The Lancastria bombed and sunk, thousands dead

HMT Lancastria at sea
HMT Lancastria, a cross Atlantic cruise liner requisitioned as a troop transport April 1940
The Sinking of the Cunard Liner SS Lancastria off St Nazaire. One of a series of images taken by an unidentified photographer, obtained by a Press Agency.
The Sinking of the Cunard Liner SS Lancastria off St Nazaire. One of a series of images taken by an unidentified photographer, obtained by a Press Agency.

There were still tens of thousands of British military personnel in France even as it became apparent that the new French leader was likely to seek an Armistice. Once again a rapidly organised evacuation was underway. The circumstances were not as desperate at at Dunkirk but they were still impeded by German bombers ranging far and wide.

The Cunard liner Lancastria had been pressed into service as a troop ship. She now took on board as many men as possible, far exceeding her peacetime capacity. Amongst them were over 800 RAF maintenance crew, packed into the lower hold, as well as thousands of soldiers from a variety of Army support units, and an unknown number of civilian refugees.

Unfortunately they had not long left the port of St Nazaire before the bombers found them.

Walter Hirst was a Sapper with the Royal Engineers:

On the 17th we boarded the Lancastria late in the afternoon. We immediately grabbed a couple of life jackets which I thought would make ideal pillows. We were ordered below and shortly after witnessed, through a porthole, the Oronsay being hit. Both myself and another Sapper decided then, that it would be healthier if we were topside and so decided to climb the stairs, against orders.

Soon after the Lancastria was hit. It was a massive explosion. There was total panic and chaos. Soldiers, including some from 663, positioned at either end of the ship began to open up with Bren guns at the circling enemy aircraft. I managed to get myself into a lifeboat but as it was being lowered the ropes on one end became jammed in the davit. A panicked sailor suddenly jumped up and started to hack away at the ropes with a knife. Myself and others yelled at him to stop, but immediately we were all thrown into the sea. Continue reading “The Lancastria bombed and sunk, thousands dead”

Okinawa – mounting U.S. casualties on Kunishi Ridge

Men of the 1st Marine Division on Wana Ridge with Browning Automatic Rifle.
Men of the 1st Marine Division on Wana Ridge with Browning Automatic Rifle.

On Okinawa the bloody struggle continued as intensively as ever. On the 11th June a combined attack by US Marines and US Army forces had begun the final assault on the last major Japanese holdout. The struggle for the Kunishi Ridge was to be as costly as any of the Okinawa battles.

Between 11th and 18th June 1945 the 1st Marine Division alone would suffer 1,150 casualties. Amongst the men of K (King) Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division (K/3/5) was E.B. Sledge, who would later write one of the classic memoirs of the Pacific war. He describes the perilous situation that they found on the Ridge, and the predicament they encountered when trying to evacuate the wounded:

With daylight I got a good look at our surroundings. Only then could I appreciate fully what a desperate, bitter battle the fight for Kunishi Ridge had been—and was continuing to be. The ridge was coral rock, painfully similar to Peleliu’s ridges. But Kunishi was not so high nor were the coral formations so jagged and angular as those on Peleliu. Our immediate area was littered with the usual debris of battle including about thirty poncho-covered dead Marines on stretchers.

Some of our riflemen moved eastward along the ridge, while others moved up the slopes. We still didn’t set up our mortars: it was strictly a riflemen’s fight. We mortarmen stood by to act as stretcher bearers or riflemen.

Snipers were all over the ridge and almost impossible to locate. Men began getting shot one right after another, and the stretcher teams kept on the run. We brought the casualties down to the base of the ridge, to a point where tanks could back in out of the view of snipers on the ridge crest.

We tied the wounded onto the stretchers and then tied the stretchers onto the rear deck of the tanks. Walking wounded went inside. Then the tanks took off in a cloud of dust along a coral road to the aid station. As many men as possible fired along the ridge to pin down the snipers, so they couldn’t shoot the wounded on the tanks.

Shortly before the company reached the east end of the ridge, we watched a stretcher team make its way up to bring down a casualty.Suddenly four or five mortar shells exploded in quick succession near the team, wounding slightly three of the four bearers. They helped each other back clown the ridge, and another stretcher team, of which I was a member, started up to get the casualty. To avoid the enemy mortar observer, we moved up by a slightly different route.

We got up the ridge and found the casualty lying above a sheer coral ledge about five feet high. The Marine, Leonard E. Vargo, told us he couldn‘t move much because he had been shot in both feet. Thus he couldn’t lower himself down off the ledge. “You guys be careful. The Nip that shot me twice is still hiding right over there in those rocks.” He motioned toward a jumble of boulders not more than twenty yards away.

We reasoned that if the sniper had been able to shoot Vargo in both feet, immobilizing him, he was probably waiting to snipe at anyone who came to the rescue. That meant that anyone who climbed up to help Vargo down would get shot instantly.

