US Navy battle group under attack from Kamikaze

This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake
This photo provided by former Kamikaze pilot Toshio Yoshitake, shows Yoshitake, right, and his fellow pilots, from left, Tetsuya Ueno, Koshiro Hayashi, Naoki Okagami and Takao Oi, as they pose together in front of a Zero fighter plane before taking off from the Imperial Army airstrip in Choshi, just east of Tokyo, on November 8, 1944. None of the 17 other pilots and flight instructors who flew with Yoshitake on that day survived. Yoshitake only survived because an American warplane shot him out of the air, he crash-landed and was rescued by Japanese soldiers. (AP Photo)
A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)
A Japanese torpedo bomber goes down in flames after a direct hit by 5-inch shells from the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, on October 25, 1944. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)
A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A Japanese kamikaze pilot in a damaged single-engine bomber, moments before striking the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Essex, off the Philippine Islands, on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)
A closer view of the Japanese kamikaze aircraft, smoking from antiaircraft hits and veering slightly to left moments before slamming into the USS Essex on November 25, 1944. (U.S. Navy)

As the US landings on the Philippines were consolidated the Japanese Navy became more desperate to halt the American advance across the Pacific. The organised use of Kamikaze suicide planes now became more frequent. Dramatic pictures of the engagement on the 25th November were to publicise the new danger. Two days later another battle group arriving off the Philippines came under a similar attack.

James J. Fahey was serving on the USS Montpelier, one of the busiest ships in the Pacific War, ending the war with 13 battle stars. He kept his diary throughout, written on loose sheets of paper kept in a tin. It was never intended for publication – but won wide acclaim when ‘discovered’ and then published in 1963. Much of the diary is worth reading simply because he covers so much of the routine life on board ship – but on the 27th the Montpelier was in the thick of a desperate fight against Japanese kamikaze planes:

27 November 1944

At 10.50 A.M. this morning General Quarters sounded, all hands went to their battle stations. At the same time a battleship and a destroyer were alongside the tanker getting fuel.

Out of the clouds I saw a big Jap bomber come crashing down into the water. It was not smoking and looked in good condition. It felt like I was in it as it hit the water not too far from the tanker, and the 2 ships that were refueling. One of our P-38 fighters hit it. He must have got the pilot.

At first I thought it was one of our bombers that had engine trouble. It was not long after that when a force of about 30 Jap planes attacked us. Dive bombers and torpedo planes. Our two ships were busy getting away from the tanker because one bomb-hit on the tanker and it would be all over for the 3 ships.

The 2 ships finally got away from the tanker and joined the circle. I think the destroyers were on the outside of the circle. It looked funny to see the tanker all by itself in the center of the ships as we circled it, with our guns blazing away as the planes tried to break through. It was quite a sight, better than the movies…

Jap planes were coming at us from all directions. Before the attack started we did not know that they were suicide planes, with no intention of returning to their base. They had one thing in mind and that was to crash into our ships, bombs and all. You have to blow them up, to damage them doesn’t mean much. Right off the bat a Jap plane made a suicide dive at the cruiser St. Louis, there was a big explosion and flames were seen shortly from the stern.

Another one tried to do the same thing but he was shot down. A Jap plane came in on a battleship with its guns blazing away. Other Jap planes came in strafing one ship, dropping their bombs on another and crashing into another ship. The Jap planes were falling all around us, the air was full of Jap machine gun bullets. Jap planes and bombs were hitting all around us. Some of our ships were being hit by suicide planes, bombs and machine gun fire…

While all this was taking place our ship had its hands full with Jap planes. We knocked our share of planes down but we also got hit by 3 suicide planes, but lucky for us they dropped their bombs before they crashed into us.

In the meantime exploding planes overhead were showering us with their parts. It looked like it was raining plane parts. They were falling all over the ship. Quite a few of the men were hit by big pieces of Jap planes.

We were supposed to have air coverage but all we had was 4 P-38 fighters, and when we opened up on the Jap planes they got out of the range of our exploding shells. They must have had a ring side seat of the show. The men on my mount were also showered with parts of Jap planes.

One suicide dive bomber was heading right for us while we were firing at other attacking planes and if the 40 mm. mount behind us on the port side did not blow the Jap wing off it would have killed all of us. When the wing was blown off it, the plane turned some and bounced off into the water and the bombs blew part of the plane onto our ship.

Another suicide plane crashed into one of the 5 inch mounts, pushing the side of the mount in and injuring some of the men inside. A lot of 5 inch shells were damaged. It was a miracle they did not explode. If that happened the powder and shells would have blown up the ship.

Our 40 mm mount is not too far away. The men threw the 5 inch shells over the side. They expected them to go off at any time. A Jap dive bomber crashed into one of the 40 mm mounts but lucky for them it dropped its bombs on another ship before crashing. Parts of the plane flew everywhere when it crashed into the mount.

Part of the motor hit Tomlinson, he had chunks of it all over him, his stomach, back, legs etc. The rest of the crew were wounded, most of them were sprayed with gasoline from the plane. Tomlinson was thrown a great distance and at first they thought he was knocked over the side. They finally found him in a corner in bad shape.

One of the mt. Captains had the wires cut on his phones and kept talking into the phone, because he did not know they were cut by shrapnel until one of the fellows told him. The explosions were terrific as the suicide planes exploded in the water not too far away from our ship. The water was covered with black smoke that rose high into the air. The water looked like it was on fire. It would have been curtains for us if they had crashed into us.

See James J Fahey: Pacific War Diary, 1942-1945: The Secret Diary of an American Sailor

Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.
Detail of the USS Montpelier in the US for a refit in October 1944, with some parts of the construction highlighted.
The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.
The USS Montpelier off Mare Island after a refit in October 1944.
The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54's handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes. From the collection of crewman John Dietz.
The charred dent in the bulkhead of mount 54’s handling room is from a Kamikaze that was splashed 100 yards from the ship while in Leyte Gulf on 27 November 1944. When the plane hit the water it skipped like a stone and impacted the ship. Fortunately it had no bomb. During this engagement, Montpelier was credited with shooting down 4 planes in 2 minutes.
From the collection of crewman John Dietz.

