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The Strategy & Tactics of World War II

Number 4

USAAF:
US Strategic Bombing, 1944

Independent Operations
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Blair Mayne:
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Wake Island 1941

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contents

Number 4 Features
Feb/Mar 2009
6 Command of the Air:
Publisher: Christopher Cummins A Brief History of US Strategic Airpower
Editor: Ty Bomba
in World War II
Assistant Editor: Joseph Miranda
In World War II the RAF and USAAF fought the Axis air forces
Copy Editors: Jason Burnett, Lewis Goldberg,
and Dav Vandenbroucke. for control of the skies. That eventual Allied victory had its
Design • Graphics • Layout: Callie Cummins origins in the inter-war era.
Map Graphics: Meridian Mapping
by Brian Todd Carey
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4 #4

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The Strategy & Tactics of World War II

contents

Departments
37 Issue in Doubt: 29 Observation Post
The Battle of Wake Island, Strategic Backwaters:
8-23 December1941 The Thai-French War of 1941
As the Japanese overrun the Pacific in 1942, the Warren Robinson
Americans make a desperate stand on Wake Island.
by M.R. Pierce On the Battleline:
The Moselle, November 1944:
A Little Known but Epic River Crossing
Raymond Bell

Historical Perspective:
The Impact of Confused Allied
Intelligence on the Munich Crisis
Erik Henderson

52 Independent Operational Group Polesie:


Final Battle of the Polish Campaign, 1939 Rules
The Polish army takes on the Wehrmacht as World R1 USAAF
War II breaks out. by The Decision Games Team
by Maciej Jonasz
World at War 5

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Command of the Air:
A Brief History of
US Strategic Airpower in WWII
By Brian Todd Carey

One
of the persistent debates among airpower advocates has been that of the impact of
aerial bombardment on enemy morale. Can a strategic bombing campaign break
the enemy’s will to fight and force him to capitulate—or does bombing strengthen
the enemy’s determination? Is airpower an effective means to force an enemy into
making political concessions—or is it better used to attack tactical targets, or perhaps the enemy’s economic
infrastructure? Those questions have determined much about air warfare since the airplane was first used on a
large-scale in the World War I.
The interwar period (1919-1939) saw that debate heighten as strategic airpower matured both technologically
and doctrinally. The World War II witnessed the wide-scale use of airpower globally, with the major combatants
building armadas of airplanes in order to attack the enemy on the battlefield and in his cities and industry.
Airpower emerged in the second third of the 20th century as a convenient instrument of military power, at least
for the Western powers. An air war strategy seemingly allowed an industrial power to substitute machinery for
manpower, thereby reducing war’s human and political costs. Airpower’s actual applications, however, have had
mixed results in both general wars and limited conflicts, and have generated numerous coercive strategies, among
them punishment, denial, risk and decapitation.

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The second strategy is that of denial. Using airpower
for denial entails attacking enemy military forces direct-
ly, weakening them to the point where friendly ground
forces can seize disputed territory while suffering only
minimal losses. The initial focus of a denial campaign
is on the attainment of air superiority, then on attrition
of battlefield forces, disruption of enemy movement and
communication, destruction of arms manufacturing, and
interdiction of supplies being sent to the front. Because
of its direct military application, variations of the denial
strategy have been widely used by air commanders in
the 20th century, most successfully by the Germans in
their blitzkrieg campaigns in World War II and by the
US in Korea and Vietnam.
The third kind of bombing campaign is the strategy
of the manipulation of risk of punishment for political
purposes. The risk strategy uses the enemy’s anticipa-
tion of destruction for political leverage. The heart of
the strategy is to slowly raise the risk of civilian dam-
age, compelling the opponent to seek negotiations to
avoid suffering even more damage from even more in-
tense future bombardment. Like the strategy of punish-
ment, the risk strategy focuses on population and eco-
nomic targets, but unlike the punishment strategy, which
advocates inflicting the greatest amount of damage in
the shortest amount of time, the risk model calls for a
gradual escalation of bombing, stopping periodically in
order to pursue diplomacy.
That strategy was born in the first two decades of the
nuclear age, when the threat of annihilation by manned
bombers delivering atomic bombs created a political
environment in which airpower assumed a pivotal role.
After the Soviet Union joined the “Nuclear Club” in
1949, however, the threat of annihilation as America’s
‘big stick’ of political leverage lost much of its power.
The advent of mutual assured destruction (MAD) cre-
ated a political climate in which the superpowers were
hesitant to fight one another directly for fear, as the
name implies, of mutual annihilation. Instead, during the
The objective of aerial punishment strategy is to Cold War the superpowers fought each other indirectly
inflict enough pain on enemy civilians to overwhelm through involvement in Third World conflicts. There the
their political ambitions and cause either their gov- strategy of risk would most notably be applied by the
ernment to concede to negotiations, or motivate the US through conventional airpower in Southeast Asia.
enemy populace to rebel against its own government
The final strategy is that of decapitation. That strate-
in order to end the war. Under that strategy, airpower
gy advocates directly attacking the enemy nation’s lead-
brings the cost of war directly to the civilian popula-
ership and communication facilities, thereby destroying
tion, killing noncombatants through saturation bomb-
the enemy’s decision-making mechanisms. According
ing of urban areas. That strategy can also destroy the
to decapitation theory, a nation’s leadership is like a
economy by targeting electric power, oil refineries,
body’s brain: destroy it and the body dies; isolate it and
water systems and transportation, lowering the ene-
the body is paralyzed; confuse it and the body is uncon-
my’s ability to distribute and refrigerate food, purify
trollable. The main attraction of targeting political lead-
water and heat homes. Those privations are intended
ership with aerial bombardment is it offers the possibil-
to increase poverty, hunger and disease in the enemy
ity of successful coercion with minimal commitment of
population. The aerial punishment strategy dominated
resources and risk of life. This strategy was consciously
much of the World War II British air campaign against
used in World War II when the Allies targeted German
Germany, as well as the latter part of the US campaign
government buildings in Berlin, and again in Korea and
against Japan. Elements of the strategy were also used
Vietnam when Communist radio stations were targeted.
by the US in Korea and Vietnam.
World at War 7

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air service.
The British also responded by launching their own
strategic bombing campaign against German indus-
try in the last year of World War I. While the RAF
bombers were insufficient to stop German war pro-
duction, they proved effective in creating widespread
panic among German civilians, as well as forcing Ber-
lin to pull back much-needed fighters from the front.
Regardless of the physical damage, the lesson from
both the German and British bombing campaigns was
clear: the enemy homeland was wide open as a target
for airpower.
Limited success with strategic bombers during
World War I fired the imaginations of inter-war theo-
rists concerning the effectiveness of the punishment
strategy. The assumption was population and indus-
trial centers would prove vulnerable to larger fleets of
heavy bombers. The Italian air theorist Giulio Douhet
advocated, in his influential 1921 work Command of
the Air, attacking the enemy nation’s urban areas and
factories with explosives, incendiaries and poison gas.
No distinction was to be made between combatants
and noncombatants. He believed strategic bombing
would simultaneously demoralize the enemy’s civil-
ian populace while destroying his material capacity to
wage war.
One hypothesis widely accepted in those years
was: “the bombers will always get through.” Since
interwar bombers were generally faster than single-
engine fighters, it was believed they could penetrate
enemy air space, attack their targets and return safely
to base. That was before radar and other electronic de-
tection methods came into use; so there were grounds
for the belief in the supremacy of the bomber over
the fighter. (Though there were also dissenters, such
as Claire Chennault, a US airman who would later go
on to lead the “Flying Tigers” of World War II fame).
Chennault advanced the idea that ground control sta-
More recently, palaces and command bunkers have been tions could visually detect intruders and then use radio
added to target lists, as illustrated by the US Air Force’s communications to vector fighters to intercept them.
attacking Libyan leader Mugmmar Qaddafi in 1986, and During the inter-war era, both the RAF and US
Saddam Hussein in Gulf War I in 1991 and Gulf War II in Army Air Corps embraced strategic airpower. The
2003. idea was to take the war directly to the enemy. The
RAF initially held tightly to the punishment strategy
Origin of area bombing against civilians, while the US Army
The earliest significant use of what can truly be called Air Corps began to develop a strategy emphasizing
“strategic” airpower was the German air offensive of 1917, precision strikes against industry. The instructors at
in which Gotha bombers and Zeppelin airships struck the US Army Corps Tactical School (ACTS) focused
population centers in Great Britain, notably London. All on “key node” selective targeting for strategic bomb-
together 51 Zeppelin and 52 Gotha raids dropped 280 tons ing, with the goal of destroying the backbone of an
of bombs, killing 1,413 people and wounding some 3,500. enemy nation’s war economy: critical factories, power
Though that effort was meager in comparison to later cam- sources, transportation and vital raw materials, while
paigns, it illustrated the potential of airpower against en- avoiding direct attack on civilians. The American ap-
emy morale. The initial response of the civilian populace proach assumed technology would provide a means
was shock and panic, but the British quickly rebounded, to accurately bomb individual targets. Both of those
establishing an effective air defense system and forming strategies would be tried against the Axis powers in
the Royal Air Force (RAF) as the world’s first independent World War II.
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Airwar Over Europe Airpower Prophet:
Great Britain and the US were committed to differ- Giulio Douhet
ent variants of the punishment strategy, and both de-
veloped (or were in the process of developing when the In 1921 a former Italian infantry
war broke out) four-engine heavy “strategic” bombers. officer published one of the most in-
They included the Avro 683 Lancaster, the Boeing B- fluential treatises in modern military
17 Flying Fortress, and the Consolidated B-24 Libera- history. Giulio Douhet’s (1869-1930)
tor. These bombers all had large payloads, and were Il Dominio dell’ Aria (Command of
thought capable of penetrating enemy air space with- the Air) articulated for the first time
the merits of the aerial “punish-
out fighter escort because of their speed, operational
ment” strategy. Douhet believed in
ceiling and onboard machineguns. But the realities of the almost limitless capabilities of
the airwar against Germany soon forced the RAF to airpower. He especially emphasized
modify its strategic doctrine. its ability to attack with impunity
Luftwaffe day fighters could reach British high al- enemy military and civilian popula-
titude bombers, and did so with horrifying success, tions, transportation networks and
shooting down many of them. The new wave of fight- industrial centers. The objective was
ers, such as the Me-109, could easily outfly the bomb- to break enemy morale and degrade his ability to make war.
ers, and ground control could efficiently vector them Douhet had an erratic military career. In 1909 he secured com-
mand of Italy’s first air unit, the same formation that was to be the
to attack the intruders. So RAF Bomber Command at
first to conduct aerial bombardment during the Italo-Turkish War of
first abandoned daylight area bombing in favor of se- 1911-12 in Libya. Douhet was then made chief-of-staff of an infantry
lective targeting, launching daylight raids against Ger- division. In 1915 he was court-martialed and imprisoned for criticiz-
man war industry. The idea was to hit a few targets that ing the Italian high command. He was reinstated after the disaster at
might paralyze the Reich’s war economy. But contin- Caporetto (in November 1917, when the Central Powers shattered
ued high bomber attrition rates and poor bomb accu- the Italian front), and was promoted to general and head of the Cen-
racy forced Bomber Command to further reappraise tral Aeronautical Bureau in 1918. After the war he retired from the
its doctrine. Consequently, the RAF returned to area army to devote all his time to writing, publishing his famous treatise
bombing, this time striking at night. in 1921.
Douhet was recalled to government service to serve as Musso-
The US Army Air Force (USAAF, by then the
lini’s commissioner of aviation in 1922, but he shortly thereafter
American air service had become a de facto separate retired again. He died in 1930, before he could see the impact his
air arm) entered the European Theater of Operations writings would have on warfare in World War II and beyond.
(ETO) in 1942 committed to daylight precision bomb- Because he wrote in Italian, Douhet’s groundbreaking ideas on
ing. American air commanders believed the USAAF’s airpower were slow to make their way to the rest of the world. Even
use of the Norden bombsight, at the time the world’s so, his ideas influenced inter-war air architects such as US Gen. Wil-
most sophisticated, would give them the needed edge. liam “Billy” Mitchell and Sir Hugh Trenchard in Great Britain. His
The Norden took account of such factors as speed, concepts of strategic bombing were later used, in various forms, by
course, wind direction and distance to target. Under both the British and the US in World War II.
favorable conditions, trained aircrews were able to Douhet advocated an independent air force, something realized
place their payloads within a few hundred feet of a in Great Britain in 1918 with the creation of the Royal Air Force, and
target from an elevation of over 15,000 feet, prompt- in the US in 1947. His writings—which presented airpower as the
ing one USAAF spokesman to boast they could “drop ultimate offensive weapon against which there was no defense—an-
ticipated the Cold War-era development of nuclear-armed inter-con-
a bomb into a pickle barrel at 25,000 feet.”
tinental ballistic missiles, the ultimate purveyor of the Douhetian
For the Norden bombsight to work well, however, punishment strategy.
US pilots had to deliver their payloads during day-
light hours, in good weather and in level flight. Un-
fortunately, operational conditions in the ETO, and
a skilled German air force, played havoc with those
requirements.
The US Eighth Air Force, responsible for strate-
gic bombing in the ETO, deployed to Britain in the
summer of 1942. For the following year, the Eighth’s
leadership struggled to build a force capable of inflict-
ing serious damage on the German economy. Early
American raids against occupied Europe experienced
heavy losses to Luftwaffe interceptors. In response, Al-
lied air commanders placed German aircraft industry
at the top of their target list. The idea was that destroy-
ing the factories would paralyze the Luftwaffe once it USAAF bombardiers.
World at War 9

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could no longer count on a steady supply of fighters. By attacking “key node” industries associated with German
Operation Pointblank, as the joint Allied Combined airpower, the Luftwaffe would be denied the replacement
Bomber Offensive was eventually code named, was criti- aircraft, parts and petroleum required to mount a successful
cal to the opening of the “second front” in the ETO. Any defense of occupied Europe.
attack against Hitler’s Atlantic Wall (the defenses along Destroying the German aviation industry was easier said
the English Channel and Atlantic coasts) would require than done. Throughout the summer and fall of 1943, Eighth
Allied air superiority and a weakened Luftwaffe. The Air Force bomber crews were experiencing a monthly air-
Luftwaffe had to be destroyed or rendered ineffective, frame attrition rate of 30 percent (destroyed, or damaged and
since it could otherwise be used to counterattack exposed written off). Those were clearly unsustainable losses for any
Allied beachhead positions, as well as convoys support- air force. The message was clear: bombers couldn’t survive
ing the invasion. beyond the range of fighter escort. After “Black Week” in
Pointblank directives therefore ordered the Allied air October 1943, when USAAF deep penetration raids were
forces to destroy the German aviation industry and se- hammered by the Luftwaffe, the Americans called off the
cure air superiority over the continent in time for D-Day. campaign and pondered their dilemma.

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Strategic airpower: USAAF B-24s on a bomb run.

The Eighth Air Force’s frustrations had many Despite doctrinal differences, American and Brit-
architects. Allied intelligence had underestimated ish pursuit of the punishment strategy against Nazi
the resiliency and capacity of German industry. The Germany actually paralleled each other in many im-
Germans were able to quickly repair damage and portant ways. American precision bombing was rarely
expand production. Moreover, the Luftwaffe proved as precise as pre-war advocates claimed, with only one
a determined foe. It had prepared for the air assault bomb in five falling within 1,000 feet (about three city
with sophisticated ground defenses, including radar, blocks) of the target. In fact, the American strategic
fighters and flak. In late 1943, then, the Germans air campaign could actually be characterized as utiliz-
were able to congratulate themselves on seemingly ing area bombing techniques due to the inaccuracy of
having defeated the US aerial offensive—though a precision bombing.
few dissenters, such as fighter chief Adolph Galland, Meanwhile, after years of night strikes, RAF
warned the Luftwaffe Americans would return in Bomber Command perfected radar bombing, great-
greater strength. ly increasing payload accuracy, often to a point that
Big Week could be characterized as precise. The RAF’s success
with incendiary bombing was emulated by the USAAF
And return the USAAF did. With the addition of
against the Japanese with great success. While the con-
long-range fighter escorts, such as the Republic P-47
cept of selectively targeting “key nodes” was shared by
Thunderbolt and the North American P-51 Mustang,
both air forces, neither the British nor the Americans
US bombers could fight their way through to targets
fully understood nor exploited that concept. It wasn’t
anywhere in Germany. The American daylight preci-
until 1944 the Allies began targeting Germany’s petro-
sion bombing campaign then began to pay off, cul-
leum industry, and even then RAF Bomber Command
minating in the combined bomber offensive’s “Big
continued to classify oil refineries as only a second-
Week” of February 1944. As the Allies secured air
ary target system. American attacks on Germany’s
superiority over western Europe, the full weight of
oil industry had begun in 1943 with USAAF raids on
the bomber offensive was felt. In 1944, Allied bomb-
Ploesti, but it wasn’t until May 1944 a full-scale effort
ers dropped 1,189,000 tons on the Third Reich, up
was made to cripple that key industry.
from 227,000 tons in 1943. Still, even with that four-
fold increase in tonnage dropped, German produc- Another target the Allies generally ignored was
tion actually continued to increase in 1944. electric power. The Reich’s power grid had little re-
serve capacity, and attacks on a few key production
In reality, though, there was more to the situation.
and distribution centers could have brought the entire
While production lines were turning out more tanks
economy to a halt. Coal was also another critical target
and airplanes for the Wehrmacht, much of that equip-
the Allies did not fully recognize.
ment couldn’t get to the front owing to petroleum
shortages and disruption of transportation, both in To their credit, Allied air commanders finally did
large part the results of the bombing campaign. Fur- recognize the importance of overall air superiority.
ther, some of the production statistics included not The US deployment of long-range fighter escorts, and
only newly manufactured weapons, but also equip- independent fighter “sweep” missions, cleared the
ment that had been damaged and returned to the fac- Luftwaffe from the skies. If nothing else, the Luftwaffe
tories for rebuilding. had to come up and fight in order to protect Germa-
continues on page 16
World at War 11

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12 #4

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World at War 13

WaW4 Issue.indd 13 12/16/08 10:56:19 AM


By mid-1917, specialized ground attack aircraft appeared
on both sides, armed with machineguns and small bombs.
During the Battle of Cambrai, in the fall and winter of 1917,
both Allied and German ground attack was commonplace.
By the start of the final German offensives in March 1918,
Allied and German air doctrine called for the large-scale em-
ployment of close air support aircraft. Target lists included
enemy troop positions, supplies, transportation centers and
arms factories (the latter target developing into a central fea-
ture of early strategic bombing doctrine).
Operational airpower: Heinkel-111 medium bomber.
With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the air
forces of the belligerents emphasized either strategic bomb-
Variations on Denial Strategy ing or combined-arms cooperation as the foundation of their
aerial operations. Great Britain and the US, believing in the
Like the punishment strategy, military historians trace
idea of the heavy bomber always getting through, empha-
the origins of the denial strategy to the skies over western
sized strategic bombing. Germany emphasized airpower as
Europe in World War I. Pilots then were quick to realize the
an instrument of operational warfare: the Luftwaffe would
possibilities of the single-engine airplane as an attack plat-
fight as an independent air force across a theater of opera-
form. Reconnaissance aircraft quickly evolved into armed
tions in order to neutralize critical enemy command-control
“fighters,” with Allied and German pilots wrestling for con-
centers, attack troop concentrations, conduct aerial recon-
trol of the skies over the trenches. When local air superiority
naissance and provide close support to far-ranging panzer
was gained, pilots then struck enemy troop concentrations as
forces. Soviet strategists believed airpower must first and
well as men and materiel moving to the front.
foremost serve the needs of the ground campaign, with the
From the opening days of World War I, observation air- air forces divided up to support ground commanders. In all
craft flew over the front and participated in ad hoc attacks cases, though, denying the enemy use of his airspace was
on enemy trenches. The impact was tremendous—not so crucial to the success of an air campaign; thus command of
much because ground attack missions could cause great the air was necessary for airpower to fulfill its various mis-
numbers of casualties but, rather, for their psychological ef- sions.
fect. Ground troops who had to operate under the constant
Air superiority over the battlefield proved an important
threat of aerial attack were less able to move in the open.
element in the success of another variation of the denial
Consequently, both the Allies and Central Powers modified
strategy: destruction of the enemy army on the battlefield.
observation and fighter aircraft for ground attack.
Nazi Germany’s successful blitzkrieg campaigns against Po-
It was the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) that first land in 1939, France in 1940, and Russia in 1941 all showed
recognized two forms of ground attack: “trench strafing,” the effectiveness of airpower when used in that manner.
corresponding to the modern concept of close air support of
Blitzkrieg campaigns began with the Luftwaffe launch-
friendly ground forces, and “ground strafing,” equivalent to
ing massive air attacks against enemy airfields in order to
modern battlefield air interdiction.
destroy the enemy’s air force on the ground. A screen of Me-
109 single-engine fighters would engage and destroy any
enemy aircraft that dared challenge the Luftwaffe in the sky.
Most German bombers were fast medium aircraft, such
as the Heinkel -111 and Junkers-88, which proved effective
at striking into enemy rear areas. Of course, the Germans
also developed one of the most famous ground attack air-
craft of all time, the Junkers-87 Stuka dive bomber, which
destroyed enemy motorized and mechanized vehicles in
great numbers, paving a path for the German army into en-
emy territory.
The German air force was ill-suited for strategic bomb-
ing, however, and the Luftwaffe had one of its notable defeats
during the Battle of Britain, from August through September
1940. In that campaign, German medium bombers lacked
the ‘punch’ to fight their way through British air defenses;
the Me-109 fighters lacked the range to escort the bombers
to targets deep in enemy territory, and the Me-110 twin-en-
People’s Fighter: Heinkel 161 jet interceptor, employed by the gine “destroyer” fighters proved unable to challenge British
Luftwaffe at the end of World War II. single-engine interceptors.
14 #4

