Despite local successes such as the Battle of Messines and the Canadian victory at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917 was a disastrous year for the Allies. The Provisional Russian govt was in chaos, and the Russian Army was worse: most units were in the hands of all-powerful “soldiers’ committees” who refused to fight. In July, Russia’s last gasp in the First World War, the Kerensky Offensive, collapsed and the Russians retreated so far and fast that the Germans and Austrians couldn’t logistically advance any further to catch them. The failure of the Nivelle Offensive directly led to widespread mutinies among French units, with entire divisions refusing to attack. Furthermore, although Unrestricted Submarine Warfare brought America into the war, it had also brought Britain to its knees. In June, Prime Minister Lloyd George informed Sir Douglas Haig, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, that unless something changed, Great Britain could not continue the war in 1918.
Haig wanted to conduct further offensives in Flanders in 1916 and early 1917, but the battles of the Somme and Arras (in support of Verdun and the French Nivelle Offensive respectively) always took priority. However, in June of 1917, he could do so. First, he could ostensibly claim clearing the U-boat pens in the Belgian ports on the North Sea as an objective. Also, he could capitalize on the capture of the Messines Ridge the previous month. There would be no time to dig further mines, but Haig felt that the German Army was at the breaking point, and one more big push was all that was needed. Haig could not have been more wrong. German morale was as high in July of 1917 as it ever would be in the First World War. The Germans broke the Russian Army, or at least they thought so. (Bolshevism did actually and the Germans capitalized on it, but in the end it doesn’t matter because that’s what they believed.) They thrashed the Romanians, were on their way south to do the same to the Italians, and had given better than they got despite everything the British and French had thrown at them. They suffered massive casualties, but the Allies more so. America’s entry in the war was problematic, but even the densest and most myopic feldwebel in the German Army understood that the victorious troops on the Eastern Front would reinforce the Western Front and defeat the British and French before America doughboys could arrive in force.
Haig’s thoughts on the state of the German Army were rooted in the belief that he won every battle so far in the war. He did this by “moving the goal posts” during each battle, i.e. changing the conditions by which he could claim victory. Each offensive’s final objective started out as a breakthrough and destruction of the German Army. When that didn’t happen, he narrowed the focus for victory, almost always to a tactically important piece of terrain, that only had strategic significance because he said so. Then he threw more and more troops into battle to achieve what eventually amounted to a face saving “victory” for the newspapers. He would continue an offensive despite the casualties until he felt he could claim victory. For example, his latest claim to a meaningless victory was the Nivelle Offensive, where he claimed victory after the Canadians captured Vimy Ridge despite the lack of a breakthrough and complete and bloody failure everywhere else. In essence he sacrificed long term success for short term headlines, even though the millions of British and Commonwealth casualties and near static trench lines since 1914 would have had anyone else fired long before.
At the end of July 1917, Haig was going to do it again.
On 31 July 1917, twelve British, Australian, Kiwi, and French divisions, nearly 150,000 men, went over the top in the already tortured, blood soaked, and pock marked moonscape of Flanders around the Ypres (pronounced “E-priss”) Salient.
The hard learned reforms by the Canadians proven on Vimy Ridge had not reached the rest of the force, and the Third bloody Battle of Ypres began after a massive week long area artillery barrage. Surprise was lost, and the barrage just enlightened the prepared Germans as to where to place their reserves. The Allies made almost no gains (they captured only a small portion of the hard fought Plickim Ridge) and incurred massive casualties on themselves.
True to form, Haig reinforced the offensive and ordered it continued. But even Haig had no control over the weather, and unseasonal rains flooded the area. The heaviest rainfall in August in Flanders in 30 years turned the battlefield into a swampy morass. That the bombardment ruined what was left of the any drainage systems didn’t help. Tanks were stuck, supply lories immobilized, and men lived and fought in a sea of mud, which was a ghastly stew of earth, the abandoned or discarded accoutrements of war, and the remains of tens of thousands unburied casualties from the previous two Battles of Ypres. Nonetheless, Haig continued the battle into August and September to little gain.
