The Royal Navy remains on full alert

Two destroyers silhouetted against the skyline.
Two destroyers silhouetted against the skyline.
At sea in a destroyer. 1940, on board the British Destroyer HMS Javelin. Look-out men on the bridge of the destroyer. They scan the sky for an hour at a time, when they are relieved. More than an hour is bad for the eyes.
At sea in a destroyer, 1940, on board the British Destroyer HMS Javelin. Look-out men on the bridge of the destroyer. They scan the sky for an hour at a time, when they are relieved. More than an hour is bad for the eyes.

In Britain, while the focus was very much on the RAF, the first line of defence against invasion was the Royal Navy. As Churchill had identified, the greater part of this work fell to the destroyers. As much as possible they kept out of the direct line of air attack during daylight hours in the Channel – but it was their presence as a screen which would have alerted Britain had any invasion come.

On board one anonymous destroyer was 20 year old Ludovic Kennedy, who would publish his first account of life on board in 1942. Here he describes one incident during August 1940:

Guns, whom I was relieving, had just explained to me the intricacies of the zig-zag. I wasn’t sure if I had the hang of it and was working out the times and alterations on the back of a signal-pad when the Captain, who was on the other side of the bridge, suddenly asked,“ Made a hash of the zig-zag ? ”

I thought for a moment he was referring to my figures, but looking up saw that B-—-, which was on our port beam, had turned the opposite way to us. However M——, which was to starboard, was steering our course.

I looked quickly at the zig-zag book. “ No, sir,” I said, “ I think it’s B—— who’s made a hash of it this time.” “ Oh, well,” said the Captain, “ keep a good eye on her. She’ll probably come round in a minute or two.”

Minutes passed, but B-—- stuck to her course. The Captain turned to the yeoman. “ Make to B-— ‘ Keep in proper station ’,” he ordered. The yeoman took up his. Aldis and was about to pass the signal when B—-— started calling us up. The yeoman answered with a succession of T’s. “ From B——-, sir. ‘ Attention is called to bearing 050 degrees ’.”

We searched the horizon on either side of the bearing with our binoculars, but could see nothing. “ Make ‘What can you see?’ ” ordered the Captain. The reply came, “ Object temporarily lost in mist, but am steering towards it.” ‘

“ We’d better investigate this,” said the Captain. “ Hoist ‘Turn together seventy degrees to port. Speed twenty-five knots’.”

The yeoman translated the orders down the voicepipe to the flagdeck, and the flags were run up on the halyards. B—- and M-— hoisted the main answer close up. “ All answered, sir,” reported the yeoman. “ Haul down,” said the Captain. “ Port twenty. Two four two revolutions.”

B—- began flashing to us again as we made the turn. I read, “ Object in sight now bearing 020 degrees. Am proceeding to investigate.”

“ I’ve got it,” cried Spider, and we followed the line of his glasses. Seven or eight thousand yards away a speck was just visible on the surface of the water. We all began thinking the same thing: could it be a U-Boat charging her batteries on the surface? The Captain was taking no chances, for he ordered B Gun to load and the depth charges to be set.

The yeoman began flashing again. “ From B——, sir. ‘Object is ship’s life-boat containing about a dozen people’” “Right! Set depth charges to safe. Speed fifteen knots.”

Soon we could spot the lifeboat for ourselves. B—, now nearly a mile ahead of us, went cautiously alongside, and through my glasses I could see figures scrambling up the netting to her upper deck. The lifeboat was cast adrift. Then we reformed in line abreast and set course for our area of patrol.

A little later the yeoman wrote out a long signal from B—-. “ Survivors ” it ran “ are from Portuguese ship, torpedoed without warning five nights ago when sailing independently. Three survivors are suffering from gangrene and seriously ill. Master reports second boat last seen drifting north-west two days ago.”

Although darkness was falling, the Captain decided to carry out a sweep to the northward in the hope of finding the second lifeboat; ships were spread five miles apart and speed increased to twenty-seven knots. A man was placed in the crow’s-nest, and the look-outs were instructed to sweep the horizon with their glasses.

We continued the search until night had fallen but saw nothing, and at midnight turned to carry out our original objective, the A/S patrol. Again we were unlucky, and the next afternoon set course for home.

Arrived in harbour a day later, B-——’s Number One came over for a gin while we were alongside the oiler. He told us that the survivors had just gone ashore in a drifter; their gratitude had been almost embarrassing.’