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What made the Luftwaffe work—when it did work—
wasn’t simply their aircraft. Rather, it was the entire system,
which included air-minded leaders, good training, effective
doctrine, superior command control, intelligence gathering,
and a mobile ground-based logistical system.
The success of the blitzkrieg bred imitation. On the east-
ern front the Red Air Force bounced back from devastation
in the opening weeks of Operation Barbarossa to fight and
win a hard fought battle against the Luftwaffe for air supe-
riority. The Soviets learned how to combine their air for-
mations into unified forces for conducting large operations.
The Red Army’s destruction of Axis forces at Stalingrad was
in no small part due to the restructuring and rebuilding of
the Red Air Force. By inflicting crippling losses on the Ger-
man aerial re-supply effort, the Soviet Air Force contributed
greatly to the final reduction of the Stalingrad pocket. And
the Soviet victory at Kursk was in no small part due to dedi-
cated ground attack aircraft, protected by combat air patrols,
finding and destroying large numbers of German tanks.
In North Africa, British success in Operation Crusader
and at El Alamein was in large degree due to Allied opera-
tional and tactical airpower. That made it difficult for Af-
rika Korps commander Rommel to maneuver his forces in
the open. And British aircraft based on the island of Malta
proved effective in interdicting Axis reinforcement to North
Africa.
Those lessons were further applied in the battles for Sic-
ily and Italy. Operation Strangle, undertaken to stop critical
road and rail supplies from reaching the German army on the
Italian peninsula in 1944, proved somewhat disappointing as
a strategic interdiction campaign. It was successful, though,
as a battlefield air interdiction operation, fixing the Germans
in place and making it difficult for them to maneuver. Once
again, the establishment of local air superiority allowed the
Allies to fight and defeat the Germans by combined air-land
operations.
Perhaps the most significant example of the power of air
superiority can be seen in the Allied air operations imme-
diately prior to and following D-Day, Operation Overlord.
Operation Pointblank had made achieving air superiority
for D-Day a top priority by calling for all-out attacks on the
German aircraft industry. Air supremacy over the beaches of
Normandy then contributed to the success of Overlord. The
Luftwaffe, unable to respond, couldn’t support the German
army’s attempted counteroffensives in Normandy.
Allied airpower assisted the breakout of ground forces
in Normandy with massive air attacks that pulverized en-
tire German divisions. During the following pursuit across
France, the Allied air forces continued to interdict enemy
units and logistics, as well as providing close support to
fast-moving mechanized forces, making it impossible for
Somewhere over Europe: gun camera view of a fighter being
the Germans to establish a cohesive defense short of the
Rhineland. It would not be until the Battle of the Ardennes
shot down; the pilot is bailing out on the upper right.
in December 1944 that the Luftwaffe would again be able to
challenge the Allies for control of the skies, and by that time
it was too little, too late.
World at War 15

WaW4 Issue.indd 15 12/16/08 10:56:22 AM


Airpower against the Rising Sun: B-29s on an air raid.

ny’s industries and cities; so it was forced into a los- tween western and eastern fronts, but the firebombing
ing battle of attrition. While aircraft could be replaced, of the city still stands out as one of the greatest horrors
pilots had to be trained, and the fuel and cadre to train of modern times.
them simply weren’t there. The result was Luftwaffe The US had considered some form of aerial of-
pilots proved less and less capable of challenging the fensive against Japan ever since the War Plan Orange
Allies in the skies, thereby opening up more of Ger- contingency plans of the inter-war years. The idea was
many to bombing. That meant, in turn, an increasing US naval and land forces would capture islands, build
inability to make good further lost veterans. It was a them up as airbases, and then use them to launch a
downward spiral from which the Luftwaffe—and the strategic air offensive to force Japanese capitulation.
Third Reich—never recovered. In the actual event, the comprehensive strategic
Assault on Japan bombing offensive against the Japanese mainland be-
The US had entered the war against Hitler firmly gan with Operation Matterhorn. Finalized in Novem-
committed to precision bombing against the German ber 1943, the plan advocated a punishment strategy
economy. Even so, the final months of the European using the new Boeing B-29 Super Fortresses to attack
airwar witnessed American bombers participating in Japanese industry on the main islands. Those B-29s
incendiary attacks against German civilians. In Febru- would at first be based on forward airfields in China,
ary 1945, British and American bombers struck Dres- with support from the other bases in India, and finally
den for three days, gutting the center of the city and from Guam, Saipan and Tinian in the Central Pacific,
killing an estimated 25,000-135,000 civilians. Dres- once those locales were captured from the Japanese.
den had some military value, since it was a central rail As more of the B-29s entered the theater of operations,
transfer junction for switching Wehrmacht forces be- high-altitude daylight attacks would intensify in order

16 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 16 12/16/08 10:56:22 AM


to devastate the Japanese economy and force the col- their incendiaries on Japanese cities, creating massive
lapse of the enemy war effort. firestorms that swept through both industrial and resi-
The architect of the strategic bombing campaign dential areas. For the next five months US bombers
against Japan was Gen. Haywood Hansell. He advo- dropped incendiaries on Japanese cities with dramatic
cated the by then well-established doctrine of high-al- result: cities burned, mass casualties were suffered by
titude daylight precision bombing to the XXI Bomber their civilians, and the Japanese economy was para-
Command of the newly created Twentieth Air Force lyzed.
in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO). The cam- The post-war US Strategic Bombing Survey esti-
paign at first used the type of large bomber formations mated that in Tokyo alone the incendiary campaign
that had characterized the strategic air offensive in the destroyed or badly damaged more than 25,000 small
ETO, but the approach failed to work against Japan. factories and home workshops. Without those sub-
Japanese industry was too dispersed (often in private contractors, the Japanese economy was unable to meet
homes), and much of it was in Manchuria or otherwise the demands of a sustained war effort. The strategic
out of range of the B-29s. bombing of urban Japan was so successful that by July
With no good results forthcoming, Hansell was 1945 the level of industrial production in Japan’s 33
replaced by Gen. Curtis LeMay. Understanding the largest urban areas was only a third of its 1944 peak.
vulnerability of Japanese cities to incendiary raids, By the end of the war, Super Fortresses had de-
LeMay in March 1945 ordered his bombers to indi- stroyed or severely damaged over 600 of Japan’s ma-
vidually firebomb Japanese urban areas from low alti- jor manufacturing plants: aircraft, oil, steel, munitions,
tude and at night. His order instantly changed the char- chemicals and machinery were all affected. In all, over
acter of the campaign, as hundreds of B-29s dropped 60 cities were bombed. By early August, before the

World at War 17

WaW4 Issue.indd 17 12/16/08 10:56:25 AM


Victory through airpower: B-17s.

atomic bombs were dropped, more than 105 square lapsed. In any event, expecting a civilian populace to
miles of urban Japan had been destroyed by area incen- take up arms and rebel against its own government
diary bombing out of a total of 257 square miles. Al- during wartime over an enemy bombing campaign ap-
most a quarter-million Japanese had been killed, over pears, in retrospect, to be a far-fetched idea.
300,000 injured, and 8.5 million civilians displaced. In The belief strategic bombing could eliminate an
fact, more than 10 million Japanese, a seventh of the enemy nation’s ability to wage war by destroying its
total population and a fourth of all city dwellers, fled industrial base also failed to live up to expectations.
to the countryside for refuge. Germany had sufficient industrial overcapacity to ab-
Victory through Airpower sorb the first years of Allied strategic bombing. Dis-
persal of industry, ongoing repair and expansion com-
The Allied airwar against Germany and Japan illus-
pensated for additional bombing; however, attacks on
trated the power of the punishment strategy, but with
transportation made it difficult to employ the increased
mixed results. Pre-war supporters of strategic daylight
production. Further, the destruction of the Reich’s pe-
precision bombing believed the civilian populace was
troleum industry rendered much of the surplus produc-
the weak link in a nation’s defense. Bringing the hor-
tion useless.
rors of war directly to the citizens of a belligerent na-
tion would compel the government to sue for peace. If the strategic air campaign in Europe failed to
But the Allied combined bomber offensive’s around- meet the expectations of Allied air commanders, the
the-clock strategic bombing of Nazi Germany didn’t airwar over Japan seemed to validate the efficacy of
bring the Third Reich to its knees, even though civilian the punishment strategy. Five months of successful in-
morale often fluctuated in response to the bombing. The cendiary and high explosive strikes against Japanese
initial response was a sense of outrage, followed by a industrial and military targets in 1945 demonstrated
determination to support the war effort all the more. the USAAF’s doctrine. The atomic bombs employed
The prolonged bombing campaigns caused some dete- against Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the ultimate op-
rioration of civilian morale and also led to some disre- erations in that strategy.
spect for the Luftwaffe’s leadership, who couldn’t stop Even with the success of the strategic bombing
the intruders. After the RAF fire-bombing of Hamburg campaign against Japan, a purely Douhetian victory
in July 1943, a wave of pessimism overcame many was not attained. The Twentieth Army Air Force’s B-
in the Reich, reaching as high as Propaganda Minister 29s benefited from the attrition of Japanese airpower
Goebbels, but German home front morale never col- in the mid-war years in the battles over the Pacific. The
18 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 18 12/16/08 10:56:33 AM


Japanese army and naval air arms, having lost most of Still, strategic bombing in the PTO seemed to ful-
their veteran pilots in defense of the outer perimeter of fill many of Douhet’s predictions. American strategic
the Southeast Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, were unable airpower had delivered on its pre-war promise that war
to overcome the Twentieth Air Force’s ever-intensify- waged from the skies could compel a determined en-
ing air campaign. As with the Germans, the Japanese emy to capitulate. Though airpower didn’t win the war
were also afflicted by a shortage of petroleum, leading by itself, strategic bombing destroyed much of impe-
to a collapse of pilot training and the massacre of their rial Japan’s military potential and eroded civilian mo-
inexperienced pilots in aerial battles. rale.
The US strategic bombing campaign can’t be The punishment aerial strategy brought total war
viewed in isolation. Years of Allied commerce raid- to whole populations in a way never before imagined.
ing and a tightening naval blockade also contributed Though the USAAF’s strategic bombing campaign
to shortages of key industrial materials and food in against Germany and Japan had mixed results, its suc-
Japan, further reducing its military capabilities. The cesses demonstrated an all-out bombing offensive had
Japanese economy, in any event, lacked the economic become a critical element in general war. If nothing
wherewithal to fight a protracted war and, indeed, pre- else, it also led to the formation of the US Air Force as
war projections figured the economy could sustain six an independent service in 1947.
months of fighting at best.
at

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World at War 19

WaW4 Issue.indd 19 12/16/08 10:56:36 AM


Blair Mayne of the
Special Air Service
By Kelly Bell

The
scene was not of the North Africa of legend. There was no baleful desert sun scorching
down on the obscure but significant military outpost outside Tamut on the Mediter-
ranean coast between Tripoli and El Agheila. In fact, there was no sun at all. The time
was just before midnight, 14 December 1941, and it was bitterly cold.
Tamut was a vital installation of the German Luftwaffe in North Africa. The Luftwaffe, of course, was there
to support the Afrika Korps, commanded by Gen. Erwin Rommel. And that otherwise obscure base became the
scene of one of the greatest special operations raid of the North African campaign.
20 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 20 12/16/08 10:56:37 AM


The German warplanes based around Tamut pro- him behind when the
vided a crucial aerial umbrella over the divisions of unit was transferred to
Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy in the Western Desert, Egypt. Though he was
the expanse of sand and escarpments that stretched inclined to be willful
from the Nile Delta in Egypt into Libya. An Axis drive and resentful of author-
into Egypt would threaten the Allied hold on the Mid- ity, Mayne was also,
dle East and its rich oilfields. by both temperament
Operations had concluded for the day at Tamut it- and physique, a natu-
self, and the German and Italian pilots in the officers’ ral fighter, and he was
club were drinking beer and Chianti. The conversation fervently committed to
centered around two faraway events—the Red Army the Allied cause. Being
counteroffensive in front of Moscow, and the stunning excluded from his unit
Japanese offensive in the Pacific that had begun with made an impression,
the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. and when he managed
The pilots were torn from their banter as the door to transfer to the 11th
splintered under the impact of a booted foot. An enor- Scottish Commandoes
mous grim-faced soldier in British uniform stepped in- in the spring of 1940 he
side, braced a submachinegun against his right hip and became a silent, obedi-
opened fire on the astounded Germans and Italians. He ent and hard-working
warrior-in-training. Special Air Service: Blair Mayne.
left none unscathed as he swept the room with fire.
Lt. Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne was just getting He spent the next year learning how to use explo-
started. Mayne and the five commandoes with him sives, engage in unarmed combat, climb cliffs, swim
pounded out of the base and into the freezing desert in full kit, read maps, fire weapons expertly, and un-
at 9:40 p.m. Hiding out at a safe distance, they lis- complainingly endure brutal physical training. He was
tened as confused Axis troops shot at each other in the sent to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1941, a
darkness. At 11:00 p.m., with the airfield’s garrison time when almost all of continental Europe was either
under the misconception the attack was over and there under Hitler’s heel or allied with him.
would be no more trouble that night, Mayne and his His outfit’s first action was the abortive Litani Riv-
saboteurs infiltrated back to the airfield and began set- er raid in Syria, in which 120 Commonwealth troops
ting explosive charges on the aircraft parked around its were lost. The survivors were transferred to Cyprus to
perimeter. They also rigged explosives to ammunition be rested, reinforced and prepared for an operation to
and fuel supplies and telephone poles. Then the British kidnap Rommel. The 11th Scottish Commandoes also
commandos again fled into the Sahara, and this time received a new commanding officer, Col. David Stir-
they didn’t pause to look back until slightly after mid- ling.
night, when they turned to watch their explosives blow Stirling had in mind the formation of a commando
Tamut into a junkyard of blazing warplanes, gasoline unit he intended to call the “Special Air Service.” He’d
and cooking-off ammunition. noted how large-scale raids against targets far behind
The Special Air Service (SAS) raid on Tamut was enemy lines lost, through their very size, the element
the first in a string of missions during which Mayne of surprise. He instead planned to utilize small, highly
would take the war to the Afrika Korps. Over the next trained and well-armed groups of special forces troops
18 months both Rommel and his superiors would be to approach targets by land, or dropping by parachute,
stunned at the extent of the devastation the young to sabotage aircraft, railways, fuel and ammunition
Irishman would inflict on their forces. dumps, communication facilities and other behind-
the-lines targets vital to the enemy, then fading away
Enter Mayne into the night.
Of English ancestry, the Mayne family had been
living in Ireland for several generations when Paddy Stirling took his proposals directly to the Deputy
was born in Newtownards on 11 January 1915. By the Chief of Staff for British Middle East Forces, Maj.
time of the 1938 Munich Crisis, he’d already enlisted Gen. Neil Ritchie, in July 1941. His timing was right.
in the Queen’s University Officer Training Corps. In Prime Minister Winston Churchill was pressing the
February 1939 he was posted to the 5th Light Anti-Ar- commander in North Africa, Field Marshal Sir Claude
tillery Territorial Regiment, where his heavy drinking John Auchinleck, to start commando actions against
and chronic insubordination moved his commanding the Germans and Italians in the hope of diverting Axis
officers to brand him “unruly and generally unreli- resources away from the Russian front.
able.” Ritchie was therefore immediately intrigued with
When war broke out in September 1939, he was Stirling’s proposition. It would provide a method of
sobered in more ways than one when his superiors left striking at the enemy without risking much in the way
of men, weapons and supplies. Three days after meet-
World at War 21

WaW4 Issue.indd 21 12/16/08 10:56:38 AM


ing with Ritchie, Stirling was summoned to Auchin- er exploits. Impatient to get back into action, Mayne
leck’s headquarters, and the field marshal gave him the hastily drew up plans for a raid on a busy Luftwaffe
go-ahead to assemble his unit. airfield called Berka Satellite. He took with him just
After recruiting the best men he could find on Cy- three enlisted men. At 3:00 a.m. on the morning of 15
prus, Stirling moved the unit to North Africa, where March, they blew to bits 15 aircraft, a stack of 12 tor-
the recently arrived Rommel was already threatening pedoes and the base’s fuel dump. Though they easily
the British petroleum lifeline from the Middle East. escaped, they missed the rendezvous with their trans-
Stirling arranged for his men to work closely with the port and had to spend most of the next day walking
Long-Range Desert Group (LRDG). Another round of across 30 miles of burning desert to the next LRDG
training followed, including desert survival technique. pick-up site.
By the autumn of 1941 the SAS was ready for action. The Wire
Planning was meticulous, with much use made of aer- In the spring of 1942 the Mediterranean island
ial reconnaissance photographs. of Malta assumed critical importance for both sides.
Second Show Royal Air Force squadrons based on the island had
The SAS would tolerate nothing less than suc- spent the past year cutting deeply into the flow of men
cess. Stirling and Mayne also believed the Axis com- and materiel bound for Rommel. Albert Kesselring, in
mand wouldn’t be expecting another attack on Tamut overall command of all German forces in the Mediter-
for some time after the December raid. Sure enough, ranean, sent massive formations of Luftwaffe bomb-
the Germans and Italians simply bulldozed away the ers and fighters against Malta. The crushing assault
wreckage and restocked the installation with newly ar- had its intended effect, neutralizing the island fortress
rived planes, trucks, sundry vehicles, food, ammuni- and allowing steady shipments bound for Libya from
tion, fuel and spare parts. Late on the night of 27 De- Italy. With his reinforced divisions, Rommel launched
cember, then, Mayne and his men returned and again a new offensive on 26 May. The Germans then took
blew the airbase into junk. the British bastion of Tobruk, rounding up 33,000
Meanwhile, the British had launched Operation POWs (including five generals) and large amounts of
Crusader, a ground offensive that drove the Axis from weapons, fuel, ammunition, medicine and other sup-
Benghazi, depriving them of that vital port and forc- plies. By the end of June the battered British Eighth
ing them to ship supplies and reinforcements from the Army had fallen back all the way to El Alamein, just
harbor of Bouerat, 350 miles to the west. Bouerat thus 60 miles west of Alexandria. The stage was set for the
became the next target for the SAS, but the first attack culminating battle of the war in the Western Desert,
against it in January 1942 “hit air” when the harbor and Mayne and his SAS would be heavily involved.
was found to be almost empty. After the pounding his warplanes had delivered
On 24 February 1942, against the backdrop of the against Malta, Kesselring assumed the island was no
Afrika Korps’s counteroffensive that retook the Gazala longer a factor, and transferred that air fleet to support
Line, Mayne was decorated with the Distinguished Rommel’s drive into Egypt. The RAF took full advan-
Service Order and promoted to captain for his earli- tage of the respite to reinforce Malta with pilots and
planes. Soon British aircraft were again raking Axis
sea lanes, and Luftwaffe units were forced to withdraw
from the front to fly cover over the convoys, depriving
Rommel of sorely needed air support. That dilution of
Axis air strength meant Stirling’s and Mayne’s attacks
on German installations were more significant than
ever, as they could further tip the balance in favor of
the British at El Alamein.
Rounding up as many spare vehicles as they could,
SAS troops assembled a fleet of vehicles bristling with
weapons for use in long-range, high-speed missions
far behind enemy lines. The Jeeps were armed with
two forward-facing Vickers machineguns and a swiv-
eling .50-caliber Browning machinegun in the rear. By
late July 1942 the unit was fully motorized with its
own task force of mobile gun platforms.
On the night of 4 July, Mayne led a raid on Luft-
waffe airfields scattered throughout the area surround-
ing the towns of Fuka and Bagush. Roughly 100 miles
Key to the Western Desert: the port of Tobruk; from the front, the personnel of those bases felt safe
smoke is from an air raid. and had taken few precautions against raiders. Arriv-
22 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 22 12/16/08 10:56:39 AM


SAS & LRDG
In mid-1941 a young Scots Guards subaltern
named David Stirling began to develop a new concept
of using small forces to conduct raids against Axis
forces in North Africa. Having participated in several
unsuccessful large-scale seaborne commando attacks
along the Cyrenaican coast, he noted that big, ocean-
going assaults gave up the essential element of sur-
prise. So he began “to evaluate the factors that would
justify the creating of a special service unit to carry on
the commando role, and amass a case to present to the
commander-in-chief in favor of such a unit.”
Stirling wanted to use small units trained to launch
stealthy, night attacks on strategic targets far behind
enemy lines. Bands of commandos would parachute
in and attack fuel and ammunition caches, supply con-
voys and, especially, airfields. They would then slip
away under cover of darkness. Such a force would
risk little while destroying the enemy’s most valuable
resources. All Stirling had to do was to get his plan
accepted by the high command.
Bypassing the multi-layered hierarchy of the Brit-
ish Army, Stirling simply barged unannounced and
unexpected into the office of Deputy Chief of Staff,
Middle East Forces, Maj. Gen. Neil Ritchie one af-
ternoon in July 1941. He dumped his written outline,
graphs and charts, onto his desk. Ignoring the as-
tounded general’s attempts to interrupt, Stirling briefed him
Special Air Service: David Stirling (standing).
on his proposal. By a lucky quirk of timing, it was one of the
few times Stirling could have gotten away with such imper-
Still, there were similarities. Both units were made up
tinence. Hitler had just launched his invasion of the Soviet
of unconventionally minded soldiers with a disdain for or-
Union, and Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was crying out for
thodoxy. They operated with panache and could live off the
a “second front” in the west to take some of the heat off the
bleak desert for weeks at a time while carrying out their as-
reeling Red Army. Stung by Stalin’s question, “When are
signments. The LRDG’s knowledge of the North African the-
you going to start fighting?” British Prime Minister Winston
ater of operations became legendary. Its men could navigate
Churchill was pressuring his commanders in North Africa to
the region’s tracks, villages, oases, and hiding places—and
strike at the Germans
could exploit them to reach enemy installations. The person-
Ritchie suspected Stirling’s proposition was just what nel of those units were drawn from the entire British Com-
Churchill had in mind. He therefore sent Stirling on to the monwealth, including New Zealanders and Rhodesians, as
office of theater Commander-in-Chief Field-Marshal Sir well as Free French paratroopers. By November 1942 the
Claude Auchinleck, who quickly approved the new force and SAS had been expanded to a regiment. In 1943 a second
authorized Stirling to recruit six officers and 60 NCOs and regiment was formed, commanded by Stirling’s brother.
enlisted men. Promoted to captain, Stirling would answer
The LRDG used specialized desert vehicles to get troops
to no one but Auchinleck, ensuring the new outfit would
and their supplies to specific locations on time and in op-
be able to train and operate without interference. Stirling’s
erating order. Even so, things didn’t always go smoothly.
command was designated Special Air Service (SAS). It was
The LRDG commander, Maj. Gen. David Lloyd Owen, de-
to be the real part of a larger British deception operation, by
scribed the difficulties that arose:
which they’d created a fictional unit, 1st Special Air Service
Brigade, as a notional airborne unit.
Stirling immediately got to work training and equipping There were bound to be problems in avoiding a
his men, and within three months they were creating havoc clash of aims of the two units. It was never easy
deep inside enemy lines. The SAS would occasionally col- to achieve a sensible balance between the require-
laborate with the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), another ments of reconnaissance for intelligence purposes
special operations unit Wavell had formed in the summer of and the need to stir up trouble in the rear areas. The
1940. Commanded by Maj. Ralph Bagnold, the LRDG con- enemy’s reaction to Stirling’s operations was bound
centrated on long-range reconnaissance, while the SAS were to make the work of the LRDG less simple than it
raiders. otherwise would have been.