US 116th Infantry Regiment on the ‘watch on the Roer’

A U.S. Infantry anti-tank crew fires on Nazis who machine- gunned their vehicle, somewhere in Holland." W. F. Stickle, November 4, 1944.
A U.S. Infantry anti-tank crew fires on Nazis who machine- gunned their vehicle,
somewhere in Holland.” W. F. Stickle, November 4, 1944.

In some parts of Northwest European the front was becoming increasingly static, as both sides dug in. The weather and extended supply lines had slowed down the Allied advance. Although the Germans were fighting tenaciously to defend their homeland, Allied intelligence believed they were largely contained. Many believed that the lines would settle down even more over the winter period.

Sergeant Bob Slaughter had landed with the 116th Infantry Regiment on Omaha Beach on D-Day, where they had suffered devastating casualties. They were still in the line, having fought all the way across France. Slaughter had been wounded in France and spent two months recovering in England before rejoining his regiment, along with many more replacements.

Now they found themselves holding an area on the west bank of the River Roer, one of the main natural barriers to Germany before the Rhine itself.

At times, the watch on the Roer was entertaining. One afternoon a large, fully antlered stag gracefully bounded between the American and German outpost lines. Jerry was the first to see the deer and fired at him. Our side also began to shoot.

The agility and grace of the stag’s reaction was amazing. I loos- ened the swivel on one of the machine guns and began traversing, firing freely at the quick-moving target. Both sides then began to fire everything in our two arsenals. I am happy to report that the deer ran through that hail of gunfire unscathed. The final score: deer, a perfect 10, Yanks and Jerry, O.

Most of the German civilians, if they were able, had evacuated the war zone. However, rather than sleeping upstairs in their beds, we preferred the safety of dank basements, where we slept on heaps of dirty straw.

One night, I shared my bed of straw with an unwelcome stranger. I was comfortable and almost asleep when I felt something move under my right shoulder. I was tired and I thought whatever was there would go away. But the visitor made itself at home by crawling over me. I jumped to my feet and lit a kerosene lantern. Lo and behold, there looking me in the eye was the biggest black rat I had ever seen in my life. He was seeking the warmth of my body, and I didn’t have it to give.

“Enough is enough”, I thought. I grabbed my blankets, moved to the second floor of the house, pulled off my filthy clothes, and climbed into a nice, soft German bed. It felt great to lie down in a real bed, and that night I didn’t even care that it was dangerous. Jerry threw a few mortar shells, but I ignored them and slept like a baby.

Outpost guard duty was a dreaded chore that befell us too often. Changing of the guard had to be performed after dark. We almost tiptoed as we made the rounds patrolling or traveling to outpost duty. The single-cart dirt path was under German surveillance during daylight and was zeroed-in night and day. Intermittent mortar and artillery rounds kept us alert as we traveled the road. It was never safe to use the path, even at night. We were told, emphatically, that when a Very light pistol shot was fired, we were to freeze in our tracks. We did as we were told.

On November 26, our side began experimenting with anti-aircraft searchlights as antipersonnel weapons. These powerful sixty-inch, 800-million candlepower units were trained directly at the Germans’ position, blinding them. They were also used to good advantage to reveal the nocturnal movements of enemy troops.

The outpost line, sometimes called the listening post, had to be manned day and night. By continually improving these important positions, we made them more comfortable and less vulnerable to attack. We stockpiled ammo, food, and drink so that, if we were cut off, we might survive until help came. There were too many casualties, but nothing like Normandy. The weather was raw and uncomfortable, but it was December in northern Germany, and we expected it.

See Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter

Troops from the 1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment man trenches in the front line in Holland, 25 November 1944.
Troops from the 1st Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment man trenches in the front line in Holland, 25 November 1944.

168 dead as Woolworths obliterated in V2 attack

A scene of devastation following a V2 rocket attack, somewhere in the south of England. In the foreground, a casualty is being carried away on a stretcher, whilst in the background, Civil Defence workers continue to search through debris and rubble, checking for any other survivors. The remains of a building can also be seen. According to the original caption, the rocket fell here "about two hours ago".
A scene of devastation following a V2 rocket attack, somewhere in the south of England. In the foreground, a casualty is being carried away on a stretcher, whilst in the background, Civil Defence workers continue to search through debris and rubble, checking for any other survivors. The remains of a building can also be seen. According to the original caption, the rocket fell here “about two hours ago”.

In Britain the government had taken until November the 10th to admit that the “gas main” explosions, that had mysteriously started in September, were the result of enemy rockets. Secrecy still surrounded the time and place of the explosions themselves. There was no defence against the V2 rockets so the only means of mitigating their impact was to try to feed false information to the Germans about where they were falling.

By using their network of double agents British intelligence was telling the Germans that the rockets were falling north of London. It was hoped that the Germans would adjust the aim of the rockets further south. In due course the rockets’ impact was gradually seen to shift southwards, away from central London, where they had actually been accurately targeted. However the advantage was only marginal, some rockets still fell on London and those that fell short of it were still likely to cause casualties in the suburbs.

The worst V2 attack of the war happened on 25th November when the Woolworths department store in New Cross, south London was suddenly blown apart. It had been crowded with Saturday shoppers, perhaps more people than usual because the store had a supply of saucepans to sell, a rare wartime commodity. In an instant 168 people were dead or dying, with many more injured in the vicinity.

Tony Rollins was 13 at the time:

I used to buy Airfix model aeroplane assembly kits and put them together.Since there were few toys around I was able to sell these to a shop in New Cross Gate. The shop was situated next to the railway bridge, which is part of the main road, at New Cross Gate in a row of shops opposite Woolworths.

It was Saturday and I visited the shop to deliver some models and earn some pocket money. I boarded a tram heading down towards Deptford Broadway. I got off at my stop and started to walk the few hundred yards to my home in Friendly St when there was a huge explosion.

