The last V2, and the end of enemy action on British soil

Ruined flats in Limehouse, East London. Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road, following the explosion of the last German V2 rocket to fall on London, 27 March 1945.
Ruined flats in Limehouse, East London. Hughes Mansions, Vallance Road, following the explosion of the last German V2 rocket to fall on London, 27 March 1945.

The last V2 to cause a fatality had landed in Orpington in Kent on the 27th March, there is an account on BBC People’s War. Ivy Millichamp became the last civilian to become a fatal casualty of enemy action on British soil during the war, the last of 67,100 civilian deaths during the war. She was the only fatality of the Orpington explosion, although earlier in the day 134 people had been killed in the second worst V2 incident of the whole war at Stepney in East London. The disparity in casualty figures merely reflects the randomness of the V2 attacks.

Ivy Millichamp who died aged 34 when a V2 rocket hit her home in Kynaston Road, Orpington.
Ivy Millichamp who died aged 34 when a V2 rocket hit her home in Kynaston Road, Orpington.

Of course nobody knew for certain that this was the last V2 action and there was no public commemoration of the event, then or later. The British government was doing its best to keep the lid on news of the attacks.

The devastation at Kynaston Road, Orpington where housewife Ivy Millington was killed in her kitchen by Hitler's last V2 rocket.
The devastation at Kynaston Road, Orpington where housewife Ivy Millington was killed in her kitchen by Hitler’s last V2 rocket.

The last enemy action of any kind on British soil had occurred on 29 March 1945, when a V-1 struck Datchworth in Hertfordshire. It exploded harmlessly in fields. Since the German V1 launch sites were well out of range of Britain by now, it must be presumed to have been an air launched rocket.

On 23rd March 1945 a V2 rocket had landed on Uppingham Avenue in Stanmore, North London. Civilian defence worker George Beardmore reflected on the aftermath of the incident and the impact it had had on local people, in his diary a week later:

30 March

Another rocket, and worst of the lot, landed at the top of Uppingham Avenue. I remember some time ago cycling down Weston Drive into Uppingham and thinking that if a rocket landed there it would make a right mess. And it had, if only because the damned thing had landed plumb on all three mains — water, gas, electricity. Water and gas had become mixed with the result that far down the hill in Kenton householders were being warned by loud-hailers from police-vans not to make use of any of the services.

I don’t have anything to do with the service engineers but, my word, they had arrived first according to report, and were still busy repairing and making up when I left. The rocket had landed at 3.40 in the morning, killing nine people among whom was a 9-year-old boy who had been flung out of bed, through the rafters, and into a back garden ten houses away – at first, nobody had been able to find him.

As I watched the mass funeral (Union ]ack, Bishop of Willesden, Civil Defence, WVS, and the Controllers’ cars lined up for three hundred yards) tears came to my eyes not with the grief and distress caused to survivors but with the incalculable trouble to which they will be put, months and years of it, before they can resume any sort of normal life and the incident becomes only a tale to tell to the grand-children.

Even obtaining an everyday thing like soap has its problems, let alone the replacement of identity-cards, ration-books, personal papers, with which I can give some help. In fact, I suggested to the WVS that they leave some bars of soap in my office for dispensation; it duly arrived, and within a day it had all gone.

Also here for the first time I had an official from Public Assistance sitting at my side, giving away money — not loaning, giving.

This incident was also made memorable by the office I had set up suddenly catching fire, provisionally put down to a short in the electricity supply creating a spark that set alight a small gas-leak. Luckily only seven or eight of us were inside the house, and we managed to get out in a mad scramble without casualty.

A moment later, in the street and watching the blaze, which had started at the back, I remembered the infinite pains with which the WVS had gathered and collated information about the inhabitants of the affected houses before and after. Without thinking twice about it I threw myself inside, swept the papers up in my left arm and while shielding my face with my right arm bolted outside again.

The only damage resulted from the right side of my head catching fire. At least, there was a strong smell of burning and I found the hair singed off. No medals for rescuing papers. Now if they had been a baby instead…

Last week the famous crossing of the Rhine at Remagen. According to the press one might think that we had had little opposition (Frankfurt taken, General Patton eighty- five miles into Westphalia) but my guess is that such optimism is on a par with the paucity of news about rockets.