World at War 23

WaW4 Issue.indd 23 12/16/08 10:56:39 AM


ing at Bagush after dark on the seventh, Mayne and outside El Daba, 50 miles west of El Alamein. The
three of his men set explosives on 40 airplanes, then Germans had finally acted in response to the night-
pulled back into the desert to watch the fireworks. To time raiders, and had markedly beefed up airfield se-
their bitter disappointment, only 22 of the bombs deto- curity. Increased security meant silently infiltrating the
nated. “Damn! We did 40 aircraft! Some of the bloody bases would be dicey; so Mayne and Stirling decided
primers must have been damp!” growled Mayne. on a more direct approach. The two therefore planned
Determined to finish the job, he and Stirling drove to execute an attack by simply crashing through the
their jeeps back into the base’s interior in a wild charge, base’s outer defenses in order to machinegun the facil-
machineguns blazing 1,200 rounds per minute, while ity from within. They first used that tactic to destroy 14
the airfield’s personnel, stunned at this new assault af- planes in the German airfield outside El Daba on the
ter having assumed the saboteurs were long departed, night of 9 July. On 11 July they did it again at Fuka,
ran for cover. By the time the two jeeps bounced away destroying another 22 machines.
into the night, a dozen more German planes were The morale of Axis rear area personnel began to
wreathed in oily flames. suffer owing to the depredations of a small band of
In the Shadows nocturnal warriors who seemed able to penetrate and
Despite the pyrotechnics, Mayne’s exploits were pulverize at will any base they wished. Ironically, the
overlooked by war correspondents, largely because he SAS, despite being one of the most effective military
never trumpeted his accomplishments. Yet the impact units fighting for the Allies, remained largely unknown
of his depredations was out of proportion to the num- to everyone except the Germans and Italians.
ber of personnel involved. On the night of 7 July 1942, Immediately after the second Fuka raid, Royal
Mayne and three other men destroyed 34 of Hitler’s Air Force reconnaissance detected a build-up of Luft-
warplanes, contributing to the upcoming, pivotal vic- waffe aircraft at Sidi Haneish. The recon revealed it
tory at El Alamein. Yet no one seemed to take note, was packed with Junkers-52 tri-motor cargo airplanes.
and Mayne preferred it that way. Those machines were essential for the delivery of
Early in July he and Stirling cooked up a plot for provisions, reinforcements, ammunition and weapons
a motorized assault on the sprawling Luftwaffe base to the front. Mayne and Stirling therefore concocted
24 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 24 12/16/08 10:56:40 AM


an assault in which they would send 18 of their jeeps
against the airfield under a full moon. Precisely be-
cause the bright moonlight would make it difficult to
approach the installation unnoticed, they reckoned it
was a time the enemy would least be expecting an at-
tack. The jeeps would bear down on the base at high
speed in two columns, with the vehicles just five yards
apart. That close spacing demanded meticulous re-
hearsing to ensure against collisions and friendly fire.
Following two weeks of training, the 18-vehicle force
set out on the evening of 27 July 1942.
Four hours later, as the unit was approaching the
airfield, Mayne signaled his men to form into twin as-
sault columns. At that moment, the base was suddenly
flooded with light to guide in a Heinkel-111 twin-en-
gine bomber returning from a patrol. The commandos
were pleased to have the additional illumination as
they charged through the field’s perimeter and their
gunners opened fire.
The installation turned out to be an even better tar-
get than anticipated. Besides the JU-52s the runways
The other foe: vehicle crew escapes from the heat.
were lined with Messerschmitts, Heinkels, and JU-87
Stuka dive-bombers. The Germans were yet again tak- posed on the operation cancelled out the usual tactical
en by surprise and had few defenses prepared as rows asset of flexibility. Mayne readied his men as well as
of armed and fueled planes began exploding. he could despite those obstacles.
After a few minutes, Mayne, his hair singed, was After briefing and drilling the men during the little
out of ammunition and preparing to signal his men to time they had, Mayne and Stirling loaded them into
depart, but he spotted a solitary JU-52 parked off to trucks and jeeps and started the 800-mile trek through
one side. Grabbing a plastic explosive, he ran up to the enemy territory to Kufra Oasis. After a brief layover
plane, armed the bomb and slapped it onto the wing there, the convoy motored another 600 miles to the
root. Then he vaulted back into his jeep and led his ju- mountainous Djebel region, only 20 miles from the
bilant men off into the desert. Behind them more than harbor. The British command in Cairo had meanwhile
40 of Rommel’s aircraft were burning into puddles of received intelligence reports the Germans had spotted
aluminum. Mayne lost one man and one jeep in the the convoy during its long journey, and were likely
attack. to have guessed its objective. Stirling and Mayne re-
Across the Desert ceived no orders to abort, however, and on the night of
The raid on Sidi Haneish finally brought the SAS 13 September they set out for Benghazi.
recognition within the Allied high command. With the The enemy was indeed ready and waiting, and
desert war nearing its climactic battle, Axis air power the convoy was bushwhacked when it stopped at an
was seriously weakened. Newly appointed Eighth unmanned roadblock just outside the port. Taking
Army commander, Field Marshal Bernard Law Mont- withering fire from both sides of the road, the expedi-
gomery, decided Mayne and his gang would be useful tion retreated all the way back to Kufra, which was
in a large-scale operation. still 800 miles inside enemy territory. Anxious to get
Montgomery was anxious for his forces to achieve medical attention for his wounded, Mayne set out for
a decisive victory in North Africa. Simply holding the home at first light, only to immediately come under
Afrika Korps at bay wasn’t enough—it was time to go air attack. The vengeful Luftwaffe steadily attacked the
over to the offensive. El Alamein would be the turning convoy as it made its way east. At one point a particu-
point in North Africa, and the field marshal decided larly determined pilot attacked Mayne’s vehicle, and
Mayne’s part in it would be to neutralize the enemy’s a wounded man fell from the jeep. Forced to keep go-
supply port at Benghazi. That was too large a target ing until the Germans broke off and departed, Mayne
for the SAS to tackle; so Montgomery sent Mayne parked under cover and backtracked on foot until he
more than 100 new men. That increased the unit to found the injured soldier, then carried him back to the
220 men, but there was no time for Stirling and Mayne jeep. He hadn’t even known whether the man was still
to adequately train the reinforcements in their uncon- alive, but he had no intention of abandoning any one,
ventional style of fighting. Further, a force that size dead or alive.
was difficult to conceal, compromising the element The abortive Benghazi raid cost the SAS 50 men
of surprise. Last, the strict timetable Montgomery im- and 50 machines, justifying Mayne’s reservations
World at War 25

WaW4 Issue.indd 25 12/16/08 10:56:42 AM


Desert Fox: Rommel confers with Afrika Korps officers.

AfrikaKorps & Eighth Army


At the start of World War II, Libya was an Italian colony While 1941 closed with things looking bleak for the
while Egypt was a British “protectorate.” The Western Des- Axis, 1942 opened with another stunning counteroffensive
ert is the region that stretches from Egypt west of Alexandria by Rommel. Panzer Armee Afrika, now re-designated a pan-
into Libya. It became the scene of one of the more critical zer army, swept through Libya, this time taking Tobruk with
and glamorized campaigns of World War II. That campaign scarcely a shot fired in its final defense. Eighth Army was
began in September 1940, when Italian Tenth Army ad- shattered. There followed a race across Egypt as both sides
vanced into Egypt, only to be counterattacked by the British attempted to reach Alexandria before the other. The British
Western Desert Force. While the Italians had the advantage made their stand at El Alamein in July 1942. Panzer Armee
of numbers, the British had the edge in mobility. When the Afrika launched a last desperate attack there, and was stopped
dust settled, the British had overrun eastern Libya. by an equally desperate resistance. The El Alamein position
At that time, Hitler sent Gen. Erwin Rommel to Afri- was unassailable, in part because its south flank was covered
ca. Rommel initially commanded a small German mecha- by the Qattara Depression (an impassible salt marsh), and in
nized force known as the Afrika Korps. In March 1941 he part because Axis supply lines were overextended across the
began his first offensive, running rings around the British desert.
and forcing them to fall back to Egypt. Rommel was then In October 1942, Gen. Montgomery, in command of
stopped at the port-fortress of Tobruk, whose “Desert Rat” Eighth Army, launched an offensive from the Alamein posi-
garrison held out against all the “Desert Fox” could throw at tion. Rommel held at first, but by November the game was
them. The British then launched two counteroffensives. The up as the British broke through. Compounding the Axis di-
first, Operation Battle Axe, was shot up in the summer; the saster, American forces landed far to the west in Morocco
second, Operation Crusader, and Algeria. Panzer Armee Afrika, yet again redesignated
pushed Axis forces back to Al as the German-Italian Panzer Army, fell back pursued by
Agheila. Montgomery.
Rommel’s command was Rommel made his own stand in Tunisia. While Hitler
administratively upgraded to rushed reinforcement to Africa, the combined Anglo-Ameri-
Panzergruppe Afrika, which can forces were simply too much to deal with. Despite a last
included all German and Ital- brilliant victory at Kasserine Pass, Rommel was finished in
ian forces in the theater. The North Africa. On 13 May 1943, the last of the panzer army
Afrika Korps became part of surrendered, though Rommel, recalled by Hitler, would fight
that panzer group, along with on in Europe.
two Italian corps. The British
Western Desert Force was also
upgraded to become Eighth
Army in September 1941.

Eighth Army commander: Gen. Montgomery.


26 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 26 12/16/08 10:56:43 AM


Finally in Germany
Despite achieving their greatest successes as a commando unit in
North Africa, the SAS/SRS also saw combat in Europe later in the war.
In one instance, Mayne and his men drove into a hornets’ nest outside
the German city of Oldenburg on 9 April 1945. They were spearhead-
ing the Canadian 4th Armored Division past the town en route to Kiel,
when a German squad firing from an abandoned house beside the road
ambushed them.
Seizing a machinegun, Mayne ran alone into the house through
a side door and mowed down every man inside. He then ran back
outside, rallied his men and leaped into a jeep while bellowing for an-
other officer to man its .50-caliber. Another 100 yards down the road
the enemy was raking the column’s advance element with automatic
fire from the forest lining the thoroughfare. Driving slowly and delib-
erately, he ignored withering fire from the tree line while his gunner
sprayed the German gun pits, silencing most of them. Though still tak-
ing fire, he returned to the ambush site and lifted a number of wounded
Canadian and British troops from the roadway, loaded them onto his
jeep and drove them to an aid station.
The column had been fought to a standstill until Mayne’s dramatic
appearance. It then resumed its advance at such a pace it was soon a
full 20 miles ahead of 4th Division’s main body. Shaken and demoral-
ized by the devastating actions of that one lone soldier, the surviving
Germans along the roadway withdrew. With resistance aborted, the
rest of the division advanced easily.
Mayne’s fearless heroism destroyed the enemy’s defense and
saved the lives of an untold number of Allied soldiers. Without him
there is no way of knowing how long the column would have been
held at bay, or how many wounded men would never have survived to
reach medical attention. He never afterward mentioned the incident.

about using the SAS in large-scale set piece actions. Service “could have a decisive effect, yes, a really de-
That wasn’t the style of warfare for which the outfit cisive effect, on my forthcoming offensive.”
had trained and, as Montgomery belatedly came to un- With his supplies being choked off, Rommel had
derstood that, he allowed Mayne and Stirling to return to detail armored patrols (which were sorely needed at
to the small-scale commando actions they favored. the front) to try to chase down the raiders. They had no
As the apocalyptic desert battle of El Alamein success, however, and on 8 October Hitler personally
loomed in October 1942, the SAS set up a new staging ordered: “These British saboteurs and their accomplic-
point in the Sand Sea, 200 miles behind German lines es are to be hunted down and exterminated without
and 150 miles from the prized target of the coastal mercy.”
highway and railway Rommel was using as his supply It was an impossible order to obey, for no one in the
line. The new base was in such a desolate location the Afrika Korps was capable of catching up with Mayne
Luftwaffe seldom overflew the area, and SAS head- and his warriors. Increasingly unable to receive rein-
quarters went unnoticed by the enemy even while its forcement, weapons, ammunition, food, medical sup-
commandos raided Axis supply lines. plies, spare parts, water or even mail, the Germans and
To Tunis Italians were doomed when Montgomery’s well-sup-
The SAS next relocated its base of operations to plied Eighth Army struck back at El Alamein. Rommel
Wadi Bir Zalten, 100 miles south of Rommel’s head- could only flee west with his remaining force. Mont-
quarters at El Agheila. Mayne and his 90 men and 30 gomery had achieved his aim of a great victory, and
jeeps spent the nights prowling the 400 miles of high- just at the right time. As the Germans were sent reeling
way linking Rommel with his supply port of Tripoli. from El Alamein, the US First Army came ashore far
With Axis convoys being forced to brave the motor- to the west in Algeria and Morocco, trapping (newly
ized raiders at night and RAF air attack during day- promoted) Panzer Armee Afrika between overwhelm-
light, the Afrika Korps was slowly being strangled for ing Allied forces.
supplies while attrition took its toll at the front. Mont- As the North African war wound down, the Al-
gomery, appreciating how the SAS, through its unique lied high command began to discuss disbanding the
talents and tactics, was contributing to final victory SAS because its style of hit-and-run fighting seemed
in the desert war, told correspondents the Special Air unsuited for use against an enemy in constant retreat.
World at War 27

WaW4 Issue.indd 27 12/16/08 10:56:43 AM


Working closely with the Canadian 4th Armored Di-
vision, the SRS ended the war by assisting in capturing
the German port of Kiel. Mayne and his troops spear-
headed the Allied advance into that city, neutralizing
perimeter defenses so tank columns could advance
unhindered.
The degree of Mayne’s commitment to the Allied
cause was further illustrated by a painful back injury
he suffered in France. Unwilling to submit to a lengthy
hospital stay that would take him out of action, he kept
his cracked vertebra a secret. Despite enduring agony
during repeated parachute drops in 1944, he said not a
word about it until after the war. His valor was recog-
nized with four Distinguished Service Order decora-
tions.
Though the Third Reich could not kill Paddy
Mayne, the peace he had done so much to bring about
finished him. Discharged in 1945, he spent 10 aimless
years drifting from job to job while drinking too much.
Early on the morning of 15 December 1955, an intoxi-
cated Mayne was killed in a car crash in his hometown
of Newtownards. He was 40.
He never married and had no children. His in-
credible military record is his legacy. With no room
Canadian soldiers at rest after the D-Day landings at Juno Beach. in his makeup for ego, he never sought the spotlight,
and he had no problem with being overlooked among
the mammoth shadows cast by the Allied war heroes
Stirling, in fact, was captured before the final German
whose jobs he’d made so much easier. Yet the men he
surrender in North Africa; so it fell on Mayne to en-
commanded—as well as those few Axis soldiers who
sure the survival of his beloved unit. Promoted to lieu-
fought against him and lived—remembered him well.
tenant colonel, he politicked tirelessly in Cairo to pre-
serve the SAS. Capt. Derrick Harrison later described
how: “Paddy fought desperately to keep us alive. He
at
managed to do it by changing our role. We became
Special Raiding Squadron.”
New Shores
Tasked with training the new Special Raiding
Squadron (SRS) for non-desert warfare, Mayne threw
himself into preparations for the invasion of Sicily. He
even taught his men to fight from horseback.
The SRS fought eagerly and effectively until the
end of the war in Europe, yet the unit would never
recapture the importance, gallantry and élan it had in
North Africa. Helping push the Wehrmacht out of Sici-
ly and Italy, Mayne and his men epitomized the Allies’ Sources
aggressive response to the menace of the Axis powers. Bradford, Roy & Martin Dillon. Rogue Warrior of the SAS: The Blair
Working closely with the French resistance, they then Mayne Legend. Mainstream Publishing, 1987.
prepared the way for D-Day. Cowles, Virginia. The Phantom Major: The Story of David Stirling and
the SAS Regiment. William Collins Publishing, 1958.
During the Normandy campaign, he rode one of his
Editors of Time-Life Books series The Third Reich, AfrikaKorps, 1990.
jeeps through the streets of newly liberated Le Mans Harrison, Derrick. These Men Are Dangerous: The Special Air Service at
while firing a .50-caliber machinegun into the air. Ar- War. Cassel Publishing, 1957.
rested by US military policemen and brought before Ladd, James D. Special Air Service Operations, Robert Hale Publishing,
the Third Army’s commander, Gen. George Patton, he 1986.
embarrassed that fire-eating commander into releasing Lewin, Ronald. Rommel as Military Commander, Bantam Books, 1968.
him by saying simply: “I hope I didn’t frighten your
men.”

