THE British Army must embrace the fact that its Challenger tanks are woefully out of date and lead the way in Nato with a transformative new land warfare strategy, a former Joint Forces Commander said last night. Gen Sir Richard Barrons, who retired in 2016, said that, while armour will continue to play a key […]Axing Challenger will free British Army to re-think land warfare strategy, general says
This detailed analysis of why President Truman decided to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima 75 years ago was sent to me by Allen Gray, author of the excellent blog Wayne’s Journal, about his uncle’s experiences as a USAAF B-25 gunner/armorer in the South Pacific in World War II. The author prefers to remain anonymous but the copyright is his, not mine.
I agree with the analysis of Truman’s decision to drop the A-bomb and think that he was correct to use it. However, I admit that I am biased for the reasons given in the next two paragraphs.
My father was part of a beach clearance unit in the first wave of Operation Zipper, the British amphibious landing in Malaya that was planned for 9 September and is mentioned below. It went ahead without opposition after the Japanese surrender as it was the quickest way to get British Commonwealth troops into Malaya.
Like many veterans, he said little about his service but he did say that he saw only one Japanese sentry, who was ‘as frightened as’ he was. He also said that the colonel told the unit afterwards that that the War Office estimate of their casualty rate if the operation had gone ahead was 90%. We once on holiday met a former Royal Marine whose unit had been in the second wave and had an estimated casualty rate of 50%.
Everything from here onwards was written by Allen’s correspondent.
The Days of August, 1945
The following, The Days of August, 1945”, was written by a Seattle attorney. He is a dedicated, if amateur, student of the history of the Atomic Bombings and the life of Harry Truman, and who a few years ago appeared as Truman in a play about the subject, “The Realm of Whispering Ghosts: If Truman Met Einstein.”
The Days of August, 1945
Seventy-five years ago later this morning, August 6 Japan time, the center of the city of Hiroshima was obliterated by the first nuclear bomb. Two days later the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan. The day after that, much of Nagasaki suffered the same fate as Hiroshima. Six days after that, the Japanese people heard the unfamiliar “Voice of the Crane” announce Japan’s surrender. World War Two had come to a sudden end. The formal surrender to the allied powers would occur early the following month, on the deck of the battleship Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay.
As a matter of cause-and-effect, it seems clear that, at the very least, this combination of events in early August precipitated a crisis within the Japanese government that produced a capitulation that was not imminent at the beginning of that month.
A Soviet attack in isolation would have been viewed as a diplomatic setback – some within the Japanese government had been hoping the Soviets would serve as an intermediary to negotiate a peace allowing Japan to retain a portion of its Empire and military might. But the Soviets months before had already served notice that the Soviets were formally withdrawing from the Japanese-Soviet Friendship Treaty of 1941, and the Japanese military recognized that this action had begun the countdown for a Soviet entry into the war. The attacks on Japanese holdings in Manchuria and Korea did not come as a surprise to them. Standing alone, the Soviet entry into the war on August 8 would not have triggered Japan’s surrender seven days later. It took the shock of America’s employment of the “most cruel bomb” – as the Emperor would describe it in his August 15 broadcast – to move Hirohito to end a Cabinet deadlock and direct his ministers to make peace.
And that came just in time. For unknown to either the Japanese or us, Stalin was just weeks away from taking a fateful step that would have radically altered the course of history. Soviet forces were gathering for an invasion of the Japanese Home Island of Hokkaido. The landings were set to take place on August 24, 1945. Within a few days two Soviet divisions would have seized the northern half of Hokkaido – months before American forces were scheduled to storm ashore on the southernmost Home island of Kyushu.
As history actually unfolded, the Japanese surrender on August 15 (August 14 in America) pulled Stalin up short. The Soviets were in the process of taking the southern half of Sakhalin Island (lost to Japan under the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the disastrous Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905), and also grabbing the Kurile Island chain. But Stalin wanted more – he wanted to share in control of the Japanese Home islands themselves, a position from which he hoped to bring about a Soviet Japan, and at the least block any American attempt to transform Japan into an anti-Communist bulwark. Indeed, Stalin was so loathe to let go of these goals that he pressed Truman to accept a post-surrender Soviet occupation of northern Hokkaido (the same territory scheduled for invasion), and only reluctantly accepted Truman’s refusal to permit such a dilution of American plans to be the sole occupying power of the four Home Islands.
