitler would now try an invasion of our island nation. Meanwhile German night bombing of British cities continued but, increasingly, so did the bombing of German cities by Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force. This included Berlin.
One evening a banquet was arranged in Berlin at the Soviet Embassy by the Russian foreign minister, Molotov, and his German counterpart, von Ribbentrop. Midway through they had to abandon the celebrations as the sirens went and they had to take refuge in an underground shelter. Ribbentrop had kept assuring Molotov that Britain was already beaten. “In that case,” asked Molotov, “why are we in this shelter, and whose bombs are falling?”
(In his memoirs Churchill, in his humorous way, wrote, “We knew about this banquet and, though not invited, we did not want to be left out of the proceedings.”)
Attack on Russia
All such meetings between the two countries were only a masquerade. Hitler hated Communism with a passion and was determined to invade Russia. This he did on June 21 with three and a half million troops on a two thousand mile front. One-half a million Russian troops were killed in the first two weeks and one million more taken prisoner. Few would ever see their homes again.
Churchill also hated Communism but now he swallowed all that, for Joseph Stalin had become an ally. The enemy of my enemy must be my friend! Eventually Lend Lease would flow to Russia as well. The fear of an invasion of Britain receded because Hitler needed large numbers of troops in the East.
CHURCHILL AND ROOSEVELT MEET
The two great leaders decided they should have a face to face meeting. As my readers may know, Roosevelt had contracted polio in 1921 at the age of 39 and had lost the use of his legs. He was determined to continue his political career. Bravely, by the use of painful leg irons, he tried to train his legs to stand and walk a little. Otherwise he had to go about by wheelchair. The press was asked never to photograph him thus. And they never did!
Churchill agreed to a highly secret meeting in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. The Prime Minister traveled across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic in HMS Prince of Wales, a battleship.
The two leaders “hit it off” immediately. Each admired the other. Roosevelt, like millions of Americans, had listened to Churchill’s broadcasts. He even had a radio set up during a cabinet meeting.
Churchill had arranged for Divine Service on board the Prince of Wales, with sailors of all ranks and both nations standing in attendance on deck. As Roosevelt was transferred aboard and the British band played the U.S. National Anthem, it was an emotional sight to see FDR struggle, in his leg-irons, to walk to his seat supported by his son. Of course he remained seated throughout – as did Churchill. The hymns chosen were: “Our God our help in ages past,” “Onward Christian soldiers,” and “Eternal Father, strong to save,” otherwise known as The Navy Hymn. The chaplains read from the Word of God and offered prayers, for wisdom, courage, and deliverance.
All present were moved – and Churchill took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears from his cheeks.
When the conferences and dinners were over the two leaders issued, what came to be called, “The Atlantic Charter,” incorporating Roosevelt’s four freedoms.
Both leaders arrived home safely.
Then came Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941. “A day,” said the President to Congress, “which will live in infamy.”
Japan had been ruled by an increasingly militaristic, nationalistic regime, for some years. Japan, wishing to build an empire, had invaded Manchuria in 1931 and Eastern China in 1937 – and had taken brutal control of Nanking (then the capital of China).
In what has been called, “The Massacre of Nanking,” thousands of civilian Chinese and disarmed combatants were cruelly executed. Similar numbers of women were raped. Further countries were conquered.
The United States ordered a blockade of Japan, banning the import of oil. Retaliation, therefore, was expected. It was thought that Hawaii was safe being too far away.
Pearl Harbor was a naval base on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Without any warning, planes from Japanese aircraft carriers launched a surprise attack upon the U.S. fleet, sheltering in the harbor. American losses were: four battleships sunk (with three being raised, repaired, and later returned to service). Other ships were damaged or destroyed. 188 aircraft were destroyed on the ground; 159 aircraft were damaged; 2,403 personnel were killed and 1,178 were wounded. At the same time Japan invaded Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaya.