28 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 28 12/16/08 10:56:44 AM


Strategic Backwaters
The Thai-French War of 1941

In January 1941 a long-standing foothold on the coast of Cochin China. and west as well. In sum, the Thai lead-
territorial border dispute lead to a brief Thailand, which had been the largest ership saw a new geopolitical order
but intense war between Thailand and and most powerful of the local states, emerging, with previously dominant
the Vichy French government of Indo- thereafter came under constant pres- France and Britain all but out of the
china (which then included Laos and sure from both France and England picture and replaced by Japan. Clearly,
Cambodia) involving naval, land and and was forced to surrender, bit by bit, that assessment was a gamble, but it
air forces on both sides. The Thais considerable territory. Its diplomats, appeared a good one in 1941. Such
gained the advantage in the land fight- however, managed to somewhat play was the background and context in
ing, but lost the naval battle of Koh the two European rivals against one which the Thai-French war occurred.
Chang in the Gulf of Siam, where the another, and therefore kept their coun- The opposing naval forces were
French Far Eastern Squadron virtually try an independent state. roughly equal. The French had a light
wiped out their navy. In the late 1930s Thailand began cruiser, the Lamotte-Pickett (8,000
Japan, which had been negotiating to transform from centuries as an ab- tons, eight 6-inch guns with a range
with the French in Indochina for ac- solute monarchy into an oligarchy in of 28,000 yards, a 4,000 mile cruis-
cess to bases there, and had secretly which power was shared by the crown ing radius, a top speed of 30 knots,
encouraged the Thais, used the conflict with the leading nobles, wealthy busi- commissioned in 1924); two modern
as an excuse for further asserting influ- ness families and the military. It was sloops, the Dumont D’Urville and Ad-
ence in the region. Tokyo brokered the hardly a democracy by contemporary miral Charner (both 2,000 tons, with
peace settlement that gave substantial standards, but it was somewhat par- three 5-inch guns, a cruising radius
parts of Laos and Cambodia to the ticipatory, and a new sense of nation- of 9,000 miles, and a top speed of 15
Thais. Vichy ordered the French gov- alism was emerging with the military knots, commissioned in 1931), two
ernor-general to accept the settlement furnishing much of the leadership in patrol boats, Tahure (700 tons, with
over his objections. that regard. By 1940 that nationalism two 5-inch guns, a 3,000 mile cruising
When the larger Pacific war began found its focus in a campaign for the radius, a top speed 20 knots, commis-
in December 1941, Thailand became restoration of the lost provinces—the sioned in 1919), and the Marne (600
an explicit ally of Japan and was re- areas Thailand had been forced to give tons, with four 4-inch guns, a 4,000
warded with further territorial gains at up to the regimes established by the mile cruising radius, a top speed 20
the expense of British Burma and Ma- British and French in the surround- knots, commissioned in 1916); and 10
laya. Had Japan won the war, Thailand ing colonies. The leader in that push river and harbor patrol boats.
would have been the geographically for expansion was the Chief Minister The Thai fleet included the Ayuthia
dominant state in Southeast Asia, but Gen. (later Field Marshal) Pibul Song- and Dhonburi, classed as coastal de-
all those gains were reversed in 1945 kram. fense ships (2,500 tons, with four 8-
when the borders reverted to prewar When France was defeated in inch and four 3-inch guns, a top speed
lines. The only surviving trace of this Europe in 1940, her global position of 15 knots, commissioned in 1938),
forgotten war is an impressive statuary changed as well. For most of the Sec-
victory monument erected in 1942 in ond World War, French forces in Indo-
the middle of a downtown Bangkok China were cut off from the mother-
traffic circle, which stands to this day. land and received little or no supplies
For centuries the Southeast Asian or reinforcements. Vietnam began to
peninsula had been the scene of con- destabilize, and a guerilla movement,
stant power struggles among the nu- the Viet Minh, became active in the
merous small kingdoms making up mountainous regions.
what are now Burma, Laos, Thailand, The French were vulnerable, and
Cambodia, Viet Nam and Malaysia. the Thais saw what appeared to be an
The rich natural resources and the stra- opportunity to regain provinces lost
tegic location of the area also attracted earlier to French Cambodia and Laos.
European powers. By the end of the After Japan’s surprising early success
19th century most of those previously against Great Britain in Burma and Mitsubishi Ki-30 bombers attacking
independent states had been colonized Malaysia, Britain’s role in the region targets in Cambodia in support of the
by Britain, moving east from India also diminished, and the Thais began Thai Army’s advance, January 1941.
and north from Singapore, and by to look for territorial gains in the south (Royal Thai Air Force Museum )
France, moving west after gaining a
World at War 29

WaW4 Issue.indd 29 12/16/08 10:56:45 AM


two older coastal defense ships (1,000 so the divisions were really brigade- fight involving infantry, artillery and
tons, with two 6-inch and four 3-inch sized, and much of the force was actu- armor.
guns, a top speed of 12 knots, com- ally best described as militia. The more decisive naval battle of
missioned in 1925), one destroyer The high command had direct Koh Chang took place off the coast
(ex-British World War I), 10 torpedo control over an armored regiment that near the site of the Cambodian land ac-
boats, four submarines, and several had 60 Carden-Lloyd tankettes and tion. French Gov. Gen. Adm. Jean De-
other small craft. 30 Vickers medium tanks. There were coux had created a Groupe Occasionel
The French army in Indo-China also two motorized cavalry battalions, (task force) in December under Capit.
was a force of 40 infantry battalions, an artillery battalion with howitzers de Vaisseau Regis Berenger, consist-
two artillery regiments, and one engi- and field guns, plus supporting signal ing of the cruiser and the four sloops.
neer battalion. Composed altogether and engineer units. Those units were They had drilled together as a unit, and
of about 50,000 men, that force was the core of Thai striking force. Thai they appear to have been fully ready
80 percent locally recruited units (the air power included over 140 aircraft, for action when the Thais struck. The
Tirailleurs Tonkinese, the Annamese with some 35 Mitsubishi bombers, 25 slower sloops left Cam Rahn Bay on
Tiralleurs, the 11th Colonial Infantry Curtis Hawk monoplane fighters, 50 13 January, the cruiser one day later, to
and others), with French officers, and Chance-Vought biplanes and various rendezvous after refueling on the 15th
was intended mainly to enforce colo- other obsolete types. just off the Gulf of Thailand. Orders
nial law and order; however, the 5th On balance, on the land the Thais were clear: “Seek out and destroy Thai
Regiment of the Foreign Legion was appeared stronger than the French in naval forces,” and Berenger did just
stationed there as well. The 5th had at- numbers and equipment. More, the that.
tached to it an armored unit of some 20 French had to man a strategic back The Thai fleet had moved south
obsolete Renault FT-17 tanks. door in the north, and the Thais could from Bangkok in support of the land
Most of the French force was based attack at places of their own choos- invasion of Battambang Province. Act-
in Cochin-China, where there was con- ing along a long frontier. On the other ing on intelligence gained by his Loire
tinuing insurgency and the necessity to hand, though, none of the Thais—of- scout planes, Berenger caught the two
defend against the possibility of Japa- ficers or soldiers—had any battle ex- larger Thai coastal defense ships, three
nese incursion from the north. (There perience, whereas most of the French torpedo boats, and several supply ves-
was one brief fire-fight with Japanese middle and senior-level officers were sels at anchor off the island of Koh
forces attempting to cross the northern veterans of World War I. And the Chang. Attacking at dawn, he fought
border.) Only 12 battalions were based French also had that regiment of the a classic battle in miniature, dividing
in Cambodia, and fewer still were in Foreign Legion. his force into three groups to ensure
Laos. For air support the French had There were cross-border incidents none of the Thai ships escaped around
100 aircraft of all types, including 40 from October 1940 on, along with sev- the numerous islands in the vicinity. In
old Potez fighter-bombers, 10 modern eral minor clashes in the air. In Janu- 30 minutes all the Thai vessels were
Morane 406 fighters, eight Loire 130 ary 1941 the Thais struck in force and, sunk or damaged so seriously they
naval scout amphibians, and various encountering almost no opposition, went down later, while the French suf-
other types. overran the northern Laotian province fered no damage and returned to their
The Thai Army was organized into of Sayaubori and the southern one of base. The French were understandably
four “regions,” each with several “di- Champasak, both on the western bank elated: they had just won what turned
visions.” The largest was the Burapha of the Mekong River. Several Thai out to be the only indisputable victory
Army with five divisions, with the Is- columns also pushed into Cambodia, by their navy in all of World War II.
san Army next with four divisions. All with the main thrust moving via road Both sides also made use of their
in all, the army had some 60,000 men; toward the city of Battambang. air forces. The Thais bombed French
After initially falling back, the airfields and cities in Laos and Cambo-
French counterattacked at Yang Dam dia, once even raiding Saigon, and the
Koum on 16 January 1941. Spear- French bombed Bangkok. Mostly they
headed by the Legion, they stopped were nuisance raids, and there was lit-
the advancing Thai forces. The Thais tle use of air power in the ground-sup-
retained greater numbers, however, port role. Both sides claimed victories
and their tanks eventually forced the in fighter versus fighter dogfights, and
French to give ground, allowing the both had their aces. The timely recon-
advance to resume within a few days. naissance by the French Navy’s Loire
Judging by the relatively light casual- 130s before Koh Chang was the great-
ties on both sides, the battle involved est contribution air power made to the
A Hawk III Fighter Pilot during the no more than brigade-sized units—a war.
Indochina conflict. few thousand men at most. At the same
(Royal Thai Air Force Museum) time, though, it was indeed a stand-up

30 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 30 12/16/08 10:56:45 AM


Casualties on both sides numbered On the Battleline
only in the hundreds, since there were
only two major battles and the bomb- The Moselle, November 1944:
ing involved few aircraft; so civilian A Little Known but Epic River Crossing
casualties were few and damage was
slight. The war lasted scarcely two
months. The treaty written by the In the pitch darkness shortly before by the armored cavalry and artillery
Japanese gave the Thais the territory dawn on 9 November 1944, Compa- units of Maj. Gen. Walton H. Walker’s
they wanted in Laos and Cambodia, nies A and B, 1st Battalion, 358th Infan- XX Corps. The 3rd and 43rd Squadrons
and Tokyo later announced they were try Regiment, 90th Infantry Division, of the 3rd Cavalry Group had been
also awarding Thailand the four north- accompanied by an engineer platoon screening the Third Army and XX
ern sultanates of Malaysia and the two from the 315th Combat Engineer Bat- Corps left flank since early Septem-
eastern-most of the Burmese Shan talion, literally walked into the Ger- ber. Their patrols had occasionally en-
States. The Thai military command man trenches surrounding Fort Koe- gaged German forces, but for the most
was jubilant. nigsmacher without a shot being fired. part there was little activity along the
By 1944, though, it seemed clear The fort complex, constructed when banks of the Moselle River north of
to most Thais they’d picked the wrong the eastern French province of Lor- the city of Thionville.
side. (Bangkok had begun to be more raine belonged to Germany in 1915, In preparing for the crossing, which
meaningfully bombed by US B-29s was a primary objective of the 90th was expected to be contested, the unit
from bases in India.) The military Division when it crossed the Moselle commanders and staff officers of the
strongman, Marshal Pibul Songkram, River to encircle and capture the forti- 90th always made their reconnaissance
was forced from power and replaced fied German-held city of Metz. patrols in 3rd Cavalry vehicles. At the
by a civilian government. Thailand Originally part of the series of forts same time, the regular patrol activity
paid reparations to the British and set up to protect the city, Fort Koenigs- of the 90th was conducted in the same
French after the war, chiefly in the macher, with its battery of four 100mm way, and in the same areas, as previ-
form of large shipments of rice and howitzers in armored turrets, had later ously.
other commodities needed in Sin- been incorporated into the defense In the same way, 90th Division and
gapore and Indonesia. Thailand was scheme of the Maginot Line. In 1944 XX Corps artillery took advantage of
soon accepted back into the good it remained a key obstacle to the 90th’s the fire planning already accomplished
graces of the Western powers, largely crossing of the Mosselle and advanc- by the artillery that had been firing in
because a communist threat developed ing to a junction with other American support of 3rd Cavalry. Those addition-
across the region after Mao triumphed units attacking from the south of Metz al artillery battalions, having left their
in 1949. In the years that followed, in order to encircle the city. observation posts (OP) and communi-
Thailand was staunchly anti-commu- The two companies attacking the cation systems in place and still con-
nist and pro-Western. No Thai leader fort were components of the nine in- ducting normal operations, moved into
since 1944 has ever again raised the fantry battalions of the 90th Division, new firing positions to register their
issue of the lost provinces, nor do they and they’d crossed the Mosselle in pieces on 7 November. Dummy rubber
seem likely to do so in the foreseeable what their army commander, Gen. artillery pieces, furnished by the 23rd
future. George S. Patton, called “an epic river Special Troop (Third Army’s “simula-
~Warren Robinson crossing done under terrific difficul- tion unit”), replaced the moved firing
ties.” units. At the same time, the howitzer’s
By darkness on 9 November, the supporting 3rd Cavalry also continued
three battalions of the 359th Infantry their normal rate of fire, thereby mask-
Regiment on the left, three battalions ing the registration fire of the newly
of the 358th Infantry Regiment on the positioned artillery pieces. In that way,
right, and two battalions of the 357th the Germans weren’t alerted to the fact
Infantry Regiment in between were a large amount of new artillery had
firmly established on the east bank of moved into position to support a major
the river. Without firing a shot, they’d river crossing.
crossed the swift-moving and flooded Even with a cover plan in place to
river, which at its highest stage had deceive the enemy, there were never-
overflowed its banks to swell to almost theless still other, uncontrollable com-
a mile-and-a-half wide at the crossing plications. There was also the abomi-
sites. The US infantrymen then caught nable weather and the river flooding
the Germans flatfooted. with which to contend. At the time of
The surprise achieved was the re- the assault it had been raining almost
sult of an elaborate deception scheme continuously for three days. Adding to

World at War 31

WaW4 Issue.indd 31 12/16/08 10:56:46 AM


that misery, the soldiers had to wade those likely sites with their artillery derground barracks, bunkers and gun
through thick mud and frigid water and mortars—as the US engineers positions, German soldiers directed
simply to reach the point where they assigned to try to bridge the Moselle fire that rained down on Americans
could launch their boats and rafts to soon found out. crouched in the dugouts. The enemy
cross the river. The trek from the as- Ironically, the mines laid along the in those OP were also able to direct
sembly areas to the line of departure riverbank at first proved to be little of a enfilading machinegun fire into the
was long and arduous. By the time the threat because of the flood. The assault trenches while simultaneously adjust-
men had reached the launch sites, they craft simply floated over the mines, ing the mortar and canon fire.
were already wet and tired, yet they which had ended up well underwa- The attackers’ first order of busi-
still had the rapid river current to deal ter. Only when the flood began to re- ness therefore became the elimination
with ahead of them. During the cross- cede did the mines become a threat to of those OP. It was accomplished by
ing many of the assault boats were American soldiers. It was left for the engineers using 17 lb. satchel charges
swept away by the turbulent water, follow-on supply and evacuation ech- of “Composition C” high explosive.
even while the level of the river con- elons to discover, and suffer from, the When the OP were neutralized, the fo-
tinued to rise at an alarming rate. lurking danger once the water reced- cus was then shifted to destroying the
Having been lulled by the illusion ed. various concrete pillboxes.
of inactivity in the 3rd Cavalry sector, Though the Germans had been Under cover of fire, a team of two
the German forces on the east bank tardy in their initial reaction, their re- engineers would rush the door of a
didn’t expect an attack in such poor sistance soon proved defiant. A fierce pillbox, place two satchel charges
weather across a flooded river valley. battle erupted for possession of the in- against it, ignite them, and then run
Before the Germans realized what was terior of Fort Koenigsmacher, the guns back a safe distance. After the explo-
happening, then, the assault battalions of which dominated the surrounding sion, two other men would rush back
were well established across the river terrain and river. Though the soldiers to the pillbox, crawl into the entryway
and poised to continue their advance of Companies A and B had gained the that led back from the destroyed door
to encircle all of Metz. While the Ger- top of the fortified complex with ease, and, igniting two more charges, toss
mans were late in reacting, once they the defenders still deep within the them down the stairwell that led to the
did so, however, it was with force and structure soon sighted the exposed at- fort’s lower levels. Collapsing those
vigor. tackers and brought them under heavy passages kept the enemy from emerg-
In an attempt to make up for their fire. ing to infiltrate into the American posi-
relative lack of infantry, the Germans The trenches around the fort’s tions.
had laid thousands of mines in exten- perimeter had been meant to be used The pillboxes weren’t the only
sive fields, while also placing particu- by its defenders, but they’d also been parts of the fort attacked with satchel
larly heavy concentrations of them at zeroed-in by German mortars and ar- charges. They were also thrown down
the most probable crossing sites along tillery. From within armored obser- the ventilator ports that protruded
the river. They had also zeroed-in vation posts that jutted above the un- above ground. In one such attack the
ensuing explosion was so great it blew
a German soldiers up through the port
to the surface. The Americans also
poured gasoline into other ports and
then dropped a thermite grenade down
the shaft after it, again causing exten-
sive damage to the underground facili-
ties.
Soon the attackers ran out of
satchel charges, and the gasoline tech-
nique had to be used more and more.
To alleviate that shortage the first day,
artillery liaison aircraft were used to
rush-airdrop another 500 lbs. of Com-
position C to the assault force. An-
other drop was made the next day as
Company C moved forward to join the
ongoing attack on the complex.
The afternoon of 10 November
saw the German garrison attempt to
sally against their attackers. Some 50
A jeep crossing the Moselle River. of them emerged from tunnels in the
32 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 32 12/16/08 10:56:46 AM


fort’s southeastern sector, only to be then, no American armor was able to In the course of their effort to wipe
beaten back by US small arms and cross the Moselle until the early morn- out the 359th Regiment’s bridgehead,
machinegun fire. The Germans left be- ing of 11 November. At that time two and thereby defeat the entire US at-
hind 28 dead when they withdrew into tank destroyers managed to get across tempt to encircle Metz, the Germans
the underground bunkers. a pontoon bridge that had already had had pushed Company G out of the way
On the third day the Germans its floats punctured in many places. A as they attacked from Kirling. Attached
called it quits. Subjected to more gas- following third vehicle capsized and to that company was a heavy machine-
oline attacks, they had suffered ever- fell into the river when German artil- gun platoon from 2nd Battalion’s heavy
increasing casualties. Those still alive lery struck the middle of the bridge weapons company, Company H. That
in the surrendered garrison numbered and broke it into two pieces. platoon, down to only two machine-
120 men. Altogether the Germans lost The two tank destroyers that had guns, was led by Tech. Sgt. Forrest E.
some 180 dead. American casualties crossed had done so under orders to Everhart. He placed the machineguns
were 21 killed, 85 wounded, and five support the 357th Regiment, but they about 200 yards apart, and when the
missing. were almost immediately ‘hijacked’ Germans assaulted the company they
While elements of the 358th Regi- by the regimental commander of the opened fire, but to little effect.
ment had been fighting to capture the 359th. A German assault gun, leading Everhart, seeing what was happen-
fort, the 90th Division’s other two in- some other vehicles, was just about to ing, gathered up all the hand grenades
fantry regiments hadn’t been idle. The overrun the scratch force of 2nd Battal- he could find nearby, stepped out in
357th Regiment made a river crossing ion defenders at the regimental head- front of the position and started throw-
of its own in partial, and then full, day- quarters. That assault was stopped ing them at the Germans. His efforts
light. Though smoke was employed cold when the commandeered US stopped the enemy attack, whereupon
to cover the move, German artillery tank destroyers took them under fire. the Germans switched their emphasis
put heavy fire across the entire zone. Those newly arrived reinforcements to attack the other machinegun posi-
Further casualties were suffered when also worked to encourage the nearby tion. Everhart then ran to that gun and
several assault craft were overturned foot soldiers to increase their vol- repeated his previous feat, effectively
or swept down stream by the swift ume of fire, and with that the attack- stopping Company G from being wiped
current. Complicating matters even ing Germans began to rout. As those out. Miraculously, he was unscathed in
more was the fact resupply efforts and Germans retreated, they were taken spite of his lengthy and full exposure
the evacuation of the wounded back under fire by almost 20 battalions of to the enemy. After the repulse of the
across the river worked to congest an artillery, containing pieces that ranged Germans, some 50 dead enemy were
already hazardous situation. up to 240mm size. At the same time, counted in front of the two machine-
The 359th Regiment, having got- the rest of 2nd Battalion launched into a gun positions. Everhart won the Medal
ten across its three battalions during general attack that forced the Germans of Honor for that action, one of four
darkness, quickly consolidated its fully back into Kerling. awarded to 90th Infantry Division per-
position—and none too soon, as the sonnel in World War II.
Germans swiftly counterattacked. The
25th Panzer Grenadier Division, aided
by sympathizers in the small village
of Kerling, first moved against the 3rd
Battalion on 10 November, forcing a
withdrawal of the center of the regi-
ment’s front, thereby giving up the vil-
lage to the enemy. The US regimental
commander ordered a counterattack,
but the battalion was unable to recap-
ture the place.
The Germans still weren’t fin-
ished, however; on 11 November they
attacked again with infantry and tanks,
and that time they almost destroyed the
359th’s bridgehead over the river. Loss
of that bridgehead would’ve threat-
ened the defeat of the entire American
attempt to surround Metz.
German artillery had interrupted
the building of a bridge capable of car-
rying tanks over the river. As it was, Smoke Screen for the Third Army crossing of the Moselle River,November 1944.
World at War 33

WaW4 Issue.indd 33 12/16/08 10:56:47 AM


Lt. Gen. Patton visited the 90th In-
fantry Division on 12 November, and
was taken to the site of the bridgehead
fight. Stretched out for a long distance
on the ground were the bodies of more
than 200 Germans. They’d been lined
up shoulder to shoulder by American
graves registration personnel in prepa-
ration for their mass burial. That sight
led Patton to comment: “I have never
seen so many dead Germans in one
place in my life.”
His remark was a fitting summary
of what he termed in his book, War as
I Knew It, “an epic river crossing.”
~Raymond E. Bell, Jr.