Here at Harrow we hear some of the bangs and occasionally get the things ourselves but according to Jean’s aunt at Blackheath (not wholly reliable, I shouldn’t think) they hear and sometimes get four every hour. Group reports come through daily as 48 dead or 19 dead or 22 dead.

Only as far away as Buckinghamshire the peasantry knows nothing of rockets, and in Manchester all they learn is from one line of news in the paper: ‘In south England there was some enemy activity. Casualties and damage are reported.’ As I said before, it’s like trying to conceal news of an earthquake.

See George Beardmore: Civilians at War: Journals, 1938-46

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”.

Hundreds killed as USS Franklin hit by sneak bomber

Aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) attacked during World War II, March 19, 1945.
Aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) attacked during World War II, March 19, 1945. Photographed by PHC Albert Bullock from the cruiser USS Santa Fe (CL-60), which was alongside assisting with firefighting and rescue work. Photo #: 80-G-273880, Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. The carrier is afire and listing after she was hit by a Japanese air attack while operating off the coast of Japan – the crew is clearly seen on flight deck. After the attack the vessel lay dead in the water, took a 13° starboard list, lost all radio communications, and broiled under the heat from enveloping fires. Many of the crewmen were blown overboard, driven off by fire, killed or wounded, but the hundreds of officers and enlisted who voluntarily remained saved their ship through sheer tenacity. The casualties totaled 724 killed and 265 wounded, and would have far exceeded this number if it were not for the exemplary work of many survivors.

On the 19th March 1945 the carrier USS Franklin was 50 miles off the coast of Japan, participating in air strikes against the main island of Honshu by Task Force 58. On deck were 31 armed and fueled aircraft about to be launched, with more armed and fuelled aircraft were in the hangar deck below. Suddenly a Japanese bomber emerged from the clouds and dropped two 250kg bombs.

The first bomb penetrated into the hangar deck, setting off a devastating series of aviation fuel and ammunition explosions. The force of these explosions erupted onto the flight deck setting off further fires and explosions amongst the waiting aircraft. The ship soon began to list and for a time it seemed that the Franklin was doomed.

Pacific War Correspondent Alvin S. McCoy sent this account, which subsequently appeared in War Illustrated in Britain:

I was the only war correspondent aboard, a dazed survivor of the holocaust only because I was below decks at breakfast in the unhit area. The rescue of the crippled carrier, towed flaming and smoking from the very shores of Japan, and the saving of more than 800 men fished from the sea by protecting cruisers and destroyers, will be an epic of naval warfare.

Heads bobbed in the water for miles behind the carrier. Men floated on rafts or swam about in the bitterly cold water to seize lifelines from the rescue ships and be hauled aboard. The official loss of life will be announced by the Navy Department in Washington. Unofficial figures at the time showed 949 dead, more than 221 wounded.

Scenes of indescribable horror swept the ship. Men were blown off the flight deck into the sea. Some were burned to cinders in the searing white-hot flash of flame that swept the hangar deck. Others were trapped in the compartments below and suffocated by smoke. Scores were drowned, and others torn by exploding shells and bombs.

Countless deeds of heroism and superb seamanship saved the carrier and about two-thirds of the ship’s complement if more than 2,500. The tenacity of the Franklin’s skipper, Captain L. E. Gehres, who refused to abandon the ship and accept the aid of protecting ships and planes, virtually snatched the carrier from Japanese waters to be repaired so that she can fight again.

Fire and damage control parties who stuck with the ship performed valiantly. The carrier was all but abandoned, although the “abandon ship” order was never given. An air group and about 1,500 of the crew were sent to the U.S.S. Sante Fé. A skeleton crew of some 690 remained aboard to try to save the ship as it listed nearly twenty degrees. The Franklin’s aircraft which were airborne landed safely on other carriers.

The official casualty figures were 724 killed and 265 wounded but subsequent research, taking into the number of men first shown as missing, has placed the figure at between 807 and 924 killed.

Contemporary newsreel of the incident, without sound but has graphic footage of other Japanese planes, probably kamikazes, being shot down:

Soviet tank column smashes through civilian refugees

Column of Soviet IS-2 tanks on the road in East Prussia, 1st Belorussian Front.  On the left side of the road - abandoned German Panzerfaust.
Column of Soviet IS-2 tanks on the road in East Prussia, 1st Belorussian Front.
On the left side of the road – abandoned German Panzerfaust.

