A week earlier Japanese officer Fuzuko Obara had led his platoon on an infiltration patrol to gather intelligence. They had snatched a Filipino guerrilla who had been fighting alongside the invading US forces. He does not record what information they obtained from this man, nor how it was obtained. Then in the afternoon of 9th February he was ordered to make a night attack on the positions he had earlier reconnoitred:
The reaction of my men is simply this: they begin to check and recheck their arms and equipment. Scanning their faces, I find them calm and unruffled, scarcely changed except for a look of anticipation The captured guerrilla has been killed.
Sunset is near. Without conscious will or interest, I find scenes of the distant past flashing through my mind like so many lantern slides. ‘Still attached to worldly desires,’ I scold myself, but the more I try to shake off these memories, the more they crowd in on me, memories of childhood, of my mother, of my wife ‘What is this,’ I say to myself. ‘I am a living, breathing man, who should be directing his thoughts towards a clear view of present realities.’
By 2400 hours we have safely penetrated the enemy’s security perimeter without being detected From here on, each squad is to proceed on its own. The 3rd Squad, which I attach myself to, has proceeded about 50m when we discover an enemy infiltration warning trip-wire and communication line, which we promptly cut.
As we resume our advance, I hear what appear to be four bursts of static from an infiltration warning device speaker, followed by four violent blasts, probably the explosions of landmines buried in the area. Now there can be no delay. I blow the whistle for the assault.
The results achieved are the destruction of 12 or 13 men, three medium field shelters and two 45mm mobile guns with their vehicles. We continue the advance, still seeking the enemy. Recovering from their shock, enemy soldiers oné by one commence firing from the ridge line extending in front of us. Undeterred, we continue to advance.
At this time we begin to receive intense fire from a variety of weapons Before me, about Sm away is a machine-gun, and there is another about 30m to my right. Good I take a hand- grenade and throw it. In the violent explosion that follows, one machine-gun and seven or eight men are destroyed at a blow.
Meanwhile the enemy is receiving fierce fire frontally. However bullets from all directions are beginning to fall like raindrops around us. The concentration of fire produces a surprisingly beautiful effect with its tracers. Ricochets arch into the sky. The danger of encirclement is increasing, so I order a withdrawal to the first assembly point, during which we are subjected to enemy pursuit fire. At the assembly point, I find that three men are missing.
They do not return. At the time we were under enemy fire, it seemed to me that no one was hit. Still, were they, after all, killed by those enemy bullets, or wounded, or fallen victim to guerrillas? Such are the unpleasant thoughts that float unbidden through my mind.
Eventually the missing three men managed to return independently to their hidden camp in the jungle. Obara records his emotional reaction. Although by this stage the US forces were engaged in heavy fighting within Manila and were successfully pushing the Japanese back, he apparently has no idea what the wider situation is at all and is pleased with his successful attack:
then there is a warm lump constricting the throat and suddenly hot tears begin to flow.
This was our baptism of fire under American bullets. It has been good experience, and serves to reinforce our determination that they shall be destroyed without loss to ourselves.
Another of Hitler’s wonder weapons, the Me 262 jet fighter, had failed to transform the air war over Germany. Not only were there not enough of them but loitering Allied fighters were having success picking them off as they either took off or landed. They were too fast to engage in a dogfight.
The remains of the Luftwaffe in the west, which had been decimated trying to support the Battle of the Bulge, was fighting a losing battle with its conventional aircraft. Too many of its experienced pilots had been lost. The young pilots now being thrown into the battle to defend had to contend with some talented opponents.
Robin Olds had been credited with eight kills while flying the P-38 Lightning out of England between May and September 1944. After converting to the P-51 Mustang he made a further six kills before returning to the U.S. for a two month break in November. Back in England, again with the 434th Fighter Squadron and its parent, the 479th Fighter Group, Olds resumed flying on 15th January. It did not take him long before he he was celebrating more victories.
February 9 turned into quite a fine day. First thing in the morning, I pinned on shiny new oak-leaf clusters and officially became a major. Better yet, we ran into a flock of Me-109s and enjoyed reasonable success.
By this period in the air war the group had settled into a daily routine of bomber escort. One squadron flew the close-escort effort as prescribed in the ops order, which meant staying close to the stream so the bomber crews knew someone cared about them. The bomber crews liked to see some friendly fighters around them. The second squadron flew area sweeps; their job was to rove within 15 or 20 miles of the bomber stream, hopefully putting themselves between the force and any attacking fighters.
The third squadron flew what we called “outlaw.” That was the preferred mission. Take off any time you wanted, and catch the Luftwaffe force either forming up for their attack or trying to return to their bases afterward. This took experience, planning, and a bit of luck for those of us pulling this duty.
On this particular day, the 434th pulled close-escort duty and I was leading the flight. We took off as scheduled with a minimum package of twelve Mustangs and ground our way along with the big boys toward Stuttgart at 27,000 feet. The weather wasn’t all that good. Broken clouds ranged in various decks right down to the ground, and off to the southeast a formidable front, like a gray wall, stretched away to the southwest.