Chamberlain holds the Munich Agreement on his return from Germany in


September 1938.
Historical Perspective
The Impact of Confused Allied Intelligence
on the Munich Crisis

Much has been written about Chamberlain’s tactics and policies be able to field 39 divisions and would
Prime Minister Chamberlain’s failure were driven primarily by two factors: have another 15 reserve divisions
to protect Czechoslovakia during the 1) the British Commonwealth’s politi- available within four days. In Septem-
Munich Crisis of 1938, but few have cal and economic situation; and 2) in- ber 1938, at the height of the Sudeten
actually examined the ‘intelligence telligence estimates that significantly Crisis, the War Office report set those
picture’ that shaped his perceptions exaggerated Germany’s military and numbers at 74 total divisions. Those
and decisions. Yet in the high stakes economic strength. He entered the ne- formations consisted of 43 infantry,
game of international diplomacy, it’s gotiations with little domestic support three armored, 22 Landwehr (home
precisely perception that often plays for military action, while the domin- guard), and six other divisions of cav-
the key role. ions’ governments (Australia, Canada, alry, mountain, and light troops.
For the Munich conference, the and New Zealand) flatly told him they French intelligence believed the
British and French intelligence ser- wouldn’t enter a war for Czechoslo- Germans had over 1 million men un-
vices provided their nations’ leaders vakia. He also knew the French gov- der arms, organized into 100 divisions
with estimates that depicted the size ernment was divided on the issue, but of which six were armored. In reality,
and capability of Germany’s mili- probably would follow Britain’s lead. Germany had 75 divisions, of which
tary forces in the event of a war over Both Britain’s and France’s economies only 46 were active (four armored,
Czechoslovakia. Likewise, Germany’s were depressed, however, making de- 34 infantry, two cavalry, three moun-
intelligence services provided Hitler fense spending unpopular, and there tain, one light and one Landwehr). A
with estimates about Czech and Allied was a concern war would bankrupt further eight reserve infantry divisions
capabilities, and also included political the treasury, particularly since there were available, but the bulk of all the
intelligence that depicted the strong would be little-to-no support from the units were in the early stages of forma-
domestic opposition to war in France, dominions. Beyond all that, his mili- tion. For example, the 7th Airborne Di-
Britain and, more importantly, in the tary intelligence estimates were even vision consisted of only two battalions
British dominions. That additional bleaker. in 1938 and didn’t reach regimental
information, combined with the short- For example, in November 1937, strength until mid-1939. The Waffen
comings of the Allied intelligence es- Britain’s Military Intelligence Direc- SS consisted of only a handful of bat-
timates, combined to give Hitler what torate (MID) estimated that, by the talions.
might be called ‘intelligence superior- first month of 1938, Germany would MID estimated Germany could
ity’ during the crisis.
34 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 34 12/16/08 10:56:47 AM


put one-third of that overall force into al Intelligence Center, which reported for a total of 3,240 first-line planes.
action immediately. At best the com- Germany would not be self-sufficient AID also determined Germany could
bined Allies could field 50 divisions, in food, fuel, iron or non-ferrous met- manufacture 550 aircraft a month in
with only two being British. The War als by 1939, and that it probably had 1938 and would reach monthly pro-
Office therefore concluded: “Germa- sufficient stockpiles to sustain 15 to 18 duction levels of 725-750 by early
ny could launch at will a sudden and months of peacetime operations. 1939.
overwhelming onslaught on Czecho- That 18-month estimate likely fig- That assessment was close to ac-
slovakia without fear of effective in- ured prominently in Chamberlain’s curate, even though it was based on
terference from the West during this thinking when he read the Royal Air a one-work-shift system. With that in
operation.” Force Air Intelligence Division’s as- mind, AID assumed if German fac-
What made matters worse was sessment of the Luftwaffe. The AID tories operated 24 hours a day they
British intelligence couldn’t deter- and Air Ministry embraced the worst- could double their production. AID
mine where the German divisions case scenario for the Luftwaffe. They sources and analysts therefore be-
were stationed or how prepared they believed Germany had over 2,000 lieved Britain was all but incapable
were. Czech intelligence had a more bombers that could sustain an all- of achieving air parity with Germany
accurate picture of Germany’s armed out air assault on Britain from war’s unless Britain shifted the bulk of its
forces, but there’s no evidence French start. They believed the Luftwaffe defense spending to the RAF. The Air
and British intelligence even consid- would concentrate on breaking the Ministry’s assessment was reinforced
ered information from Prague as they population’s will by inflicting massive by German misinformation efforts,
prepared their assessments. casualties, as suggested by the Ital- fed via high-level British officials.
On the other hand, the Admiralty ian air warfare theorist Douhet. They For example, Britain’s ambassador
was confident up to late 1938 Ger- concluded that, over the course of the to Germany, Sir Neville Henderson,
many was adhering to the Anglo-Ger- new war’s first 24 hours, Germany echoed Herman Goering’s claim the
man Naval Agreement, believing they could deliver 945 tons of bombs, in- Luftwaffe outnumbered the combined
were expanding their navy at a much flicting approximately 50,000 casual- air forces of Britain, France, Belgium
slower rate than was the case. They ties. Worse, AID believed Germany and Czechoslovakia. In reality, due
didn’t realize the Bismarck, Tirpitz, could sustain that effort for “several to poor servicing, the Germans could
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau exceeded weeks.” field only about half the numbers AID
the agreement’s tonnage limitations Chamberlain was told Britain cited.
until after they were built. From 1936 would suffer up to 350,000 civilian In March 1938 the Foreign Office
until late 1938, the Admiralty and Na- deaths along with untold injured dur- released a strategic assessment titled
val Intelligence Division (NID) both ing the war’s early months. In truth, “The Military Implications of German
believed in what they referred to as the Luftwaffe could deliver only 531 Aggression Against Czechoslovakia.”
the “Baltic Hypothesis.” It was under- tons in that first strike, but then had That report, the only one of its kind
stood, that in the event of war, Germa- little capacity to sustain that effort be- relating directly to the Munich Crisis,
ny’s navy would work to achieve su- yond two weeks. More importantly, as stressed Britain wasn’t prepared to
premacy in the Baltic to ensure trade actual war experience later proved, ca- fight a war. It incorporated AID’s air
and communications would remain sualties would have been only a frac- assault scenario as the most probable
open and to block the potential link up tion of the initial estimate. German response to war. The report
of western and eastern Allied forces. The Air Staff believed air power was further reinforced by the Chiefs
They believed Germany would fight alone would be the determining fac- of Staff, whose beliefs mirrored those
only in the east and not seek to engage tor in winning wars, and expected of the Foreign Office. The Chiefs ad-
the British fleet, having learned the fu- the Luftwaffe shared that belief. That vocated heightened defense spending
tility of that strategy in World War I. idea was in fact so ingrained among while simultaneously pushing for a
That outlook began to change as air force officers at the time, they of- diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
the Munich Crisis reached critical ten overlooked contrary intelligence Additionally, Whitehall believed
mass in September. From that time and neglected to study actual German Britain was facing not one, but poten-
on the Baltic hypothesis dissipated bomber capabilities. Had that been tially three foes. They feared a three-
and the Admiralty began to plan se- done, they would have realized the front war having to be fought against
riously for another large-scale war. Luftwaffe was ill-equipped for the sce- Germany, Italy and Japan, a view
The intelligence estimate they gave nario they feared. shared by the Cabinet. The British
Chamberlain stated the Royal Navy More, the AID lacked technical government knew it couldn’t success-
could contain the Kriegsmarine and intelligence about German aircraft, fully conduct such a war, particularly
the Allied naval blockade would col- and what little data they had suggested without dominion support. Therefore
lapse Germany’s economy in about 18 Britain was losing the aircraft manu- the Defense Ministry, Admiralty and
months. The Royal Navy assessment facturing race. AID believed the Luft- Cabinet felt removing at least one of
also matched that of Britain’s Industri- waffe had 360 squadrons by late 1938, those threats via diplomacy was the

World at War 35

WaW4 Issue.indd 35 12/16/08 10:56:48 AM


best course. The Foreign Office believed there were moderate mem-
It was, however, the perceived Luftwaffe threat that was bers within Hitler’s Cabinet who would sway him from war.
greatest in Chamberlain’s thinking. After his second meet- That hope was further reinforced by the reports from Sir
ing with Hitler, he reported to the Cabinet that, after flying Henderson, who felt Hitler would accept a peaceful solu-
over London, he wondered “what degree of protection we tion and go to war only if antagonized by a British hard line.
could offer to the thousands of homes spread out below.” He At the same time, however, Permanent Under-Secretary of
insisted: “We are in no position to justify waging a war today State Sir Robert Vansittart stressed Hitler was set on war and
in order to prevent a war hereafter.” could be deterred only by British resolve. Unfortunately, the
Most telling was his summary comment on the lack of various intelligence services could offer no assessment on
British air defense: “We cannot expose ourselves now to a Hitler’s reaction to a firm British stance.
German attack. We simply commit suicide if we do. At no Given the conflicting intelligence estimates he received,
time could we stand up against German air bombing.” and Britain’s poor strategic situation, Chamberlain went with
Chamberlain was convinced Britain and France couldn’t Henderson’s assessment and placed his faith in personal di-
stop a hostile takeover of Czechoslovakia. If he threatened plomacy. Further, most British officials, including Chamber-
the use of Allied force to prevent it, and Hitler called his lain, ultimately thought Czechoslovakia’s fate wasn’t a vital
bluff, another world war would start. He also admitted: “If British interest that justified going to war.
we now possessed a superior force to Germany, we should
probably be considering these proposals in a very different ~Erik Henderson
spirit.”
Those statements demonstrate the impact British intel-
ligence reporting had on Chamberlain’s perceptions of the
German threat. Given, though, that so much of Britain’s in-
telligence reporting was conflicting, it’s also clear he was
finally forced to make his own judgment.

Attention readers: We’re always looking


for authors for FYI for Strategy & Tactics
and Observation Post for World at War.
If you’d like to try your hand at writing
short (under 2,000 words), pithy articles
for this column, on virtually any aspect of
WWII military history, contact Ty Bom-
ba, FYI editor, at: WhiteRook@att.net.

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36 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 36 12/16/08 10:56:49 AM


Issue in Doubt:
The Battle of Wake Island,
8-23 December 1941
By M.R. Pierce

Aerial view of Wake Island taken while it was under Japanese occupation.
Background
“Remember Wake Island!” was a phrase that ral- Island” will be used to refer to the collectivity of all
lied the American nation during the dark days follow- three islets, and “Wake” will be used only to denote
ing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For 15 days that single islet.)
the outnumbered defenders of that tiny speck of coral Strategically located, Wake Island sat astride the
and sand held the imagination of a demoralized nation. lines of communication of both the US and the Japa-
The battle has since been almost forgotten, however, nese Empire. Possession of the island would provide
and in most histories of the Second World War it’s the owning side with an important airbase location.
given little mention. At best, it usually merits only a Despite that long-perceived importance, however,
few lines and a mention of a stubborn defense. Never- Wake Island remained a US military backwater un-
theless, it actually remains one of the most fascinating til 1935. That year Pan American Airways (PanAir)
episodes of the early war period. requested permission to construct a stopover for its
Wake Island is an isolated, horseshoe-shaped strip planned trans-Pacific service. The US Navy command
of coral located in the Central Pacific. Really composed readily agreed, with the proviso Navy officials would
of three small islets—Wake, Wilkes and Peale—it is approve all construction. The intent was to insure the
1,000 miles from Pearl Harbor and 500 miles north of new PanAir facilities would meet Navy requirements
the Marshall Islands. (Throughout this article, “Wake in case of war.
World at War 37

WaW4 Issue.indd 37 12/16/08 10:56:51 AM


PanAir indeed built a lavish facility on Peale, com-
plete with a hotel and seaplane ramp. The air service
began in the fall of 1935. Later, after much budgetary
wrangling in Congress, new military construction also
began on Wake Island in 1940. Contracts were let and,
in November, the first of what would become 1,041 ci-
vilian workers arrived. They set up a sprawling camp
near the PanAir facility. The contractor’s mission was
to develop the infrastructure needed to turn the island
into a fully functioning naval air station from which to
observe Japanese movements.
In March 1941 the US Marine Corps’ 1st Defense
The Martin 130 Philippine Clipper (NC 14715) taxing across the Battalion (1DB) was dispatched to Palmyra and John-
lagoon at Wake Island. Photo by William Bert Voortmeyer, one of ston Islands. The 1DB was heavy with the artillery
the workers Pan Air hired to build the Wake Island base in 1936. and anti-aircraft weapons that formed the backbone of
defense for all forward positions. Five months later,
in August, 485 officers and men from 1DB were also
deployed to Wake Island, bringing with them all of the
battalion’s heavy weapons.
When those Marines arrived, the civilian workers
had been there almost 10 months. In that time they’d
established an elaborate base camp and had also begun
work on the airfield for Wake. Their contract, however,
didn’t permit them to assist in 1DB’s defensive prepa-
rations. The Marines were therefore left with the daunt-
ing task of having to emplace their heavy weapons by
hand.
On 15 October, Maj. James P.S. Devereux, the ex-
ecutive officer of 1DB, arrived to assume command of
the Wake Island detachment. Surveying the situation,
he realized there was still much work to be done. He
therefore set his men to working 12-hour days, seven
days a week, in order to bring the defenses up to stan-
dard as quickly as possible. Even so, long hours and
hard work couldn’t instantly overcome the equipment
and personnel shortages of the 1DB detachment.
For instance, though 1DB was authorized three 3-
inch anti-aircraft batteries of four guns each, the Wake
detachment had only enough personnel to actually man
two such batteries. Further, only Battery D had both
a range and height finder. That battery was therefore
tasked with providing that information to the other bat-
tery. The most critical omission, though, was the lack of
radar. Without that vital early warning technology, the
defenders had to rely on visual observation of enemy
forces approaching the island.
To engage those forces, Devereux positioned his
weapons to be mutually supporting. The 5-inch batter-
ies were set up at the extreme ends of the island. Battery
A was at Peacock Point on Wake, Battery B was at Toki
Point on Peale, and Battery L was at Kuku Point on Wil-
kes. At least two batteries could therefore be brought to
bear against any approaching land force. He then posi-
tioned the 3-inch anti-aircraft batteries to protect to the
The Pan American hotel at Wake Island, 1936. The photo was taken coastal guns and other vital positions. Finally, he scat-
after the hotel was constructed, just before being painted. Photo by tered numerous .50 caliber heavy and .30 caliber light
William Bert Voortmeyer. machineguns around the island at key locations.
38 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 38 12/16/08 10:56:53 AM


Devereux relied on wire communications to stay in
contact with his units. While relatively secure in other
ways, wires are subject to being cut. Indeed, it was
those wire communications that would fail at a critical
time in the coming battle and thereby affect the deci-
sions made by Devereux and the overall island CO,
Commander Winfield S. Cunningham. Interestingly,
the latter was able to maintain wireless communica-
tions with Pearl Harbor until the day Wake Island fell.
Between what had been brought in by the civilians
and Marines, Wake Island was more than adequately
provisioned with a six-month supply of rations. Medi-
cal needs were met by a contingent of Navy corps-
men, along with a hospital the civilians had built. Fuel
tanks were also put in place, including two 25,000-gal-
lon containers for aviation fuel for the Marine fighter
squadron that was en route to Wake Island by 4 De-
cember.
The pilots of VMF 211, under the command of Maj.
Paul A. Putnam, flew their F4F-3 Grumman Wildcats
off USS Enterprise on that day. Only one portion of
the Wake airstrip was then complete, and it wasn’t
wide enough to allow sections of aircraft to take off
simultaneously. Revetments to protect the planes also
hadn’t yet been completed, and there was little room to
disperse the fighters, making them doubly vulnerable.
Cunningham nonetheless set Putnam and his pilots to
patrolling above the island at dawn and dusk. The Marines have landed! USMC recruiting poster.
On 6 December, Devereux declared a practice alert.
Pleased with the results of that drill, he gave the next vilians was to continue their work, as fast as possible,
day off to his tired Marines. It was their first real break on the air station. (Many of the civilians did volunteer
since their arrival. They had no idea it would be their to more directly assist the defense, and they acquitted
last day of leisure. themselves admirably during the battle. Others simply
December 7-9 hid until the fighting was over.)
The morning of 8 December (7 December at Pearl On Peale the PanAir personnel made their own
Harbor), began like all mornings on Wake Island. The preparations. The clipper itself was recalled shortly
Marines were finishing breakfast and preparing for the after it had taken off for Guam. The captain of that
day’s work assignments following their day of rest. At plane, a naval reserve officer, then volunteered to fly
about the same moment, Devereux and Cunningham it on a long-range reconnaissance patrol. Cunningham
received word Pearl Harbor had been attacked, along agreed and the mission was set for 1:00 p.m.
with a warning an attack on Wake Island was likely At 11:50 a.m. a force of 27 Japanese land-based
imminent. The Marines rushed to their battle sta- bombers descended out of a nearby rain squall to begin
tions. Within 45 minutes all ground positions reported the attack on Wake Island (having sortied from Truk).
“manned and ready.” Hampered by heavy low clouds and the lack of radar,
At the airfield, VMF 211’s morning patrol was the American lookouts didn’t spot the enemy planes
already up. On the ground, Putnam decided to leave until they were only a few hundred yards off shore. As
the other planes dispersed as much as possible along the alert went out, the Japanese were beginning their
the runway, rather than risk damaging them by mov- final bomb runs. Their targets were the PanAir facility
ing them farther from the airfield. He would later re- and the airfield.
mark that was one of his worst decisions. At the time, The PanAir facility was leveled while sustaining
though, he believed dispersal would have to suffice 37 civilian casualties. Miraculously, the clipper plane
until the revetments could be completed. parked in the lagoon was left airworthy. It departed
After receiving news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wake Island for Midway at 1:30 p.m. loaded with Pa-
Dan Teeters, supervisor of the civilians, asked Cun- nAir’s Caucasian employees. The company’s Guami-
ningham how he and his men could best help the de- an personnel were left on the island under the charge
fense. Both agreed the best course of action for the ci- of Teeters.

World at War 39

WaW4 Issue.indd 39 12/16/08 10:56:55 AM


The main focus of the Japanese attack, however, four transports and two submarines. Some 450 Spe-
had been the airfield. There Cunningham found total cial Naval Landing Force soldiers (SNLF: roughly the
devastation. Both fuel tanks were burning and debris equivalent of the US Marines) had been allocated for
was scattered across the entire facility. He found Put- the operation. One hundred and fifty would land on
nam and a few other men doing what they could for Wilkes, while 300 went ashore on Wake. The Japanese
the wounded on the spot. Seven of the Grummans had planners believed that force would be more than ad-
been destroyed and the eighth was severely damaged. equate to defeat the defense.
Worse, one of the four planes that had been out on pa- At 3:00 a.m. on the 11 December, lookouts began
trol at the time of the air raid was damaged on landing. reporting ships on the horizon to the southwest. The
That left just three operational aircraft. garrison went to general quarters. In the hope of de-
Putnam named Lt. John F. Kinney to replace the ceiving the Japanese, all the batteries were ordered to
unit maintenance officer who’d been killed during the hold fire and remain covered.
raid. Through hard work and ingenuity, Kinney and his The Japanese ships unswervingly approached the
team managed to get four planes ready for the morning blacked out island. By 5:00 a.m. the cruiser Yubari,
patrol. They were off, conducting that mission, when flagship of the task force, had led the bombardment
the Japanese returned with 26 aircraft at 11:45 a.m. group to a place 8,000 yards south of Peacock Point.
The patrolling US aircraft jumped those Japanese The Japanese then turned west and began bombarding
bombers south of the island. They claimed one shot the island, raking the entire length of Wake and Wilkes
down, but that couldn’t be confirmed. As the bombers with their fire. Getting no response from the defenders,
approached Wake Island, the Marine pilots broke off the ships ceased fire and began moving in closer to
in order to avoid anti-aircraft fire. shore.
The Japanese target that day was Camp 2, the con- At the airstrip, Putnam ordered his four aircraft
tractor facility, as well as the defenses of Peacock to take off, but only three would start. At 5:15 he led
Point. During the raid they also destroyed the hospital those planes aloft to a holding area north of the island.
at Camp 2, killing many of the wounded inside. Casu- Twenty minutes later the fourth F4F managed to take
alties and damage were minimal at Peacock Point. off, even as the Japanese warships continued to close
During the raid, Marine Gunner Clarence B. McK- in.
instry noticed one of the Japanese planes broke forma- On their own initiative the men of Battery A (5-
tion and began circling over the anti-aircraft battery inch) uncovered their guns and began tracking the ap-
at Peacock Point. He believed that plane was photo- proaching ships. The anxious gunners continuously
graphing the battery, and he therefore suggested to called Devereux’s command post, requesting permis-
Devereux those guns be relocated. The major agreed, sion to open fire. Devereux denied all their requests.
and a mixed team of Marines and civilians spent the At 6:15, Devereux sent word to Cunningham notifying
remainder of the day and night moving the eight-ton him the Japanese ships were at 4,600 yards. Cunning-
guns 1,500 yards to the northwest. Dummy guns were ham ordered: “Cut loose at them!”
put in the old location, and the battery again reported Seconds later the Marines opened fire. Initially
“manned and ready” by 5:00 a.m. only Batteries A and L (5-inch) could bring their guns
December 10-12 to bear on the Japanese. Battery A, at Peacock Point,
On 10 December the Japanese attacked with 18 began by engaging the lead ship, Yubari. The first sal-
bombers. McKinstry’s hunch was confirmed when vos went over, and Yubari replied by firing everything
those planes attacked Battery E’s old position before she had at Battery A. The battery commander, 1st Lt.
turning their attention on Battery L on Wilkes. That Clarence A. Barniger, then adjusted fire and rapidly
bombing was accurate and effective, setting off a cache scored two hits on the cruiser. Two destroyers rushed
of dynamite that shook the whole island and damaged to aid their stricken flagship, laying a smoke screen
the fire control equipment for Battery L’s 5-inch guns. to cover its withdrawal. The gunners at Peacock point
Casualties, though, were light. shifted their fire again, this time to the transports, also
In the air, VMF 211 destroyed two bombers for forcing them to turn away.
no losses of their own. The anti-aircraft gunners also Then Battery L opened fire. In lieu of a range find-
claimed several more bombers were smoking as they er, the commander there, 2nd Lt. John A. McCalister,
disappeared over the horizon. Devereux ordered Bat- stood atop his outpost in order to estimate the range to
tery E to relocate again. the lead enemy ship, the destroyer Hayate. The battery
Unknown to the defenders, a Japanese naval task quickly landed two salvos on the Hayate, then a third
force had departed Truk on 8 December and would be broke her completely in two. She sank in two minutes,
close to Wake Island on the evening of the 10th. That taking with her all the crew. The Marine gunners loud-
force, commanded by Rear Adm. Kajioka Sadamichi ly but briefly celebrated before returning to the work
Inoue, consisted of three light cruisers, six destroyers, at hand.