As the Red Army pushed rapidly into eastern Germany there were many instances of truly appalling atrocities, often featuring the rape and murder of civilians. The desire for revenge burnt strong amongst members of the Red Army, often based upon their personal experiences of the German invasion. There was also a semi-official encouragement of visiting horrors upon the Germans, with articles in the Soviet press.

Quite apart from the Nazi propaganda there were plenty of horror stories and rumours being circulated amongst the millions of Germans fleeing west. They were now caught up in a moving battlefield and often there was no escape.

Men from the 7th Panzer Division who had lost their tanks were being evacuated together, in an attempt by their own Divisional commander to avoid the German High Command’s orders that they be redeployed as infantry. They were headed east towards Gotenhafen in the hope of finding a ship:

It was shortly before midday on 5 March. The fleeing columns slowly but tenaciously continued along the road to the east, towards Gotenhafen and Danzig. There were two columns next to each other, the motorized vehicles and our tanks on the left, the horse-drawn wagons of the Wehrmacht and the civilian population on the right, but both heading in the same direction — eastwards. Occasionally, a horse-drawn wagon tried to make better progress by pulling into the motorized column, resulting in traffic jams which had to be cleared.

There was still snow, but at midday it began to thaw, it was already growing pleasantly warm. March!

About two kilometres to our left, I saw a road running parallel, full of horse—drawn vehicles. They were therefore our own, not Russian, as they would have been motorized.

Then, on the other road, from the east, in the opposite direction to the column, Russian tanks drove up, and smashed through the column. We identified them as T-34/85s. The distance was too great, we heard nothing, only saw how the horses reared up, people ran to the sides, watched how the wagons were pushed and crushed by the tanks, how people fell from the wagons under machine-gun fire. This was how the Red Army did things – it was terrible!

We were really shocked, because we couldn’t fire. We would just have endangered the civilians over there and of course over here by our own column, as the Russians would have fired back.

The tanks smashed through everything, crashing over the refugee wagons and heading west. Everything happened very quickly, and then the tank unit disappeared from view.

After this dreadful show our column doggedly continued. Suddenly I saw three soldiers, wearing earth-brown uniforms and civilian clothes, running amongst our vehicles. They carried Russian submachine—guns with drum magazines attached — a small scouting group! When they saw our tank, they disappeared between the vehicles to the south side, beyond the horse-drawn wagons.

Although I was not sure if these small, inconspicuous people were the enemy, Hans Kalb shouted: ‘There! Look! Russians! How can they run amongst us like that, shoot them all, the damned dogs! Shoot!’

But he saw that the Russians had already taken cover on the other side. Then he said, ‘It’s come to this, that the Russians run around amongst us, and we can’t do anything about it!“

This account appears in Prit Buttar: Battleground Prussia: The Assault on Germany’s Eastern Front 1944-45.

The corpse of a German woman, who was killed in an explosion at Metgetene (Metgethen) in East Prussia.
The corpse of a German woman, who was killed in an explosion at Metgetene (Metgethen) in East Prussia.

Wounded – a lucky escape from the Eastern front

A German picture of the aftermath of battle on the Eastern front in February 1945, with Soviet dead and destroyed T-34 tanks.
A German picture of the aftermath of battle on the Eastern front in February 1945, with Soviet dead and destroyed T-34 tanks.
The Volkssturm - the 'peoples army' of old men and boys was now bolstering German numbers on the eastern front.
The Volkssturm – the ‘peoples army’ of old men and boys was now bolstering German numbers on the Eastern front.

As the Eastern front descended into barbarity the German soldier was fighting for his life, without any alternative. Anyone found deserting, or even any straggler suspected of doing so, would not enjoy a carefully conducted legal process while his case was considered. Field ‘court martials’ , if they could be described as such, were swift affairs and usually ended with a firing squad.

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.

