Category Archives: Military

History, Biography, and Organizing my Library at Home

 

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today has been a very difficult day where I worked in the house, the storage space, and. helped Judy and some of her friends break down their wares at the end of a craft show. This evening I did some more work organizing books in my library here at home. This week while doing my transfer I also caught up with some reading since my orders didn’t actually show up until late Wednesday. I read Mark Rosen’s “The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: a Reconsideration”; “The Participants: the Men of the Wannsee Conference” edited by Hans Christian Jasch and Christopher Kreutzmuller; finished reading “Our Declaration: a Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality” by Danielle Allen; and began reading Stefan Kühls “The Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism.” While browsing my books I pulled out “Hidden Horrors: Japanese War Crimes in World War II” by Yuki Tanaka.

In like of what I have been doing I am reposting an edited and expanded version of an older article emphasizing the connection between history and biography. This is something I try to do when I write. Tomorrow, I start my check-in process after having signed in to my new command, before they send me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.

So until tomorrow, 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

English historian and military theorist Colin Gray noted that “people matter most” when we deal with history, policy, or politics, but especially in the matter of war.

I think one of the sad things about history is that many authors, especially in military history, but other areas as well, seem to treat the participants as bit players in a series of events, rather than a prism from which to understand and view history.

I cannot tell you how many times I have had students, and even colleagues tell me that history is dry, boring and uninteresting to them. I will not condemn them, for certainly if it is that is case, it is not their fault, but rather those who write and teach history. If all history is, is arbitrary dates, lists of disconnected events and names of people, without any context to their lives, why should they care about it?

When I first began to study history I was much more concerned about events than people. However, over the past couple of years I have began to develop what I call my philosophy of history. That has come about through my study of the events leading to the American Civil War and in particular my study of the Battle of Gettysburg, but also in other historical events such as the Arab Revolt of 1917,  the French adventures in Indochina and Algeria, and the Holocaust.

In doing all of my research I have read a large number of books, articles and primary sources on these subjects and my personal library appears to be growing at an exponential rate. I have noticed that much of what I have read deals very little with the people involved, unless I am reading a biography, and even some of the biographies seem to be event heavy, and person light and sometimes it seems that the subjects of the biography are often one dimensional, and almost caricatures of who they really were. Some of the alleged biographies that I read would be better described as hagiography, to make the subjects appear saintlike, the type of writing used by religious writers to make saints a lot less human. There are others who go to the opposite extreme and do all they can to demonize their subject. In either case the method is less than honest, but for many people, profit and propaganda value mean more than truth. Of course either type of writing appeals to the masses who do not care about nuance, or for that matter truth.

But such is not history. Neither are “histories” which are designed to support a particular ideology, be it political, religious, or economic. Such works are not history, but propaganda. When I see people, in this country forbidding the teaching of history because it is not patriotic enough I want to scream. It is like I am watching the propagandists of Stalin’s Soviet Union, Hitler’s Third Reich, or any of many other nations that used ideology or religion to supress history that didn’t meet their definition of “patriotic.” But then I digress…

My gut feeling says that such artificial divisions between history and biography do a disservice to the reader. I take a tremendous pleasure in writing, and I like to try to communicate and interpret facts, which is indeed the vocation of the historian, in a manner that makes them interesting. What I am finding is that when telling the stories of events we must also tell the stories of the people who make these events.

Without such a connection there is little to interest most readers. People tend to be interested in people because there is a connection. The human being is still the human being, no matter what age, country, culture, religion that they belong to. I learned a lot of this from reading the works of Barbara Tuchman who in her writings about events, never forgot importance of people, and refused to turn them in to one dimensional caricatures.

In my writing now I attempt to bring the prism of the biography into the events that I write about.

I had a fellow faculty member note that he liked what I wrote about Gettysburg because it was more than just the events, it was the personal connection he felt to the people.

People matter because they have so many layers. I guess one of the things that makes my writing approach a bit different is that while I am a historian, I am also trained in philosophy, pastoral care and psychology, all of which deal with existential matters.In the next few days you will be seeing some of my Gettysburg work, and hopefully as you read it you will notice that I attempt to find that nuance in the various men, on both sides of the conflict, who are part of the story.

I found that the complexities and contradictions of the subjects of history, the people help me understand the events more than anything. I think my epiphanies came in reading about the lives, as well at writings of men like T.E. Lawrence and Gouvereur Warren whose triumphs, struggles, weaknesses and injuries mirror my own. In learning about these men as people, in the context of what they accomplished helps me to understand their history and the era that they lived far more than simply recounting how they influenced a battle.