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They shifted to engage the approaching transports,
scoring several hits and forcing those vessels to turn
away. They next engaged a light cruiser, hitting her in
the stern as she departed. By that time Battery L had
fired 120 rounds in one hour.
three light cruisers had been damaged. Their exact
As the enemy task force withdrew, it came within
personnel losses aren’t known, but at least 185 sailors
range of Battery B. There the duel went more favor-
lost their lives when the Hayate went down, and an
ably for the Japanese. One Marine gun was destroyed,
unknown number of SNLF troops were also lost when
but not until another Japanese destroyer had been set
they tried to board their landing craft.
ablaze. Other destroyers laid another smoke screen,
and the Japanese continued to move out of range. The defenders didn’t have long to enjoy their suc-
cesses. At 10:00 a.m. Japanese bombers returned.
At 7:00 a.m. Adm. Kajioka’s crippled task force
Again, though, VMF 211 and the Marine gunners were
was attacked by VMF 211. Each of those four planes
ready. The US fighters broke up the attack, downing
was armed with two 100-lb. bombs. They dove on the
three bombers in the process. The bombing by the
ships, further damaging two light cruisers and a trans-
other Japanese planes was scattered and ineffective.
port. The pilots then returned to Wake to rearm and
refuel. They eventually shuttled between Wake and the Later in the day the Marine aviators also claimed
retreating Japanese ships a total of 10 times, sinking to have sunk a Japanese submarine. That boat has nev-
another destroyer and damaging several other vessels. er officially been credited to VMF 211, however, the
Japanese did report “losing contact” with a submarine
By noon, then, Kajioka had lost two destroyers
in the Wake Island area. They eventually listed it as
sunk, one transport set afire, while two destroyers and
“lost.” continues on page 44
World at War 41

WaW4 Issue.indd 41 12/16/08 10:56:56 AM


The Bigger Picture
After the Japanese repulse on 11 December, the USN and the IJN on 23 December (Pearl Harbor time). As events would show,
entered what amounted to a strategic race for Wake Island. It was a that was an achievable, even if optimistic, estimate.
race the Japanese would ultimately win, and it also revealed the im- The defenders on Wake had indeed bought Adm. Kim-
portance each navy placed on the island. mel some time to strike at the enemy and thereby salvage
As the Japanese task force limped away from Wake Island on the his reputation, but events in Washington were also moving
11th, the US CINCPAC (Commander IN Chief, PACific) staff was fast. Navy Secretary Frank Knox completed his inspection
planning the reinforcement of the island. Adm. Husband E. Kimmel of Pearl Harbor on 12 December and, before leaving, he also
anticipated the defenders had, with their success, bought enough time approved the plan to reinforce Wake Island. Upon his return
to execute a full-scale relief effort, followed by a general counter- to Washington, however, he also recommended to President
strike against the Japanese in the Central Pacific. Roosevelt that Kimmel be relieved. It then took a week for
Early in his tenure as CINCPAC, Kimmel had noted the strategic Kimmel’s replacement, Adm. Chester A. Nimitz, to arrive in
importance of Wake Island to both the overall US and Japanese posi- Hawaii. In the interim, Adm. William S. Pye, commander of
tions across that area. His hope was to use the island as bait to lure the battleship USS California, served as CINCPAC.
the Japanese into an ambush. His plan, though, was based on the US Pye, assuming command on 17 December, found himself
fleet being intact and having good intelligence on the location of the in a bad situation. He’d been given only temporary author-
Japanese fleet. In the days after 7 December, neither of those condi- ity over a crippled fleet, the remnants of which were even
tions pertained. Kimmel, though, remained determined to strike back then beginning a risky offensive operation. Since he’d only
at the Japanese as soon as he could, wherever he could. recently witnessed the worst defeat in the US Navy’s history,
Kimmel divided his aircraft carriers into three task forces. Task and with his own ship sitting on the bottom of the harbor, he
Force 8 was formed around Enterprise and was commanded by Adm. was understandably reluctant to find himself in the position
William Halsey. Vice Adm. Wilson Brown led Task Force 11, formed of having to hand to Nimitz a further list of ship losses and
around Lexington. Task Force 14, commanded by Adm. Frank Fletch- casualties if the Wake operation misfired. His determination
er and formed around Saratoga, was given the mission of delivering to see Wake Island relieved was less than absolute from the
reinforcements to Wake Island and evacuating its civilians. In addition start.
to the carriers, each task force had two or three cruisers and several December 17 was a pivotal day in the race for Wake.
destroyers. That meager force roster highlighted the crippled state of In addition to Kimmel’s relief, CINCPAC headquarters also
the US Pacific Fleet. received intercepts telling that Adm. Nagumo had been or-
Kimmel’s plan called for Task Force 11 to raid Jaluit in order to dered to detach Carrier Division 2 to support a new attack
tie down Japanese forces in that area, while Task Force 8 remained on Wake Island. That sent a wave of doubt through Pye, who
behind to protect the approaches to Oahu. Task Force 14 would move ordered the staff to reassess the situation in light of the new
within range of Wake Island and fly off VMF 221, which was already information. Their recommendation was to continue the op-
embarked on Saratoga. A converted seaplane tender, the Tangier, eration but to also divert Task Force 11 to support Task Force
would at the same time make a dash directly to the island to deliver 14. Pye agreed to go ahead, and issued orders for Brown
ground reinforcements and carry away the civilians. to move to link up with Fletcher. To facilitate that link up
as quickly as possible, though, Pye also ordered Fletcher to
After 11 December the Japanese could have decided to simply
reduce speed and not to go within 200 miles of Wake.
blockade and eventually starve out the garrison. That wasn’t an ac-
ceptable strategy, though, for two reasons. First, they still coveted Pye then dispatched a Catalina patrol plane to Wake Is-
Wake Island for its strategic location and, second, they felt compelled land to inform Cunningham of developments, tell him to
to seize the island quickly and directly in order to regain face. Adm. prepare to receive reinforcements and ready the civilians
Yamamoto’s chief of staff, Adm. Matome Ugaki, summarized the sig- for evacuation. The Catalina arrived on 20 December, Wake
nificance of Wake Island shortly after the initial repulse, by saying it Island time, and the news it brought boosted the morale of
represented the “greatest challenge the Imperial Japanese Navy yet the defenders. Unfortunately, the Japanese intercepted the
faces.” weather reports the crew of the Catalina broadcast hourly
on their approach to Wake. From that, the enemy analysts
Adm. Kajioka, in his planning for a second effort, demanded car-
correctly deduced Wake Island was going to be reinforced in
rier support. The naval staff was at first reluctant, as those vessels
some manner. Accordingly, Carrier Division 2 was ordered
already had many further, already planned operations before them.
to increase its speed in order to be able to attack earlier than
Yamamoto, however, personally overrode the reluctance of some on
planned.
his staff to improvise, ordering Carrier Division 2 to move to a sta-
tion in range of Wake and remain there until the island was captured. It was only a few hours after the patrol plane left Wake
When that Japanese force steamed from the base on Truk on 21 De- Island that the aircraft from Carrier Division 2 made their
cember, the race for Wake Island was on. first strike. Pye was suddenly concerned it was he who was
sending ships into an ambush, even though there were no in-
Kimmel’s staff estimated it would take Task Force 14 six and a
dications the Japanese knew Task Force 14 was approaching
half days to transit to Wake Island. That planning was based on the
the area. It might therefore still be possible to make a fast run
top speed of the slowest ship in the task force, the tanker Neches, with
to Wake Island, and even possibly to catch the Japanese in-
a top speed of 12.75 knots. The estimate failed to take into account
vasion force as it was debarking. Pye chose the bold option;
anti-submarine maneuvering as well as the time involved in the un-
he lifted the 200-mile restriction and authorized Tangier to
avoidable refueling of the destroyers.
begin its high-speed run-in to the island.
On the evening of 16 December, Saratoga and her immediate es-
On the morning of 22 December, Task Force 14 was 515
corts sortied from Pearl Harbor. The task force completed its full as-
miles from Wake Island. Adm. Fletcher, believing his com-
sembly the next day, and then all ships turned toward Wake Island at a
mand was likely to find itself in combat the next day, de-
speed of 12 knots. The relief of the island was planned for 10:30 a.m.
cided it was a good time to refuel the destroyers. Refueling
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at sea, at best a time consuming
and even perilous task, was made
more difficult by the rough seas
that then prevailed across the
area. At one point, in order to try
to find the best mixture of current
and wind, Fletcher turned north-
east, away from Wake Island. Af-
ter 10-hours of intense effort, he
called off the operation, deciding
to try finishing refueling the next
day.
One possibility he considered
was to simply cut loose the Nech-
es and make a high-speed run
toward Wake with the other ves-
sels. That would’ve been a bold,
or perhaps even rash, course of
action. He considered the facts
as he knew them: he was likely
to be in combat the next day; his
destroyers—still only partially
refueled—would burn fuel at a
much faster rate while in com-
bat; he was commanding what
amounted to a third of the Pacific
Fleet’s offensive combat power,
while the location and number of
Japanese carriers in the area re-
mained unknown. He decided to
be prudent rather than bold, keep-
ing all his ships together.
will continue to be, a liability.”
The Japanese invasion force arrived off Wake Island
around midnight on the night of 22/23 December. While That was another blow to Pye’s determination. Then, at 6:52
Fletcher was still unsuccessfully attempting to refuel his de- a.m., he received what turned out to be the final message from Cun-
stroyers, Adm. Kajioka’s SNLF landing force began climb- ningham: “Enemy on island. Several ships plus transports moving
ing into their barges. At 2:30 a.m. the final battle for Wake in. Two DD [destroyers] aground.”
Island began. Pye reassessed the situation, and it no longer looked promising.
On receiving word of the Japanese landing, Pye con- His three carriers were out of mutual support range; there were at
vened another meeting of his headquarters staff to discuss least two Japanese carriers together in the area, and he had no up to
the future of the relief mission now that enemy ground forc- date knowledge of the locations of the others. He also had to con-
es were ashore. The staff was at first divided between those sider he was only temporarily in command; in a few days he would
who wanted to immediately withdraw Task Force 14 and oth- hand over the fleet to Adm. Nimitz. Based on those factors, Pye
ers who urged Fletcher should be ordered to increase speed, made the decision to recall Task Force 14.
rush forward, and attack the Japanese. Pye agreed with the He informed Washington that Wake Island had fallen with the
aggressive staffers and issued orders for Fletcher to move following dispatch: “The use of offensive action to relieve Wake
in. He said he believed that “offensive spirit” shown by the had been my intention and desire. But when the enemy had once
USN at that time would be worth any losses suffered. landed on the island, the general strategic situation took precedence,
On the morning of 23 December, Wake time, Task and the conservation of our naval forces became the first consider-
Force 14 was 425 miles from the island. It would have tak- ation. I ordered the retirement with extreme regret.”
en Fletcher about 12 hours to get within good operational The message was immediately taken to President Roosevelt,
range. There was a chance that would have been fast enough who in turn gave an address to the public in which he honored those
to catch the invasion force and inflict damage—possibly who’d made a heroic stand on Wake Island. Behind the scenes,
heavy damage—on the enemy. About 6:00 a.m., however, though, he rebuked the naval command for their mishandling of the
Cunningham radioed to CINCPAC: “Enemy on the Island. whole affair.
Issue in doubt.” Less than six months after the fall of Wake Island the US Navy
That last phrase seems to have been what drained the and the American nation gained a stunning victory in the Battle of
offensive spirit out of Pye. He countermanded his earlier Midway. Ironically—or not, depending on your interpretation of na-
order to Fletcher, this time telling him to merely attempt val strategy—Nimitz would use Midway island as bait to lure into
evacuating US forces from the island. No sooner had that ambush the Japanese fleet, much as Kimmel and Pye had hoped to
toned down order gone out than more word had come in, this do at Wake.
time from naval headquarters in Washington, stating those
highest-level commanders now believed: “Wake is now, and

World at War 43

WaW4 Issue.indd 43 12/16/08 10:56:57 AM


The response from the command at Pearl Harbor was negated by the appearance of those fighter air-
to Cunningham’s report of the day’s activities was craft.
a simple: “Splendid work.” On the other hand, the Single-engine fighters meant at least one Japa-
American press had a field day with the news. As part nese carrier was in the area. In fact, there were two
of the coded “padding” added to a message he sent such vessels nearby, the Hiryu and the Soryu, form-
to Pearl Harbor, Cunningham had inserted the phrase: ing Carrier Division 2. They had been detached from
“Send more Japs.” Actually, the last thing any of the the returning Pearl Harbor attack force. The defenders’
defenders on Wake Island wanted was more Japanese situation thereby went from hopeful to desperate in a
but, reported out of context, it made great copy for the matter of hours. The situation, in fact, was worse than
folks back home. Editorials and op-ed cartoons ran in any on Wake could imagine.
newspapers across the country singing the praises of In addition to detaching Carrier Division 2 to sup-
the defenders. It was a much needed boost to the oth- port the next invasion, the IJN command had also
erwise depressed home front morale. beefed up the assault force. Cruiser Division 6 (four
For their part, the Japanese didn’t publicly acknowl- ships) was also added, as was Cruiser Division 8 (two
edge their repulse for three days. Even then, their of- ships), along with six more destroyers. Another 1,500
ficial press agency only stated the Imperial Japanese SNLF soldiers had been embarked, 1,000 for the new
Navy had shelled the island, ending with: “Our side assault and 500 for a reserve. The new orders that came
suffered damage too.” with the reinforcements gave further indication of the
December 12 began with an air raid conducted by Japanese high command’s determination to secure
two Japanese flying boats at 5:00 a.m. One of the three Wake Island: if things began to go bad, the warships
operational Grummans intercepted and shot down one were to beached and their crews join in the ground as-
of them. Afterward the defenders set about their activi- sault.
ties sure an afternoon raid would be coming. The Japa- The Japanese followed up their raid of 21 Decem-
nese, though, didn’t return that day. The next day went ber with a 33-plane attack the next day. Wake Island’s
even better, with no air raids at all. The men on Wake two remaining operational F4Fs again intercepted the
Island took advantage of the lull to clean up and get a incoming bombers. On their first pass the Marines
good meal. Unfortunately, one of the F4Fs crashed on downed two bombers before the Zero escorts were on
take off, bringing the number of operational aircraft them. One of the Grummans was soon badly shot up,
down to two. and its wounded pilot crash landed. The other was last
December 14-22 seen chasing one Japanese plane while another closed
Devereux called the days from 14 to 20 December, on his tail. There were no more fighters to defend
“When time stood still.” Those days went by in a blur Wake Island. Putnam and his mechanics reported for
of Japanese air raids and further defense preparations. duty as riflemen.
The Japanese paid particular attention to the 5-inch December 23
batteries. They had learned their lesson. At the same The newly reinforced Japanese task force arrived
time, Devereux occasionally displaced the 3-inch bat- off Wake Island a few minutes after midnight on the
teries to keep the Japanese from fixing their positions. evening of 22/23 December. At about 1:00 a.m. a
Lt. Kinney and his mechanics also managed to keep report of a Japanese landing at Toki Point arrived at
VMF 211 in the fight, with a strength that varied from Devereux’s command post, but it turned out to be a
one to three aircraft. With no spare parts on hand, how- false alarm. It wasn’t until 2:00 a.m. the SNLF actu-
ever, the entire defense was slowly being worn down ally began boarding their landing craft. Two destroy-
by simple attrition. ers being used as transports headed for Wake, while
The 20th brought both heavy rains and a ray of hope. another force, in barges, made for Wilkes.
A Catalina patrol plane arrived from Pearl Harbor with At 2:35 a.m. Marines on Wilkes reported hearing
new orders for Cunningham. He was to ready all re- motor noises along the beach. Devereux gave them
maining civilian personnel for evacuation. Further, re- permission to illuminate the shoreline. In the glare of
inforcements were en route, including elements of the their large spotlights, the Marines could see Japanese
4th Defense Battalion and VMF 221. Most important, dismounting from two barges. They could also see,
a radar set was part of the load plan. The relief force farther away, two destroyer-transports had deliberately
would arrive off Wake Island on 24 December (Wake run aground on Wake.
time). Battery A (5-inch), on Peacock Point, couldn’t bring
After having received written reports from Cun- its guns to bear on the destroyer-transports; so 2nd Lt.
ningham and Devereux, the Catalina departed at 7:00 Robert J. Hanna gathered a crew and moved with them
a.m. the next day. Two hours later the island was at- to man a nearby 3-inch gun that had been positioned
tacked by 29 single-engine dive bombers escorted by for beach defense. From 500 yards they engaged the
Zero fighters. All the good news of the previous day nearest transport over open sights. Their first shot

44 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 44 12/16/08 10:56:57 AM


struck the bridge, and 14 more rounds quickly pierced
other parts of the ship, which was soon burning bright-
ly. Hanna then shifted fire to the second vessel. Some
100 soldiers had already slipped ashore from that ship,
however, and were already working their way toward
the airfield.
Devereux reacted by committing his reserve—eight
Marines and four .30 caliber machineguns—to the
west end of the landing strip. The runway gave them
an excellent field of fire on the advancing Japanese.
Devereux also ordered another reserve to be immedi-
ately formed from those manning the 3-inch battery on
Peale.
Lt. Arthur A. Poindexter, commander of the initial
reserve, noticed machinegun fire along the beach on
the south side of Wake and went to investigate. There
he found gunners engaging two barges attempting to
come ashore just south of Camp 1. His fire kept the A Marine artist’s concept of the fighting at Wake Island.
barges from landing. Not satisfied with that result,
though, Poindexter gathered a few men and some hand its southern corner. Moving inland, they came under
grenades and headed onto the beach. fire from Battery F. They continued to press their at-
tack, and eventually forced those Marines to abandon
As the machinegunners held their fire, Poindexter
their position. The retreating gunners were then able,
and his ad hoc grenadiers waded into the surf, lobbing
however, to take up new positions just east of their
explosives at the barges as they moved along. One
abandoned guns. From their they blocked all further
landed directly inside a barge, causing numerous ca-
Japanese efforts in their direction.
sualties among those Japanese. Despite Poindexter’s
counterattack, however, the other barge managed to Checked to the east, the Japanese on Wilkes tried
get ashore and debark some 75 to 100 soldiers, who to go west. They then came under fire from two cam-
quickly fanned out into the scrub brush around Camp ouflaged .50 caliber machineguns (numbers nine and
1. 10). Again their advance was halted.
It was around that time Devereux began losing A report came in from the crew of gun nine, telling
contact with his units. First to go quiet was Wilkes, Platt of the extent of the Japanese advance. At 4:00
but then the other islets also stopped reporting. The a.m., on finally losing all contact with gun nine, Platt
Japanese were finding and cutting the wires. From that determined to regain that contact. He moved along
time it was up to the initiative and determination of the beach until he came to gun 10. Without hesita-
the small detachments scattered around the islets, and tion, he gathered the eight men to him that he found
the individual Marines within them, to defend Wake in and near gun 10’s position and, taking along the
Island. heavy machineguns, they all set off to attack an enemy
force that outnumbered them by about 10 to one. They
On Wake, Poindexter continued to hold a position
moved quietly through the brush until they got within
near Camp 1, while Lt. Hanna, reinforced by some
50 yards of the Japanese perimeter. Platt then moved
aviators from VMF 211, kept up fire from a 3-inch gun.
apart the two machineguns, thereby defining the flanks
They were all increasingly limited to merely defend-
of his attack, and gave orders for the other men to pre-
ing their own immediate positions, and couldn’t see
pare to move in. On Platt’s order the two machineguns
the larger picture. Meanwhile, a nine-man detachment
opened fire while he led the other four men in an as-
sent by Devereux to reinforce Hanna became pinned
sault into the Japanese perimeter.
down and then retreated back to the command post.
On the west end of the air strip, Lt. David D. Kliewer Not expecting an attack from the west, the Japa-
manned a position from which it was his assignment nese had set up their machineguns oriented to the east.
to set off the charges that would crater the airfield. Bat- Platt’s assault panicked the enemy, and his ad hoc
tery A (5-inch) was cut off at Peacock Point, and the fire team soon retook the 3-inch battery position. At
commander there detached part of his range-finding that moment luck further intervened on the side of the
team to deploy nearby to protect that position as rifle- Americans.
men. On the opposite edge of the Japanese perimeter,
The situation was also confused on Wilkes, but totally uninformed of Platt’s movements, McCalister
there Capt. Wesley M. Platt, overall commander of and McKinstry launched an attack of their own at al-
that islet, was beginning to regain control of the situ- most the same time. The two groups linked up with
ation. About 100 Japanese had landed on Wilkes, near continues on page 47

World at War 45

WaW4 Issue.indd 45 12/16/08 10:56:58 AM


Fighter Aircraft at Wake Island
US Grumman F4F “Wildcat” and Japanese A6M “Zero”
fighters fought each other for the first time over Wake Island.
The results were inconclusive. By the time Carrier Division 2
arrived, the battered US defenders had been in continuous daily
combat for almost two weeks and VMF 211 had just two opera-
tional Wildcats. The pilots had acquitted themselves well against
the Japanese bombers, but they were no longer any real match
for the newly arriving carrier planes and their pilots. By the
afternoon of 22 December, the Marine squadron was no longer
combat effective.
The F4F Wildcat had been introduced in 1940 and quickly
gained a reputation among American pilots as a rugged and
dependable aircraft. Among its many virtues were self-sealing
fuel tanks, armor plating around the pilot, and an exceptionally
stable gun platform. The F4F-3 was armed with four .50 caliber
machineguns, which were upgraded to six on the F4F-4 model.
In the skies: F4Fs in formation The 1,200 horsepower radial engine gave it a top speed of
318 miles per hour. That figure was already recognized at the
Grumman F4F Wildcat Statistics time as being less than optimum; however, the conventional wis-
Engine: Pratt-Whitney R-1830-86—1,200 dom was—due to a range of other factors—carrier based aircraft
horsepower would always prove generally inferior to planes operating from
Wingspan: 38’ land. The A6M Zero defied that conventional wisdom.
Length: 28’9” The Zero had made its combat debut in China at the end
Weight: 7,002 lbs. of the 1930s, and its remarkable performance was reported to
Maximum Speed: 318 miles per hour Washington at that time. Sadly, those reports were ignored.
Ceiling: 37,500 feet Light and maneuverable, the Zero dominated the skies over the
Range: 845 miles Pacific in the months following Pearl Harbor. Those same early
Crew: 1 virtues, however, later proved to be weaknesses. That is, in order
Armament: 4x.50 caliber machineguns to gain the edge in performance, sacrifices had been made: they
had no self-sealing fuel tanks or armor plating. Usually only a
Mitsubishi A6M Zero few rounds from the machineguns of Allied planes were enough
Engine: Nakajima Sakae—925 horsepower to bring down a Zero (provided only that the Allied pilot could
Wingspan: 39’4” first get into firing position).
Length: 29’9”
The Wildcat performed yeoman service during the early
Weight: 5,313 lbs.
days of the war, and wasn’t pulled from frontline carrier duty
Maximum Speed: 316 miles per hour
until 1943. Its successor, the F6F Hellcat, would rack up more
Ceiling: 33,790 feet
victories than any other US plane in the Pacific. Japan, short on
Range: 1,165 miles
resources and manufacturing capability, was forced to continue
Crew: 1
to use the Zero, in numerous but increasingly less successful
Armament: 2x7.69 mm machineguns
variants, until the end of the war.