See Henry Metelmann: Through Hell for Hitler: A Dramatic First-Hand Account of Fighting on the Eastern Front With the Wehrmacht

Berlin was declared a 'defence zone' on 1st February - and civilian 'volunteers' were soon drafted in to build tank ditches.
Berlin was declared a ‘defence zone’ on 1st February – and civilian ‘volunteers’ were soon drafted in to build tank ditches.

Battle of the Bulge – Germans attempt to escape

"Dead German lies in ditch along route of Third Army Division advance near Langlir, Belgium." 13 January 1945.
“Dead German lies in ditch along route of Third Army Division advance near Langlir, Belgium.” 13 January 1945.

In the face of all the evidence Hitler had clung to the hope that something might be achieved by his Ardennes offensive, even after the German attacks had been halted. Only on the 8th had he authorised a withdrawal from the tip of the attack and it would not be until the 15th that he finally accepted that nothing would be achieved. By the end of the month the Germans would be back virtually where they started.

It had always been a gamble, a gamble that depended on Germans breaking through very quickly and seizing Allied supply dumps, particularly for fuel. That had failed, the Allies had been able to stiffen their lines very quickly. Now the Allies were able bring up strong counter-attacks, fully supported by their great material advantage.

For the German soldiers in retreat the Ardennes were now becoming a trap, a killing zone that in places would be worse than the retreat from Normandy.

Gunther Holz:

While our batteries had to cadge for a couple of shells, the enemy supply units drove to their vast supply depots and woe betide the depot commander if he failed to make the required quantities available at once. Where our gunners fired 100 shells, 2,000 shells were fired back from the other side and what we called co-ordinated fire was normal harassing fire in the eyes of our opponents.

From morning till evening American fighter-bombers dominate the sky, firing at anything that moved, no matter whether a vehicle or a single man. Only full cover and not the slightest movement ensured survival. In addition bomb carpets are dropped by small units of 20 to 30 four-engined aircraft on recognized troop concentrations.

'Thousands of cans of gasoline are stacked ready at the side of a Belgian road. It was such fuel dumps that were to prove so vital to the German offensive.'
‘Thousands of cans of gasoline are stacked ready at the side of a Belgian road. It was such fuel dumps that were to prove so vital to the German offensive.’

Obergrenadier Freund:

During the night before 13 January 1945, the Americans shot as much as they can. The shells fell within the German lines. There was a hell of a noise. The soldiers were lying underneath the tanks or have found shelter elsewhere. The Americans want to fire a lane into the German front in order to get east faster.

Someone screams: ‘Enemy tanks.’ Everyone shoots as much as they can The night is as light as day because of the exploding shells. Everybody is nervous. A German tank drives over a poor soldier.

Some soldiers lie in the trench and lower their heads. Though all the rattling and cracking, Paul suddenly hears a scream. He turns around and sees one of our own tanks standing in front of him. It had driven right over the legs of some poor fellow.

Half an hour later the uproar is over. It gets quiet again. Carefully, everybody who is still alive crawls out of the foxholes. The wounded are bandaged and carried off. The other soldiers inspect the whole area.

Behind a hedge eight killed Americans are lying The dead are searched for something to eat. The soldiers are always hungry and the supply does not work at all. Regular meals have been a thing of the past for some time. Whoever finds anything eats it. The Americans had enough on them. Dry bread, tins of all kinds and even toilet paper are in the combatants’ packages.

A direct hit struck the command and reconnaissance vehicle. Three men were killed at once. Private First Class Kessler was alive, but shaken. He stood there white as a sheet. Death can pass you by so fast.

The command and reconnaissance car was at the crossroads. The three dead soldiers were lying next to it. Han said, after he saw his killed comrades: ‘They have had an easy death. Nobody had to suffer.’ Shell splinters had cut offthe head of Master Sergeant Preiss He was a good guy, but that does not count in a war.

Corporal Wachter’s head was smashed and there were lots of holes in his coat. The man had a foreboding about his fate On the night before, he had said: ‘I will not see my family again, nor my Saxon home.’ ‘Why should you not survive the war? We all still have this hope at least,’ Paul interposed. ‘No, I can feel it.’ ‘It will turn out all right,’ said another soldier. ‘No, not for me,’ was his point of view. He survived this discussion by a few hours.