The V2s always exploded with two “crumps” one quickly followed by a second. I knew immediately it was a V2 and as I looked back in the direction of the noise I saw a huge tower of smoke with all sorts of pieces turning and twisting and glinting heading skyward.

I turned and ran back to the scene.It took me about 10 minutes.

I shall never forget what I witnessed.The front of the shop I had sold my aeroplanes to was completely blown in,and on the other side of the road was a huge smouldering crater.

Sheets of corrugated steel had been placed along some of the gutters to cover what was left of people and blood was seeping out from beneath. There was debris everywhere.I saw several people dead beneath telegraph poles and there were bodies and wounded and maimed laying randomly all over the place.

Everybody who could was roped in to help clear debris and I did what I was asked to give a hand.

Read the whole account on BBC Peoples’ War

James Tait was another boy who had a narrow escape, he had recently moved back to London after having been evacuated to Wales for much of the war. In July his family’s hairdressing shop had been badly damaged by a V1 rocket, on that occasion there had been a warning siren and the occupants of the shop had taken shelter in the basement. On this occasion there was no warning:

At the end of November 1944 I went by tram to Lewisham to do some shopping.It was a dry,reasonably bright Saturday for the time of month and I was in quite a happy mood with my new clothes as I returned to New Cross. I alighted at the Marquis Of Granby Inn around midday and watched the tram continue into New Cross Road. I had barely taken a few steps towards my new home fifty yards away when I was picked up by a tremendous blast of hot air and flung backwards.

I did not hear the explosion of the V2 rocket that landed on the Woolworths store that lay on the opposite side of the road just a few hundred yards away close to New Cross Gate railway station. For a few moments I could not comprehend what had happened until debris began to fall all around me. I could still hear nothing having been deafened by the blast.

People were lying around me, some bleeding with cuts to their heads from flying glass. I managed to stand up unsteadily and then I saw the huge pall of black smoke rising from the Woolworth site. There was too much for the mind to take in, but bodies lay everywhere, some stripped of clothing. Cars were mangled wrecks,on their sides or upside down. Telephone poles lay crazily across rooftops.

The tram I had been travelling in had stopped in the middle of the road. I learned later that all the passengers were found dead in their seats. My brain reeled and then I thought of the shop we had just moved into. I ran towards it, fearing the worst, but once again fate had been kind to us.

The shop and others in the parade had been partially sheltered by the facade of the Town Hall which jutted further out toward the road. The shop doors and widows had stove in and external brickwork damaged but nothing beyond repair.

Inside the recently equipped hairdressing salon glass lay everywhere from mirrors and shelves and cabinets. One large sliver had pierced a cubicle curtain a few inches above the head of a woman customer under a hairdryer. Once again everyone was more shaken than hurt.

Read the whole of his account on BBC People’s War

German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight
German photograph of a V2 rocket in the initial stage of its flight

Germany scrapes together manpower for the front

Recruits for the Großdeutschland Division are kitted out with uniform in  1944.
Recruits for the Großdeutschland Division are kitted out with uniform in 1944.
"The unshakable confidence in victory of the German people cannot be better characterized than by the fact of the incessant flow of volunteers,
“The unshakable confidence in victory of the German people cannot be better characterized than by the incessant flow of volunteers, even in the 6th year of the war….Trained by experienced instructors, with the latest and best weapons, they will soon stand at the front.” November 1944

The scale of casualties was causing concern amongst the Allies, with the British in particular now running out of men to replace losses. Yet the circumstances in Germany were becoming ever more desperate.

In October the Nazis had announced the creation of the Volkssturm, a militia force outside the main Wehrmacht, for men and boys from 13 to 60 not yet serving in the armed forces. Now boys of 16 and 17 were being called up into the Wehrmacht and receiving only the most basic training before being sent to the front.

Erwin Bartmann was a veteran of the Eastern Front, who had spent the last eighteen months recovering from wounds. In late November 1944 he found himself pressed back into service to oversee basic training:

I shared a billet with a fellow Unterscharfuhrer in the house of a local farmer who treated him as if he were a long lost Joseph, newly found. He worked in the Kompanie office and somehow managed to supply our hosts with little gifts of cake or wine but they looked at me with different eyes, making it very clear that I was not a welcome guest.

They even filed a false complaint against me for messing the outside toilet during a party in the run up to Christmas. Hardly a pleasant word passed between us and, despite the onset of winter, I was always relieved to get out of that house in the morning.

The accommodation provided for the recruits — mostly young lads of sixteen or seventeen — was rather more primitive.

They were crowded into bunkers half buried in a nearby field. My squad occupied four of these bunkers, each one accommodating fifteen recruits. Their toilet was nothing more than a pit scraped in the sandy soil found in that area of Germany. Above the pit, a wooden batten with holes cut out – a Donnerbalken (thunderboard) — served as a communal toilet seat.

With no hot water available, washing was a brief and uncomfortable experience for the youngsters. To enable them to bathe properly I took them to the nearby Oder-Spree canal when weather conditions allowed.

They collected their meals — often no more than a slice of bread and boiled potatoes with the skins still on — from the field kitchen and took them back to the bunkers to eat.

In just six weeks, the recruits would have to learn the tips that might help them survive at least their first day fighting the Russians. Field training and weapons practice were the chief activities. At night, and in the thick mists that settled over the wintery countryside, they practised map reading and navigation.

Life was hard for the recruits who until then had enjoyed all the comforts of a home life such as they were in these difficult times. Still, their living conditions were no worse than those I experienced during two cruel winters on the Ostfront.

See Erwin Bartmann: Für Volk and Führer. The Memoir of a Veteran of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler

A march off the Volkssturm - the 'people's storm' - in Berlin in November 1944, part of Goebbels commitment to "Total War" involving every German.
A march of the Volkssturm – the ‘People’s storm’ – in Berlin in November 1944, part of Goebbels commitment to “Total War” involving every German.