The United States declared war on the Empire of Japan. Hitler and Mussolini, supporting their Axis ally, declared war on the United States. Britain declared war on Japan. It was truly now a WORLD war.
One sad footnote is that, only four days after Pearl Harbor, the HMS Prince of Wales battleship, which had taken Churchill to the Placentia Bay meeting, was sunk by a Japanese torpedo bomb, with the loss of 327 men including the Admiral of the Fleet, Tom Phillips, and the ship’s captain, John Leeds.
FROM MIDWAY TO MOROCCO
Key Turning Points in World War II
After Pearl Harbor the commander-in-chief of the Japanese Navy, Admiral Yamamoto said, “We have awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve that will soon be turned upon us.” December 1941.
The British Prime Minister believed so too. After sending condolences to his friend President Roosevelt, Churchill reported how he went to bed and slept like a baby. Why? Because now he knew that, after holding out virtually alone against the Nazi tyranny for almost 2 years, Britain and the Democracies would ultimately prevail.
These great leaders and their advisers decided that, while Japan must be contained and, where possible, its conquests reversed, Hitler must be the first urgent priority.
As I have written in part 2 of this series, on June 22, 1941 Hitler’s German forces had launched an attack upon Russia (Soviet Union). If Russia was conquered Hitler, using its resources and slave labor, would resume his plans to invade Britain. If successful, where next?
Obviously this cannot be a detailed account. I can only mention, what seems to me to be, several key events in this long road to victory and the deliverance of enslaved peoples.
The Far East
1942. Things did not go well for the Allies at first. JAPAN continued its conquests by attacking Malaysia. The island and city of SINGAPORE at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula was thought impregnable. The British rulers had confidence in the great guns and the garrison of over 100,000 troops of British, Australian, and Indian forces. Add to that, the jungles of Malaysia were deemed to be impenetrable to an army. Unfortunately, therefore, the guns all faced south and the sea, but the Japanese attacked from the north through the “impenetrable” jungles! Furthermore, that route meant they controlled the water supply to the city.
On February 14, General Percival felt he had no choice but to surrender with 110,000 troops. For Churchill it was a terrible and humiliating blow. Perhaps for him the worst of the war. The Japanese victors had only 35,000 assault troops.
The PHILIPPINES were an American protectorate and the defenders, under General Douglas MacArthur, fought bravely, but the Philippines also fell to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
MacArthur only just escaped to be exiled in Australia. His departing message became famous, “I shall return.” He did.
Australia itself was apprehensive. Darwin, on the north coast, was bombed by the Japanese sixty-four times.
KOREA was already occupied and Korean men were forced into virtual slavery. Two-hundred-thousand (200,000) young women were forced into sexual servitude as “comfort women” for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers.
Pacific island after island fell – including Guam and Wake Island. These would cost many allied lives to be retaken, as we shall see. The Japanese regarded surrender as dishonorable.
The Battle of Midway
There was a better result for the Allies, however, when Admiral Yamamoto led the Japanese fleet into battle, hoping to defeat and occupy the American base on the atoll of Midway.
As the name implies the atoll lies right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. If the Japanese forces could succeed they would be able to threaten, again, Hawaii and even the west coast of the United States itself. The U.S. codebreakers gave warning of the approaching armada and Admiral Chester Nimitz came out to engage the enemy. The battle was fought from June 4-7.
The Japanese strength consisted of twenty-one warships including 4 aircraft carriers, 2 battleships and 15 support ships (cruisers and destroyers), 248 carrier planes and 16 floatplanes. Nimitz had only three carriers (they had been at sea when Pearl Harbor was attacked) and no battleships. After several days of conflict – especially attacks by torpedo dive bombers, the 4 Japanese carriers and 2 heavy cruisers were sunk or disabled. The U.S. lost one carrier. The Japanese lost 248 aircraft to 150 of the U.S. The Japanese lost 3,057 men to U.S. 307.
The Japanese limped away and their masters realized they had indeed “awakened a sleeping giant.”