There was no time to mourn. The very next moment shell fire may start and then there would be even more dead and wounded .. In a small village graveyard the three soldiers dig a grave. They put the dead into it and have a short memorial. More ceremonies are not foreseen for front-line soldiers. The soldiers shovel earth back into the grave and the war continues One less day at the front. But how much is one day?

These accounts appear in Nigel Cawthorne (ed): Reaping the Whirlwind: The German and Japanese Experience of World War II

"We were getting our second wind now and started flattening out that bulge. We took 50,000 prisoners in December alone."
“We were getting our second wind now and started flattening out that bulge.
We took 50,000 prisoners in December alone.”

USS Louisville’s second Kamikaze attack in two days

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.
The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.

As the US Navy began the bombardment of Luzon, ‘softening up’ the defences prior to amphibious assault, they encountered the Japanese suicide ‘Kamikaze’ planes in ever more persistent attacks. With Japanese airbases within easy reach and the use of Kamikaze pilots now one of their main tactics the US ships had to face an unprecedented onslaught, with many ships being hit more than once.

The USS Louisville had been hit on the 5th January with one man killed and 52 wounded, including the captain. The following day she was attacked by six successive planes, five were shot down but one got through:

The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

John Duffy was one of the men on board the USS Louisville dealing with the aftermath:

All of a sudden, the ship shuddered and I knew we were hit again. I was in charge of the 1st Division men and I yelled. “We’re hit, let’s go men!” I was the first man out the Turret door followed by Lt. Commander Foster and Lt. Hastin, our Division Officer, then a dozen more men. The starboard side of the ship was on fire from the focsle deck down.

One almost naked body was laying about ten feet from the turret with the top of his head missing. It was the Kamikaze pilot that had hit us. He made a direct hit on the Communications deck.

As the men poured out of the turret behind me they just stood there in shock. Explosions were still coming from the ammunition lockers at the scene of the crash. We could see fire there too. Injured men were screaming for help on the Communications Deck above us. I ordered two men to put out the fire on the starboard side by leaning over the side with a hose. That fire was coming from a ruptured aviation fuel pipe that runs the full length of the forecastle on the outside of the ship’s hull. That fuel pipe was probably hit by machine gun bullets from the Kamikaze just before he slammed into us.

Although there was no easy access to the deck above us, I ordered several men to scale up the side of the bulkhead (wall) and aid the badly burned victims who were standing there like zombies. I also ordered three men to crawl under the rear of Turret 1’s overhang, open the hatch there, and get the additional fire hose from Officers Quarters. These three orders were given only seconds apart and everyone responded immediately, but when they got near the dead Jap’s body, which was lying right in the way, it slowed them down.

I yelled, “Carl Neff, grab his legs.” As I leaned over the body, I noticed that all he had on was the wrap-around white cloth in his groin area. I then grabbed him under the arms and lifted. When I did this, his head rolled back and his brain fell out in one piece onto the deck as though it had never been part of his body. I told Carl, “Right over the side with him.” Then I immediately went back and scooped up his brain in both hands and threw it over the side. To the men who had no assignment, I shouted, “Get scrubbers and clean up this mess.”

John Duffy was awarded an individual commendation for his actions : “displayed outstanding diligence, skill, bravery, and intelligence in combating fires and rendering aid to the wounded.” This account appears at Kamikaze images which explores both American and Japanese attitudes to the Kamikaze pilots.

The strike on the Louisville was also notable for the death of Rear Adm.Theodore E. Chandler, commanding the battleships and cruisers in the Lingayen Gulf. He was badly burnt when his Flag bridge was engulfed in flame – but later waited in line for treatment with the other men. However his lungs had been scorched by the petroleum flash and he died the following day.

USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.
USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.