British soldiers discover horrors of Vught camp

Vught Concentration Camp: The electrically charged barbed wire fence around Vught concentration camp near Hertogenbosch in Holland.
Vught Concentration Camp: The electrically charged barbed wire fence around Vught concentration camp near Hertogenbosch in Holland.
Vught Concentration Camp: A high wall surrounding part of the concentration camp at Vught topped with steel spikes and broken glass.
Vught Concentration Camp: A high wall surrounding part of the concentration camp at Vught topped with steel spikes and broken glass.

The 4th King’s Own Scottish Borderers had arrived in France in late October and, in late November, found themselves taking over positions from the Canadians in Holland.

Unusually they found themselves billeted in military barracks which had been captured from the Germans. Peter White was one of the officers who soon discovered more about the history of their new base:

Our billets were mostly in a large incomplete German barracks consisting of pleasant red-brick buildings sprinkled in a pine wood on sandy soil beside a lake. These SS barracks struck us as delightful in their appearance and surroundings. They were modern, spacious, airy and only marred by harsh war-theme mural paintings.

We had not, however, yet seen the whole camp. The beauty and birdsong, the lake and the pinewoods were but a facade to a hidden horror which really staggered us. Vught, we soon found, included a notorious concentration camp.

Pitifully few of the original inhabitants had survived to be liberated and the buildings now housed Dutch Quislings and German civilians bombed out from Aachen.

Tammy, Charles and I strolled over to have a look. When we arrived these new inmates were being stripped and sprinkled with DDT powder to de-louse them. It all looked very. peaceful and orderly.

The same careful planning and construction had been lavished here as in the barracks, but in this case on scientific, modern, chromium-plated torture and methods of lingering and mass death as applied by painstaking Teutonic minds. We walked as in a-daze from one monstrous site to another.

Here were chambers where people were gassed to death, then for experimental variety others where they were locked in and steamed to death. A guard was reported to have said: ‘You can tell when they are dead when the screaming stops,’

Near this was a vivisection room where people were trussed on marble slab operating tables thoughtfully provided with grooves to drain off the blood. Six-inch iron spikes formed a carpet with a possible use we shuddered to think about. Then there were the more orthodox and classical tortures of thumb-screws, racks for stretching and solitary-confinement cells and other horrors we could only guess the use of.

Concrete operating table for the dissection of dead prisoners at Vught concentration camp.
Concrete operating table for the dissection of dead prisoners at Vught concentration camp.

Some of the confinement cells were small brick structures the size of dog-kennels in which the victim was locked doubled—up to fit in.

Outside stood a gibbet with a well-worn noose. Under this structure were two wooden blocks that tapered to a tiny base. The purpose was to string the victim up by the neck precariously balancing on tip-toe on the wobbling blocks. Here we were told the agonised victim might sway for hours until either fatigue or desperation caused the slight movement necessary to topple the blocks and complete the execution.

Beside the gibbet stood a triple crematorium, one unit being mobile. The walls of this building were shelved with little earthenware jars for the ash. This ash lay like thick grey flour all over the floor and on our boots while another pathetic little scattering of it dusted a well-worn metal stretcher which was used for the cremation.

The remains of 13,000 other victims, who had arrived too swiftly for the crematoria to cope, had been buried in a part open lime pit at the door.

We had started to get a clearer idea not only of our enemy, but more important to us, the reason for our presence in Europe. Tammy, Charles and I were far more thoughtful as we returned past the watch towers, electric and barbed-wire fences and ditches which surrounded the camp than we had been on our way in.

We were staggered to think that such monsters could exist to staff and run such a place, yet some news from the front showed that apparently any German unit with a stiffening of SS troops was capable of this. Just down river from our arc of, front, west of the blown rail-bridge, the Canadians whom we were taking over from reported that German troops had herded men women and children into Heusden church and there burned them to death.

See Peter White: With the Jocks: A Soldier’s Struggle for Europe 1944-45

Vught had been liberated by the Canadians on the 26th October. Around 500 bodies lay in the grounds, executed earlier that day as the SS sought to close down the camp. Another 500 people were waiting to be executed but were rescued by the unexpectedly swift advance of the 4th Canadian Armor Division.

Vught had served two functions. It had been a transit camp for Jews deported from France, Belgium and Holland, en route to the extermination camps further east. It had also been the main security camp (Schutzhaftlager) for political detainees from Belgium and Holland. Anyone suspected of opposing the Nazis might be sent here – and many died here.

A portable gallows for executions in Vught concentration camp.
A portable gallows for executions in Vught concentration camp.
The crematorium oven at Vught concentration camp. In the foreground is a pile of the ashes of human bodies.
The crematorium oven at Vught concentration camp. In the foreground is a pile of the ashes of human bodies.

HMS Stratagem – escape from a flooded submarine

HMS Stratagem, sunk off Malaya on 22 November 1944.
HMS Stratagem, sunk off Malaya on 22 November 1944.
IJN Subchaser CH-35, which depth charged Stratagem and then picked up 10 survivors.
IJN Subchaser CH-35, which depth charged Stratagem and then picked up 10 survivors.

The fortunes of submariners could change very quickly. Once a submarine was detected they were invariably subjected to relentless depth charging. If successfully attacked the chances of anyone on board surviving were very slim. The accounts of men who did survive a depth charge attack and escape from a submarine are rare.

In November 1944 HMS Sturgeon, commanded by Lieutenant G. R. Pelly, was patrolling off Malacca, Malaysia, attempting to discover, from periscope depth, what use the Japanese were making of the port. The officers were aware of a Japanese destroyer working close inshore and of a flying boat apparently searching the area, so thought that their presence might be suspected. Exactly how they were discovered is not clear from the surviving officers account.

Lieutenant D. C. Douglas, Royal Navy, had finished his watch at 0830. He was only able to submit his official report after he was released from POW camp in 1945:

At approximately 12.10 I was awakened by the order, ‘Diving Stations’. As soon as I arrived in the tube space the order, ‘Shut off for depth-charging,’ was passed.