I had just turned the 434th around the backside of our box of bombers and was heading parallel to their course on the right side of the stream, when I spotted a gaggle of shadowy contrails sneaking along the top of that cirrus bank and headed in the direction of our bombers. I was about to turn to intercept them when the 435th flight sailed past just to my right.
I wondered what in hell they were doing so close to the bombers. By all rights those enemy fighters (and that’s all they could have been) were their responsibility. I held my turn and watched the 435th go scurrying along out of sight. My God, a whole squadron, and it was obvious not one of them had spotted the enemy.
As soon as the 435th cleared, I dropped my externals, turned, and headed my bunch to intercept the rapidly closing bandits. Soon, the German leader saw us coming and, knowing the jig was up, broke off his attack. His formation turned into a gaggle of individual aircraft as we piled into them.
All this time my outfit had uttered not a single word. We prided ourselves on rfio discipline, and We fought that whole fight in silence. It was a weird one. We ended up with the battle swirling along and then into the huge squall line. It was like flying into the proverbial milk bottle.
I had managed to knock one Me-109 down quickly and went after another just as he entered the cloud. I concentrated on my adversary and hoped he was a good instrument pilot. Without a horizon, there was no up, no down, no left or right. There was also no “seat of the pants” to believe in. I closed on the 1O9, trying to get my gun sight on him, when everything went to hell at once.
I could feel my bird staggering and shuddering, but wanted to get off at least one burst before I lost everything. To my amazement, the 109 snapped, and then spun straight up! Hell no, that wasn’t up, it had to be down… and both of us must have been nearly inverted when we stalled.
To hell with the German, Robin! Get your head in the cockpit. Get those gyrating instruments sorted out, and recover from this spin. I knew I had plenty of altitude, so I didn’t rush things. Horror stories of pilots pulling the wings off in their haste to recover from similar situations flashed through my mind. I stayed cool as I sorted the situation, then recovered from the spin and pulled back to level flight.
So then why did I start shaking almost uncontrollably when I got the beast flying straight and level, headed more or less to the west? The whole incident had happened so quickly, was so intense and disorienting, that I’d had no time to be afraid. Adrenaline was pumping, and my reaction after the sudden return to the normalcy of the steady, soothing hum of the Mustang engine in the relative security of my snug cockpit made everything let go at once.
I remember being glad to be alone in my plane, without a witness to my aftershock.
On the northern flank of the Allied front in north west Europe the British XXX Corps and the 1st Canadian Army now launched a massive assault on the German lines. Operation Veritable pushed south east to join up with the US Ninth Army and force the Germans up against the Rhine. The month long battle was intended to coincide with Operation Grenade, the US Ninth Army pushing north west in a pincer movement. However after the Germans flooded the ground in front of the Americans, preventing any attack in the south, Operation Veritable went ahead anyway.
The British and Canadians found themselves constricted by the terrain of the Reichswald Forest and progress was slower than expected over the wet, muddy battlefield.
Lieutenant-General Horrocks who commanded XXX Corps, writing after the war, describes how the attack was launched:
By the evening of 7th February our concentration was complete, and the woods and outskirts of Nijmegen were thick with troops, guns, vehicles, workshops, tanks—all the paraphernalia of modern war. It would have been almost impossible to drop a pea into the area without hitting something. This was probably the last of the old-type set piece attacks because, in face of the threat of tactical atomic missiles, no concentration like this can ever take place again.
Though the difficult and complicated concentration had been achieved secretly, our prospects of a swift success had dwindled since the original plan had been made. The thaw had been a great blow, because in front of us in that low-lying valley the going was certain to be bad. Luckily for my peace of mind I did not realise then just how bad.
The second handicap concerned the attack of the American 9th Army. The Germans had wisely blown the dams, and the Roer river had become so flooded that no passage over it would be possible until the flood waters had subsided. How long this would take was anybody’s guess.
The flood would enable the Germans to concentrate every available reserve against us. We were faced with a battle of extermination, slogging our way forward through the mud. Not a pleasing prospect at all.
With these thoughts in mind I climbed into my command post for the battle in the early hours of 8th February. It was a cold, grey, miserable dawn with low clouds and rain, heralding several days of stormy weather. My command post was a small platform half-way up a tree, and from here I had a wonderful view over most of the battlefield. The noise was appalling, and the sight awe-inspiring.
All across the front shells were exploding. We had arranged for a barrage, a curtain of fire, to move forward at a rate of 300 yards every twelve minutes, or 100 yards every four minutes, in front of the troops. To mark the end of the four-minute period when the guns would increase their range by 300 yards they all fired a round of yellow smoke.
So it was possible to follow roughly the progress of the attack, and down in the valley, behind this wall of shells, I could see small scattered groups of men and tanks all moving slowly forward. I was also able by wireless to keep in accurate touch with what was happening.
This was the biggest operation I had ever handled in war. Thirty Corps was 200,000 strong that day, and we were attacking with five divisions in line supported by 1400 guns. It soon became clear that the enemy was completely bemused as a result of our colossal bombardment; their resistance was slight.
The main trouble was mines —and mud, particularly mud. I am certain that this must be the chief memory of everyone who fought in the Reichswald battle. Mud and still more mud. It was so bad that after the first hour every tank going across country was bogged down, and the infantry had to struggle forward on their own. The chief enemy resistance came from the cellars in the villages.