Likewise, I find that the lives, beliefs, motivations, relationships, and experiences of people to be paramount to understanding events. People are complex, multi-layers and often contradictory. All of my heroes all have feet of clay, which in a sense makes their stories even richer, and the events that they helped bring about more fascinating, because then I gain a holistic perspective and develop an empathy for them. Even good and honorable people who find themselves due to race, religion, or nationality fighting for an evil cause, or evil people fighting for a good cause. Both are troubling, I think that good and honorable men who submit themselves to criminal and evil causes are more troubling.

We are seeing much of that today in regard to various members of the Trump Administration. When I was reading the article on Friedrich Kritzinger, the State Secretary for the Reich Chancellery, a conservative Prussian Civil Servant who served under the Kaiser, the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. In his position he made sure that the bureaucracy of the Reich ran efficiently, and also wrote legal justifications for the absorption of the rump of Czechoslovakia, and western Poland into the Reich. He also took part in the Wannsee Conference, for which he was the only participant to express remorse. Stefan Paul-Jacobs and Lore Kleiber, wrote about him in The Participants:

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” (St. Augustine). This might not be a quote from Kritzinger, but it serves as a reminder that, by working as a lawyer for a regime, which he has known from the start to be criminal, he made himself a stooge.” (The Participants p.217”) 

The story of Kritzinger, is very pertinent for anyone trapped by ideological or religious constraints, or commitment to a leader that they know is corrupt, acting criminally, or undermining the law and Constitution. That may confuse or even offend you, but it is a part of the human condition. That my friends is history.

Barbara Tuchman noted “that if the historian needs to submit himself to his or her material instead of trying to impose himself on his material, then the material will ultimately speak to him and supply the answers.”

This is very important, because when we do this we discover the answers to the why questions, especially the why questions that are so very uncomfortable, are necessary if we want to discover truth.

I know that I can find connections in the strengths as well as their weaknesses of people that I admire. Thus when I see ordinary people taking part in events, for good or for evil,I can say that given the same set of circumstances that that could be me. Context matters, nuance matters, people matter. If we do not understand that, history becomes nothing more than a set of manipulated facts, devoid of context that can be used to buttress the most evil intentions.

I do plan on developing these thoughts over the coming weeks and months, but for now it will suffice to say that when I write about history, that people matter. That is why I write.

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Filed under books and literature, civil war, History, life, Military, philosophy, racism

War Crimes: Revisiting the Rape of Nanking and Japanese War Crimes

Japanese Soldiers at Work in Nanking

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am starting to catch up a bit about other non-German and non-American atrocities committed in the name of war and in the name of race hatred and the need for supposedly “superior races” to commit war crimes in the name of their ideology. My specialties in history are modern German history, World War Two, and the American Civil War beginning with the antebellum era, the war, reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement.

I have done some study of the Turkish Armenian Genocide, and the war crimes committed by the Japanese before and during the Second World War. I have written some about the Japanese Rape of Nanking but have only lightly touched on their other crimes against humanity and the lack of thoroughness of the war crimes trials held against Japanese leaders as compared the various war crimes trials involving German leaders. Over the coming weeks and months I will be writing about at least some of the Japanese War crimes.

I am going to restart than process by reposting an article regarding the Rape of Nanking, one of many brutal Japanese atrocities against the Chines and other Asian peoples that the Japanese committed, not to mention the atrocities that they committed against Allied POWs who they believed had given up their honor by surrendering. Now the Japanese war crimes were different from those of the Nazis, but they were just as brutal and evil as those committed by the Nazis, the Soviets, the American Slave culture, and the extermination of the Native American nations, or so many other mass slaughters or genocides. The complicity of the Japanese Royal family, military, and industrial elites is highly documented, but few were ever prosecuted, much less convicted of their crimes. To this day a culture of denial and silence rules in Japan, while the Germans, especially since the 1970s have become leaders in facing the guilt of their ancestors. In fact, often more than any nation, the Germans do more to remember the genocides committed by Americans. Historical memory can be a bitch to face, and especially with the ascendancy of President Trump, there are many Americans not only willing to ignore, but to exalt in them and to back actions by the Trump Administration that can only end in death and criminal actions that Justice Robert Jackson, who organized the Nuremberg Trials and served as the chief American prosecutor in the Major War Crimes Trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” 

What I find interesting is the amount of hate mail I get from Japanese Nationalists and revisionists. I get far more from them than from neo-Nazis or neo-Confederates.

So here we go again.

The historical controversy regarding the “rape” of Nanking in 1937 by the Japanese Army is hotly debated.[1] The massacres occurred in the initial occupation of the city and the two months following in mid December 1937.  The initial reaction to the actions of the Japanese was reported by western journalists and even a German Nazi Party member by the name of John Rabe who assisted in protecting Chinese during the massacre and reported it on his return to Germany.The action shocked many in the west and helped cement the image of the Japanese being a brutal race in the west.