This was carried out and a report sent to the control room. About four minutes elapsed without any further orders coming through — no one in the fore ends knowing what was taking place – then the thrash of the Japanese destroyer could be heard very loud as she passed overhead.

Almost immediately a depth-charge exploded somewhere extremely close under us, lifting the stern and causing us to hit bottom hard. This charge extinguished the greater part of the lighting although one or two of the emergency lights held. About five seconds later a second charge exploded, as far as I could calculate, right amidships, extinguishing the remaining lights.

By this time I had a torch in operation and could see water flooding through the door at the after end of the torpedo stowage compartment. Immediately I gave the order, ‘Shut water-tight doors’ and turned to make sure that the three ratings in the tube space were brought out of that compartment before the door was shut.

By the time this door was shut, the water was flooding very much faster and had risen above the deck boards in the torpedo stowage compartment. It was now above our knees. It was flooding through the after door so fast that the ratings were unable to shut this door. The position of the stop (retaining door in ‘open’ position) on this water-tight door was such that to remove it one had to stand in the doorway as the port side of the door was blocked by stores. Hence, due to the furious rate of flooding, this stop could not be removed.

According to Able Seaman Westwood, who came forward from the control room, the captain gave the order for main ballast to be blown as soon as he found that the ship was being flooded. The valves on the panel were opened without effect.

In what appeared to be an incredibly short time, I was keeping above water by clinging on to a hammock which was slung from the deckhead. The crew in my compartment began to sing but I ordered this to stop and told the crew to get out and put on DSEA sets.

The first I managed to reach had a defective valve on the oxygen bottle and I could not move it. The second was in working order and I put this over the head of one of the older ratings who was panicking and in tears due to the pressure effect on his eyes. The pressure in the boat at the time was immense and the chlorine content in the air considerable. The water all round us must have been full of oil fuel as we were all drenched with it, although I did not notice it at the time. The air could be heard to be escaping through the hull forward and the water was still rising fast.

At this time Leading Seaman Gibbs was in the escape hatch trying to slack back the clips. He shouted to me that he could not move the third clip. Speaking was nearly impossible due to the pressure. I swung up into the trunk alongside Gibbs and tried to remove the clip. After what seemed like an hour, and what I suppose was really a minute, I managed to move the clip by hammering it with my fist. By this time there was no hope of using the escapetrunk as the water was already up to the metal combing which houses the twill trunking.

I took off the last clip and as I did so, the hatch commenced to open. Immediately this clip was free the hatch was blown open and Leading Seaman Gibbs was shot out so suddenly that I cannot remember him going. The hatch slammed shut again and hit me on the top of my head but immediately blew open again and I was shot out in a bubble of air.

Ten of the men in the compartment, which contained 14 at the time, are known to have left the submarine alive although only eight were picked up. The ship’s cook was later seen to be floating, face downwards, on the surface but was obviously drowned. Another rating was seen, while in the submarine, to have on a DSEA set and apparently working it correctly; although he was observed to leave the boat he was not seen on the surface. The Japanese destroyer had dropped two more charges after we were hit but these were not so close and did not seem to harm us although they probably accelerated the flooding.

Throughout the above experiences the behaviour of the crew in my compartment was magnificent. I should especially like to mention the ship’s cook (Leading Cook Weatherhead) who kept up a cheerful narrative about the wonderful fruit cake which he had recently cooked and who showed great bravery and coolness throughout the dreadful experiences in the flooded submarine. This rating was responsible for the singing and by his behaviour greatly assisted in preventing panic. It is with deepest regret that I have to report that this extremely brave rating failed to survive the ascent to the surface.

Lieutenant D. C. Douglas was one of only three men out of the ten survivors to survive Japanese POW camps.

New Davis Breathing Apparatus Tested at the Submarine Escape Test Tank at HMS Dolphin Gosport, 14 December 1942 At the submarine service school, HMS DOLPHIN, a trainee submarine rating coming through the 'escape' hatch into the instructional tank wearing the Davis Breathing Apparatus. An instructor stands nearby.
New Davis Breathing Apparatus Tested at the Submarine Escape Test Tank at HMS Dolphin Gosport, 14 December 1942 At the submarine service school, HMS DOLPHIN, a trainee submarine rating coming through the ‘escape’ hatch into the instructional tank wearing the Davis Breathing Apparatus. An instructor stands nearby.

USS Sealion attacks and sinks battleship Kongo

The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-bilit as a battleship as seen here in 1929-30.
The battlecruiser Kongo had been built by the British shipyard Vickers in 1912. In 1929 she was re-built as a battleship, as seen here in 1929-30.She was further modified in the 1930s to become a ‘fast battleship’.
The first USS-Sealion-(SS-195) had been sunk while in dock on the Philippines on 10th December 1941.
The first USS-Sealion-(SS-195) had been sunk while in dock on the Philippines on 10th December 1941.
The launch of the USS Sealion in October 1943, with Comamnder Eli Reich at right.
The launch of the USS Sealion in October 1943, with Commander Eli Reich at right.

The original USS Sealion had been sunk by Japanese during their initial assaults on US ships in December 1941. Less than two years later USS Sealion was reborn, launched on 31st October 1943. Exactly a year later she set off on her third war patrol, her commander, Eli Reich, having already been awarded Navy Crosses for “aggressive and well executed torpedo attacks” on each of the two earlier patrols. In September she had been responsible for the unfortunate sinking of the Rakuyo Maru, with 1300 POWs aboard.

Early on 21st November off Formosa, now Taiwan, the USS Sealion picked up such strong radar signals that at first they were thought to be bouncing off land. They were then revealed to be a group of Japanese battleships and battle cruisers, including, as it turned out, the IJN “Indestructible” Kongo.

Commander Eli Reich’s original patrol report tells the whole story:

21 NOVEMBER 1944

0020: Radar contact at 44,000 yards, on our starboard quarter, (Ship contact #3) three pips, very clear and distinct. Came to normal approach, went ahead flank on four engines, and commenced tracking. Overcast sky, no soon, visibility about 1500 yards, calm sea.