The Arsenals of Democracy
Both Britain and the US were re-tooling their factories from consumer goods to armaments. I remember the British authorities came and removed the metal railings from the wall at the front of our garden, our front gate, and the huge, old, metal gates from the end of our street. All such things were commandeered to make tanks, planes, etc. Spitfires were eventually being produced at the rate of one thousand per week. As a boy I used to imagine our front gate (see picture) was now a Spitfire.
In the U.S. the huge industrial capacity was likewise turned over. No new cars whatsoever were produced or sold from February 1942 until the end of the war in 1945. The unemployment level dropped from 10% in 1940 to 1% in 1944 – the lowest level in U.S. history. In 1933 it had been 33%.
Conscription of males to the armed services had already been passed by both governments. Now young single women too were drafted. In the U.K. they must apply to one of three choices: (i) one of the three branches of the armed services; (ii) work on the land to help produce food (the Land Army); (iii) work in factories.
King George VI’s elder daughter, the Princess Elizabeth, took uniform. She trained as a driver and mechanic, and drove a military truck.
She is today the much loved Queen Elizabeth II and is the last surviving head of state who served in uniform during the Second World War.
Americans became familiar with posters for “Rosie the Riveter.” With the men being called for duty in the armies of the Allies, the women stepped into the breach, working in the factories producing the materials and armaments needed on the front lines. This famous picture by Norman Rockwell ably illustrates this.
The Battle of the Atlantic
As troops were sent from the U.S. to England to prepare for attacks against German-occupied Europe they faced a formidable problem, the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Patrolled by German warships and, especially, U-boats (submarines), it posed a terrible danger. This was an obstacle too for the successful transportation of war material and vital food supplies.
In September 1939 when the UK entered the war, King George VI issued this message:
To the Officers and Men in The British Merchant Navy and The British Fishing Fleets…Upon you the Nation depends for much of its foodstuffs and raw materials and for the transport of its troops overseas. You have a long and glorious history…I know that you will carry out your duties with resolution and fortitude…God keep you and prosper you in your great task.
The Atlantic crossing cost the lives of more than 30,000 British merchant seamen, not including those who died later from their wounds. In 1941 alone 1,000 merchant ships were sunk and 7,000 seamen died. In 1942, 8,000 men died. Altogether 3,500 merchant ships were sunk.
The U-boats hunted in packs, named “Wolf Packs.” The merchant ships traveled in convoys guarded, as much as possible, by the Royal Canadian Navy and the British Royal Navy. They were joined in1941 by the U.S. Navy. Nevertheless, one convoy of 35 ships lost one half of its complement when U-boats got among them and sank 17. It was estimated if things continued in the same way Britain could only hold out for two to three months, and then starve.
We were urged to grow as much food as we could. The slogan was, “Dig for Victory.”
We dug up the flowers and shrubs in our gardens and instead planted potatoes and vegetables. Some people kept chickens and June’s parents bred rabbits to supplement the meager meat ration.
The turning point came with:
(i) The cracking of the “Enigma” code giving information of German positions;
(ii) The vital invention of air and sonar radar;
(iii) The ability of the Allies to destroy more U-boats than the enemy could build.
Eventually eight out of every ten German U-boat crew would die in action. They described it as the “iron coffin.”
The U-boats were dispatched from Channel ports on the occupied-French coast and from Bremen into the Baltic. Thus shipping, trying to bring much needed supplies to Stalin and the Russian people and army, was hampered.
Churchill wrote, “The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominant factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget that everything happening elsewhere on land, at sea, or in the air depended ultimately upon its outcome.”
In 1941 Hitler’s massive army swept across the Russian-held eastern half of Poland and on through Russia itself. Germany wanted the granaries of Ukraine, and the oilfields of the Caucuses.