Most of them were still pretty ill ; they had run out of water two days before they were picked up. One poor fellow had got gangrene badly, and the Doc thought that he would probably lose both legs and both hands…

Our feelings were best expressed by the Captain. At dinner that night he said, “ The day we do run into a U-Boat, there won’t be any question whether it’s been sunk or not.” But he didn’t put it quite like that…

See Ludovic Kennedy: Sub-Lieutenant

The destroyers HMS KELVIN (photo taken from on board); HMS JUPITER; and HMS JAVELIN with a convoy.
The destroyers HMS KELVIN (photo taken from on board); HMS JUPITER; and HMS JAVELIN with a convoy.
Photographs from the crows nest of HMS KELVIN showing bow waves and stern wakes, and destroyers of the flotilla behind.
Photographs from the crows nest of HMS KELVIN showing bow waves and stern wakes, and destroyers of the flotilla behind.
Scenes on board a destroyer. 1940, on board the British Destroyer HMS Javelin.Officer on the bridge taking a bearing.
Scenes on board a destroyer. 1940, on board the British Destroyer HMS Javelin.Officer on the bridge taking a bearing.
In the engine room. The Control platform. The big wheels are "astern" and "ahead" manoeuvring valves. On the platform stands the Engine Room Artificer regulating the speed of the engines.
In the engine room. The Control platform. The big wheels are “astern” and “ahead” manoeuvring valves. On the platform stands the Engine Room Artificer regulating the speed of the engines.
Officers listening to the news in the Wardroom of the destroyer.
Officers listening to the news in the Wardroom of the destroyer.
The destroyer HMS JUPITER with her guns trained and ready for action.
The destroyer HMS JUPITER with her guns trained and ready for action.

Watching and listening to the battle overhead

Locals watch as troops and police inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 (W.Nr. 3367) "Red 14" of 2./JG52, which crash-landed in a wheatfield at Mays Farm, Selmeston, near Lewes in Sussex, 12 August 1940. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.
Locals watch as troops and police inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 (W.Nr. 3367) “Red 14” of 2./JG52, which crash-landed in a wheatfield at Mays Farm, Selmeston, near Lewes in Sussex, 12 August 1940. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.

As the Luftwaffe steeped up their attacks they moved inland from the attacks on convoys in the English channel. Increasingly people living in the south east of Britain became witnesses to the conflict.

Hubert S. Banner describes how the air battle fascinated those watching below:

Enemy activity was steadily on the increase; for now we were well into the opening phases of the Battle of Britain. Air-raid warnings in our area [Tunbridge Wells] averaged twelve or thirteen a day, and seldom any longer were they false alarms.

Time after time we would hear the heavy rumble up among the clouds which betokened a formation of German bombers, and there you would spot them as they sailed across the intervening patches of blue sky, dainty and silvery like little moths in the August sunshine, with still tinier moths that were their protective fighters weaving in and out and making rings around them as well-trained dogs encircle a flock of sheep.

And then often would be added the sound of our intercepting aircraft as they came tearing across the sky to do battle. Faint bursts of machine-gun fire would reach our ears, and sometimes a shower of the ‘empties’ would descend upon us… to bounce off the roofs and rattle all over the streets, whereupon there would be a frenzied rush of children scrambling to fill their pockets…

There was a period when the pupils of the Maidstone Grammar School had to go over every foot of their football-ground before each game in order to clear it of splinters…

The red-letter days were, of course, those when the exchanges overhead produced visible results in the form of Nazi airmen floating to earth. First you would discern a white speck against the blue, apparently stationary. But the speck would grow larger until you could make out its unbrella-top shape, and then at last you would be able to see the minute figure dangling beneath.

And what a rush there would be in the direction of the spot where the figure seemed likely to descend. Sometimes there was more than one. On one memorable occasion I saw five on their way down simultaneously, and the difficulty then was to decide in which of the five directions to rush…

I saw my first Nazi at close quarters during those memorable days. My wife and I had just finished lunch when we were startled by a ‘zoom’ that ended in a loud crash. Rushing to the window, we saw a column of black smoke rising above the tree-tops, and a few moments later began a crackling fusillade that reminded one of the Fifth of November. ‘Machine-gun ammunition popping off in the bonfire,’ I decided.

We jumped into the car and drove towards the smoke and noise, and soon we were overtaking a throng of cyclists and pedestrians all heading in the same direction.

The scene of the crash was on a golf-course, and a good-sized crowd had arrived there before us… The German fighter-bomber had hit the tree-tops in its descent, and there it lay, sprawling broken-backed on the greensward… It was consuming rapidly in its own flames, and the empty cartridges-cases leaped out of the pyre in all directions. The police had formed a cordon. Sternly they ordered the mob to keep its distance, but the small boys were too much for them. They dived and ducked through the cordon singly and in dozens, cheerfully contemptuous of the awful penalties attached to interfering with captured enemy property…

Beneath the trees… lay the Nazi airman. A First-Aid Party was in attendance. Tender hands were bandaging his cut forehead and broken leg. He was silent now, but I learned afterwards that when first dragged from his burning ’plane he had made noise enough until one of the men saidto him: ‘Be a man and shut up, can’t you? You asked for it, and now you’ve got it.’ Not another squeak had come from him after that rebuke…

Meanwhile the police were examining his effects… They drew forth in turn a carton of Californian dried raisins, a large slab of Cadbury’s chocolate, and – crowning insult – a packet of twenty Gold Flake. Many of the men who had thus far kept silence could no longer restrain their feelings when they caught sight of those Gold Flakes. They might be able to forgive the German for having come over with the intention of blowing them to bits, but not for having brought with him cigarettes looted from our abandoned stores in France.