0043: Two large pips and two smaller pips now outlined on radar screen at a range of 35,000 yards. These are the greatest ranges we have ever obtained on our radar. Pips so large, at so great a range, we first suspected land. It was possible to lobe switch on the larger targets at 32,000 yards – we now realized we probably had two targets of battleship proportions and two of larger cruiser size as our targets. They were in a column with a cruiser ahead followed by two battleships, and a cruiser astern, course 060 T, speed 16 knots. not zigging.

0146: Three escorts now visible on the radar, at a range of 20,000 yards. One on. either beam on the formation, and one on the starboard far quarter. We are pining bearing slowly but surely. The formation is now on our starboard beam. Seas and wind increasing.

0245: Ahead of task force. Turned in and slowed for attack, keeping our bow pointed at the now destroyer who is now 1800 yards on the port bow of our target. the second ship in column. Able to make out shape of near destroyer from bridge. Kept swinging left with our bow directly on the destroyer, and at

0256: Fired six torpedoes, depth set at 8 feet, at the second ship in column, range 3000 yards, believed to be a battleship. Came right with full rudder to bring the stern tubes to bear.

0259-30: Stopped and fired three torpedoes, depth set at 8 feet, from the stern tubes at the third ship in column (ie the second battleship). Range 3100 yards. Range to near destroyer at the time of firing stern tubes about 1800 yards. While firing stern tubes, O.O.D. reported he could make out outline of the near cruiser on our port quarter. During the firing of the bow tubes the bridge quartermaster reported he could make out outline of a very high superstructure on target, he said it looked to him like the pagoda build of the Jap battleships.

0300: Saw and heard three hits on the first battleship – several small mushrooms of explosions noted in the darkness.

0304: Saw and heard at least one hit on the second battleship – this gave a large violent explosion with a sudden rise of flames at the target, but it quickly subsided.

The Japnese destroyer Urakaze which blew up and was lost with all hands.
The Japnese destroyer Urakaze which blew up and was lost with all hands.

In fact two torpedoes from the first salvo had hit Kongo and a third torpedo had passed beyond her and hit the destroyer IJN “Wind on the Sea” Urakaze, causing a catastrophic explosion which sunk her with all hands. With two compartments flooded the Kongo began to lose speed.

Eli Reich thought he had lost his opportunity, believing that he had set his torpedoes at the wrong depth for a battleship. His patrol report continues:

0304-07: Went ahead flank, opening to westward from target group. Noted several small explosions, flames, and probably lights in vicinity of target group.

0308: Heard a long series of heavy depth charge explosions from vicinity of enemy force – we are about 5000 yards from group. P.P.I. shows one escort opening and rapidly to east of target group. Continued tracking.

0330: Chagrined at this point to find subsequent tracking enemy group still making 16 knots, still on course 060T. I feel that in setting depth at 8 feet, in order to hit a destroyer if overlapping our main target. I’ve made a bust – looks like we only dented the armor belt on the battleships.

0406: Tracking indicates the target group now zigzagging. We are holding true bearing, maybe gaining a little. Called for maximum speed from engineers – they gave us 25% overload for about thirty minutes, then commenced growling about sparking commutators, hot motors, et al , forced to slow to flank. Sea and wind increasing all the time – now about force 5 or 6 – taking solid water over bridge, with plenty coming down the conning tower hatch. SEALION making about 16.8 to 17 knots with safety tank dry and using low pressure blower often to keep ballast tanks dry. Engine rooms taking much water through main induction.

0430: Sent SEALION Serial Number TWO. [?]

0450: Noted enemy formation breaking up into two groups – one group dropping astern. Now P.P.I. showed:(a) one group up ahead to consist of three large ships in column – cruiser. battleship, cruiser with a destroyer just being lost to radar view up ahead. Range to this group about 17000 yards. (b) Second group dropping astern of first to consist of a battleship, with two destroyers on far side. Close aboard – range to this group about 15000 yards and closing.

0451: Shifted target designation, decided to attack second group, which contains 1 battleship, hit with three torpedoes on our first attack. Tracking shows target to have slowed to 11 knots. Things beginning to took rosy again.

0512: In position ahead of target, slowed and turned in for attack.

0518: Solutions on T.D.C. and plot is getting sour – target must be changing speed.

0520: Plot and T.D.C. report target must be stopped, radar says target pip seems to be getting a little smaller. Range to target now about 17000 yards.

0524: Tremendous explosion dead ahead – sky brilliantly illuminated, it looked like a sunset at midnight, radar reports battleship pip getting smaller – that it has disappeared -leaving only two smaller pips of the destroyers. Destroyers seem to be milling around vicinity of target. Battleship sunk – the sun set.

0525: Total darkness again.

Before Sealion had a chance to make another attack Kongo had blown up. There were just 237 survivors from a crew of over 1400.

Reich had earned a third Navy Cross on his third patrol. Not only was this the only occasion when an Allied submarine successfully sank a battleship during the war but it was the only occasion an audio recording was made of a live attack.

USS Sealion (SS315) later in the war flying her victory pennants.
USS Sealion (SS315) later in the war flying her victory pennants.

General George S. Patton confronts an SS General

Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944
Troops of the U.S. 5th Infantry Division entering Metz on 18 November 1944

The heavily fortified border city of Metz had been seized from the French in 1870, returned to the French in 1918 and again seized by the Germans in 1940. The US Third Army’s struggle to liberate it had taken nearly three months and heavy casualties.

Sergeant Leonard O’Reilly discovered SS Major General Anton Dunckern hiding in a brewery on the 20th Novemebr, during a thorough search of Metz following its occupation on the 19th. At first Dunckern demanded to be allowed to surrender to a senior officer but, with a cocked pistol prodding him in the stomach, soon changed his mind. He was later brought before General Patton.

Although Patton spoke German fluently he chose have the interview translated because he would not demean himself to speak to him directly:

Patton
You can tell this man that naturally in my position I can­not demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering. If he wants to say anything he can, and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk.

