World War II
Just over a month ago we were remembering the centennary of the commencement of WWI, I say remembering rather than celebrating; there really wasn’t /isn’t much, if anything, to celebrate it was a disaster from go to whoa!
Today, the 3rd September 2014 we remember the start of WWII ( the 75th anniversary), naturally I do not include the United States of America because we know they did not enter the war until much later; and here is not the place to go into that.
I suppose that I’m one of the lucky ones still alive who can recall that Sunday, my mother, father, brother and I listening to the wireless (didn’t call it the radio back then) when the announcement was made “that consequently this country is at war with Germany”.
The full meaning, and force, as to what had been said didn’t have any depth of meaning to my brother and me, our parents, on the other hand, did have more than an inkling as to what was in store. I recall my mother saying some not very nice things about Mr Chamberlain, or Mr Hitler come to that, my mother had a very vocal way of expressing her displeasure.
Both our parents had of course been alive during the first world war, as children much of an age as my brother and I were in ’39.
My mothers father and his four brothers were all members of the Royal Navy during the first conflict and she had some worrying times but that’s for another time too.
The Last of the Old Wars
That may seem a strange heading but it is so, WWII saw the end of the ‘Old’ way of fighting and ushered in a ‘New’ and more deadly version.
WWI saw young men from both sides being slaughtered, cannon fodder was a term used, not in their hundreds, not in their thousands but in their millions. Hand to hand, on land; ship to ship at sea, except of course the Germans submarine fleet, which helped bring the Americans into the war in 1917 when both sides were totally physically, mentally exhausted and tipped the scales against the Germans.
Between September ’39 and December ’41 the last ‘old’ war battles took place, December 39 saw the ‘Battle of the River Plate’ which took place off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay, ships of the Royal Navys, HMS Exeter, HMS Ajaz and the HMNZS Achilles of the RoyalNew Zealand Navy came upon the German raider/pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
The German ship had greater fire power with 11inch guns, the Exeter had 8″ and the Ajax & Achilles had 6″. This first naval battle of WWII victory went to the British when Captain Langsdorff, a German Officer of the old school , not a Nazi, scuttled his ship rather than allow it to fall into the hands of his enemy, after burying members of his ships company KIA, he then committed suicide, a bullet to the brain.
He was a good man, a good honest decent seaman and sailor!
Another later action was the Prince of Wales,Hood/Bismark battle culminating in the Royal Navy’s Atlantic Fleet obeying orders to ‘sink the Bismark‘.
On land we had the Germans overrunning western Europe and driving the BEF towards Dunkirk which turned into a pyrrhic victory for Great Britain. In Africa we had the Germans and the British armies fighting tooth and nail, this time tanks taking the place of cavalry. The Germans under their great Field Marshall Rommel versus the great English General (later Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein), victory going eventualy to the British and Empire (Commonwealth) troops.
Half way through 1941 Hitler made a great blunder, his aerial Blitzkreig on England had failed, Göring did not deliver on his promise to defeat the English/British; his Luftwaffe having been defeated by the Royal Air Force during the “Battle of Britain”, so “Mr. ‘itler”, (who do you fink you are foolin Mr itler is you fink ol’ Englunds done” was a song we used to sing) as we Cockneys were want to call him amogst other things; turned his gaze upon Russia and decided he’d do what Napoleon couldn’t!
Well we all know, or we should, what happened there.
Six moths later the Japanese sounded the death knell of what became known as the Axis Powers. Germany, Italy and Japan, with the attack on Pearl Harbor (note I use the American spelling) that also sounded the death knell of what was convential warfare.
Air Power Gained Dominance
The Japanese attack using the ”Aircraft Carrier” for the first time as the initial prime instrument of attack changing the face of warfare for all time.
Fortunately the Americans had foreseen this event ( carrier born aircraft not the attack on Pearl Harbor) in that their own navy was well equipped with carriers with well trained naval aviators. The US loss at Pearl Harbor would have been much greater had their carriers been in harbour and not at sea when the Japanese attack occured. There is no doubt that had they been in Pearl Harbor at the time it would have been they that would have been the primary target not the battleships.
The Japanese ushered in this new deadly force but fortunately they did have not the latent power muscle and resolve of their chosen foe to succeed.
In December ’41 the US had three aircraft carriers stationed in the Pacific, after the attack this was boosted by two more taken/stripped from the Atlantic Fleet, by the end of hostilities the US had in excess of 30 aircraft carriers mostly of the largest “Essex” class.
Since then every war/confict around the globe has seen the aircraft carrier and the men who serve upon these ships playing the lead, the dominant role.
In war there are still the men on the ground doing the “hard slog” fighting, dying trying to hold any advantage and relying heavily on air cover/strikes and attacks usually from carrier based aircraft, without which any hope of success is forlorn.
Sadly there will always be wars and conflicts that’s the nature of man it seems, perhaps we should all step aside and let the women of this world take over for a while, but in the interim and not holding my breath for that unlikely event to occur I shall spend the rest of this day reminiscing with myself the events of 75 years ago today.
I have no one left with whom to reminisce.