We stood against the coral rock with our heads about level with Vargo, but out of the line of fire of the sniper, and looked at each other. I found the silence embarrassing. Vargo lay patiently, confident of our aid. “Somebody’s got to get up there and hand him down,” I said. My three buddies nodded solemnly and made quiet comments in agreement.

I thought to myself that if we fooled around much longer, the sniper might shoot and kill the already painfully wounded and helpless Marine. Then we heard the crash of another 105mm short round farther along the ridge – then another. I was seized with a grim fatalism – it was either be shot by the sniper or have all of us get blown to bits by our own artillery. Feeling ashamed for hesitating so long, I scrambled up beside Vargo.

For unknown reason, even as Sledge looked directly into the sniper’s cave, he was not shot. See E. B. Sledge: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

Eugene B. Sledge in 1946. He would later become a University Professor . Years later he would say  "There is no 'mellowing' for me - that would be to forgive all the atrocities the Japanese committed against millions of Asians and thousands of Americans. To 'mellow' is to forget."
Eugene B. Sledge in 1946. He would later become a University Professor.
Years later he would say
“There is no ‘mellowing’ for me – that would be to forgive all the atrocities the Japanese committed against millions of Asians and thousands of Americans. To ‘mellow’ is to forget.”
Private Warren D. Fuhlrodt (1925- ) of Blair, Nebraska, attached to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, is lift out of an M4 tank of the 1st Tank Battalion after being wounded during the Battle of Kunishi Ridge.
Private Warren D. Fuhlrodt (1925- ) of Blair, Nebraska, attached to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, is lift out of an M4 tank of the 1st Tank Battalion after being wounded during the Battle of Kunishi Ridge.

Okinawan civilians try to leave the battlefield

Marines escort an elderly Okinawan civilian from battle, Battle of Okinawa, June 1945,
Marines escort an elderly Okinawan civilian from the battlefield, Battle of Okinawa, June 1945,

On the Okinawa the U.S. forces were blasting their way across the island from one concealed bunker to another as they struggled to contain horrendous casualties. Investigating who occupied each bunker was rarely practicable and never safe – it was assumed that each one needed to be dealt with. The consequences for the native Okinawans, many of whom had been forced to occupy the caves and bunkers alongside the Japanese Army were grim.

Some Okinawans got the chance to escape their confinement – but conditions above ground were almost equally lethal. Miyagi Kikuko had been a schoolgirl until she was forced to join the Lily Student Corps and serve as a nursing auxiliary. After enduring appalling conditions they were ordered out of the bunker to avoid the advancing Americans:

About May 25, we were ordered to withdraw to Ihara.

All the men we had nursed were simply lying there. One of us asked, “Soldier, what are you going to do with these people?” “Don’t worry,” he responded, “I’ll make it easy for them.” Later we heard that the medics offered them condensed milk mixed with water as their last nourishment, and then gave them cyanide and told them, “Achieve your glorious end like a japanese soldier.”

The American forces were nearby. Would it have been so terrible if they had been captured and revealed the japanese army’s situation? Instead they were all murdered to protect military strategy. Only one person crawled out and survived to testify.

The road to Ihara was truly horrible, muddy and full of artillery craters with corpses, swollen two or three times normal size, floating in them. We could only move at night. Sometimes the American forces sent up flares to seek out targets. Ironically, these provided us with enough light to see the way.

This light revealed people pulling themselves along on hands and knees, crawling desperately, wounded people calling to us, “Students! Students!” I had an injured friend using my shoulder as a crutch. Another friend had night blindness from malnutrition. She kept falling over corpses and crying out.

We’d become accustomed to the smell of excrement, pus, and the maggots in the cave, but the smell of death there on that road was unbearable. And it poured rain every day.

Tens of thousands of people moving like ants. Civilians. Grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers with children on their backs, scurrying along, covered in mud. When children were injured, they were left along the roadside. Just thrown away. Those children could tell we were students. They’d call out, “Nei, nei!” and try to cling to us. That’s Okinawan dialect for “Older Sister!” It was so pitiable. I still hear those cries today.

In daylight we were pinned down. In the wild fields, we clung to the grasses and cried out to our teachers, I’m afraid.” My group were all fifteen or sixteen-year-olds and the teachers took special care of us. “Bear up! You can take it!” they’d reassure us.

Finally, on the tenth of June we reached Ihara. Ten days for what takes thirty minutes by car today. There the first, second, and third surgeries were re-established. The second surgery was already completely full. There was only space to sit with your knees pulled up to your chest.

I don’t remember going to the toilet after we moved to Ihara, we were so dehydrated. If you put your hand into your hair it was full of lice. Our bodies were thick with fleas. Before we had been covered in mud, now we were covered with filth. Our nails grew longer and longer. Our faces were black. We were emaciated and itched all the time.

This account appears in Haruko Taya Cook(ed): Japan at War: An Oral History.

Okinawan civilians after the battle, taken by Lieutenant Reinhart T. Kowallis’s - see more from his collection.
Okinawan civilians after the battle, taken by Lieutenant Reinhart T. Kowallis’s – see more from his collection.

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.