A list of ships with their casualties resulting from “Kamikaze” hits in the Philippine area during the month of January:

USS Cowanesque (2 killed, 2 wounded);
USS Dyke (sunk with all hands);
USS Ommaney Bay (6 killed, 65 wounded, 85 missing at time of report);
USS Helm (6 wounded); USS Louisville (1 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Orca (4 wounded);
HMAS Australia (first hit: 25 killed, 30 wounded; second hit: 14 killed, 26 wounded);
USS Manila Bay (10 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Walke (15 killed, 32 wounded);
USS R.P. Leary(1 wounded);
USS Newcomb (2 killed, 11 wounded);
USS New Mexico (30 killed, 87 wounded); USS Brooks (3 killed, 10 wounded);
USS Minneapolis (2 wounded);
USS California (41 killed, 155 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Southard (6 wounded);
USS Columbia (first attack: 20 killed, 35 wounded; second attack: 17 killed, 8 wounded, 7 missing at time of the report);
USS Louisville (28 killed, 6 wounded, 10 missing at time ofreport);
USS Long (7 wounded);
USS LST 918 (4 killed, 4 wounded);
USS LST 912 (4 killed, 3 wounded);
USS Callaway (30 killed, 20 wounded);
USS Kitkun Bay (16 killed, 15 wounded);
USS Mississippi (8 wounded);
USS Leray Wilson (7 killed, 3 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Dupage (35 killed, 157 wounded);
USS Gilligan (2 killed, 6 wounded);
USS Bellknap (19 killed, 37 wounded);
USS Dickerson (13 wounded);
USS LST 778 (7 killed, 12 wounded);
USS Zeilen (5 killed, 32 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Salamaua (10 killed, 87 wounded, 5 missing.)

Action Report, COM Luzon Attack Force, Lingayen.

The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.
The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.

US Surgeon describes American and German casualties

US Army Surgeons operating under canvas in a Field Hospital.
US Army Surgeons operating under canvas in a Field Hospital.
Surgeon Henry Swan in in the US Army, 1944-45. A graduate of Harvard he later became professor and chair of Medicine at Colorado University.
Surgeon Henry Swan in in the US Army, 1944-45. A graduate of Harvard he later became professor and chair of Medicine at Colorado University.

Henry Swann had arrived in Normandy on 7th June as an Assistant Surgeon in part of the U.S. Army’s 4th Auxiliary Surgical Group. By October he had been promoted and led his own surgical team in the 5th Auxiliary Surgical Group.

During that time they had travelled across north west France, following the Army, never very far from the front lines from which they received a steady stream of patients, both American, German and civilian. Swann was to perform over 1600 surgical procedures during these 11 months of war in Europe.

His letters to his wife Mary contain many reflections on the circumstances he found himself, in as well as a commentary on the current state of medicine as practiced by the US Army:

Dec. 11, 1944

Darling,

Things have continued quiet here. Today was clear and cool in the morning, with clouds and rain in the afternoon. Yesterday, for a short time, there was a flurry of snow, big wet flakes, that dissolved when they hit.

This muddy cold is tough on the boys in the lines! There are few enough comforts in a fox-hole in summer; in winter it is just plain hell. Many of the boys are ingenious in staying dry and warm, but at best it is tough.

We are living in shameful comfort in our school-house! There is no action around us to cause us concern. (No buzz-bomb, thank goodness!) So we have little cause to complain.

Today we had our first patient for some time. A discouraging thing, about a quarter of his brains blown out. For some unaccountable reason he is still alive, but it would be better in the long run for him if he doesn’t make it. At best he could end up half-blind, partially paralyzed, speechless, and subject to fits. Not a pretty picture.

(Later)

Well, he didn’t make it, poor fellow. It is constantly amazing the terrific tenacity to life that these boys manifest. It is impossible to exaggerate what wonderful patients American boys are. They are brave and patient, seldom complaining, always cooperative. They accept pain without moans.

They seldom become demanding of attention, no fussing for little things, nor claiming petty comforts as their due. They have complete trust and faith in their medical corps. They accept unhesitatingly and with confidence whatever their surgeon tells them must be done; and they are grateful.

When they leave your care, they try to tell you in their half-embarrassed, half-humorous way their appreciation of your work in their behalf. It doesn’t take many “Gee, Doc, guess I was plumb lucky to have been brought in here” to drive the fatigue from your bones, and give you new life and hope.

How can one do too much for these boys, who have given everything, and demand so little?

It is a universal experience among my friends, as with myself, that the average German patient is utterly different. He is whining, groaning, demanding. He expects everything, yet is grateful for nothing. He is uncooperative, and often refuses treatment.

Three Jerries are more noisy and more trouble than a ward-full of American boys. Although he is a proud, arrogant winner, when he is hurt, he gets scared and cries. He seems to lack an inner strength of spirit; he whimpers and begs and threatens and demands.