In mid-September, Haig replaced the local British commander, and the new commander, Gen. Herbert Plumer, understood his superior. He pushed for small, local, intermittent gains; just enough for Haig to signify progress. But by October, Plumer’s gains were not enough and his men were worn out. Plumer stalled in the face of Passchendaele (pronounced “Pa-shin-dolly”) Ridge.
Haig brought up his only troops proven to be able crack a strong German position: the Canadian Corps. LieutGen Currie, the brains and drive behind the success at Vimy Ridge and now the commander of the Canadian Corps, demanded time to prepare the assault. With Plumer’s backing, (Plumer was one of only a few British commanders Currie trusted), Haig relented.
Currie didn’t have the time to dig saps and assault bunkers, but he was permitted to employ his other reforms, namely the planning and preparation down to platoon level and the creeping barrage. With Plumer’s encouragement, Currie began a series of “bite and hold” operations that slowly but consitently devoured Passchendaele Ridge.
However, time was working against Currie and the Canadians. Haig was forced to send badly needed men and material to Italy after the Italian Army’s collapse at the Battle of Camporetto, aka the Twelfth Battle of Isonzo. Moreover, German troops were released from the Eastern Front after the October Bolshevik Revolution and they went directly into the line opposite the Canadians. The German counterattacks grew more fierce and several employed mustard gas, whose burns were much more efficient than the chlorine gas used previously. Still, the Canadians held their hard won gains.
But Haig needed a victory before the onset of winter and ordered the Canadians to attack and seize the ridge. There was no time for any further extensive life saving preparations. The Canadian Corps went over the top and into the teeth of the German machine guns and artillery fire. After three bloody direct assaults, British and Canadian troops seized Passchendaele Ridge on 6 November 1917. Haig ended the battle shortly thereafter, and claimed victory.
The Allies gained just nine miles at the cost of 450,000 casualties.
The Canadians, whose soldiers’ exploits months before brought together a country, suffered their first national disaster. The cream of the Canadian youth lay dead on “The Passchendaele”. Because of the their sacrifice and face saving limited victory, the Third Battle of Ypres is more commonly known today as The Battle of Passchendaele, despite Passchendaele Ridge comprising only a small part of the fighting from July to November. But all of the propaganda couldn’t cover up the loss of so many for so little gain. The Battle of Passchendaele was the last and most iconic of the great attrition battles of the First World War. Even more than the Somme, “Passchendaele” became a watchword for a great expenditure of men and material in the name of pride.
For the next thirty years “Passchendaele” would be invoked to stop the senseless slaughter of an entire generation of men in a vain attempt at victory.
On 12 Jun 1942, a young Dutch girl received a red and white plaid covered diary from her father for her 13th birthday.
She would start recording her thoughts in it a week or so later. Her father picked the diary out based on her pointing it out on one of their walks along the streets of Amsterdam. That walk would be one of their last.
Otto Frank and his daughter, Anne, were Jews. In July 1942, the Netherlands’ German National Socialist conquerers and their Dutch collaborators would place great restrictions on them in preparation for the implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish population in the country.
The plight of the Dutch Jews was a difficult one. Unlike other countries, the huge population density of the Netherlands meant there were few places to escape to. There were no vast forests for refuge as there were in Eastern Europe. Also, the advanced Dutch civil bureaucracy had records on the entire Jewish population of the country and the Germans quickly identified and located them all. Moreover, although the Dutch people were sympathetic to the Jewish plight under Nazi domination, the Dutch government was unwilling to publicly intervene on their behalf, even passively. Unlike in other countries, the Dutch administration did the bidding of their National Socialist overseers with cold efficiency. In exchange for continued employment, pay, and benefits, the supposedly apolitical Dutch civil service ushered the Jewish population to its death. Few Dutch Jews were detained by Germans: they were identified by Dutch census data, rounded up by Dutch police who went directly to their homes based on Dutch tax files, held in Dutch camps run by the Dutch civil servants and held there by Dutch guards, and sent East to the death camps on Dutch trains run by Dutch engineers and Dutch rail crews.