See Hubert S. Banner: Kentish Fire

Soldiers guarding a crash-landed Junkers Ju 88A-1 of Stab II/KG 54 at Portland Head in Dorset, shot down by a No. 213 Squadron Hurricane over Portland Harbour, 11 August 1940. The censor has obscured the background.
Soldiers guarding a crash-landed Junkers Ju 88A-1 of Stab II/KG 54 at Portland Head in Dorset, shot down by a No. 213 Squadron Hurricane over Portland Harbour, 11 August 1940. The censor has obscured the background.

Italy invades British Somaliland

Italian forces move into British Somaliland

On the Horn of Africa, British Somaliland, a protectorate then covering the northernmost part of modern Somalia, was invaded by Italy on 3rd August 1940. Surrounded on the landward side by Italian occupied territory and considerably outnumbered by the invading Italians the result was perhaps a foregone conclusion.

The Somaliland Camel Corps had only 14 British officers commanding just over 1400 native troops. In total a British Force of around 4,000 faced 24,000 Italians. The invaders had light tanks and armoured cars, the British forces had none, and no anti-tank weapons or artillery.

Yet the invaders found themselves constantly harassed by the more mobile British forces who made use of their superior knowledge of the terrain while conducting a fighting retreat.

RAF Fighter Squadrons prepare for battle

A Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1A of No 19 Squadron, Royal Air Force being re-armed between sorties at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire.
A Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1A of No 19 Squadron, Royal Air Force being re-armed between sorties at Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire.
Spitfire Mark IA, X4474 ‘QV-I’, of No. 19 Squadron RAF, taking off from Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, with Sergeant B J Jennings at the controls.
Spitfire Mark IA, X4474 ‘QV-I’, of No. 19 Squadron RAF, taking off from Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, with Sergeant B J Jennings at the controls.

RAF Fighter Command knew that the Luftwaffe’s efforts were bound to intensify. Across the country aircraft production was being stepped up and every effort was made to keep as many fighter aircraft as possible fully operational. The RAF engineer ground crews worked around the clock to service aircraft engines and maintain them at peak performance.

On the airfields across southern England the day began at dawn. In a memorable passage from his best selling memoir ‘First Light’ Geoffrey Wellum describes the very first actions of the day of a RAF fighter pilot:

Dispersal pen and my Spitfire. I pause and look at her. A long shapely nose, not exactly arrogant but, nevertheless, daring anyone to take a swing at it. Lines beautifully proportioned, the aircraft sitting there, engine turning easily and smoothly with subdued power. The slipstream blows the moisture over the top of the wings in thin streamlets. Flashes of blue flame from the exhausts are easily seen in the half light, an occasional backfire and the whole aeroplane trembling like a thoroughbred at the start of the Derby.

The engine note increases as my fitter opens up the Merlin to zero boost whilst the rigger stands with his hand on the wingtip, watching expectantly. I think to myself, ‘Don’t open her up any more, you twit, or the tail will lift and the whole shooting match will end up on its nose.’

The engine note changes fractionally as the magnetos are tested. The fitter, intent on his instruments, red cockpit lights reflecting on his face. Sounds OK, no problem there at all. Throttle back, mag check again at 1,500 revs by the sound of it and then throttle right closed, engine idling, smoke from the exhausts, cutout pulled and the engine splutters to a stop. Peace again.

Bevington, the fitter, looks from the cockpit and gives me the thumbs up. He levers himself out on to the wing and jumps to the ground. I walk forward and hang my parachute on the port wing for a quick getaway; you can easily put it on whilst the engine is being started, saves a lot of time.

Now to the cockpit. Up on to the wing and step in. I hang my helmet on the stick and plug in the R/T lead and oxygen tube. At the same time, I check the bottle contents: full. Fuel? Press the fuel gauge button, reads full also.

Now brake pressure. OK, that’s fine. Trim? Let’s adjust it now and then it’s done With. Full rudder bias to help with the swing on take-off, elevators one degree nose heavy, that’s good. Airscrew, full fine pitch. That’s about it, then, ready to scramble when the time comes. Bound to come sometime. It’ll be a miracle if we get through to midday without one.

I climb out of the cockpit and my fitter and rigger are waiting, as always. What stalwarts they are, both utterly loyal to ‘their’ pilot, dedicated and uncomplaining. They are both smiling and friendly. ‘Twenty-five drop on both mags, sir. We found that oil leak last night. Nothing to worry about and in any case we reckon we’ve cured it.’