It has been said that no two attacks are ever alike, and that was exemplified in this battle. Every night as soon as it was dusk, the 3rd Canadian Division set out on what were almost maritime operations, each one designed to capture one or more of the villages which, owing to the flooding, looked like small islands jutting out of the sea. Artillery would fire on the village while the Canadians in their buffaloes (amphibious vehicles) sailed off across the intervening lake and carried out their assault.
On their right was an entirely different type of operation carried out by the 44th Brigade of the 15th Scottish. Their task was to breach the northern extension of the Siegfried Line, consisting of anti—tank ditches, mine-fields, concrete emplacements and barbed- wire entanglements.
Not one single man was on his feet. The ofiicers controlling the artillery fire were in tanks. The leading wave of the assault consisted of tanks with flails in front beating and exploding the mines to clear passages through the mine-fields. Then came tanks carrying bridges and fascines on their backs to form bridges over the anti—tank ditch. The next echelon was flame- throwing tanks to deal with the concrete pill—boxes, and finally infantry in cut-down tanks, i.e., with the top taken off, called kangaroos.
These proved a great boon in the closing stages of the war. They were, I believe, a Canadian invention emanating from the brain of one of their most famous corps commanders, General Simonds. I once saw a whole brigade of the 51st Highland Division in these vehicles being heavily shelled by the Germans. I thought their casualties were bound to be high, but they had only two men wounded.
That night the Germans breached the banks of the Rhine upstream, and the floods started to rise, spreading over our one road. Nevertheless the advance was going well, and I was delighted to hear that the 15th Scottish were moving into the outskirts of Cleve.
The US Army were now pushing into Germany, as the Allies moved up to the Rhine, which would be the final obstacle before they could move into the heart of the Reich. Despite being exhausted by the failure of the Ardennes offensive, many elements of both the Wehrmacht and the SS continued the fight as vigorously as ever.
George Wilson was an officer with Company F, the 22nd Infantry Regiment, US 4th Infantry Division. They had fought their way across Europe since D-Day but the demands of battle were relentless. They had made a night attack on SS positions on Hill 553, only to be ousted by an immediate SS counter attack. The orders came straight back – an immediate daylight attack had to be launched in order that other units would not be outflanked.
They were assigned some tanks and tank destroyers but it was discovered that the ground was too soft for them to to accompany the infantry. Instead they quickly improvised the tactics to allow the armour to provide the necessary fire support. A ‘creeping barrage’, in which the artillery fire slowly moved ahead of the advancing infantry – keeping the opposing defenders heads down until the last minute, always included the risk that some shells would fall short. This was an even more intimidating variation on the same tactic:
We brought our men up against the high bank of the road out of sight of the enemy and lined up the tanks and TDs along the flat stretches, giving them specific target areas in the patches of woods. They would be firing directly over the heads of our advancing men, and they‘d usehigh-explosive shells to keep the Germans under cover while peppering the area with their 30-caliber and 50—cali- ber machine guns. The artillery F0 was also with us, and he had the same targets.
Captain Newcomb then had the men spread out widely, and he personally led them out onto the open hill slope as I directed the tanks and TDs to commence firing.
The only problem in the beginning was the stunning shock waves from the 75mm and 90mm rifles of the armor as the men were still close in. Many of the men had to sling their rifles so they could get both hands up over their ears. The rolling thunder of the big guns made it impossible to tell whether the enemy was firing back; I could not see any evidence of incoming artillery.
With Captain Newcomb in the center and the platoon leaders and their platoons spread out to his left and right and behind him, the attack moved in orderly fashion with everyone walking very fast.
I was coordinating the whole show. The crucial decision, for which I was already tensing though» I had a few minutes yet, was when to lift the straight-line, overhead fire of the tanks and TDs. Artillery was also laying down an intense barrage on the hilltop, but its shells arced in with plenty of clearance of the ground troops and could be lifted later.
The tough decision was when to lift the 75s and 90s. If I stopped the firing too soon, the Germans would rush out of their bunkers and blast our men when they were exposed on the open slope. If I waited too long, I might wipe out my men from the rear.
I was sweating, but at least I could clearly see the men and the shell bursts of our 75s and 90s. I watched closely through my binoculars as the advance continued, and I knew the men were scared to death hearing their own shells whip a few feet over their heads while waiting for the enemy to open up.
All I could do was watch and worry. It was the first time I’d directed that kind of fire, and I could only hope this was not the first time the armor had done it. I also knew that short rounds cropped up occasionally, and I gave a fleeting worried thought to the workers back in the States who had packed the shell cases. Now and then I put down my field glasses and checked the men directly because I didn’t want the magnification to make me think they were closer to the top than they actually were.
When I finally gave the command to fire, the barrage was extremely intense and accurate, giving us exactly what we wanted. The Krauts could not come out in that awful blasting; they must have been terrified, strained to the limit of their nerves. Our men continued to walk rapidly up the slope, and I knew they were not getting any return fire because none of them hit the ground.
My moment was almost at hand, and I watched closely through my field glasses. When they seemed to be only a hundred yards from the edge of the woods I couldn’t hold out any longer, and I signaled the tanks and TDs to cease firing. The artillery F0 then raised his range slightly to clear our men as they reached the edge of the woods. As they got near the bunkers the infantry was firing from the hip.