Hitler began with a success. The German forces took Kiev and occupied the Ukraine. Some Ukrainians even welcomed the Germans as “liberators”. When later tens of thousands of Ukrainians were transported to Germany to work as slave labor, they learned what kind of “liberators” were these Nazis! After Ukraine, Hitler famously said of the Soviet Union, “We only have to kick in the door and the whole structure will fall down.”
By the end of the summer Hitler controlled most of western Russia, and prepared to attack three great cities. Moscow, the capital; Leningrad on the Baltic (formerly the imperial capital of St. Petersburg), and Stalingrad situated on the Volga river.
Stalin had previously closed most Russian churches. He wanted an atheist state. Now he ordered them opened and Russians flocked back to pray.
But summer turned to autumn and early snow melted to make roads and fields of mud. Armored vehicles and tanks got stuck and temperatures plummeted. The Nazi soldiers were ill-shod, ill-clothed, and unprepared.
The siege of LENINGRAD began and Hitler ordered when it was taken (which he expected soon), the beautiful city was to be totally destroyed. Leningrad was never taken though the siege lasted from August 1941 to January 1944 and cost the lives of 1,400,000 of its defenders, 641,000 by starvation.
MOSCOW, likewise, was ferociously and successfully defended. The Wehrmacht forces reached only 30 miles from Moscow and the forward units could see the spires and other domes of the Kremlin in the distance. But the bitter cold froze the guns which would no longer fire. Tanks became un-drivable, and soldiers froze to death as temperatures plummeted to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. They would have to try to hold out until spring.
To their utter astonishment, Marshall Zhukov let loose his Siberian divisions in December. Equipped, trained, and experienced they counter-attacked on a 200 mile front and drove the Germans back 60 to 150 miles from the city. Tens of thousands were either captured or killed. Hitler had learned nothing from Napoleon. Moscow, also, was never taken.
STALINGRAD, which was to become one of the great and terrible turning points of the war, was also never taken. Thousands of German soldiers died of hypothermia and frostbite through two Russian winters, 1941/42 and 1942/43.
Goering’s Luftwaffe reduced the great city to rubble, and crack battalions fought brave Russians house to house, and hand to hand. Hitler’s 6th Army became trapped. Goering tried to relieve them by air. The winter of 1942/1943 was so devastating that – in spite of the Fuehrer’s order that they were to fight and die to the last man – General Paulas surrendered his army to Stalin. Of that army 91,000 were taken prisoner to Siberia, all that remained of the army of 285,000. Only 5,000 of those prisoners would survive.
At last, Nazi controlled German radio acknowledged a humiliating defeat. Hitler – as usual – blamed his generals. In Berlin, no cheering crowds outside the Chancellery this time
Marshall Stalin pressured his fellow Allied leaders, Churchill and Roosevelt, to open a second front against Hitler – thus to divide the Nazi forces. The Allies could not yet attempt a landing in France, but they could in North Africa.
The ITALIANS, led by the strutting Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce (the leader), had already invaded and occupied Albania, Ethiopia (Abyssinia) and Libya even before World War II began. He had massacred the Ethiopians and subjugated the Libyans. Now he wanted Egypt. Though Il Duce was in league with Hitler, he did not come into the war until he was certain the Germans would win. Then, in July 1940 he, too, declared war on the Allies. Big mistake!
The war in North Africa took nearly three years to resolve – 1940 to 1943. It was fought and re-fought over the same 600 miles of desert between Alexandria and Benghazi
The British and Commonwealth soldiers in North Africa drove the Italian soldiers back and captured thousands. Alarmed, Hitler sent German troops to their rescue led by one of his most brilliant generals, Erwin Rommel, known as “The Desert Fox.”
He led his Afrika Korps to victory after victory. Tobruk fell, and Hitler announced on the German radio that Rommel has reached El Alamein and would tomorrow be having tea in Alexandria.
Churchill sent one of his best Generals, Bernard Montgomery, to command the Eighth Army. Monty, as he became known, was a Christian who read his Bible daily. He was something of an egoist, but a great motivator of his men.
