WWII

A peek at the past: Extracts from a reader’s memoirs

Guest Post:

Extract One: WW2.   The beginning.


 

haikudeck.com

My first memory of it was being fitted with gas masks and the posters which said,”Hitler will send no warning, so always carry your gas mask” Then there was the arrival of the Anderson Air Raid Shelter. For this, which consisted mainly of sections of curved corrugated iron, a hole had to be dug in the garden, I would say about 6 ft deep x 6ft x 7ft.

Father assembled the shelter in this, piling earth above it, and around it, which he made into a dwarf wall and a rockery. He built steps down into it at right angles and a protective wall alongside the steps. Duckboards were placed on bricks for a floor, and we had a couple of bunk beds in there and seats of some sort. Lighting came from a hurricane lamp. In wet weather, my Mother used to have to bale out the water using a child’s chamberpot, which was then emptied into buckets, and we children formed a chain to empty them down the drain at the corner of the house.

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The remains of Hitler’s bunker. Photo Getty Images.

Adolf Hitler’s Last Days

At one time, Adolf Hitler was the most powerful individual in the world. Yet he ended his life cowering in a foetid bunker, surrounded by enemy troops and raging against those he believed had betrayed him. Hitler’s last days were a humiliating final chapter in the life of a man once revered by millions. But they were also the last days of a man who had been mentally and physically unravelling for months.

By April 1945, Hitler’s health was deteriorating fast. His left arm often shook, his skin was sallow and his face was puffy. An assassination attempt in 1944 had damaged his eardrums. Witnesses reported that his eyes were often filmed over. He suffered from intense stomach cramps at moments of crisis. He was taking Benzedrine and cocaine-laced eye drops to get him through the day and barbiturates to help him sleep at night. His diet cannot have helped his situation. A committed vegetarian and paranoid about being poisoned, he was only eating mashed potatoes and thin soup by the end.

In late April 1945, chaos reigned in Berlin. Years of war had turned former superpower Germany into a battleground, and its cities from strongholds into places under siege. The Red Army had completely circled the city, which now called on elderly men, police, and even children to defend it. But though a battle raged on in the streets, the war was already lost. Adolf Hitler’s time was almost up.

Despite the hopeless situation, he was now in, visitors to the bunker were amazed that Hitler was still able to work himself up into a megalomaniacal frenzy in which Berlin would be saved and the Nazi dream fulfilled.

While in one of these moods, Hitler would pore over maps, moving buttons to represent military units. In truth, the divisions he imagined himself to be directing were broken remnants. What was left of Berlin was defended by old men and teenagers hurriedly conscripted from the Hitler Youth.

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Mannequin helps an MP direct traffic to the front in Viersen, Germany.

After the War...

At the end of World War II, huge swaths of Europe and Asia had been reduced to ruins. Borders were redrawn and homecomings, expulsions, and burials were under way. But the massive efforts to rebuild had just begun.

When the war began in the late 1930s, the world’s population was approximately 2 billion. In less than a decade, the war between the Axis the Allied powers had resulted in 80 million deaths — killing off about 4 percent of the whole world. Allied forces now became occupiers, taking control of Germany, Japan, and much of the territory they had formerly ruled. Efforts were made to permanently dismantle the war-making abilities of those nations, as factories were destroyed and former leadership was removed or prosecuted. War crimes trials took place in Europe and Asia, leading to many executions and prison sentences.

Soon after the Truman Doctrine promised to ‘support free peoples’ (March 1947), General George Marshall went to Europe.   He was shocked by what he saw.   Europe was ruined and – after the coldest winter in record – starving.   Marshall told Truman that all Europe would turn Communist unless the US helped.

Marshall announced his Plan to students at Harvard University on 5th June 1947.   He promised that America would do ‘whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world.’

He challenged the countries of Europe to produce a plan, which the US would fund.   By 12 July, the British politician Ernest Bevin (who called the Plan ‘a lifeline to sinking men’) had organised a meeting of European nations in Paris, which asked for $22 billion of aid.   Stalin forbade Cominform countries to take part.    Truman asked Congress for $17 bn, and Congress (after the collapse of Czechoslovakia, March 1948) gave $13 bn.