Most of the Germans were so shaken that they stayed in their shelters. They offered almost no resist- ance as our men moved in and captured them. Their SS commander tried to get them to fight but was unsuccessful. I made my way quickly up the hill, and when I arrived a few minutes later everything was completely in our hands. and our boys were jubilant.
German prisoners were being led out, along with an arrogant SS officer in full dress uniform and long coat. He was mad as hell, and I only wished I could understand his German sputtering.
George Macdonald Fraser was a young soldier who had just joined his platoon of infantry. The Border Regiment were drawn from men living on the borders between England and Scotland, many from Cumbria, with its distinct dialect. They were veterans of the Battle of Imphal and he was very much the junior man on the platoon, with little experience to compare with theirs.
While out on a 20 man patrol it was his privilege to carry a large tin of fruit, which would be shared amongst them that evening. Losing his footing he dropped the tin down a 15 foot mud ravine – a nullah – and of course he felt compelled to retrieve it.
Down in the nullah he discovered three bunkers. Feeling embarrassed to call his fellow soldiers to help him investigate some deserted bunkers, he discovered that the first and the third were definitely empty:
I came out of that bunker feeling pretty heroic, and was retrieving my fruit tin when it occurred to me that I ought to go into the second one, too, just to make a job of it.
And I was moving towards it when I heard a faint, distant whistle from over the top of the bank — little Nixon, for certain, wondering where his wandering boy had got to. I ran up the nullah, and found a crack in its side only about twenty yards farther on. I scrambled up, heaving the tin ahead of me, clawing my way over the lip to find Nick standing about ten yards off, and Sergeant Hutton hastening towards me with blood in his eye.
“Where the hell ’ave you been?” he blared. “Wanderin’ aboot like a bloody lost soul, what d’ye think yer on?”
“There were bunkers,” I began, but before I could get out another word Nick had shouted “Doon, Jock!” and whipped up his rifle.
How I managed it I have no idea, but I know my feet left the ground and I hit the deck facing back the way I had come. Whatever Nick had seen was in that direction, and I wanted to get a good look at it — I suppose it was instinct and training combined, for I was scrabbling my rifle forward as I fell and turned together. And I can see him now, and he doesn’t improve with age.
Five yards away, not far from where the bunkers must have been, a Jap was looking towards us. Half his naked torso was visible over the lip of the bank — how the hell he had climbed up there, God knows — and he was in the act of raising a large dark object, about a foot across, holding it above his head. I had a glimpse of a contorted yellow face before Nick’s rifle cracked behind me, three quick shots, and I’d got off one of my own when there was a deafening explosion and I was blinded by an enormous flash as the edge of the nullah dissolved in a cloud of dust and smoke.
I rolled away, deafened, and then debris came raining down — earth and stones and bits of Jap, and when I could see again there was a great yawning bite out of the lip of the nullah, and the smoke and dust was clearing above it.
“Git doon!” snapped Hutton, as I started to rise. Suddenly, as if by magic, the section were there behind me, on the deck or kneeling, every rifle covering the lip, and Hutton walked forward and looked into the nullah.
“Fook me,” he said. “Land mine. Fook me. Y’awreet, JocK?” I said I was.
“Wheer th’ell did ’e coom frae? The booger!”
I told him, no doubt incoherently, about the bunkers: that I’d checked two and been on the way to the third when Nick had whistled. “It looked empty,” I said.
“Well, it bloody well wasn’t, was it?” he shouted, and I realised he was not only angry, but shaken. “Duke, giddoon theer an’ ’ev a dekko! Rest o’ you, git back in extended line — move!”
Nick was recharging his magazine. I realised that I was trembling. “Land mine?” I said. “Did you hit it?”
“Nivver,” said he. “Ah hit him, though. Naw, he would have it wired. Suicide squad, waitin’ to blaw oop anyone that cam’ near ’im.” He grinned at me. “Might ha’ bin thee, jock boy. Ye shoulda give us a shout, man.”
I explained why I hadn’t, and he shook his head. “Nivver ga in on yer own, son. That’s ’ow ye finish up dyin’ Tojo’s way. Ye wanna die yer own fookin’ way.”
“Git fell in, you two!” It was Hutton again. “Standin’ aboot natterin’ wid yer thumbs in yer bums an’ yer minds in neutral! Awreet, Duke? Ad-vance! Coom on, it’ll be bloody dark in a minute!”
There is a memorable end to this account of one of his first infantry patrols but you will have to read George MacDonald Fraser: Quartered Safe Out Here to discover more. As vivid and entertaining as any of his Flashman novels, this is the work of a born story teller.
On the 5th February the ‘Big Three’ met once more, this time in the Crimean resort of Yalta. There were momentous decisions to be reached about how Germany was to be divided up after the war, whether they should seek reparations from Germany, how the new United Nations ‘World Organisation’ was going to operate, and much more.
The Soviet Union’s entire economy had been thrown over to war production and, with most of western Russia laid waste, there were few resources spare even for this international event. The plumbing for the partially rebuilt buildings that would accommodate the dignitaries had had to come from various Moscow hotels, where it would be returned after the conference – never to work satisfactorily ever again.