On the deck: Zero fighter on aircraft carrier


46 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 46 12/16/08 10:56:59 AM


World at War 47

WaW4 Issue.indd 47 12/16/08 10:57:00 AM


each other, then continued to fire into the Japanese “humanitarian reasons.”
who were still all around them. In the end, the total of Devereux evaded answering, deferring that deci-
Japanese losses was between 75 and 100, in exchange sion to the commander. When Cunningham then told
for five Marines. him no outside help could be expected to arrive any
Platt immediately ordered struck the two Japanese time soon, though, Devereux’s spirit broke. At 7:00
flags they’d found hoisted inside the perimeter. He a.m. Cunningham told Devereux to surrender the is-
then reorganized the surviving Marines in preparation land.
for an expected Japanese counterattack. For the mo- Devereux immediately passed the word to those
ment, Wilkes was secure. few men with whom he still had communication. He
As Platt was scoring his success on Wilkes, the sit- ordered them to destroy their equipment as best they
uation grew only grimmer for the Americans on Wake. could. Some were thorough in completing that task.
Devereux remained out of contact with his units and, One battery commander fired 20 rounds of .45 caliber
with dawn breaking, he could see the many Japanese into his fire control equipment. The gunners of Battery
flags that had been raised across the island to mark the E stuffed blankets into the gun tubes of their pieces
extent of the SNLF advance. He could also see nu- and then fired rounds through them. Just to make sure,
merous Japanese warships were ringing the island. He they then rolled grenades down the barrels.
reacted by ordering his executive officer, Maj. George Devereux rigged a white flag and set out on the next
H. Potter, to take the reserve squad and form a defense portion of his distasteful task, moving north along the
line south of his command post. He also sent word to road toward Camp 2 and the hospital. A lone Japanese
Capt. Bryghte D. Goldbold, commander of Battery D soldier soon sprang out in front of them and stopped
on Peale, to bring his men to the command post. With their movement. After searching the Americans for
that he had committed the last of the men available to hidden weapons, he allowed them to continue on their
him. way. At the hospital, Devereux found the wounded,
With dawn the Japanese were also able to take ad- bound hand and foot, had already been brought out-
vantage of the increasing visibility to more thoroughly side by the Japanese. Cunningham soon arrived from
infiltrate through the underbrush around the Marine his own command post wearing his Navy dress blues.
positions. They set up an impromptu reassembly area Devereux left Cunningham to work out the formal-
east of the airstrip in preparation for launching another ities of the surrender while he turned back toward the
push to clear that islet. Also with daylight came re- airfield. He found Hanna and his men from VMF 211
newed aerial and naval gunfire support. With that, the still defending their 3-inch guns, and he ordered them
Japanese resumed their advance. to surrender. They had held that position for six hours,
Their warships continually bombarded identified and all but one of them had been killed or wounded.
Marine positions while still maneuvering so as to Next, Devereux came upon Lt. Kliewer and his
maintain a respectable distance from the coastal gun three men. They were frantically trying to get a gen-
batteries. As part of that effort, three destroyers passed erator working so they could set off the explosives to
near Battery B, at Toki Point, while on their way to crater the airfield. As Devereux approached, he told
Wilkes. 1st Lt. Woodrow W. Kessler opened fire on the them to stop what they were doing. One of the Marines
lead ship and scored hits with four volleys. In a replay with him advised Kliewer: “Don’t surrender, Lieuten-
of 11 December, the destroyers made smoke and hast- ant! Marines never surrender! It’s a hoax!”
ily withdrew out to sea. For its efforts, though, Battery Kliewer, though, followed protocol and obeyed
B then received the attention of several Japanese dive Devereux. At 11:15 a.m. the slowly growing surrender
bombers. party met Poindexter and his men on the road west of
The airmen of Carrier Division 8 had been await- the airstrip. Earlier, at around 9:00 a.m., Poindexter
ing daylight in order to make their contribution to the had realized the situation in Camp 1 was under con-
overall attack. With sun up, they began attacking every trol, and he then sought to expand the Marine coun-
area that even looked like it might be a Marine posi- terattack. He reorganized the men with him into three
tion. Battery F, holding the last fully operational anti- 10-man squads. During a series of short but sharp fire-
aircraft guns, opened fire, but with little effect. fights, he reached the road junction west of the airstrip.
At that time Devereux assessed the situation as fol- It was there he met Devereux.
lows: the entire islet of Wilkes had apparently fallen to By that time it was becoming obvious to Devereux
the Japanese; he had no communication with his units; the overall situation across the island wasn’t as bad as
he had no further reserves; the enemy was beginning he and Cunningham had concluded in their earlier talk.
to advance directly on his command post; and Japa- That realization, which was disheartening enough,
nese aircraft were striking at will all across the island. was only amplified when the surrender party reached
He was able to get through to Cunningham, and passed Wilkes.
him that report. In turn, Cunningham asked Devereux There, by about 8:00 a.m., the Marines had com-
if he thought he would be justified in surrendering for
48 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 48 12/16/08 10:57:00 AM


pleted their counterattack and Platt ordered the men of Communiqués From Wake Island
Battery L to return to their guns on Kuku Point. When The Battle of Wake Island conjures images of grim-faced Ma-
those pieces were found to have somehow been ren- rines defiant in the face of overwhelming odds. Two of the com-
dered inoperative, Plant again reformed his men into muniqués sent from Wake Island during the fighting reinforced
an infantry unit. Getting word of more Japanese land- that image, at least in the popular media of those times. The truth
was more mundane.
ing boats nearing Wilkes at the channel between that
islet and Wake, he moved off with his force to repel Along with the Marine and naval personnel on Wake Island,
there was a seven-man detachment of US Army Signal Corps sol-
the new attack. En route, Platt’s force was spotted and
diers who were responsible for communications going out of and
attacked by dive bombers, and one of the Marines was coming onto the base. After the first Japanese raid on 8 December,
killed. He was the last casualty in the fighting for Wake they were ordered to move their truck-mounted equipment into a
Island. concrete bunker. To their credit, due to their efforts Cunningham
The approaching Japanese landing craft were actu- was able to maintain radio contact with Pearl Harbor throughout
ally carrying Devereux and the others of the surrender the battle.
party. Devereux was first to spot what he described as As the fighting progressed, Cunningham ordered the radio
“a few grubby, dirty men who came out of the brush operators to add “padding” to the messages they sent in order to
with their rifles ready.” confuse the Japanese in case they intercepted them. Such padding
would usually be nothing more than a few nonsensical phrases
After Devereux identified himself and his mission, randomly added throughout the regular text of a message. In that
Platt and his men also surrendered. By 2:00 p.m., then, regard Cunningham has always maintained his famous “Send
all resistance on Wake Island had ceased. In roughly more Japs” phrase was never anything other than padding. That
11 hours the Japanese had avenged their defeat and claim is supported by Corp. Franklin D. Gross, a .50 caliber ma-
loss of face of 11 December. chinegun section leader. He said the Army radio operator who ac-
tually sent the message had related to him the phrase was merely
The captured defenders remained on the island un-
padding he’d added to the text.
til 12 January 1942, when they were shipped to vari-
All testimony has confirmed that, at the time, the defenders
ous prisoner of war camps. One hundred of the civil-
weren’t pleased by the publicity the message immediately gener-
ians were kept on the island to complete the work on ated. The last thing any of them wanted to see was more Japanese.
the naval air station. They were summarily executed The legend of the defiant message has, however, become so much
in 1943, on the orders of the Japanese garrison com- a part of Wake Island lore it will likely never die.
mander, who panicked when he received a false report One of the last messages Cunningham did send, and fully
a US invasion force was approaching. (That was an compose himself, has also become part of the lore of defiance
offensive for which he was hanged as a war criminal that surrounds the battle. At about 6:00 a.m. on the final day he
shortly after V-J Day.) radioed CINCPAC: “Enemy on island. Issue in doubt.”
Exact Japanese losses for the entire 15-day cam- Again, it was phrasing custom-made for the popular press.
paign are not known. They are conservatively esti- Cunningham, though, later stated he hadn’t intended it as bra-
mated, though, to have been as follows: approximately vado. He said it was a line he’d recalled from a novel, Revolt of
the Angels, which had been one of his favorites during his youth.
1,000 killed; four vessels sunk and eight others dam-
Whatever the reason behind those two messages—padding or
aged; 21 aircraft shot down. For the defenders, losses
deliberate turn of phrase—they undeniably served an unintended,
were: 58 Marines and an undetermined number of ci- and greater, purpose. They boosted the low morale of the Ameri-
vilians killed, a dozen aircraft shot down or otherwise can people in the darkest days of the war, and since then have
destroyed; six 5-inch coastal guns and a dozen 3-inch become ensconced in the mythos of US military history.
anti-aircraft guns destroyed.
at

Sources
Cressman, Robert J. The Battle for Wake Island: A Magnificent Fight. An-
napolis: Naval Institute Pres, 1995.
Cunningham, W. Scott, with Lydel Sims. Wake Island Command. Boston:
Little Brown, 1961.
Devereux, James P.S. The Story of Wake Island. New York: J.B. Lippincott,
1947.
Dull, Paul A. A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945).
Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1978.
Heinl, Robert D., Jr. The Defense of Wake. Washington, DC: US Govern-
ment Printing Office, 1946.
Layton, Edwin T., Rear Adm., USN (ret.), Capt. Roger Pineau, USNR
(ret.), and John Costello.
And I Was There: Pearl Harbor to Midway – Breaking the
Secrets. New York: William Morrow, 1985.
Lundstrom, John B. The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl
Harbor to Midway. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984.
Moskin, Robert L. The United States Marine Corps Story. New York: Mc-
Graw-Hill Book Co., 1982. Maj. Devereux.
World at War 49

WaW4 Issue.indd 49 12/16/08 10:57:01 AM


Command your task force in the Pacific!
War in the Pacific
On Sunday, 7 December 1941, the US naval base at Pearl Harbor,
Hawaii, was attacked by Japanese aircraft. For the next four years, Allied
task forces engaged elements of the Imperial Japanese fleet throughout
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wresting from the Japanese the empire that they had expanded in every
direction.
War in the Pacific is a multi-level simulation of the Pacific theater of
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Components: 7 full size strategic maps in full color, new tactical maps with nearly 340 individual islands for
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and charts booklet covers the additional rules needed to continue the war. $40
50 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 50 12/16/08 10:57:07 AM


USN Deluxe
Refight the greatest naval-air-land war of history. USN Deluxe is an update
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Contents: 2 22x34 inch maps, 840 die-cut counters, rules book and assorted Player Aid cards. $70.00
Pacific Battles, volume 1: X II
15 11 SPA
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37 (4) 12
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20 2 Canada
Signature 29 4 Europe, South America
Phone # 29 5 Asia, Australia
World at War 51

WaW4 Issue.indd 51 12/16/08 10:57:10 AM


Independent
Operational Group Polesie:
Final Battle of the Polish Campaign, 1939
By Maciej Jonasz

Annual wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of the unknown soldier in Warsaw.


Photo by author (May 1995).

As
the situation became critical for as the situation around them became hopeless and
the Poles in mid-September 1939, they knew they had no chance of beating the invad-
the movement of their remaining ers. Many of the rank and file also had the same faith,
military units into the southeast cor- and it served to keep their morale high. That faith was
ner of the nation was ordered by the high command. also reinforced by the exaggerated French news re-
There, it was hoped, a final defensive perimeter could ports concerning that nation’s actions on the German
be set up near the border with neutral but still friendly border in the west, which also combined with rumors
Hungary and Romania. From that position the Polish about the French marching to the Ruhr while Royal
Army, with supplies from the western Allies coming Air Force (RAF) bombers turned Berlin into a desert.
in from the south, could fight on in order to tie up as Despite that faith in the Allies, though, the strate-
many German divisions as possible when the prom- gic concept of the “Romanian bridgehead” lost any
ised and long-anticipated Anglo-French offensive fi- validity it may have had once Soviet troops crossed
nally began. the border on 17 September. When that took place, the
That overall plan had been formulated because there Polish units in the southeast were ordered to evacu-
was still faith among those in the Polish government ate into Romania, so they could then be transported
and military that the Anglo-Allies would live up to the to the western front in order to continue the fight from
treaty they’d signed and the pledges they’d made. That there.
faith was one of the reasons so many commanders or- As everything began to fall apart, then, the com-
dered their troops to stand fast and keep fighting even mander of Poland’s IX Corps mobilization district,
52 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 52 12/16/08 10:57:13 AM


Gen. Franciszke Kleeberg, gathered under his direct named Independent Operational Group Polesie, after
control as many units as he could, and began reorga- the region of the country in which they were then op-
nizing them into ad hoc formations that he then in- erating. The larger infantry formations were organized
tended to lead toward the neutrals in the south as a co- into the 50th and 60th Infantry Divisions, and their regi-
herent combat force. Some of those hastily organized ments received the numerical designations, raised by
formations were battalion, regiment and even brigade- 100, of the 20th and 30th Infantry Divisions, which had
sized. They were put together from the sub-units of formerly had their replacement centers in the IX Corps
different formations that had been destroyed earlier on district.
in the fighting, and were then given orders to march as The various cavalry sub-units, some of them al-
rapidly as possible to the southeast. Kleeberg worked ready organized into ad hoc regiments and brigades,
to gather those units into a larger formation that would became the Zaza Cavalry Division. There was also the
stand a better chance of holding off any German forces Podlaska Cavalry Regiment, which had earlier fought
that might try to impede progress toward Romania. as part of Independent Operational Group Narew. It
On 21 September, however, Kleeberg belatedly re- had suffered severe losses during its time in the north
alized further progress southeast was impossible due and, even though it had since absorbed several cavalry
to the many German formations that had already man- sub-units, it was only a shadow of its former self.
aged to insert themselves between his command and The last unit of the group was the 13th Observa-
the Romanian border. Then, after several engagements tional Flight, which consisted of three light recon-
with newly arriving Soviet formations, he decided the naissance and utility aircraft. That unit had no spare
only thing to do was move northwest to try to aid be- parts or technical support; its men performed miracles
sieged Warsaw. to keep their planes operational and the group com-
As the number of troops under his command con- mander informed of the situation across the area.
tinued to grow, he took organizational and administra- In all, then, the formations of the group, despite
tive steps to make control easier. He again regrouped their impressive designations, were all under-strength
into a larger corps-sized formation, which he then and were particularly lacking in artillery and heavy

World at War 53

WaW4 Issue.indd 53 12/16/08 10:57:14 AM


equipment. The few artillery pieces available were 1 October: Contact
running out of ammunition, and they were often mu- The first shots of the new battle were fired when a
seum-quality guns of World War I vintage, or even reconnaissance patrol of three armored cars from the
older, which had been retrieved from mothballing. 13th Motorized Infantry Division ran into a picket line
Most were so old they hadn’t even been mobilized for of Uhlans (lancers) from the Plis Cavalry Brigade on
the war at the start of the month, and had initially been the road just east of the town of Kock. Those lancers
left in their parent units’ replacement centers. Some were armed with a 37 mm Bofors anti-tank gun; so
even lacked sights. they engaged the oncoming enemy, waiting until the
The total numeric strength of the entire group was Germans were within 200 yards before opening fire.
about equal to that of a full-strength Polish infantry The first two vehicles were destroyed in rapid succes-
division on a war footing, but its firepower was more sion, but the third shot missed. That last armored car
like that of an infantry regiment. Despite that weak- went into reverse as it opened fire with its machinegun
ness, however, morale within the group was high. to try to cover its escape. It was also destroyed, how-
Only those soldiers with a real will to continue to fight, ever, as the Poles got off two more shots. It all hap-
despite the clearly looming national defeat, entered its pened so quickly the German crews never managed to
ranks. Further, they not only had combat experience send off a contact report.
from their earlier encounters with the Germans, they Later that day, sub-units of the Zaza Cavalry Di-
also had a desire to avenge their fallen comrades while vision moved west and successfully attacked Kock,
defending their own “fatherland” until the end. which they found occupied by the reconnaissance bat-
When news came Warsaw had capitulated, yet an- talion of the 13th. That German force retreated out of
other new direction had to be chosen for the group’s the town and set up a defensive position on the road to
next move. Kleeberg decided to move into the Swi- Deblin, which lay off to the west.
etokrzyskie Mountains, where the group could dis-
perse to fight a guerilla-style war. Along the way, he
2 October: Opening Moves
also wanted to pass through a large military stockpile After learning of the fight at Kock, the commander
near the town of Deblin, where a sizeable quantity of of the 13th, Gen. Paul Otto, came to the conclusion he
equipment and ammunition was said to still remain was only facing a group of Polish “marauders” who
untouched. happened to be roaming across that part of the coun-
tryside. He therefore dispatched only his 93rd Motor-
Unknown to Kleeberg, the German XIV Motor-
ized Infantry Regiment to deal with the threat. At 11:00
ized Corps, led by Gen. Gustav von Wietersheim, was
a.m. elements of the 93rd, accompanied by Otto and
moving on a direct collision course with the group.
a correspondent from the Neue Magdeburger Zeitung
That corps’s 13th Motorized Infantry Division was
(New Magdeburg Newspaper), stormed back into
driving east through Deblin, while its brother 29th Mo-
Kock. The place was then defended only by the Wilk
torized Infantry Division moved on a parallel course to
and Olek Infantry Battalions, which were later relieved
the north of it.
54 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 54 12/16/08 10:57:14 AM


south of the village of Czarna. In an attempt to flush
them out, he launched an attack with elements of the
2nd Uhlan Regiment, only to see those horsemen beat-
en back with heavy losses.
By late in the afternoon the opposing commanders
had a better understanding of what they were facing,
and they accordingly both formulated new battle plans
for the next day. For the rest of the day there was little
fighting, and most of the shots still being fired were
from German artillery executing interdiction and ha-
rassment missions around the Poles’ positions.
3 October: Shoving Match
The results of the fighting of the previous day al-
lowed Kleeberg to identify his opponent as the 13th
Motorized Infantry Division from the XIV Motorized
Corps. He knew the XIV to be a two-division corps,
but there was no information as to the whereabouts
of that second unit. There was thus a possibility those
mobile Germans might pop up to hit the group from
any direction. Since, however, the Podlaska Cavalry
Regiment, which was screening the group to the north,
and 13th Flight, which was also performing reconnais-
sance missions in that direction, reported no signs of
the enemy, Kleeberg decided to maneuver north in

by the 179th Infantry Regiment. That German effort


was unsuccessful, with the attackers thrown back
to their starting position and Otto and the reporter
returning to the headquarters in Deblin.
At about that same time, the remainder of the
93rd attacked the town of Serokomla, north of Kock.
At first that move was successful, as the Germans
managed to surprise the defending Plis Cavalry
Brigade, and the attackers gained a foothold in the
outskirts of the town.
When the element of surprise was gone, though,
the Poles counterattacked, and the forward German
soldiers reacted the way they often would in difficult
situations through the rest of the battle. They were
mostly inexperienced, and they often didn’t see any
reason to lay down their lives in that late part of the
campaign, as it was obvious their side had already
won. They therefore surrendered, and did so with a
far greater ease than had been generally shown by
German troops in the earlier battles of September.
That German attitude, combined with those troops’
inexperience and relatively low morale, was why
the fighting that day turned out the way it did.
That afternoon the commander of the Plis Bri-
gade, Col. Plisowski, was informed of another
concentration of German troops in the small woods
World at War 55