Massacre Victims at Nanking

The controversy’s visibility has been raised since the 1997 publication of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. However, with few exceptions the incident had received little attention by Western historians until Chang’s book was published. The reason for this was  that  China was a sideshow for for the United States and Britain throughout much of the war. When Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalists were overthrown by the Communists in 1948 the incident disappeared from view in the United States.   The  United States government  reacted to the overthrow of Chaing by helping to rebuild Japan and rehabilitate the Japanese while opposing the Chinese Communists.  In fact it was only “after the Cold War was the Rape of Nanking Openly discussed.”[2]

Bodies of Children Killed by the Japanese at Nanking

Chang’s book was instrumental as it brought new attention to the actions of the Japanese Army in the slaughter of Prisoners of War and civilians following the occupation of the city.  Even as Chang’s work was published “revisionist” works began to appear in the 1980s which have either denied the atrocities, sought to minimize numbers killed by Japanese Forces or rationalized the them began to appear in Japan.  The revisionists were led by Masaaki Tanaka who had served as an aide to General Matsui Iwane the commander of Japanese forces at Nanking.  Tanaka denied the atrocities outright calling them “fabrications” casting doubt upon numbers in the trial as “propaganda.” He eventually joined in a lawsuit against the Japanese Ministry of Education to remove the words “aggression” and “Nanjing massacre” from textbooks, a lawsuit which was dismissed but was influential to other revisionists and Japanese nationalist politicians and publishers.[3]

             Japanese Officer Preparing to Execute Man in Hospital

Most early accounts of the occupation and war crimes have used a number of 200,000 to 300,000 victims based upon the numbers provided during the War Crimes Trials of 1946.[4] Unlike the numbers of victims of the Nazi Holocaust the numbers are less accurate.  Authors who maintain the massacres such as Chang and others such as Japanese military historian Mashario Yamamoto who admits Japanese wrongdoing and excess but challenges the numbers use the same statistical sources to make their arguments.  Chang not only affirms the original numbers but extrapolates that even more may have been killed as a result of the disposal of bodies in the Yangtze River rather than in mass graves away from the city as well as the failure of survivors to report family member deaths to the Chinese authorities.[5] She also notes contemporary Chinese scholars who suggest even higher numbers.

Prince Asaka, Granduncle of Emperor Hirohito Commanded Troops at Nanking

Herbert Bix discusses Japanese knowledge of the atrocities in detail up and down the chain of command including Prince Asaka, granduncle of Emperor Hirohito who commanded troops in Nanking, the military and Foreign Office, and likely even Hirohito himself.[6]

German National and Nazi Party Member John Rabe Protected Chinese at Nanking and Reported His Experience to the German Government.  He is known as “The Good Man of Nanking”

The publication of German citizen and witness to the massacres John Rabe’s diaries in 2000, The Good Man of Nanking, provided an additional first hand account by a westerner who had the unique perspective of being from Japan’s ally Nazi Germany.  His accounts buttress the arguments of those like Chang who seek to inform the world about the size and scope of Japanese atrocities in Nanking.

A Field of Skulls at Nanking

Yamamoto who is a military historian by trade and is viewed as a “centrist” in the debate, places the massacres in the context of Japanese military operations beginning with the fall of Shanghai up to the capture of Nanking. Yamamoto criticizes those who deny the massacres but settles on a far lower number of deaths, questioning the numbers used at the War Crimes Trials. He blames some on the Chinese Army[7] and explains many others away in the context of operations to eliminate resistance by Chinese soldiers and police who had remained in the city in civilian clothes. He  claims that  “the Japanese military leadership decided to launch the campaign to hunt down Chinese soldiers in the suburban areas because a substantial number of Chinese soldiers were still hiding in such areas and posing a constant threat to the Japanese.”[8] David Barrett in his review of the Yamamoto’s work notes that Yamamoto believes that “there were numerous atrocities, but no massacre….”[9] Yoshihisa Tak Mastusaka notes that while a centrist Yamamoto’s work’s “emphasis on precedents in the history of warfare reflects an underlying apologist tone that informs much of the book.”[10] Revisionist work also criticizes the trials surrounding Nanking and other Japanese atrocities.  An example of such a work is Tim Maga’s Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials which is critiqued by historian Richard Minear as “having a weak grasp of legal issues” and “factual errors too numerous to list.”[11] Such is a recurrent theme in revisionist scholarship, the attempt to mitigate or minimize the scale of the atrocities, to cast doubt upon sources and motivations of their proponents or sources, to use questionable sources themselves or to attribute them to out of control soldiers, the fog of war and minimize command knowledge as does Yamamoto. Politics is often a key motivating factor behind revisionist work.

Iris Chang Would Later Commit Suicide

Chang would never be the same after researching and writing the Rape of Nanking. Traumatized by what she had learned and burdened by the weight of what she had taken on she killed herself on November 9th 2004.