Dunckern
. . . I received orders to go in the Metz sector and defend a certain sector there, and the reason I did not perish was that I could not reach my weapons and fight back.

Patton
. . . He is a liar!

Dunkern
There was no possibility to continue fighting. The door was opened, and they put a gun on me.

Patton
If he wanted to be a good Nazi, he could have died then and there. It would have been a pleasanter death than what he will get now.

Dunkern
. . . It was useless to do anything about it under the circumstances. (He asked permission to ask a question; it was granted.) I was fighting against American troops and captured by them, and therefore am to be considered a prisoner of war of the American forces.

Patton
He will be a prisoner of war of the French forces soon. They have a lot they want to ask him.

Dunkern
I consider myself a prisoner of war of the American forces, and I have not been captured by the French forces.

Patton
When I am dealing with vipers, I do not have to be bothered by any foolish ideas any more than he has been.

Dunkern
I consider myself a prisoner of war since I fought as a soldier and should be treated as a soldier.

Patton
You also acted as a policeman – a low type of police.

Dunkern
I acted as an officer of the police in an honorable and practical manner, and I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Patton
This is a matter of opinion – no one who is a Nazi policeman could act in an honorable manner.

Dunkern
I can only say that during every day of my life I have been honest, rightful, respectful, and humanitarian.

Patton
If this is the case, do you have anything you want to say by way of giving me information or by talking about the German people that will change my opinion?

Dunkern
No one will be able to stand up against me to testify that I did anything against the rules of humanity or human treatment.

Patton
I understand German very well, but I will not demean myself by speaking such a language. I think before I turn the General over to the French, I will send him to the Army Group who may question him or have some special investigators question him, and they can do things I can’t do.

Dunkern
I am not worried about having myself investigated. Of course, there may be some mistakes I have made, which is only human, but I am not worried about inhuman acts charged against me.

Patton
. . . I have great respect for the German soldiers; they are gallant men, but not for Nazis. Have the guards take him outside and have his picture taken and then we’ll see what we will do with him. Also tell him that those bayonets on the guards’ guns are very sharp.”

See The Patton Papers: 1940-1945

An early picture of Nazi party member Anton Dunckern later SS Major General
An early picture of Nazi party member Anton Dunckern later SS Major General

Anton Dunckern was subsequently sentenced to 20 years hard labour for his role as SS Police chief in charge of the Strasbourg region, but released in 1954. He died in 1985.
Contemporary Newsreel featuring Metz amongst several stories from this time, including Peleliu:

Troops of 5th Infantry Division conducting a house-to-house search in Metz on 19 November 1944
Troops of 5th Infantry Division conducting a house-to-house search in Metz on 19 November 1944

Ordeal of the wounded in the ‘Bloody Forest’

The struggle to bring up ammunition in the Hurtgen Forest, extrication the wounded was even more difficult.
The struggle to bring up ammunition in the Hurtgen Forest, extricating the wounded was even more difficult.

In the Hurtgen Forest the bloody battle that had been launched on the 16th continued. Casualties mounted on both sides, casualties that were extremely difficult to evacuate.

William S. Boice, a Chaplain with the 22nd Infantry Regiment describes the circumstances of just one wounded man, in an incident that happened a few days after the start of the battle. It didn’t matter how well protected your position was, fate decided whether you lived or died. Even with a survivable wound there were many more chances left for things to go wrong, as first aid men struggled over the impossible terrain of the dark and gloomy forest:

At 0200, a railroad gun had fired from Duren, some five miles away, and had hit upon a dugout occupied by three officers. The dugout had a heavy roof of two layers of six-inch logs, but the shell, having landed beyond the dugout, blew back in.

One officer was killed outright. Another, a TD officer, was wounded in the chest

The third, an infantry officer, had his right leg broken in a compound fracture, the shrapnel passing on through his left ankle, leaving a hole the size of an egg. Strangely enough, the pain came from the broken leg, and in the dark the officer put a tourniquet on the broken right leg, not even knowing his left foot was injured. And so he lay through the hours of the night — long, bitter, terrifying hours — while he constantly bled, growing weaker and weaker, and feeling the great grayness approaching closer and closer.

Nothing could be done, for in the hell of the inferno of artillery which continued minute after minute and hour after hour, no creature could move with impunity, and it would have been sheer suicide to attempt evacuation under these conditions. Indeed, the evacuation could not be effected until eight o’clock the following morning, when a litter party had to remove the two layers of logs in order to evacuate the two living officers to the aid station.

In the aid station, the battalion surgeons, working under strain, loss of sleep, and the pressure of increasing casualties, still continued to work quickly and effectively. Blood plasma, priceless life-giving fluid, was quickly rigged and administered. The wounded officer was given four bottles, and now for the first time some semblance of life began to appear in his ashen cheeks, but with it, stupefying and heartbreaking pain.

They were placed in the ambulance, these wounded, two litter cases, carefully slung in racks, with the wounded sitting on the floor and on the seat along the side. Then the ambulance started down the makeshift road toward the safety of the collecting station. A man with an arm off at the shoulder tried to sit erect. The ambulance lurched as it headed for the ravine and the bridge, which had been thrice blown out by enemy artillery.

The driver increased his speed, for he knew there was intermittent fire on this bridge and that it was by luck and a prayer that any vehicle got across without being hit. Ambulances, like any other vehicles, were fair prey for artillery. The increased speed over the rough roads, pockmarked by shell and mortar, had the effect of a medieval torture rack on the broken men within.

The collection station, set up in a German farmhouse, was busily working, since the wounded from the entire combat team were collected here. Every wound was quickly examined, and the wounded sorted into categories. The walking wounded sat in one room on the floor or on chairs or simply stood, staring vacantly at one another.

In the next room, the litters lay on the floor so close to one another that the doctors and the aid men frequently had to step on the litter itself. Aid men quickly and efficiently appraised wounds and brought into play their first and most efficient weapon, a pair of scissors, which they carried tied to their wrists or waists by a piece of Carlisle bandage. A sergeant took a quick look at the wounded captain’s feet and, grabbing his scissors, began cutting the clothing from the knee down.