‘Splendid; so we’re at readiness, are we?’

‘On the top line, sir.’

‘Good men, see you both later, no doubt.’ .

‘We’ll be here.’

No need to tell them what is expected when the balloon goes up. It occurs to me and not for the first time, as I walk back to the dispersal hut, that the respect and feeling that these ground crews have for their pilots borders on affection.

No standing to attention and shouted orders, we all get on together keeping Spitfires flying. To my mind, the atmosphere in a front-line fighter squadron is something approaching unique and certainly gives an inner feeling that will remain with me as long as I survive. I will never forget.

I pause at the hut door and look at the ever-brightening sky. Clear as a bell and I go inside. As I put on my Mae West [Inflatable life jacket, so called in reference to the then-popular busty American actress of that name] the telephone orderly at his blanket-covered table lifts the receiver.

‘Hello, Operations? 92 Squadron now at readiness, sir. Twelve aircraft. That’s right, sir. Goodbye.’

Hitler orders final Luftwaffe push against England

German 'Stuka' dive bomber pilots in France in 1940. They were suffering terrible losses when the RAF managed to break through their fighter cover and would soon be withdrawn from battle.
German ‘Stuka’ dive bomber pilots in France in 1940. They were suffering terrible losses whenever the RAF managed to break through their fighter cover and would soon be withdrawn from battle.

On the 1st August the Luftwaffe senior command met for a conference to discuss the destruction of the RAF. Not for the last time Hermann Goring had made extravagant promises to Hitler that he could single handedly achieve the Fuhrer’s objectives with his airforce.

The RAF had been carefully keeping its reserves out of the air battle around the coast of Britain. Luftwaffe intelligence had interpreted this as a lack of strength. The more insightful of the German fighter pilots recognised that this was not the case at all – they were being held back to counter the more intensive attacks that the Luftwaffe were now planning to launch.

Oberst Theo Osterkamp the commander of Jagdgeschwader 51, attended the conference as a representative of the fighter pilots that were currently doing battle. He quickly learnt that his observations on the state of the RAF were not welcome:

A big conference of the Luftwaffe command with its Supreme Commander Hermann Goring. Place of action – The Hague, at the headquarters of General Christiansen, the commander in Holland. I have the honour to join this illustrious company as the representative of the fighter forces.

Everybody of rank and name is present. Because of the good weather the festival takes place in the garden. The ‘Iron One’ [Goring] appears in a new white gala uniform.

At first he praised extravagantly the lion’s share of the Luftwaffe in the defeat of France. ‘And now, gentlemen, the Fuhrer has ordered me to crush Britain with my Luftwaffe. By means of hard blows I plan to have this enemy, who has already suffered a decisive moral defeat, down on his knees in the nearest future, so that an occupation of the island by our troops can proceed without any risk!’

Then the matter of orders and directives for the execution of the plan was taken up. According to the information of the intelligence service. Britain disposed in its southern sector – the only one which came into question for us – of, at the most, 400-500 fighters.

Their destruction in the air and on land was to be carried out in three phases: during the first five days in a semicircle starting in the west and proceeding south and then east, within a radius of 150 to 100 kilometres south of London; in the next three days within 50 to 100 kilometres; and during the last five days within the 50-kilometre circle around London. That would irrevocably gain an absolute air superiority over England and fulfil the Fuhrer’s mission!

I think that I must have made a terribly stupid face, but in my case that should scarcely attract any attention. Udet told me later that I shook my head in shock, but I do not remember.

At any rate I saw Udet leaning down to Goring and whispering something to him. Goring looked up, saw me and said, ‘Well, Osterkamp, have you got a question?’

I explained to him that during the time when I alone was in combat over England with my Geschwader I counted, on the basis of continuous monitoring of the British radio and of air battles during which the distinctive marks of the units [to which the British fighters belonged] were ascertained, that at that time about 500 to 700 British fighters were concentrated in the area around London. Their numbers had increased considerably if compared with the number of planes available at the beginning of the battle. All new units were equipped with Spitfires, which I considered of a quality equal to our fighters.

I wanted to say more, but Goring cut me off angrily: ‘This is nonsense, our information is excellent, and I am perfectly aware of the situation. Besides, the Messerschmitt is much better than the Spitfire, because, as you yourself reported, the British are too cowardly to engage your fighters!’

‘I shall permit myself to remark that I reported only that the British fighters were ordered to avoid battles with our fighters — ’ ‘That is the same thing,’ Hermann shouted: ‘if they were as strong and good as you maintain, I would have to send my Luftzeugmeister [Udet] before the firing squad.’