Iconic Photo of Japanese Acts in China: A Wounded Child at Shanghai Station

“Revisionist” history will almost certainly remain with us, so long as people study the past.  However one has to be careful in labeling a divergent view of a historical subject as necessarily revisionist.  There are occasions when new evidence arises and a “new” or “revisionist” work may actually disprove previous conclusions regarding historic events or persons.  This might occur when what we know about a subject comes from a single or limited number of sources who themselves were limited in what they had available for research and new evidence comes to light. At the same time where numerous sources from diverse points of view attest to the genuineness of an event, the revisionist’s theses should be themselves scrutinized based on evidence presented as well as their political, ideological or racial motivations.  While one does not want to silence voices of opposition to prevailing beliefs one has to be careful in examining their claims, especially when they arise in the context of political or ideological conflicts.

Notes 


[1] Bix, Herbert P. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2000. pp.333-334. Bix does a good job explaining the number of victims of the incident drawing on Chinese and Japanese sources.

[2] Kreuter, Gretchen. The Forgotten Holocaust in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March-April 1998 p.66

[3] Fogel, Joshua A. The Nanjing Massacre in History and Historiography, University of California Press, Berkley CA 2000, pp.87-89

[4] Toland, John. The Rising Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-45. Random House, New York, NY 1970 pp. 50-51. Toland in his brief discussion of the massacres notes both the civilian casualty figures and figures for male citizens of military age who were slaughtered.  Toland also notes the large numbers of women raped by Japanese soldiers.

[5] Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II Penguin Books, New York, NY 1997 pp.102-103. Chang has been criticized by some historians in a number of ways including that she was not a historian, that she compares the atrocities to the Nazi Holocaust and her emotional attachment to the subject which may have been a contributing factor in her 2004 suicide.

[6] Bix. p.336

[7] Yamamoto, Masahiro. The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity. Praeger Publishers an imprint of the Greenwood Group, Westport, CT 2000. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/apus/docDetail.action?docID=10018001&p00=nanking  p.83

[8] Ibid. p.92.

[9] Barrett, David P.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’Histoire XXXVIII, April/Avril 2003 p.170

[10] Mastusaka, Yoshihisa Tak.  Review of The Rape of Nanking: Anatomy of an Atrocity by Masashiro Yamamoto American Historical Review, April 2002 p.525

[11] Minear, Richard. Review of Judgment at Tokyo: The Japanese War Crimes Trials by Tim Mata  American Historical Review. April 2002 p.526

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Filed under crime, History, Military, nazi germany, Political Commentary, war crimes, White nationalism, world war two in the pacific

An End and A Beginning at the Twilight of a Career

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Toady was the turning of another page in my military career, probably the last one before I retire. I left my old command, reported in to my new command and will begin checking in to the Naval Region before reporting to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth where Lord willing and the creek don’t rise next summer. The shipyard hasn’t had it’s own chaplain in years and my mission, with no resources other than me is to try to help justify the re-establishment of a chaplain billet there. I will give it my best, but with the continuing cuts to religious ministries in Naval Installations Command I think the best I can do is to care for the sailors and civilian employees to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.

I suppose that it is fitting that someone like me, a Priest who is a historian at heart finish his career trying to make a go of it. The shipyard is the oldest in the Navy, Drydock Number One is the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. The Frigate USS Chesapeake, one of the first six frigates built for the re-established U.S. Navy was the first major warship constructed at it. The USS Merrimac was raised and rebuilt in the Drydock One by the Confederate States Navy as the Ironclad CSS Virginia.

The Naval Yard was recaptured by the Union later in 1862 and following reconstruction it became one of the major construction and repair yards for the Navy, and our allies in the Second World War.

The battleship USS Alabama was constructed there and thousands of ships were repaired or overhauled at it, including Famous ships like the USS Arizona and HMS Illustrious, as well the largest modern Super carriers of the U.S. Navy.

I look forward to learning more of the history as I work there.

So until tomorrow, all the best.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil war, History, Military, national security, Navy Ships, US Navy

Since When is Obeying Your Oath of Office is Treasonous?


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I wonder what the hell is going on in our country when the President, leading GOP Senators, Congressmen, and their political and media allies think that it is just fine to cast into doubt the integrity, loyalty, and patriotism of a combat veteran who was wounded in combat by our enemies.

That is happening today to Army LTC Alexander Vindman, an infantry officer wounded in Iraq and specialist on the Ukraine testified before a House Commission examining the impeachment of President Trump. He has been accused of treason by leading GOP politicians and the propaganda hosts of the Fox News Channel. For what I might ask? Simply because their actions against a combat wounded veteran willing to tell the truth are deplorable, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

It seems to me that for the current GOP there is no end to the abyss of morality, duty, honor, and country. To imply, suggest, or accuse an active duty, and combat wounded officer of treason for testifying to the truth of something that he witnessed is despicable. But it didn’t begin with Trump, it began in the swift boating of Democratic nominee, Silver and Bronze Star awardee, and Purple Heart veteran John Kerry by people affiliated with the Bush Campaign in 2004. It only got worse in 2015-2017 with President Trump’s attacks on John McCain, and since then other veterans.