EL ALAMEIN became famous because it turned the tide. After bombardment and great tank battles, the Allies defeated Rommel’s crack troops.
Since the beginning of the war the church bells of Britain had been silent – only to be rung as the warning signal of German invasion. However, the victory of El Alamein was so significant that Churchill ordered the bells rung, October 23, 1942.
Churchill said, “Before El Alamein we never had a victory. After it we never had a defeat!” (Not entirely true in every particular – but true in general.)
Roosevelt wanted his troops to experience facing the Germans. So, under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied landings were made in the two North African French colonies of Algeria and Morocco. The Vichy French offered little or no resistance. But Rommel and the remnant of the Afrika Korps still occupied Tunisia. So, young American troops met the Wehrmacht for the first time at the Kasserine Pass. I’m afraid Rommel gave these raw soldiers a bloody nose. Most were taken prisoner.
However, with further Allied reinforcements and Monty’s British Eighth Army attacking across the eastern border, the Germans were trapped between Eisenhower, Monty, and the sea – and 250,000 surrendered.
Churchill and Roosevelt met in conference in CASABLANCA, January 14-24, 1943. The decision was made to delay a cross- Channel invasion of France until 1944. The next conquest was to be Sicily and mainland Italy. Generals Patton and Montgomery were chosen to lead it.
Stalin would get his second front and begin his victorious counter attack as he regained lost territory and headed for Berlin.
May I remind readers why I am writing about World War II, 1939 – 1945
The reason is that I have been reflecting upon all the gifts that our Almighty and Sovereign God has given to mankind during my lifetime of 81 years; wonderful discoveries, amazing inventions, significant events.
The first – and possibly the most significant of all – was how the world was delivered – through six years of terrible war. Deliverance, in Europe, from the cruel and murderous tyranny of German Dictator, Adolf Hitler, and his Nazi regime. Deliverance, in the Far East, from the equally cruel conquests of Japan. A nation led by a military regime pledged to possess, occupy, and tyrannize nations so that their Emperor should have an Empire.
It was a time when the British King, George VI, called the people of Great Britain to Days of Prayer. A time when churches were full. A time when American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, met British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, aboard a battleship, the highlight of which was a moving church service on the quarter-deck. Here they sang together, with all officers and men, “Our God our help in ages past…” Even atheist, communist ruler of Russia and the Soviet Union, Marshall Joseph Stalin, decreed all the churches he had closed be opened and called upon the Russian people to pray for deliverance. Perhaps not surprising given that the Nazi armies were at the gates of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Stalingrad!
Hitler had, thus far, suffered no defeat; soon – he believed – all Europe would be his. The proud British would either succumb or starve. They did neither. It was, said Churchill, “…their finest hour.”
Almighty God answered the prayers of the faithful and things did not go quite as Hitler thought they would.
By the end of 1942 the tide had begun to turn. In North Africa, British General, Bernard Montgomery had won a great victory over German General, Irwin Rommel. North Africa fell to the Allies. Whereupon Hitler invaded, and occupied, the so-called, free, self-ruling area of France nicknamed, “Vichy France.” Hitler cared nothing for peace agreements. More Jews were rounded up and transported to concentration – and eventual – extermination camps. Thousands upon thousands of able-bodied French men were transported to work as slave labor in German factories.
Meanwhile, the Allied troops in North Africa prepared to invade the Italian island of Sicily. I know Sicily well. It is a beautiful island, and in years gone by I have preached in several churches to wonderful Italian Christians.
“Monty” was to lead his 8th Army and Patton his 7th. German troops were sent to help the Italians defend their island – but the Italians surrendered, and the civilians welcomed the American and British troops.
As the two Allied armies fought their way across Sicily the question was who would reach first Messina, on the western shores. The British troops joked (as troops will) that the Americans would not because they would be too distracted greeting their Mafia relatives! Well, in the event, Patton did arrive first, even though the Americans did meet – and were warmly greeted by – many relatives (Mafia or otherwise).