Without the Atomic Bombings in early August, the war would still have been raging when August 24 arrived. There can be no doubt that the Soviet invasion would have been launched. If we assume just a one month a delay in the development and successful test of the Plutonium Bomb, or an outright failure of the “Trinity” test on July 26, the news of the Soviet invasion of Japan – for that is exactly how it would have been viewed, just as much an invasion of Japan proper as our planned landings on Kyushu on November 1 would have been seen as an invasion – would have triggered a crisis in Washington, DC. Without the atomic bombings, Truman would have returned from Potsdam to be confronted by a veritable mutiny by the Navy against the American invasion plans. Intelligence in late July showed that the Japanese had somehow moved 750,000 troops to Kyushu, not the 250,000 predicted earlier that Summer. The new numbers meant the Japanese could be expected to meet our invading forces with at least equal numbers on the beaches – a formula for disaster, based on the experience accumulated from the many amphibious landings conducted in Europe and the Pacific. The Navy would have been demanding a cancellation of the planned Kyushu landings, and adoption of their preferred strategy of blockade. The news that the Soviets had beaten us to the Japanese Home Islands by several months would have knocked the Navy’s and the Army’s arguments all into the proverbial cocked hat, forcing the American leadership to consider whether to scrape together a force that could be rushed ashore on northern Honshu, and block a Soviet move south towards Tokyo. The Cold War was already unfolding in Europe, and the pressure on Truman to prevent the Red Army from marching into Tokyo and imposing a Japanese puppet Communist government would have been excruciating.
And what of the Japanese? The Home islands of Japan had never been invaded. Never. The Mongols had tried twice, and each time the kamikaze, the “Divine Winds” of the typhoon season had wrecked the Khan’s mighty invasion fleets. The Japanese military, which had been preparing to beat back an invasion coming from the south – hence the shift of those 750,000 troops to Kyushu – would now have confronted the Russians coming through a northern backdoor unavoidably left unguarded. The military would have unleashed its plans to rally the entire nation against an invasion, while scrambling to move forces from the south to the north. The Japanese hated the Russians, and the Japanese elite loathed and feared Communism. The political dynamic of an evenly divided War Cabinet, with three military members adamantly opposed to surrender on any terms before Japan had the chance to bloody its enemies in a “decisive battle” for the Home Islands, squaring off against three civilian members who urged seeking peace with the Americans (if not on the “unacceptable” terms of the Potsdam Declaration), would have been swept away. There was no more time for the luxury of such debate. The Decisive Battle was at hand, the evil Russian Bear was ashore, and all Japan must be mustered to resist.
How would this world have unfolded? What we can say with confidence is that the moment for peace, which was latent at the beginning of August 1945, would have been swept away after an August 24 that saw Soviet forces storming ashore on the beaches of Hokkaido. The war would have continued. Extended now on the ground to the Japanese Home Islands, it would have continued to rage throughout East Asia and the Pacific. The British on September 9 would have launched “Operation Zipper,” a massive amphibious assault against the Japanese position in Malaya, an operation that would have dwarfed the D-Day landings. In response, the Japanese Commander of the Southwest Asian theater would have issued his promised order for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of allied military and civilian prisoners.
The war would have continued until, somehow, the Japanese leadership could be brought to its sense, and made to realize that continued fighting would only end in the obliteration of Japan itself. In our history, as events actually unfolded, that realization meant the Emperor taking the step that only he could take, by commanding a decision for peace. But he took that step in the comparative calm of a Japan not yet invaded, within the protective confines of the Imperial Palace. And even then, when word leaked out within military circles of his decision, and the impending surrender, it triggered a mutiny on the night of August 14/15 by captains and majors that saw murderous bands of soldiers invade the palace grounds, seeking to take the Emperor into “protective custody” and prevent the surrender broadcast scheduled for the next day. And while these fanatic junior officer “patriots” sought to prevent the planned surrender, the War Minster killed himself rather than be a party to the “shame” of capitulation. If Japan’s decision to surrender then was nearly undone, imagine the challenge for the emperor to try and bring about a surrender in the face of a united military plunging into the final “decisive” battle they had been itching to fight.