Udet smiled and touched his neck with his hand. I still could not hold back and said, ‘May I ask how many fighters will be used in the combat against Britain?’ Hermann answered, ‘Naturally, all our fighter squadrons will be used in the struggle.’ I now knew as much as I had known before and thought, after a careful appraisal, to be able to count on some 1,200 to 1,500 fighters. In this too I was to be bitterly disappointed.

As quoted by Telford Taylor in The breaking wave: The German defeat in the summer of 1940

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring
Hitler believed that Herman Goring\’s assurances that the Luftwaffe could neutralise the RAF.

On the same day, 1st August 1940, Hitler issued Directive 17, believing that a knock-out blow against the RAF was within the grasp of the Luftwaffe:

In order to establish the necessary conditions for the final conquest of England I intend to intensify air and sea warfare against the English homeland. I therefore order as follows:

1. The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest time possible. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organizations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing anti-aircraft equipment.

2. After achieving temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be continued against ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country.
Attacks on the south coast ports will be made on the smallest possible scale, in view of our own forthcoming operations.

3. On the other hand, air attacks on enemy warships and merchant ships may be reduced except where some particularly favourable target happens to present itself, where such attacks would lend
additional effectiveness to those mentioned in Paragraph 2, or where such attacks are necessary for the training of air crews for further operations.

4. The intensified air warfare will be carried out in such a way that the Air Force can at any time be called upon to give adequate support to naval operations against suitable targets. It must also be ready to take part in full force in Operation Seelowe.

5. I reserve to myself the right to decide on terror attacks as measures of reprisal.

6. The intensification of the air war may begin on or after 5 August. The exact time is to be decided by the Air Force after completion of preparations and in the light of the weather.

The Navy is authorized to begin the proposed intensified naval war at the same time.

Generaloberst Ernst Udet
Generaloberst Ernst Udet

Bloody Wednesday in Olkusz, Poland

German policemen humiliating Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Hagermann, on "Bloody Wednesday" in Olkusz, Poland, 31/07/1940 Yad Vashem Photo Archives 4613/903
German policemen humiliating Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Hagermann, on “Bloody Wednesday” in Olkusz, Poland, 31/07/1940
Yad Vashem Photo Archives 4613/903
Jewish men were gathered in Olkusz town centre for ‘registration’.

On the 31st July 1940 a German Army police unit arrived in the Polish town of Olkusz and gathered all the Jewish men over 14 in the town centre for “registration”. They were then subjected to hours of bullying sadism, forced to lie face down in the city square and beaten if they moved. Three men died from the beatings. The event was absolutely unexceptional as regards the treatment of Jews in Poland, these atrocities were all too common. On this occasion however photographs, taken by at least one German present, survive.

It was common practice for German troops to take photographs of all manner of German occupation activities, including the persecution of Jews, and even blatant murderous atrocities. It is known that there was even swapping of ‘atrocity photographs’ between German troops. Obviously not many of these photographs survive. But some do.

These men and their families were doomed, along with nearly three million other Jews in Poland. For the first few years of the war they would suffer arbitrary persecution – punishments, beatings and murders. Then, after having been gathered into ghettoes and starved, the Nazis would organise their mass murder in extermination ‘camps’. Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Hagermann died in 1942 in Majdanek.

For the full story see Yad Vashem

Jewish men from the Polish city of Olkusz are forced to lie face down in the City Square.

1945: USS Indianapolis torpedoed – 900 men in the water

The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class "flushdeck" destroyers are visible in the background.
The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class “flushdeck” destroyers are visible in the background.

As soon as the Trinity nuclear test had been successfully concluded on the 16th July the USS Indianapolis had been despatched from Mare island, San Francisco to Tinian island in the mid Pacific. The heavy cruiser carried the Uranium that would arm the Little Boy bomb.

By 29th July she was en route back to the Philippines across the remotest reaches of the ocean. Her captain had discretion not to zig-zag and it may have made no difference that she was not.

A new study of the sinking published in 2018 reconstructs the events aboard the Japanese submarine I-58, captained by Hashimoto

I-58’s crew waited, breathless. The black shape on the horizon soon gathered itself into the shape of a triangle suspended in the moon’s silver light. But looking through the night periscope, Hashimoto still could not determine her class. Neither could he see the height of her mast in order to estimate the range. This lack of data opened the door to an array of possible mistakes, and his mind ticked through them all.

Without the range, course, and speed of the target, he could not make the proper calculations to obtain a hit. If the class of ship were known, he could estimate the speed by counting the target’s propeller blade frequency, but the hydrophones remained silent. And with the target pointed directly at him, its hull was masking sonar sounds.

He would have to wait until the target was on a broader line of sight to ferret out its speed. Also, changes in the target’s speed and course could throw off Hashimoto’s aim, especially at night, so the moment of firing had to be determined in advance.