WaW4 Issue.indd 55 12/16/08 10:57:16 AM


order to be able to attack and, if possible, entirely de- Around noon, attacks were launched by two Ger-
stroy the 13th Division before the other German unit man regiments. The first, by the 93rd toward Serokom-
showed up. la, failed despite having strong artillery support. The
His offensive plan involved two flanking attacks by second, by the 33rd, fell on the positions of the skel-
the 50th Infantry Division and the Edward Cavalry Bri- etal 135th Infantry Regiment on the Czarna River. The
gade. The 50th would strike west from the area around fighting there was severe, and the attackers were only
Kock, while Edward pushed south from Czarna. Thus beaten back after the defenders had suffered some 160
the enemy units concentrated in front of Serokomla casualties out of a total of about 200 men. With that
would be cut off from the rest of the 13th Division and the fighting ended for the rest of the day, as both sides
could then be destroyed. The remaining units of the used the pause to reshuffle their units and bring up re-
group would continue defensive and screening ac- inforcements.
tions. The Plis Brigade and the rest of the Zaza Divi- The 50th Infantry Division broke contact with the
sion were to defend Serokomla and its environs; the enemy and moved north to take up positions around
60th Infantry Division was to shield the group from the the small town of Adamow, making a forced march
west, while the Podlaska Regiment continued screen- during the night. The Zaza Division shifted west to fill
ing in the north together with 13th Flight. the gap between the 50th and 60th Infantry Divisions,
The German commander, though, was also plan- the latter of which had gone south to the village of Lip-
ning offensive action against the Poles. His plans in- iny. Meanwhile the Podlaska Cavalry Regiment and
volved an attack at Serokomla by the 93rd, while the the aircraft of the 13th Flight continued to screen the
33rd Motorized Infantry Regiment pushed to the north- group on the north while still reporting “no contact”
east, across the Czarna River, to split in two all the with the enemy in that direction.
nearby Polish forces. 4 October: German Success
The fighting began shortly before 8:00 a.m. with Gen. Paul Otto, commander of the 13th Motorized
an attack by the Polish 50th Infantry Division along Infantry Division, came under strong pressure from
two different routes. One attack, by the 179th Infantry corps headquarters to destroy the Polish formations
Regiment, went west along the road to Deblin, while facing him. Accordingly, around noon he committed
the second, by the 178th and 180th Infantry Regiments, to battle his 66th Motorized Infantry Regiment by mov-
moved west across Czarna, about 2.5 miles north of ing it in the direction of Adamow and Golow. That unit
Kock. The main body of the 179th moved directly crossed the Czarna River despite fierce Polish resis-
along the road, but soon ran into stiff resistance from tance and, by nightfall, was in the defensive line in
dug-in German troops. Those Polish troops then broke front of Adamow. There was also continued skirmish-
off their attack without having achieved any success. ing along the other sectors of the front while, in the
The rest of the 179th, its 3rd Battalion, went around north, the Podlaska Cavalry Regiment made contact
the blocking German position on the south. It cut right with the lead elements of the 71st Motorized Infantry
through the German screening force and then ran into Regiment from the 29th Motorized Infantry Division.
an enemy artillery battery that was firing into Kock.
That battery was swiftly eliminated, and the 3rd Bat- 5-6 October: Culmination
talion continued to move toward the south. For the After the movements and actions of the previous
remainder of the day it fought running battles against day, Kleeberg decided his forces were in a position to
increasingly strong German forces and, because of the launch a decisive attack to end the battle before the
failure of the attack by the rest of the 179th, it ended up new enemy division moving in from the north (29th)
being isolated and suffered heavy losses. The survi- could attack with its full strength. Starting at 8:00
vors of 3rd Battalion finally managed to break through a.m. he had the 60th Infantry Division launch an at-
the German lines surrounding them and got back to tack to the east and southeast. Despite heavy German
their regiment. Because of the heavy losses suffered resistance and only minimal participation by Polish
by the 3rd, however, it was out of the rest of the fight. artillery, the attack continued until nightfall, with all
The Edward Brigade came south without at first of 60th Division’s sub-units eventually gaining their
encountering any enemy resistance, only to then run objectives. During that fighting, another daring Polish
into a battery of German heavy howitzers firing into cavalry raid managed to break far enough into the Ger-
Serokomla, which it destroyed with a surprise attack. man rear area to surprise and eliminate another artil-
Edward then pressed a little farther south, still without lery battery.
facing any resistance. When news of the failure of the To the east the Germans continued their offensive
50th Division’s attack came in, Edward’s movement efforts against the 50th and Zaza Divisions. The ex-
was halted and the brigade returned to its jump off po- hausted Polish 180th Infantry Regiment was pushed out
sition. Its commander didn’t believe his unit had the of Adamow. Heartened by that success, the Germans
strength to overcome any serious German resistance pivoted north, but a strong Polish counterattack then
on its own. pushed them back into Adamow, but was then unable
56 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 56 12/16/08 10:57:17 AM


fighting might result in the destruction of his entire
division. Even the arrival of the 29th Division and
its successful move from the north didn’t restore
optimism in him. He therefore decided to maneuver
so as to break contact with the Poles and withdraw.
He was actually in the process of issuing that order
when Kleeberg’s delegation arrived at his headquar-
ters.
Throughout the night the Poles busied them-
selves destroying their weapons and preparing to
go into captivity. There were many, though, who re-
fused to surrender and, under cover of darkness, fled
the group’s encampments, either to join the under-
ground resistance or go to join Polish units abroad. A
few were killed during the night by German artillery
fire from batteries that hadn’t yet been informed of
the cease-fire.
Conclusions
So ended the last battle of the 1939 campaign in
Poland. In it, the units that formed the ad hoc In-
dependent Operational Group Polesie achieved a
difficult goal: they managed to defeat a fresh, full-
strength German motorized infantry division despite
the fact they were almost out of ammunition and were

to push them any farther. In the north the men of


the Podlaska Regiment spent the morning prepar-
ing defensive positions, as they were well aware of
the approaching German division, and they knew
they had to hold if the rest of the group was to suc-
ceed in the south.
Overall – despite the tactical success scored by
the Polish 60th Infantry Division, the more or less
successful defense conducted by the 50th, and the
determined attitude of Podlaska Regiment—the
situation was deteriorating for Group Polesie. Am-
munition, especially for the artillery, was running
low. The enemy, meanwhile, was committing a
second full motorized infantry division to the bat-
tle.
Considering those factors, Kleeberg decided to
send out a party to request a cease-fire. Unknown
to him, though, the commander of the Germans’
13th Motorized Infantry Division was also having
doubts about continuing the fight. In the previ-
ous day’s fighting, his division had suffered heavy
losses that couldn’t be justified by the small tacti-
cal gains that had been made in return. At the same
time, the Polish defense continued to remain co-
herent, while their counterattacks were threatening
to collapse his left flank. He concluded continued
World at War 57

WaW4 Issue.indd 57 12/16/08 10:57:19 AM


Gen. Franciszek Kleeberg
Kleeberg was born in 1888 in the Polish southeast, an area then under Austro-Hungarian occupation. He was
a son of a freedom fighter from the 1863 uprising against Russia and, like his parent, was also a Polish national-
ist. In 1908 he joined the Austro-Hungarian Army as an officer. That, despite the hatred of the Austro-Hungarian
occupation, was considered an acceptable thing to do by the Polish populace.
He fought in World War I under the Austro-Hungarian battle flag and, in 1915, he transferred to the newly
forming Polish legions, where he served in the artillery. Early in 1918 the Central Powers signed an accord with
the newly established Ukrainian client-state government that, among other things, handed over the southeast por-
tion of Poland to Kiev. Kleeberg was among those who protested the change. He renounced his Austro-Hungarian
citizenship and began calling himself a Pole. As a result, he was demoted from major to captain and was trans-
ferred to the Italian front.
When Poland was reborn as an independent nation late in 1918, Kleeberg immediately joined the newly form-
ing national army. After successfully serving in the Russo-Polish War,
he was rewarded for his excellent performance by being sent to study
at the French Ecole Superieure de Guerre in 1924. Sadly for Kleeberg,
upon his return to Poland in 1926, he managed to get on the bad side
of Marshall Jozef Pilsudski. That feud resulted in his assignment to the
purely administrative command of the IX Corps district rather than the
operational command he certainly deserved. Despite those career set-
backs, Kleeberg was still able to carve out for himself an honorable
place in Polish military history by fighting and, at least tactically, win-
ning the last battle fought in the country in 1939.
After surrendering Group Polesie, Kleeberg had an opportunity to
escape imprisonment during that first night, but he chose to remain with
his troops. That choice cost him his life, when a long-term intestinal ail-
ment, left untreated in German captivity, killed him on 5 April 1941. He
was buried in Dresden until 1969, when his body was moved to Poland
for reburial. Ironically, while being driven to the airport, Kleeberg’s
body was escorted by an East German motorized infantry unit. Today
he remains buried outside the town of Kock.

thoroughly outgunned by their opponents at every lev-


el. They managed to achieve their victory through the
use of aggressive tactics that kept the German division Statue of Gen. Kleeberg at the Kock
off balance. Their cavalry raids destroyed significant military cemetery. Photo by author.
numbers of the Germans’ artillery, while every Ger-
man territorial gain was hotly disputed. Another factor that weighed in the outcome of the
The aggressiveness underlying the operations of battle was the gap in experience and motivation be-
Group Polesie was undoubtedly the key factor that tween the Polish and German troops. The Poles were
allowed for its success. Their enemy was fully mo- highly motivated, and had previous combat experi-
torized and therefore far more mobile. Had the Poles ence against other German forces. On the other side,
acted defensively, the Germans would have been able the Germans were inexperienced in combat and lacked
to out-maneuver them and destroy them piecemeal. the motivation inherent in the psychology of their Pol-
At the same time, the commander of the German ish opponents’ desperate situation. The few German
13th Division was shown to have a lack of tactical tactical successes in the fighting can be explained by
imagination. He should have used his units’ higher their side’s firepower superiority, particularly in ma-
mobility and firepower to fracture and divide the Pol- chineguns and artillery.
ish defense. By the end of the battle he had only made The Germans also had no concerns about running
one such attempt, when he tried to split the Polish line out of ammunition, no matter how fierce the fighting
between Serokomla and Kock. When that failed, his became. In fact, the Poles captured some ammunition
recourse was to go over to a frontal attack in the di- containers on which they found the stenciled inscrip-
rection of Adamow. At the same time, he conducted tion: Nicht Sparen Munition. That slogan is probably
only a weak static defense against the Polish flanking best translated into idiomatic English as: “Don’t be
move that almost brought his division to the brink of stingy with the ammo.” That was a shocking concept
destruction. to the Poles, who had continually found themselves
58 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 58 12/16/08 10:57:22 AM


running low on, or entirely out of, ammunition starting
Bibliography
only a few days after the war had begun.
Panstwowe Przedsiebiorstwo Wydawnictw Kartograficznych – Wydzial
What that final battle of 1939 came down to, then, Produkcyjny Wroclaw. Nasza Ojczyzna: altas historyczny dla klasy IV.
was the experience and motivation of the soldiers Wroclaw: Wroclawskie Zaklady Graficzne Zaklad Nr. 1, 1983.
combined with the aggressiveness and skill of their of- Wojsko Polskie w II Wojnie Swiatowej, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Bellona, 1994.
ficers. The over-arching lesson of the death struggle Wojskowy Instytut Historyczny im Wandy Wasilewskiej. Walka i Zwyciestwo:
of Independent Operational Group Polesie should Wklad Narodu Polskievo nad Hitlerowskimi Niemcami, 1939-1945.
therefore be remembered by those studying military Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Obronly Narodwej, 1985.
art and science today: though superior weapons and Zbyszewski Andrzej. Pazdziernikowa Bitwa, 1939. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Ob-
firepower are important, the human factor is still criti- rony Narodowej, 1988.
cal in battle.
at

World at War Strategy & Tactics


Issue # Game Topic & Lead Article Issue # Game Topic & Lead Article
5 The Finnish Front, 1941-42 255 First Battle over Britain, 1917-1918
6 The Greater East Asia War 256 Marlborough’s Battles: Ramillies & Malplaquet
7 Greek Tragedy 257 Chosin: X Corps Escapes the Trap
8 Arriba Espana! 258 The Santiago Campaign (Spanish-American War)
9 Dest. Army Group Center 259 Battle for China (WWII)

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World at War 59

WaW4 Issue.indd 59 12/16/08 10:57:23 AM


Send your air group to the skies!

Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is an update of the classic Avalon Hill game covering the US
strategic bombing campaign over Europe in World War II. As US com-
mander, your mission is to eliminate German industrial complexes. You
select the targets, direct the bombers, and plan a strategy intended to defeat
the Luftwaffe. As the German commander, the entire arsenal of Nazi aircraft
is at your disposal. Turns represent three months each, with German rein-
forcements keyed to that player’s production choices. Units are wings and
squadrons, and they’re rated by type, sub-type, firepower, maneuverability
and endurance. There are rules for radar, electronic warfare, variable pro-
duction strategies, aces, target complexes, critical industries and diversion
of forces to support the ground war. The orders of battle are much the same
as in the original game, though the German player now has to plan ahead if
he wants to get jets.
There are also other new targets on the map, such as the German electric
power grid. In the original game the US player had to bomb all the targets
on the map to win. Given the way the victory point system now works, the
Americans need bomb about four out of the five major target systems to
win, thereby duplicating the historic result.
Contents: 1 22x34" map, 280 die-cut counters, rules and PACs. $50.00

Battle Over Britain


Hitler’s war machine has rolled like a juggernaut across the Continent,
crushing all opposition. Only Britain still stands, isolated and defiant, readying
itself for a mortal struggle between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. For
the first time in history, air power will decide the fate of a nation.
In this Battle Over Britain air game, the outcome of the battle is in your
hands. You must plan the strategies and the decisive moves that will bring
victory. The Strategic Game recreates the entire battle in five-day turns and
confronts you with the same fateful choices faced by the actual commanders.
In the Combat Game you experience the fury and tension of aerial combat in six
raids that decide the outcome of the battle. In the Advanced Game, you must
combine sound strategy and winning tactics. This is the definitive treatment of
the battle, allowing you to relive the daily action of this decisive campaign.

Contents: Two 34 x 22 inch full color maps, one 22 x 17 inch British airfield display,
one 34 x 17 inch screen, three counter sheets, one 40 page rules folder, one 20-sided die
and one plastic counter tray.

60 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 60 12/16/08 10:57:27 AM


E
:
aydit
er
ion RAF
o-P
ew l
l N T The Battle of Britain, 1940
Al
&
w
ire
France has fallen. England stands alone against the might of a triumphant Germany,
ta defended only by the Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons of the Royal Air Force. Hitler
Soli orders his mighty Luftwaffe to destroy the RAF in preparation for Operation Sealion—the
invasion of England. German fighters and bombers fill the English skies and the RAF
responds.
Now you command the RAF or the Luftwaffe in history’s greatest air campaign—the
Battle of Britain. Improving on his award winning solitaire classic, designer John Butterfield
ramps up the historical accuracy, tension and play options with three complete games.
RAF: Lion puts you in control of British Fighter Command, responding to German raids.
The game’s unique card system generates targets and forces, which may remain hidden
until after you commit your squadrons. Your foe is no mindless system: the Luftwaffe
has priorities and a strategy. Scenarios range from one raid day, taking an hour to
complete, to the full campaign, playable in 12 hours.
RAF: Eagle puts you in control of the Luftwaffe forces raiding England. You schedule raids
and assign missions to your bombers and fighters, attempting to deliver the knockout
blow. Can you take out the British radar system and cripple their aircraft production?
The game controls the RAF response to your strategies. How does a foe so close to
defeat keep coming back?
RAF: 2-Player pits you against a live opponent, one controlling Fighter Command and the
other the raiding Luftwaffe forces. Historical features include: German high command
priorities, close escort, free hunt, the Channel Patrol, Jabos, day and night bombing,
radar, the Observer Corps, weather, ULTRA intercepts, squadron patrols, “big wings,”
altitude advantage, ace squadrons and flak.
Game Scale
Time: each game turn equals a “raid day” with six two-hour segments.
Units: British squadrons and German Gruppen.
Map: one inch equals 20 miles (32 kilometers). Contents:
• 176 Die cut counters
• 165 Cards
• 3 34” x 22” Map
• Rule booklets
• Player Aid cards & display
• 2 Dice
• Storage bags
QTY Title Price Total
Luftwaffe $50
Battle Over Britain $20
RAF: Lion vs Eagle $80
Available Spring 2009
Shipping
PO Box 21598
Bakersfield CA 93390
Name 661/587-9633 • fax 661/587-5031 • www.decisiongames.com
Address
City/State/Zip Shipping Charges
1st unit Adt’l units Type of Service
Country
$10 $2 UPS Ground/USPS Priority Mail
V/MC # Exp.
20 2 Canada
Signature 29 4 Europe, South America
Phone # 29 6 Asia, Australia
World at War 61

WaW4 Issue.indd 61 12/16/08 10:57:29 AM


available now!
China: The Middle Kingdom
China: The Middle Kingdom covers the full scope of
Chinese history, from its beginnings as a collection of warring
feudal states, to the current cold war between China and Taiwan.
In this epic game based on the classic Avalon Hill Britannia
system, four players each control several factions simultaneously,
with each faction having their own objectives and situations, such
as conquering certain provinces. The winner is the player who
scores the most points by the end of the game. This breathtaking
game unfolds on an illustrated map of China with 432 counters,
covering 50 separate countries and peoples, including all of the
major dynasties of Chinese history, the arrival of the European
powers, both World Wars and the Japanese invasion, right up
to the end of the civil war between the Communists and the
Nationalists. The game occurs over 24 turns, starting from 403 BC, during the
“Warring States” period as China begins to rise from its feudal age. The game
has two shorter campaign scenarios covering the first half and second half of
the full campaign game.
Battles between armies can be dramatically affected by the presence
of mountains, emperors, heroes, new inventions, and even the Great Wall.
Rebellions, barbarian invasions, and uprisings may spring up from anywhere,
and signal the end of one dynasty and the birth of a new dynasty. Diplomacy
is as important as military strength. Each player continually must defend
against multiple enemies on multiple fronts. $60

Highway to the Reich


Highway to the Reich is a tactical simulation of the largest airborne operation in
history. Over 35,000 men belonging to 1st Allied Airborne Army dropped from
the skies of Holland. Their objective: capture and hold a highway. The result:
a salient into German territory that lacked only the last objective, and was thus
a tragic defeat.
The 2,000-plus counters detail Gen. Brereton’s airborne corps of three divi-
sions, the units of 30th Corps, and Model’s scattered and disheveled forces at
company level for infantry; battery level for artillery, anti-tank and anti-air, and
troop-level for tanks and armored cars.
The four maps cover from the front along the Meuse-Escaut Canal to
the area, nearly 200 hexes away, surrounding Arnhem Highway Bridge.
Each map is positioned to cover the operational area of one airborne
division in order to allow one-division scenarios.
All the activities of each formation are completed before those of
another are begun. Attacks start with a preliminary barrage, followed
by fire attack by maneuver companies, and then close action with tanks
and assault troops. All activities involve comparisons of involved units’
capabilities. Optional rules focus on hidden movement and multi-player
variations, as well as giving the Allied player the opportunity to execute
his own operational plan. The revisions have made this classic game
easier and faster to play than ever before. $160

Contents:
Four 22” x 34” maps Player Aid Cards
2,520 die-cut counters Campaign Analysis
Rule & scenario books Six-sided Dice
6 Organization Charts

62 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 62 12/16/08 10:57:35 AM


available now!
Flying Circus:
Aerial Combat in WWI
Flying Circus: Aerial Combat in WWI depicts the fun and flavor of World War I aerial dogfight-
ing. You fly the colorful and agile aircraft of WWI as you make history in the world’s first use of
aircraft in a military role.
This is the basic game. You have everything you need to play single aircraft duels to multi-air-
craft dogfights. Each aircraft has its own unique characteristics reflected in its ratings and special
abilities. The basic game rules cover all the maneuvers that made WWI aerial combat: barrel rolls,
stall turns, Immelmanns, vertical rolls and Chandelles. Outmaneuver your opponent to line up your
guns and watch his planes go down in flames!
Gamers who have played the Down in Flames game series will find many similarities in game
play, however, previous experience is not necessary. The basic game rules can be read in less than
20 minutes and you can play your first game immediately. Includes: 110 full color playing cards & rules sheet. $
23

This is the deluxe game. You will need the basic game
card deck to play this expanded version. Then you will
have everything you need to play single aircraft duels and
team play with multiple flights in swirling dogfights. This
deluxe game adds rules for altitude, pilot abilities—in-
Shipping Charges
cluding a deck of 25 pilot cards for historical campaigns— 1st unit Adt’l units Type of Service
bombers, rear gunners, scouts and other optional rules. $10 $2 UPS Ground/USPS Priority Mail
This deluxe game also includes cards and rules for playing 20 2 Canada
multi-mission games of famous WWI campaigns such as
26 4 Europe, South America
Cambrai and Meuse-Argonne, along with a “Campaign
Analysis” article detailing the development of the aircraft, 28 6 Asia, Australia
their tactics and strategy. $40
QTY Title Price Total
Contents: China The Middle Kingdom $60
110 Deluxe deck cards (bombers, scouts, plus more fighters & action cards)
Deluxe Game rules booklet Highway to the Reich $160
6 Campaign Cards Flying Circus-Basic $23
Pilot Log
36 Pilot & altitude cards Flying Circus-Deluxe $40
Dice marker Shipping

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Address
City/State/Zip
Country
V/MC # Exp.
PO Box 21598 Signature
Bakersfield CA 93390
661/587-9633 • fax 661/587-5031 • www.decisiongames.com Phone #
World at War 63

WaW4 Issue.indd 63 12/16/08 10:57:38 AM


Strategy & Tactics magazine covers all of military history
and its future possibilities. The articles focus on the ‘how’ and
‘why’ of war, and are richly illustrated with maps, diagrams
and photos. Use the subscription card or order online.
Don’t miss a single issue!

Each issue is packed full of:


• In-depth analysis
• Detailed maps
• Orders of Battle

Diagram from article on Colombian


Troops in Korea, #255.

Map portion from upcoming article on Hannibal’s War, issue #254.


P.O. Box 21598
Bakersfield, CA 93390-1598
ph: (661) 587-9633 • Fax: (661) 587-5031
www.StrategyAndTacticsPress.com

64 #4

WaW4 Issue.indd 64 12/16/08 10:57:44 AM