When Harry Truman made the decision to order the atomic bombing of Japan, he did so for one reason. Not to make an impression on Joe Stalin. He did so because he knew that the war with Japan had to be brought to an end, and soon. He recognized that continued war would mean the deaths of millions, including hundreds of thousands of Americans. He knew that continued war in the Pacific and East Asia would make it impossible to achieve a just peace for the wounded peoples of Europe, at the opposite end of the Eurasian landmass. Truman could not know that, had he hesitated to use the atomic bomb against Japan right when it became available, events were about to unfold that would have undone the moment for peace. But 75 years later we do. Or at least we ought to.
In 1934, there was a debate within the RAF about whether its next generation of fighters, the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire, should have four or eight 0.303 inch Colt Browning machine guns. These guns had the same calibre of ammunition as the British Army’s Lee Enfield rifles.
This is well known but the role of Hazel Hill, a 13 year old schoolgirl, in the decision to adopt eight guns has only recently come to light thank to a BBC News Channel documentary called The Schoolgirl Who Helped to Win a War. It is based on research carried out by her grand-daughter Felicity Baker, a journalist. It is available to UK viewers on the iPlayer at the link below.
There were two alternative guns that might have armed the new fighters. The 20mm Hispano cannon, used by the French, was ‘new and temperamental’
Stephen Bungay, author of The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain (London: Aurum Press, 2009), stated on the BBC documentary that the 20mm cannon and the 0.5 inch machine gun were rejected on the grounds of weight.
In 1934, RAF fighter squadrons were equipped with Bristol Bulldogs and Hawker Furies and were soon to receive Gloster Gauntlets, fabric covered biplanes with open cockpits, fixed undercarriages and an armament of two 0.303 inch machine guns. The next British fighter, the Gloster Gladiator, had an enclosed cockpit and four 0.303 inch machine guns, but was still a fixed undercarriage biplane. Most air forces in the world were then equipped with similar fighters. The best fighter in the world was probably the Polish PZL P.11, an all metal gull winged monoplane, but it still had an open cockpit, a fixed undercarriage and only two machine guns, although later models carried four.
The world’s leading air forces were about to introduce monoplanes with retractable undercarriages, enclosed cockpits, greater speed, higher altitude ceilings and heavier armament. The question for the British was how many guns their new fighters carry.
Squadron Leader Ralph Sorley, head of the Air Ministry’s Operational Requirements Section, thought that eight guns were required to to inflict enough damage to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the two seconds that a fighter pilot was expected to be able to keep it in his sights. Air Marshall Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, agreed.
Others, however, were not convinced, including Air Marshall Robert Brooke-Popham, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Defence of Great Britain and thus the commander of the fighter squadrons that would receive the new aircraft. He thought that eight guns were too many and that four were enough, arguing that eight would create ‘a lot of leading edge resistance.’
Captain Frederick Hill, the Air Ministry’s Senior Technical Officer of Ballistics, was given the job of calculating the number of guns needed by a modern fighter. He came from a working class background but received a BSc in Chemistry from London University in 1909 and subsequently worked as a teacher. He served in the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force during the First World War, working on the technical aspects of aerial guns and gunsights. He continued with this work after the war as a civilian employee of the Air Ministry, although he almost lost his job during defence cuts in 1922.
Hill was given the task of working out how many guns the new fighters needed. As he was working to a tight timetable, he took the relevant documents and a calculating machine home and worked on his kitchen table, helped by his 13 year old daughter Hazel, a maths prodigy. Their calculations showed that that with machines guns that fired 1,000 rounds per minute, a fighter would need eight guns to cause enough damage to destroy an enemy aircraft in the two seconds that it was likely to have the enemy in its sights.