A whole kingdom of errors loomed. But if Hashimoto could keep them small and fire six torpedoes in a fanwise spread, he could ensure a hit. Even if he guessed wrong on one of the variables – or even if the target zigzagged, as it was almost sure to do.

A crisp demand interrupted his calculations: “Send us!” It was the suicide pilots. Hashimoto had been so preoccupied with his Type 95 torpedo calculations that he had not followed up on his earlier order for the kaiten. “Why can’t we be launched?” the pilots clamored.

Hashimoto understood their desire. The kaiten could steer to the target, regardless of its speed or course. But the touch-and-go, obscured visibility would make it difficult for the pilots to home in visually on the target over a period of tens of minutes.

To get a Type 95 torpedo hit, all he needed was a reasonable estimate of speed and range, along with one good bearing, and he could send his fish to their target. That was the better option here, so he decided not to use the kaiten unless the oxygen torpedoes failed to hit their mark.

Hashimoto put his eye to the scope again and saw the top of the triangle resolve into two distinct shapes. He could make out a large mast forward and estimated its height at ninety feet. His heartbeat quickened. She appeared to be a large cruiser, ten thousand tons or bigger. Now I-58’s hydrophones gurgled to life, announcing enemy propeller revolutions that were moderately high. Using visual observations, Hashimoto adjusted and put the target’s speed at twelve knots, course 260, range three thousand yards.

He alone could see all this. Without him, the crew could know nothing. As they awaited his word, straining in the deadly quiet, an exhilarating thought formed in his mind: We’ve got her.

Aboard I-58, a sonarman thought he heard the clinking of dishes.‘ Twenty-seven minutes had passed since I—58’s navigator spotted the enemy ship. It now became apparent that the target was approaching off the starboard bow. He ordered the torpedo director computer set to “green sixty degrees”——the torpedoes would turn sixty degrees starboard after launch.

The target closed the distance: twenty-five hundred yards… two thousand… fifteen hundred. “Stand by…” Hashimoto commanded in a loud voice. “Fire!” At two-second intervals, six torpedoes ejected from tubes carved into the sub’s forward hull, one tube after another until all six were away. A report came from the torpedo room: “All tubes fired and correct.”

It was about five minutes after midnight, and six warheads streaked toward the enemy warship in a lethal fan. Hashimoto snatched a look through the periscope, brought his boat on a course parallel to the target, and waited. Every minute seemed an age.

The Indianapolis was steaming straight ahead when she was hit by three Type 95 torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-58 at 23:35. Some U.S accounts put the time at 00:14.

USS_Indianapolis-last_voyage_chart

Contrary to US Navy claims during the war and after, the Indianapolis was not observing radio silence because of the secrecy of her mission – she managed to transmit distress signals which were received by three separate US Navy monitoring stations, a matter that has only emerged from later de-classified documents. None of the three stations acted on the information. At 00:27 on 30 July, Indianapolis capsized and sank carrying around 300 men with her. The remainder of her 1,196 crew went into the water, only a limited number of lifeboats had been deployed and a minority of the men had life jackets.

Approximately 900 men now faced a hellish ordeal as they struggled to survive in the warm seas, with little or no water. They faced severe sun burn, dehydration, hypothermia – and sharks. Some have argued that the incident amounts to the largest single shark attack in human history. An account by the surviving Chief Medical Officer on board, Dr Lewis Haynes throws some light on the extent of the shark hazard:

I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn’t have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn’t alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.

I didn’t want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.

Suddenly the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn’t an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over – white eyes and red mouths. You couldn’t tell the doctor from the boat seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.

At that time, I could have hidden but somebody yelled, ‘Is the doctor there?’ And I made myself known. From that point on – and that’s probably why I’m here today — I was kept so busy I had to keep going. But without any equipment, from that point on I became a coroner.

A lot of men were without life jackets. The kapok life jacket is designed with a space in the back. Those who had life jackets that were injured, you could put your arm through that space and pull them up on your hip and keep them out of the water. And the men were very good about doing this. Further more, those with jackets supported men without jackets. They held on the back of them, put their arms through there and held on floating in tandem.

When daylight came we began to get ourselves organized into a group and the leaders began to come out. When first light came we had between three and four hundred men in our group. I would guess that probably seven or eight hundred men made it out of the ship. I began to find the wounded and dead. The only way I could tell they were dead was to put my finger in their eye. If their pupils were dilated and they didn’t blink I assumed they were dead. We would then laboriously take off their life jacket and give it to men who didn’t have jackets. In the beginning I took off their dogtags, said The Lord’s Prayer, and let them go. Eventually, I got such an armful of dogtags I couldn’t hold them any longer. Even today, when I try to say The Lord’s Prayer or hear it, I simply lose it.