Maureen Stuart-Clark was a Women’s Royal Naval Service aide to Admiral James Somerville, who she referred to as ‘Uncle Jim’, one of the British delegates. She was very impressed with the female Soviet Army guards, armed with Tommy guns, who were ‘immense, tough and had the largest legs I had ever seen’. She was not quite so impressed with some of the other arrangements:
Eventually we arrived at the Voronthov [sic] Palace where the British Chiefs of Staff were going to be accommodated. It was quite the ugliest place I have ever seen — built in a mixture of Moorish and Gothic styles. The entrance at either end was Gothic with castle like turrets and gate, while the centre was Moorish with minarettes [sic] and domes. It had been built for Prince Yusof who killed Rasputin and had not been destroyed because it had been promised to the German General who captured the Crimea, and had left it till too late to destroy it.
We found the rest of us were housed in two sanatoriums between five and ten minutes drive down the road. They had been old Palaces, partially destroyed by the Germans and rebuilt especially for this occasion. We spent the first event desperately trying to organise luggage, office papers etc. and tempers were fairly short.
Most of the Kremlin guard had come down to act as guards and sentries, and they looked very smart in their khaki uniforms with their high boots, red and blue caps, gold braid etc. They had sent down hordes of interpreters from Moscow — mainly women — who spoke excellent English although they had never left the country. Actually the whole thing was rather superficial and unreal.
Russia is definitely a hard, ruthless country and yet they had laid on the most terrific show for the British, which includes maids in caps, aprons and high heeled shoes which they had never worn before and consequently presented a ludicrous spectacle wobbling unsteadily around; interpreters in new suits and stockings so they would not be inferior to us; vodka, champagne, smoked salmon etc. when the only ration they themselves are certain of getting is black bread; it rather disappointed me as one thought they could have afforded to say ‘We’ve done jolly well on this so you ought to try it and jolly well like it’.
The water was unsafe to drink and the only liquid there was to swallow was the vodka, champagne etc. so we spent the whole time either very definitely muzzy or else parched with thirst! They even brought a lemon tree all the way from Batoum so that there would be lemon for the drinks, but they never thought to provide a simple plug for the basins!
The sanitary arrangements were the most peculiar thing. In our place there was a bath and three showers all in a little hut together down the garden. There was a sweet peasant girl in attendance who scrubbed your back vigorously, irrespective of your sex, in fact there was considerable trouble at first as they all bath and swim in the nude together and couldn’t understand our reluctance to bath with Major Generals or Naval officers at the same time. You ploughed down the garden in your great coat and hoped you wouldn’t get pneumonia returning.
But — the lavatory situation was the grimmest. In the Palace there was a total of 3, one of which was kept for the private use of the P.M. The other two had to provide for the use of the 3 Chiefs of Staff, General Ismay, F.M.s [Field Marshals] Alexander and Wilson, U.J.[Uncle Jim], Anthony Eden, Lord Leathers, Sir Ralph Metcalf, lots of foreign office boys, typists, clerks, sentries, maids, interpreters, Marine orderlies and all the visitors. The result was that we lost all shame and openly discussed the best bushes in the garden which was the only solution.
The US invasion to retake Luzon in the Philippines had gone relatively well so far. On the 3rd February US forces reached Manila and a terrible bloodbath began to unfold – as the Japanese chose to make this their last stand and fight to the death. It was to become the largest urban battle of the Pacific theatre. First the US forces had to overcome some fanatical resistance on the edge of the city.
Fuzuko Obara was a Japanese officer or NCO who had been transferred from Manchuria to the Philippines to bolster the defences before the expected American invasion. He and his unit had an uncomfortable time camping out in the jungles of Luzon, on the outskirts of Manila. Obara’s new posting began with a spell of dysentery and things continued to get more uncomfortable:
When the enemy swoops and wheels overhead, we take cover in the shelter of the trees the drops of sweat little by little begin to dry, and as they evaporate, leaving the salts, our bodies appear white Our food ration is 400 grams of uncooked native rice, some salt, and leaves of the wild sweet potato.
Camping out in a river ravine, trying to keep themselves concealed, would prove to be extremely testing. Everything soon became covered in a green mould:
Immediately we are enveloped in humidity as in a cloud of steam. The hot moist air in the grove is seething with mosquitoes. You only have to clap your hands to crush five or ten of the insects. They come at you from all directions. Each day’s work lays out one or two with malaria.
As well as malaria, ringworm and other afflictions, most of them began to suffer from a chronic fungal infection ‘athlete’s foot’, which became so bad that it was painful to walk. Nevertheless Obara’s spirits and morale remained high, believing that he was engaged in a sacred Imperial cause:
The bond of affection among comrades-at-arms is a noble feeling. I wish the people at home could witness this, and I wish especially they could see the contrast with the selfishness of American individualism. This nobility of character, this highest love! Amid steaming heat and clouds of humidity, and the invisible poison of the striped insect.
Finally on the 4th February they were to sight the enemy for the first time:
4 February 1945:
Manila is on fire. The tempo of gunfire is increasing. The shelling is averaging about one report a second. There may be some naval bombardment from enemy ships that may have slipped into Manila Bay. Enemy planes have intensified their disruptive raids.