The next day Hill presented his conclusions to an Air Ministry committee, which accepted that his recommendation that the new fighters needed to have eight machine guns. According to the Times article linked below, he told only his immediate superior that Hazel had helped him with the calculations. The BBC documentary said that his superior mentioned this in his memoirs. Neither source names him but he was presumably C. H. Keith, whose book I Hold My Aim is referred to in the Wikipedia entry on Hill.
The BBC documentary interviewed Squadron Leader Allan Scott, a 98 year old who flew both Hurricanes and Spitfires in the Second World War. In his opinion, they could not have shot down enough enemy aircraft to win the Battle of Britain had they been armed with only four machine guns.
Even eight 0.303 machine guns was soon regarded as being too weak an armament. During the Battle of Britain, Spitfires and Hurricanes fought against German Messerschmitt Me109E fighters that carried two 20mm cannon and two 7.92mm machine guns. In 1941, the Spitfire VB, armed with two 20mm cannon and four 0.303 inch machine guns, and the Hurricane IIC with four 20mm can non entered service.
Captain Hill died in 1959. Hazel followed a career in medicine rather than Maths, serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. She died 10 years ago. Her four sons appeared in the BBC documentary and her family still owns the table on which the calculations were made.
 E. B. Morgan, E. Shacklady, Spitfire: The History, Rev. ed. ed. (Stamford: Key Books, 1987), p. 18.
 A. Price, The Spitfire Story (London: Arms and Armour, 1982), p. 21.
 Quoted in Morgan, Shacklady, Spitfire: The History, p. 15.
More on the India-China border dispute from the Defence Editor of the UK Sunday Express. The British and Chinese drew the border on small scale maps.
INDIA’s reluctance to join a military alliance and China’s territorial ambitions – as well as its failures to learn from the Cuban Missile Crisis – could lead to major conflict between the two nuclear states, experts predicted last night.
The warnings follow a border skirmish in the Himalayas in which Chinese troops used nail-studded rods to kill 20 Indian soldiers, including their commanding officer.
In his sharpest rebuke to date, India’s PM Narendra Modi warned China that, while India wanted peace, “on provocation, India will give a befitting reply.”
Privately, Indian diplomats attempted to play down any thoughts of escalation, pointing to this week’s Russia-India-China foreign ministers’ meeting.
“The fact that all both India and Russia are still meeting in this week’s trilateral bodes well for de-escalation and the resumption of relations,” said a highly placed source.
But with border issues not on the agenda, and Covid-19 protocols dictating the…
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Economist report on border clashes between China and India that have now led to the deaths of over 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese o e
More on the threat from China, this time from the Defence and Diplomatic Editor of the UK Sunday Express
THE world could witness armed conflict with China “within the next five years”as an increasingly beliigerent Beijing rejects a post Covid-19 world order, a leading China has warned.
It follows a ramping up of tensions following China’s alleged role in allowing the Covid-19 virus to become a worldwide pandemic, and reports last week that it intends to brand large tracts of the South China as its own Air Defence Identifcation Zone.
Also significant is a small increase in the number of countries supporting Taiwan’s admission to the World Health Assembly – a move which China sees as a crack in its territorial claims perpetuating Taipei’s leaning towards independence
Last week a leaked internal report presented by China’s Ministry of State Security to President Xi Jinping revealed that global anti-China sentiment is at its highest since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
According to highly placed sources, Xi has been warned to…
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Another article from the London Times about Chinese naval expansion. This one says that a new 330m pier at China’s base in Djibouti in east Africa will accommodate either of China’s two aircraft carriers, the 304m Liaoning and the 315m Shandong, although the third Chinese carrier that is currently under construction is believed to be over 400m long.
The article also states that the Pentagon believes thatChina plans to develop a base near Gwadar in Pakistan, although the Chinese have denied this.
Article from the 16 May edition of the London Times claiming that Pentagon wargames of a US Cina naval war indicate that by 2030 the USN would be defeated because of new Chinese missiles and ships, including attack submarines and aircraft carriers.
Probably a deliberate leak as part of a campaign to increase spending on the USN.
I saw Sam Mendes’s Western Front First World War film 1917 soon after its full cinema release in January 2020: there were a number of screenings the previous month. In the UK, it is available to buy as a download from 4 May and on DVD a fortnight later, although it is already available in the USA.