…The second night, which was Monday night, we had all the men put their arms through the life jacket of the man in front of him and we made a big mass so we could stay together. We kept the wounded and those who were sickest in the center of the pack and that was my territory. Some of the men could doze off and sleep for a few minutes. The next day we found a life ring. I could put one very sick man across it to support him.

There was nothing I could do but give advice, bury the dead, save the life jackets, and try to keep the men from drinking the salt water when we drifted out of the fuel oil. When the hot sun came out and we were in this crystal clear water, you were so thirsty you couldn’t believe it wasn’t good enough to drink. I had a hard time convincing the men that they shouldn’t drink. The real young ones – you take away their hope, you take away their water and food – they would drink salt water and then would go fast. I can remember striking men who were drinking water to try and stop them. They would get diarrhea, then get more dehydrated, then become very maniacal.

In the beginning, we tried to hold them and support them while they were thrashing around. And then we found we were losing a good man to get rid of one who had been bad and drank. As terrible as it may sound, towards the end when they did this, we shoved them away from the pack because we had to.

The water in that part of the Pacific was warm and good for swimming. But body temperature is over 98 and when you immerse someone up to their chin in that water for a couple of days, you’re going to chill him down. So at night we would tie everyone close together to stay warm. But they still had severe chills which led to fever and delirium.

On Tuesday night some guy began yelling, ‘There’s a Jap here and he’s trying to kill me.’ And then everybody started to fight. They were totally out of their minds. A lot of men were killed that night. A lot of men drowned. Overnight everybody untied themselves and got scattered in all directions. But you couldn’t blame the men. It was mass hysteria. You became wary of everyone. Till daylight came, you weren’t sure. When we got back together the next day there were a hell of a lot fewer.

I saw only one shark. I remember reaching out trying to grab hold of him. I thought maybe it would be food. However, when night came, things would bump against you in the dark or brush against your leg and you would wonder what it was. But honestly, in the entire 110 hours I was in the water I did not see a man attacked by a shark. However, the destroyers that picked up the bodies afterwards found a large number of those bodies. In the report I read 56 bodies were mutilated, Maybe the sharks were satisfied with the dead; they didn’t have to bite the living.

Their ordeal had been lengthened because the failure of the Indianapolis to arrive in the Philippines when expected was also not reported, and no search for the ship was ever undertaken. Instead they were spotted by chance at 10:25 on 2 August by a PV-1 Ventura on a routine patrol. They still had to spend the rest of the day in the water before help arrived:

It was Thursday [2 Aug] when the plane spotted us. By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It’s good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn’t have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I’m here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

The plane dropped life jackets with canisters of water but the canisters ruptured. Then a PBY [seaplane] showed up and dropped rubber life rafts. We put the sickest people aboard and the others hung around the side. I found a flask of water with a 1-ounce cup. I doled out the water, passing the cup down hand to hand. Not one man cheated and I know how thirsty they were.

Towards the end of the day, just before dark, I found a kit for making fresh water out of salt water. I tried to read the instructions, but couldn’t make sense of it or get it to work right. My product tasted like salt water and I didn’t want to take a chance so I threw it into the ocean. I then went to
pieces.

I watched the PBY circle and suddenly make an open-sea landing. This took an awful lot of guts. It hit, went back up in the air and splashed down again. I thought he’d crashed but he came taxiing back. I found out later he was taxiing around picking up the singles. If he hadn’t done this, I don’t think we would have survived. He stayed on the water during the night and turned his searchlight up into the sky so the Cecil J. Doyle (DE-368) could find us. The ship came right over and began picking us up.

See Lewis L. Haynes, “Survivor of the Indianapolis.” Navy Medicine 86, no.4 (Jul.-Aug. 1995)

I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.
I-58(II), modified B type 2 of submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, on trial run inside the Tokyo Bay.

Bomber Command attacks German airfields

Amiens Airport being bombed by Bristol Blenheims of 82 Squadron, based at Watton, Norfolk, on 30 July 1940 – with bombs in mid air. The Germans were rapidly lengthening the concrete runway: the interpretation report estimated that 650 metres was serviceable and this was being extended to 1000 metres. The large number of bomb craters illustrate how difficult it was to put airfields out of operations – the RAF had previously attacked this airfield on 10th July. The interpretation report concluded that none of the hangars had been hit and the airfield was ‘fully serviceable’.
Click image to enlarge.

While much attention naturally focuses on RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, the work of Bomber Command should not be neglected. With the Germans now in possession of numerous airfields in northern France within easy range of Britain, they were kept busy trying to disrupt the Luftwaffe as far as practicable.

Hitler plans the invasion of Russia

Colonel Warlimont, pictured in 1939, was one of a very small group of officers who learnt that Hitler began planning to attack Russia in 1940.

Following a Military Planning Conference with Hitler at the Berghof, 29 July 1940 General Alfred Jodl, the Chief of the Armed Forces Command Staff discloses to his small group of support officers that Hitler is already pressing for an attack on Russia.