Anne Frank and her family went into hiding to escape the Nazis and their own countrymen. They hid in a small three story room concealed behind a bookshelf in her father’s workplace. They were taken care of by several of her father’s sympathetic coworkers who visited once a day to deliver food and stay for a visit.
Anne chronicled each day in the cramped space in her diary. Her diary was her escape. She wrote of the dreams of a teenage girl, the boredom and difficulties of their existence, her love for and exasperation with her family, the terror of the listening to German soldiers and Dutch police searching the premises, her budding romance with the son of another family in hiding, and most importantly the hopes of survival in one of the darkest periods in human history.
The Frank family survived in hiding for more than two years, almost each day chronicled by Anne. They were arrested by the Gestapo after being betrayed in August 1944, by whom is unknown and subject to much debate. Anne and her family were sent to Auschwitz where she was separated from her father, but was not sent to the gas chamber with the rest of the children because she just turned 15 two months before. Nevertheless, Anne and her sister were transferred to Bergen Belsen Concentration camp to be worked to death. They both died of typhus in March 1945.
Anne Frank’s diary was saved by one of her family’s helpers after their arrest and recovered by her father who survived after being separated from his family. Anne Frank’s unedited record of her family’s existence behind the bookcase was published in 1947 as “The Diary of a Young Girl”.
The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most poignant documents of the Holocaust, and Required Reading for Humanity.
As Israeli commandos stormed the Sabena Flight 571 hijacked by members of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September at Lod Airport (modern Ben Gurion International Airport), their brother organization, the hard left Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was planning another attack on Israel, this time directly at the airport itself. The operation was financed with the ransom money the PFLP received from the West German government after successfully hijacking a Lufthansa airplane in February.
After the Sabena hijacking, security to get into Lod Airport was tight. To bypass this, the PFLP planned to fly in from a different airport and attack the terminal from within. Additionally, the PFLP recruited three members of the Japanese Red Army to carry out the attack. They were training with the PFLP at one of their camps in Syria. Their ethnicity was thought to make it easier for them bypass security and avoid suspicion.
On 30 May 1972, the three Japanese men in business suits arrived at Tel Aviv’s Lod airport on an Air France flight from Paris. They strolled over to the baggage claim with the rest of the passengers. Once they claimed their bags, specifically their violin cases, they pulled out sawed off Czech assault rifles, and opened fire on the people in the terminal. One ran out on the tarmac and opened fire on the people descending the stairway off of an El Al flight that had just landed. 26 were killed, including the head of the Israeli National Academy of Science, and 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico. 80 more people of many nationalities were wounded.
One gunman ran out of ammunition and was killed by his comrades. A second ran out of ammunition and killed himself with a grenade. The third was captured when he tried to escape. Kozo Okamoto was tried and sentenced to life in prison. He was eventually exchanged with the PLO in 1983. He currently lives in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
On 8 May 1972, a Sabena Boeing 707, Flight 571, took off from Vienna for Tel Aviv. 45 minutes into the flight, two men and two women of the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September hijacked the plane. Despite having the cabin stormed mere seconds before, the pilot made a calm announcement to the passengers and crew that “We have friends on board”.
Capt. Reginald Levy was a former member of the RAF and a veteran of both the Second World War and the Berlin Airlift. 8 May was his 50th birthday. By all accounts, he’s also the guy everyone wanted to have a pint with, and the only reason the terrorists didn’t kill any passengers. When the flight landed at Tel Aviv’s Lod Airport (Ben Gurion International Airport), the terrorists made demands for the release of 315 convicted Palestinians held in Israeli jails. But thanks to coded messages sent by Levy to the air traffic controllers, the Israelis were already prepared.