Spurred on by the President the propagandists of the Fox News Network and other Right Wing Conspiracy theory television and internet broadcasts continue to attack any critic of President Trump as a traitor, even if they are testifying under oath and are combat wounded veterans. Their behavior is despicable and devoid of true patriotism. They are no better than Goebbels and the other Nazi propagandists who slandered and sent to their retirements and deaths more honorable officers and officials than themselves.

Their Soviet and Japanese counterparts were no better, and it appears that neither is Trump’s GOP.  I spent 32 years in the Republican Party. I saw what Fox News and the Right Wing radio and internet radicals made that party. Even men like Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan who launched the party on it’s rightward course would no longer be welcome in it.

I am disgusted by their behavior towards LTC Vindman and other officers and officials who dare speak the truth. I will speak the truth until the day I die. I have taken the oath of office as an enlisted man, as an ROTC cadet, as an active duty Army officer three times, as an Army National Guard Officer twice, as an Army Reserve Officer once, and as a Naval Officer three times.

I am disgusted by men and women who never served a day in uniform or found a way to avoid service. When those men and women who never served or made sure that they used any excuse whatsoever to avoid service accuse those who put themselves in harm’s way I have nothing but contempt for them, from the President, to Senators, Congressmen, and their media and clerical hacks and allies.

Honor means more to me than the bullshit members of my former party have been spouting since their attacks on Senator Kerry in 2004, and combat veteran, historian, Senator, and Presidential Candidate George McGovern in 1972. As a 12 year old in 1972 I bought the propaganda of Nixon’s GOP. In 2004, I followed others into the abyss supporting George W. Bush and brushing aside John Kerry, simply because after his service he told the truth. The fact is that Kerry was a badass in Vietnam, courageous to to point of being wounded four times.

Now many of the same people are attacking the honor and credibility of active duty officers and former officials of the State Department, FBI, and CIA for telling the truth as they observed it happening in real time. Sadly, they are being incited and led on by the President himself. I fully expect that given the word that the President’s most loyal followers will do what they have stated and begin to kill the President’s opponents.

Truth tellers live in dangerous times. If you haven’t figured that out you better get used to it, especially if you are a truth teller and honor your oath of office.  Sadly, the Trump 45 cult doesn’t believe in truth, and doesn’t tolerate critics. They only need a word from the President to begin their Night of the Long Knives.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, History, leadership, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Battle of Cape Engano: Victory in Spite of Miscommunications and the Lack of Unity of Command

 

RptsI-P60

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am finishing up a series of posts about the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This one is about the Battle of Cape Engano in which a force of Japanese carriers with very few aircraft were used to lure the main part of the American Third Fleet under Admiral William “Bull” Halsey away from the vulnerable troop transports and supply ships supporting the invasion. It was a momentous battle and study in the principle of unity of command, which the Americans violated with nearly catastrophic results.

Eventually I will write something about the epic Battle off Samar to conclude the series properly but that will have to wait. Today has been a busy day working around the house and taking care of things long needed. Maybe I will do some work on my lack of

Peace

Padre Steve+

Unclear command structures, confusing, and mistaken communications, acts of valor from outnumbered forces who survived, and the intentional sacrifice of a carrier task force as a decoy, so that battleships might provide a victory. Despite the unclear communications and unclear command structures, the United States  Navy was victorious.  But still, this message remains one of the most confusing and infuriating ever sent to the commander of a fleet in action with the enemy fleet nearly in sight: 

“TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS.” Admiral Nimitz to Admiral Halsey

After Admiral William “Bull” Halsey felt that he had heavily damaged the Japanese Center Force during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea he withdrew the Fast Battleships of Task Force 34 from the San Bernardino Strait in order to use them in a surface engagement against Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s Northern Force. Halsey assumed that Ozawa’s carriers were the main threat to the American invasion forces. However he did not know that Ozawa’s carriers had very few aircraft embarked and that the Northern force was in fact a decoy, designed to draw him away from Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Center and the two task forces of the Southern force.

                         The Zuikaku under attack at Cape Engano

When Halsey’s aircraft reported the Center force withdrawing he believed that the threat had been removed. He wrote in his memoirs “I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet.”Thus he moved with haste to intercept, engage and destroy the Northern force and its carriers and battleships.  Halsey believed that his engagement against the Northern force would culminate when his fast battleships destroyed whatever Japanese surface forces remained.