Giving away no more than was in the cinema trailer, the film takes place on 6 April 1917. The Germans have just retreated to the Hindenburg Line, a carefully prepared fortified line that was shorter and stronger than their previous one, meaning that it required a smaller garrison. The Germans had suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front in 1916 and had been forced to take over more of the Eastern Front because of huge Austro-Hungarian losses. The Germans called it the Siegfriedstellung [Siegfried Position].
There have been far fewer English language films about the First World War than the Second and even fewer featuring ordinary British soldiers on the Western Front. Many are about aerial dogfights (Wings and The Blue Max) or set in theatres other than the Western Front (Gallipoli, Lawrence of Arabia and The African Queen). British Western Front ones tend to have a low budget (The Trench), be dominated by lions led by donkeys cliches (Oh What a Lovely War) or concentrate on doomed public school officers (Journey’s End and Testament of Youth) instead of ordinary soldiers. Aces High manages to be two of these categories, transferring the plot and characters of Journey’s End from the trenches to the Royal Flying Corps.
The only Western Front film to win the Best Film Oscar, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) is about the Germans. The two unsuccessful nominees, Wings ((1927-28) and Sergeant York (1941), are about Americans, pilots in the former and a real infantryman in the latter.
The films mentioned above are ones principally about the First World War. Doctor Zhivago and others in are excluded because the war plays a part but other events are more important.
Also, they are all dramas, so Peter Jackson’s excellent They Shall Not Grow Old is excluded as it is a documentary that restored and colourised film shot at the time and added the reminiscences of veterans.
It is refreshing to see a film set on the Western Front that has ordinary British soldiers as its principal characters achieve critical and commercial success. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, winning for Cinematography, Visual Effects and Sound Mixing.
In the film 1917, 1,600 British soldiers, commanded by Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), have advanced and are about to attack what they believe to be a retreating enemy. The strength of the enemy defences means that they will be massacred. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) must get a message to stop the attack. Normally, this could be sent by underground telephone lines using a secure system called a Fullerphone. However, the line has been cut.
Consequently, Erinmore must send two runners with the message, Lance Corporals Will Schofield (George Mackay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). Blake’s brother is serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. There was some criticism of the film from people who had seen only a trailer that a comment in it by Erinmore seemed to say that Mackenzie’s 1,600 men were all from the 2nd Devonshires. A battalion would then be about 800 men. However, Erinmore’s full comment in the film and in a longer trailer make it clear that Mackenzie is commanding a force of two battalions, so 1,600 men is correct.
There is a plot hole here as great efforts were normally made to repair broken telephone lines. Carrier pigeons were also used to carry messages, although this would presumably require Mackenzie to have first sent one of his pigeons to GHQ, since a GHQ pigeon would not know the location of his HQ. The obvious way of sending the message would be to get an aircraft to drop it. However, that would change the film into another aerial one and probably a rather short one.
The other main plot hole is that the Germans started their withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, Operation Alberich, in February 1917. The Allies were well aware of it, so attackers would not be taken by surprise on encountering the new defences. The Germans had devastated the countryside between their old and new positions and set many booby traps, which slowed the Allied pursuit and allowed the Germans to safely withdraw. Mackenzie launching an attack without artillery support is also improbable.
Reconnaissance aircraft were being sent out to discover more about it. From 9 April, the RFC suffered such heavy casualties supporting the Battle of Arras that the month became known as Bloody April. The Germans then had better aircraft and were fighting over the own lines so could choose when to engage the enemy and when to break off. However, they failed to stop the British carrying out reconnaissance, artillery observation and tactical bombing missions.
Most of the film shows Schofield and Blake’s journey. They move across a wilderness, evading booby traps and struggling to cross a river because the bridge has been destroyed. As the area they are crossing was behind German lines until recently but is now a very wide no man’s land, they encounter Germans, British soldiers with other missions and, less plausibly, a French civilian woman. The battlefield is shown as sometimes being empty and quiet but then suddenly becoming deadly.
It is a good, well made film that deserves its critical and commercial success. but it should not be taken to be historically accurate.