Now with my own eyes I see enemy ground forces, armoured units. I see for the first time enemy vehicles on land. I look at them and think: ‘Those are the enemy’s. Those tanks are enemy tanks. There is the long-awaited enemy.’
Suddenly one of our automatic cannons on a neighbouring hill is seen to belch an intense burst of fire. An enemy Douglas light bomber emits a fierce spurt of flame and appears to be falling. As I am thinking, ‘We got him’, the falling plane, manoeuvring desperately, is seen to be making progress towards his own armoured units until, just before it appears about to crash, a parachute suddenly is seen to unfold and comes drifting down. ‘The bum made it,’ someone says, and I hear the disappointment in his voice.
Later that day,as night approached, Obara was ordered to lead an infiltration patrol through US positions.
We receive with gratitude the Imperial gift of o-saké [rice wine] When it becomes quite dark, we begin a stealthy advance towards our objective The stars are shining and the sky glows with the fires still burning in Manila, but in the tall grass and gullies it is so dark that we can see scarcely an inch ahead.
It becomes difficult to keep a sense of direction. We are among the enemy now, so it is essential to avoid making the least sound Completely baffled as to the best way to proceed, we seem to have fallen into a queer world of illusion The ravines are choked with thickets, principally bamboo. Our progress is as little as a single metre in five minutes
As dawn approaches, we are able finally with great difficulty to infiltrate to a position at one comer of our objective area. I send out a patrol. They discover a Filipino guerrilla.
I put my field glasses to my eyes, and there they are. I count ten American soldiers in khaki, accompanied by five or six guerrillas in white shirts, guarding a mobile 45mm cannon. To see enemy soldiers with my own eyes affects me deeply. These are enemies of the Divine Land and they must pay dearly.
Perhaps tonight we will launch and attack to destroy this enemy we now see With the coming of daylight, an observation plane hovering in the skies seems almost to tease by threatening to fly over us. All this time I am nervously wondering, ‘Now will we be seen?’
When the RAF had launched their 1000 Bomber Raids in 1942 they had been epic endeavours that made history. Now the USAAF 8th Air Force was able to mount a 1000 bomber raid in broad daylight with its force of B-17s alone – at the same time 434 B-24s hit the Rothensee oil plant at Magdeburg and targets in the vicinity. On the night of 2nd/3rd RAF Bomber Command had sent 1,252 bombers to hit Germany and on the night of the 3rd/4th over 510 bombers would return.
A large attack on a city centre was unusual for the 8th Airforce – but this raid was undertaken in the belief that the Sixth Panzer Army was being transported by rail across the city, heading for the Eastern front. It was argued that the attack was necessary to support the Red Army.
This was the Mission Report of just one of the Bombardment Squadrons taking part, the 614th, part of the 401 Bombardment Group:
This was an attack on “Big B”, a visual attack for a change. Strikes by the 500 lb G.Ps were seen on the marshalling yards and its surrounding area not previously damaged. The 614th flew the High Element of each Box. There were no fighters but the flak was moderate to intense. Five of the nine 614th aircraft received battle damage. Aircraft 44-6508, piloted by Lt. King, was hit by flak and headed towards the Russian lines – later to turn up out of the blue in mid-March with an interesting story to tell.
This was a 1,000 B-17 attack on the German capital with a 500 escort of fighters – the biggest single raid by the 8th A.F. on a single target, the 401st furnishing a 36 aircraft Group flying as the 94th “B” Group. Captain J.R. Locher was the Air Commander of the Group. The specific target was the Tempelhof marshalling yards and the weather over the target was clear although the preceeding eight Groups left the target area completely covered with smoke.
The Group used the RF-Grid with outlying checkpoints and the Lead and Low Squadrons results were excellent. The High Squadron a little short but they were still in the immediate area of the MPI. There was no escaping the flak over the German capital and the Group found the flak moderate to intense and accurate. Twenty-two of the Group’s aircraft sustained battle damage with one aircraft MIA and two crew members wounded. The escort fighters made sure that the Luftwaffe stayed away from the bombers, shooting down 21 of them in combats. The 614th loading list was as follows: 42-97602 Stauffer, 43-38646 Thompson, 44-6508 King (MIA), 42-97395 Babcock, 42-97478 White, 43-38458 Hartsock, 43-38677 Moran, 42-39012 Richardson.
Leonard Streitfeld was a bombardier with the 398th Bomb Group, he describes how his own plane approached the target area:
Our group was to be ninth over the target and, as we approached the “IP”, all we could see was smoke and flak over the target area. The smoke had completely covered the city and the sky was peppered with flak bursts that we were going to fly through. As the flak increased in intensity, we were hit in the Tokyo Tanks (Auxiliary tanks for long missions) on the right wing, then the vertical stabilizer, followed by holes in the right waist and in the floor of the nose of the plane where Coy and I were sitting. The flak was stopped by armor plating in the floor. We could hear the pinging sound as the flak hit the plane and it’s a sound that you can never forget for all those who experienced it.
The fact that there were so many bomb groups on this mission one group blended in with the other and there seemed to be a continuous stream of planes close enough that we could see them dropping their bombs.