It was not a bad assumption. Ever since the early days of the Pacific war the truly decisive engagements had been decided by carriers. Unfortunately for the American sailors of Taffy-3, the group of Escort Carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts which encountered Kurita’s Center force which had doubled back overnight and passed through the San Bernardino Strait surprising Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s task group of “Jeep” Carriers.

Destroyers_laying_smoke_screen_during_Battle_of_Samar_1944

                                             The Battle off Samar

The unequal battle that ensued off Samar was a near run thing for the Americans. Had Kurita not been confused about what forces he was facing and pressed his attacks he may have inflicted painful damage on the actual invasion forces. However after a morning of battle, in which Taffy-3’s destroyers, destroyer escorts, aircraft and even the Jeep carriers themselves inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese force Kurita withdrew.

Halsey

                                       Admiral William “Bull” Halsey

However as Taffy-3 battled for its life against Kurita’s battleships, cruisers and destroyers Halsey’s carrier air groups were pounding Ozawa’s hapless carriers and their escorts. About 0800 on the 25th Kinkaid’s desperate messages began to reach Nimitz and Halsey. However since Halsey did not believe just how serious the situation was he continued to pursue Ozawa’s force. When he received Nimitz’s message he was incensed. The message “TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS was composed of three parts. The preface “Turkey trots to water” was padding, as was the last part “the world wonders.”

ship_zuiho2

                                     Light Carrier Zuiho under attack

However the communications officer on Halsey’s flagship only removed the first section leaving “Where is Third Fleet, the world wonders.” Halsey was flabbergasted and though the battleships of Task Force 34 were almost in range of the Japanese force he sent them south to relieve Kinkaid’s beleaguered force. However by the time Vice Admiral Willis Lee’s battle line arrived Kurita had withdrawn, losing 3 heavy cruisers sunk, three heavy cruisers and one destroyer heavily damaged.

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                                           Zuikaku being abandoned

All the Japanese carriers were sunk along with a light cruiser and a number of destroyers, but Kurita’s heavy forces escaped. Among the Japanese losses was the carrier Zuikaku the last surviving carrier of the Pearl Harbor attack. Naval historian Samuel Elliott Morrison wrote:

“If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid’s first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two and a half hours, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off the San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita’s Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have “crossed the T” and completed the destruction of Center Force.” 

USS Mobile 10

The Battle of Cape Engano closed the epic extended battle of Leyte Gulf. The victory of the US Navy was decisive even without the final destruction of Kurita’s forces. The remnants of the Japanese forces would never mount a serious offensive threat again. The survivors would be hunted down over the next 9 months, some sunk by submarines, other in surface engagements, still more to air attacks at Okinawa and in Japanese ports.

Halsey received much criticism for his decision to withdraw TF 34 from San Bernardino Strait. However in his defense the action exposed one of the key problems in any kind of warfare, the problem of seams. Kinkaid’s escort carriers belonged to 7th Fleet which came under the operational control of Douglas MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Region while Halsey commanded 3rd Fleet under Admiral Nimitz’s Central Pacific region. This created a situation where two fleets belonging to two regions under two separate commanders were attempting to fight a single battle. The principle of unity of command and unity of effort was violated with nearly disastrous results.

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A Senseless and Fanatical Sacrifice: Kamikazes Enter the War at Leyte Gulf

 

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                  USS St Lo exploding after being hit by a Kamikaze

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Again I am taking some time off from current events as fast as they are moving, and I am posting edited articles about Battle of Leyte Gulf. The battle was the largest naval battle every fought and harborslessons that redound to our day. This article deals with the first use of Kamikaze aircraft whose pilots would attempt to dive into Allied warships, committing suicide rather than attempting to bomb a ship and return home.

In an age where suicide bombers and attackers do such things it is important to remember that this is not new. The Kamikaze pilots for the most part brainwashed by the Samurai ideology which had been drilled into them since they were children. One who survived because of engine failure and did not get a second chance told the BBC:

“Common sense says you only have one life,” he says, “so why would you want to give it away? Why would you be happy to do that? But at that time everyone I knew, they all wanted to volunteer. We needed to be warriors to stop the invasion from coming. Our minds were set. We had no doubt about it.”

While most Kamikaze pilots hated that ideology, some did not. Regardless, such a mentality is true of many fanatical idealists and terrorists even today. Such men and women span the religious and ideological spectrum. That is the truth, and it is profoundly depressing. Human nature being what it is means that there will be many more like them, the terrorists of September 11th 2001 were little different than the Kamikazes, but instead of the Bushido creed of the Samurai, it was a fanatical belief in Jihad.

Peace

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In 1944 one of the leading Japanese Naval aviators, Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi wrote:

“In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of A6M Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier…” 

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It was a tactic born of desperation but one that fit in well with the philosophy of Bushido. After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in June 1944 and the slaughter of land based Japanese Naval and Army air forces based in Formosa in September of that year Japanese leaders began to look to a tactics born of desperation but which fit their Bushido based ethos of sacrifice.