After fighting a rearguard action across Sicily from July 9th to August 10th 1943, the Germans retreated to mainland Italy. In September the Allied armies landed on the mainland in two places; “Monty” at the toe of Italy, American General Mark Clark at Salerno, further up the coast.
Hitler immediately postponed a major offensive on the eastern front at Kursk, Russia. He diverted to Italy, two crack SS divisions together with two of his best generals. Their orders were to occupy the whole of Italy and repel the Allied invasion. Thus Hitler weakened the eastern front to the anger and frustration of his commanders.
The campaign was particularly difficult for the Allied generals who had to contend with sixteen different nationalities fighting together. They had differing food requirements, differing languages, weaponry that did not fit with other weaponry, and differing “holy” days when they did not wish to fight: Muslims on Friday, Jews on Saturday, and devout Christians on Sunday. Whereas, for the most part, the Germans were homogenous.
So, although Stalin had to wait another 9 months for the Normandy landings in France, here now was a “second front.” This helped the Russian counter-attacks succeed.
Churchill had persuaded his American colleagues that Italy would be the “soft underbelly” of Europe and very vulnerable. In fact, as one American general declared, it was “a tough old gut!”
Gradually progress north on the Italian mainland was made with very heavy fighting – especially around the old monastery of Monte Cassino. While the Germans did not actually occupy the monastery itself, they had established strong defensive positions in the steep slopes around the monastery.
The battle for Monte Cassino, the gateway to Rome, lasted from January 11 to May 18, 1944. Allied troops from the United Kingdom, United States, India, Free France, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Canada, took part in the assault.
Monte Cassino was taken at a terrible cost of lives on both sides. The Allies suffered 50,000 casualties. German losses were estimated at 20,000 killed or wounded. The historic monastery was destroyed.
Just three weeks later, on June 4, 1944, the Allies entered Rome – a “free city” – thus designated to preserve the Roman remains and other historic buildings. Inevitably, however, in other places, including Monte Cassino, sacred buildings and priceless works of art were destroyed in the heavy fighting.
Nevertheless, the German army was not defeated in Italy until 1945. The “underbelly” was indeed exceeding tough.
Mussolini was toppled from power by his own Fascist cabinet, whereupon he fled north knowing he was being hunted by Partisan Italians. Eventually he took refuge, with his mistress, in an Alpine lodge.
When the Germans occupied the whole of Italy, those who had voted Mussolini out were executed: including Mussolini’s son-in-law, foreign minister Ciano. But Mussolini’s daughter escaped to Switzerland, dressed as a peasant, taking Ciano’s journals with her. These are an invaluable source for historians. The King of Italy also escaped. Sadly his daughter was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and died there
Hitler sent a daring raid of SS commandos to successfully rescue his dictator colleague from his Alpine hideout. The Fuehrer tried to set up El Duce back to power in the Italian lakes area but El Duce was a broken man. He had no will to fight, only to survive.
However, eventually the partisans found him. He and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were summarily shot. Their abused bodies were taken to Milan and strung up on meat hooks in the forecourt of an Esso station.
Mussolini’s wife survived the war and eventually returned to her own town where she opened a restaurant.
Thus ended the Fascist dictator who had mocked at religion especially Christianity. Once, publicly he shocked his audience by challenging God to strike him dead, right there, on the spot, “if He can.” “Jesus,” he said, “was ignorant and mad,” and had an affair with Mary Magdalene.
Thus ended the ruler who preferred the writings of atheist philosopher, Nietzsche; especially his concept of “superman.” Nietzsche also despised religion and democracy. “The weakest should go to the wall – and be punished if they do not go fast enough!”
Thus ended Mussolini, many of whose followers had regarded him as “a god”.
Dictator Adolf Hitler also admired Nietzsche. He gave his friend Mussolini twenty-four volumes of Nietzsche’s writings.
Continued on the page – DELIVERANCE – The Story of WWII – Chapters 5-8