The amount of clothing which the soldier wore was appalling. but he wore everything he could get his hands on in an effort to keep warm, since there were no blankets. The scissors cut through a pair of fatigues; beneath the fatigues, a pair of ODs [olive drabs]; beneath the ODs, long underwear and long socks. Now the sergeant saw the condition of the leg.

He cut the clothing completely open to the shoe, but the foot lay twisted in an odd and somehow horrible position. The slightest movement of the shoe or the litter caused the soldier to grit his teeth with the pain. The sergeant took a razor blade and began to cut the laces of the shoe and the pain became excruciating. It was necessary to remove the shoe from the broken foot, and the soldier fainted from the pain.

The sergeant had called sharply for plasma, and from a wire run across the center of the room between two windows, a T/ 5 had already hung a bottle and, with another stretch of bandage had twisted the tubing and had tried to insert the needle into the veins of the forearm, but the soldier had been through too much, and from lack of blood, the veins had almost collapsed.

The T/ 5 appraised the situation and called sharply, ‘Captain!’ A tired, hollow-eyed surgeon raised his eyes and, without a word, immediately saw the situation. He came at once and, calling for a scalpel, he slit the skin inside the elbow, exposed a vein and expertly slipped the needle into the vein itself. Then he stood and rested his back as he watched the plasma drop by drop giving life to the almost empty veins of the captain.

History of the Twenty-Second United States Infantry in World War II (Compiled and Edited by Dr. William S. Boice, Chaplain)

R+R in Holland – bully beef sandwiches and chocolate

Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade cross a temporary bridge in Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.
Churchill tanks of 34th Tank Brigade cross a temporary bridge in Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.

Dutch civilians cluster on a Churchill tank of 34th Tank Brigade, the first tank to enter Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.
Dutch civilians cluster on a Churchill tank of 34th Tank Brigade, the first tank to enter Roosendaal, 30 October 1944.

Tank Commander Trevor Greenwood and the 9th Royal Tank Regiment had been almost continuously on the move since they had landed in Normandy in June. They had fought their last battle at the end of October, which finished with Greenwood removing the body of a friend from a tank that had been hit alongside his. The body had been cut in two by an armour piercing shell.

They had then prepared to assault the Dutch town of Roosendaal which was reported to be heavily defended. At the last moment the Germans had chosen to withdraw. The 9th RTR were very relieved to discover that not only did not have to fight for the town but they were given a period of ‘rest and recuperation’, living in private houses in the town.

Greenwood and his men found themselves living in a bar-cafe. They were having “an incredibly easy time”, only having to see to daily tank maintenance and attend a number of lectures of such topics as VD and the procedure for de-mobilisation after the war. No-one was getting their hopes up, they knew thay would be back in battle soon:

D +165 Saturday 18.11.44

Fine morning, but cold and windy. Courses until 12 noon. Indoors all afternoon — too comfortable in these billets to bother about going out.

We are being well looked after — waited on hand and foot. Fires, tidying up, etc. all done by civvies. Unfortunately, none of the people in the house speak English, but we manage to converse somehow. It is really amazing how much ‘conversation’ is carried on by means of a few words, signs and pantomime.

Attended 15 Troop’s party this evening. The troop is billeted in a separate café with quite a good dance floor. Each member’ of the troop invited a lady friend, making about 30 of us in all. The major and SSM were also invited. Unfortunately, we only had a portable gramophone for a ‘dance band’ — it was more or less useless, but the dancers managed somehow.

Refreshments were surprisingly good — the lads having been scrounging and buying for a couple of days beforehand. There was plenty of beer — from stocks in the café. We also had whisky and gin and cordial from the sergeants’ mess ration. Also bully beef sandwiches — and several dozen fancy cakes bought in Antwerp yesterday. Chocolate too was fairly plentiful, thanks to the issue of 3.5 bars per man during the day.

There was some dancing, and a few games, in which kissing seemed to be the principal feature. These Dutch lassies certainly enjoy kissing! The party finished about midnight, I believe.

Saw signs of a huge heavy bomber raid on Germany today. There were hundreds of bombers overhead during the afternoon: objective Munster. We are now completely out of touch with the war here. Our first few days in Roosendaal were disturbed by heavy gunfire, but there is now complete silence — apart from the occasional roar of a bursting flying bomb in the distance.

Judging by news reports, the Belgian government is having trouble with the ‘patriot army’ — the latter refusing to hand in their arms, maintaining that there is still work for them to do.

From my observations of the men who constitute these Maquis forces in Belgium and France — also Holland — I am not surprised at this development. What is the nature of the work still ahead of them? To fight the enemy within? They certainly form a potential threat to any form of reactionary government — or a return to the old order of dominance by the wealthy.

The Belgian govt. have offered to incorporate the ‘patriots’ in the regular army. This seems very much like an attempt to hoodwink them. Once in the army, they would cease to be free men able to assert themselves. The ultimatum to hand over all arms expires at midnight tonight. Meanwhile mass meetings seem to be the order of the day in Belgium.

I am living in an aroma of cheap scent at the moment. This morning, our host here — a very obliging Dutchman of 37 years — showed me a small bottle of scent — ‘tis goot’ he added. And then he poured some of the stuff on my hair and clothes — thinking no doubt he was doing me a favour. I had the smell with me all the evening at the party — a sickly, heavy smell: faded violets, or something.

See Trevor Greenwood: D-Day to Victory: The Diaries of a British Tank Commander

A scene of complete devastation in the railway yards at Munster, as discovered by British ground forces on 7 April 1945. The administrative centre of Westphalia, and a major rail junction, Munster had suffered heavy Bomber Command and USAAF attacks when it became a tactically important reinforcement route into the Rhine battle area.
A scene of complete devastation in the railway yards at Munster, as discovered by British ground forces on 7 April 1945. The administrative centre of Westphalia, and a major rail junction, Munster had suffered heavy Bomber Command and USAAF attacks when it became a tactically important reinforcement route into the Rhine battle area.