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                                                        Lt. Yukio Seki

Suicide attacks were nothing new to the Japanese, but until October 1944 they were tactics decided on by individuals who saw no alternative to the choice. In October 1944 that calculus changed, instead of individuals or isolated units which had no hope of victory conducting suicide attacks, commanders decided to employ suicide attackers as a matter of course.

When the American forces invaded the Philippines Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi was commander of the First Air Fleet based in the Northern Philippines. He was not a fan of Kamikaze tactics and viewed them as heresy. However after the slaughter of the reconstituted Naval Air Force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea he reluctantly changed his mind. I say reluctantly based on his previous views and because after he committed ritual suicide following the Japanese surrender he apologized to the estimated 4000 pilots that he sent to their death and their families.

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                                                Admiral Ōnishi

But in October 1944 with Japan reeling from defeats in the Pacific and its supply route for oil and other raw materials threatened desperation was the order of the day.

The 201st Navy Flying Corps based out of Clark Field near Manila was the major land based Japanese Naval Air Force unit in the Philippines. Among its pilots was a young Naval Officer and Aviator named Lt. Yukio Seki. Seki was a graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima and was recently married. He was not an ideologue or believer in suicide attacks. When questioned by a reporter before his squadron launched the first Kamikaze attacks he remarked to Masashi Onoda, a War Correspondent :“Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire… I am going because I was ordered to!”

On October 25th 1944 Seki led his group of 5 A6M2-5 Zero fighters, each carrying a 550 pound bomb took off and attacked the Escort Carriers of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s “Taffy-3.” The five pilots all died in their attacks but two damaged the USS Kalinin Bay and USS Kitkun Bay while two aircraft, one believed to be Seki’s hit the USS St Lo causing mortal damage which sank that ship in less than half an hour with the loss of over 140 sailors.

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The attacks of Seki’s small squadron were a harbinger of what was to come. Over the next 10 months over 4000 Japanese pilots would die in Kamikaze attacks against US Navy and Allied Naval units. Numbers of ships destroyed or damaged by Kamikazes are debated by some historians believe that 70 US and Allied ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair and close to 300 more damaged. 2525 Imperial Japanese Navy pilots and 1387 Imperial Army pilots died in Kamikaze attacks killing almost 5000 sailors and wounding over 5000 more.

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Another pilot, who did not swallow the propaganda was Lieutenant Ryoji Uehara. He wrote his mother before his final mission:

“Tomorrow, one who believes in democracy will leave this world, he may look lonely but his heart is filled with satisfaction. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany have been defeated. Authoritarianism is like building a house with broken stones.”

Admiral Ōnishi who made the decision to make Kamikazes a part of Japan’s offensive strategy in 1944 appeared to regret that decision. In his suicide note he urged young Japanese to rebuild the country and seek peace with all people and offered his death a penance for the nearly 4000 pilots he sent to their deaths. Accordingly when he committed ritual suicide (seppuku) he did so alone, with a second to finish the job and died over 15 hours after disemboweling himself.

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                                                     A Final Toast

The Kamikaze campaign did not alter the course of the war, but it did introduce a new dimension of terror and misguided sacrifice. Despite the propaganda of the ideologues who urge men and women to undertake suicide missions, there is no honor for those that do so. I do pray that one day war will be no more and that even though I expect war to remain part of our world until longer after my death  that nations, peoples or revolutionary groups will no longer send their best and brightest to certain death.

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The Revenge of the Pearl Harbor Battleships: The Battle of Surigao Strait

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was another busy but weird day as I am in the middle of trying to do my checkout from my current base even as I await the official short fused orders that are moving me to Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth sometime next week. So today, after successfully completing my Physical Readiness Test, I did some of my checkout that I could complete without my orders; I am posting the third article of a series on the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This article discusses the Battle of Surigao Strait which ended in the near annihilation of most of the of the Japanese Southern Force. The battle was the last ever where battleships engaged each other in a surface action.

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The two task groups of the Japanese Southern Force passed the daylight hours of 24 October relatively unscathed despite an air attack that caused minor damage. The group commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura comprised of the elderly Battleships Yamashiro and Fuso the Heavy Cruiser Mogami and four destroyers was leading the charge and was followed by that commanded by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with the Heavy Cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, Light Cruiser Abukuma and four destroyers.

The mission of these two groups which were unable to coordinate their actions due to orders to maintain strict radio silence was to fight their way through the Surigao Strait to assist the Central Force in destroying the US invasion force in Leyte Gulf.  The mission was for all practical purposes a suicide mission, a naval “Charge of the Light Brigade” as they sailed into the Valley of Death against the Battle Line of the US 7th Fleet.