Colonel Walter Warlimont was one of the officers in the Special Command Train Atlas at the Bad Reichenall Station following the conference at the Berghof:

[Including myself] Four of us (Lt. Col. von Lossberg, Capt. Junge, Major Freiherr von Falkenstein) were present, sitting at individual tables in the restaurant car. … Jodl went round ensuring that all doors and windows were closed and then, without any preamble, [he] disclosed to us that Hitler had decided to rid the world ‘once and for all’ of the danger of Bolshevism by a surprise attack on Soviet Russia to be carried out at the earliest possible moment, i.e. in May 1941.

… Jodl countered every question [we had] … although he convinced none of us. … He repeated Hitler’s view and probably his own also that the collision with Bolshevism was bound to come and that it was better therefore to have this campaign now, when we were at the height of our military power, than to have to call the German people to arms once more in the years to come.

… Shortly after Jodl’s disclosure, we happened to discover that Hitler had originally been determined to launch the attack in the late summer of 1940. The most urgent representations from Keitel and Jodl … had been necessary to convince the Supreme Commander that the time and space factors alone, together with the weather conditions, rendered this plan totally impracticable.

See Walter Warlimont: Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 1939-45

American support promised – but Britain fights alone

Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.
Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.
Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.
Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron in flight, April 1940.

What was later to be designated the ‘Battle of Britain’ was now firmly underway, with more and more of RAF Fighters Command’s squadrons being drawn into action. Nevertheless much of the fighting was still taking place offshore, as the Luftwaffe continued its attacks on convoys. As a consequence the battle was not yet taking place regularly over the heads of civilians in the south east of England.

Reporting on the atmosphere in London was Mollie Panter-Downes, correspondent for New Yorker magazine:

28 July 1940

Except for isolated air raids and attacks on convoys round the coast, this has been a quiet week. The results of the air battles have confirmed the general impression that the British pilots are outflying the Germans, man for man and plane for plane.

On Friday afternoon, newspaper-sellers were chalking up on their boards “Twenty-three Planes Down Yesterday” — a new record which was later corrected to twenty-eight and which greatly encouraged people who had already been heartened a night or two earlier by Lord Beaverbrook’s broadcast announcement that arrangements had just been made for the production in the United States of three thousand planes a month for this country.

Skeptical listeners were even more impressed by Mr. Morgenthau’s [the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury] subsequent statement that the United States Government had agreed to give the British “every possible facility to place their orders and secure delivery.” That, the doubters agreed, means something, though the date of the first of these precious deliveries must necessarily be far distant and time is a factor which may be heartbreakingly decisive.

The President’s statement on the possibility of sending American vessels to fetch children to the States brought hope to many anxious parents, but his insistence that there should be “reasonable assurances” of immunity from submarine and air attack didn’t sound very good, for the recent example of the Meknés is in everybody’s mind.

Although most Britons believe that the sinking of one child-refugee ship would have the same galvanizing effect on American public opinion that the Lusitania outrage had, there are plenty of people who think that the Germans might be clumsy or callous enough to risk it.

Although London may not be precisely comfortable, it is at the moment one of the most exhilarating cities in the world in which to find oneself. It can’t be comfortable to anyone who hasn’t a morbid affection for danger, since, as people say simply, however good the defences are, some of those waves of dive bombers which may momentarily be sent against them will certainly get through.

Horror may glide down suddenly and noiselessly out of the summer sky as it did on Barcelona, but all the same it’s stimulating to be here, as one of the remaining Americans remarked, because of a new vitality which seems to have been injected into the staid British atmosphere.

Possibly the feeling of increased confidence and purpose one gets from everybody is due to the fact that the British people are now not trusting in anybody or anything—not in the French Army or even in the American promise of planes – except the British people. After the bitterness and bewilderment of the last few tragic weeks, there’s relief in finding that faith can be so simplified.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes, 1939-1945

A working class family in wartime: every day life with the Suter family in London, 1940. Doris and Alan Suter examine something of interest in a bush in the front garden of their Eltham home, in the summer of 1940. Note that both carry gas masks.
A working class family in wartime: every day life with the Suter family in London, 1940. Doris and Alan Suter examine something of interest in a bush in the front garden of their Eltham home, in the summer of 1940. Note that both carry gas masks.
Two members of the Home Guard with a Vickers machine gun on a village green in Surrey. Originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers, the force was set up in 1940 as a precaution against enemy parachute landings behind the lines in the event of an invasion. By July the Home Guard numbered 500,000.
Two members of the Home Guard with a Vickers machine gun on a village green in Surrey. Originally known as the Local Defence Volunteers, the force was set up in 1940 as a precaution against enemy parachute landings behind the lines in the event of an invasion. By July the Home Guard numbered 500,000.