Marshall Aid took the form of fuel, raw materials, goods, loans and food, machinery and advisers.   It jump-started rapid European economic growth, and stopped the spread of Communism.

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Hiroo Onoda. College student Norio Suzuki, went to Japan and found Major Taniguchi, who was retired from military service and working in a book store. Suzuki took Taniguchi to the island and led him into the jungle, straight to Onoda. Taniguchi told Onoda that Japan lost the war, and ordered him to give up his weapons and surrender to the Filipinos.

No Surrender

Japan engaged in many guerrilla tactics during World War II, sending groups of soldiers deep into remote island locations where they could harass Allied forces. And when the war ended in the 1945, not all of them came out of their hiding spots.

His home was a dense area of rainforest and he lived on the wild coconuts that grew in abundance. His principal enemy was the army of mosquitoes that arrived with each new shower of rain. But for Hiroo Onoda, there was another enemy, one that remained elusive. Unaware that the Second World War had ended 29 years earlier, he was still fighting a lonely guerrilla war in the jungles of the Philippines.

Imagine having to stay in a jungle in enemy territory during the biggest war in human history and your mission is to sabotage their operations. Tough enough? Now imagine also being ordered not to surrender or kill yourself even if you are about to be captured. Now that narrows your odds a lot more, doesn’t it?

Here comes another twist: what if your country loses or surrenders and you are still behind enemy lines?

It was August 9, 1945. An atomic bomb was detonated by the USA over Nagasaki, 3 days after one was dropped over Hiroshima. Two cities & millions of lives reduced to rubble. Japan surrendered a week later, on August 15. World War II had ended.

Hiroo and three others were the only Japanese soldiers left on Lubang Island who hadn’t died or surrendered. They found a leaflet in October saying:

“The war ended on August 15. Come down from the mountains!”

But Hiroo and his companions thought it was propaganda by the allies and continued fighting using guerrilla tactics.

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d6a9fd46f4bd4e9fe11662e30b545cbb“So it goes”

The Life of the Acclaimed Author, Kurt Vonnegut was as Rich as His Fictional Works

Kurt Vonnegut is widely known for his special brand of postmodernism, science fiction, and humour — particularly his irreverent, semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse-Five, which earned him many accolades. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction.

While works like Slaughterhouse-Five have pushed Vonnegut’s work into the cultural lexicon, the general public knows comparatively less about his personal life.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was born on November 11, 1922 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the youngest of three children of Kurt Vonnegut Sr. and his wife Edith (née Lieber). His older siblings were Bernard (born 1914) and Alice (born 1917). Vonnegut was descended from German immigrants who settled in the United States in the mid-19th century. Vonnegut’s mother was born into Indianapolis high society, as her family, the Liebers, were among the wealthiest in the city, their fortune derived from ownership of a successful brewery.

Although both of Vonnegut’s parents were fluent German speakers, the ill feeling toward that country during and after World War I caused the Vonneguts to abandon the culture to show their American patriotism. Thus, they never taught their youngest son German or introduced him to German literature and tradition, leaving him feeling “ignorant and rootless”. Vonnegut later credited Ida Young, his family’s African-American cook and housekeeper for the first ten years of his life, for raising him and giving him values. “She gave me decent moral instruction and was exceedingly nice to me. So she was as great an influence on me as anybody.” Vonnegut described Young as “humane and wise”, adding that “the compassionate, forgiving aspects of his beliefs” came from her.

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In a photograph taken after the war, deadly special agent Christine Granville smiles for a picture. The former beauty queen - who smiles for the camera with a sideways glance - has good reason to be cheerful. As shown by the military badge pinned above her heart, the war was over and she had no reason to hide, instead posing with perfect poise as she savoured the rewards of her heroism. However, the other images in the collection show the darker side of her work where devastation and death were part of her daily existence. In what could be mistaken for an innocent snapshot of the French countryside, Christine poses next to two wooden struts - all that remained of a bridge blasted to smithereens as part of the Allied liberation of France. Her sweet smile, first as she poses alone, then with a comrade from the French resistance, tells little of the destruction she is celebrating.