Due to the strong headwinds that day the true air speed on the bomb run was only 90 MPH. We were sitting ducks. We saw a few planes in the distance get direct hits and go down. One of them exploded leaving a large cloud of black smoke in it’s place.
Whenever a plane was going down we started to count the chutes. It was hoped that everyone would escape but many times the plane would blow up by the time we counted to four or five. It wasn’t pleasant to watch but there was nothing we could do about it except be thankful that it wasn’t our plane that was shot down.
I used to wonder what would happen to me if we were shot down and they saw the “H” on my dog tags. The dog tags had to be worn by everyone and identified their name, rank, serial number and religion. (C meant Catholic, P meant Protestant and H meant Hebrew.) If anyone did not have their tags on and were shot down and captured, that could have been reason to be shot as a spy.
I couldn’t wait until the lead ship dropped its bombs and it seemed like forever before they were released. All of the planes followed suit and unloaded their deadly cargo. The bomb bay doors on every plane began to slowly close as we headed away from the dangerously saturated flak area. The flak eventually thinned out and we were soon in the clear. Although there were enemy fighters in the air, we did not encounter any.
The mission lasted nine hours and most of us would have been glad to go back if we could inflict as much damage again. We would do anything to help bring this war to an end sooner.
Robert A Hand was a bombardier on his 35th and last mission:
“Well goddamn it, Robert,” I thought to myself, “This is what you yearned for so badly, isn’t it? Life in the Army Air Force with all its thrills . . . . dusting off the clouds in a great airplane . . . . . flying combat as a crew member of a “Big Ass Bird” . . . . getting your jollies as a Bombardier with your very own $10,000 Norden “Bomb-Aimer-And- Dropper” and sitting up front with the most exciting, panoramic view in the airplane.
And how about those endless hours strapped up in heavy flying gear, under a flak suit, Mae West life preserver and chute harness, pulling your breath through five yards of hose, wondering where the next wall of flak will appear. Or enduring the endless throb of engine sound . . . . not daring to give in to fatigue . . . . or even hunger . . . . or the anticipation and dread of injury at altitude, hours away from medical attention . . . . or bailing out into that fifty-below-zero gale outside.
Or the horror of watching a formation buddy in a nearby B-17, throw smoke, drop from the squadron and only being able to count six chutes before he disintegrates into a giant smear of debris. Or the hair-raising episodes of close-formation flying when you’re on the bomb run, seconds before release and you look directly up into another B- 17’s open and loaded bomb bay doors and you know he is about to drop his bombs too.
Or how about the nightmare turned real of holding an injured crew member’s head in your hands while he froths at the mouth, babbling incoherently and bleeding profusely from a head wound. Or listening to the heavy breathing on the intercom of a shaken comrade as he asks his God for mercy. Or visions of torture and starvation in an enemy prison camp . . . .
But then you gaze downward at the frozen trenches of Holland five miles below and you thank your lucky stars that you’re up here relatively comfortable in a quartermillion- dollar airplane with nine other guys protecting your back side and with any luck you’ll be back at the base in four or five hours for a shower, something decent to drink and eat and maybe a couple of letters from home.
And you realize that a simple twist of fate . . . . being born a second earlier or later . . . . or to different parents, another country or world . . . . and you might have wound up a footsoldier, lying half-frozen in a lousy foxhole, waiting for an enemy shell to put you out of your misery . . . . or worse. Is this the war to end all wars?
Casualties were relatively light, ‘only’ 36 planes were shot down. The bomb load had contained a high proportion of explosives to incendiaries – even so fires burned and spread for four days. 2,894 people were killed on the ground but 20,000 were injured and an estimated 120,000 made homeless. Diarist Ursula von Kardorff wondered why people did not go mad:
3 February 1945
Today the city centre had its heaviest raid yet. I would not have believed it possible for them to be worse. Luckily I was in the deep shelter, but even there people began to panic. Women started to scream when the lights finally went out for good.
Why does nobody go crazy? Why does nobody go out in the street and shout, ‘I’ve had enough!’ Why is there not a revolution?
‘Stick it out!’ What a stupid motto. So we shall stick it out until we are all dead.
On the 1st of February there had been elation in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, located 22 miles north of Berlin. The news reached the prisoners that the Red Army was just 60 miles east of Berlin. Rumours soon spread that they would soon be liberated, and that it might well happen in the next day or so.
The grim reality proved to be a deep disappointment the following day. Not only were the Nazis preparing to evacuate the whole camp but they were now starting to murder some of their more prominent prisoners. Odd Nansen, a Norwegian political prisoner, was keeping a secret diary in the camp, writing on the 3rd he recalled the events of the 2nd:
From the brightest and wildest optimism we’ve been plunged into gloomy pessimism.
When we got back from the job last night, we were met be the sinister announcement that the camp is to be evacuated. We’re all to start off on a trek. To the great majority the news was thunder from a clear sky, and many still refuse to believe it, such an utterly outrageous impossibility and insanity does it seem.
Forty thousand men on the tramp southward, southwest or west; miserably clad, with nothing to eat – for it can be only Norwegians who have any food to take with them – and in a worse than rickety condition. First we heard it as a rumour, and it penetrated slowly into our consciousness, which refused to accept it. Then it came as an official announcement in the block: “The camp will probably be evacuated”. Wahrscheinlich!