They chartered a flight to Egypt filled with 315 fake prisoners that was to take off in the morning. That night, agents snuck onto the tarmac and cut the hydraulic lines in the landing gear and slashed the tires, preventing the plane from departing. The terrorists were furious, but Levy calmed them down by talking to them to keep them occupied, especially after they separated the Jewish passengers and sent them to the back of the plane. He, “spoke of everything, from navigation to sex”. They trusted him enough that they sent him off the plane with some explosives, to show the Israelis they meant business. Of course, Levy gave all the information that the Sayeret Matkal, the elite Israeli Special Forces, needed to storm the plane. Levy returned with photographs of the bogus prisoner transfer, and assurance that mechanics would fix the plane.
At 4 pm, 16 “mechanics” drove up to the plane dressed in all white coveralls. The disguised commandos breached the plane in five places: the main door, the rear door, the emergency door, and over the two wings of the plane. They killed the male terrorists, and captured the two female terrorists. Two passengers were wounded, one of whom died of her wounds, and one commando was wounded.
Operation Isotope was the first successful operation to seize a hijacked plane. There would be many more. Two of the commandos were future Prime Ministers of Israel, Ehud Barak, and the current Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the only commando wounded in the operation.
Reinhard Heydrich was one of Hitler’s favored young Nazi leaders. In 1942 at the age of 38 he was a picture perfect National Socialist: tall, blond, courageous, arrogant, intelligent, and utterly ruthless. In his youth, he was an uncompromising street thug, and quickly rose through the Nazi ranks. He betrayed the SA during the “Night of the Long Knives” in 1934 when he saw that Himmler and the SS were Hitler’s personal favorites. He personally sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps four years later during Kristallnacht, or “The Night of the Broken Glass”. He masterminded the fake border attack that gave Germany the pretext to invade Poland in 1939 when he was head of the combined SD (Nazi Party Intelligence), Gestapo, and Criminal Police. In 1940, he ordered the SS and occupying troops to collect Jews and other “undesirables” into ghettos in the newly occupied territories to make their eventual extermination easier. Soon after, he formed the first Einsatzgruppen to follow behind the the German invasion of the Soviet Union and massacre “Enemies of the Reich”. He chaired the infamous Wannsee Conference where the logistical and practical details of the Final Solution were worked out in cold detail. In late 1941, Heydrich was made the military governor of Bohemia and Moravia (roughly the modern Czech Republic). Heydrich ensured the brutal and iron grip of National Socialism was absolute.
Details of Heydrich’s inhuman rule made it to London, and the Czech government-in-exile decided to act. They approved Operation Anthropoid, the mission to assassinate Heydrich. In cooperation with Britain’s Special Operation Executive (SOE), the forerunner of MI6 and the organization responsible for wartime espionage and sabotage on the Continent, six Czech agents were parachuted into the Bohemia from an RAF bomber. Over several months, they slowly made their way into Prague. Once there, they were surprised to find that Heydrich’s control of the city was so complete, that he arrogantly rode in the back of an open topped black Mercedes marked by several small Nazi flags from his opulent home to work every morning along the same route.
On the morning of 27 May, 1942, two of the agents ambushed Heydrich at a sharp turn which forced his driver to slow down. One of the agent’s weapons malfunctioned, and a shootout on the street ensued. Heydrich was eventually fatally wounded by a grenade thrown by the other agent. He was rushed to the hospital but would die several days later.
Even before his death, the reprisals began. 21,000 police and soldiers descended upon Prague to search for the agents. A cordon was laid around the city permitting no one to leave. In the next few days, 3000 were arrested and 1357 were summarily executed. 637 more would die under Gestapo interrogation in the coming weeks. When Heydrich died on 2 June, Hitler personally ordered the extermination of an entire Czech village in response. SD agents and German soldiers surrounded the nearby town of Lidice, shot all 172 men and boys over 10, and sent the women and children to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Lidice was then razed to the ground.