In a photograph taken after the war, deadly special agent Christine Granville smiles for a picture. The former beauty queen – who smiles with a sideways glance – has good reason to be cheerful. As shown by the military badge pinned above her heart, the war was over and she had no reason to hide, instead posing with perfect poise as she savoured the rewards of her heroism.  

‘The Spy Who had Men for Breakfast…

But Few of Them Lasted ’til Dinner’

She was the deadly special agent who charged headlong into occupied territory to fight for her country and the Jewish mother who was killed in a concentration camp.

Christine Granville (real name Krystyna Skarbek) – the favourite spy of Winston Churchill – worked for years for British secret service organisation SOE (aka the Baker Street Irregulars) undermining the Nazi regime despite having a short life expectancy in the field.  She became celebrated especially for her daring exploits in intelligence and irregular-warfare missions in Nazi-occupied Poland and France.

Granville, was one of the most successful women agents of the Second World War and said to have been Churchill’s ‘favourite spy’, was murdered, aged 37, in a London Hotel in 1952. Her actions as a British secret agent in Poland, Hungary, and France were legendary even in her lifetime and she repeatedly risked her life to undertake dangerous missions. Her exploits began after the fall of Poland when she became a British agent; organising the escape of British prisoners-of-war, Polish pilots and refugees and returning to Poland, her homeland, to set up escape routes and report on German troop movements. Her capture by the Gestapo led to a dramatic escape from Budapest in the boot of a car followed by travels through Turkey and Syria to Cairo. Christine is an inspiring and unforgettable true hero.

The daughter of a feckless Polish aristocratic and his wealthy Jewish wife, she became one of Britain’s most daring and highly decorated secret agents. Having fled Poland on the outbreak of war, she was recruited by the intelligence services long before the establishment of the SOE, and took on mission after mission. She skied over the hazardous High Tatras into Poland, served in Egypt and North Africa and was later parachuted into Occupied France, where an agent’s life expectancy was only six weeks.

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After: Joseph R. Beyrle: His POW mug shot shows a justifiably angry young man. That anger would earn him a beating when he insulted a German officer who interrogated him. But it would also motivate him to attempt escape at every turn.

After: Joseph R. Beyrle: His POW mug shot shows a justifiably angry young man. That anger would earn him a beating when he insulted a German officer who interrogated him. But it would also motivate him to attempt escape at every turn.

“A Hero of Two Nations”

A Long and Arduous Odyssey through a World at War

As the twentieth century closed, the veterans of its defining war passed away at a rate of a thousand per day. This is the story of Joseph R. Beyrle. It is a story of battle, followed by a succession of captures, escapes, then battle, in the final months of fighting on the Eastern Front.

Twice before the invasion he parachuted into Normandy, bearing gold for the French resistance. D Day resulted in his capture, and he was mistaken for a German line-crosser – a soldier who had, in fact, died in the attempt.

Getting the nickname “Jumpin'” when you’re in the 101st Airborne’s “Screaming Eagles” division and everyone’s job is to jump out of planes has to be an achievement in itself. Not satisfied with that, Jumpin’ Joe Beyrle also went on to become the only American soldier to serve in both the U.S. Army and the Soviet Army in World War II … but not before having to go through hell and back. Just looking at his face before and after his ordeal should tell you the whole story

From his spot in the hayloft, American paratrooper Joe Beyrle watched as Russian soldiers cautiously advanced across the Polish fields and toward the farm where he was hiding. He saw the soldiers approach the adjacent farmhouse and summon the old German couple who lived there. The Russians gunned down the man and woman, then cut up their bodies and fed them to their pigs. Beyrle remained hidden. That night he heard the sound of arriving tanks, and dawn broke to reveal a Russian tank battalion.