A hope still lingers in the interpretation of that lumpy German word, a little chance that the Russians may be too quick, the possibility of a change of mind with the ensuing counter-order, of which, indeed, we’ve known so many that they can almost be taken as the rule. But in that case there is another dark cloud in our sky, a cloud which has grown darker, blacker and more menacing in the last forty-eight hours. Liquidation! Vernichtung!
It is now being said that over two hundred men, including all the lackeys of the Sonderkommission, were shot last night. They were a frightful gang indeed, and no one laments them. They were the Gestapo’s henchmen among the prisoners. And so that was their reward.
When the truth about the events of the night gradually came out, when we learnt that our friends the Englishmen, John and Jack and Tommy and the rest, we knew them right back in Grini [a Nazi concentration camp in Norway], had in all probability been shot, and the Russian officers and many others, the atmosphere filled with gloom.
Rumour also had it that the coming night would be still worse. Last night many were awakened by shots in the camp. This was what happened: when a party of those who had been taken from the blocks under cover of darkness marched out of the gate and turned to the right, they realised where they were going, broke the ranks and ran into the little park there between the walls. The guards opened fire on them, and they were shot down there in the park. It was the rat—tat of the guards’ tommy-guns which broke the night silence, filling those who lay awake with horror and dread.
The ‘English friends’ that Nansen was referring to were members of a British commando team that had been captured after a sabotage operation to Norway in 1943, Operation Checkmate. They had successfully sunk a German minesweeper and other ships with limpet mines but despite the fact that they had operated in uniform they fell victim to Hitler’s Commando Order when they were captured. They were not treated as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Convention.
In Sachsenhausen they had been forced to march 30 miles a day on cobbled roads, ‘testing’ German Army boots. It later emerged that, when they were led to execution, Temporary Lieutenant John Godwin, RNVR, who had led the team of Commandos and Royal Navy seamen, managed to snatch the pistol of the firing party commander and shoot him dead before being shot down himself.
There were no witnesses to Godwin’s resistance surviving at the end of the war, a fact that meant he could not be eligible for a gallantry medal. Instead he was awarded a ‘Mention In Despatches’. The citation, in The London Gazette, 9 October 1945, read:
“For great gallantry and inspiring example whilst a prisoner of war in German hands in Norway and afterwards at Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg, Germany, 1942-1945”
Henry Metelmann was to enjoy practically the only route out available to the infantryman in a front line unit – he was wounded. More importantly he was wounded while the evacuation of casualties to the west was still functioning:
We were driven before the advancing Russians across the old Polish border, from which three years ago we had set out full of hope to conquer the USSR. During the campaign I had been wounded several times but, luckily, only slightly.
And then, it happened again. Not far from the River San and the large town of Przemysl I was hit by a shell fragment, which finally secured me a place on a Red Cross transport back home to Germany.
What a homecoming it was! We had heard, of course, about the Allied air attacks on the German cities. But what we saw from our windows was far beyond what we had expected. It shocked us to the core of our very being.
Was this what we had been fighting for in the East for several years? And yet, there was still a hard core amongst us, when we were discussing the horrible spectacle, who could not see the connection between these ashes and what we had done in Russia. Breslau was very bad when we saw it, but no worse than Stalingrad had been.
As the wounded were now also being rushed into the Fatherland from the Western and Southem Fronts, all the hospital services were heavily overloaded. We came through Dresden, Leipzig, Halle, Magdeburg etc. Sometimes we went through air attacks, but our coaches had large Red Crosses on their roofs, and fortunately nothing happened to us. Finally we were unloaded at an emergency Lazarett at Gutersloh in Westphalia.
The faces of the civilians were grey and tired, and in some of them we could even see resentment, as if it was our fault that their homes had been destroyed and so many of their dear ones burnt to cinders. Smiling wryly, we reminded each other that Hitler himself had promised his soldiers that the gratitude of the Fatherland to them would be ensured forever. But we realized that these had merely been words, and the cold reality was quite different.
Even so many of us expected some sort of reception committee, with flowers and speeches at the railway station. But when we arrived, there were only the porters, who had got used to these trains, and over-worked and harassed stretcher-bearers from the Hitler Youth, who dumped us as quickly as they could in the long corridors.
… the final collapse of our Reich was now only a question of time, and this dominated all the thinking of my waking hours. Though not daring to say to anyone, secretly I would have liked to have stayed medically unfit for war until the last shot was fired.
By this time, with powerful enemy armies fighting on all sides of our Reich, even the most fanatical amongst us began to realize that our practical use as soldiers could now be no more than as cheap cannon fodder, to be carelessly sacrificed on an idiotic altar of glory. With everything so openly and obviously falling to pieces all around us, it was – and still is — a mystery to me why no revolt broke out anywhere amongst the suffering German population.
It was a short respite for Metelmann because he was soon judged fit and returned to a front line unit in April. The real piece of luck that he enjoyed was that, having spent most of the war on the Eastern front, he now found himself on the Western front. When the time for surrender came he was in an incomparably better position than if he had not been wounded at the beginning of the year.