Despite the reprisals, it took the Germans three weeks to find the actual killers. They were hiding in the basement of the Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the city. On 18 June, the SS surrounded the church and attempted to storm it. But the six agents fought for over two hours before they ran out of ammunition. In the exchange, the SS took almost forty casualties. When the SS finally overran the crypt, they found nothing but corpses: the Czech agents used the last remaining bullets to kill themselves rather than be captured.
The Japanese were overwhelmed by the number of Filipino and American prisoners of war after their surrender the day before. LtGen Homma, the Japanese commander of the 14th Army decreed that the prisoners were to be treated humanely. But the Japanese code of Bushido, perverted by militarism and nearly unrecognizable from the code practiced by the samurai, said that warriors should fight to the death, and that prisoners were not worthy of honorable treatment. Influential members of Homma’s subordinates and staff ignored him. One staff planner, Masanobu Tsuji, was sent by the Imperial Army General Staff to spy on Homma, directly issued orders for the massacres in Homma’s name. The Japanese guards had nothing but disdain for the 80,000 in their care. The vast majority of the prisoners went through Hell for at least the next five days; for some the March took as long twelve days.
On 9 and 10 April, the prisoners were massed at Mariveles and Bagac on Bataan where they were searched. Any prisoner that had any Japanese souvenirs or money were beheaded or shot. Additionally, the Japanese singled out any Filipino leaders and executed 400 before dumping their bodies in the Pantingan River. Once they were searched, the exhausted and starving prisoners began a sixty mile march to the San Fernando railhead where they would be put on trains for their trip to a prison camp in Capas in western Luzon.
Any wounded prisoners who were unable to march were killed. In 110 degree heat, with no food and little water, they trudged on, with the Japanese guards using any excuse to beat or kill them. Any prisoner that fell out was killed. Any prisoner that couldn’t keep up was killed. If not by the guards, then by drivers of Japanese convoys who gleefully drove over the exhausted and/or sick prisoners, or by Japanese “clean-up crews” who followed behind. There would be an orange flash, and the simultaneous sound of a gunshot and the thud of the bullet hitting the body.
The prisoners were forced to sit in the sun when they stopped. Though they passed many places where they could get something to drink (the American and Filipinos had been surviving on the local and plentiful “artesian wells” throughout the Bataan campaign, some were just a few feet off the road), the Japanese refused to them water. Any prisoner that went to a well was shot. Eventually, the heat drove some men mad, and they ran for the wells only to be killed before they got there. They were forced to drink out of the muddy ditches in passing; any who got sick were killed. The prisoners were playthings for the Japanese. One survivor described a Japanese officer who swung a baseball bat at the prisoners using a turn at a crossroads as home plate. Any women on the march were brutally raped, tortured, and killed. If there were too many corpses on the road, the Japanese had the prisoners push them into the ditches on the side of the road and bury them. More than a few prisoners were buried alive just because they couldn’t move.
At San Fernando, they were stuffed into cattle cars so tight they couldn’t sit, or even fall over when the passed out from the stifling heat. The crowded conditions of the march was conducive to the spread of several diseases, dysentery being the worst. As on the march, the prisoners defecated where they stood. Once they reached Capos, they were forced to march nine more miles to Camp O’Donnell, a former US Army and Philippine Army post, converted into a POW Camp. Their ordeal wasn’t over though, disease continued to ravage the survivors, and several hundred more died every day for weeks.
80,000 American and Filipinos started on the Bataan Death March, but only 54,000 arrived.
From 1936 to 1941, the FBI, Office of Naval Intelligence, and US Army Military Intelligence collected information on Japanese, German, and Italian immigrant communities in the United States and compiled lists of potential “troublemakers” that would be put into concentration camps in the event of war with the Axis powers. In mid-1941, FDR ordered a comprehensive investigation of the Japanese American communities on the West Coast. The “Munson Report” released a month before Pearl Harbor, stated that though some Japanese retained loyalty to Japan and its emperor, “the Japanese (American) problem didn’t exist”, and there was a “remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among some of this generally suspect ethnic group…” FDR ignored the report.