It may be that it is a difference in custom. Our boys are too proud of themselves to “play the baby”; Jerry apparently doesn’t care, and apparently loses no caste in the eyes of the fellows when he does. Be that as it may, the difference is striking. They too, however, have tremendous vitality, and often make miraculous recoveries.

Well, darling, so much for tonight. We plan a little feast later on, with lobster a la Newburg. Merry Christmas.

Lots of love,

H

Just one of many letters available in the The Henry Swan Papers at the National Institute of Health, which describe in some detail the medical treatment of the casualties of war.

Civilians were often equally reliant on Army Medical services, such as this mother and her injured daughter in Normandy.
Civilians were often equally reliant on Army Medical services, such as this mother and her injured daughter in Normandy.

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

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)

A US medic tends Germans on the Italian front

 Wounded Yank. Hit by German machine gun fire in the Fifth Army Advance up the Gaeta Peninsula. An American soldier is receiving help from Army aid-men. Signal Corps Photo 20 May 1944 (Italy)
Wounded Yank. Hit by German machine gun fire in the Fifth Army Advance up the Gaeta Peninsula. An American soldier is receiving help from Army aid-men. Signal Corps Photo 20 May 1944 (Italy)
Saving lives at the Italian front!. An infantryman has fallen and a medic is right there to help him. Working swiftly, under the enemy fire, the medic applies an emergency dressing on the soldier wounded in the head.
Saving lives at the Italian front!. An infantryman has fallen and a medic is right there to help him. Working swiftly, under the enemy fire, the medic applies an emergency dressing on the soldier wounded in the head.

As the weather turned wet and miserable again in Italy, the Allies were still slogging it out against the Gothic line. Progress against the prepared defence line was slow and casualties were heavy.

Klaus H. Huebner was a US Army doctor, this is his diary entry for 6 October 1944:

Several Germans are among our congregation of wounded awaiting us. The most seriously wounded is a German who insists that he is a walking case and not badly hurt. He has a hole in his back big enough for me to see parts of his lung expanding with each breath. He states that his company has had a rough night.

When only four men were left, something hit him in the back and he fell. He shouted all night but no one came to his rescue. By morning he saw our medics using this church, so he decided to walk over, give himself up, and be treated. Since he seems to be breathing better with the hole in his chest wide open rather than closed, I cover it only with a very loose dressing and fill him up with sulfadiazine pills. He says his pain is not severe enough to require morphine…

Frequently the narrow road crosses and recrosses the creek over small wooden bridges. These are usually demolished, and we cross the stream on debris strewn around them. I witness the entire battalion cross over one such obstacle, except for the last man, who is unfortunate enough to have his foot blown off by a shoe mine. How 450 men have crossed over the same path and avoided stepping on that mine is almost unbelievable!

By 8:00pm I am in a barn on a mountain ridge. There is no defilade, but at least I have a roof over my head. I wouldn’t stay here if the weather were clear. Visibility today is only about two hundred yards, and if the Krauts want to shoot us up, they must do so by map. I am directly behind our troops, which are once again having a rough time.

Progress is very slow. Sometimes they advance less than two hundred yards all day. Consequently, I remain here for three days. We treat at least fifty casualties per day. The arriving wounded are mud covered and rain soaked. The majority of wounds are gunshot and mortar shrapnel.

Our station is constantly harassed by mortar fire, shells exploding outside both day and night. There are almost as many German wounded as GIs.

One German non-commissioned officer is brought in with a palm-sized hole in his buttock. He had been lying in the woods for forty-eight hours. His wound is filled with leaves, sticks and dirt. What he desires most is a swig of cognac. I offer him my canteen filled with whiskey, and he empties one-half of it without drawing a breath between gulps. I loosely suture his buttock together without any anesthesia. He never says ‘ouch.’

See Klaus H. Huebner: Long Walk through War: A Combat Doctor’s Diary

Saving lives at the Italian front! A wounded Yank needs emergency treatment! Without losing a moment he is rushed to the operating table at the field hospital.
Saving lives at the Italian front! A wounded Yank needs emergency treatment! Without losing a moment he is rushed to the operating table at the field hospital.