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                      USS West Virginia firing a Broadside at Surigao

The Japanese Battleships had spent the majority of the war in home waters and had seen little action.  They had not been part of any of the great Japanese victories in 1941 and 1942 and they had not been blooded in the Solomons.  Instead the two elderly battlewagons passed the war conducting training in the inland sea.  They were no longer first line ships but the Japanese were desperate.  During the afternoon Admiral Nishimura received an accurate report from one of Mogami’s scout planes telling him exactly what he was up against yet he pushed on in the manner of a Samurai.

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                                                Yamashiro and Fuso

Facing him was a force built around the 6 old Battleships of Vice Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s 7th Fleet Battle Line.  The Americans heavily outnumbered the Japanese, the Battleships West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee were the heart of the force. Fully modernized after Pearl Harbor they no longer resembled the ships that they were before the war. Equipped with the latest Mark 8 Fire Control radar they had the ability to put their 16” and 14” shells on target at ranges farther than anything that the Japanese could counter.  Joined by the less fully modernized Maryland, Mississippi and Pennsylvania, 4 Heavy Cruisers, 4 Light Cruisers, 28 Destroyers and 39 PT Boats they outnumbered the combined Japanese forces with sixteen 16” and forty eight 14” guns to twenty 14” guns on the antiquated Yamashiro and Fuso.  The disparity in lesser guns was just as stark, thirty five against twenty six 8” guns, and fifty one 6” guns against six 5.5 inch guns.  This massive imbalance didn’t count the nearly one hundred fifty 5” guns on the US destroyers and as well as nearly 200 torpedo tubes.

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                 Yamashiro and Shigure ride into the Valley of death

No one can ever criticize the Japanese Navy for its courage in battle, even in hopeless ones. Nishimura’s force entered the southern entrance to Surigao Strait and was discovered by the American PT Boats at about 2230.  Though the PTs scored no hits they provided critical updates on the Japanese to Oldendorff.  At 0300 the American destroyers began a devastating series of attacks on the Japanese flanks.  They sank two destroyers and damaged another which had to turn back, but the real damage occurred when both Fuso and Yamashiro were hit. Fuso took two torpedoes fired by the destroyer USS Melvin.  She slowed and then blew up and broke in two sinking with all hands.  This account has been contested in recent years but many find the new version less believable than the first. Key in the evidence was the rescue and capture of Yamashiro’s Executive Officer in the north end of the strait and the surviving logs of the other Japanese ships which reported the sinking. Yamashiro though hit continued north with Mogami and the last destroyer Shigure.  At 0353 West Virginia opened fire and score hits on her first salvo. She was joined by California and Tennesseeat 0355, the other battleships with their Mark 3 fire direction radars were slow to open up. Maryland got off six full salvos by ranging in on the splashes of West VirginiaCalifornia and Tennessee.  Mississippi logged the final salvo of the battle and Pennsylvania got no shots off.  West Virginia fired 16 salvos, 96 rounds of 16”armor piercing shells, Tennessee got off 69 rounds and California 63 each of 14” armor piercing shells, while  Maryland added another forty eight 16” rounds.

The Yamashiro and Mogami sailed into the maelstrom absorbing hit after hit and gamely fought back. Yamashiro hit the destroyer Albert W Grant which was also hit by friendly fire badly damaging her. Finally both ships ablaze they turned back down the strait with Yamashiro sinking with few survivors at 0420.  Shima’s force then entered the fray and the Light Cruiser Abukuma was damaged by a torpedo fired by PT-137 and fell out of the formation. She was sunk on 26 October by Army Air Force B-24s. As Shima came up the strait his force entered the battered remnants of Nishimura’s force, the burning halves of Fuso and the retreating Mogami and Shigure. Assuming the halves of Fuso to be the wreckage of both battleships Shima beat a hasty retreat but in the process his flagship Nachi collided with Mogami flooding Mogami’s steering engine room and leaving her crippled.  She was attacked again by American cruisers and aircraft and as abandoned at 1047 and scuttled a torpedo from the destroyer Akebono sinking at 1307 on 25 October.

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                                              Nachi Under Air Attack

The battle was one of the most lopsided surface engagements of the war.  When it was over only one of Nishimura’s ships had survived the “lucky” Shigure.  Shima’s force survived the night but most of his ships were sunk in the following by war’s end. Nachi was sunk in Manila Bay on 5 November by aircraft from the USS Lexington with a loss of over 800 sailors while Shima was in a conference ashore.

With the exception of Albert W Grant and a PT Boat the American force was unscathed the old Battlewagons dredged from the mud of Peal Harbor had led the fleet to a decisive victory in the last duel between Dreadnaughts ever fought. The Japanese died as Samurai trying to complete a hopeless mission against a far superior force.

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