With war tensions high and a general civilian paranoia of a potential Japanese invasion of the West Coast, FDR issued Executive Order 9066, which gave the Secretary of War the authority to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded” and to “provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary . . .”
Three weeks later Congress passed legislation which funded Executive Order 9066 after the briefest of discussions. Opposition to the obvious unconstitutionality and potential for abuse in the bill made strange bedfellows. The minority Republican leadership in Congress was muted under their pledge to FDR in December to not let domestic politics interfere with the conduct of the war, so they found their champions in the only two of FDR’s cabinet members that opposed the EO, Attorney General Francis Biddle and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Biddle and Ickes would eventually get Executive Order 9066, and related later EOs, to the Supreme Court and have them declared unconstitutional. But after a decade of the courts and Congress acquiescing to FDR’s expansion of executive power during the Great Depression, it would take three long years for that to happen. However, just after Pearl Harbor that didn’t matter – on 9 March 1942, FDR signed Public Law 503 into law, and the legal justification for one of the greatest tragedies in American history was established.
Surprisingly, Executive Order 9066 was not used as justification for exclusion of the largest Japanese American community in the US on one of the few pieces of American soil under actual threat of Japanese invasion: Hawaii. US Authorities there had arrested 2500 Japanese illegal aliens under FDR’s Alien Enemies Act in December. The other 100,000 Japanese Americans in Hawaii were not deemed a threat, too important to Hawaii’s economic well-being, and their internment not a military necessity citing the Munson Report, and a separate Naval Intelligence report which found “no evidence of ‘fifth column’ activity among Japanese Americans”. This was not the case for the American West Coast.
Shortly after EO 9066’s funding by Congress, Arizona and California, and Oregon and Washington were in their entirety designated as two military districts by LTG John DeWitt, the commander of the Fourth US Army and the Western Defense Command. DeWitt applied EO 9066, probably against its spirit, to the entire Japanese American community on the West Coast. DeWitt wanted to relocate anyone of Japanese American ancestry out of the two West Coast military districts. But there were 120,000 Japanese Americans in his area, so DeWitt, through the Sec of War Henry Stimson requested additional funding for quasi permanent internment camps throughout the US and a separate organization to coordinate and administer the relocations. FDR signed Executive Order 9102 on 18 March 1942, and Congress funded it. 9102 created the War Relocation Authority. Moreover, the racialists and Eugenicists in FDR’s administration reared their ugly heads and the EO was applied to anyone with 1/16th Japanese blood, or in practical terms one great-great-grandparent born in Japan. These also included Koreans and Taiwanese whose lands were Japanese colonies since the 1880s. EO 9066 could be argued as not racial in character and just an abuse of eminent domain; EO 9102, DeWitt’s proclamations, and the administration’s and army regulations pertaining to both, cannot.
In April, flyers from the Western military district headquarters began appearing in Japanese American communities advising not only Japanese resident and illegal aliens but also Japanese American citizens to prepare for relocation. Flyers also appeared in German and Italian American communities, but the racial character of DeWitt’s proclamations, and the easily identifiable stereotypical facial features of Japanese Americans meant that few Caucasians were interred, and those that were, were already identified on FDR’s lists. The director of the War Relocation Authority, Milton Eisenhower (Dwight’s younger brother), attempted to mitigate and limit the relocations through various means, including limiting them to just adult males, but was thwarted by DeWitt and administration officials.
Throughout the end of April and through the summer, more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, 2/3rds of whom were US citizens, were ordered to report to assembly areas in parks, stadiums, and even racetracks. They were permitted to bring one suitcase and the clothes on their backs. The rest of their possessions were left behind, and left at the mercy of their communities. Many families lost everything: land, pets, furniture, cars, and savings were all gone when they returned three years later. The internees were packed into buses and trains for long journeys to ten hastily and poorly constructed internment camps, two as far away as Arkansas, each surrounded by barbed wire, and armed guards.