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Photo: August 01, 1944| Crédits : W. Eugene Smith. Desperation: Saipan civilians commit suicide rather than surrendering to American troops.

Photo: August 01, 1944| Crédits : W. Eugene Smith.
Desperation: Saipan civilians commit suicide rather than surrendering to American troops.

Suicide Cliff

The Battle of the Island of Saipan is most remembered as an amazing show of US military defiance, but there was another act of defiance which took place during that bloody battle: Mass Suicide.

Fearing the US troops would torture and murder them—mainly due to propaganda laid out by the Japanese Imperial Army—the citizens of Saipan walked into the sea, or jumped off the cliffs and drowned themselves. The most notorious scene of the mass suicide was Marpi Point, a steep 250-meter (800 ft) precipice where American soldiers witnessed entire families fling themselves into the waves. First the older children pushed the younger children over the edge, then the mothers would push the eldest children, and finally the fathers would push their wives, before jumping over the edge themselves. Thousands of civilians died this way.

The Imperial Army drove residents from shelters, took their food, prohibited them from surrendering, tortured, and slaughtered them on grounds of suspected spying. They forced people into “mutual killing” among close relatives, and left the sick and handicapped on the battlefield.

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(Rick Beyer/Hatcher Graduate Library) Four Ghost Army Soldiers: Strong Enough To Lift An Inflatable Tank.

(Rick Beyer/Hatcher Graduate Library)
Four Ghost Army Soldiers: Strong Enough To Lift An Inflatable Tank.

Ghost Army

The Inflatable Tanks That Fooled Hitler

Shortly after the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, two Frenchmen on bicycles managed to cross the perimeter of the United States Army’s 23rd Headquarters Special Troops and what they saw astounded them. Four American soldiers had picked up a 40-ton Sherman tank and were turning it in place. Soldier Arthur Shilstone says, “They looked at me, and they were looking for answers, and I finally said: ‘The Americans are very strong.’

Patriotic pride aside, the men of the 23rd were not equipped with super-human strength. They did, however, have inflatable tanks.

Shilstone was one of 1,100 soldiers who formed the unit, also known as the Ghost Army. They were artists and illustrators, radio people and sound guys.

Handpicked for the job from New York and Philadelphia art schools in January 1944, their mission was to deceive the enemy with hand-made inflatable tanks, 500-pound speakers blasting the sounds of troops assembling and phony radio transmissions.

Over the course of the war, they staged more than 20 operations and are estimated to have saved between 15,000 and 30,000 U.S. lives. The illusion was never broken and not even their fellow soldiers knew of their existence. It’s a great example of how many fantastic, amazing, sort of mind-bending stories there still are 70 something years later coming out of WWII.

To this day, many details of the team’s role in the war following D-Day remain classified and are a closely guarded secret.

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Who dares wins

One should never underestimate the power of a few motivated, highly skilled and well resourced people.

Fast and furious had always been the SAS way. Now they could sow even more panic among the ‘grey lice’, dashing in with all guns blazing and then making a clean getaway.

Not everything went to plan. On his way back to ‘bandit base’ from one mission, Druce cruised into the square at Moussey to see SS troopers lined up opposite frightened villagers, rounded up for yet another round of brutal reprisals.

For a split second SAS and SS eyed each other. But Druce was the first to react, accelerating his jeep at the SS ranks as his gunner fired from close range. SS soldiers were blown off their feet as Druce steered for the exit, leaving 20 dead and wounded soldiers in his wake. As he sped away, all he could hope for the villagers was that, in the chaos, they had managed to escape. In reality, they were all being herded away for deportation.

Furious at their fate, Franks stepped up the raids so that no German officer could sleep soundly in his bed or travel the roads of the Vosges in comfort. Soon Operation Loyton had destroyed eight German staff cars and their high-ranking occupants. The final tally would be 13.

A key part of their mission had been to decapitate the Nazi serpent in the area and they succeeded, making a significant dent in the SS command structure as well as spreading fear among the occupiers. It was as much as any group of raiders like this could expect, if not more. Read more »

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