In late April, the frustrated and defeated Eisenhower wrote, “when the war is over and we consider calmly this unprecedented migration of 120,000 people, we as Americans are going to regret the unavoidable injustices that we may have done…”
Like all racialists, the victorious Japanese on Syonan-to (Japanese for “Light of the South”, the new name for Singapore) immediately separated their adversaries and the civilian population by the color of their skin. In a process known as “Daikensho”, “The Great Inspection”, Japanese Kempeitai (secret police) categorized each prisoner and civilian based on race, and then by how likely they would resist the Japanese occupation.
After an initial bloodletting in which all of the occupants and staff of the Alexandra Hospital were murdered, and all surrendering wounded were killed, the white civilians, and officers and soldiers of the British and Australian units were marched north. They were sent to camps in Thailand where they were to be worked to death building roads, bridges, and railroad tracks in support of the Japanese invasion of Burma, and subsequently India.
The 40,000 Indian soldiers and ex-patriates were initially treated quite differently. The Japanese sought to exploit Indian nationalism, and actively recruited Indian soldiers to fight against the British in Burma. An Indian expatriate, Mohan Singh, gave a powerful speech to the assembled mass on an independent India’s role inside the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere. Over 12,000 volunteered to fight for Japan under the banner of the Indian National Army. The wounded from the remainder were then killed, and the rest were sent to camps on Singapore and were worked to death improving Japanese defenses and facilities around the Southeastern Pacific.
Most of the population of Singapore was ethnic Chinese, and the Japanese were concerned about their support for Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader in China. The Kempeitai set up screening centers all across the island. At first, only members of Chinese nationalist organizations were killed. Then the killing was extended to wealthy Chinese, then businessmen and capitalists, and then teachers, priests and monks. Soon, as with any bureaucracy drunk with power and evaluated by “numbers processed”, the criteria constantly changed to include more and more “undesirables”. Civil servants, Chinese who arrived after 1937 (the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, men with tattoos (thought to be Triad), men from Hainan (thought to Communist), people who possessed weapons of any kind, even “tall” men (thought to be potential leaders), and anyone deemed a threat were all killed, many in the most gruesome manners possible.
The process dehumanized the Chinese, and in the eyes of the Japanese were unworthy of dignity. They weren’t just murdered, they were used as objects to fulfill a purpose – as training aides and playthings for the Japanese occupiers. The women were forced into brothels or raped to death in the barracks. The men were used as live bayonet dummies, targets on rifle and machine gun ranges, or tortured for fun or sport at the end of a hard day’s work.
Over the next three weeks, the Daikensho would claim the lives of at least 70,000 Chinese on Singapore, with tens of thousands more unconfirmed.
The Chinese would remember The Great Inspection of Singapore as the “Sook Ching”,
When the 183 Japanese planes of the first wave approached Pearl Harbor from the north without any resistance from the Americans, LtCmdr Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander of the Japanese air strike, signaled to Adm Nagumo the code words “Tora Tora Tora” (tiger, tiger, tiger) which indicated the attack began with complete surprise. Five minutes later, Cmdr Logan Ramsey, Ops officer of Patrol Wing Two, attempted to get the tail number of a plane he thought was flying recklessly. But he recognized the red “meatball” on the plane’s wing and immediately sent out the radio message in plain English, “Air Raid Pearl Harbor. This is no drill.”
Fuchida had six objectives for the first wave. The first five were Pearl Harbor’s air defenses: Wheeler and Hickham Army Airfields, Ford Island and Kaneohe Naval Air Stations, and Ewa Marine Air Station. Most of the planes on these airfields were destroyed before they could get off the ground. And many even before the ammunition could be distributed to the anti-aircraft defenses, which despite repeated war warnings was still locked up in distant armories. Nevertheless, in the chaos, men fought back, including mechanics on Wheeler who threw wrenches at the low flying Japanese. Or more effectively, Chief Petty Officer John Finn, who pulled a .50 Caliber machine gun from a damaged PBY and fought through 21 separate wounds to earn the first Congressional Medal of Honor of the Second World War. Or an unknown marine at Ewa who stood in the middle of the runway firing his pistol at the low strafing planes. The official Japanese records of the attack refer to him at “The Bravest American”. The Japanese pilots specifically targeted him, like jousting knights, but as far they knew the young marine survived the attack. A large portion of the Japanese casualties at Pearl Harbor came by way of that most mocked and denigrated Army and Marine rank, the second lieutenant; eight of whom courageously took off into the teeth of the Japanese onslaught in far inferior planes to take them on at 20-1 odds.
While the Japanese bombed and strafed the airfields, Fuchida personally supervised his pilots at his sixth and primary objective – Battleship Row. There the eight battleships of the US Battleship Divisions 1, 2 and 4 sat. The surprise attack caught the ship’s crews preparing for the day. On the USS Nevada, the band played for morning colors just as the Japanese attacked. They finished despite being strafed because, “It was inconceivable to break formation during the Star Spangled Banner.” Specially designed low draft Japanese torpedoes struck the Nevada moments later, along with her sisters the USS Arizona, California, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. The torpedoes sank the West Virginia and capsized the Oklahoma. In spite of the surprise, the sailors were a bit more prepared to fight than their land based brethren as they had their ammunition on board. During Sunday morning mass on the cruiser USS New Orleans, the chaplain Lt.jg. Howell Forgy blessed his gunners, and told them to “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.” On the West Virginia, Messmate Third Class Doris Miller manned a .50 Cal in the conning tower, a weapon he was unfamiliar with, until his ammunition ran out. Miller would receive a Navy Cross for carrying many of his wounded comrades to safety before the West Virginia sank.
After the torpedo bombers, Japanese dive bombers dropped specially converted 16in armor piercing battleship shells on the giant American targets. They would damage every battleship on the Row, but one hit in particular caused nearly half of the American casualties that day. Like her sisters, the Arizona was a battleship developed for the last war. Her armored citadel, the area that protects the vital areas of the ship, could withstand a hit from largest shell of that time, 14”. One of the dive bombers managed to place its converted 16in shell right above the forward magazine, where it penetrated. Seven seconds later a catastrophic explosion destroyed the ship, killing 1100 sailors instantly.
The entire island seemed to be on fire. In 90 minutes, four battleships and three other ships were sunk, four more battleships, and nine others damaged, 300 aircraft destroyed, and 3700 soldiers, sailors, marines, and civilians were killed or wounded by two waves of Japanese carrier based aircraft. It was still less than what was expected. On the outset, Fuchida gave a flare signal for an hastily planned conventional attack, one configured for an expected American defensive preparedness, instead of the planned signal for the attack in case surprise was complete, which it was as signified by the famous “Tora, Tora, Tora” broadcast. Fuchida’s signal prompted the torpedo bombers to wait a few critical minutes before attacking Battleship Row while the dive and level bombers plastered the airfields. Those few minutes were key: they allowed the crews to secure battle stations and close water tight doors. The torpedo bombers as a result took more casualties and their hits less devastating than they could have been. Consequently, Fuchida wanted a third attack: to destroy the fuel farms, dockyards, and repair facilities, and probably also to correct the sub par, though still devastating, results. But he was overruled by Adm Nagumo: most of the Japanese losses occurred during the second wave, and the American carriers were not in port and therefore an unknown threat. Also, the fuel situation would be critical if the Kido Butai lingered which it would have to do all day if a third strike was launched. By noon, all aircraft were recovered, and the Japanese were racing home.
Nagumo would regret his decision for the rest of the war.